The American Pie

Okay so I know that many of my followers may not be big sports fans so don’t get turned off by the fact that this post is technically about sport – specifically Australian Rules Football – because if you are from the US of A you might be interested to know that our great game has a new hero.  Mason Cox, a 211cm former soccer and basketball player from Texas was recruited three years ago by Collingwood Football Club (my club,  incidentally) not knowing very much about the code beyond the fact that it’s a differently shaped ball from any he is used to.  A few months later he informed his parents that he was off to the arse end of the world to play Australian Rules. His parents must have had conniptions at the time but they’ve supported him in his career choices and this week flew from the US to Australia to watch Mason in his first Preliminary final. If you want to know the importance of AFL in Australia, it’s sort of on a par with the Superbowl. Pretty much everyone has their favourite team – even my kids, who claim to hate sports, still occasionally show the barest of interest in who’s playing whom and who’s winning. Or, in the case of my ex, who’s injured.  Six months of the year is invested in this crazy sport where men run after a ball shaped like a blimp, kick and handball it down the field until someone kicks a goal.  Our national sport is unique for two reasons: a) its the only football code where you jump to catch the ball (take a mark) either in a pack (contested) or in space (uncontested); and b) it’s a high-contact sport, but despite the fact that there are collisions, injuries and concussions galore, we don’t wear padding. Plus, for the straight girl and gay guy alike, there’s eye-candy. Lots and lots of eye-candy.

Interested yet?

But I digress. As I mentioned, Mason joined Collingwood as a rookie three years ago knowing next to nothing about the sport.  His very first game was a baptism of fire: Anzac Day 2016 in front of roughly 96,000 people (and the rest, watching on TV).  He didn’t do too badly; kicked a couple of goals from memory. This year he starred in our Big Freeze game against Melbourne Demons, kicking five goals as a Full-Forward. Last night, in the penultimate game of the season, the Preliminary Final against the ladder leaders Richmond, he tore the Tigers apart with three goals in the second quarter and 11 marks – the second highest mark tally for an individual in a final … EVER. He was just unstoppable.  This morning the papers said “Bye Bye said the American Pie” (bye bye Richmond, that is, who were so sure they were going to go back-to-back quite a few of their players were in tears after the 39 point thrashing). Of course it wasn’t just Mason who contributed to the win that put us in the AFL Grand Final. All 22 knew their role and played it to perfection. There are so many great stories in this team that a sports journalist would be salivating.

*There’s Jordan DeGoey, who was suspended at the beginning of the year for an off-field drink-driving indiscretion but came back and repaid the faith the Pies had shown in him by becoming one of the most dynamic, exciting forwards in the game in just six months;

*Tyson Goldsack, who came back from a season-ending knee injury in March and played in the last three games, including two finals;

*Travis Varcoe, who lost his sister Maggie in a sickening on-field collision in the women’s reserves league in Adelaide (she was in a coma for a week before the life support was turned off). He could have had that week off but decided to play in the Qualifying Final vs the Eagles two weeks ago.  There was a minute’s silence at the game in Maggie’s honour and all the players wore black armbands. He said afterward that Maggie would have wanted him to play, even though the Pies eventually lost by 16pts.

*Josh Thomas, who, along with another team mate who’s no longer at Collingwood, was suspended for two years under the performance-enhancing drug laws for taking a prohibited substance but has since, like DeGoey, repaid the faith Collingwood showed in keeping him on the list and supporting him.

There’s Mason of course, but the biggest story of them all would have to be that of our coach, Nathan Buckley. Former player, captain, Norm Smith Medallist, Brownlow Medallist, All Australian multiple times, Rising Star winner (1993), winner of 6 club Best and Fairests … the list goes on. There is nothing Bucks hasn’t done… except win a premiership. He retired in 2007 after the prelim final loss to Geelong with a recurring hamstring injury. Since then he’s studied coaching in the US, been to the Australian Institute of Sport, and finally became our coach in 2012, part of a succession plan that had many detractors predicting would cause dissension in the ranks.  And they were right: after reaching the finals in 2011 under Mick Malthouse, the boys were told Mick was leaving.  He’d just steered them to a flag the year before but the succession plan had him play a mentoring role his ego couldn’t handle. But that’s another story altogether.

I’ll admit that I was one of Bucks’ critics early on. By 2016,when we’d missed the finals for the third year in a row and were sliding down the ladder by increments every year, I was convinced the club had made a huge mistake. ‘We were on the brink of a dynasty’ fans were crying, ‘Why did you let Mick go?”  I even posted about it in here, with a lengthy diatribe about how I thought it was time for a change.

How wrong I was.

Nathan Buckley, with the help of a extensive review that saw a shakeup of his coaching panel, was given two year contract extension and allowed to have more say in recruiting. after a poor 2017 where the club ended up 13th on the ladder (just so you know, there are 18 teams).  Our injury list was longer than Mason Cox’s arm. Now, we still have injuries, but Bucks has the boys playing an exciting game plan based on pressure, pressure, and more pressure, as well as linking handballs, and a dynamic, fluid forward line that’s hard to match up on. Our ruckman, Brodie Grundy, as well as premiership player Steele Sidebottom, made All-Australian.  But better than all of that, next week, on the last Saturday in September, we play the West Coast Eagles in the AFL Grand Final.

CARN THE PIES!!!!!!!

 

Pictures: Left: Mason and Travis Varcoe give each other a high-five; Right: One of Mason’s high-flying grabs in last night’s win over the Tigers.

