Thursday, December 17, 2009

In MX today - Jingle Hell

Despite the tinsel and sparkly lights and fat bearded men in bright red suits, I find Christmas a sneaky season. One again, December has rolled round and I haven’t even bought my Mum a pressie yet.

Every year, all the magazines advise shopping early and taking advantage of the January sales. I read them, think “what a good idea, I’ll do that” and then forget.

So, instead of basking smugly with a glass of wine, I’m gearing up to battle maddened parents and frazzled assistants who have been tasked with finding an intimate present for their bosses partner - or partners.

But you start optimistic and energized - ready to shop and roll, baby. You start thinking big. Wouldn’t it be great if you got everything in one shop? You’d be finished! The Queen of Christmas shopping. Then you can ditch the bags and the mad shoppers and go straight to the pub!

This all seems like a really good idea, but leads to situations like you trying to persuade yourself that your sister would like a socket wrench, or that your Dad would like a sparkly hair band, or that everyone you know would like Liquorland vouchers. Including your eight year old cousin. Maybe not.

You need to look in a few more shops. Initially, all you can find are inappropriate gifts. Yes, they’d love it, but you can’t buy it due to cost, size or piddling little legal issues.

You find yourself looking at designer bags, plasma TVs and licensed weaponry. You have to remind yourself that no one will thank you if you decide to get your ten year old cousin a longbow and real arrows, not even them after they end up hospitalised. The shops are noisy and crowded and full of despairing souls, like hell with Jingle Bells playing in the background. You’ve already wasted a few hours…

Demoralised, you decide to get a few old faithfuls like clothes. You find affordable items that would be perfect if you knew size they take. Is she a twelve or one of those girls who gets insulted when you get past a size ten? The only thing worse than watching your mate trying to squeeze into something two sizes too small is your mate realising that you think she’s a size bigger than what she like to wear.

The next thing you know, you have a size eight in your arms, and you’re looking for the six. You’re having difficulty finding something for your friend, but you have found some adorable things for you. It’s Christmas, after all, and you deserve something nice!

You leave the shop on a high, having spent fifty bucks on another cute black top. Then you realise you still don’t have any presents. Your feet hurt. It’s crowded. They’ve got the flaming Mariah Carey Christmas CD on in every shop in town. All she wants for Christmas is you, but all you want is a nice cool drink.

Determined to speed things up, you start really looking. You find the completely appropriate gifts, if you never want anyone to speak to you again. T-shirts that say “I’m with Stupid”. Packs of bath salts and deodorant. A Gutbuster machine. Books called “He’s Just Not That Into You”. Undoubtedly useful and accurate, but you’d like to still be speaking to people on the 26th.

Running out of ideas and time, you end up looking at the huge shiny gift boxes containing such delights as potpourri, candles that smell like a three month old fruit bowl, and fake perfume. If they don’t like the smell, it’s nearly pure alcohol so they can just drink it.

Mmm. Alcohol. You could do with a drink. So could everyone. Might as well just get them a Liquorland voucher, they’ll probably appreciate it.

And if they don’t, you can always drink it for them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Guarding your regards

Some of you might find this familiar, my feelings on why you stick your Kind Regards where the sun doesn’t shine has been amended for publication in today’s SMH, under the Heckler column.


KR, it says. Right there, at the end of the introductory and unrequested email about his PR firm. Just before his name. KR. I have no idea what it means.
Keith Richards? Keep Right?
And then it dawns on me. ''KR" is short for Kind Regards. This man, this PR man who is looking to make a good first impression, not only uses the most vague and insincere closing since "Yours most humbly affectionate" thankfully fell out of use but he can't even be bothered to write it all.
Kind regards is foul enough, Victorian and vague, yet capable of starting an arms race of affection. Someone signs "Kind regards", and then someone trumps that with "Kindest regards" and things get totally out of control with "My most kind regards" and "Yours with the kindest of regards" and "Prostrating my most humble self to offer the very kindest of my kind regards".
Or the person who plays the strong silent type and writes merely "Regards" with no indication of how kind they are.
And exactly how kind are these regards? Do they have a redeemable monetary element or are they affection-based only? Would you pour a cup of tea on me if I were on fire, or say "Get well soon" as I was carted screaming in agony into the ambulance?
Kind regards. Can you vague that up for me? For added Victorian style you can for no apparent reason capitalise everything. "Kind Regards." It's especially good if you wrongly put a capital R on regards but forget one on your name. Or just dispense with the piddling words altogether and go with "KR".
How informal! Readers love your relaxed attitude and have nothing better to do than decipher your cryptic missives. Nothing says "cool but can't be arsed" like not bothering to finish your words.
Or not. Look, I have had it with clever buggers telling the world that correct grammar and capitalisation are "dated", that we should be mixing it up with txtspk outside of texts. The first purpose of writing is not to be funky and modern, but to be readable. You are writing so that other people can understand you. Have the courage to master basic communication.
Capitalise correctly. Use punctuation. Go crazy; care about your customers' reading experience. Or prepare to have people look at your garbage and conclude you are morons who can't be trusted with a keyboard, let alone a PR budget.
My response? PFO.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In MX today - My Daily Commute Safari

But if you're not reading MX on delayed public transport in the 35 degree heat (Summer has arrived in Sydney, and it's taking no prisoners) here it is. Watching the wildlife on public transport - are you a Koala, a Pole-Dancer or an EcoLeech?

