Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some Weddings Are More Royal Than Others

There's a royal wedding happening this weekend. It's not just any old royal wedding either, oh my word no. This isn't the pairing of two spawns of disempowered losers with surnames like Lothringen-Hesse-Glatz-Wolfenshchutlz surround by a cluster of other nondescript irrelevants whose surnames are designed to remind you of places they don't rule anymore. It isn't even a royal wedding involving the still ruling house of some trivial flea bite nation nobody has ever heard of like Swaziland, Luxembourg or Spain. No, this is the big one a member of the British royal family is tying the knot. That's right; Britain, compared with which Denmark is a nature strip on the verge of Europe and Liechtenstein is a Swiss window box. On a foggy day, with one eye closed and your head held at the right angle you can still mistake Britain for a relevant and independent nation. And now a member of their royal family is getting married. Not just a distant and moderately loathsome member either but Prince William himself. He's marrying a girl named Kate I believe.

Naturally the media has been going nuts. At least they have in this country, I don't know what they're doing in Britain possibly commenting on the country's economic woes. All over Australia gushing references have been made to Prince William frequently referring to him as the heir to the throne. As I understand it there already is one of those. An elderly guy, a bit strange, talks to plants. He's still alive isn't he? In any event terms like "heir to the throne" only have genuine meaning if the current occupant looks like they may be leaving it soon. I don't know about you but in my opinion the queen looks good for another eighty years or so. Anybody who bases any forward plans on women from that family dying any time soon simply hasn't studied their history.

Still as royal weddings go this is about as big as it gets and the media are getting all damp pantied in anticipation. The media loves a royal wedding; it's ratings gold for virtually no effort. For the past month we have had articles, documentaries, even news reports dedicated to the royal wedding and all at no more cost than it take to hire some hack to use the words "Kate and Wills" in a sentence. There are the earnest discussions between up to half a dozen people at a time on what the dress may actually look like. Here's a clue, it will be white, there will be a veil and a train. The only possible spark of interest would be if the one wearing it was Prince William. Nobody actually has the faintest idea what the dress will look like which doesn't stop half an hour of high rating television with a group of people essentially agreeing that they don't have the faintest idea what the dress will look like.

The other fascinating thing of course is the fact that Kate Middleton is a commoner. Apparently this is really exciting news, so exciting that one imagines that most royal watchers haven't encountered one before. There are actually quite a few of them out there. Still there have been earnest discussions about whether its a good thing or a bad thing that Prince William isn't marrying someone who shares his number of recessive genes. No doubt some dusty historian will produce evidence that one of Henry VIII's second cousins once removed married an earwig and that therefore there is precedent or something.

This entire orgy of royal wedding mania will culminate on Friday in an avalanche of commemorative china and pomp finely laced with circumstance. I know that I will be glued to the television set this weekend. The new season of Doctor Who is starting.

Lonely As A Cloud Indeed

Dark storm clouds are gathering as I write this entry. At least I assume they are storm clouds, it is always possible that they are sweetness and light clouds dancing in the heavens to bring a message of peace and tranquility to all humanity. Humanity doesn't really seem to be getting the hint. If I were such a cloud I would be getting quite disillusioned by now. "Here am I," my cloudy thoughts would go, "dancing my cumulo-nimbic butt off and these clowns aren't even paying attention." Indeed, if I were a cloud I think I would have a distinct temptation to rain on humanity's parade and, being a cloud, I'd have the tools to do the job. Yes indeed, you would mock Neil the Cloud at your peril.

The more I think about it (I'm seriously thinking about being a cloud?) the more I realise that I probably wouldn't make a good cloud. For starters, I'm scared of heights. Vertigo is not a good look for a cloud. If you're standing under me you'd better pray that the moisture hitting you is rain. The other clouds would tease me and swoop ever higher in the sky while I turned green and attempted to masquerade as ground mist.

