Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Adventure So Far...

My varied and colourful life, so far, has lead me to this little place. It's a humble little place. It's a place run by two people who take pride in what they do and who try to do the hospitality thing to the best of their ability. The Dreaded One & I have always tried to make people happy when they are our guests in our home; we aim to do the same in this place.

Eight weeks after opening. Reflections? It's fucking hard. Almost 60 hours a week each, all staff and bills paid. I can see a day when we can pay ourselves a modest wage. That will be nice.

There are so many things I love about this image. I love that The Dreaded One & I have always done our thing without having to have asked for help. Never had a hand-out. It's always just been us, our hard work, our occasional fuck ups, us enjoying when we managed to make things go right. Thank you, universe, for giving us the ability to provide for ourselves.

I love that the name of the cafe started as a throwaway joke between friends and has now become a real thing. I love that this stupid name is pulling people in; today a group ordered their coffees, then said they saw the sign from across the road and just had to come in and say hello. I have seen lots of people on the street smile at the name.

I love that the person who designed the logo is someone I met soooo many years ago in my Sydney clubbing days. Lia was the coolest peson I had ever seen and was so yeah-no-she's-too-cool-for-someone-like-me-to-talk-to... but don't strangers so often turn out to be such like-minded people and occasionally friends?

I love that you can see Ann standing there, looking at me taking the photo. I love that you can see the very lovely Bianca deeper in the photo. We'll take a proper shot of Team Awesome soon. Bianca is lovely and is going sooner than hoped, but what a pleasant working relationship this has been. She's orright, is Bianca.

Also, the yellow smudge in the top right corner, just above Ann's head, that's Pigeon Christ. I love that he is there to look over us.

And I love going to work each day. Who's a lucky boy then?

Monday, December 16, 2013

On Being Awesome, and a thing about Kanye Motherfucking West

My free pouring latte art shows signs of improvement.

In other news, I am a fucking idiot. Yesterday The Dreaded One and I had our usual Sunday lunch indulgence. Just went to a cheap local seafood restaurant, shared a meal and a bottle of wine in the sunshine, then moved on to a favourite drinking hole, The Black Cat on Brunswick Street.

On a whim, I texted fellow Team Awesome member, Bianca to say that if she and her guy felt like joining us for a drink, it would be really nice. They agreed and joined us for a couple of quiet drinks. They seem really lovely and even invited us back to theirs for dinner. I think it's safe to say that we might become friendly as opposed to just work mates. As I've said, she is an absolute pleasure to work with and he seems cool too.

So why am I a fucking idiot? Well. We've been pulling pretty long weeks. More than 50 hours a week, six days of the week. I really start to feel it towards the end of the week, especially given that I'm not a massive sleeper anyway. Basically, I had to bail on dinner because the combination of feeling physically tired, drinking booze in the sunshine, and being a fucking idiot mean't I started to melt. I felt myself going downhill fast and knew I had to get home and flake out. I said goodbye to the others with The Dreaded One heading on for dinner.

I made it home and passed out immediately.

And slept through my alarm. I awoke with a jump and looked at my watch - 8.30? How the hell did that happen? We open the cafe at 7am. We are so late. And another thing - where was The Dreaded One? Either she had left without me, which was unlikely, or she had pulled an all nighter. On a Sunday? What was she thinking?

I got dressed in a hurry, grabbed my things, my laptop, and dashed out the door. No time for a tram, I'd have to catch a cab. I called The Dreaded One to find out what the hell she was playing at but no answer. I flagged a cab down and we headed off.

In the far off back waters of my mind, a couple of things occured to me: something was wrong with the light, like it was just too overcast or something; and there seemed to be more people out and about. Some of the cafes were packed for that time of the day, and even the pubs seemed full. What had gotten into people?
I got out of the cab, feeling a bit rough. I crossed the road and got my keys out. The place next door was full, which was weird because they normally aren't even open on Monday morning.

No. Actually, something is definitely not right. I stood outside the cafe holding my keys and looked around a bit more. So many people... the light was not increasing, the darkness was.

Because it was 8.30 at night. I'd only fallen asleep for a couple of hours. I think the owner of the restaurant next door saw me and probably wondered what the hell I was doing. Feeling like the idiot that I was, I flagged another cab and went back home.

Sheepish? Hell yeah.

Also, speaking of fucking idiots, here is my latest piece for Soot mag. It's about the biggest fucking idiot there ever was. And I feel I can say that with authority, given that I'm no slouch in the fucking idiot department.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Stalking The Customers (For A Good Cause)

A customer noticed my Santorini T shirt. We started talking about the Greek islands. Turns out she lives in Greece three months of the year and is buidling a place to live in there. She said she'd let me know when it's completed and I could come stay with her.

If she's never been stalked before...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Team Awesome

Three weeks or so into opening Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome, I was not very happy with our first staff member. She was a good worker and made okay coffee, we just weren't a perfect fit. She constantly interrupted my dealings with customers, rearranged the service area to her liking from mine... I got the impression that she was one of those employees who thinks she knows so much more than her employers. You meet them all the time, and you always wonder if they're so switched on, why are they an ee and not an er.

Unfortunately it was early days so we probably did look a little like we didn't know what we were doing. I found myself wishing that we had had three or four weeks on the job before needing staff so that we had some idea of how things worked - when the busy times were, what patterns and procedures fell into place etc.

So I was quite okay when this person told us she was leaving to stay with her sick mother, a story I didn't fully believe for various reasons. The timing was perfect, because by this time The Dreaded One and I had more of an idea of what we were doing and what we expected from our workers.

A day later another of the many travellers looking for work came into the cafe. You can pick them immediately. They don't look at the menu, don't look around at the cafe, they just meet your eye and walk directly up to the counter. I could bet money on picking them and wouldn't lose a dollar.

Bianca was one such person. Resume looked fine, she had plenty of restaurant experience, she was Italian so of course she could do coffee. We settled on a trial shift the following Monday. I placed an ad just in case and was inundated with replies.

That first day was not good. Her English was fine but there were complications and misunderstandings. I had to do my job as well as make sure she was not stuffing up, taking incorrect orders etc. I was expecting pricing questions all day long but that was going to happen with any new worker. Her coffee skills were not as good as I'd hoped. It was a very stressful day and I didn't think it was going to work out after all. Never trust The Vibe.

It was only fair to give her another chance but I did tell her that she was not what I had hoped for and that I had wanted someone with stronger coffee skills. I said we would see how the rest of the week went.

The second day was no better. The third day... I didn't know why I was putting myself through this. I didn't let her do the coffee because it was easier and more reliable if I just did it all myself. One minute I'd decide that she had to go, the next I'd think there was improvement. And by improvement I just meant an easinig of stress. I knew she was intelligent, so soon questions about the menu and pricing and procedure would lessen.

I think it was the third day when I watched her serving a customer, both struggling with accents, that I decided on the spot. She was trying so hard to understand this weird Australian accent that was tinged slightly with irritation at not being understood, and I think I caught a glimpse of a good person. I knew then, right at that moment, that I was going to try to make this work. I knew then that I was going with The Vibe. I didn't quite know if I was making a mistake or not. I just knew that something about Bianca had won me over.

I'm happy to say, I did not make a mistake. I'm happy to say that The Vibe, in this case, nailed it. In a few short weeks Bianca has become the perfect worker I'd hoped she would be. She is an absolute pleasure to work with. She is gentle, intelligent, caring and has a lovely sense of humour. We share laughs during service and I frequently hear her and The Dreaded One laughing from the kitchen. Yesterday the three of us worked on a busy Saturday while the sun was shining, and I got the impression that all three of us were perfectly happy to be there.

The Dreaded One and I were in agreement without initially speaking about it; we didn't want to cross the line into socialising. I was burnt recently with getting too close to co-workers, so I wasn't going to risk that happening again, at least until I was sure things weren't going to go pear shaped.