Based off a CityRail customer courtesy campaign to name and shame the Beasts who make catching public transport a pain (the Hogger, the Rubbisher, the Yeller et al), I had to re-work to make it understandable to the other cities.


Summer is here and the temperature is high. That would be great if I was at the beach, but stuck in a crowded carriage with no air-conditioning and all the seats taken, I’m wishing I was somewhere – anywhere! – else.

To keep my mind off the heat, I’ve turned my daily commute into a safari trip. It’s the cheapskate version of going wildlife spotting by jeep; it’s hot, you're stuck in a vehicle and you don’t know what you might encounter but you hope it will be cute and not try to bite you.

Watching the wildlife is hard to do subtly. It’s embarrassing when you get caught looking, especially if you are trying to take a happy snap. But with just a little practise you can become quite an expert. Here’s a spotters’ guide to some of the exotic creatures you can find on your daily commute.

The Puller –You’ll find him checking Here's Looking At You, sitting on the bottom of double-decker carriages so he can look up the skirts of women getting on. He’s smiling and winking and ready to chat, even though it’s 6am and you have your headphones in. This isn’t a commute, it’s a pick-up joint. Wanna share a seat?

The Koala – “Can’t … keep… eyes … open…” Sleepy and out of it, particularly plentiful in the early morning, this creature nods off as soon as it sits down, but always wakes up just in time to stumble off at its stop. Its cousin, the Drunk Koala, can’t even do that, and travels in an endless loop, snorting and sleeping the whole trip away. If it could just keep it’s eyes open… Swaying and nodding, drooling and blinking, this koala doesn’t do mornings. Or afternoons. Or anything.

The Pole Dancer – Like soccer moms at their first stripping class, all they know is they have to hang on to that pole. They gyrate and swing round it, blocking the doors with their moves. And if someone manages to peel them off, they go straight to the next best place to practice a dance routine on a packed train - the stairs. You’ll need to do a bump and grind to get past them, but don’t worry; you don’t need to tip.

The Poser – It might be dull and cloudy, but he’s wearing huge Paris style sunnies. Indoors. On a train. In a tunnel. He can’t see you, but he knows you can see him. Most likely to be seen cruising the city centre loop in souped-up shades and waxed-up hair, he’s not reading, he’s not speaking, he’s just here to be seen. This beast can even be a hybrid; his immobile pose and huge shades can mean he’s posing on the outside, but behind those shades he's all sleepy eyed Koala.

The Invisible Boyfriend – Wonder why that lady glares so much when you ask “is this seat taken”? That’s not an empty seat, or even a bag rest. That’s their Invisible boyfriend. It might look empty but there’s a whole heap of nothing sitting there, with just her grimacing and glaring to warn people off. And if you take that spot, where will he sit?

The EcoLeech – The bus is near empty, but they want the seat next to you and when they take it, they squish right in and on you. Rude? No, they’re being green and sharing your body heat, it uses less energy to stay warm if everyone just snuggles up. Cutting into carbon emissions, and your personal space, it’s not impolite, it’s environmentally friendly.

So next time you’re travelling in the morning, take a good look at the locals. You might spot a whole new Beast. Provided you can just keep your eyes open and turn not into a Koala…


Sadhbh Warren is an MX reader who deliberately sits on peoples’ invisible friends.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On VB and Marketing – the selling thing.

Contains strong language. Which is ironic, as the beer is pretty weak.


My beer mat informs me that Victoria Bitter has a new slogan.

Victoria Bitter - VB to its friends of which it has very few publicly - is a beer. An iconic Australian beer, if by you iconic you mean “yeah mate, it’s Aussie as, but I don’t drink it coz it’s shit”.

Except they do. It’s cheap and cheerful and accounts for a third of the pre-packaged beers sales in Australia. Note that pre-packaged bit. You’d bring a VB home to quench your thirst, but you wouldn’t order it in the pub. Drinking VB is a bit like sleeping with your ex. It’s not really classy, but everyone has done it when there was nothing else available. Especially if they were already drunk and it was just hanging about at a party. It’s okay to drink, provided no one knows.

Their long standing slogan, which said VB was “for a hard-earned thirst” was at least evocative in that it reflected the product. VB is for a hard-earned thirst, because dying of semi-dehydration is one of things that makes its bland yet acidic taste semi-palatable. It’s a slogan that has served VB well, with its phenomenal sales despite being universally derided as a shit beer that isn’t even actually a bitter.

But they’re dropping it. From now on VB shall be known as – the drinking beer.

I’m sorry, what? Honestly, what genius came up with this slogan? How much did they pay some marketeer to take five seconds off complaining that on Twitter that their iPhone won’t work to come up with this particular gem? Can I have their job? I’ve always loved stating the obvious in a condescending fashion and I can come up with all sorts of things right now. Nescafe – the drinking coffee. Oxygen – the breathing gas. Myers – the shopping shop.

Quickly, someone get me a medal, because that’s three award-winning campaigns right there.