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The Procrastinator’s Manifesto

 

Never do today what could be put off until tomorrow – Anonymous

 

Here’s a somewhat amusing fact that underlined to me that this was what I had to write. The day I’d earmarked to concentrate on this writing task (yesterday) I managed to do everything else but.  I watched a couple of episodes of Gotham. I did the dishes. I spent half the day shopping with Mum, and the rest of it on Facebook, the ultimate one-stop procrastination shop.  After staying up most of the night reading a Liane Moriarty novel it occurred to me that I’d just procrastinated about writing about procrastinating.  It seemed like some kind of sign.  So here goes:

 

THE PROCRASTINATOR’S MANIFESTO

 

  • We, the undersigned (if we get around to it) remain steadfast and absolute in our determination to put off, as long as possible, those tasks which we deem to be onerous, mentally taxing or otherwise mind-numbingly boring.

 

  • That even if they are not onerous; even if we actually feel a smidgeon of joyful anticipation about those tasks (or at least about attempting to begin them), we will inexplicably faff about doing anything apart from what we’re supposed to be doing.

 

  • Netflix is the answer. The question? Not sure, I’ll get back to you on that.

 

  • We, the undersigned, shalt exhibit no shame or embarrassment about our tendency to put off that which can be done tomorrow, as it is a charming and endearing character trait, not a flaw; nor is it a subconscious fear of failure (or at least, we don’t think it is).

 

  • We, as fully-fledged card-carrying Procrastinators, own our idiosyncrasies and defy anyone to try to change our ways. Yes, even our eternally frustrated Loved Ones / Significant Others / university tutors.

 

  • In point of fact, we shall implore and encourage others to do as we do, for sitting up at night watching horror movies/binge-watching a favourite TV series and eating vast amounts of junk food instead of finishing that assignment that is due the very next day is infinitely less fun than attempting such endeavours on one’s own.

 

  • This is harder than I’d first thought. I need another jolt of caffeine. BRB.

 

  • We, the undersigned, shalt stop thinking of procrastination as our enemy. As one astute blogger put it, it’s actually our friend. And it doesn’t hamper our ability to get things done.  Don’t believe me? There are actual studies on this:

“Consider a recent study at Columbia University that found procrastinating students often experience just as much personal satisfaction, have the same amount of internal motivation, and get just as much done as students who don’t wait to finish their work. Basically the opposite of what was expected.” – Yaseen Dadabhay, The Art of Doing Nothing

 

  • If the above isn’t a good enough reason to embrace our destiny, I don’t know what is.

 

  • We, the undersigned, shalt acknowledge the fact that procrastination is an addiction for which we cannot be blamed. Yes, procrastination is an addiction – a compulsion, even.  According to Kevin Eikenberry, a leadership expert, author and motivational speaker, procrastination is a psychological blockage “caused by fear of failure, fear of success…” (yes, you read that right) “… and fear of the unknown.”                                 … And I thought I was just lazy.

 

  • Researching procrastination is just as entertaining and informative as anything else you might do in order to put off doing what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s rather like self-diagnosis via the internet. You feel a sense of kinship; you know you’re not alone.  There are even tips and meditations available to break the habit, such as those featured on the website Psychology Today.  Here’s the link: psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-integrationist/201303/kicking-the-procrastination-habit  .  Did you know hypnotism has been used, successfully, to combat debilitating cases of procrastination?  No? Well, now you do.

 

  • But I digress. We, as self-proclaimed professional procrastinators, don’t actually want to break the habit. Do we?  After all, we’re good at it! And why try to stop doing something we’re good at? Isn’t that some kind of self-sabotage? (Detractors would argue that procrastination itself is a form of self-sabotage, but we’re not listening to them, are we?).

 

  • I’ve just now realised that I’ve read and re-read this list after each entry. Go figure.

 

  • And finally, we the undersigned shalt pledge to play Candy Crush Saga (and its equally addictive spin-offs) until callouses develop on our fingertips or we run out of levels (whichever comes first). Probably the former – as the game states, there are some 2000 levels and counting.

 

*What, you thought we were actually gonna sign this thing?!

 

Published, again!

Recently received notice that the story I’d submitted to my university’s literary journal – the same one that published me last year – has been approved for both the print and ebook versions. I’m stoked, because it was the only submission I’d put in this year and they barely had to edit it.  Anyway, it’s called Water Baby and it’s been posted here much earlier, although you’ll probably have to go through the archives to find it. For the newly edited version, either Google Verandah vol 33 after the 16th September for the ebook or alternatively, visit my site as I’ll most likely re-post, but not until it’s in print. I don’t want to give them any reason to withdraw, saying that it’s already been published.

Last year’s submission won me the Deakin Literary award. It was a 2000 word story about a woman who recounts aspects of her childhood and marriage to her psychiatrist and I suspect was considered for an award because of it’s timeliness – the subject was domestic violence, and it’s a pretty prominent problem right now in Australia. This year’s story contains two relevant themes: suicide and the discrimination that transgender people go through.  Having received so much praise and positive reinforcement about my writing in recent times has made me do some serious thinking about the kind of writing I want to be known for as an author. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I admire authors like Liane Moriarty for her realistic portrayals of Australian family life and all the issues that feed into it, including parenthood, relationship problems, sibling rivalry and of course domestic violence, which was what her most well-known work, Big Little Lies was ultimately about.  I can only hope that I can have just as much success as Liane in the years to come.

 

 

Mr Big and the Rockspider

Disclaimer:  The story of the pedo, the fake organised crime gang and my money woes might not seem to share a connection at first glance, and that’s because they don’t. Well, not really. Suffice it to say, I’m neither Mr Big nor a member of a crime gang. Yet. Keep you posted. 