Both of us are confident now. Both of us have nothing but praise for Bianca. Team Awesome right now is Grumpy, The Dreaded One, pastry chef Andrea, and Bianca. Right now it's all a perfect fit. She's a traveller and will move on in a few months, I guess, but for now I'm enjoying what must come close to the perfect work environment. Whether we become friends or not doesn't really matter, but it woudn't surprise me if we do become friends.

The cafe is doing okay. It's still a struggle. We are working hard, 50+ hours a week, but sales have gone steadily in the right direction each and every week. This is a good sign but we have a long way to go. But it's not all about money. We just need to get that covered; equally important is to enjoy what we're doing and to make sure we have people who enjoy being there, working with us, because I think that will attract customers who want to be there as well.

At least that's what The Vibe tells me.

More Mandelas, Please.

Dear Universe,

The Abbott hasn't been working out so well. We'd like to cancel the Abbotts and order more of the Mandelas. Can we please put in a bulk order for the Mandela in the next delivery?
Kind regards,


Friday, November 29, 2013

Passion in Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome

No, this is not a story about how passionate The Dreaded One is about preparing good food, or a story about how passionately Grumpy loathes fern leaf latte art. It's a story (not so much of a story as a captured moment) of two of the most passionate customers we've ever had.

Sadly, they were not passionate about the food or the coffee. They were, however, very passionate about each other. Basically, they were the snoggingest couple I think I've ever seen They were at it for well over an hour. It could have been two hours, or maybe that was just because it felt like time had slowed. It was like they were 14 years old and had discovered that another person's tongue was the absolute coolest thing ever you could have in your mouth. It was blurring the lines between affection and canabalism. It was noisy, in a quietly wet and moany way.

They took short breaks from time to time to murmur and giggle quietly, then they went back at it. Their hand clasped each others head, fingers wound through hair in a way that reminded me of octopus tentacles, sucking and slurping...

For a long time, they were the only customers in the cafe, which made me feel pretty uncomfortable. I tried to be as quiet as possible as I went about doing stuff that had to be done because I didn't want to ruin the delusion they were both sharing that they were actually at home on their own. Then I thought fuck it and turned the music up to block out the wet sounds. Then, thinking about the music, I hoped like hell there was no Barry White on The Dreaded One's phone because that would definitely have pushed them over the edge.

Then I peered into the future and knew that I was going to write a blog post about it, because in all the five weeks of running the cafe I had never felt so awkward. It was pretty funny and definitely worth writing about, but I needed an image to go with it. I wanted an image of The Snoggers. But I couldn't just brazenly stand there in the open and take a shot of them because, well, that might appear a little bit pervy.

No. Much better to be secretive about it. Get the camera out, kneel down out of direct sight and aim the camera through the glass display cabinet and zoom in for a nice, intimate shot.

Whereupon The Dreaded One walked in just at the wrong moment and said, "Grumpy - what the hell are you doing?"

Okay, so that obviously didn't happen.

What did happen was this: I wrote a little sign saying Do Not Disturb. I hung it on the door, facing out, stepped outside, quietly closed the door and went for a nice little walk around the block because surely they couldn't still be at it when I got back.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Latte Art At Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome.

Me and latte art... not exactly a match made in heaven. This was my attempt at a heart. Words can't express my feelings when I saw what an epic fail this was. Don't get me wrong - my coffee - according to many, many volunteered and heartfelt comments from customers - tastes mighty fine. One even went so far as to say that she is always looking for the best coffee in Melbourne and that we are right up there. I don't think this could be possible, but certainly concensus is that Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome serves a good cup of coffee.

What is also generally agreed upon is my breathtaking ineptitude when it comes to making simple shapes in the crema like fern leaves and hearts. Sometimes I have come so close that my heart almost stops just before it sinks when I see the result. Other times I manage to turn a heart into a fart.

Mostly I have abandoned the whole latte art thing. I still manage to get the contrast between the stretched milk (ooh look at me and my techie terms) and the crema to look delicious so long as I don't attempt to create a recogniseable shapes... unless those recogniseable shapes are buttocks, in which case my latte art is awesome.

Interestingly, not a single person has mentioned the lack of latte art. I think the average punter doesn't give a flying fern leaf about decorating their coffee. Amongst my friends I have had expressions of disdain; it's all wank, all that matters is the taste. But if we get a reviewer in I don't doubt they will mention that lack of latte art. This could work for us or against us.

In spite of this, I am enrolled in a latte art class. I think it's a silly trend but maybe if I nail the technique I can do interesting, fun things. I am not looking forward to it because I don't like classes, but it has to be done.

We're feeling good about the whole cafe project. We've only had great feedback about the food and the coffee and the general vibe of the place. People just seem to like it, whatever 'it' is. We're just gradually adding more stuff to give it character. It's a work in progress done on the cheap because that's all we can afford. But this is a good thing. Gradually, gradually.

This could be my signature latte art at Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome. Not a bad likeness, huh?

Monday, November 18, 2013

What Made You Smile Today?

I smiled at the smile of an old lady who had that smile in the eyes, like inside, she was still young. She smiled and thanked me for making her coffee and serving her her muffin and her chocolate slice and her milkshake with added thickener to stop her brother (I'm assuming he was her brother) from choking. He was even older than she was. He shuffled about in one of those wheel zimmerframe things, and they spilled too many muffin crumbs on the table and were too far past their prime and she was too sweet for all the horribleness and sadness not too far ahead them.

But as she left, she smiled. A proper smile, in spite of everything. Wrinkles at the corners of the eyes, the whole smile deal, and that made me smile. It was a sad smile. It was a smile of gratitude. It was a smile that said, thank you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Conversations At Grumpy& The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome

Conversations with our customers. I suspect this will be an ongoing series.

Customer: Oh. You serve organic coffee.

Grumpy: Yes, we serve organic coffee.

Customer: Do you have any that's not organic?

Grumpy: No, but I'm sure I can find some chemical to add to it.

(Grumpy makes the large organic coffee with no added chemicals but with added soy).

Grumpy: That's four dollars please.

Customer: No extra for the soy?

Grumpy: No.

Customer: Oh. Cool.

Grumpy: It's because it's not actually soy.

The Dreaded One, from the ladder where she is adding wall decoration to the cafe's walls: We've got some really caustic chemicals out the back if you want some.

Customer, raising his coffee: No, I'll see how I go with this first.

I enjoyed this conversation a lot. Customer was a funny bastard. I'm enjoying getting to know many of our customers. I am frequently intrigued. Sometimes I make instant judgement which is quickly proven wrong, or right. Usually I care. Generally I want everyone to get what they want and to be happy and satisfied. And overall, this seems to be happening. I'm being bombarded by every kind of human in the cafe (including the occasional Dalek), but mostly it's okay. Mostly you humans are okay. Some of the old ones have already melted my heart (Where the fuck is this coming from? I am me! I don't have a melty heart!). And I have made a small child or two smile by being nice to them. (Where the fuck is this coming from? I am me etc).

And fuck me if I wasn't labeled a bastard during that stupid suspended coffee thing a while back because I thought it was more an internet phenomenon than a real thing. I was told I was a 'chode' or something because I thought it was a stupid idea. Thing is, I've served a spaced-out junkie his latte with three sugars when I should have thrown him out. I watched him walk out into the street and tip his coffee back and wished the fucker well, because he needs all the good wishes he can get.

And we have our regular recovering alcoholic hard case that comes in every day. Some days he has enough money to pay for his pot of tea, some days he doesn't. Some days he can afford the lamb casserole he likes so much, some days he can't afford all of it. He always gets his pot of tea and his hot meal, even if he can't afford it and might be bad for business with his air of hopelessness and fucked-upness. Ideallly I don't want him there, but he's okay, knows he should pay most times, and he's a broken human. How can you not give him his pot of tea and hot meal?

