About Graham Catt

Graham Catt is a South Australian poet and writer of short stories. Sometimes he takes photos.

A Fight To The Death

Like most phobias, arachnophobia makes no rational sense. But also like most phobias, the fear of spiders comes from some dark, hidden corner of the psyche. It’s primal. Just the suggestion of something hairy and eight-legged is enough to make the average arachnophobe gag, scream, or even leap out of a moving car. This is well before the rational part of the brain kicks in and tells us that ‘it’s a harmless little spider’. I can only speculate that somewhere in our prehistoric past, our ancestors ran from a now-extinct, man-eating species of cow-sized spider, and that this distant memory is locked away in our subconscious.

I’ve been aware of my arachnophobic impulses for many years now, and I’m proud to say that I can override the urge to hysteria in all but the scariest of spider sightings. A recent encounter, however, came when I was at a physical and emotional low, and I reacted a little badly. To put it bluntly, I was left shattered and highly embarrassed for days afterwards.

It was a Thursday night. All week, I’d been suffering from a nasty stomach pain. I felt sore and bloated. My appetite had all but disappeared. My head and back were aching and I was very tired. It was as though all my systems were falling apart.

I been visiting my daughter, but felt so sick, I decided to leave early. I didn’t feel like doing anything other than getting into bed.

That was when things started to go very wrong.

Upon getting home, I went straight to my bedroom, flicked on the light, and was about to throw myself onto the bed, when I caught sight of the largest, ugliest, hairiest huntsman spider I’d ever seen. It had arranged itself above my bed like a wall ornament. Like the severed hand of some alien creature now displayed as a trophy. I’d frozen – my mouth hanging open and my limbs stopped dead, like one frame of a moving picture – a runner caught mid-stride.

I did the right thing at first. I didn’t run out of the house screaming, or start waving my arms or rolling my eyes. I calmly thought things through. My plan was to brush it onto the floor with a magazine, then either catch it in a jar or, if I had no other choice, squash it with my shoe.

But as I took one step towards it, a magazine curled in my hand, the spider ran, with astonishing speed, down behind the head of the bed.

I gasped as a spasm of repulsion rippled through my body. ‘It’s on my bed,’ I whispered, swallowing the urge to hiccup violently.

I peered reluctantly into the crack between bed and wall, the creature’s hideous body a silhouette in the sliver of light. It was on the bed head, about level with the pillows. A terrifying chant echoed in my head. ‘There’s a spider on my pillow, my pillow, my pillow. There’s a spider on my pillow, my pillow…’

Again, I suppressed the inclination to panic. As calmly as I could, I attempted to lift the foot of the bed and swing it away from the wall. But the bed – queen-sized and solid wood – was so heavy I could only move it a few centimetres. Looking into the crack a second time, I could still see the spider, but it had crawled onto the mattress. There was no way I could even get close to it, forget about swinging a magazine.

Maybe I could lever the mattress from the bed? If the spider clung to the mattress, I’d be able to get to it. If it jumped onto the bed base, I’d also stand a better chance of getting to it without the mattress in the way. Either way, I’d get a shot at the monster.

By now, I was getting weary. The little energy I’d had was dribbling away, as were my feelings of compassion. All thoughts of rehabilitation had dissipated. It was now a fight to the death!

The mattress was no easier to move than the bed. It was big and heavy and awkward, and it was only after much swearing that I was able to get it on its side, standing like a wall across the middle of the room. But now that it was in that position, the spider was nowhere to be seen. I looked carefully around the bed head, and then, reluctantly, squatted on the floor and peered underneath. There it was – clinging upside-down to one of the slats forming the base of my bed.

The wooden slats were not nailed or bolted into position, but merely slotted into a groove in the base. I carefully manoeuvred the slat loose and lifted it, hoping to expose the beast. But as soon as it was visible, and my magazine poised to swat, the spider leapt with great skill onto the next. As I lifted the second slat, it did the same again, and kept on doing it until all the slats were loose and stacked in a ramshackle pile next to the bed.