Okay so recently, if you’ve kept an eye on my blog, you’ll know I’ve been having some pretty major struggles with Centrelink, the Australian welfare system. I’m currently unemployed, completing a degree online and had my Austudy (ie, my only form of income) cancelled due to the fact that I’m no longer studying full time. Fair enough, right? Well, it would be if it had simply been a matter of transferring me to a different payment, say Newstart, for those actively seeking employment, which I am and have been, for the past twelve months. But no, I had to file a separate claim for that, and the minimum wait for any kind of money was two weeks. Guess how long I’ve now been waiting, ladies and germs?  A month. Yes, thirty days. And it’s been fifteen days since the estimated date of completion of my claim (11th July).  I’ve complained numerous times, calling and going into the local branch to try and figure out what’s going on and NO ONE WILL TELL ME ANYTHING.  It’s getting to the point where if I hear one more officious voice telling me ‘there’s nothing I can do’, I’m going to go postal on the pricks. I mean, how are people supposed to survive on NO MONEY?!!!!!  (Okay, just so you know, this isn’t a calculated plea for people to start sending me money, because if it was, I would have set up a Gofundme account attached to this website but I haven’t and I won’t. I don’t take kindly to charity. This is literally just a venting session).

Speaking of money and whatnot, in other news, I’ve been reading a book about the sting operation used by the Victorian, QLD and Western Australian police in 2011, to catch the killer of Queensland teenager Daniel Morcombe. For those of you not in the loop, thirteen year old Daniel disappeared from a bus stop near Maroochydore, QLD,  in 2003. His body wasn’t found until almost ten years later, when police closed in on their prime suspect, Brett Peter Cowan, using what’s called the Mr Big operation, created by Canadian police, to get him to confess to the crime. It involved the undercover machinations of three states to get this filthy rockspider (a nickname for pedophiles in Australia) to admit to what he’d done, and the use of thousands of (alleged) taxpayer dollars into the bargain. Now, I’m all for getting these sick pricks off the street and away from the children they covet, but it still irks me that in the process of pretending to be an organised crime gang and getting Cowan to participate in faked surveillance, money drops and pick-ups, and various meetings with “underworld figures”, they paid him for his time, and paid him well. This was not counterfeit money, and there was no explanation of where the money being paid to this convicted pedophile came from. I can only assume it’s either from the combined crime coffers of the states involved, or it’s taxpayer’s money.  And while I get that it was necessary to try to trick him into confessing by dangling the high life and big money just within reach, because he wouldn’t have told them otherwise, I feel angry that a child-raping, murdering bastard like that was able to make that kind of money ($150 for fifteen to twenty minutes of surveillance or a money drop, every couple of days) while the rest us us have to scrape by on the pittance that our government condescend to pay us law-abiding, decent citizens down on our luck ($545 a fortnight, roughly, plus $130 rent assistance), or, in my case, decide not to pay us.

The whole shebang was supposed to entice Cowan to the high life befitting a member of an organised crime syndicate, but there was a catch. Anyone with any kind of criminal past (which, lets face it, would be the majority of players in a scheme like that, if the scheme were actually real) had to let the big boss know exactly what they’d done so that any loose ends could be tied up (bodies removed and dumped elsewhere, evidence destroyed, witnesses harassed into silence etc) so as not to bring the group to the attention of the police. So, say you’ve murdered someone in your recent past, and you’re the prime suspect – as Cowan was in the disappearance of Daniel – the story they told him was that he needed to be honest with them about what he’d done, where he’d done it, etc.  By this point, Cowan was in, hook, line and sinker. And he was making enough money to afford a new car, interstate trips, the odd hooker, etc.  All he had to do was tell Mr Big, an undercover cop calling himself Arnold, what crimes he’d committed. It all came down to the fake organisation’s three buzz words: Trust, Honesty, Loyalty.  If Cowan couldn’t be honest with them, they reserved the right not to trust him.  Eventually, after months of careful planning and execution, the sting paid off.   Cowan admitted that he’d abducted Daniel, taken him to an abandoned property with the intention of raping him, and when Daniel put up a fight, he strangled the kid, took his body to nearby Beerwah – a densely forested area – stripped it and dumped it, getting rid of the boy’s clothes and other possessions separately. The cops got it all, the entire confession, on tape.  Not long after, Cowan was arrested and charged, and Daniel’s body was found and eventually released to his devastated family, who’d waited a decade for any news of what had happened to him.

While the sting worked in that instance, the book recalls many other attempts at the same type of trap that failed, and why.  It also discusses legal arguments from the point of view of the defendant, that it’s a form of coercion, and that any confession obtained could be a false one, motivated by greed and/or fear of being dropped by the crime gang if the defendant didn’t confess to his crimes.  It certainly sounds like coercion to me, but because the police were led straight to Daniel’s body, clothes and personal affects by his killer, the evidence was clear: they had their man. If they hadn’t been able to find the body (which was down to skeleton by that point) or anything else, the whole case could have collapsed, and literally thousands of dollars and months of dedicated police work would have been wasted. More importantly, Cowan would be free to keep preying on children until the police managed to amass enough evidence to arrest him. So in this case, it was a success, but it could have gone either way.   What gets me is, without the time and dedication of the police agencies involved, and the money that was spent, this disgusting piece of work, this child-killer, could have taken the secret of the manner of Daniel’s death to his grave, and his poor family would have the extra torment of never having found out what happened to him. Being the family member of a murder victim is tough enough – believe me, I know, my uncle was shot and killed in 1993 – but to go years not knowing if they’re alive or dead would be infinitely worse. To Denise and Bruce Morcombe’s credit, they’ve set up a foundation in their son’s name and have been travelling Australia, visiting schools and teaching kids personal safety tips ever since.  So at least something positive has come out of such an awful, tragic crime. R.I.P Daniel.

 

Daniel Morcombe foundation

the sting

I ain’t no frickin’ sidekick!