So yeah. I'm enjoying my conversations with the customers.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Getting To Nude You

We have our regulars at our new cafe. It's nice getting to know them, to hear about their lives.
One regular customer (large latte with half a sugar) comes in each morning and I ask about her day and her week and she tells me about her life with her husband and her grown daughters. She smiles a lot. She is lovely. I imagine she comes from the suburbs.

Today, I finished making her large latte with half a sugar, but she lingered, distracted, reading something. I saw that it was a Grumpy column at the back of the menus. She was smirking as she read.

She finished, we did the transaction and I asked, which one was it that you were reading? Turns out it was this one.

Then she smiled and confided, "I think I'm a bit of a closet nudist myself."

And with a small hand gesture that could have meant anything, she managed to scatter the things across the counter and upturn the tip jar, the contents of which clattered over glass and onto the floor and she tried unsuccessfully to gather everything and make time stop.

She apologised as she scooped the coins up from the floor and appeared a little flushed, and I felt like I was living a moment in a Richard Curtis movie.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sorry, We're Closed

Time constraints time constraints,
Everyone trying so hard
So hard
To impress and make a mark
So keen to please and
Get ahead
And make a mark
And make an impression
And prove that they are so much better
Than the rest.

Show off your knowledge,
Display your wares
You're so fucking cool
And so much better than the rest,
You'll show how it's done.
This is how it's done,
Just watch me
Just look at me
Look at me
Look at me,
Look at me show my stuff.

When in fact it's the small smile of regret
The kind smile of gratitude
Of an old and weary traveller
Who sees a small gesture and responds,
That truly moves me
And reminds me
That it's not about pushing others aside
But letting them in.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reasons I Don't Do Smalltalk

There are many. This is one of them.

Wednesday of the second week of running Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome. A guy comes in just before closing and asks for a large latte. I remember him from last Wednesday and while I'm cleaning I ask him how his day has been. He says good, I just finished work and now I'm waiting for my person across the road because I do counselling here one day a week.

Across the road is a drug and alcohol rehab centre.

"Oh," I say, "Really? That must be interesting."


"Is that what you do for a living?"


"Are you a counsellor?"

"No no -  I'm not a counsellor. I'm getting counselling."

Friday, October 11, 2013

On Writing For Free

This is probably it for me and writing. I've had enough. I've had enough of being asked to give my time, experience and - yes Goddamnit – my talent away for free. I've had enough of being told that my writing is valued, just not in a monetary sense. Enough is enough.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of those people driven solely by money. I actually loathe people obsessed with money. They bore me senseless. A friend recently asked me point blank how much money I make a year, and man did she cop an earful. She was almost dropped on the spot, because who fucking cares? Of all the stupid, pointless questions to ask someone... I believe you should respect what a person does (or not, in the case of advertising people, sales people, advertising gurus and criminal lawyers), not how much they earn.

But money is a necessary evil. Few of us have much choice but to work at a job we may or may not like but have to do each day to pay the bills. If you've got a job you love doing, you are one of the lucky ones. There are a lot of you around, but you're also pretty rare. I reckon 99% of the people you encounter during the day are just doing their job because it's all they can do. Except for the career drones mentioned above who are just leeches with money coursing through their veins.

People generally end up doing something that they have a little bit of aptitude for or something they have a bit of an interest in. Or maybe they don't have any interest in what they do for a living but they've somehow ended up there and what the hell, you have to do something. Gotta pay the bills somehow. And in any case, maybe driving a bus all day long is mind-numbing, but at least I don't have to deal with people and be nice to them. Or sure, dealing with idiots all day sucks the life out of me, but at least it's better than digging ditches. Or sure, digging ditches all day long is ruining my back, but at least working outside is better than working in an office. Or sure, crunching numbers all day long in front of a computer screen in an office is making me go slowly insane, but at least I can live with my conscience, unlike criminal defence lawyers. Or sure, defending criminals I know are guilty poses a few moral dilemmas and basically I am breathing scum, but fuck me the money is soooo good.

But at least all these people get paid for their efforts. Sometimes it's not a lot, but if it's not enough you work more hours or take on another job, you do whatever you have to do to make ends meet. Employers, generally, understand that they need an employee's efforts. They understand that the contract is basically swapping hours for dollars. They need your thinking or your hands, your time and effort and in return they give you the stuff you need to make the wheels turn.

So why... why do so many publishers expect writers to give their time and effort for free? Not just writers but most creatives are expected to donate for free because... well why? Why the fuck should we keep saying yeah sure, I'll do it for free because it will be good for my portfolio?

My portfolio is in reasonably healthy shape, so basically, fuck off. You want me to sit down and put time and effort and care into writing something that you need? Show me the money! I won't even ask a lot, but something would be nice.

I recently had a music mag approach me and tell me that they really like my writing and that they'd love to have me on board. Great, I said, what are your rates? Rates will be discussed after your first two on-spec articles. With new writers, they said, we ask that they contribute the first two stories for free, then if we take them on on a regular basis we discuss payment. It's kind of a probation period – if you don't stuff up the first two stories, then we can talk about payment.

The thing is, at times I've made my living from making words. I've interviewed countless performing artists. I've been doing this job for quite some time now. The chances of me stuffing up the first two stories is pretty damned slim. In fact, I told the music mag, how about this: I'll do the first two stories on spec, but if they are good enough for you to use, you pay me for them.

I haven't heard from the music mag since. Am I just being cynical in thinking that they get an awful lot of first two stories for free and don't follow up with ongoing stories for payment?

The same principle applies everywhere. As print media goes the way of dinosaurs, online mags are springing up every day with the promise of giving new writing talent the opportunity to be published. Just don't expect payment for it because the real pay-off is in “how good it's going to look in your portfolio.”

And they get away with it because new writers come along every day and go hey yeah, this will look good in my portfolio; finally I really am going to be a published writer.

I know online mags are start-ups and they have costs to meet which make budgets tight. But so does any small business. As we speak, I'm starting up a cafe. Can I ask any of my suppliers – the coffee guy or the milk guy - to donate their time and services because it will look good on their resume? Can I ask them to donate their time and money because they love what they are doing? The coffee guy might be passionate about his coffee but I still don't expect him to deliver it for free. Would I expect staff to work for free so they can get a foot in the door? It wouldn't occur to me to ask someone to work for free.

So why should writers write for free? Sure, for most writers it's in your blood. It's just what we do. We can't stop doing it. Best response to someone being asked why they write that I ever read was, why do you have dark hair? Some things just are.

But writing, it's still a thing of value, no matter how much it's a part of our nature or how much we love doing it. Online magazines may have budgets, but I bet they don't ask their other suppliers to work for free. I bet they pay their tech support. I bet they pay their rent. I bet they pay their fucking coffee guy.

Then why don't they pay their story suppliers? Magazines would be nothing without written contributions, so why do they expect written content to be delivered for free?

Furthermore, why do writers agree to this shitty contract? Just stop doing it. Stop bending over and taking it from behind. Tell them no, I am worth something. I care about what I do. Sometimes I care so much about what I am writing that I cry tears of blood. In my down times, I definitely care more about this copy than the cleaners care about cleaning your office, so if you pay them why don't you pay me?

Friday, October 04, 2013

The Keys To Our Cafe

It was weirdly sad picking up the keys to the cafe today. You could feel the emotions the owner was feeling. I had been thinking about how she must have had pride in her cafe, had believed that it was worth so much more and now was scrubbing and cleaning in preparation to leave. We hadn't purchased her goodwill, had not been interested in her recipes. Harsh facts in the real world but as bitchy as she was the other day when we visited with the health inspector, she's as human and vulnerable as the rest of us. Far from wanting to pop champagne corks, I wanted to hug her and say sorry it didn't turn out the way you wanted. We didn't go in for the kill, we just did the figures and made an offer that we thought was balanced. It was a fraction of what the broker had set out with and initially didn't look at all viable. In the end, it was the only offer to make it through, and the owner probably fully believed we had gone in for the kill. Not so.