My life as a cloud would be a lonely and bitter one, I would flee the mocking company of other clouds and hang out in an otherwise completely clear sky trying not to look to closely at the ground. You'll know me, I'm the one who will spoil your picnic when the weather report said it was going to be perfect. I'm the one who will make you scramble for your clothes again just after you put your suntan lotion on and it will be me who will lower the temperature just enough so you're not comfortable wearing that light Summer outfit that you spent an absolute fortune on.

On balance I think it's better that I'm not a cloud. Apparently being a cloud would make me an absolute prick.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Anzac Day on Monday

Today is Good Friday. On this day, apparently, Jesus Christ a jobbing woodworker from Bethlehem was publicly humiliated, tortured and nailed to a cross. He must have had a very different idea of what constitutes a good Friday than I do. If all that had happened to me I would have been hanging on the cross thinking "worst Friday ever". Still it could have been worse, at least it wasn't raining.

This year Easter has overlapped with Anzac Day thus merging one of the most important dates in the Christian calendar (unless you happen to be Orthodox or Coptic of course) with the most important secular holiday in Australia. The response of the Australian people was immediate and profound; "Woo hoo! Five day weekend".

OK that's not entirely fair, the churches will be full or at least fuller this weekend. There are the usual religious observances and a lot of people who aren't me will attend. There will also be the Anzac Day march on Monday which usually draws a huge crowd. I won't be going to that either although its a closer call than church. I'm a little ambivalent about the march, when I was younger I loved watching it on television. I watched all the bands stepping out and the veterans marching under their old unit banners. Now a lot of those veterans are gone of course, there are still representatives from the Korean War and a lot from Vietnam and later but even so I've watched the ranks drastically thin just in my lifetime. It might just be a coincidence but it seems that with the passing of so many former soldiers the nature of the march, or perhaps the people watching it has changed somewhat. More and more people are interested in Anzac Day and that's a good thing but there does seem to be a tendency to celebrate it. Anzac Day isn't a celebration, its a memorial.

Anzac Day is when we remember what these people did for us, and what it cost them; their lives, their health, their sanity. I'm not comfortable with partying or even smiling too much to be honest. I will cheerfully party and smile every other day of the year but not, perhaps, this one. Of course many people will march, or watch the march, in this spirit but I plan to be out of the city before the it starts.

I do plan to attend the dawn service because that really can't change. It is about remembrance, sacrifice and loss. That is the real meaning of Anzac Day and, it occurs to me, of Easter as well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Memo to the Guys at the Hadron Supercollider; Game On, Bitches!

The scientists at the Hadron Supercollider had better start bashing the bosons otherwise they're going to get left behind in the race to discover the origins of the universe. Is it a race? It is now. In the last few days it has come to my attention that "scientists" (they never mention which ones, it could be a research foundation sponsored by Dr Doom, Professor Farnsworth and Davros) are planning to build a gravity telescope. The purpose is to measure gravity waves which are apparently sloshing around our universe like subatomic bathwater.

I have to admit that I don't understand the science (or the mentality) behind the intention to build what is being called the Einstein Telescope but apparently as these waves of gravity surge through the planet things expand and contract a little. At this point it might be helpful to think of the earth as a sort of giant wobbleboard and gravity waves as a kind of cosmic Rolf Harris. Or it might not, it certainly didn't help me. The scientists at the telescope intend to fire laser beams down ten kilometre long vacuum chambers and measure the minute changes in actual distance as those brutal gravity waves pound our hapless planet. This means...oh I don't know what it means. I have no idea how they are hoping achieve anything but according to their spokesman (whose name, I think, was Dr Strangelove) these measurements will enable scientists to understand the creation of the universe, see black holes and determine which powder washes whitest. The team at the supercollider must be chewing their atom hammers in envy.

So it's a race with the grand prize being a universal theory of everything. On one side we have the frenzied atom smashers of Hadron versus the laser firing lunatics of Einstein. This is sounding more and more like the sort of game they might play at Hogwarts. It has to be admitted that Team Hadron have a definite advantage, their equipment is up and running. Team Einstein haven't even decided where they will dig their tunnels yet. They have wisely ruled out earthquake zones on the grounds that the seismic disturbances might make it difficult to measure gravity waves. Oh yes, and they could all get horribly killed. Digging is essential because apparently those ten kilometre long vacuum chambers have to be at least eight hundred metres underground. Which leads me to my own conclusion. If you want a career as a theoretical physicist perhaps the first qualification you need is some familiarity with a shovel.