Every show has them, and most of us have our favourites. They’re the supporting characters, sometimes even peripheral or recurring characters on TV shows that are memorable enough to stick in our heads long after we’ve decided to quit procrastinating and have turned off the TV in search of more practical pursuits. When I think of recurring characters, villains or sidekicks, characters like Park and Rec’s Ron Swanson come to mind. I just love his grumpy, cynical persona. And I have to say I’ve found myself agreeing with a great deal of what he says.  So what makes a peripheral character stand out, sometimes above and beyond the main protagonist/s? The ability to make us laugh? To make us ponder their motives? To make us swoon with adoration? Sometimes it’s all three, and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s the x-factor, an undeniable charisma that pulls you in despite their looks or abhorrent behaviour. Whatever it is, here are some of my favourite supporting characters and why they are so much more interesting than the protagonists that drive the shows we love …

Rupert Giles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

So I used to be an Oz devotee up until he cheated on Willow with that skank, Veruca, and took off in his van to get in touch with the wolf within.  Oz was the guy we all wanted to be friends with in high school because he was just so laid-back and cool. Nothing fazed him, and he was the king of the deadpan one-liner.  But I’m not here to talk about Oz. After that episode in the much-maligned season 4, (of which I will not speak because it just hurt my heart to see Willow so sad) my attention was turned to Buffy’s watcher, the deceptively staid ex-librarian with the dark past, a past that I’m pretty sure would have made a more interesting spin-off than the hi-jinks of boring generic pretty-boy Angel in LA.  There are a few episodes in the series that give us a glimpse of what Giles – or “Ripper” as he was known to his friends – was like in his younger years: Band Candy (S3), A New Man (S4) and The Dark Age (S2), among others. Not a guy you’d want to get on the wrong side of, because he’d probably conjure up a demon and send it after you.  But check him out with a chainsaw (Fear Itself, S4) and if you’re female and of a certain age, you’ll probably agree with me that despite the tweed, Giles is kinda, well, okay really hot.  And just a little bit of trivia, did you know his lookalike brother, Murray, was a one-hit wonder in the 80’s with One Night In Bangkok? Google it. It’s freaky how much they resemble each other.

giles-with-chainsaw

 

 

Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin (Gotham)

I’ve only recently discovered this show, partly because I was a late convert to Netflix, but mostly because of the newest incarnation of one of Batman’s nemeses.   Gotham, if you’ve been living under a rock, is the origin story of Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne before he became Batman.  Now, the writers and producers of this show are clearly intent on trying to make Jim Gordon interesting, and I get why – most of the action and corruption in Gotham is seen through his eyes, so to speak.  And while Ben McKenzie does a serviceable job as the show’s protagonist, it’s Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot who is the undisputed star of this show.  We see him begin his criminal career as an umbrella-carrying minion for underworld figure Fish Mooney (a disappointingly one-dimensional Jada Pinkett-Smith) through to a impressive, albeit short-lived stint as mayor of Gotham in season 3 and back to criminal mastermind thereafter. And despite some of his, ahem, less ethical choices (like when he chops up duplicitous henchman Gabe and his crew with an axe, or cuts off Butch’s hand on a whim) it’s hard not to like Ozzy. There’s just something about him. For me, it’s his eloquence, his snappy dress sense, the ‘disco vampire’ hairdo, and last but certainly not least, that bright-eyed optimism; the belief that everyone is an old friend, even if in the recent past, they’ve done him very, very wrong. Plus, let’s face it, the husky voice is just plain sexy.

Penguin from Gotham

 

Ian Gallagher (Shameless)

Technically it’s an ensemble show, which makes Cameron Monaghan’s character one of the staples, but middle-child Ian’s the most interesting member of the Gallagher clan, IMHO. Bipolar, gay and a flaming red-head, it seems like he has everything going against him making it in life, especially in his neighbourhood, but despite a few glitches, he winds up with a decent job he’s really good at, a boyfriend who’s not on the wrong side of the law or old enough to be his father, and for the most part, remains in control of his mental illness.  That’s pretty impressive for a kid from the South side of Chicago, who was raised by his older sister and endured an alcoholic father.

Ian Gallagher

 

Donnie Hendrix (Orphan Black)

I’ve probably mentioned before how this show is my favourite of all time, and that Tatiana Maslany is the most underrated, talented, amazing actress on TV today, particularly because she plays not one, not three, but ELEVEN separate clones, all with their own distinct personalities and accents.  You have to see it to properly appreciate the sheer genius of the girl. But, again, this is not about the main character/s and their recurring fellow clones.  I had a particularly hard time trying to choose between Alison’s husband Donnie, and Sarah’s adopted brother Felix, but had to go with Donnie because he’s just so darn likeable! He and Alison are so well-matched, despite seeming like an odd looking couple. At first glance, you’d have to say he’s punching well above his weight.  But as the show progresses you begin to see why, as a couple, they work, and why Alison loves him. He’s caring, humble, and has a great sense of comedy timing.  Probably the funniest scenes on the show are those that focus on Donnie and Alison’s relationship, or Donnie’s panic when he accidentally kills Dr Leakie and has to bury him under the cement in the garage, or … okay, no more spoilers!

Donnie Orphan Black

 

Audrey (Scream)

This is another hidden Netflix gem that is, as far as I’m concerned, somewhat underrated.  Based loosely on the Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson ’90’s hit horror movie and its sequels, it follows a new protagonist and her friends as they try to uncover who is hunting down and killing their classmates.  My favourite character is Audrey, played by Bex Taylor-Klaus (a newbie most recently seen in another Netflix show, The Killing).  Audrey is an openly bisexual tomboy with a secret that I won’t divulge in case you want to check out the show. And no, it’s not that she’s the killer. That would be far too obvious. What is it about Audrey that I like, you ask? I think the thing that grabs me most times when it comes to characters, both on screen and in books, is their sense of humour. If they don’t have one, I tend to switch off or get bored with the book and put it down. Also, I like that she’s not a token LGBT character. She has depth and dimensions, and a dark side.  And I fucking LOVE her hair.

Bex-Taylor-Klaus-Scream

 

 

Rosa Diaz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) 

I haven’t seen a great deal of this show so far but from what I’ve seen, the person who stands out most to me is tough girl Rosa. Gina as well, but Rosa just has the ‘tude and you know she’s got a backstory just as interesting as any of the main characters’, or even more.  I also like the way she deals with being the object of a colleague’s unrequited love.

