The System is Broken

In 1997, the Howard Government, in keeping with the great Neoliberalist experiment, decided to privatise the Commonwealth Employment Service (or CES), which had been assisting job seekers since 1946. The CES was replaced by a Job Network of community, government and commercial agencies. The reasoning, as is usually the case, was that increased competition would increase efficiency, while driving down costs. There are now in excess of 1700 such agencies across the country, nine of them within walking distance of my local shopping centre.

When I was made redundant some years ago, I was referred to one of these Job Service Providers. It was staffed by six or so staff and appeared to function as a reasonably normal office. During my time there I was referred to a few (inappropriate) jobs, but I was also given advice on improving my resume, interview techniques and job search methods.

Then, without warning or explanation, I was ordered to attend a new Provider. One of the state’s largest, whose office was within walking distance of my previous Provider. The office was large and impressive, at least from the outside. The initial interview was not unusual. I provided a copy of my resume and all seemed normal. But that would be the last time I’d receive such an impression.

The waiting room for about 12 people was overlooked by a receptionist’s nook. A passage beyond lead to a maze of hallways passing numerous empty offices – no staff, no paperwork, no decoration, just a computer – often turned off. I soon discovered that after waiting for 10-50 minutes past my appointment time, a distant voice would holler my name. I would stand, look down the passageway, to see an anonymous stranger – presumably a consultant – waving at me. The first time this happened I thought I might have struck a particularly inept or rude person, but this was regular practice. It happened to every job seeker, every time. A long wait, and then an ill-mannered shout!

Now, this might seem like an exaggeration, but I swear that it’s true. For the year I was with this Provider I saw someone different EVERY time. I would write down their name at the start of the “interview” but cross it out and replace it when someone new appeared at the next visit. This continued until I had quite a long list of ex-consultants. Where did they come from and where did they go? I have no idea! Although the premises was large and featured many offices, I never saw more than three staff at any one time. On many occasions there was just one, with a waiting room filled with job seekers. Once, my interview took place at the receptionist’s counter, in between phone calls.

The consultants, if you could call them that, were NEVER prepared. Although I’d provided my resume on several occasions and in various formats, the consultants never had one on hand. And, even though my job applications had been entered into the Job Active database, the consultants either didn’t know how to access the information or didn’t care.

Interviews invariably opened with questions like: “So, what sort of jobs have you applied for?” or “What sort of work would you like to do?”

I was only referred for one job while at this Provider. Despite having over 30 years’ experience in Financial Services, she insisted that I apply for a job as hotel waiter. It soon became apparent that the reason she was so insistent was that the job was with her previous employer.

In order to retain my Newstart Allowance I had to attend the interview. It was as humiliating as could be expected (particularly as the job she’d referred me for was NOT the one on offer.)

At one point, the Provider forced me to start a “business course” with an external organisation. The course might have been appropriate for someone who’d never worked before, but NOT for a mature job seeker. There were over 12 of us attempting to complete activities aimed at someone with no concept of basic work practices. (Interestingly, I later discovered that the training organisation and the Job Service Provider were owned by the same entity. Does this mean Centrelink was paying both – one as referee and one as trainer? Given that the “course” was completely inappropriate, this arrangement prompts all sorts of questions.)

The Provider even failed at the most basic level. Twice I incurred Demerit Points on my Job Active account, both of which were due to the Provider’s incompetence. When I asked for them to be removed I was told either “we can’t” or “we don’t know how”. Their final response was: “They’ll just disappear after a few months.”

Usually, Centrelink decide when and where you go when it comes to Job Service Providers (it’s all about who gets the money). But after a little preparation, I was able to disentangle myself from this Provider, much to the confusion of the consultant. (“Can he do this?)

I think my parting words were: “This office would be better run by children.”

Although, even empty offices would have been an improvement.


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The Sixth Beatle, Part One

Not many people know this, but I was actually the sixth Beatle!

I’d known Paul for years. We’d hung around the streets of Liverpool trying to pick up birds. It was hard work, as some of those girls were really heavy. Anyway, when it came time for the boys to record their second album (at this stage it was going to be called “The Beatles Wow”), Paul called me up to see if I could bring along any cakes or sandwiches, as he knew my Mum was the best cook in the street.