Of course it’s the drinking beer. ALL beers are the drinking beer. What the hell else do you do with them? You don’t market a brand by saying it can do thing it’s meant to, unless you can claim other products don’t do it as well. What, the other beers are dehydrated? Made of sawdust and glass chips? Contain acid and dead flies? Are currently on fucking fire? What?

Every beer is the drinking beer. Unless you are the premium luxury brand in your niche, you can’t claim ownership of the need without looking like a total twat. (And even then, you look a tad twatty, but hey, label bunnies just love that posh twat look.) All beers are for drinking. How does this differentiate your product from all the others? What the hell are they for?

You can split hairs and suggest while YOUR beer is for drinking, the other beers still have space to pick a niche – they could be the quaffing beer, or the sipping beer, or the peeing like a racehorse beer, or the beer that comes back up easy, but you are just being full of crap. It’s not “modern”, it’s not “pared-down” or “simplistic” or “a return to base values”; it’s lazy, it’s stupid and it shows your product has nothing to offer.

And the annoying thing is, with a little modification it could have been a slogan that captured the essence of Victoria Bitter and what it means to Australia. VB - the drinking when there is nothing else to drink beer. VB - the “it was free at the party” beer. The “It’s only 10am, and I’m already at a happy hour” beer, the “I drink tinnies on my lunchbreak” beer, the “this is my child support I am drinking” beer.

But no. Instead we get a slogan as bland as the beer itself. Which – despite and to spite the slogan - I won’t be drinking.

Unless, you know, there’s nothing else. Or it’s free at a party. Or I’m too drunk to notice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

WTF?

KR, he says.

Right there at the end of the email he sent looking to introduce his PR firm. Just before his name. KR.

I have no idea what it means.

Keith Richards? Keep Right? Keep Rocking?

And then it dawns on me. “KR” is short for Kind Regards. This man, this abomination of a PR man who is looking to make a good first impression on me and my firm, not ONLY uses the most fatuous and over-gentrified closing since “Yours most humbly affectionate” bit the dust in the sixteenth century but he can’t even be arsed to write it all.

Kind regards is foul enough. Victorian and stilted in its vagueness and yet capable of starting an arms race of affection. Someone signs “Kind regards”, and then someone has to beat them with “KindEST regards” and the whole thing gets totally out of control with “My most kind regards” and “Yours with the kindest of regards” and “Prostrating my most humble self on your bidet to offer the very kindest of my kind regards”.

Or the person who tries to play the strong silent type and writes merely “Regards” with no indication of how kind they are.

And exactly how kind are the regards? I mean, would you donate your house to me, or just a few bucks for a coffee? Do they have no monetary element redeemable? Are we talking pouring your cup of tea on me if I was on fire, or saying “I hope the burns get better soon” as I am carted screaming in agony into the ambulance?

Kind regards. Could you vague that up for me a bit?

For added Victorian style – because nothing says polite like a group of people who used to encase their privates in metal to prevent “self abuse” – you can for no apparent reason capitalise everything. “Kind Regards.” It’s especially good if you wrongly put a capital R on regards but forget to put a capital on your own damned name.

Or just dispense with the piddling matters of letter altogether and go with “KR”. How informal! How, well, how little like you even care slightly about the opinion of your reader. Nothing says “can’t be arsed” like not bothering to finish your words.

In fact, why not just close your email with “Yeah, whatever”? I’m sorry, we’re being modern now - that mean disregarding the most basic of niceties and ease of reading – let’s use “YW”.

Or not. Look, I have had it up to here with clever buggers from PR and marketing telling the world that correct grammar and capitalisation are “dated”, that we should be mixing it up with txtspk outside of texts. The first purpose of writing something is not to be funky, but to be readable. You are writing so other people can understand what you have said.

Ignore PR twatboy in the corner desperately trying to justify his consultancy fee by spewing turdery and write correctly. Have the courage to make it look like your company is smart enough to master basic communication. Capitalise correctly. Use punctuation. Go fecking crazy; care about your customers’ reading experience. Or prepare to have people take one look at your garbage and conclude you are morons who can’t be trusted with a keyboard, let alone a PR budget.

My response?

TL;DR*


*Too Long; Didn’t Read

Friday, October 30, 2009

A guide to taking travel photos. Don't.

I love both to travel and to talk about travelling. It interests me; the places people have been, why they went there, what they saw and what they ate and who they met and what they did. I love to ask questions and find out the best and worst bits of people’s trip. It’s fascinating.

Right up until the point where they pull out the photo album. Then my eyes glaze over and my brain goes into sleep mode as I prepare to be bored silly.

I blame digital cameras. Back in the good old days when people accepted travellers' diarrhoea as a normal part of travel (for God’s sake, just drink fluids and stop WHINING) and cameras had films and cost lots of money to develop, people took less photos. Instead of twelve pictures of the same sunset, they took one really nice one. You didn’t get endless shots from the train window and the plane window and the inside of the local police station, it cost too much to develop.

But thanks to the advents of digital bloody cameras, people feel unfettered in the amount of shots they can take and bore you to tears with on their return. A quick check of my camera reveals it can hold over 1,500 photos. That’s a few hours of your life you will never get back if I decide to bore you.

Reckon you’re not a bore or need to classify a bore? There are lots of different types, divided by intent and favoured photo type, but united in their wish to drivel at you about their pictures until your neck is sore from nodding and your eyeballs have atrophied in your skull.

