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.

 

 

 

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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

 

What’s in a name?

“A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet” – Shakespeare.

Of course, I’m paraphrasing here. The actual quote is from Romeo and Juliet and is spoken by the latter, in reference to her falling in love at first sight with her mortal enemy.  Personally I don’t think the Bard was paying much attention when he named his characters – I mean, Juliet Capulet?!  But his choice of Romeo for her star-crossed lover has made its way into folklore. Now any time a guy becomes known for his ability to pull the ladies, he’s invariably called either Romeo or Casanova, that other slutty cat from the literary past.

Back to the present and the global news media is holding its breath, waiting for the announcement from Buckingham Palace of the name of the new prince. Ordinarily I wouldn’t give a shit, because I’m very cynical when it comes to royalty of any ilk, but I have to admit to feeling sympathy for anyone who has very little choice about what to name their offspring.  As a member of the royal family you’re expected to fall in line with your ancestors and adhere to a stringent list of old-world British monikers. That’s why there have been so many Georges and James’ and an over-abundance of Henry’s. (Although I’ve noticed that after the fiasco of Henry the VIII, that name has fallen out of fashion somewhat, at least with the royals. Little wonder, the bastard kept beheading his wives).  The media in Australia has, in true Aussie fashion, decided to take bets on the bub’s name.  But I’m not a gambler at  heart.  In fact I loathe the Australian penchant to bet on anything from sport to two cockroaches skittering across a kitchen floor.  I actively avoid the Spring Carnival and roll my eyes at the fuss made at fashions on the field.  I also hate poker machines, I think you might as well just go and throw your money in the garbage.  But it is interesting to see what names are available to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  For instance, I didn’t expect Charlotte. I thought she’d wind up a Mary, Catherine or Anne, although her great-aunt still has dibs on that last one.

As a writer I have a special interest in what people name their children. What’s come into fashion, what’s fallen out of favour and why; and I try to consider what generation my characters are from and what the popular names were, so that I can figure out the best and most likely name – taking into account its meaning, of course – for my protagonists and antagonists. When I became pregnant with my first child, whom regular followers of my blog will know is a trans male, I didn’t really have any favourite girls names so my ex came up with Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos and disorder. He said he’d always wanted to call a daughter Eris.  It took me a while to get used to the idea but when I did, I have to confess that I loved it, and still do. I prefer uncommon names, and tend to veer away from the Most Popular lists.  My daughter’s name is Cameron Elise. At the time (the year 2000) the only female named Cameron that I knew of was of course Cameron Diaz. But I didn’t name her after the actress (the way my brother was named after Dustin Hoffman). I simply got the idea for the name from her.  Is there a difference? I think so.   Eris of course, in the fullness of time, became Alister. He asked me what I would have called him if he’d been born a boy.  I said I was considering Alister but I hadn’t hit on a preferred spelling. His new second name, Ian, is in honour of his Pa, who died in 2007 of pancreatic cancer.

These days my favourite names tend to be taken from literature. For a girl I like Bronte, after the famous authors Charlotte and Emily, of course; and for a boy, Dante. I find it slightly odd that they’re similar in spelling and also that they’re French/Spanish, when I’ve never been a fan of the French language or accent.  I also like Kyle and Harrison, although Harrison has become a tad too popular, and runs the risk of joining a list of names that I’d prefer to avoid like the plague.  In fact, my disdain for overly-common names runs so deep that I have to hold my tongue whenever a friend has a baby and names it Joshua, Dylan, Zachary, Thomas, Lachlan, William, Oliver or Jack; or conversely, Emily, Olivia, Lily, Jessica, Ruby, Amber, Ashlea or Taylah.  (No, that’s not a misspelling, one of my pet-hates is when people change the spelling of a common name to make it look exotic, oblivious to the fact that it actually just appears trashy and frivolous, the way Brittany, Tiffany and virtually anything with an i on the end did in the angsty, brooding ’90’s).

So, with my love of lists in mind, here are some favourite names of mine, and also some names that were popular in the past and have gone well out of favour. I mean, do you ever hear about anyone calling their kid Gary any more?!  I have an uncle named Gary, but he’s in his mid 60’s, and the last Gary i heard of was Carrie Fisher’s beloved French Bulldog.

Fave Girls

Adele, Arya, Bethany, Bronte, Cameron, Corrine, Danica,  Drew, Elise, Eris, Freya, Gabrielle, Geneva, Helena, Holly, Imogen, Juno, Kendall, Lane, Millaine, Neroli,  Paige, Phoenix, Quinn,, Regan, Riley, River, Sadie, Sapphire, Sasha, Talia, Tyler, Zara, Xanthe.