So, I went along to the session at Abbey Road with a few biscuits and a big chocolate cake, and George Martin flew into a rage. “Is this all you could come up with? Some biscuits and a silly cake?” He really was a greedy, bad-tempered bastard, and after complaining all morning, ate as much of the cake as he could during the break. I bought him a couple of extra doughnuts, which seemed to calm him down, and he ended up letting me add some handclaps to “I Wanna Be Your Man”.

Years later, I went along to the “Sergeant Pepper” sessions, but that’s a whole other story. George Martin spent more time sleeping then eating in those sessions.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, because my first contact with the music scene was when I got to know Bobby Zimmerman. I’d just finished my Kerouac phase, after hitch-hiking from Chicago to Los Angeles. On the way back to the East Coast I found myself at the University of Minnesota. I bumped into Bobby pretty soon – everyone seemed to know him. He was always trying to come up with a new angle on how to be a pop star. I suggested the surname ‘Dylan’ – he wanted to go with ‘Dolly’ or ‘Dolphin’, which didn’t quite have the same feel. Then there were the instruments themselves. Bobby was trying to play the guitar and the trumpet at the same time. I told him it wouldn’t work, but he was a pretty stubborn guy. Months later, he tried out the harmonica, and things started to fall into place. I went with him to New York in ’61, but he soon left me behind once his career started to take off.

There was one night just before we separated, both of us high on weed, and Bobby dragged his guitar out and began strumming a few random chords. I was singing along, and, as it’d been a wild, wintry day, and kept repeating the phrase “Blowin’ in the wind”. Now I wouldn’t begin to take credit for the song, but imagine my surprise when it was a big hit. I think I was living under the tram line in Brooklyn at the time.

I hung around Greenwich Village and the protest scene for a couple of years, but soon grew bored when singers began protesting about the colour of cardigans and the inability of whales to speak Greek.

I went to England in mid-63, and as I’ve already explained, helped The Beatles with their second album. I’d just finished with them, when Mick and Keith from The Stones called me up. They’d heard about my Mum’s cakes and biscuits and wanted a taste while recording their new album “Afterdinner” (later known as “Aftermath”). Unfortunately, I was with them during the “peeing incident”. We were on our way back from Brighton, when Keith and the lads decided to stop for a piss. We all got out of the limousine and each found our own private hedge. But Keith was in a mischievous mood and began peeing all over Mick and Bill, then he pulled the cakes out of the car and peed on them. As you can imagine I was very annoyed.

The police arrived in the middle of all this and arrested everyone on ‘public indecency’. After the original cakes got peed on, I refused to arrange more, even though Mick begged me. “Those cakes and cookies could mean the difference between a hit and a flop.” I refused, and apparently Mick and Keith were so angry they wrote “Sympathy for the Devil” about the incident. Originally, the song had references to cream buns and marzipan.

I didn’t speak to Mick or Keith for years after that, in fact, things were so dull in London that I went back to New York, and caught up with Andy Warhol. He was stuck on an idea for his next project, so I suggested he photocopy baked bean cans. He really wasn’t keen on the idea and had this whole dog thing planned. But after an Afghan Hound tore up The Factory and peed on Twiggy, he reconsidered the baked bean idea.

It wasn’t long before The Factory became the New York ‘scene’ attracting poets, pop stars, pirates, and parakeets. Andy, Gerald and I went to this club one night and saw this crazy band that called themselves The Velvet Underground. They made me want to throw up, but Andy was somehow fascinated with them. Pretty soon, they were hanging around at The Factory too. And they practised every day, not that all the band were that enthusiastic. John, Moe and Sterling couldn’t give a shit. Nico was nowhere to be seen. Only Lou was dedicated, strumming away to his strange lyrics about toothpaste, parachutes, and coconuts.

When Andy did get them booked, it was often my job to make sure they all got to the venue on time. John Cale didn’t believe in time, having destroyed all his clocks. Moe was too busy bashing her toms to hear us calling her. Sterling hated the band and would deliberately bring the wrong instrument – a bassoon, bagpipes, a mouth organ. Nico had to be literally walked to her spot on the stage, which we marked with an “N” in chalk. She still didn’t get it right, and would often wander off stage as though visiting the powder room.

