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Servo Wars/Bin Ninja: So you wanna be a Reality TV star?

bins

I still can’t believe it. It was a sure thing. The public would’ve loved it, but it wasn’t to be. Of course, I speak of my reality TV show, Servo Wars.

At the end of our Singaporean street were two busy service stations (petrol stations/ gas stations). Yes, two, right across the road from each other. I almost want to type “literally across the road from each other,” but my fingers, in grammatical obedience, won’t allow this.

Anyhow, can you imagine a more perfect setting for a gripping reality TV series? Each station a microcosm of bustling human activity within a teeming island state, but- and here’s the kicker- there’s a broader narrative arc in which our two servo’s are in constant, artificially-constructed competition with each other. Genius, I hear you breathlessly whisper.

Servo Wars.

The thrilling drama would’ve included-

The ancient, stumbling driveway attendants- yes, folks who fill your tank, check the oil and wash your windscreen- dodging inattentive drivers- who once or twice a week are necessarily skiddled in the name of televisual art, and are stains on the driveway, their bloodied limbs a-thrashing. Soon followed by the engaging theatre of wailing ambulances and Ray-banned police, not chewing gum, but interrogating the trembling car owners before they’re hauled off to Changi prison.

cop

And

The duelling managers of both affixed convenience shops shouting at the store assistants, sometimes simultaneously, “I asked for more condoms in the counter display! Together is this curiously asexual nation’s most popular, albeit furtively purchased brand of birth control, and I can only see dozens of Alone packages!”

Or-

“Look across the road at our competitor, our life-long enemy! Esso! They’re offering two-for-one croissants. Somebody. Do something!”

I know, I know.

While Servo Wars remains unproduced, our planet is a little poorer. But’s here’s hope. Casting will soon begin for my latest project, one that will capture our hearts like the charming Bachelorette bogans.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bin Ninja.

A character-driven vehicle focussing upon the endless struggles of a middle-aged suburbanite as he tries desperately to manage his bins: the red (general refuse), the green (organic materials only) and the yellow (recycling), this is everyman drama, but infused with the conventions of Greek theatre.

Bin Ninja’s work is manual and repetitive as he selflessly takes stuff to his nest of driveway bins, five, six, sometimes ten times a day, every day! But, watch as the meditative power of these acts instantaneously transcends the mundanity. Bin Ninja!

Look! The boys have just finished some muesli bars- wrappers to the bins! Plastic milk container empty again? That’s the second today. They’ll pee the bed! Never fear, Bin Ninja silently walks it outside, before momentarily dashing through the hail and wind, stomping the plastic flat and dropping it into the yellow (recycling) bin. The man’s a hero!

Then there’s the Sunday Bin Ninja’s wife lopped the 97-year-old neighbour’s overhanging tree, scattering limbs and leafy debris all over the precious and universally-admired lawn, and left him to chop up the branches with a cheap hand saw and inadequate pruning shears and, somehow, fit them all into the green (organic) bin while the wife promptly trotted off to the local footy club with her girlfriends and drank Adelaide Hills sparkling wine!

BH

Oh, Bin Ninja, I think the nation’s falling in love with you already!

And just when Bin Ninja merchandise is sold out across the entire country- t-shirts, stubby holders, novelty BBQ aprons- the eagerly awaited Christmas special screens. On Boxing Day!

apron

The plot is simple: the boys again get too many presents, and all the plastic and cardboard packaging for the infinite games and the Lego and the car racing tracks and the cricket-sets and the bike accessories and the bed-sheet like wrapping paper has to all fit into the yellow (recycling) bin already exploding with pre-Christmas boxes and clunking bottles and beer cartons, and abandoned greeting cards and envelopes from already-forgotten former work colleagues.

What will Bin Ninja do? How will this very real, very residential conflict find resolution? The bin is spilling all over the sorry driveway, and what’s that sinister noise? It’s the council bin-truck making its menacing, diesel-fumed way along their very street! Go Bin Ninja, go! Will he wheel the bins out in time? Will he dodge being run over by this mechanical beast? Will he save his family from a recycling crisis?

Coming in 2018.

Bin Ninja.

 

Esso

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To old mate Chris Hayward, on his 50th

 


About a month back six former Kapunda High scholars- Rocket Ellis, Nick Lienert, Trevor Lucas, Andrew and Chris Hayward and I were at the MCG taking in Port versus Collingwood: a truly post-apocalyptic and dentally-challenged fixture. Ours was a tidy collective.