There’s the scenery bore, usually a single traveller who takes endless shots of the landscape and shots of themselves standing in front of the landscape, safe in the knowledge that their precious holiday pictures are unsoiled by any sign of social interaction.

“This, this is a shot of a waterfall. It was very pretty. You can see them, um, waterfall right there. And this is a shot of the same waterfall from a different spot. This is a close up. This is the waterfall from the first spot with me standing in front of it. Oh look, me again, I always take two shots in case I have my eyes closed when the timer goes. No wait, I take three. Look, there I am. Oh, and a waterfall. And here’s that waterfall again. Will you just look at all that water? Just stunning.”

There’s the opposite, the social bore, who not only talks you through two hundred shots of people you have never and will never meet, but tells you in detail about them.

“We met this couple, Sheila and Barney, at the taxi rank in the airport. Sheila is a retired school teacher and Barney flambés squid in Ohio. She was wearing this hat, I’ll never forget it, it was red and we asked why it was so red and do you know, she said she just liked the colour red and she knit it herself. Imagine that. Red. Hilarious couple. Now, this, this was the cab-driver...”

Or the amnesiac couple who need to agree on the inconsequential details of what each shot is.

“Oh this, this is that temple – John, was this the temple with the statues? It was? – We went to this temple on the – John, was it the third or the fifth day? No, no I think it was the fifth. You had that food poisoning, remember? You were all runny bottom and had to stay near the loo. I told you not to eat the salad. – We went on the fifth day. Look, you can see a statue.”

Be especially of careful amazing facts man. It may look as though he has very few photos, but he can talk for days on each.

“Now this, this is interesting. This particular beach you are looking at is the northernmost mid-to-light grain yellow sanded beach in the South Eastern region. Some people say that that title should go to another beach down the road, but that you see has a distinctly different type of sand, mid-mid-light grain yellow, which some people get confused with the far more scenic mid-to-light grain yellow. I don’t know why, it’s very easy to tell the difference when you measure the grains.”

If you really, really feel you need to share your photos with people, pick the twenty best ones. And stick with that. Yes, I know you have forty shots of sunrise on day one alone. No, they’re not as good as you think. After the first one, they all look the same.

Those fantastic streetscape shots you love look like a blurry, badly composed mess. Mountains all look the same after the first two pictures. We’ve all seen the English policemen, funny hats and all, enough times. Ancient ruins all look similar after the first few. The sea always looks the same, always. Those shots you took of you by raising the camera over your head make you look like a sad loser without even the social skills to persuade someone else to take a photo for you. Put the fecking camera DOWN and go DO something.

I’d rather hear the story than see the picture. And if the story is good enough, you might be able to persuade someone else to take the photos while you have fun.

Just try to make sure that it’s not the police.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is £200 enough to travel like Richard Branson for year?

Speaking as someone with travelling ambition of Richard Branson but the budget of a ham sandwich, Simonseeks.com is a really good travel resource; real people write real reviews of places and activities and then earn cash if people take them up on their suggestions.

What makes it good is that it has a more exciting and budget approach to visiting places from people who visited the cities, rather than the usual “this hotel let me sray free for a review and I liked it”. If you are planning a trip, I’d recommend researching it here. It’s particularly good for city breaks and for finding points of interest in places that are a little further off the well trodden tracks advised in the guidebooks.

My recent offering to them was a budget guide to romancing in Sydney. And they liked it so much that it won a prize. A prize of two hundred dollars sterling. Which may not allow me to fly RockStar class with Virgin Atlantic or purchase my own Virgin Island, but will allow me to take up some of my own cheap date suggestions.

Curious what they are? Have a look below...

For many couples, Sydney is the highlight of a round-the-world trip, but it can sometimes feel more arduous than amorous. Shared dorms and penny-pinching can take the shine off your shared adventure. However, the Harbour City doesn’t have to be Heartbreak City - here are a few ideas that will tug on the heartstrings instead of the wallet.

A romantic cruise for under $20
A luxury dinner and lie-down movie for under $60
A night in a mountain retreat for under $200

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A sunburnt country

My first thought today when I woke up in Sydney was “I slept in, I’m late”.

My second was “oh, and the apocalypse is here”.

There was an enormous dust storm last night and Sydney was blanketed in a thick red cloud of dust. It’s faded to a sullen yellow glow now, but at seven this morning the rising suns rays hitting the dust obliquely turned the city amber and red, like all the city was the outback glowing in the dawn. There are some great shots of it here.

The million dollar views of Darling Harbour look out now on an outback dust-storm. Exasperated staff sweep tracks of red dirt from the floor and furnishings of shops and restaurants. Billboards look sepia through the fog, like relics of another time and place. The cars in the city are coated in grime, the corner offices of the financial district smeared with a film of dust.

You forget how big, how dry this country is. You forget most of the cities cling to the sea, cowering away from the vast hot red and yellow plains of the centre. We live in our lovely lush Harbour City, and we catch the ferries across the bay and picnic in the big green parks and pour clean water in abundance into our glasses and our gardens and our pools and forget just how dry Australia is.