But that loss of her rundown, threadbare baby. The place... it really felt frozen in time. As though if you had walked through the door seven years ago when she took over, it would have been exactly the same. The pictures on the wall, the chipped crockery, the recipes... I'll bet nothing has changed.

For someone who had finally taken possession of the cafe they had been in talks about with for so many months, I felt pretty damned gloomy.

Then the broker walked in. All smiles and congratulations and this is so good - you got an amazing deal and where's the solicitor with my cut and you guys are going to kill it I can just tell. She congratulated us again and hugged and kissed us and all I could think is are you totally without a heart? Do you have to be like this here in the kitchen? In front of this poor woman? Does money mean absolutely everything to you? At least have the decency to leave this until we are outside away from this sadness, this palpable sense of loss.

I should be high-fiving the way the broker was. But I keep thinking about how the former owner and her family must feel right now. There will be celebration for The Dreaded One and me, just not right now.

The cafe had a wall full of black and white, Italian photos, and I had wanted to keep one of these amongst whatever we decorate the wall with, as a nod to the former owners. Then she was rude to us and I thought fuck that. And now I feel like this and wish I could have asked for just one of the pictures when the son said they would remove them all. I'd have happily left one there. But they are all gone.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Death Rides A Horse, Melbourne Fringe Festival 2013 Review

Death Rides A Horse - Rama Nicholas

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

The title is taken from the 1967 Spaghetti Western by Sergio Leone and starring Lee Van Cleef, and while the feel of this one woman performance is loyal to that genre of film-making (just as cheesy but funnier), the story is only tenuously connected to the movie, if at all.

Writer and performer Rama Nicholas plays more than a dozen characters including Clixter the horse narrator, Catarina the heroine, flamenco hero and love interest Gus (I think this was his name... my note-taking-in-the-dark sucks), a villainous sheriff, a brothel madam and her entire whorehouse. There are many other minor characters too who get big laughs and are all, in their small way, a nod to the Spaghetti Western.

I have to admit that initially the cheesiness had me worried. It felt a little too flaky, like it was going to be an amateur performance that wasn't going to fly.

How wrong I was.
Less than 10 minutes into the show the audience is seduced by Nicholas' charm and gusto. Or perhaps it is the charm and gusto of the characters she plays. Catarina was orphaned at a young age and left on the doorstep of the whorehouse. The madam takes her in raises her, believing her to be destined for bigger things than whoredom. Indeed, Catarina wants to be the best darned cowgirl in the whole wide world, and when she is robbed of some racing prize money she teams up with the dancing Spaniard and they set off to Cancun on the Day Of The Dead (Death's day off) to put things right. She wants revenge on the sheriff, who killed her parents, and the Spaniard wants to kill Death for taking his young bride back in Barcelona.
It's pretty well a non-stop giggle fest of silliness and it's difficult to pick highlights. There are the girls in the whorehouse who sing of having dreams that never come true; the cross-country journey played out as a montage; our heroes' mishap with peyote; the dramatic shoot out; Death played as a music-hall song and dance man... it's all inventive, silly and played with obvious enjoyment.

And as playful as it all is, some of the songs and indeed the dialogue are a bit on the raunchy side. We are talking wild west whorehouse here and the play doesn't shy away from the nuts and bolts of how the girls make their living. The villainous sheriff even drops the C-bomb to hilarious effect (“Aw come on, I can say that - this is a fringe show!”). You'd have to be the prudiest prude to take offence.

Very funny stuff. Highly recommended.

At The Lithuanian Club, North Melbourne until September 27.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stranger - Geraldine Quinn Review, 2013 Melbourne Fringe Festival

Stranger – Geraldine Quinn

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Geraldine Quinn's stranger is a not-of-this-world traveller trying to understand human nature. This stranger is a spandex-wearing, stage-strutting, “cluster-fuck of brilliance” and we are not worthy of her presence, and if she deigns to walk amongst us and try to understand us we should be awed and amazed and grateful. She is, perhaps, the lovechild of Ziggy Stardust and the Starman waiting in the sky, and she knows she's going to blow our mind.

The show is a fusion of traditional cabaret and observational stand-up comedy. That is, it is presented as cabaret with a mixture of monologue and song, but the material is, effectively, the stuff of the comedian outsider who doesn't quite get why we do what we do. Mostly this kind of humour points out our foibles in a way that makes us realise that yes, this thing is a foible; why the hell haven't I realised this before?

In this case the material reasonably funny without being on the hilarious level a stand-up needs it to be to succeed, given that they usually have monologue alone as their weapon. In analysing various aspects of being human - friendship, sex, love – Stranger doesn't exactly blow our minds. By the show's end this stranger comes to the conclusion that we are “mangled and marvellous”, which is the conclusion any of us will have come to if we have thought about the sprawling weirdness of humanity's achievements if we've given it all a few minutes of thought.
Having said that, the material doesn't have to be stand alone brilliant because it is delivered through clever song-writing which is in turn delivered via a sometimes powerhouse voice. And Quinn owns the stage with her commanding presence.

There are some fun devices such as the telepathy part where our starwoman doesn't realise she is thinking out loud. A funny touch which later leads to her flicking the switch so that she hears all of our thoughts. Where we have withered under her piercing gaze earlier in the show, she now crumbles under the weight of the cacophony of our desperate thoughts. This was a more poignant scene than some audience members might have realised, given that the voices we hear broadcast are actual confessions from real strangers like you and me, phoned in anonymously earlier in the year. Mangled and marvellous indeed.

In the end I enjoyed Stranger without being blown away by it. I didn't come away feeling enlightened by the observations made. I enjoyed the performance without getting the goosebumps you do at a truly extraordinary performance. I think I wanted the observations to be sharper, the humour to be funnier and the pathos to be more crushing.

And I had a very enthusiastic post-show discussion with my fellow Fringies who thought the show was sensational. Perhaps they are right; maybe I was just having a jaded-old-tosser night. You know you have those nights? Go see it, you'll probably love it as much as everyone else appears to... and feel free to tell me that yes, I was being a jaded old tosser.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vladmir Is Welcomed To The Gang

As you may or may not know, I've been slowly losing the vision in my left eye for a few years now. It's pretty bad. I can see, but my central vision is so bad that if I look at your face through my left eye only, I probably won't recognise you. Your face will be a grey smudge. I can make things disappear by looking through my left eye only. Faces, objects,  some colours... they all disappear. I'm like some kind of visionary magician.

I've realised that my left eye is affecting my overall vision and that if I look through my right eye only, things are clearer. Solution? Eye patch.

Today after realising that I actually should experiment with an eye patch, after years of joking about eye patch wearers and going to fancy dress parties as a pirate, the conversation as we walked along Southbank went a little like it usually does.

"Yep," I announced after putting my hand over my left eye, "I think I definitely need to try wearing an eye patch."

"Really?"  The Dreaded One asked.

"Yeah. I might lose depth perception but that's happening anyway. At least when I look through my right eye only, everything is clear. Lines are straight."

"Okay. Maybe you should do it then."


A long, thoughtful silence followed.

"Thing is, I'd look like a pretty scary fucker with an eye patch."

"Yes. Yes you would."

"So what's happening in my head right now... if I have this shaved-head-and-eye-patch thing going and someone started talking to me at a party and they asked me what my name is, I would say Vladmir. I am Vladmir Smirnoff, pronounced Shmeeeernoff. Said with an impressive Russian accent."