Fave Boys

Adrian, Aiden, Brant, Brodie, Corin, Craig, Dallas, Dante, Drew, Eamon, Elijah, Fenris, Flynn, Gabriel, Harley, Harrison, Hayden, Jakari, Jared, Joel, Julian, Kyle, Logan, Lucas, Mason, Miles, Nicholas, Odin, Quinn, Rafael, Rhys, River, Sebastian, Taj, Vaughn, Wesley, Xavier.

Formerly fashionable

Allen, Arthur, Barry, Brent, Brian, Bernard, Bruce, Christopher, Damian, David, Derek, Douglas, Evan, Ethan, Frank, Glen, Gary, Ian, Joseph, Keith, Kevin, Larry, Leslie, Mark, Michael, Matthew, Nathan, Neil, Neville, Owen, Patrick, Peter, Paul, Robert, Roger, Sean, Shane, Stephen, Terence, Wayne.

Audrey, Allison, Belinda, Catherine, Christine, Claire, Danielle, Deborah, Denise, Diane, Evelyn, Esme, Fiona, Gail, Geraldine, Gladys, Helen, Irene, Isabel, Jacqueline, Janine, Janelle, Janis, Karen, Kathleen, Kerry, Leanne, Linda, Margaret, Mary, Maria, Melanie, Melissa, Michelle, Nadine, Natalie, Nicole, Pauline, Penelope, Phoebe, Rachel, Raelene, Roslyn, Samantha, Sarah, Shauna, Tanya, Theresa, Tracy, Valerie, Virginia, Wendy, Yvonne.

The Procrastinator’s Manifesto

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:

 

  • 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 more 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?!

 

 

Cover Versions

In tribute to a game on one of my favorite Australian TV shows, Spicks and Specks, the updated version of which was recently cancelled due to low ratings (the Adam Hills-hosted original was far superior, IMHO) I’ve decided to regale  y’all with my top ten favorite cover versions of all time, just for shits and gigs, as my son Alister would say.  So here goes:

 

10. Smooth Criminal – Alien Ant Farm 

I actually really don’t like the original because in true, time-honored MJ fashion, he made the video far too long (seems he realized he’d happened upon a winning formula with the short-film length Thriller clip, and decided to run with it, all the way to the bank).  But I like this rockier cover, which wound up being a one-hit wonder for the guys. And the clip’s funny. Well, the chimp was impressed, anyway.

 

 

 

9. Rocket Man – Ninja Sex Party 

Yeah, you read right. That’s what they call themselves. Like The Darkness on Ecstasy, these guys are fab, and also a little scary.  So if you can handle skin-tight sparkly spandex on thin, hairy Jewish men, have at it.

 

 

8.  War Pigs – Faith No More

From their unbelievably good debut album, The Real Thing, this brilliant cover kicks the original’s arse.  Not that I don’t like Black Sabbath – don’t get me wrong, they’re certified rock gods – but I prefer this version. And the clip … well, it’s shirtless Mike Patton. Enough said.

 

 

7.  Stand by Me – John Lennon 

I like the Ben. E King original as well, I just think Lennon’s voice resonates with the emotion of the song so well.  In any case, it’s the version I prefer.

 

 

6. Rolling in the Deep – Linkin Park 

Okay so it was never technically released as a single, at least to my knowledge, but I absolutely love Chester’s take on this song.  I was a big fan of Linkin Park in the ’90’s, even though I never got to see them live, and I’ll always regret it.  R.I.P Chester. xoxo

 

 

5. Somebody to Love – George Michael 

Performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert in 1992, the former Wham! front-man took on one of Queen’s most difficult songs to sing, and not only did it justice, he nailed it.  R.I.P George.

 

 

4. Easy – Faith No More 

Yep, I’m unapologetically in lust with Mike Patton. Sue me. He’s so pretty, he gives these drag queens a run for their money (and the song, too).  Well he does have one of the most versatile rock voices around. No one could argue with that.

 

 

3. The Man Who Sold The World – Nirvana 

MTV Unplugged showed us a side of Kurt Cobain few got to see – the self-deprecating, shy poet. I love their cover of Bowie’s Man Who Sold the World. I’d even go so far as to say I think it’s better than the original.

 

 

2. Hurt – Johnny Cash

The last person you’d expect to cover 90’s alternative rock behemoths like Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails would be someone like Johnny Cash, but he did, and he not only put his own spin on the NIN classic, he made it so that every time I think of this song, I think of his version, not the original!  It has a real unnerving, haunting quality to it.

 

 

  1. Mad World – Gary Jules 

From the soundtrack to the cult classic film Donnie Darko, this song is like the soundtrack to my entire life.  Anyone who suffers depression would probably relate to this version of the faster (and far inferior) Tears for Fears song.