I grew up in Ireland, the Emerald Isle. A place so green that my Australian boyfriend commented when he saw it it looked hallucinogenic. An island of mild weather, of drizzle and fog and gentle spring rains making the landscape lush. Ireland is, for all the damp, very beautiful. I have always thought so.

It’s odd then that this morning’s choking dust reminds me of a very famous Australian poem – My Country by Dorothea Mackellar. “I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains.”

I’ve worked inland. At the tail end of a seven year drought, I worked a few hundred miles from the coast in New South Wales; where the dry earth cracks like crazy paving and there is nothing but dead grass in the fields. I worked with a farmer who had sold all his stock but the last two of his cattle, crushed by the relentless drought and the cost of feeding them. We were told to take a minute’s shower; any more and we could drain the rain water tank and it was a long drive to refill if we need to get the expensive additional water.

I’ve spoken to families clinging to hang on to their homes, when the rain has failed for the seventh year running, and vets who moved away from their lifelong jobs when the last of the lifestock in the area had gone. Living in the Australian outback is not easy.

But, in its severe way, it is beautiful. Just after dawn the early morning changes from the chill of the cloudless night to the soaring heat of the day, the wind carrying the scent of eucalyptus in the air and dust kicked up by every step. The sunsets are amazing; the red dust reflecting a thousand vibrant shades of blue and purple and pink, the earth radiating heat as the gorged red sun sinks below the horizon.

And that, that is a few hundred miles in. It’s not even close to the baking heart of this country, where the red sand stretches for thousands of miles, where countless explorers vanished for all eternity and an empty gas tank and a water tank could be a death sentence.

Today everyone in Sydney, no matter how much they have pay to insulate and distance themselves from the Australian outback, has had it come to them. At the beginning of the summer, Sydney has thrown us a glowing outback dawn.

Other people may grimace and grizzle about how much it will cost to clean the windows, the floor, the carpets. But to me today’s red and dusty dawn is a reminder of the stark beauty of the Australian landscape, and that is has been too long since I’ve seen it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Published in MX today - Losing weight and your sanity, a step-by-step approach

Summer is coming, and I’m not ready. I thought I was in shape but according to a fitness assessment at the gym, that shape is a Stop-sign – stationary, large and bright red.

I knew I should have got fitter before I went to the gym to get checked out. It’s like cleaning before the cleaners come; it doesn’t make sense but it’s a bit less embarrassing.

So today I plan to start stage fourteen of the get fit for Summer plan.

Stage one is persuading yourself it’s all hormonal and seasonal fat.

Christmas dinner, Easter eggs, cold weather, water-retention, the running of the tides - all these are better explanations for why your fattest Fat Pants are gaping at the seams.

Not that you ate too much and stayed on the sofa for the last three months.

Or that you have been stuffing your face with chocolate and counting walks to the Thai place across the road as exercise, oh no. It’s not your fault; it’s winter weight!

The first bit of Stage two is asking your partner or friend if you have put on a little weight.

The second bit is accusing them of being shallow and heartless when they say that you have put on a little, but doesn’t everyone over winter and maybe you should get fit together?

Stage three involves locking yourself in the bathroom while crying and eating more chocolate. And then storming out to throw cleaning implements at your partner, shouting if they like skinny things so much they can go out with the mop.

Here’s also where you hurl allegations that they would rather be seeing skinnier people. Such as their ex, their co-workers, your co-workers, their friends, your ex, their family, their mother, random strangers on the street, the stoned guy who staffs the graveyard shift at the 7-11 and anyone who is currently less porky than you.

Stage four involves apologising. A lot. Also picking up the things you threw.

Stage five involves drowning the pain in alcohol. A lot.

Stage six is hungover.

Stage seven involves actually doing something about things and attempting to go to the gym occasionally, while still eating all that chocolate.

Stage eight is being too busy to do the gym but deciding that switching to low fat milk cancels out the chocolate.

Stage nine is giving up on the gym as it’s not working.

Stage ten is realising that you might need to do more than one gym session a week.

Stages eleven through to thirteen repeat stages two to four. This time you pretend the throwing stuff at your partner and cleaning it up counts as a workout.

And stage fourteen involves biting the bullet and actually genuinely trying to get into a healthier routine. Wish me luck. Or send chocolate.

Sadhbh Warren is an MX reader who is off to the gym any day now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spelling out hypocrisy

Stephen Fielding, Victorian Senator and the Federal parliamentary leader of the Family First Party in Australia, speaks out on the Punch about the mocking he over his disability.

He revealed that disability – dyslexia - this week. He has frequently mispronounced words, including stating "fiscal policy" as "physical policy". He was questioned about the mispronunciation. "I'll make it quite clear: fiscal, F-I-S-K-A-L," he spelt.

Journalists were quick to jump on the gaffe. The incident was a God send on a slow news day, and it appeared in every paper and every site. In the Senate, a Greens MP called out ''spell it'' as he tried to speak.

Unwilling to take the roasting lying down, he wrote back, revealing what many people suspected; that he is dyslexic.

He makes some excellent points. He argues that we shouldn’t mock people for their disabilities, that one disability does not negate their ability in other areas. There is nothing wrong with being dyslexic and a difficulty with spelling does not mean a difficulty thinking.