"Oh. Hello, Vladmir. So, like, what do you do?"

"I am an assassin."

"Oh really? Cool. I guess you must be a pretty hands on kind of assassin. Hand-to-hand stuff?"

"Why do you make this assumption?"

"Well you couldn't be a sniper, with the depth percetion stuff and everything."

"I will have you know that Vladmir Shmeernoff is the number one assasin at the Hit Or Miss Assassination Agency."

The Dreaded One took all of this in.

"So this is what happens when you talk about sorting out your eye sight. You have to invent a new character."

"Apparently. I think Grumpy, Black Rainbow, Bra Pee, Loose Cannon, Monterey Jack and Stagger Lee will welcome Vlad to the gang."

Monday, September 09, 2013

On Multi-tasking

Today I discovered that I can read, think about something completely unrelated to my reading material AND miss my tram stop all at the same time.

Multi-tasking like a boss.

Friday, September 06, 2013

A Small, Good Thing.

Woolworths on Smith Street, Collingwod. It's a magnet for dodgy fuckers. There is a colourful bunch of regular alcoholcs who spend a hell of a lot of time milling about in various states of intoxication. I'm sure deals are done on the rooftop carpark. The drunken abuse of innocent pedestrians is not uncommon, often because said pedestrian had the temerity to not have any spare change to give, sister. They are mostly harmlessly deranged by booze, although not long ago a nerdy lookin Asian guy focused on his phone was hit from behind, knocked to the ground and his phone was stolen. Pays to be aware.

Last night just as I walked through the front door a woman pushing a fully loaded shopping trolley ran into difficulty. One of the wheels locked up. She smiled to herself as she struggled, changed strategy, changed direction, thinking that if she tried hard enough the wheel would loosen up. But that trolley was going nowhere. The smile weakened, like come on, I don't need this.

"Excuse me," I said. "I think it has something to do with that yellow line you just crossed. It's a security device to lock up the trolley. You can't take them out of the store."

"Oh really?"

"Yes. Look. There's a sign there explaining it."

She read the sign, told me in what sounded like an Eastern European accent that she did not know. She thanked me. I said you're welcome and turned away.

Then thought: that was a pretty full trolley. What is she going to do?

I turned back just as she looked down at all those bags, and her shoulders drooped. However they say shit in Eastern Europe, I think that's what she was thinking. She hesitated and was obviously also thinking do I try to carry this all by myself? Do I leave half of it here and come back for the rest? It's been a long day, I really don't need this.

I asked her if she needed a hand

"I can help you carry your bags if you like. There's too much for you and you can't leave any of it here. It'll get stolen."

"Well... if you are able to..."

She really looked at me as she said this. Looked at my face. Looked into my eyes. Quick glance at the clothes. I knew what she was thinking.

"It's no problem at all."

"Okay. My car is just up the road a little."

She seemed tired. I think she was wondering is she had just done a stupid thing. Laden down, we walked up the hill, a kind of dark, uphill alley. I was torn between making small talk and remaining silent. I didn't want to make small talk because she might think I was going to hit on her. Remaining silent seemed kind of menacing. Still, I remained silent.

"This is our exercise for the night,"  she said in that cute accent.

"Cheaper than going to the gym," I replied.

We arrived at her car and she put her bags on the ground and didn't reach for her keys. Smart girl. Be wary because there are dodgy fuckers everywhere, and sometimes they don't look so dodgy. I didn't wait for her to unlock the car. I put her bags on the ground, told her to have a nice night, and I walked away.

"Thank you so much." Said with such gratitude.

"Absolutely not a problem." Said with a smile and no hint of menace.

I walked past her abandoned trolly stuck there like a bogged car, and I was glad that I walked by when I did. The timing was perfect. I was glad that I had turned back too in time to catch that drop of the shoulders.

And I was saddened by the fact that I felt I had to be quiet. Saddened by the fact that she was suspicious of my motives. Saddened by the fact that such suspicion is a necessary survival instinct. Saddened by the fact that such a small thing warranted such expression of gratitude.

Post title a nod to Raymond Carver.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Father, Family & Friends

Ah. Father's Day huh? Hmm.

Father's Day means nothing to me. I mean, I have quite a few friends who are young fathers or are soon-to-be fathers and I am genuinely happy for them because they are good people. Proper good, decent people, loving fathers and good friends. I've even held some of their babies recently and marvelled at the way they look at the world and how they struggle to communicate and understand what is going on. Amazing little creatures and it must be fascinating to be their father and watch them develop. It's not for me, fatherhood, but I appreciate what an amazing thing it must be to be a parent.

But father's Day means nothing to me.

The story of my father... There was a father figure in my story The Funniest Man In The World Tells A Funny Story, but I'm not sure if that was an accurate portrayal. I remember my grandmother being troubled by that story when it was published because she thought it was an honest account, so maybe it was. There was also a father in Remembering Argos and I also discussed family in a story called Finding Davey, and there was the ghost of a father in Blue Angeline who was actually the ghost of my grandfather. Other than those occasions, fatherhood just doesn't feature. I don't miss my father. I don't feel like anything is missing.

So. My father. Pretty funny story actually. I remember him as being a fun kind of guy, even if, looking back, he was probably a bit immature. Loved his music and I thank him for introducing me to glam rock at an early age. I'm probably a bit like him in my hedonist attitude towards life. I remember him being drunk quite a lot, the kind of drunk I avoid, even if I am drunk quite a lot. Unlike him, I don't cause scenes, don't punch holes in walls, don't smash gifts on Christmas day because I can't do what I want to do. These are my hazy memories of him when something causes me to remember, which is rare.

I last saw my father when I was about 15 years old. For a couple of years before that he was a bit of a character. The parents had split when I was about 10 and I do remember being a bit traumatised by that and having to make a choice. I find that funny now, given how little I care about the idea of family.

Somehow he seemed to suddenly have a bit of cash, and he was flash about it. I remember cowboy hats and flash clothes. Real suburban dandy stuff. He had a Leyland P76 that he had spray painted to look like the car in the TV series Starsky & Hutch. It takes balls to do something as publicly ridiculous as that. Sometimes when he visited he would show us (younger brother and me) the gun he had started carrying around, even fired a couple of rounds into the air. I didn't know what the fuck was going on. This was what fathers were like, as far as I knew.

Then at about 15 years old at a new high school in my old suburb (we had moved around then moved back), some of the tough, older guys befriended me. It was the weirdest thing. I had my group of friends who were big into getting into trouble if that's what it took to get a laugh, then some of the coolest guys in school, a couple of years ahead of me, started being friendly. It started when the main guy came up to me one day and said "Someone tells me you've been saying you know the guy who drives the Starsky & Hutch car. I don't think you do because he's a mate of mine."

I was shitting myself because I wasn't a fighter and I was absolutely sure this guy was about to fight me to death. My friends were watching from a distance but were not going to do anything because Tough Guy's friends were also watching from a distance.

"I do," I said, getting all Mandrake The Magician and pulling some attitude out of my arse. "He's my father."

Tough Guy thought about this for a bit and slowly decided not to fight me to death just yet.

Shortly after this, Tough Guy started saying hello to me in passing. Friendly nod. Friendly wink. Yeah, I thought, head held high, who's the dude? I'm the dude.

Still not really knowing what was going on.

The last time I saw my father is a moment I regret. He was visiting when I arrived home from school. I snubbed him. I have no idea why. I was confused about a lot of things. He was there in his shiny shirt talking to my mother and I just had some kind of attitude and ignored him. Didn't say hello. Sat down to listen to what he had to say but I basically totally fucking snubbed him. I regret that because in spite of everything I don't think he was an overly bad person, just a bit of a fuck up out for a good time, and in many ways I had made the wrong decision about who to stay with. With so much about what was going on, I had no idea what was going on.