Rosa Diaz

 

 

Crazy Eyes, Suzanne Warren (Orange is the New Black)

I don’t know why, but I have somewhat of an fondness for characters with mental illness, and Crazy Eyes plays it so well. Funny and tragic and occasionally disturbing, she is easily one of the most memorable characters, and that’s saying something because this show is loaded with memorable characters.

crazy eyes suzanne warren

 

 

Rafael Barba (Law and Order SVU – S14-18)

Barba isn’t the longest running ADA that SVU have ever had but he’s one of the only male ADA’s, apart from Harry Connick Jr’s short stint in Season 13, and almost from the very beginning, he makes an indelible impression in court. Asking the defendant to show him what the big deal is about auto-erotic asphyxiation, he puts a belt around his own neck and asks the defendant to choke him out!   Fond of big statements, both with his clothing choices and his closing arguments, Barba became a fan favourite almost instantly. Played by Raul Esparza, of Broadway and Hannibal fame, he left during the 19th season of the show, and is already missed. Bring back Barba!!!!!

Rafael Barba

 

Gabriel aka The Trickster (Supernatural)

Probably one of the most compelling, witty, at times disturbing and tragic recurring characters in the history of the CW, Supernatural’s Gabriel, played with perfection by Richard Speight Jr, has been around since about the third season, in an episode featuring slow-dancing aliens, among other things, and pops up again in Mystery Spot in order to torture poor Sam with a homage to Groundhog Day where he relives the death of Dean over and over and over.  But the very best is reserved for Season 5, when the boys find themselves in some of the most iconic TV shows of all time, courtesy of The Trickster, only to find out that he is much more than a joker with a sweet tooth, a cute smirk and a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Gabriel

 

Are all public servants THIS lazy?!

Okay so my followers aren’t all from Australia but I think the subject of this post is something that is experienced worldwide, so y’all will probably be able to empathise with me here.  You see, in Australia, our social welfare “service” (and I use the term very loosely) is called Centrelink, as it combines our universal healthcare system, tax department, disability services and unemployment benefits all in one building. You would think this would make easier and more streamlined, enabling people (both the public and the people who supposedly work FOR us) to get things done.

Bear with me as I wipe the tears of laughter (and compounding frustration) from my eyes.

My situation is that I’ve been on Austudy, a payment for full time students, for three and a half years while I complete my degree in professional and creative writing/literary studies. Well, as late as the 18th of June I was informed, via message on the government website, that Austudy only allows for three and a half years, not four, which I was fine with; no hassle. I knew I’d have to claim the unemployment benefit eventually, even as I was still studying.  The problem is, they then inform me, just over two weeks ago, that I have exactly 12 days to apply for Newstart before my Austudy is cancelled or I’d endure a wait of 14 days (minimum) to have my claim processed, without pay. So I submit my claim online, making sure they had all the documents they needed, ID etc, even though they had all that on their files already. But apparently they need it again. I had to book a phone appointment so they could contact me and process the claim then and there, so I organised for them to call me on Wednesday 20 June, knowing full well I’d be home and able to sit by the phone. Still with me?

Well Wednesday arrives and I’m sitting in bed, reading, phone by my side, fully charged, waiting for their call, at 11am.

What do you think happened, dear readers?

Nothing. No call whatsoever, for the entire hour (11am-12pm) that was scheduled to contact me in. A disturbingly persistent telemarketer called me at 11.11am, but I quickly hung up on them, and prayed that Centrelink hadn’t chosen THAT EXACT MOMENT to call me.  Well, if they did there was no evidence on my phone log, no message left on my voicemail. Nothing but an SMS early the next morning informing me that my claim had been rejected and that more details were available online.

Mad as a cut snake, I got online and apparently the reason my claim had been rejected was that I hadn’t “attended” a phone interview on Wednesday 20 June.

Go figure.

So I march into their local office, demanding an explanation. They were apologetic, as much as a bunch of sociopathic robots are able, and organised for me to speak to someone then and there. The girl I spoke to was youngish and very accommodating, and promised to have it all sorted out. To her credit, she DID line up an interview with a job agency of my choice, for the following Monday morning, and organised a part-payment of my final Austudy – $415, and the rest would be in my bank on Monday at the latest. Well you can pretty much guess the rest, can’t you? Having spent the 415 on rent, direct debits of bills etc, etc, I had next to nothing left. So I go back into Centrelink after my job agency appointment and complain. The lady there tells me I wasn’t actually entitled to the rest of my Austudy because I was paid up to the 30th of June, and when checking my claim, not only informs me that she can’t find it on their system, but that someone DID try to call me on the 20th of June, not once, but THREE TIMES. Of course I debated this, telling her in no uncertain terms that I was there (barely resisting the impulse to add “have you gone mental?”) but when I checked my phone log, I’d accidentally deleted any record of calls on the 20th so I couldn’t actually prove that they didn’t call me. I could have cried, right there. It was my word against theirs, and these are people who have their souls ripped out when they sign on the dotted line to work for the government.  She all but accused me of lying, right there, and she probably would have if my son hadn’t been sitting right beside me. He’s a biggish boy, so I don’t think she fancied arguing the point with him, so changed the subject rather quickly, stating that there was no evidence that my claim even existed apart from the referral to a job agency and of course those mystical phone calls from another dimension (my words, not hers) and that I would have to start my claim ALL OVER AGAIN.

It is not overstating things to say that by this point, I was seriously considering going postal. I had done everything I was supposed to do.  Provided them with all the documentation they needed, jumped through all the hoops only to be told I have to go back to the end of the line and wait a minimum of 14 days to receive any more help. I couldn’t even receive an emergency payment for hardship because guess what? I was between payments and so was regarded as not receiving any benefits whatsoever. To elaborate: i was dead broke, but to receive any kind of financial help in the interim, I had to be receiving a payment.

It’s enough to do your head in. It reminded me of what I’ve heard of trying to get a loan at a bank – they won’t actually give you any money unless you can prove you don’t really need it. or that you can pay it back with interest.