And This is a Photo of Me Burning a Local's Roof

People love to travel; at least this is the impression one gets from the television and print media. No periodical is so small that it doesn't have a travel section. That's before we get on to purpose written publications like Lonely Planet. The destinations are getting odder as well. In the paper the other day there was an advertisement for an African tour titled "Namibia and Beyond". Excuse me? Namibia is beyond. I venture to suggest that even people who live in Namibia (I think there are about four of them) consider Namibia to be beyond.

Nowadays it seems there are throngs of people just waiting for the shooting to die down so that they can visit ghastly third world hell holes like the Congo, Sudan and Los Angeles. Places where missionaries and UN peacekeepers once feared to tread are overrun with people wearing inappropriate t-shirts haggling (so traditional) for the one remaining intact cultural icon in the country and demanding local delicacies that the the inhabitants have been praying that McDonalds would eliminate from their diets. The locals are surprisingly good sports and very rarely kidnap, rape or murder these clowns and frequently take time out from their busy schedule of local genocide to conduct them around their homeland's points of interest.

This is perhaps the most surprising thing about the travel phenomenon. It wasn't so many centuries ago when the appearance of a group of strangers on the horizon would prompt a frantic ringing of the village bell, the seizing of available farm implements and a quick message to the local lord telling him to get his men at arms along and fulfill his feudal obligations. Today people tend to restrict such an extreme reaction to when relatives turn up unexpectedly.

Of course back in the day there were thoroughly good reasons for having a, shall we say, healthy distrust of strangers. Traditionally the two reasons for travel were trade and warfare. If you were Venetian you could usually manage a creative blend of both. The appearance of strangers generally meant that pretty soon your roof would be on fire or your trade would be in the hands of foreigners. More seriously strangers were distrusted because, having no ties to the local community, they couldn't be relied on to respect local laws and customs (such as not setting people's roofs on fire). In the old days such people tended to be Mongols or Gypsies, nowadays we call them backpackers.

Then sometime a few centuries ago things started to change. People began travelling for no particularly good reason and started boring the crap out of their friends and family when they got home. There was a transitional period of course. It was a poor British tourist of the nineteenth century who could travel to foreign parts without colonising a bit of it and people like explorers and missionaries managed to combine sightseeing with pestering the natives but still, the groundwork was laid. Even the military got into the act by touting their highly traditional travel reasons (bloodshed, mayhem, death) by appealing to the desire for tourism. "Join the Navy and See the World" the posters proclaimed. Although depending on the navy you might be lucky if you saw the shore and the navy never mentioned that the bit of the world they could show you wasn't something you could walk on.

In these enlightened times of course people roam all over the planet photographing, partying, exploring and generally behaving the way people do when they think there is little chance of the information getting back home to their parents. Personally I think we left fewer scars on the local population when all we did was burn their roof and steal their sheep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Royal Australian Navy: A Reef in Training

Well, all was prepared for the scuttling of HMAS Adelaide. The ship had been towed into position, holes had been cut into the hull, explosives set and the obligatory group of protesters who turn up at any vaguely public event had their placards on standby. Then at the penultimate moment a pod of dolphins swam by totally ignoring the exclusion zone the police had set up. Proceedings had to be delayed while our aquatic cousins were encouraged to leave the area. A police spokesman later claimed that the use of capsicum spray was well within official guidelines and the officer who tazered a dolphin to death was acting in self defence. The spokesman also announced a review of the use of tazers in an aquatic setting; funerals for the officers (and dolphin) who died of electric shock will be held next week.