 

 

 

Gone, baby, gone

 

 

Yep, sorry, this post has been deleted. But for some reason I can’t get it to erase completely. Also, if you happened to catch the countdown of cover songs that was here, and had the unfortunate experience of listening to the Bangles’ Hazy Shade of Winter and got it stuck in your head for the next three days, I apologize profusely. It’s no longer my number 10. For an update, see my most recent post.

 

 

 

Back from the abyss…

Hi folks,

Well, abyss is probably too strong a word but when you’re dealing with the things I’ve been dealing with for the past eighteen months, or thereabouts, it certainly feels like a vast, bottomless hole that I’ve managed to drag myself out of, with the help of Zoloft and a very supportive therapist. You see, back in July of last year I was suicidal. I was having almost daily thoughts about killing myself.  About how my family and friends would perhaps grieve for a bit, but then they’d get on with things, and I’d be eventually be relegated to a fond memory, like a pet that passed away.  I really was that hard on myself.  It seems overly dramatic now, but at the time I was convinced I was of no consequence; that no one would really give a shit if I disappeared for good.  Now of course I know that’s not true, but it’s funny the way your brain tells you these things when you’re depressed and you choose to believe them, even though you know deep down it’s a steaming pile of BS.  It’s only because of cognitive behavioral therapy – which has taught me to confront my inner critic and tell it to get back in it’s box when it starts in with its highly negative crap – that I’ve been able to put an end to the pity party and get back to the business of being an effective, functional mum and aspiring writer.

I say aspiring because although I’m now officially published, and therefore apparently retain the right to call myself an author, it still doesn’t sit well with me. I am neither prolific nor inspired, and my most recent contribution to the written word has sat untouched on my computer’s hard drive for months.  You see, along with depression and low self-esteem, I’ve been dealing with that ugly chestnut writers dread – an unholy, gleefully malicious case of writer’s block. That thing where you find yourself playing endless rounds of the various editions of Candy Crush on Facebook instead of confronting the problem head-on. Procrastination being my middle name – or at least, it should be – I’ve managed to do everything but come up with a basic chapter-by-chapter plot for this idea that’s been swirling around in my brain for months now, to the point where I’m asking a god I don’t believe in to explain to me why the idea can’t just ‘pop into my head, fully-formed’ as J.K Rowling claims Harry Potter did.  Apparently I’m not one of those few rare individuals who get to experience what constitutes winning the lottery for writers – that one story that fills a niche in society, says everything you’ve been wanting to say but haven’t had the guts, predicts future events or just becomes a favorite book that you keep coming back to re-read over and over again, like Lord of the Rings or Anne of Green Gables.

But then, I guess, who is?

Being a student of literature – literally – I’ve studied quite a few ‘classics’ over the past three years of my university degree and have found myself wondering why some books become classics at all.  William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a case in point.  I just couldn’t get into it; couldn’t make sense of the pace and structure of the story or the way Faulkner writes.  If I can’t grasp what a writer is trying to say within the first chapter, I tend to give up.  So endeavoring to read Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake or absolutely anything by Herman Melville would be a complete waste of time for me.  Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue I had to contend with.  We did, however, study Shelley’s Frankenstein, Stoker’s Dracula and Stephenson’s The Mysterious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. While I enjoyed all three for different reasons, mostly due to the fact that I’m a horror-buff from way back (I blame Jaws, which scared the living shit out of me as a child and imbued me with a life-long phobia of sharks) and love scaring myself.  Frankenstein probably had the most profound effect on me because, having been bullied throughout high school, I saw myself as a bit of a freak and so could empathize with an ugly, unwanted creature trying to get to grips with a world that didn’t understand him, and a creator who rejected him.

But enough about classics. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, of a lot of different genres, but mostly true crime and what’s been commonly described as ‘chick-lit’ – led from the front by the best-selling Australian writer, Liane Moriarty.  The author of Big Little Lies – now a TV series on HBO – is one of my favorite authors, alongside Stephen King, Jodie Picoult and true-crime writer Ann Rule.  I’m currently reading What Alice Forgot, about a woman who can’t remember the last decade of her life, and like most of Moriarty’s other offerings, I can’t put it down.

So, largely inspired by the latest post from one of my followers, who rated his top five must-reads for young adults, here is my list of books I couldn’t put down, and, consequently, read in one night. Hence the suitcases under my eyes.