By this time, I was white as a sheet and sweating profusely. I may have even been sobbing. The spider itself has clambered onto the foot of the bed and was making its way towards the great wall of mattress. Apart from the mess I’d created from dismantling the bed, I’d also stirred up a disgusting amount of dust that filled the air like a noxious fog.

I sneezed, sobbed and began to whine in the manner of a two-year old. I went in search of a glass of water and caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. What this the face of a mature 50-year man, or a mentally defective infant?

Upon returning to the bedroom, I spotted the spider making itself comfortable on the upper reaches of my mattress. Suddenly, as though a fuse had blown in my brain, I slipped into a kind of hysterical madness, and lunged at the spider with a battered copy of Mojo magazine. I smashed at the mattress again and again, my blows random and careless, and as I did so I uttered a sort of primitive guttural shriek.

In the end, nothing remained of the spider or the magazine. Although, to my discomfort, I could only finds spider fragments scattered across the room – a leg here, a bit of body there. No complete confirmation of its demise.

I collapsed – exhausted and wrecked. There was no relief, just a sense of embarrassment and shame. Surrounding me was the remains of my bedroom – bits of bed, hastily moved furniture, disorganised piles of paper and magazines.

I found an uncontaminated pillow and slept on the lounge room sofa. Even then, as I closed my eyes, spider-shaped figures crawled across the inside of my eyelids.

 

 

The Ibis Threat

In a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a dozen dirty white birds with long blade-like beaks have taken over a small suburban playground. Children don’t play here anymore – they’re too scared.

And while such scenes might be expected in the mountains of New Guinea or the Amazon jungle, this is suburban Adelaide. Growing numbers of these birds have been spotted across the metropolitan area, from Semaphore to Aberfoyle Park.

In Hillcrest last week, a seven-year-old had his lunch taken by a gang of five birds. While in Modbury, a flock of over 30 birds disrupted a church picnic with unruly behaviour and loud squawking.

But what are they? Where have they come from? And what do they want from us?

‘The Sacred Ibis is common across eastern Australia,’ explains Professor Badger-Smith from Coca-Cola® University. ‘But they’re usually found in estuaries and wetlands, not urban areas. And they’re generally timid creatures that avoid human contact.’

Tell that to Aldo Luring, a pensioner from South Plympton. He was returning from a trip to the local TAB when one of Professor Badger-Smith’s ‘timid creatures’ snatched the war veteran’s beanie, leaving a savage scratch mark on the man’s forehead.

‘This is a mutant strain of ibis,’ suggests Hugh Smirch from the Limp River Wildlife Park. ‘Could be global warming, biochemical testing or even alien experimentation. We’ve got a dingo at the Park with three tails – one coming out the top of its head. You can’t tell me aliens didn’t have something to do with that!’

The man with the most chilling explanation for the urban ibis – or ‘urbis’ – is Dr Frank Drell, a geneticist whose book Genetic Engineering For Fun And Leisure was a New York Times bestseller.

‘This type of development is not uncommon,’ says Dr Drell. ‘A relatively harmless species comes into contact with humans – eats human food, watches humans play sport – and begins to take on human characteristics. There are hedgehogs in Sweden that can understand the most complicated mobile phone contracts.’

‘Unfortunately, the animal doesn’t always take on the most appealing human traits,’ he adds ominously.

Indeed, some inner city ibis have been seen queue jumping at city bus stops, while still others have been caught putting recyclable material in with regular garbage.

‘Every ibis in the country should be put on a boat and sent back where it came from,’ declares Independent MP, Olly Swine. ‘There’ll be no queue-jumping in Oliver Swine’s Australia!’

While politicians and scientists debate the ibis issue, nothing is being done, and ever-increasing numbers of birds are gathering in our playgrounds, restaurants and discount pharmacies.

We can only hope it won’t be too late before action is taken.

If you see, hear or smell any anti-social ibis behaviour ring 1800 IBIS HELP immediately.

Max Funt Reporting.

Something – a Review

Since the release of its debut album, Does You Inspire You, in 2008, a couple of things have happened to Chairlift. Founding member, Aaron Pfenning, has left to pursue other interests. And the band, now just Caroline Polacheck and Patrick Wimberly, have acquired an inspired confidence and sleek new sound.

