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I was at my tennis club a few weeks ago, having a late afternoon drink with other exhausted players when the subject of travel came up.
I have observed that when you clearly have one foot in the grave you are expected to tourist-travel until you run out of money, or are unable to walk, or can’t escape from the nursing home.Our after-game discussions solve the problems of the world every week. The tennis club members could run the country if only the country would let them. And so into this boisterous, good natured and noisy conversation I quietly announced that we were planning to travel. Ah, I had introduced a favourite subject. The volume of the babble rose. They all wanted to tell travellers’ tales. Through the uproar somebody asked me where we intended to go.
“New York,” I replied above the din. That spawned nods of approval. “You see, I’ve never been to New York.”
The clubhouse immediately fell silent. Everybody was staring at me. The president, who was sitting at the next table, stood up.
“What did you say?,” he snarled, ashen faced.
“I said, I’ve never been to New York.”
“Lying bastard!” somebody called from the bar. “Do you expect us to believe that you’ve never been to New York?”
“It’s true,” I said, “but I had a stopover in Los Angeles once. And I’ve been to Melbourne several times.”
“That’s not New York!” the nimble footed captain of the club yelled, and ran outside to shout at the players still on the courts, “Fraser McEwing has never been to New York!”
The president, still standing, picked up a racket and pointed it at me. “Pack your bag and get out of here right now,” he warned through gritted teeth, “before I beat you to death.”
After the tennis club episode, I decided to have a quiet Saturday night at home. I was in my tartan flannelette pyjamas fixing myself a stiff Southern Comfort when powerful blows shook the front door. I opened it to find four policemen on my porch, two with pistols drawn.
“Are you Fraser McEwing?” the front one with the headlight eyes asked.
“I am,” I said.
“Good, then I am arresting you.”
“I am surprised you don’t know, sir. You are being charged with never having been to New York.”
“Are you taking me away with you?”
“Yes sir, to a cell, immediately. Hold out your hands so I can cuff you.”
“But I’m in my pyjamas.”
“You should have thought of that before.”
I could feel my wife behind me. “What’s going on?” she cried.
“I’m being arrested.”
“I can see that, but what for?”
“For admitting I’ve never been to New York.”
She stepped back, her hand to her mouth. “You idiot,” she hissed between her fingers, “you never tell anybody that. It’s a very serious offence.”\
The hearing was over pretty quickly. I refused Her Majesty’s offer of a barrister and threw myself on the mercy of the court. I thought about pretending that I had once been to New York but I didn’t have a passport stamp, or traveller’s cheque butts or a Big Apple tee shirt as proof. I would have had perjury added to my crime, so I decided to shut up and take my punishment.
The judge gave me five years, commuted to six months community service in a travel agency on the proviso that I visited New York within one year and one day of the sentence.
We’ve booked for next April.
This trolley is loaded with menace
Shopping trolleys have not escaped the march of technology. Once, there was only one model that every retailer used until the Ancient Order of Trolley Shopping Designers produced the one whose wheels clamp themselves on to the moving footway and seem to defy gravity. Then came the lite trolley, a limited capacity two-storey model for afterthought shopping. Now we have the smart trolley that gets extremely shitty when you take it out of its territory and petulantly locks its front wheel.
I never took too much notice of this miracle of trolley self-determination. I imagined a trolley wheel locking control room deep in the bowels of the shopping center where CCTV would show a uniformed operator which trolley was about to enter unauthorized territory and would throw the wheel locking switch. But no, it would all be computer controlled, like every other bloody thing.
Fast forward to my visit to Dan Murphy’s last Sunday evening. I’d left my wife organising a social event at the Golden Sheaf Hotel (there used to be a brothel in Surry Hills called the Golden Sheath, I recall) while I went to Dan Murphy’s to stock up on alcoholic beverages and spirituous liquors. I’d parked the car in the street to avoid having to fork out hard earned cash in favour of an overstay in Woolies car park.
I get a bit fanciful once I’m let loose in Dan Murphy’s. In addition to needful beers, mixers and wines, I become mesmerized by the variety of drinks I’ve never seen before and have to try. My Dan Murphy’s trolley was near capacity when it came to the checkout where one of those young men who are trained to do things very quickly consolidated my selections into two, very heavy boxes. I paid and pushed my trolley to the moving footway and proceeded at bridal speed to ground level. My car was strategically parked about 100 meters away and I set off, pushing my smart trolley in front of me. As soon as I left the invisible radio field of the building the trolley pulled its predetermined trick and its front wheel locked.