So I dutifully went home, resubmitted my claim, booked ANOTHER phone interview for 11am the next morning (Tues 26th) and waited. Thankfully, someone did call me, got it all sorted and I then had to wait a minimum of 14 days FROM THE 26th, which would bring it up to yesterday (10th July) as the estimated date my claim would be processed. But the estimated date given online is today, which I’m taking to mean 14 days from the day after my phone interview.  So to recap, it takes a minimum 14 days to make a few keystrokes on a computer, perhaps photocopy and scan some forms, review the details of a claim, make a couple of phone calls to make sure this person is who they say they are, and stamp it “approved”.  Something I could do in the space of an afternoon, or less. I know this because I’ve finished 2000 word essays in less time.

At this rate, I’ll be in Swanston Centre (local loony bin), learning how to retie my shoelaces by mid next week.

Catch you on the flipside.

 

 

 

Fight MND

Well, the annual Queen’s Birthday match between Collingwood and Melbourne is on Monday, and although that might not mean anything to those outside of Australia (or those who don’t give a shit about Aussie Rules football), there is a more important reason to watch, or at the very least, get involved on a grass-roots level.

Motor Neurone Disease, or ALS, as  it’s known in the US, is a degenerative disease that effects the nerves in the spine and brain, causing them to progressively lose function. There is currently no treatment or cure. Sufferers face a horrible death from suffocation as eventually, even their breathing muscles become paralysed. This is the reason behind the Ice Bucket Challenge – for people to experience just a little of what it’s like to have MND (or ALS).

For the past four years, former Melbourne coach and Essendon player Neale Daniher had led the charge in a mammoth effort to raise money for research into the disease. Diagnosed in 2013, he knows that it is highly unlikely that a cure or treatment will be found in time to help him, but through his tireless efforts, has managed to raise over 20 million toward research, all the while keeping a smile on his face and a wicked sense of  humour.  Just last night on the AFL Footy Show, he used boxing parlance to describe where he’s at in his own personal battle: “I’m on the ropes,” he said, “but not on the canvas just yet.”

Daniher was honoured with an Order of Australia on the Queen’s Birthday in 2016 for his humanitarian efforts, but I think he deserves to be Australian of the Year.  This year’s Big Freeze 4 will see all 18 AFL coaches take the plunge down the slide at the MCG, into a pool of ice, to raise money for the fight against MND. To donate and/or buy a Big Freeze 4 beanie, go to:  http://www.fightmnd.com

 

 

Cult Movies

We all know them, or know of them. Most of us have seen them at least once (or in my case, several hundred times), and can reel off a line or three from them, without blinking an eye. I’m not talking about big budget blockbusters like the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings franchises, or even Harry Potter. I’m talking about those famous little films that usually start out small, not attracting a great deal of interest at the box office, but that wind up with a huge loyal following regardless, usually coinciding with their VHS or later, DVD release.  Call them sleeper hits, call them cult films. Call them whatever you want, you can’t argue that they haven’t nabbed a place for themselves in the annals of pop culture, either because of their repeat-watchability or quotability or both.  Here are some of my favorites, as well as some others that have achieved cult status, for whatever reason …

10. Fight Club 

You’d have to live under a rock, or in an alternate universe, to not know the first rule of Fight Club. It’s Brad Pitt’s finest hour, IMHO, and the movie Ed Norton is most well- known for. The twist at the end is diabolical, and completely unexpected, unless like me, you’ve seen it the requisite 150 times. So I won’t spoil it for you.

Fight Club

9. The Lost Boys

Infinitely cooler than Meyer’s sparkly vamps, and chock-a-block with lines suitable for just about any occasion (I’m forever quoting Grandpa – he’s a total gem. Especially the one about the TV guide. Read the TV guide, don’t need a TV). The film is made all the  more poignant these days, considering that Corey Haim, Brooke Carter and the guy who played Max (Ed Hermann) are now sadly no longer with us. My favorite line? It’s literally almost impossible to choose. That’s why I’m not going to. All I’ll say is that I totally agree with Lucy when she says “We were just like them. Except they dress better”.

The Lost Boys

8. Heathers

The movie that drew my attention to a young, totally hot, totally unhinged Christian Slater, and fulfilled my loser fantasy of knocking off the popular crowd at high school who made my life hell, this forerunner to Mean Girls was a cautionary tale about revenge – sometimes it has the exact opposite effect to what you were after.

Heathers

7. Halloween 

Despite the fact that these days, a guy getting around in a blank white mask, eerily silent  and impervious to just about every method of killing isn’t really as scary as it was back in the 1970’s, perhaps because of all the real-life horror that goes on in our neighborhoods and schoolyards, Halloween is still the bench-mark for horror movies, as it set up a number of horror movie tropes, including the fact that if you have sex, you’re doomed to die.  Plus it’s the movie that kicked off Jamie-Lee Curtis’s career as ‘Scream Queen’.

Halloween

6. Labyrinth

Yes it’s considered a kid’s movie. Yes it practically implodes with Jim Henson’s Muppet creations.  But it’s also one of those infinitely watchable movies, that stays fresh no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Most of us know all the best lines and songs, and I’ve been guilty of quoting it on a number of occasions, especially “Oh, what a lie” and “Nope, no good, can’t hear ya,” or “Where you goin’ with a head like that?” And who could forget David Bowie in those tights.  It’s still hard to know where to look.

Labyrinth

 

5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

It’s my favorite Python movie of all time, and probably the favorite of millions of other fans of British comedy, for obvious reasons. I mean, you can’t go past the bunny attack scene, or the riotous argument about Arthur’s claim to the throne: “Strange women in ponds handing out swords is no basis for a system of government”, commonly known as the Constitutional Peasants Scene. Or the Knights who say “NI”.   Or the hilarious taunts from the French guard: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries,” and “I fart in your general direction”. Oh, now we see the violence inherent in the system ….