As good as Does You Inspire You was, many of the songs were clunky and awkward, if not lyrically, then in arrangement and execution, sometimes both. But the last thing you could say about Something is that it is ‘clunky’. In fact, most of the songs are so sprightly they literally bounce out of the speakers.

Early single, Amanaemonesia, provided a preview of this new direction. With its funky bass-line, busy vocal layers and soaring chorus, the song probably would have been a hit if its title had been a little easier to spell or pronounce. And whereas the arrangements on Does You Inspire You were rudimentary, the sound of this track is bubbling with invention.

Amanaemonesia is one of the highlights of Something, but it has plenty of fine company. Opening track, Sidewalk Safari, is as good as they come, with its squiggly synth and shuffling rhythm, the song is so catchy you forget the fact that it’s about trying to run someone down with a car.

When songs sound as effortless as these, you know something is going right for a band. Track three, I Belong In Your Arms, shimmers and skips, with gorgeous melodies and another glorious chorus.

Cause the world goes
On without us

It doesn’t matter what we do
All silhouettes with no regrets
When I’m melting into you
I belong in your arms

Lyrically, Something avoids the quirky topical concerns of the first album (health, environment, earwigs) and concentrates on that perennial favourite – love. If the song isn’t celebrating love, it’s about the lack of love, or the difficulties of love. But for the most part, the band has enough verve and personality to pull it off.

Another highlight is second single, Met Before. Unlike most of the tracks on Something, the vocals are way back in the mix, beneath layers of big 80s synths and a thumping Motown beat.

Curiously, after a long sequence of up-tempo tracks, the album ends with three slower songs. They are all decent tunes, but after such a dizzy string of dance treats, it can’t help but sound like an anti-climax.

The second of these, Turning, is mainly instrumental, a Cocteau-like affair of atmosphere and suggestion. While final track, Guilty As Charged, chugs and coughs beneath Polacheck’s deceptively sweet-sounding tale of paranoia and desire.

The album, then, is a success. Dripping with hooks, fine melodies and inventive arrangements, the album would have been a sure-fire hit if released in 1983. The unfortunate thing about today’s fragmented music world is that many people won’t get to hear it.

But I’ve given you a tip, so check it out – Something is something else.

Amelia Walker – Super Poet

It’s hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since the launch of my last poetry collection, The Inverted World. On a hot February night in 2009, a sweaty but amiable crowd assembled at The Jade Monkey in Adelaide to celebrate the launch of my chapbook, as well as the launch of fellow poet and good friend, Amelia Walker’s second collection, Just Your Everyday Apocalypse.

In the years since, while my life has deteriorated into a never-ending, especially painful episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Amelia has travelled the world, completed her Honours thesis, started her PhD, and written and performed lots of great poetry. Some of it is about to be published by Queensland publisher, Interactive Press.

Amelia’s third collection, Sound and Bundy, will be launched at 7.00pm on the 23 February 2012 at the Tin Cat Café in Kent Town. Also launched will be Heather Taylor Johnson’s collection Letters to My Lover From a Small Mountain Town. If you’re free on the night, get along to pick up your copies of two great new poetry books.

I don’t want to tell you too much about Amelia’s new collection, other than to say it’s an absolutely one-of-a-kind, super special project. For those who do want to know more about Sound and Bundy, visit Amelia’s page at the Interactive Press website, where you’ll even get a sneak preview of some of the poems. If you can’t make it to the launch, you can order a copy (print or electronic) of the book online.

Amelia will also be reading at the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Thebarton on the 27 February. As part of the Max Mo Spoken Word series, Amelia will be sharing the stage with Mike Ladd and Jude Aquilina. A great opportunity to hear three top Adelaide poets! The show starts at 7.00pm.

 

 

Just Kids – a Review

Just Kids – Patti Smith’s award-winning book – is not your typical rock ‘n’ roll bio. In fact, Smith’s emergence as a fully-fledged rock star is only touched upon in the last quarter of the book. Instead, the focus of this autobiography is Smith’s relationship with photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe – her close friend for over 20 years.