During the second quarter Chris returned with his round, and this is instructive for he had not six, but two Bundies. One for his brother, and yes, one for himself. Now some of you are possibly thinking, that’s a bit selfish. Indeed, some of our ensemble in Row G may have thought this too- despite none of us liking Bundy. What do we make of this purchase? The meaning is, of course, that Chris values family deeply, and for this how can we but admire him?

And those in our group at the MCG not called Hayward were pampered by Chris with refreshments. Yes, light beer. No, one each. As the insipid lagers made their sorry way to the downcast recipients there was anger and a fight threatened, and partly because it was Port and Collingwood and we wanted to blend in, a fight threatened.

But this is to misunderstand the situation. Ever a visionary, Chris had foretold that we’d end up in an Irish bar at 3am, and plainly, he was looking after his mates. Our safety, and our health were, as always, his priorities. So, thanks for your human concern Chris. Indeed, leadership can be lonely.

Chris is a tremendous enthusiast, and as all of us know, this great gift is contagious. To spend time in his company is one of life’s joys for Chris finds happiness and fun everywhere. He loves laughter and people, and lives in robust and generous ways. And for this, we thank him.

So happy 50th Chris. To Chris!

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Pardon me, Pastor, pass the pasta

DD

The torchlight beams hop about the dirt path in front and then above, and occasionally, behind us, as our boys, Alex and Max, guide the way into Sassafras. The mountain dark and colossal cold presses down. Fern trees are all about, like extras in Avatar, for we’re in the Dandenongs. To our north a wooden building appears. It’s a church.

At least it was. Now, it’s a restaurant called Dine Divine. On the phone, a week ago, Janine was insistent.

“We must go to the old church Sunday for they have a brilliant pasta night.”

Mine host and restaurateur Trev punches our order into his iPad with one finger. He’s had a successful career, and splits his time between Southbank, his farm and this converted place of worship. He could be retired, but I know there’s nowhere he’d rather be. He likes a yarn.

Janine, Garry and I have the carbonara. It’s magnificent. Creamy and luscious, but possessing subtle flavours, while the pasta is bouncily solid, as it should be. The ham is salty and necessarily complementary, and the dish is equivalent to the food I had at Jamie’s Italian in January. Anyway, we know his restaurant juggernaut is a genealogical lie, for Mr Oliver was born in Essex.

Garry and I each have a Crown Lager, and I remember a time, back in the simpler, pre-globalised 1990’s when these represented a beery extravagance, and were something to be enjoyed at a Christmas function, when the boss was shouting- Quick! Davo! Get a couple more Crownies. We’ve still got ten minutes to go! Or you were on the lunchtime lash, at somewhere precariously bohemian, like Café Junction in the Adelaide Casino. Now, a Crownie’s unreconstructed flavour and nose seems as sophisticated as a night at the Dapto dogs.

When in Ireland on their honeymoon some dear friends ventured into a pub for lunch. Brett considered the blackboard menu above the bar, and asked the waiter, “What’s in the Guinness and steak pie?”

With unblinking eyes, the young local looked through and past Brett, and replied in an unironic monotone, “Guinness.” There was a pause. “And steak.”

So, my wife had the Guinness and steak potpie, and declared it the best she’s ever feckin’ had. A couple bowls of chips are inhaled. Folks sometimes forget that it’s easy to butcher a chip, to mix food industry metaphors. These are an ornament to the spud. We eat them as if we’ve been wandering the desert for over a month, except we’re in a temperate rainforest.

Is there a better soft drink than a Lemon, Lime and Bitters (LLB)? Of course not. I just read that it’s customary for Antipodean golfers to take it after their round, but I must rebut this as bald-faced nonsense. But Alex has one, and for a few minutes it’s the best event of his brief life.

The LLB is superseded by the arrival of his sticky date pudding. He is nine, and eating chocolate dessert inescapably descends into an unholy hybrid of unwatchable reality TV, horror schlock, and Animal House food fight scene. It becomes difficult to tell if he’s gobbling the pudding, or vice versa.

Again, I wonder at what age he’ll possess a fully-functioning mouth, and we’ll be able to throw out the drop-sheet. It seems a while off. Inserted between the almost medieval-black castle of pudding, and the elegant bathtub of ice cream, is a golden lattice of toffee. He makes a suitable mess of this too.

On the flight home, Alex announces it as a Victorian highlight. For me, it is too.