My load of alcoholic beverages and spirituous liquors was too heavy to allow me to lift the trolley back into its happy zone. It might just as well have been welded to the pavement.
Dilemma. The two laden boxes were too heavy to carry to the car together but if I carried one, I’d have to leave the other to the Double Bay liquor street thieves who hang around for such opportunities.
Since it was about seven o’clock in the evening and the crowd had thinned out a bit, I reasoned the Double Bay liquor street thieves might have called it a day too. Anyway, I had no choice. I selected the box with the more expensive grog and waddled away to my car, risking a triple hernia. Once I’d secured it inside I ran back, ready to wrestle my remaining grog away from a felon, but the immovable trolley was still there with its load. I took the second box to the car.
Now, what revenge could I wreak upon the trolley? I had no weapons. Hitting it would hurt me more than the trolley. I could have kicked its offending wheel but broken my big toe. In the end, I left the bastard where it was. Dan could deal with it.
While I can play the piano, my childhood piano teacher, Miss Bayley, didn’t teach me much music theory – largely because she didn’t know much herself. About sixty years later I decided to correct this by going back to learn theory. But not to Miss Bayley, who would be about 128 years old and possibly retired. In any case, she lives interstate. I therefore enrolled in a course at the Sydney Conservatorium.
I never had the enthusiasm for Miss Bayley that I have for my current lecturer, a woman in her fortish with undisciplined hair, a variety of interesting boots and a ready laugh. I don’t even mind having to share her with a class of others striving to understand the endless intricacies of musical notation. Her classes are as joyful as they are instructive. Last week we tackled the 12 bar blues, as a musical idiom. This, with variations, is the backbone of many songs about trouble, probably because it came from the imported black cotton slaves of early America. Our homework was to write a 12 bar blues song based on a certain chord progression. The lyrics of my song were, roughly, “While I was having my leg amputated after a cotton machine accident my woman ran off with my best friend who lives next door, leaving me with seven kids – all girls.” The lecturer said that many blues songs were about people who might return or have just left, often with mutually saved family funds. I must say that when I’d written my music and played it over a few times there was no doubt: it was terrible. I won’t be entering it for Eurovision.
One of our main subjects is rhythm, indicated by the key signature and the length of the written notes. My imagination immediately jumped to the conclusion that rhythm would play a significant role in the sex lives of dedicated musicians. Instead of whispered words of love they would communicate with seductive time signature and note value suggestions, plus terms like prestissimo for when things are hotting up or largo for lying back later. The couple would start out with a few minum feelers, a heavy chord or two, some predictable crotchets which would turn into semiquavers as the pace quickened, and finish with a rushing upscale of hemi demisemiquavers. Then descending arpeggios, and soft, big minor semibreve chords as they go off to sleep. Quite a few composers have written musical intercourse. If you listen to Liszt’s famous ‘Liebestraum’ you’ll hear what I mean. This is as close Franz got to porm, I think.
Somebody recently sent me an email in which a video showed several kilometres of Dubai roadway taken up with identical tanker-trucks all heading out of town. I learned from another friend who had worked there that these trucks were all on their way to sewage treatment plants. He explained that when the hysterical building boom hit Dubai, producing such buildings as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure, public utilities such as water, electricity and sewage struggled to catch up. Consequently, much pumping out and a fleet of tanker trucks.
To its credit, Dubai is trying to make the best of its shit. It uses the grey water for parklands and sells the dried out, de-ponged solid stuff to gardeners to produce food which people then eat and turn back into shit: sic fiat semper omnibus quest omnibus.
A few years ago I wrote a novel called cafe. I am reminded of my hero’s soliloquy:
“I realised what a taboo subject ‘shit’ was. People talked endlessly about food but never about its destination. Dumbed down mentions of shit only ever came up in the media when governments discussed sewage disposal or fouled public places. Sometimes they managed, holding their metaphorical noses, to utter the words: ‘untreated solids’. Yet shit was more likely to overwhelm mankind than most other stuff. There seemed too much of it to handle. Every day billions of sphincters disengaged – to the private pleasure of their owners – and released millions of tons of shit. Every sweet child, every gorgeous model, every nun, every derelict, every athlete, every prime minister – they all took a shit.