Whenever this happened, Andy got me up on stage with my kazoo or spoons. I didn’t get to play on any of the Velvet’s albums, but I did help Lou with some of the lyrics. “Waiting for the Man”, for example, used to be called “Waiting for the Mandarin”. And “Heroin” was originally called “Hairy Woman”.

By the late 60’s I was getting tired of life at The Factory – too many hangers-on, nobodies, cheesy celebrities. I did get to meet Jim Morrison though. We became good friends for a while. He even leant me a pair of his leather underpants. I was to blame for the strings on “The Soft Parade”, which pissed everyone off for months.

I was in the bath with Jim when he passed away. It wasn’t drink or drugs, but a dangerous bath toy.

I left Paris straight after the funeral and found myself in London for the first time in 8 years.  It wasn’t long before Davie Jones (or Bowie as he now called himself) called up. He was after ideas for a new stage show. He’d heard about my Mum’s cooking from Lennon, and was thinking of an entire evening of dancing baked goods. I suggested that the cakes and cookies could have been brought to life by an alien ray. David changed the central character’s name from Sprinkle Fairydust to Ziggy Stardust, and all of a sudden, his imagination caught fire. By the following morning, we’d written a couple of songs, designed the stage set and a couple of costumes. We celebrated by snorting an entire bag of ‘green’ coke. Something special David had acquired in South America.

As you would know “Ziggy Stardust” was a huge hit. As payment for my contribution, David arranged for several bags of the ‘green’ coke, which was fine until I discovered that the green tinge was a result of a type of mould.

Anyway, things were moving on in the music scene. A new sound calling itself ‘punk’ was suddenly popular. I was in Manchester at the same time as punk’s premiere band The Sex Pistols. They were playing at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. It’s been said that everyone who was anyone was at that first gig, but I can only recall seeing a young Morrissey and Mick Hucknall. The Hall was only about half full.

The band itself generated a great deal of energy, most which emanated from the ‘singer’ Johnny Rotten, whose main act of aggression involved spitting great globs of spittle at the front rows.

When the Pistols returned a few weeks later, the Hall was packed. I saw Tony Wilson, Peter Saville, Howard Devoto, the Warsaw boys. I’d met Steve and Bernard a few weeks earlier at a local fish and chippery. They were troubled over Ian’s ideas for a new band name. Ian wanted to call the band either Toy Division or Joy Sauce. When I suggested a compromise by adding Joy to Division, the boys seemed relieved. But when they approached Ian, the difficult front-man decided he liked Toy Sauce best of all…

When I saw them a year later, they were still bickering about the name. Ian is supposed to have said he wanted Fluffy Pop Twinkles “or else”. Some have even suggested that the name issue might have pushed Ian over the edge.

I moved back to London after that, and began thinking of my own band. A new variation on punk was taking over the scene – some called it post-punk – and I decided I wanted to be part of it.




Nearly five years ago I was made redundant. This was after 30 years working in Financial Services. I have experience in Retail and Business Lending, Insurance, Financial Planning, and Superannuation. Despite this experience – and about 1,200 job applications – I’ve found it impossible to find full time work.

I’ve lost count of the interviews and Assessment Centres I’ve attended – I can only say that nothing I do seems to improve my chances of getting work. The reasons for rejections are nearly always vague – ‘other clients more closely met the requirements of the position’, ‘our recruitment software deemed you unsuccessful in obtaining an interview’ or ‘management decided to go another way’.

I’ve had my resume reviewed by experts. I’ve had my interviewing technique examined. I’ve attended coaching clinics and workshops. Yet nothing has improved my ability to get a job.

So, what is the problem?

Friends and family have suggested that my age is an issue. While employers are unlikely to say that this is a drawback, I’ve attended Assessment Centres where I’m twice the age of everyone else. A potential employer is unlikely not to notice this, and perhaps doubt my ability to work at the same capacity as a younger person.