Holy Grail

4. Clerks 

“This job would be great if it weren’t for the customers.” Ah, the lament of many a shop assistant. The stark, black and white, low-budget movie about two convenience store clerks who actively hate the people who patronize the establishment was the first of many in the Kevin Smith stable, linking various characters across film lines (such as Rick Darris, the stud who screwed half of Jersey, and Julie Dwyer, the girl who dropped dead in a swimming pool from a blood clot in the brain, and whose funeral Randall decides he must attend around the mid-way point of the film).  Despite many unforgettable lines and conversations, including one between Dante and his girlfriend, Veronica, about how many dicks she’s sucked (“Try not to suck any dicks on the way” he shouts to her as she leaves the shop) the one that sticks in my head is Randall’s rant about worker’s rights on the new, half-built Death Star.  And I thought Eddie Izzard’s “Death Star Canteen” was taking Star Wars love to another level.

Clerks

 

3. Donnie Darko 

Executive-produced by Drew Barrymore, it’s one of those films that you have to see more than once to appreciate all its nuances, not to mention the time-traveling premise and the life-imitates-art plot device by which Barrymore’s class takes a leaf out of Graham Green’s The Destroyers and burns down the house of a local pervert and hypocrite. Not everything is immediately obvious at first glance, which is what makes this film one you can watch over and over and still not have noticed everything it has to offer. And who doesn’t love to hate Kitty Farmer?! Her line “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion” has launched many a meme.

Donnie Darko

2. The Princess Bride

Okay so it’s on my list as one of my favorite movies of all time as well, some time further back on my blog, so I won’t wax lyrical about it here, except to say that it’s the movie Cary Elwes is almost singularly known for, despite his having a long and varied acting career, and that I love TPB so much, I bought a coffee cup bearing the image of Inigo Montoya with the caption “Hello, my name is Melissa Kay, you drank my coffee, prepare to die.”  And as far as I can tell, I’m definitely not alone.

Princess Bride

  1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Since its creation in the ’70’s by little-known playwright Richard O’Brien, the strange little stage-show about a naive, wholesome couple who stumble upon a den of iniquity and are transformed, forever-after, into kinky swingers has become a cult hit spawning the movie, of course, starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick, but also numerous versions of the original play, arena spectaculars, interactive film showings where fans dress up as their favorite character and shout out lines as well as sing and dance in the aisles, to name but a few.  Frank N Furter is the role that defined Tim Curry’s career – alongside Pennywise the Clown from IT, obviously  – so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the flamboyant alien fond of dressing in women’s clothing.  Although my personal favorite is the humble man-servant, Riff-Raff, played in the film by O’Brien himself.

Rocky Horror

 

Honorable Mentions:  

The Big Lebowski, Bladerunner, A Clockwork Orange, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Reservoir Dogs, The Crow, Pulp Fiction, Withnail and I, The Wizard of Oz, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Napoleon Dynamite, Mean Girls, The Goonies.

I let him go

It’s been 25 years since the murder that shocked the world – the torturous, senseless death of a two year old boy at the hands of two ten year olds in Britain.  As a way of coming to terms with her still raw grief, little James Bulger’s mother Denise, now remarried and mother of three boys, has dredged up her memories of that horrifying time in her life in order write a book to commemorate James’s life and put an end to some rumors about what happened on that day, untruths which have led to criticisms of her parenting at a time when she blamed herself entirely for what happened and was tortured with thoughts of ‘what if?’ What if she’d turned right instead of left outside the shop? What if she had brought James’s stroller that day? (there was apparently no room for it in the boot of her relative’s car). What if she had left James at home with her mother or her husband? The little boy never left her side – until that fateful moment when she had to let go of his hand to find her purse to pay for some pork chops.

Yes, folks, it really happens that quickly.  I should know. When my eldest was two, almost three, he had gone missing inside Myer (a department store in Australia) – and he’d been strapped into the front of my limousine pram, his little sister asleep in the back.  I cannot begin to describe the way your heart literally stops when you realise your child is not where they are supposed to be. It’s a physical pain.  Luckily for me it wasn’t a busy day and a sales assistant helped me search. In the end, after about ten or fifteen minutes, we found Alister standing, awestruck, at the foot of a life-size cardboard cutout of Shrek and Donkey near the CD and video section.  I was lucky.  It could have been so much worse.  To this day I remember the panic I felt, and I wholeheartedly sympathize with James’s mother, not just as a mum myself, but as someone who has lost a family member to murder.

Followers of my blog from way back may have read my creative non-fiction piece about my uncle Craig and how I found out he’d been shot back in 1993 – the exact same year little James was killed.  I remember, only a few days after Craig’s murder, watching the  news and hearing about the horrible way James died and bursting into tears. What is this world coming to, I thought, when 10 year old kids can abduct a child in a busy shopping center and lead him to his needless death, just for kicks?!  My uncle had died for no good reason, too. Apparently it was a case of mistaken identity. Not that there’s ever a good reason for a murder victim to die (unless of course they’re a violent husband killed by his wife after years of abuse).  Especially not when they’re two years and eleven months old, or when they’re visiting a friend to make sure they’re okay, as my uncle was doing the night he was gunned down.

