Don’t strain yourself


They’re resurfacing a laneway near my house. I just walked past and counted fourteen Council workers. One of the men was on a machine; the other thirteen were standing around talking, smoking, drinking Coke and talking on mobiles.




I had an incredible, and very rare, experience yesterday. I was browsing one of the local bookstores—‘Better Read Than Dead’—with my girl, and as I often do, gravitated to their small graphic novel section. A hardback caught my eye. I picked it up and suddenly, a little door in one of the dustiest corners of my brain flew wide open, and out bounded Magnus, Robot Fighter 4,000AD, as big and strong as he was when he got locked in there some thirty-odd years ago.

I’d discovered a new—and the first ever—Dark Horse reprint of a comic series that was published in 1963 by Gold Key. I’d owned—or my brother had owned—issue number two, ‘Operation Disguise’, and I must have read it a million times at a very young age (I was born in 1965, and comics didn’t often last that long back then). The incredible thing is, after totally forgetting all about this comic, I picked up the book yesterday and every frame was indelibly etched into my subconscious. I recognised every line, and could recall how every image sparked off my imagination in that particular vivid way that only young kids understand. Each panel wasn’t a flat 2D image, but a little window into a huge 3D space that my imagination filled out in incredible detail.
It was ridiculously expensive, and I reluctantly put it down for later purchase. Of course when I walked out of the store my girl had bought it for me. Am I lucky or what?

So Magnus, Robot Fighter is back in my life. Magnus is your classic Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers type who runs about the continent-sprawling city of North Am in 4,000AD in a very brief red mini-tunic (this is the future, when men are OK with things like that), karate-chopping evil robots (who almost always go “SQUEEEE-*!!!” when their metal ass is busted) and saving the luscious Leeja Klane. It was the creation of Russ Manning, who was apparently inspired by Tarzan (robots instead of apes!) This new hardback is Volume One of three, which collects together the entire twenty-one issues of the series.

What an indescribable burst of nostalgia. Sadly, the more I look at the images now, the more the vividness of the recall slips away. It’s as if that door has been opened and the rarified air of childhood is now mixing with today’s atmosphere. Like opening Tutankhamen’s tomb, and an elusive scent of flowers from thousands of years ago slipping out and being lost forever. It made me think a lot about how everything seems to be stored somewhere in our brains, and the way a smell, a particular combination of shapes, a snippet of music, can bring back the most vivid recollections.

Or a sound of course. SQUEEEE-*!!!

Film review: Water



In these times of rampant religious bigotry, it’s unfortunately no surprise that the production of Deepa Mehta’s new film Water was dogged by violent protest by Hindu fundamentalists. This film, the third and last in a trilogy by the Indian director after Fire (1996) and Earth (1998) shines a light on the milllions of Indian widows forced to live with social and cultural discrimination; a practice that shamefully continues to this day. How bad is the discrimination? Get this: widows must remain loyal to their deceased husbands or, according to ancient Hindi law, be reborn in the belly of a jackal. Ain’t religion great?

Filming began on location in Varanasi, on the banks of the river Ganges, but after the production was plagued by protest, death threats and political manipulation, had to continue in secret in Sri Lanka. It seems some were unable to accept the film shows certain Indian cultural practices in a poor light (perhaps they find the mindless garbage churned out by Bollywood to be a more fitting filmic ambassador for the country). Not to mention the fact that Hindu fundamentalists seem indisposed towards discarding a cultural and religious practice that, like the caste system, keeps the rich and powerful on top and the poor and disadvantaged on the bottom.

While Water is undeniably a political film, it also deeply romantic and quite beautiful. Sarala, an eight-year-old actress full of life and charm, plays newly widowed (yes, at eight) Chuyia, who enters the ashram and begins shaking things up. The stunningly beautiful—though, it must be said, very Western-looking—Lisa Ray plays Kalyani, a young widow forced into prostitution to support the other widows of the ashram, who captures the heart of a progressive Ghandi disciple and law graduate Narayana (John Abraham). There are moments of heart-rending beauty here—after Narayana first meets Kalyani, we see him walking, smiling, through the driving rain, intercut with Kalyani and Chuyia playing and dancing in their little hut. The pure happiness of the moment is beautifully captured, aided by music by A.R. Rahman.