I'm not sure why our navy is so keen on scuttling things. If you or I tried to dispose of several thousand tonnes of metal, plastic and asbestos by dumping it in the ocean the Environmental Protection Agency would definitely want to have a word. Still there seems to be an implicit promise given to every Australian naval vessel on commissioning that one day it will be reborn as a hazard to navigation. Perhaps its a form of compensation for not seeing very much combat. HMAS Adelaide might not have sunk anything during her naval career but there is always the possibility that something will now run aground on her.

The protesters were the same wearisome bunch that turn up anytime somebody attempts to do anything. Apparently they were concerned that dropping the aforementioned several thousand tonnes of metal, plastic and asbestos into the briny deep wouldn't do much for the environment. Personally I suspect the environment is tougher than they think and hiring a sky writer to help get their message across was in my opinion a tactical error. Let's protest against polluting the sea by mucking up the sky.

It is possible that Adelaide's choice of funeral will have an impact on the environment although anybody who thinks the ocean can't handle it should check their diary for World War Two. At one point there were more ships on the seabed than there were actually floating on the surface yet people fish in those areas now (and indeed did then, a number of those sunken ships were trawlers). It doesn't seem to have caused any lasting damage. The navy's position is that Adelaide will form an artificial reef and become a dive site and a haven for marine life. Indeed it has been suggested that if global warming does kill the Great Barrier Reef then the navy will simply line itself up along side and simultaneously scuttle to pick up the slack. If the rust gets any worse in our tank landing ships they may well self scuttle before they get there. I wonder what people would think of a dive site and haven for marine life in the middle of Sydney Harbour.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Painkillers and Pillows

I have long been of the opinion that it is easier to find entertaining and thought provoking television by watching the commercial rather than the programmes even if the thought occasionally is "Oh my God!" A couple of ads caught my eye the other night which really brightened up the shows they were slumming with.

The first commercial was for pillows. A voice over announced in serious tones that things live in your pillows. The word "ecosystem" was used. Apparently after a certain period of time pillows become home to a wider variety of life forms than the Amazon rain forest. I must admit I approached my bed with a certain amount of trepidation that evening. I stared at the pillow for five minutes just in case anything moved. Nothing did so I plumped up my pillow, no doubt causing widespread carnage, and went to sleep. Here is my simple rule of thumb; if it is too small to be seen it isn't a life form its a disease. Not that I felt any better about resting my weary head on the sleep conducive equivalent of Typhoid Mary.

Naturally the pillow company had a solution to the problem of pillows acting as larger, fluffier plague rats. Each of their pillows is stamped with a date, prior to this date they are pristine, gleaming examples of pillowy goodness. After this date they become rancid disease bags that will burn your face off as you sleep. The implication is, of course, that after this date you should rush out and buy yourself some new pillows or, you know, clean the ones you've got. Personally I think the ad made a tactical error by using the word ecosystem. With ecosystems under threat all over the planet I doubt if environmentalists are going to be pleased by plans to exterminate one completely. I don't particularly want to have to cross a picket line of jeering greenies waving signs like "Save the pillow mite" every time I decide my bedding needs to be changed.

Commercial number two was noteworthy for the incredibly low opinion the ad makers apparently had of their target audience. They were advertising one of those codeine analgesics which are good for headaches, muscle soreness and crushing a dozen into your last glass of bourbon when you couldn't be bothered making another trip to the bottle shop. To their credit the advertisers didn't emphasize that last point. What they did do, surprisingly, was give a number of sensible and simple suggestions you might want to implement rather than taking their product. A glass of water, some fresh air, a rest. Any of these could indeed help with a headache or muscle pain. Alternatively you could go out to the chemist and spend good money on a box of pills. Obviously the advertisers think their target audience will find things like drinking water, breathing outside and going to sleep too much like hard work. What's depressing is they're quite possibly correct. Let's get something straight right now; if you find the preceding methods to be too difficult to contemplate then you don't need an analgesic you need a complete blood transfusion. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to have a priest standing by either.