The book begins with Smith’s childhood in New Jersey, where she develops an early fascination with poetry and art, interests she will eventually share with fellow outsider, Mapplethorpe. As a teenager, unhappy with life in rural South Jersey, she scrapes together enough money for a one-way ticket to New York, and with little more than a suitcase of belongings, heads to the city in search of a more like-minded community.

Patti Smith’s trials as she doggedly follows this path are often harrowing. Naïve and socially awkward, she lives on the streets, sleeping in doorways and scrounging for money and food. A job in a bookstore brings some relief, and it is here she meets Mapplethorpe. Like Smith, he has abandoned his life and family in the suburbs for the big city. They become friends, then lovers, forging a partnership devoted to their passion for art.

After establishing this bond, Just Kids, follows the couple as they struggle to stay afloat. But while day-to-day life remains difficult, Smith and Mapplethorpe keep true to their artistic vision. And after several years on the periphery of New York’s art scene, their arrival at the Chelsea Hotel eventually delivers the opportunities and connections that will bring them fame and success.

Smith’s vivid and imaginative description of late 60’s New York is just one of the many pleasures of Just Kids. The hellish Allerton Hotel ‘reeking of piss and exterminator fluid, the wallpaper peeling like dead skin in summer’ becomes a kind of purgatory for lost souls. While the fashionably seedy Chelsea Hotel ‘was like a doll’s house in the twilight zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe’.

The book is filled with the unique personalities that made New York the centre of alternative Western culture – the Beat Poets, the Warhol crowd, the Woodstock generation of rock ‘n’ roll stars. Smith has a gift for portraying even the most outrageous characters with great generosity.

Ultimately, though, the story is devoted to Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith’s hero and soul mate and, as he nears a premature death, the final section of the book reads as a kind of elegy.

Just Kids is a fascinating depiction of time and place, a moving tribute to a lost friend, and a recommended read for music fans and general readers alike.

 

Young Adult – a Review

Mavis Gary is the ghostwriter for a series of failing teen novels. She is also depressed, an alcoholic, and desperately lonely. We meet Mavis shuffling through her mess of an apartment, guzzling Diet Coke for breakfast, and lazily attending to her small dog, whose friendly, excitable behaviour is a stark contrast to Mavis’s almost comatose movements.

As she struggles with the opening chapter to her latest novel, Mavis receives an email from an old high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade, announcing the birth of his first child. Somewhere in Mavis’s confused mind she interprets this as a sign that they should be reunited, despite the fact that he is happily married and now has a child.

And so, hurriedly packing her bags and hitting the road back to her hometown, Mavis begins her misguided search for happiness.

Young Adult is directed by Jason Reitman, and written by Diablo Cody, but those expecting another Juno will be disappointed, for Young Adult is a downbeat affair with a difficult central character.

Mavis is bitter, childish, a snob, deluded and often downright nasty. But as her plan to win back Buddy begins to unravel, she somehow gains our sympathy, perhaps because everyone has, at some time, experienced similar sensations – a disconnection from our roots, the realisation that we’ve been deluding ourselves (particularly when it comes to  relationships), and the realisation that we’ve been stuck in the past.

The success of Young Adult hinges on the performance of Charlize Theron, and to her credit, she is able to portray Mavis as a mean and selfish character, yet still somehow likeable. There are occasional moments when Mavis appears to see herself truthfully, and we can feel her hurting.

The movie’s other key character is Matt Freehauf, played by Patton Oswalt, As a teenager, Matt was brutally beaten, and still suffers from damage to his legs and penis. After meeting Mavis in a bar on her first night in town, Matt becomes her unlikely confidant and reluctant accomplice. We might wonder why Mavis would seek the company of the geeky Matt, but like her, Matt is an outsider.

Matt is also the only person who can see through Mavis and is not afraid to tell her, something she appears to resent, yet perhaps values.

Of course, Mavis’s attempts to reconnect with Buddy are cringingly awkward, climaxing in an embarrassing confrontation, during which Mavis manages to insult as many people as possible.