James’s murder was the beginning of a new era for parents around the world. Of course it wasn’t just his death that frightened people to the point where they hovered over their children, fearful of letting them out of their sight. In America it was the abduction and murder of Megan Kanka by a neighborhood pedophile, among other cases, and in Australia it was the death of children such as Sheree Beasley, Ebony Simpson, Sian Kingi, Daniel Morcombe and Kyra Steinhardt at the hands of vicious, perverted pricks who took advantage of the fact that those kids were on their own, on bikes or waiting at bus stops, or walking home from school.  It’s murders such as these that have created the helicopter parenting you see today – the unwillingness of parents to allow their children to play in the neighborhood like we Generation Xers used to when  were that age, or walk to and from school, or just simply stand beside us while we’re doing the grocery shopping. Anyone who blames Denise Fergus for taking her eyes off her little one for those few seconds it took to get her purse out of her bag needs to accept that we can’t always have our children on a leash (although harnesses with leashes did become popular after James’ death) or our eyes on them every second of every day.  The sad thing is, we can’t trust other human beings not to be soulless garbage with a penchant for hurting children, as Robert Thompson and John Venables were, (and no doubt still are).  Earlier that afternoon they’d tried to abduct another child, so you can’t tell me that it wasn’t deliberate and that they didn’t have a sinister agenda for being in The Strand the afternoon of 12th February, 1993. They wanted to know what it was like to kill, and the only person they felt they could control was someone much younger than themselves.

Not only did the worst possible thing happen when Denise lost her little boy forever, but the British justice system failed her and James all over again when it set a minimum 8 year sentence for Thompson and Venables, to be served in a special children’s institution.  Eight years. It’s an insult to James and his family that his killers got to walk away as young adults, but it’s even worse when you consider that they weren’t transferred to an adult prison when they were 18, and were given new identities when they were released, to prevent revenge attacks. James’s family were not even allowed to know where his killers were relocated to – they didn’t even know what they looked like as adults.  The justice system seemed determined to protect James’s murders, and ignored all calls for a harsher penalty.  Psychiatrists reports alluded to the two boys ‘making great strides in their rehabilitation’. Well of course they were. They didn’t have access to any two year old children they could beat, sexually interfere with, and kill while they were incarcerated, did they?!  Almost as if it were scripted, several years later it was reported that Venables had violated his parole by having child pornography on his computer. He was to do this twice, ending up back in prison as a 35 year old, on similar charges.

Denise’s book about those years, “I Let Him Go”  is at once heartbreaking but also a completely compelling read.  I finished it in one night, which is not unusual for me, but in one sitting, which is.  She chronicles her first marriage to Ralph Bulger, the stillbirth of her firstborn and only daughter, Kirsty, the birth of James just a year later and the happiness he brought his grief-stricken parents, and of course the day he disappeared forever, literally there one minute, gone the next.  Next came the breakdown of her marriage, not uncommon for the parents of murdered children, the birth of her son Michael (whom is estranged from his father Ralph) and meeting her second husband, Stuart, to whom she had two little boys, Thomas and Leon.  While her new family has brought her much happiness, Denise writes about how paranoid she was as they were growing up, unable to allow them out of her sight, even when they were playing in the backyard.  She campaigned for harsher penalties for James’s killers and set up a charity in his name, much as Walter Mikac did after Port Arthur, to help children suffering from bullying, violence, abuse or to aid the families left behind after a child’s murder.  Today, running that charity with her husband is a full-time job, as it is for Australian parents of murdered 13 year old Daniel Morcombe, who set up a foundation in his name to teach schoolchildren how to stay safe when they’re not with their parents. These parents are doing everything they can to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to other people’s children, and should be acknowledged for that, but instead the only time you hear anything to do with Daniel these days (unless you regularly donate to his foundation) is when something happens to his killer, Brett Cowan, in prison (he has been scalded with boiling hot water by other prisoners and recently was stabbed in the neck. Unfortunately, it didn’t kill him).  What is wrong with our society when we are more interested in the killer’s rights than those of the victims?  Cases like these of course lead to calls for capital punishment to be reinstated, but as the Australian government has made that virtually impossible, and in fact is trying to convince other countries to abolish the death penalty,  we have to look at other measures to keep these pieces of crap away from our children until they are of absolutely no danger to them. If that means slapping a “Never to be released” on their files, I’m all for that. Sadly, it’s much too late to get any real justice for James. R.I.P, little guy. xo

These are a few of my favorite things…

Yay. Now I have that song from The Sound of Music stuck in my head.  You might have noticed that this post has replaced another (since you can’t completely delete posts, or at least I haven’t figured out how to, yet), well, my friendship situation has sorted itself out and I no longer need advice, so I thought I’d fill this vacant spot with some stuff about me. I know, it’s self-indulgent and probably vain, but I’m literally at a loss for what to do with the free space. So here goes…

Top 10 Fave movies

  1. The Princess Bride
  2. The Crow
  3. Lord of the Rings trilogy
  4. Spaceballs
  5. Star Wars (original trilogy)
  6. Scream
  7. Shrek 2
  8. Terminator 2
  9. Monty Python’s Holy Grail
  10. The Lovely Bones

Top 10 Fave TV Shows

  1. Orphan Black
  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  3. Breaking Bad
  4. Supernatural
  5. Spicks and Specks (Aussie music trivia show)
  6. Gotham
  7. Shameless (US version)
  8. Law and Order SVU
  9. The 100
  10. The Killing

Top Ten Books/Book series

  1. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
  2. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
  3. Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
  4. A Time to Kill – John Grisham
  5. Truly, Madly, Guilty – Liane Moriarty
  6. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
  7. Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien
  8. A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R Martin
  9. What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty
  10. The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule

Top Ten Songs

  1. Silent Lucidity – Queensryche
  2. Somebody to Love – Queen
  3. Easier to Run – Linkin Park
  4. Thanks for the Venom – My Chemical Romance
  5. Highway to Hell -ACDC
  6. Midnight Blue – Lou Gramm
  7. Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
  8. Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day
  9. Who Wants to Live Forever? – Queen
  10. Hello – Evanescence

Top Ten Albums

  1. Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge – My Chemical Romance
  2. Abbey Road – The Beatles
  3. Greatest Hits Vol I and II – Queen
  4. AM – Arctic Monkeys
  5. Hybrid Theory – Linkin Park
  6. Thriller – Michael Jackson
  7. Get Born – Jet
  8. Kick – INXS
  9. Metallica – Metallica
  10. Meteora – Linkin Park