When I walked out of the film there were still tears welling up inside me bursting to get out. The assured blending of personal romance and tragedy, the real knowledge of so many lives spoiled by ancient religious dogma, the beauty of the Ghats along the riverbank and the way they are filmed—all of these elements work together to make a stunning filmic experience. Highly recommended.

Also make sure you catch the other two films of the trilogy. Fire is excellent and tells a highly controversial (for India) story of a lesbian love affair. I’m still tracking down a copy of Earth.

Five rasgullas out of five.

Fear of Food


I’m happy to say I’ve surmounted a few challenges in my life—travelled to interesting places, climbed a few mountains, started my own business, worked in a foreign country alone—all things I thought were pretty difficult at the time. But they all seem chicken feed in comparison to the challenge I find myself faced with lately—an allergy diet.

Let me tell you about it. For quite a few years I’ve been plagued with various stomach problems. No need for details. But I was beginning to wonder if stomach cramps were just something I’d have to learn to live with, when a friend recommended an allergy specialist. Not just any allergy specialist, but one experienced and qualified enough to not only decifer my allergies through a series of blood tests, but to prescribe a course of treatment that would fix them.

Well, a couple of appointments later I have learnt I have the classic symptoms, and I’m allergic to a number of foods. And here they are kids—wheat, grains, dairy, nuts, soya and nitrites (processed meats). And, I hasten to add, this is a mild allergy problem. You could also be allergic, should you be so unlucky, to eggs, yeast, fruits, sulphites (things like onion and garlic), msg and glutamates; not to mention any number of inhalants from the lawn to mould to the family dog.

Apparently, it’s a symptom of modern life. In the case of foods, there are so many chemicals in everything, and so many foods used in other foods (look at a few labels and be shocked at how many things contain wheat), that our systems are going haywire.

For me, unaccustomed as I am to denying myself much of anything in the food department, it has been a hell of a shock, which I’m only just starting to adjust to after two weeks of truly monumental whinging. I’ve found myself always thinking about food, having to plan all my meals again, searching out foods I’m allowed to eat and rejoicing when anything passes the test (Smith’s Crisps are only potato, oil and salt. Hallelujah!) Living without beer, however, is hell.

There are some advantages to this whole life upset. I’m learning to cook again, and we save a lot money on takeaway. My palate is becoming re-educated to enjoy the most basic foods again—ye olde meat and three veg back on the plate instead of Indian curries, Thai food, gourmet pizzas. And I’m learning the many virtues of herbs.

The real good news is, with luck and strict discipline, the diet will only last thirteen weeks. If all goes well an allergy vaccine I’m taking will build up an immunity and I’ll be able to reintroduce all those things that we all take for granted. Not to mention live a life free of stomach cramps. But I’m telling you now though, when finally I get the all-clear, I know the first thing I’ll be tucking into with gusto.

A big bowl of the chocolatiest, nuttiest ice-cream I can find.

Film review: V For Vendetta


V For Vendetta

Oh yeah. Oh. Yeah. Take an 80s graphic novel by Alan Moore, set in an near-future alternative Britain under totalitarian rule, featuring the anarchist/terrorist ‘V’ in trademark Guy Fawkes mask, and influenced by Thatcher-era British politics. Make it into a film that breathes new life into the original themes and perfectly relevant to our times without spoon-feeding, yet still makes it work as both action-adventure and stylish future noir. Tough call, but V For Vendetta pulls it off.

V For Vendetta is a dense, multi-layered film directed by James McTeigue from a screenplay by the Wachowski brothers (the Matrix trilogy). I haven’t read the original graphic novel, and perhaps Moore’s desire to distance himself from the film is justified, but I can’t imagine how he could be unhappy with the rich experience this film delivers. The lynchpin is Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, who manages to create a fully fleshed out and fascinating character without ever revealing his face, with the help of an intelligent script that never once falls into ‘superhero stereotype’. Not far behind is Natalie Portman as Evey, the woman he rescues from creepy government ‘Fingermen’ and who becomes involved in his crusade to make the nation’s oppressed citizens rise up against their tyrannical government. Portman—her wooden turn as Princess Armidala in Star Trek now thankfully far in the past—has become an incredible actress with real presence and subtlety, and for me this is her best performance to date.