Actually, that was the second last time I saw my father. The last time... the last time was when I was sitting with the rest of my family, the mother, the younger brother and the grandparents, eating our typically early dinner around the dining table, watching the evening news. I don't remember conversation ever being a thing. We just ate in silence while the sun was still shining and watched the 6 0'clock news.

And suddenly there he was. My father in handcuffs being lead to the police car while a voice talked about the biggest drug bust in Sydney Airport's history. It felt like a massive, still moment that was over all too quickly. What the hell just happened? What the hell was going on?

I had a lot to deal with (pardon the pun) in the following days at school because everyone else had been watching the news as well. A lot of the kids thought it was funny and had fun with it. I laughed along but not being the kind of kid who liked any kind of attention, I fucking hated it. I especially didn't want this kind of attention. We had our name changed which was probably not necessary, and even that drew more attention and was the source of more amusement.

I have no idea what became of my father after that. I know he went to jail but he would have been out after a few years, I guess, and everyone just kind of got on with their lives. I got used to the name change and actually prefer it to the old one.

So there it is, a story I've told a handful of times. I don't feel in any way bitter or resentful or think that celebrating fatherhood is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. When I see the happiness family brings to the lives of my friends, I feel genuinely happy for them, and I feel grateful to have my friends as my family because they are a pretty cool bunch of people who probably don't want to fight me to death.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Miley Cyrus And That Fucking Tongue

I know there are serious issues to talk about like Syria and which of The Two Knuckleheads will become our new Prime Minister, but my newest fascination is with Miley Cyrus and that fucking tongue. She has apparently been doing this for years. Does she really think it's her best look? Has she not seen the millions of photos of her and her tongue and not thought maybe I shouldn't do this quite so often?

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Perhaps she is afflicted.

Or perhaps it's about time she just put that fucking thing away.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Reviews: St Clarity by Paper Kites, Waste Of Time by MØ and Tim Winton's The Turning

Looking for what's hot in new music? Look here at Soot mag. A bunch of reviews by me. My faves are probably St Clarity by Paper Kites and Waste Of Time by Mø.

It was such a funny thing, but I was asked if I want to do a few quick music reviews and I said yeah sure, I used to do these things all the time. Then when it came to doing it, I just couldn't. I actually told the editor sorry, no can do. I totally choked. There was just nothing there.

The editor said just give it a go. I understand this attitude because I often don't get how people can't write. I've often encouraged people to write. Writing is just thinking out loud, through your fingertips. But in this case I really felt like I'd forgotten how to do it. I mean, I liked the music, but what do you say about it?

Anyway, because she expected something I gave it another go and suddenly it came back to me. I really enjoyed it. It re-awakened my love of new music. And it made me realise that aside from psytrance, I haven't really kept up to date with new music for quite a while. And I love it. I love new music more than I love wine, and I love wine a LOT.

I also loved writing my first movie review. The Turning by Tim Winton is a bit of a masterpiece. Like, a three hour stunner of a masterpiece. The review is actually 17 movie reviews, because the whole thing is made up of 17 short film adaptations of Winton's short story collection. I've never been a big fan of Tim Winton's but this movie makes me want to read the book.

Hmm. Why does 17 stories ring bells?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fewer Emergencies, Elbow Room, Owl & Pussycat

Fewer Emergencies

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Fewer Emergencies marks a break in tradition for theatre company Elbow Room in that it is the first time they have performed a play not created within the company. With tight performances and minimal set design, it packs a punch; I think Irish playwright Martin Crimp would be happy with this production.

An hour in length, Fewer Emergencies is three acts looking at dysfunctional lives. It's all pretty straightforward – a husband, wife and child and their regrets; a mass murderer at a school shooting; and the same couple in the first act, later in life, at the edge of the world with their distant son trapped in a dire situation they cannot help him out of.

It's a disturbing trio of stories not told in a traditional story-telling way. The psyche is given voice here – or voices – so that the dialogue is not simply the dialogue that the actors speak but also the dialogue of the mind. The stories unfold in lyrical layers so that from the start the audience is engaged, and you wonder what, exactly, is going on here. Possibly it's an exploration of how much of what we say is actually how much is going on.

All is not well in the worlds of our tight-knit team of characters, played by Dean Cartmel, Emily Tomlins, Edwina Samuels and artistic director Marcel Dorney. The dialogue overlaps and repeats to create a dream-like quality. In the school shooting act, it's a brutal dream. We get into the mind of the shooter, and as you'd expect, it's a troubled mind. This act was played mostly in darkness, and there was an explosive vibe in the air. Amazing what you can achieve with a good actor, a few boxes and a torch. Although dream-like, it felt very real and quite harrowing. It appeared to be a time after the event, as though he was re-enacting the shooting and being interrogated by psychiatrists.

The third act was quite surreal, unexpectedly amusing with its strange musical interludes, and quietly disturbing. In fact that applies to the whole play.

I'm not sure I completely understood exactly what was going on. But that's the appeal of this kind of theatre; it stays with you. It haunts you the way good theatre should.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I'm Not There Anymore

i'm going to write a poem
the poem will be called
i'm not there anymore
because I was always there for you
through your good times
and your bad times
and your bad times
and your bad times
and your bad times
and your bad times
through your dramas
and your dramas
and your dramas
and your dramas
and your dramas
and your dramas
and although it drained me sometimes
and left me tired
and nothing left to give
i was always there for you
because that's what we do
for people we love

but now in my bad times
you are not there
so i'm not there anymore

Friday, August 09, 2013

Botanica, Momix, Melbourne 2013 Review


Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

If you've seen the trailers for Botanica and you've thought that it looks pretty wonderful and might be worth seeing, just go with that feeling and go see it.

The title of this hour and a half dance spectacular is a little misleading in that it's not just about dancing flowers, as I jokingly described it to friends prior to seeing it. Certainly there are allusions to the ever changing cycles of plant life and the seasons, but there is so much more to this sprawling, magical, often surprising tapestry of life. There are also, mammals, birds, insects, sea creatures, the often forgotten aquatic plant life...

And in fact this is obviously why the title is not so misleading after all; mammals eat them, insects pollinate them, birds live in them. All life is connected to botanica.

Botanica is a collection of dance vignettes drawing on a wide variety of styles from classical to modern, as well as a variety of visual and technical devices that truly dazzle. Some pieces are lengthy and sweeping, others are short comical stabs. All rely on the impressive and graceful physicality of these 10 or so wonderful performers working together as a tight-knit team, or solo. The dancers also work brilliantly with the sound and lighting team to produce a magical visual feast. Sometimes what is taking place on stage messes with your senses and your logic so that you can't believe that what you are seeing is a result of dancers and lighting.

The black light section is the perfect example of this. Parts of the dancers' bodies are covered in UV reactive material with the rest covered in black, invisible to the UV light - at least I think that's what was happening... perhaps the black-clad dancers were holding UV reactive shapes that they moved about in synchronisation, or perhaps it was a combination of both. Either way, what unfolds here is mesmerising as the floating shapes in the dark morph from what seem to be microscopic life forms to birds, human facial features and everything between. It is dizzying, dazzling and wonderful in the truest sense of the word. I suspect I was not alone in watching this entire section agog and with a half smile on my face.

Which is the reaction pretty much to the entire show. Gossamer material wafts and shifts shape and becomes a screen sometimes for colour-rich projections and a human shape with large wings morphs into a giant flower... there is lots of wafting and morphing. But sometimes it's just the dancing that entrances. There is so much grace up there on stage, so much fluidity, so much strength and agility.