I think it was the cheerful assumption that their target market are a pack of wretched, bone idle deadbeats that made this commercial appealing to me. It was a mistake to run the pillow commercial immediately afterwards though. The kind of people the analgesic marketers were targeting are unlikely to go to the effort of changing their pillows even if there was a colony of mountain gorillas living in it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Roller Derby sans Barbecue Forks

I went to the roller derby on Saturday night. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had some vague notion of heavily armoured myrmidons flailing at each other with barbecue forks while the air is filled with roller skates and eviscerated livers. Sadly I have to report that all livers remained more or less in place and there wasn't a barbecue fork in sight. The bouts were pretty exciting despite this.

Before we could experience the skates of doom there were a number of traditional preliminaries to be observed whenever a group of young people (not me idiot, the others) go out. There were pre game drinks, random comings and goings, more drinks, the obligatory leaving of the tickets with the least reliable person available, dinner (thanks Natasha), more drinks and then frantic attempts to herd everybody out the door.

In all there were eight of us and a quick roll call seems in order. There was Morganne who had spent the day not rock climbing and had come back with a couple of friends. There was Lindsay one of the aforementioned friends a pretty and likeable if somewhat dehydrated young lady. There was a social worker with an egg fetish. There was Natasha a flatmate of Morganne's who raised herself high in my estimation by cooking us all lasagna. There was David another flatmate who didn't cook anything and therefore isn't as high in my estimation as Natasha but was nice nonetheless. David had brought a lesbian date (howls of outrage from the traditional, ie female, lesbians) who was short, very attractive and well aware of that fact. Finally there was Rae, Rae was quiet, unobtrusive, always ready to go whenever one of the more hysterical of us howled that we were going to be late and is possibly the only one of us who actually saw an entire bout. Oh yes and there was me tagging along behind in my usual state of easygoing bewilderment.

Eventually with much shouting and threats of abandonment everybody lurched out of the house and made our way down to the railway station. It has to be said that public transport came up trumps, providing us with trains and buses to order and getting us to the Hordern Pavillion in very short order. Along the way a vigorous debate was held about whether transsexuals can have orgasms. At least I think that's what it was about, I didn't have much to contribute. I'm not sure what conclusion was drawn but if the answer is "no" then there was one transsexual of my (all too brief) acquaintance who was damned good at faking it. I think I was meant to be shocked by this conversation as if words like cum, fuck, clitoris and surgery had only just been invented. One of the charming things about the young is that they firmly believe human history began thirty seconds before they were born whereas in actual fact it began thirty seconds before I was born. Human history used to start a lot earlier, around 1943 I think, but that was before the maniacs at the Hadron Supercollider started molesting bosons. Nowadays we're just lucky if Tuesday follows Thursday. I mean Wednesday.

The last time I was at the Hordern Pavillion was for a Nine Inch Nails concert and the place hasn't changed appreciably. Incidentally my cursor seems to have vanished which is making it difficult to keep up with myself. Once inside the security barrier the sense of cohesion we had fell apart and from that time on until the end of the night I don't think we were all in the one place. I met a neighbour and we greeted each other with that sort strained bonhomie that intensely masculine men such as ourselves affect when we run into somebody at a women's sporting event that we didn't expect to see. The thirty seconds this took was all the time I needed to lose such of my companions as hadn't wandered off. Eventually I found a couple of them and we went inside to watch the bout. At least I watched the bout, the social worker decided to stave off boredom by removing another of my companions skull and peeling back her brain layer by layer. At half time we wandered outside again and found several of my other companions who had miraculously found seats.

By this point gentle reader you are no doubt thinking something along the lines of "In the name of God will you just shut up with the babbling on and tell us about the roller derby". I acknowledge my flaws and I crave pardon. The roller derby was excellent. These girls play hard, whizzing around the oval while at the same time attempting to kill each other without attracting the ire of the referees. There was skill, there was grace, there was speed and there was violence. There isn't much more you can ask for from a sport than that. I had a thoroughly good time and by the end I was applauding and murmuring approvingly as if I understood what was going on.

I hope Morganne can get me a ticket for the next bout.