“Let’s face it, sometimes it’s easy to have a crack at people who might not be able to spell or articulate themselves as well as others. But I ask you, would you have a crack at someone just because they’re in a wheelchair? I don’t think so.”

But, as he says himself, people did not know he had a disability because he was unwilling to tell them.

I have a disability – my hearing is badly impaired. I can not hear high-pitched noises full stop. Doesn’t sound bad. Until you realize that this means I can’t hear people speak when there is background noise, hear dialogue in movies, anything over the phone.

I frequently make horrible mistakes; mishearing people, ignoring people, answering questions they didn’t ask. It is embarrassing. I’ve lost jobs, and worse, potential dates over it.

And the quickest way out of it? Tell people I have a problem. It’s a common problem. Most people are decent and once they understand will take it onboard.

But he decided not to tell people. ”We shouldn’t look down on people just because they can’t pronounce their words properly or they muck up their spelling.” Perhaps not – I am sceptical but that’s an argument for another day - but should we expect an elected public figure to be able to apparently understand, spell and pronounce long words related to the economy?

Should we expect people elected to communicate and change policy to be able to express themselves clearly? Is that unreasonable?

Of course it’s not.

He was roasted because he was giving answers that made him seem unfit for the job. Now it’s known he has a disability, he will be given some leeway. But you can’t attack people not knowing things you didn’t tell them.

It reminds me of something I read in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. "Just because someone's a member of an ethnic minority doesn't mean they're not a nasty small-minded little jerk.”

Stephen Fielding could have admitted his disability. He could have, in fact, been a poster boy for what you can achieve with dyslexia. A Senator, with an MBA and an engineering degree. But he chose not to be.

He was too ashamed to admit that he had dyslexia, and now tries to shame others. He maintains a disability is no big deal, but he doesn’t want to reveal his. People should not be ashamed to have a learning difficulty; but he is.

And that spells hypocrisy, whatever way you want to spell it out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Smells like... hookers.

Consider, if you will, the advert for Yves Saint Laurent’s new men’s fragrance, La Nuit de L'Homme.

As befits a perfume advert, it is filmed in black and white and contains no actual information nor footage of the perfume. A mysterious man, well dressed, descends a staircase in opulent surroundings. Despite having a face that only a mother could love, and even then only if she was drunk and myopic, he turns heads. Young ladies of a groomed but conservative appearance stop dead and paw at him. They are slack-eyed and vacant, like zombies who have forgotten where the brains are. The man looks smug. The end.

There are several obvious interpretations, to whit: this man deals drugs and the vacant-eyed ladies want them; this man has paid these beautiful women large quantities of cash in the past for sex, and they desperately need a new outfit. I’m going with option b – the young women last shopped in the eighties and wear satin polo necks, hair in a bun and pearls. Clearly in need of a rich Sugar Daddy, or at least a few bucks to spend on a new frock. Are they pawing him with lust, or trying to steal his wallet? We just don’t know.

Ugly bloke gets the chicks. Pheromones that’ll make her moan. Where have we seen this before? Oh yes, everywhere. It echoes the so-called Lynx effect from the nineties, where the application of a pungent antiperspirant apparently had the ability to make graceless young men irresistable to the opposite sex. While the premise was a total lie, at least the ads were amusing and meant to be so. A Lynx wearer would not have a scent that drove you wild, but might at least have a sense of humour.

But La Nuit is for those with a bigger disposable income and no sense of irony. For those with more than five bucks to spend on their daily choice of “shower-in-a-can”, we need a more expensive type of marketing bullshit, utterly devoid of any sense of the ridiculousness inherent in its claims. Just look at the advertisement on the AskMen website, where it assures us that this “rich new fragrance… is just what your night out needs: a mysterious nocturnal aura.”

I’ve lived with men who had a mysterious nocturnal aura. In most cases it was BO; in one case alcohol-related bed wetting. More befitting of an urgent visit to the doctor than a desired attribute in a man, when I think of a nocturnal aura I do not think of tuxedos. I think of adult nappies and rubber sheets.

If you have a mysterious nocturnal aura, you can get pills for that. Or at least pay someone to ignore it for the evening.

The actor in the ad is a French actor called Vincent Cassel. Despite his less than comely appearance he is married to the famed Italian sexpot, Monica Belluci. A more convincing, and accurate, advert would have been “La Nuit de L'Homme – look who I pulled, phwoar”.

Or, more realistically, La Nuit - because you’re too wealthy for a sense of humour and with this much money, you can afford escorts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On writing, poultry and stabbing

This writing lark is, quite frankly, not all it is cracked up to be. I am sadly lacking in freezing garret or a beret or any of the various French things ending in “et” I have been told go with the trade.

I have been doing some research on what I can claim on my tax for 2009, being in the rather annoying situation of having outlaid more cash in the last tax year (some) than I earned (none). This means I am unlikely to be able to afford a garret or a beret in the near future, unless I can work out a way to claim deductions for writing that no one is willing to pay for.

The Australian Tax Office is website is not being as helpful as one would expect. For a start, a search for publications on tax for unpaid writers is, ironically, unwritten. The words “freelance”, “writer” or “artiste, dammit” bring up no results. It appears that the Australian tax office only wishes to clarify matters for either that rarest of beasties, the employed writer. That and performance artists, presumably on the grounds that they would prefer performance artists do not come into the tax office to ask questions.