Highlights are hard to pick. There was the previously mentioned black light dance. The huge Triceratops skeleton puppet – designed by Cirque du Soleil's Michael Curry – was impressive and probably the closest any section came to being narrative as the lone dancer riding its back became its prey. There was the Whirling Dervish-like dancer with a headpiece of beads that almost touched the ground, and which, due to centrifugal force, became wings or petals; a striking feature of this piece was that the several minutes of spinning was done without spotting, making one wonder how the performer did not topple over with dizziness. There was the simply executed section with a near nude performer dancing horizontally atop a slanted mirror so that her jagged, angular movements resembled strange sea creatures, or moving Rorschach shapes. There was the centipede-like conga line that broke up and became preening Centaur-like creatures... and there was all that wonderful wafting and morphing.

The music was as luscious as the visuals and mostly comprised the oddly tagged genre of 'world music', contemporary beats drawing on diverse traditional ethnic sounds. Ear-candy to accompany the eye-candy.

Botanica is not narrative. There is no message. What it is is time out from a cluttered world of deadlines, meetings, the mindless drudgery of nightly TV and the problems of the world. It is beauty for beauty's sake. It is going to the circus. It is stopping to smell the flowers. It's a brief escape from our mundane modern life to appreciate the beauty and wonder of life.

 At The State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne until August 11.

Friday, August 02, 2013

From Real Life To Fiction

Interesting experiment. Soot magazine asked me to talk about five real life people who were the inspiration for five characters in my short story collection 17 Stories Of Love & Crime. Go here for the result.

Also, go here for my new website.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fuckity Fuck All The Way From Collingwood To Kensington

So what happened was, I saw a post for an online magazine looking for new writers. I thought what the hell, I'll give it a go. I had just joined the Yawp family and the Warhol's Children family, both editors apparently very keen for more of my stuff. I needed this because I have been unemployed for a while now and had been feeling pretty down, so this was good. At least I'm writing again, and funny stuff too.

So I see this call for submissions for Soot mag. The editor writes for Rolling Stone, Australian Penthouse and more and appears to be rock chick uber cool. The other contributors also seem pretty cool. I am not too worried by this because I have the runs on the board by now and think I have a chance, so I send some samples in and very quickly I get a positive response and am welcomed to the Soot family.

I am asked what I'd like to contribute first up. I had just receieved a press release saying that David Sedaris is coming out on tour, and I had just finished reading Max Barry's new novel Lexicon (fucking brilliant read). Max also has a Hollywood film coming out based on his first novel, Syrup. I say I wouldn't mind interviewing both these guys.

One thing leads to another, the Soot editor is remarkably well-connected and she makes the Max Barry interview happen. He wants to meet over a coffee at his local coffee shop - coincidentally a few doors down from a coffee shop The Dreaded One and I considered taking over a few months ago.

Thing is, I've gotten lazy lately and have only been doing email Q & A's. It's just easier to write up the questions and get them to do all the writing. I've done loads of phone interviews in he past but they are a bit of a pain, getting the words from the tape recorder (yes, I have an actual tape recorder) onto the computer. Also, I don't have a landline so recording isn't really possible.

Also, I feel out of practice, and when your confidence is taking a beating (plenty of resumes sent out, not many nibbles) you don't really want to interact with people.

And probably the biggest also, I haven't ever done a face to face interview. It seems ridiculous, but even after writing features about performers and writers for about 10 years now, I have never sat down with someone and interviewed them. I don't consider myself a confident, outgoing person, and surely you need to be both these things to do face-to-face interviews.

Weirdly, I find myself thinking what the hell and agree to meet one of my current favourite novelists in person. I test out my tape recorder and it makes pretty lousy recordings. It's okay when hooked up to the phone line but crap when it just sits there taking in ambient recording. My phone, on the other hand, is brilliant. How good are phones? Is there anything they can't do?

I'm about to do a new thing. I think you put up fake barriers when you've put something off for long enough. I think I really felt I'd be awkward and awful at face-to-face interviews. I'm not a professional. I have no training. I don't have this particular skill.

But I decided not to bother thinking this way. I've had no training in any kind of writing, have never done a single writing course, yet here I am 10 years later still getting away with it. Besides, it's not going to air. We're just going to chat exactly like we would if it was a phone interview, and they are easy. Time for a new experience, to learn a new skill.

I'd like to say it all went smoothly... well it did, aside from the fact that I was late for the interview. This is a writer with five highly regarded novels under his belt, film options on all of his books and a big screen version of one of them out in the Northern hemisphere now, out here later in the year, he's agreed to meet me for a chat, and I miss my tram and stuff up my train connection so that the next train arrives in 20 minutes and I am due to be at the cafe in less than 15 minutes. You are supposed to arrive at these things early to test your recorder and just make damn sure you don't keep the interviewee waiting. Thus the title of this blog post.

Standing on the platform, I realise that the next train, due in two minutes, is going to North Melbourne, with Kensington being the train station after that (but this train is not going on to Kensington). Rather than wait the 20 minutes for this train, I'll go to North Melbourne and catch a cab from there. There must be a cab rank at North Melbourne Station.

There is no cab rank at North Melbourne station. There is nothing at North Melbourne station. There is a busy road a few minutes walk away which I could walk to and hope that a cab comes by... and that might happen immediately or not at all. I have so little time left that if I commit to this plan it will need to happen immediately. I can't risk it. I have to go back and wait for the Kennsington train and just accept that I am going to be late for my first face-to-face with a reasonably important person. I am such a fuck up.

In the end, I am 15 minutes late and Max is texting his agent to get my number to find out what is going on as I walk in the door. I apologise, and thankfully, he seems chilled and not too pissed off. I set up the phone recorder, and we start talking and it seems to go all right after all. 45 minutes later we finish things off and after much indecision I ask if he would mind signing my copy of Lexicon. I need to ask someone about this - when interviewers interview famous people, is it accepted or frowned upon as being uncool to ask them to sign things? I don't know such things because I just don't hang around with journos. I am a lone wolf, a loose cannon... or just a bit of a twat.

Anyway, I thought I'd rather regret being a bit of a twat and have my signed copy than regret having the opportunity of getting a signed copy and not taking it. He seemed pretty cool about it.

You can read the finshed piece here at Soot Mag. Looking forward to doing more with them. I think both they and Warhol's Children might be doing something with my 17 Stories Of Love & Crime. Stay tuned.

I still haven't got a job but I did sign up with an agency and worked all last week and I think there is more coming up next week. It will be very nice to be working again. Nicer still to have our own cafe. And I really am enjoying having current writing out there again. These three editors have been really cool and enthusiastic. Soot even posted something the other day telling everyone who had submitted samples to be patient as they'd had hundreds of applicants, but here I am with my first piece live, and my bio up there with the other contributors. Happy pants.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ubu Roi, Review

Ubu Roi

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

A raw version of Ubu Roi was written in the late 1800s by three teenage schoolboys with Alfred Jarry considered the author of the final version. It was originally written as a parody of one the boys' schoolteachers and was performed as a puppet show in an attic for the boys' own amusement.

However, Jarry persisted with the central character of Ubu and the play opened on stage in Paris in 1896, with a riot breaking out in the theatre upon the opening words from the lead character. The audience was eventually calmed, only for chaos to erupt again shortly after, so shocking and vulgar was the content to the sophisticated French audience. The play polarised critics, and theatre of the absurd was born.

Naturally, more than a hundred years later contemporary audiences are made of more robust stuff. The play now presents itself as more of a curiosity than something to be shocked about and is presented by various theatre groups in a variety of settings. Which is not to say that this theatre goer and his plus one, The Dreaded One, didn't approach this performance with some trepidation. Just how absurd is absurd? Would it make any sense at all? And in this case, there is mud... lots of mud.

Chatting briefly with director Jason Cavanagh before the show, we joked that given that we frequent multi-day dance festivals in the bush, we are not afraid of a bit of mud. “Yes,” he replied, “it reminds me of Confest.” Precisely. He also asked casually if we'd be sitting in the front row. Erm... no.