V For Vendetta manages to do two things at once—it challenges and inspires by appealing to universal themes like all good science fiction and fantasy, and yet at the same time it doesn’t spell out solutions or lead the viewer by the hand. By walking this thin line it challenges you to use your brain, to counter the ‘with us or against us’ mentality of those who think in black and white with reality, complete with all its grey areas. I’m sure there will be many who misinterpret the film as a result, who see it as exorting terrorists to blow up buildings. What it really is, however, is exactly what our force-fed culture needs—a good boot up the backside.

And there’s a cracking good knife-fight and some mighty explosions.

My rating? Of course—five fifth symphonies out of five.

Bin Wars


After buying our own place recently, I vowed I would make an effort to better get to know my neighbours. But people are … weird. Take the saga of our recycling bin, for example.

I notice we don’t have a yellow recycling ‘wheelie bin’ in the back lane behind our house. However, there’s one a few doors down that is suspiciously missing a second numeral. Could it be ours? Well, I have no proof, so I don’t go grabbing it and saying it’s mine, of course. I call the council, who send someone out to try and track down my missing bin.

Sure enough, they identify my bin as the one with the missing numeral, slap a sticker on it to identify it as such, and I think the problem is solved.

Only next collection day, my bin goes missing, and I get a note—sure, a pretty friendly one—in my postbox from the neighbours. “We noticed you took our bin, so we took it back” or words to that effect. The bin is now out of the lane and sequestered away in their back yard, out of reach of nasty neighbours like me. Oh well, confusion on the part of the council, I think. I go round and apologise for the mixup in person. Then I call the council again and this time they send me a new bin. That’ll be $81.50 thanks. Oh, and if you ever find a bin with this code number—it’s yours.

This morning, I notice the old bin is out in the lane. You guessed it, same code number. It was ours all along.

So, do I let the whole thing slide and, in effect, pay for my neighbour’s bin? Or do I go round there with the proof?

You think war, pestilence and famine are tough? Try getting on with your neighbours.

Design Deception



I’ve got nothing against business wanting to do business. We live in a capitalist society after all. But some businesses seem to think that any method of deception is justifiable in their quest for profit. And to me, this kind of thing is pretty much on the same level as the endless spam emails that fill your Inbox every day trying to convice you that a patch will make your penis bigger.

Take for example, the letter I received yesterday, shown above, from our friends at Reader’s Digest. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was actually an important document of some kind, covered as it is with a despatch code, a ‘deadline compliant’ tracking reference number, a security reference number; not to mention the big red bar with DO NOT DESTROY on it, and the official-looking brown paper the envelope is made of. There’s even a printed ‘hand-written’ touch—‘information protected’.

What does all this mean? I’m special! It’s for me, and me only! If you tear open this tissue of lies the crap continues inside— the letter repeats the ‘deadline compliant’ graphic, but this time to look like a green sticker; the endless reference numbers continue, the letter is personalised throughout. Someone didn’t return their Sweepstakes entry—and that mistake cost them $50,000! I’ve passed two of the three stages necessary to win up to FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS! There are lots of CAPITALS and bolded words! My neighbours—apparently—are looking in their letterboxes in vain!

Deception, outright lies, pre-meditated, cold-hearted fakery. Everything about this piece of communication and design is intended to fool the recipient, whether they be someone who can immediately spot the deception a mile off and immediately throw it in the recycling bin where it belongs, or a geriatric pensioner with no money to spare living with the false belief that Reader’s Digest is still an organisation of integrity.

If they came to me to design this letter—I’d tell them to bugger off.



Guitar (taken in my bedroom with a desklamp—part of a series).


Comments Off on Guitar

Guitar (taken in my bedroom with a desklamp—part of a series).


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Conga skins (taken in my bedroom with a desklamp—part of a series).

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