Dine Divine is warm and wonderful, and sits geographically and gastronomically at the centre of Sassafras.

We’ll be back.

Dine Divine is at 345 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, and

https://www.dinedivine.net.au/

SDP

 

2

At 4pm on my birthday I remembered something remarkable

baby.png

Having fled work, I was scurrying along Greenhill Road towards its most westerly origin where it is neither green nor hilly. I was thinking ahead to the hour or so of Friday sunshine left in the week and how it’d be happily spent. Park, dogs, boys, a few dobs of the footy in the closing dark.

As birthdays go it’d been fine. Not quite up there with the birthday I had years ago, by Lake Balaton in western Hungary when we had a lovely lunch of pilsner beer and goulash overlooking the water in the glorious European summer, but pleasant enough.

Then I remembered.

Like a car’s agitated navigator trying to really concentrate on a crucial part of the journey, I turned down the radio as the thought formed fully in my mind.

A decade. It was now a decade.

I swung down Anzac Highway and commenced the vaguely downhill run to home. A few tears then formed hotly. I was having a moment.

It was ten years to the day that we learned Alex was on his way.

*

I recall much of Saturday June 16, 2007. My dear old mate Chris was down from Brisbane, and he had stayed with us the previous night.

It was a sunny day and early in the morning Kerry thought we should definitely go to the doctor. She’d done a test at home. It was positive.

From then on, the day, my birthday assumes a nimble quality as though we’re in a floating cocoon and the world is spinning but without our interest or participation. This most physical, most real of events is confirmed, and all about me has now assumed a gentler quality; a welcoming, smiling face. The simplest household items are invested with magic and wonder.

While hanging out the washing I rang Mum and Dad on the cordless phone. Pegging the socks and jocks we had a brief excited chat. The future, especially early 2008 swirled and leapt about me.

That evening we dined with friends at a now long-closed Polish restaurant just off Henley Square. The Adelaide Crows played the Kangaroos on the Gold Coast and in those pre-smart phone days my mate Bob was texted the score at the end of every quarter. We won. The food was good, but I mostly remember the sense of our brilliant warm secret, the fuzzy binary code and a feeling that we were in a happy, symmetrical orbit.

*

Like every decade, it has been full and fast. Everything has changed. Much is as it was.

Alex was born a week after his mum’s birthday. Two years after his little brother Max came along. We left Australia for Singapore, and then returned. Now there’s karate and dogs, guitars and school.

And so, every year I remember that birthday, now a decade back, when the anniversary of my birth was also the day we learned that Alex was on his beautiful, astonishing way.

clothes.png

 

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On Sunday we went to a lovely lunchtime wedding in a park

bee gees

I reckon for many of us it’s about a decade. It begins in your mid-twenties and drops away as forty looms like a stop sign. I speak, of course, of weddings.

I attended lots of great ones in little country churches surrounded by paddocks of waving wheat, on golf courses, by the beach in Victor Harbor, at large suburban places of worship.

The receptions have been in country footy clubs with the catering done by the matronly pillars of the community, no nonsense women. Pubs, backyards, function centres and more than I can count have been at Ayers House, in the middle of Adelaide which I think is somewhat compulsory if you live here.

One Saturday we had four weddings and as we’d both been given a duty, I went to the one in the Barossa and Kerry, another in the city. She was a bridesmaid and I was asked to do a reading from Corinthians 13. You know the one-

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

Sunday’s affair was special. The boys were invited, and it was their first. The last wedding we’d been to was in Singapore over three years ago at the Fullarton overlooking the harbour and the heat.

It was in a park along the Torrens with the reception in a community hall. It was one of those great days where the sun shines and everyone enjoys it knowing it could be the last time before winter’s rain and cruel wind forces us inside.

The ceremony was lovely and people smiled and took photos on their phones but also held hands and cried when the groom choked up as he said his vows and I paused and thought of the many things for which I should be grateful.

Max sat on the grass right at the front listening intently and drinking in the language, and his special treat of a can of lemonade while Alex sat on the nearby wooden fence looking about the trees and sky but also concentrating.

After the knot was tied the new bride sang along with Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” which will weld these two together whenever I hear this song. This is the job of a song.

Central to the catering was that most 2017 of experiences, the food truck. Parked on the fresh bitumen behind the hall, folks lined up and ordered Argentinian burgers. We had the steak, the chorizo and the chicken. They were great. Alex had some pumpkin soup, but it wasn’t as good as Nanny’s.