Performance artists do not deal well with the real world. My one and only experience in working with performance artist ended with group electing to fellate invisible people while stabbing raw poultry in a glass shed in the depths of an Irish winter. Our audience looked stunned. Also poultry covered. I assume that the Australian Tax Office does not want this to happen. Perhaps they are vegetarian. Perhaps they are worried all that stabbing would lead to RSI. Perhaps they think Australia is too hot and the chicken will go off. Anyway, I digress.

Well, of course I digress. I am a writer, darling. It’s my job! And not any writer, not one of those tamed by a paycheck, those sell-outs, those hacks, those literature whores, selling their corrupted malformed mercenary words to the highest bidder. No, I am that purest of things – an unpaid writer! I write, darling, for the love of the craft! My stories must be told, my voice will not be silenced. I will not let the petty hatred of the Man and his unwillingness to pay for my prose affect my confidence in anyway. I am a writer, and the total lack of any acclaim, reward, remuneration or even acknowledgement will not stop me, oh no. I will stab my pen into the poultry of society’s disregard for my Art and I will persevere!

However, my art requires supplies. Paper, stamps, absinthe, knives, chicken thighs, the usual. So I have, reluctantly, set aside my muse and looked through tax rulings. I find no guiding light, no poetry to balm my wounded sensibilities, only the cold case studies of the Draft Taxation Ruling TR 2004/D12 (finalised). Searching for clarity, I find only a ruling on a woman called TBRD - a housewife and author. The ruling states:

”For five years the taxpayer had been earning income from writing while being a housewife. Although engaged in the ordinary duties of a housewife, she earned a few pounds from newspaper articles, poetry, an occasional short story, and radio plays ... besides being interested in the creative side of her writing, she was also much interested in the financial returns... the taxpayer has been in the habit of exploiting her literary talent by writing (in various forms) for gain. In other words she has been exercising a 'profession'… a career of earning money by her pen”.

I, too, intend to earn money by my pen, I shall find this TBRD, this housewife, this dabbler, who steals my commissions. This bitch, this copy-girl, whose occasional forays into the field block my own pearls of prose from their rightful place in publication. I will bring my pen, and ready myself to stab.

TBRD, I am coming for you. And when I do, it’s all going to go poultry shaped.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Redfern - rename or reclaim?

The real estate agent’s property pitch assures me, with the myopically deranged semi-perjurous optimism of someone who only gets paid if they sell this place, that Redfern is the new Surry Hills.

No. No, it’s not.

Redfern is an inner-city suburb of Sydney, just south of the city centre. It’s an inexpensive suburb, with local shops and small family restaurants that sell to people who usually don’t have much money to buy. It’s not full of students on the parents’ payroll. It’s Redfern.

Redfern is also not, as I have seen claimed, the new Newtown or the new Erskineville. It is certainly not Strawberry Hills, despite frequent attempts to shove the boundaries on a map a few small, but extremely profitable, inches over.

It is definitely not East Redfern, which does not have a postcode or appear on ANY maps but frequently does on property ads. Watching someone try to call their home address East Redfern is like watching Keeping Up Appearances’ social snob and secret ex-lowlife Hyacinth Bucket explain that it's pronounced “Bouquet”. No one’s convinced and, frankly, it’s embarrassing to watch.

Known more for the poverty that singles it out in the affluent inner city, or the riots in 2004, Redfern is a primarily a living suburb – no malls or huge offices here - full of diversity from the various waves of migrants that have settled. According to the 2006 census, 35% of the population was born overseas, and only 55.9% speak only English in the home. It’s expensive to buy, but 41.6% of the population live in public housing. It’s not flash. It’s not a good address.

It’s Redfern. And I like it. It has real people, who are not always as quiet and as well washed as you would like, living here. It has local shops, and craftsmen. Bakeries, vegetable shops, pubs and corner stores, real ones run by real people living in the area.

There’s none of the expensive gourmet eateries you find all over the Inner West. You can get real food. Not pan seared patties of organic Herefordshire sung to sleep by angels and served au jus in organic fromage brioche, but a proper cheeseburger - delicious and cheap. Within a minute of my front door there are three cafes, two Thai restaurants, one Vietnamese, one Chinese and a Turkish kebab parlour, all doing dinners for under a tenner that taste great. Redfern does good grub.

And it has that rarest of things in the city – a sense of history and community. Aboriginal inspired murals by the train station ask children not to do drugs. There are recognisable faces, community groups, local churches.

It has been heavily developed, but it still has a lot of older building. It’s not a Macsuburb, full of apartment blocks of identical homes - magnolia walls, cream carpets and a chrome kitchen come living room. It has terraced houses, and odd laneways. Fences and gates in various states of repair, gardens with kids’ toys lost in the long grass. Yes, some of those houses contain the people society try to ignore – alcoholics, druggies, deadbeat dads and the chronically unemployed. Sometimes drunk people ask you for money in the street. Sometimes there’s late night shouting. It’s Redfern. It has real people here, and all the problems that go with that.

You don’t have to live here. But if you do, live in Redfern. Not East, not North, not Strawberry Hills. It’s Redfern. If you are too ashamed to admit that, if you don't want to live in Redfern, then don't.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bitchin' 'bout my generation

This article has been published on Homepage Daily, please view it there.