So what is Young Adult about? Is it a meditation on the meaning of happiness – the idea that happiness begins by changing how you think, not with what you have or haven’t got? Is it about the inability of some people to learn from their mistakes? Or the inability of some people to see beyond their delusions?

Does Mavis learn anything from her experience? ‘I need to change,’ she declares, and we really hope she does.

Young Adult is more a drama than a comedy, yet there is plenty of harsh humour to savour. But don’t expect another Juno. If anything, this is the ‘Anti-Juno’. It’s a good movie for sure, but you won’t necessarily leave the cinema smiling.

Still Ill

It’s hard to believe that 2006 was six years ago! Time flies when you’re bored senseless, I guess!

After a long, long uncomfortable sleep, I’ve finally woken up – like Miles Monroe in Sleeper, Rip Van Winkle in Hot Daddies Do Dallas or Sleeping Beauty in…er…Sleeping Beauty.

Yes, the world has changed, but there is no Dianne Keaton waiting for me with an Orgasmatron, no Prince Charming ready to whisk me away – I’ve found myself living between a swamp and a desert, with no money, no hair, and five years flabbier.

Still, the main thing is that I’m back – ready to rant, rhyme, review, and roar (well, quietly).

The last five years have been tough. I’ve spent days hiding underneath my bed, weeks disguised as a giant penguin, several months pretending to be Argentinean. I’ve wrestled with psychiatrists, played badminton with podiatrists, traded drool with sociopaths.

I’ve tip-toed through the valley of the shadow of death.

And I’ve survived. A little wiser, a little wearier, but prepared for anything.

NAUSEA in 2012 will be a little more relaxed than the 2006 version. There’ll still be lots of reviews, poetry, humour, quirky tales and news. Most of the old team are still with me – Candy, Madame Claude, Max Funt, Tidy Boy and the Angry Poet – plus there will be some very special guest contributors.

But, unlike the 2006 version, we’ll adopt a more relaxed approach. There’ll be shorter articles, scraps, snippets, gossip, snapshots, artwork and more.

NAUSEA in 2012 will be a scrapbook, a blog, and a website.

I hope you enjoy the ride…

Beyond Nausea

After 100 posts and around 50000 words, the Nausea team regret to announce that the Nausea weblog will cease operations. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and other commitments, it is simply no longer possible to continue the blog into 2007.

While the Nausea address will continue to feature special articles from time to time, regular posts, including music and film reviews, will be discontinued.

The Nausea team would like to thank all readers – especially those that took the time to provide feedback – as well as contributors, friends and supporters.

Marie Antoinette – a Review

‘Marie Antoinette’ is Sofia Coppola’s third movie about lonely young women trying to find their way in a difficult world. It is, perhaps, the least successful of the three, however, still manages to entertain and interest with its originality and luscious visuals.

At age 14, Marie Antoinette is sent from her home in Austria to marry Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) of France, primarily to cement an alliance between the two countries. Antoinette’s early days in Versailles are difficult, as she struggles to conform to rigid traditions and protocols, and (at first) unsuccessfully tries to consummate the marriage to her disinterested husband.

Eventually, Antoinette adapts to life in France. She acquires an entourage of close friends, attends operas and balls, bears two children, establishes a country house, takes a lover, and becomes Queen.

Beyond this, there is little plot to ‘Marie Antoinette’. There is no scandal or political intrigue, and few references to life beyond the walls of Versailles. We view the world as Marie Antoinette might have seen it, protected (or suffocated) by her life of privilege. This approach is a good from a psychological viewpoint, as it helps us understand how Marie’s character might have evolved, but it makes for slow cinema.

In her previous movies, Coppola has successfully employed subtleties (minimal dialogue, environment, long moments of silence) to develop character and plot, and heighten sexual tension. But without a relationship like Bob and Charlotte’s in ‘Lost In Translation’ these subtleties only serve to highlight the current film’s ponderous pace.