Could it be my weight? My thinning hair? My sexual orientation (at least one employer has asked me this question)? Could it be my interest in poetry, Bob Dylan, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

Whatever the reason(s), after nearly five years of unemployment, I have reached a stage beyond desperation. I can imagine a future living in the wreck of my car.

Please note that I write this entry not in search of sympathy, but as an indication of the difficulty that older people face in obtaining regular work. Despite policies to the contrary, there is obviously discrimination when it comes to employing over 50’s.


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.

Going Underground, Poetry On The Fringe

Over the past 30 years, Adelaide has established itself as a fertile breeding ground for quality poets and poetry. South Australian poets regularly appear in national ‘best of’ anthologies, while the city is home to numerous live poetry venues and at least one quality literary journal.

But Adelaide is also the home of a healthy network of poets who consider themselves at work outside the established poetry scene. One of the principals behind this so-called ‘underground’ poetry movement is Keith Salmon.

‘When most people think of poetry, they think of words, they think of paper, they think of language. What we are trying to do is quite different. When we think of poetry, we think of meat. We think of sausages, steak and pork chops,’ says Salmon passionately.

The Meat Poets have been meeting at a disused sausage factory in the western suburbs for the last three years. Their first anthology, ‘Let’s Talk Pork’, is due for release in the New Year, although it has been ready for some 18 months. Keith identifies the lack of support from local booksellers as the main reason behind the delay.

‘Your average bookseller knows little about poetry. They look at a plate of beef mince and think ‘dinner’. Unfortunately, they’ve refused to stock our anthology until we provide the necessary refrigeration. They don’t want smelly product. Some philistines have even suggested we approach butchers rather than bookshops!’

Dianne Melon, of Poets Without Words, bemoans a similar lack of support for her ‘silent’ poetry. Her first collection, ‘Invisible Verse’, sold out at a prominent Adelaide bookshop within a couple of weeks. At first she was elated, but then discovered that they were selling the collection as a notebook or diary, not a poetry collection. Dianne admits that the lack of words in her collection could be confusing.

‘There’s a tendency in our culture to expect poetry to contain words. Why is this so? I aim to change this expectation.’

Not all underground poetry is as challenging as the Meat Poets or Poets Without Words. The Word Maggots have been writing as a group for six years. They meet underneath a railway bridge in the Adelaide foothills. Unlike the other groups, and as their name suggests, they do work with words. But unlike traditional poets, the Word Maggots do not write with paper and pen, they write with paint, chalk and other substances on a variety of surfaces. Their most infamous work is an epic entitled ‘How Now’ which was written on a herd of cows. Each cow featured only one or two words of the poem. With the animals in constant motion, the poem never read the same way twice.

‘’How Now’ was our masterpiece,’ says Maggot leader, Leon O. ‘Until then, we’d only worked with much smaller creatures – dogs, cats, mice. The sheer size of a cow allowed us to say so much more.’

The owner of the herd was less impressed, and attempted to press charges against the group. It’s this confrontational aspect of the Word Maggots that has seen them labelled as ‘guerrilla’ or ‘terrorist’ poets.

Also based in the Adelaide Hills are the Gumleaf Poets, who perform their work while dressed as marsupials. Until earlier this year their monthly meeting was held in a eucalyptus tree overlooking the South Eastern Freeway. Unfortunately, one of the group fell mid-poem, and was crushed by a semi-trailer. The tragedy was compounded when other drivers, thinking the poet was a native animal, drove over him repeatedly.

The group write traditional rhyming bush verse, and regularly publish in magazines and newspapers, but find they are not taken seriously by the rest of the literary community.

‘They seem to object to the costumes,’ says Gumleaf founder, Norma Devlin. ‘But I think the costumes lend authenticity to the poetry. After all, who better to read a poem about gum trees than a koala!’

One of the most vocal supporters of the poetic fringe is public radio host, Pam Lamb. She regularly features underground poets on her radio show ‘Poetry Tomorrow’ and is trying to organise a festival of such poets to coincide with the next Adelaide Festival of Arts in 2008.