“Somewhere in the United Nations there had to be an agency dealing specifically with the facts about shit. There would be studies on how much shit there was on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. It would also have calculated how long the human race could last before it drowned in its own shit. Some future generation would have to build spaceships for mankind to escape Earth because it had turned into a huge, rotating ball of shit. But the United Nations wouldn’t dare publish its findings because the problem could not be solved and, much more to the point, decent people couldn’t bear to be confronted with it. Decent people could talk about global warming, AIDS, weapons of mass destruction, the big bang, the mind of God, orgasms, but not about shit.”
The Dirty Great Hole. Mountain not shown.
It is an accepted fact that fear and greed drive the share market. Other emotions are often mentioned too, but I’ve never heard anybody get a belly laugh out of it. That was until this week where there was an announcement about I share I own called Beacon Minerals.I bought lots of it years ago for 1.3 cents believing it couldn’t go any lower. I was wrong. It did. In fact, it almost disappeared when it sank to .2 of a cent. That was so close to zero that I wondered if a share could have a negative value in which shareholders has to pay money to keep their shares. It happens with Japanese interest rates, so why not shares?
Anyway, Beacon went through a directors’ coup and the new lot started feverishly digging up ore until they had a 12,199 ton mountain on one side and a dirty great hole on the other. Needless to say, they didn’t own a processing plant to extract the gold. They seemed to have arrived at a stalemate and the future didn’t look good. At that stage the shares had settled in at .4 of a cent. Maybe this was because somebody thought they could sell the hole to the Saudi sewage department whose treatment plant is currently overwhelmed.
Then a miraculous offer came from Northern Star Gold Mines to buy the mountain of ore and give Beacon cash for it. My shares went up 50% in one day – from .4 of a cent to a dizzy .6 of a cent. After it was confirmed that the mountain did, in fact, contain the percentage of gold that Beacon had claimed, the grand announcement hit the stock exchange yesterday. It said: “A total of 12,199 tons of gold was sold to Northern Star at $611.87 per ton, nett of all costs.” What the f…? I nearly fainted at the news. These idiots, I thought, have accepted $7 million for gold worth over $600 million. Time for another coup – led by me. Then today the stock exchange put out an oops. A revised announcement said:
“A total of 12,199 tons of gold ore was sold to Northern Star at $611.87 per ton, nett of all costs.” The devil was in the detail. What an oresome mistake. I got a good laugh out of it, though.
And how much gold is there in the world, one may ask? The experts can’t agree but it is probably around 160,000 tons. That would cover the center court at Wimbledon to a depth of about 10 meters.
Biting a medal is being overdone
Olympic organisers have long known that medal presentations create perplexing problems for the recipients as the media descends on them to create images for a waiting world. There is only so much you can do with a medal on a ribbon without it looking like a set piece.Although this was supposed to be an Olympic secret, I can now reveal that all competitors were given medal receipt behavior instructions, behind closed doors, immediately they arrived at the Olympic village in Rio. There are only three poses which medal winners are trained to perfect and indeed permitted to use.
Pose 1. Wear the medal dangling on its ribbon as nonchalant naval protection.
Pose 2. Hold the medal between the thumb and forefinger next to the cheek and show all your teeth in a huge, jaw-locking smile. Bend towards the camera while doing this.
Pose 3. Break the above pose by kissing the medal. Look at the medal lovingly and then assume Pose 1.
Pose 4. Turn the medal parallel to the ground and bite it, then laugh.
The problem is that these four poses have become so overused that they have lost their spontaneity. I humbly submit some fresh medal-winner poses for the consideration of the Olympic organisers so that recipients will not be seen as robotic.
Pose 5. Hold the medal aloft by its ribbon, turn side-on and pretend to lower it down the throat to a depth of about 20 centimeters before slowly drawing it up. This is an old sword swallowing trick that can be quickly mastered.
Pose 6. Swing the medal rapidly around on its ribbon, like a propeller, and move towards the nearest person with a camera. Make loud aircraft engine noises.
Pose 7. Open the top of your tracksuit pants and drop the medal so that it goes down one leg of the track suit. Then plunge your right arm down and fish around, finally retrieving it with a cheer. Hold it up and sniff it.
Pose 8. Substitute a gold foil coated chocolate medal for the real thing, Quickly peel it and eat it.