Coppola’s other signature device – her use of popular music – is another that does not work so well in ‘Marie Antoinette’. While the likes of Air, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus And Mary Chain and Phoenix might have fit in perfectly with 70s America or 00s Tokyo, the use of post-punk and punk music in ‘Marie Antoinette’ is a little puzzling. I’m quite happy to spend all day listening to Gang of Four, The Cure, Bow Wow Wow and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but I’m not sure what it’s doing in a film about an 18th Century monarch. Other reviewers have suggested that the music reflects the hedonism of the time, but that doesn’t ring true for me. Punk music was born out a reaction against hedonism and excess, and contained a greater social and political awareness than previous pop music forms. A more appropriate music might have been 70s disco?

The cast is uniformly good. In the central role, Kirsten Dunst is radiant as Marie Antoinette. Strong support comes from Jason Schwartzman as her clueless husband, Rip Torn as the randy Louis XV, and Judy Davis as the Contesse de Noailles, while Steve Coogan, Rose Byrne, Asia Argento, Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Henderson have smaller roles.

As previously suggested, ‘Marie Antoinette’ is not an overwhelming success. It is beautiful to look at, amusing and moving at times, but not entirely satisfying. However, it does paint an empathetic, and ultimately poignant portrait of a young woman taken from her home and transplanted into a world where her every word and action is examined and criticised.

The Music of 2006

With 2006 all but over, it’s time to reassess the year’s music. It was not a year of upheaval or radical change; yet saw the release of two key albums (TV on the Radio’s ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ and Joanna Newsom’s ‘Ys’) whose influence may be felt for some time to come. Both albums found new and interesting ways of saying things in an increasingly sterile and generic pop music landscape.

Elsewhere, it was a year of singer-songwriters, whether of the alternative (Amy Millan, Neko Case, Beth Orton, Cat Power) or evergreen variety (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen). The neo-psychedelic folk movement continued to gather force and fans, while the puff finally ran out of the post-punk revival. This was not before we were provided with perhaps two of its finest exponents – UK’s Arctic Monkeys and Young Knives.

2006 also saw the return of three British pop icons – Morrissey, Green Gartside (aka Scritti Politti) and Jarvis Cocker. All three released albums that proved they still have much to offer the pop world.

Metacritic.com identified four key albums for the year – Dylan’s ‘Modern Times’, Arctic Monkey’s ‘Whatever You Say I Am…’ and the aforementioned releases by Joanna Newsom and TV On The Radio. Other strong performers were albums by Gnarls Barkley, Clipse and Ghostface Killah.

The major magazines offered few surprises in their end of year lists. Bob Dylan topped both the Uncut and Rolling Stone lists, while the Arctic Monkeys album was number one for both NME and Q Magazine. Mojo placed the Raconteurs’ lp ahead of both Dylan and the Monkeys, while Pitchfork chose the otherwise ignored ‘Silent Shout’ by The Knife as its top album.

The Nausea team has listened to about 150 new albums in 2006 – only a fraction of the total number released. The Nausea Top 25 (see below) cannot, therefore, hope to be a comprehensive record of the year. Perhaps, instead, it can be seen as an overview, bringing to your attention something that you may have missed during the year.

Meanwhile, 2007 looms, with key releases from Bloc Party, Air, Field Music, Apples In Stereo, The Earlies, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Shins and !!! all due out early in the New Year.

Here’s to another good year in music!


The Nausea Top 25 Albums for 2006

1. TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
2. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Letting Go
3. Hot Chip – The Warning
4. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
5. The Rapture – Pieces Of The People We Love
6. Belle And Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
7. Cat Power – The Greatest
8. The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics
9. Guillemots – Through The Window Pane
10. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Ballad Of The Broken Seas
11. Howe Gelb – Sno Angel Like You
12. Joanna Newsom – Ys
13. The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
14. Morrissey – Ringleader Of The Tormentors
15. Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche
16. Herbert – Scale
17. Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis
18. The Dears – Gang Of Losers
19. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
20. The Young Knives – Voices Of Animals And Men
21. Sparklehorse – Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain
22. The Sleepy Jackson – Personality
23. Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5.55
24. Scritti Politti – White Bread, Black Beer
25. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country

bubbling under – The Pipettes, The Knife, Howling Bells, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Scissor Sisters, Mates Of State, Beirut, Beck, Thom Yorke and Tapes ‘n’ Tapes.