 

A Time to Kill – John Grisham

As a debut it really packs a punch, describing in the first chapter or two a vicious sexual assault on a young black girl by two rednecks, who treat her like she’s barely human.  Set in the fictional town of Canton, Mississippi, racial tensions erupt when the father of the girl takes the law into his own hands and shoots his daughter’s rapists in cold blood.  On trial for murder, Carl Lee hires the lawyer who got his brother Lester off on a murder charge. But this case is different, and it might just make or break Jake Brigance’s career – or worse.  Facing financial ruin, threats from the KKK and the fury of an angry wife, Jake won’t stop until he proves that a black man can receive a fair trial in Mississippi, no matter what it costs him.  Not on a par with Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird by any stretch of the imagination, it nonetheless stirs the emotions and makes the reader question what they would do if they were in the same situation as Carl Lee Hailey.  To what lengths would we go to protect our children?

Truly, Madly, Guilty – Liane Moriarty

Like The Slap, from fellow Aussie author Christos Tsioulkos,  TMG is about the events surrounding a shocking incident that occurs at a seemingly innocuous neighborhood BBQ.  In typical Moriarty fashion, the story unwinds piece by piece and you can only guess as to where it’s going to end up.  There’s no premature exposition that leaves you with the distinct feeling that you’ve solved the mystery halfway through – no, the reader is in suspense until the author decides otherwise. That’s the secret to great storytelling, folks, and one of the first things you learn in creative writing class. It comes down to three simple words: Show, don’t tell. And in Truly, Madly Guilty, Moriarty unravels the story like an elderly relative unwraps a Christmas present – delicately, in order to save the wrapping paper.  And unlike The Slap, you actually like the characters, despite their faults, and want them to have a happy ending.

My Sister’s Keeper – Jodie Picoult 

I’ve long been a fan of Picoult’s because of her talent for merging an ethical (often medical but not always) situation with family drama and a bit of mystery on the side. My Sister’s Keeper was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz as an overprotective mother who makes the choice to conceive another child as ‘spare parts’ to save her beloved daughter, who’s dying of leukemia. She subjects her youngest to countless tests, surgeries and transfusions until Anna has finally had enough, and decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation.  But just when it appears Anna’s choice is about to tear her family apart, a secret is revealed.   Even if you don’t like the ethics involved, and I didn’t – no child should be brought into the world as spare parts for a sibling – you can still appreciate what a terrible choice both the girls’ parents and Anna herself were forced to make.  Both the book and the movie have me in tears every single time, despite the fact that the movie has a different (and much more poignant, IMHO) ending.

The Stand – Stephen King

The world has suffered a near extinction-level event – or at least, America has, because let’s face it, ladies and germs, America IS the world – and the survivors of a plague that wipes out half the population take a cue from strange dreams that lead them either to Hemingford Home, Nebraska, or to the desert of Nevada. Winding up in Boulder, Colorado, the ‘good guys’ begin the huge clean-up and setting things back to rights, while the villains of the piece plot the eventual takeover of the entire country.  The fate of humankind seems to rest on the frail shoulders of an old black lady who claims God talks to her, and has plans for her followers. None of which they’re going to like.                           As an atheist, I naturally approached the religious aspect of this story with a sense of irritation and impatience, but it’s the journey of the characters involved that draws you in, not necessarily the reasons for their actions.  There’s the obligatory supernatural element – I mean, it is Stephen King, after all –  but one gets the sense that The Stand is, in essence, a cautionary tale about the cruelty and capriciousness of humankind. That even if we got the chance to start again, we’d choose the same old road back to hell.

Small Sacrifices – Ann Rule

True crime author and former consultant to the Seattle, Washington Police Department, Ann Rule has written countless books about real life murder, delving deeply into not only the case itself but its effects on the families involved and the wider community. Small Sacrifices explores the reasons why a mother would decide the love of a man was more important than the lives of her children. It follows the story of Diane Downs, who initially pretended her children had been shot by a ‘bushy-haired stranger’ on a lonely road, but due to her strange behavior after the fact, became the prime suspect in an unspeakable crime.  Two of her children survived the attack; one paralyzed from the waist down, the other brought back from the brink of death to eventually testify against her mother in court. The third, little Cheryl, was killed instantly.   As a parent, I cannot fathom what could make a person act the way Downs did. Her narcissism and obsession with a married man cast her as thoroughly unlikable and actually, completely pathetic. Pregnant with her fourth child while on trial for the murder and attempted murder of it’s siblings, she was forced to give birth in prison and adopt the child out.  To my knowledge, that child wants nothing to do with her paranoid, attention-seeking mother. Can’t say I blame her.  However tragic the story was or how angry it made me though, it was a real page-turner. I wanted to know if Christie, the eldest Downs child, would regain her memory and testify against her mother.  In the end, Downs was sentenced to life plus 50 years, which is exactly what she deserves.