Not that there was anything to worry about, mud-wise; protective sheets were supplied to the front row and clear shower curtains were drawn whenever a battle scene erupted, flashing swords replaced with mud balls. As the actors became more covered in mud, it actually looked like an awful lot of fun.

The story feels very Shakespearean and indeed is given something of the Shakespearean treatment by this cast of very fine, if muddied, actors. The script doesn't quite have the finesse and the poetry of Shakespeare, but you do recognise a bit of MacBeth in the motivations and actions of the characters. Largely at the urging of his wife, Mama Ubu, Papa Ubu hatches a plot to kill the king of Poland and install himself of that country's ruler. Why Poland? It would appear that Poland wasn't on the map in 1896, so Ubu was effectively taking over and ruling a non-existent place. Absurd, no?

Co-conspirator Captain Bordure's men are killed after being offered food which looks a lot like shit on a toilet brush. The mission is successful, Ubu acquires great wealth by simply killing all the noblemen and taking their money, and much double-crossing, treachery, plotting and fighting ensues. The language is as infantile as the motivations of Ubu, a huge, lumbering man-child driven largely by his animal needs.

In creating Ubu, Jarry was having a go not just at the ruling elite (though he was definitely doing this) but also the common man. Ubu started out being a parody of a loathed teacher, but in reworking and reworking the character over the years of his short life (he died at 34 after complications from his various addictions, not the least of which was absinthe), he was also attacking modern man and society generally. Given the antics of Australia's current gaggle of politicians – Rudd comes to mind with his earwax-eating and his juvenile look-at-me-I'm-just-a-regular-schmuck tweets – Ubu Roi still feels relevant. Especially given the apparent lack of ideology in politics today; our political leaders seem more driven by their desire for fame than anything.

If I went into this production from 5pound Theatre with trepidation, The Dreaded One did more so. Given it's absurdist reputation, she wasn't sure if she was going to enjoy it at all. I was relieved to hear her laughing throughout and tell me afterwards that she thoroughly enjoyed it. I think she was a little relieved at just how much she liked it.

Nicholas Dubberley was superb as the grotesque Ubu, as was Amy Jones as Ubu's ruthless wife and Andi Snelling as Captain Bordure. In fact the whole cast, playing multiple roles, was pretty damn good. Although occasionally played for laughs, overall the text appeared to be taken quite seriously, which is often the best delivery for humour. Lighting and set-design enhanced the whole experience to make it something quite unique; strangely thrilling, weirdly compelling.

5pound Theatre continues to do interesting things at The Owl & Pussycat. It really is worth checking out this little mud-fest, the piece of theatrical history that is Ubu Roi.

At The Owl & Pussycat, Richmond, Melbourne until July 27

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Man In Black - The Johnny Cash Story, Review

Man In Black – The Johnny Cash Story

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Appallingly, although I've been a bit of a fan of Tex Perkins since the first Cruel Sea release, I've never seen him or any of his bands perform live. So naturally when I heard he was doing Man In Black again, I jumped at the chance to finally catch him on stage.

Man In Black tells the Johnny Cash story from start to finish in a laidback blend of spoken word and song. Tex and Rachael Tidd tell Cash's story in their own voices sometimes in conversation with each other, and occasionally slip into character throughout. We hear about Cash's early years doing it tough in Arkansas; the death of his 14 year old brother from which he never truly recovers; his early singing career, the meeting of Vivian Liberto, his first wife, and the thousands of pages of love letters they wrote while he was on military duty in Germany; his prolific song-writing and performing; the legendary performances in Folsom and San Quentin prisons; his prolonged love affair with co-performer June Carter; how drugs and alcohol kept taking over his life; and we follow him into old age and his eventual death just three months after Carter's.

The story runs the gamut of emotions, obviously. But the overall feel of the show is one of joy. This is a celebration of a flawed artist who in the end made a massive impact on music history and brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people. As moving as certain parts of the story are, the smiles and happiness are never far away. This show is loads of fun.

The rapport between Perkins and Tidd is charming and casual. There appeared to be quite a few mistimed gags in the banter, but far from detracting from the dynamics it actually served to capture what the vibe was probably like on stage between Cash and Carter; it probably wasn't a highly polished performance in real life.

Except for the music. Tex Perkins does a superb Johnny Cash. It's quite uncanny just how perfectly he nails it. He opens with I Walk The Line, then every few minutes throughout breaks out into all the Cash favourites as well as – to this punter – some lesser known ones and he is just so good. Clearly Perkins enjoys this role and the audience lapped it up. There is much laughter throughout as we learn of Cash's obsession with train-related songs and novelty songs like A Boy Named Sue. But musically, even if there is a gleam in the eye, it's all taken quite seriously so that even the most sincere of Johnny Cash fans won't be disappointed. The crowd really got into the music, and the band – The Tennessee Four – were very impressive in recreating The Tennessee Three sound.

If you are not overly familiar with the Johnny Cash story, you'll no doubt learn a few things. I was intrigued by the fact that Johnny and Vivian wrote 10,000 pages of love letters in three years... you have to wonder about the true nature of their relationship compared to how it was portrayed in the 2005 bio flick Walk The Line. Interesting follow up reading there.

But the main reason for seeing this show is for its entertainment value. This is a stage full of engaging performers telling a fascinating story. The medley at the end will leave your hands saw from clapping and your face in a permanent smile. Johnny cash is unlikely to be touring any time soon, but if you want to see what he might have been like in his charismatic prime, check out the next best thing.

At the Athenaeum Theatre Melbourne until Sunday 21st July. Click here for details and future performances.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dark Thirst

I can't believe it. I appear to have lost another passport. I wasn't even looking for it, I was actually looking for my food handler's certificate, which I haven't needed in the 18 months or so since I got it. Suddely I'm going to a hospitality agency tomorrow and they need to see it and I cannot find it anywhere. And along the way I realised that my passport was not in the passport place. I found the one that I thought was missing three years ago when The Dreaded One and I went on the big trip (TDO had removed it from my passport place and put with her stuff because she thought it was safer there... and not knowing this, three days before we left I had to get an emergency passport replacement. I found that the original had been in with her stuff a year after we got back from that trip).

But now... I have no idea where the food handler's certificate is or the passport. It's not in The Dreaded One's stuff... it's doing my head in.

But I did find this advertisement. That's me at the end of the table, lots more hair than I have now and much more cheeks. I was a bit chunky back then.

And if you know me, you'll appreciate how funny it is that I am some kind of poster boy for alcohol restraint. It is deeply funny. I have been uber booze monster at times.

I have a story brewing called Dark Thirst. Companion story to the one about the time I overdosed on drugs. Booze, when it gets its claws in, it ain't funny. Hangovers? I laugh at them. Hangovers are nothing compared to proper addiction. Hangovers are a walk through a field of daisies. Booze addiction... it's a monster in a cage. It rattles that cage and jangles your nerves and fucking owns you, and the struggle to get through that is a kind of hell. You don't sleep it off. It's just not that easy. It really is fucking awful.

But if you are lucky, you get through it. You find a kind of peace. You appreciate being in control. You say goodbye to the anxiety attacks and the fear and the constant nausea and feel happy that you can just pick up a fucking glass of water without shaking so much you spill it everywhere.

Mostly, people haven't suspected a thing. I am nothing if not a trouper. Some days, some weeks, when I think about them, I really don't know how I made it through.

So yeah, the poster above, it's funny because when booze is fun it's the best. But the poster is also uber ironic given what I have been through.

Life. Funny old thing.

I'm hopng to write Dark Thirst soon. It won't be light-hearted (though there might be funniness in there), but I feel the need to write about it. There's no point going through this shit if you can't use it.