People sat inside or out in the sun on plastic chairs. There was music, mostly from the sixties. I’d finished my lunch and was talking with the celebrant about St Albans and London. On her second glass of Bird In Hand bubbles, from across the table my wife winked at me. They then played one of my favourite all time songs, the Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody.” I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.

There were other kids and pregnant women and older folks too. A widower got in my ear with lots of detail about the vans and dogs he’s owned, but I didn’t mind. There were reminders everywhere of the richness of life. Max and I went for a walk along the linear path. Alex flopped his gangly self about the playground. For the last hour we sat in the sun on an ornamental rock with old friends who’d visited us when we lived in England.

Around mid-afternoon we drove home through the lazy Sunday traffic and I took the dogs down to the Old Gum Tree where there were two or three gently swirling groups also enjoying life’s landmarks.

It was a wedding. A gentle, affirming wedding.

sun

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We love our new kennel

 

kennel

Cockroaches might withstand nuclear attack, and forcible drowning as my garden hose was turned right up and blasting onto their stinking evil-black little scuttling arses, but as we know a rubber thong, like a Texan electric chair, guarantees a swift, if messy exit.

Unsurprisingly, there were three or four of these dreadful bugs living in our new, second-hand purchase along with some spiders, who, having heard and possibly witnessed the executions, headed south along the lawn to the pumpkin patch.

The boys and I were cleaning our dogs’ kennel. Buddy and Angel (or Angela Merkel as we also respectfully know her) need an outside bed.

Ignoring the time-wasters and spectacularly moronic wanna-be scammers I love Gumtree. Kerry reminded me just after lunch to have a look, and by mid-afternoon it was home and enjoying an aquatic enema, of sorts.

It was fifteen dollars, but to buy the timber would cost, I reckon, about fifty. It’s sturdy and has a beautiful, homemade, bespoke quality to it that screams, “I was built in a Fulham Gardens garage by a lovely old Italian gent while his wife was in the kitchen cooking.” No, not a cheap stereotype, the truth. She told me as I hauled it to the car, taking some bark off my shins.

With its off-white finish, asymmetrical spires and welcoming façade we immediately christened it The Chapel of Love. Speaking of christenings, remember after the birth of one of his kids when David Beckham was asked if he and Posh were getting the child christened and he replied, “Yeah, we have to fink about it. We’re not sure which religion yet.”

If I squint and imagine a stunning tropical esplanade behind the kennel it also reminds me of St Marys’ by the sea in Port Douglas, but I concede, this might be fanciful.

So pleased were we with our purchase that we sent photos to family and friends celebrating our good fortune and clever commerce.

Under the patio sitting around our new fire bucket- more on this soon- that night I kept sneaking glimpses of our kennel. We love it and it invests the backyard with a sense of completion; a warmth that arises from both its function and its daggy, delightful form.

Now, if we can just get the dogs to sleep in it.

chapel

2

On this otherwise routine Tuesday my boys walked to school together

planet and moon.png

Backpacks a-swinging, out the gate, and into the suburban morning. It’s both ordinary and extraordinary. The simplest of connectives, from home to school is approximate to a pair of gentle 8-irons.

By the gate, I watch after them. Alex and Max evaporate around the corner, a sudden jolt to the right.

In my car, I ease around the block to intercept them. Our bond is broken by a tangle of local geography and ribboned tarmac for the one-way street insists I steer away from them, cruelly, past the park, and finally down an untroubled avenue.

It’s ninety seconds of paused terror, it’s ninety seconds of forbidding blackness, but it’s ninety seconds they need.

Of course, their little world grows.

At the intersection by their school, my car crouches and the playground yelps and squeals through the open window like snatches of sudden pop songs.

Alex and Max have escaped my orbit, but I return to them. Like a satellite, my trajectory’s veering back into their warm atmosphere.

And there they are, bouncing along the path, side-by-side, as brothers should, their flapping shorts of uniform-green, quince-peels of hair. The trees fold forward into a guard of honour, and in beaming silence, I smile.

Seeing me is simple permission for them to run to school, like exploding scraps of rainbow, accelerating through the gate, and to their mates.

I yell after them, but my voice is lost behind their giraffe legs and the innocent rush of a new day. “Good job, boys. See you tonight!”

Misty-eyed, I drive off. A bright, early morning, but already it seems late.

Soon, it will be.

kids