‘There’s such a wealth of poetic talent in this city that is simply not getting the exposure it deserves,’ says Pam. ‘You’ve got the Word Maggots in the Hills, the Meat Poets, the Yo-Yo Collective. People like Colin Crisp, Dorothy Clunder, Ricky Fiddle. And, of course, Poets On A String.’

Apart from her work with ‘Poetry Tomorrow’ Pam Lamb has been heavily involved with fringe group Poets On A String for eight years.

‘At first, there was a reluctance to accept that poetry could be performed by puppets,’ explains Pam.

When Pam first started the group in the late 90s, she only managed to interest two other people, one of which was her aunt, Patsy. But now, as the group enters its ninth year, membership has skyrocketed to seven, while their debut anthology, ‘Sawdust Memories’, released last year by Medium Press, has sold over thirteen copies.

‘I don’t know why we’ve suddenly become so successful,’ admits Pam. ‘I think people are just ready to hear puppets read poetry.’

Underground poetry icon, Ricky Fiddle, agrees that the local literary community has opened up slightly to the idea of alternative poetry in recent years, but doesn’t believe that it’s necessarily linked to an interest in puppetry.

‘I think the public are just getting sick of the same old thing. They’re sick of Shakespeare and Banjo Paterson. They’re sick of reading poetry in books. They want to see poems written on helicopters or watermelons. They want poetry you can eat. Poetry you can throw at a bus.’

Fiddle’s most recent collection ‘Word Wind’ was, in fact, the result of ingesting words written on plastic film, and vomiting them back up. He’s also thrown his poetry from seaside cliffs, set fire to it, and fed it to goats.

‘Poetry is everywhere,’ marvels Fiddle. ‘Next time you go to the toilet, don’t just wipe your arse and leave. Have a look at what you’ve created – that’s poetry!’

Excerpts from ‘A Field Guide to the Lesser-Known Superheroes’

Since the 1930s, the stories of superheroes have evolved into an entire genre of fiction, dominating the American comic book, and crossing over into other media, such as television and film.

We’ve all heard of Spiderman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but what of those lesser-known superheroes, the ones that don’t get all the media attention and public accolades?

Here is a preview of Max Funt’s A Field Guide to the Lesser-Known Superheroes, due for release in early 2007.

Captain Lint

Captain Lint looks and behaves like an ordinary human being, but has the uncanny ability of attracting lint. With a simple wave of his arm he can summon lint from a coat pocket half-a-mile away. Unfortunately, there is little call for such powers, and Captain Lint finds himself limited to cleaning jobs and carnival appearances. He is also rendered powerless by a proximity to melons.


Is it a large and clumsy bird? Is it a small and clumsy plane? No, it’s Pelicanman! Faster than a speeding cockroach. Able to leap small puddles in a single bound. Apart from his ability to fly, Pelicanman can carry large quantities of fish in his enormous mouth. Unfortunately, this makes him less than popular at superhero parties and other social gatherings. (See also Codman, Eelboy and Slugwoman.)

The Pointer

The Pointer is fearless. He will point at anything – shark, bear, tiger, moose. Once, on assignment in the wilds of Siberia, this brave superhero pointed at several thousand trees, sixty-five rabbits, fifteen peasants and a badger. The Pointer is renown for his commitment to duty, in fact, it is said that he even points in his spare time.


When Trudy Ball was a baby she swallowed an experimental radio transmitter. Miraculously, she escaped serious harm, but discovered that her voice had acquired superhuman qualities. She can talk non-stop for several months at a time, speak backwards in over a dozen languages, and project her voice across continents and oceans. While her super-hero duties have reduced of late, Blabbergirl has acquired a steady job on breakfast radio.

The Invisible Chair

In the blink of an eye, this chair can make itself invisible. A frustrating addition to any game of musical chairs and a comical party piece, although its status as a super-hero has been debated.


A childhood accident left Stan Ovary with a bizarre and unique gift – the ability to fold napkins at the speed of light. His powers are highly sought by caterers and wedding planners. Unfortunately, this is the only activity with which he has even a semblance of coordination, as even a simple walk confounds poor Stan. (See also Poodleman, Tulipboy and Bubblegirl.)

The Woman with Three Eyebrows

Strange, but true. This woman has two eyes, but three eyebrows, the third hidden on the back of her head, disguised by surrounding hair. The Woman with Three Eyebrows is a skilled vegetable peeler, adept at sharpening pencils and can nearly count to twelve.


At an early age, Garth Diddle learned he had the ability to create puddles by simply dribbling water out of his mouth. He then learned to make puddles by pouring liquid directly onto the ground. While the use for such a talent in fighting crime is debatable, Puddleboy has developed quite a following among taxidermists and stamp collectors.

Atomic Artichoke

The result of a bizarre accident in a nuclear power station, the Atomic Artichoke was granted strange and unique powers. Unlike an ordinary artichoke, this vegetable can sing, play the ukelele and talk to cows. Unfortunately, it was not given the power of sight, and can only move around with the aid of a seeing-eye dog.


By day, he is known as Mighty Man, a being with superhuman powers of strength and speed. But at night, Mighty Man transforms into the extraordinarily ordinary Craig. He can walk almost 5 kilometres in one night, lift heavy bags, and draw circles and squares quite quickly. The only things that can stop Craig are a locked door, a length of rope or a pointed stick.

Howard the Nose

While working in a uranium mine, Howard Bent accidentally inserted a piece of radioactive material into his left nostril. Howard was left with a mild stutter and unable to father children, but has the ability to produce large quantities of radioactive mucus. (See also Gelignite Judy, The Leg and The Human Dumpling.)

The Bionic Sausage

After an incident involving a jet liner and packet of chewing gum, this sausage was considered all but lost. However, a team of surgeons and scientists were able to recover some of its remains, and created bionic replacements for the missing pieces. The result is the most powerful sausage in the history of the planet, able to withstand the hottest barbecue plate and the spiciest Tabasco sauce.


This superhero’s career was cut short when, having transformed into an oatmeal cookie, Biscuitman was eaten by a goat. (See also Broccoligirl, Mr Sandwich and Captain Cheddar.)

Excerpts from ‘Working with Concrete’

Many people have sought to understand the amazing variety of images produced by the sleeping brain, from ancient philosophers and fish merchants, to psychoanalysts, brain surgeons and interior decorators. Here is but a sample of the interpretations I have collected over a lifetime of study, soon to be published as Working with Concrete and other Pastimes of the Subconscious (The Third Ear 2006).


The appearance of bacon in your dreams might indicate a desire to sleep with barnyard animals. Bacon can also be a warning against skin disorders and genital warts.


Custard is usually associated with sexuality or death. But a pocket filled with custard suggests sudden wealth, while swimming in custard means you will develop a fondness for gravel.


The appearance of a porcupine generally indicates good luck. However, if the porcupine is wearing sunglasses or carrying an umbrella, you should beware of tall bow-legged women.


The appearance of socks or stockings usually suggests a desire for secrecy. Bras are associated with an interest in poultry farming, while underpants warn against antelopes and beer.


Freud was convinced that the earwig symbolised a fear of watercress, however, some contemporary thinkers feel that the insect may indicate a talent for papier-mâché or martial arts.


An astronaut may appear as an expression of the dreamer’s interest in water sports.


For some people, beetroot is associated with facial hair and carbuncles. For others, it may appear as a nostalgic symbol of childhood diseases or a warning against open-toed footwear.


The appearance of pancakes in your dream is generally good, suggesting money and nice teeth. However, if you should dream of sleeping with a pancake you may become allergic to magnets.


The butcher often appears in dreams offering heavily discounted chicken giblets. Rather than signifying generosity, the butcher might actually be symbolic of a desire to collect stamps or cook Mexican food.


A longing for oral sex may be expressed in the dream imagery of a sausage placed on the shoulder or upper lip. However, a flying sausage may symbolise a minor raffle win.


According to the Jungian view, riding on a hovercraft, or any other form of public transport, suggests that the dreamer is becoming boring or predictable. Therefore, a hovercraft dream can alert us to the need for a new hairstyle, penis enlargement or breast implants.

from Working with Concrete and other Pastimes of the Subconscious (The Third Ear 2006)


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