If there is one good thing coming out of the Global Financial Crisis, the media agrees, it is that those cocky Gen Y bastards are getting the reality shock they deserve. The wheel has turned, and the first thing to get crushed beneath it will be their delusions of grandeur.

Incoming Gen Z, born in the late 90’s, are already being touted as society’s saviors with more fiscal responsibility and a better work ethic - despite that fact that none of them have hit their teens.

By contrast, Gen Y are “impatient, disloyal and demanding“ and have recently been exhorted to not be picky ”job snobs” in the new recession world order. Follow the minimum wage pay packet, not your overblown dreams, is the stern message.

But what have Gen Y done other than be young and optimistic in a time of optimism? Being a snarky cocky know-it-all with little respect for authority and a desire to make your mark on the world is not new. An Assyrian clay tablet, dated about 2,800BC, bemoans society in a timeless and timely quote - “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

But the world still hasn’t ended and Gen Y are now living through their first recession. Yes, many of them have unrealistic expectations of adulthood and what they will achieve. Most young people do. Dreaming big is part of being young. Older generations know that. They have lived through their own cocky years, as well as the recession cycle. They've been here before, and should be able to empathise.

But the sheer delight with which they are watching the Gen Y dream being crushed says far more about the small and selfish nature of the older generations, rather than those they ridicule. Gen Y may be overconfident and loud about it, but their only real crime as they have committed was to naively swallow the optimistic hype delivered to them by older heads who, having seen the cycle before, knew the wheel would turn again.


Sadhbh Warren was born in Cork, Ireland, but is living in Australia as they have nicer weather, fabulous beaches and the pubs open late. Demographically she’s either an immature brat of a Gen X, or an early adopter Gen Y, but she has decided to reject both and declare herself Generation Snark.
Not being a job snob, she has worked as a promotions girl, professional mover, travelling carnie and one of Santa's elves. All of these were more fun than office work.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Signal to Noise - why Twitter failed

This article has been published on Homepage Daily, please view it there.

It was an interesting experiment, but Twitter has been spammed out before it even got mainstream.

Twitter, a micro-blogging service where users send and read posts of up to 140 characters called tweets, is aptly and deliberately named for its very low ratio of signal to noise. We’d don’t know, as Twitter won’t release hard facts, how many users it has and how it plans to make money. But in early 2009, Twitter had a monthly growth of 1,382% and total users were estimated at just under 20 million. That’s a lot of user data, and the only real asset Twitter has right now.

Sounds good? In fact, the hype may have been Achilles’ hell. Once word got out it was a great way to reach a large audience for free, it was hi-jacked by salespeople long before the customers arrived. Pollies, porn sites, police and spammers – meet your new Twitter friends. Trends, topics that are mentioned the most in tweets, are mainly propagated and kept on the top ten by spammers mentioning them in their tweets as an aside after their sales pitch. Politicians are onboard, with Obama and KRudd being joined by Malcolm Turnbull - – not someone you’d call an early adopter in any area.

Today the Victorian Police announced they are to tweet the "embarrassingly boozy breath readings recorded" of drink drivers caught. Cautionary tales, fresh from the police to your inbox. If you can find them in the spam. Why would you want to sign up to this? Twitter was meant to connect people but it has been seized with the enthusiasm by the mainstream to market to you.

Lets face it, it’s too easy. Low commitment, high impact. No fees. The very ease of set up makes filtering difficult and spamming easy for advertisers. If you had a mail server that did that you’d be screaming.

Now I’ve worked out the way to get value from it is to lock it down – private, friends only, the opposite of what Twitter should be. I’m not writing it off. The connectivity, the immediacy, the mobilisation of real people over a quick connection has huge potential. But right now, it’s just another way to get spammed and sold out.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rest In Peace, Wacko Jacko

This article has been published on Homepage Daily, please view it there.
Two weeks have passed since the news broke, but you still can’t avoid seeing Michael Jackson wherever you look.

The King of Pop. MJ, the Moonwalker. On Twitter on the day of his funeral, messages about him could be found under 4 trending names, or hash tags. Every magazine cover that could be cranked out had his photo, his name, on the cover.

But nowhere can you find the nickname that, up until a week ago when he dropped dead of and the world suddenly developed a conscience, most of the world knew him as for years.

Wacko Jacko. This article has been published on Homepage Daily, please view it there.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beat the backpackers

If you want to be an Astronaut when you grow up, you have seven days left.

Want to travel somewhere off the beaten path? Sick of hearing your holiday hotspots declared “passé”? For once you can go somewhere without some world weary backpacker telling you they visited it five years ago, before it was spoiled by tourism.

Virgin Blue, the Australian branch of the Virgin airline group, have put together a competition that is, quite literally, out of this world. Every time you earn frequent flyers points, you enter a competition. The prize? A trip to space.

Or to be precise, enough reward points for a sub-orbital space flight with Virgin Galactic, the first airline that plans to actually send its customers into orbit.

You don’t have to pick space flight. Your reward could also be a pair of Alfa Romeo cars, a shopping spree worth $170,000, or a luxury holiday worth $150,000. Velocity Rewards, the reward program of Virgin Blue, will give you twenty five million reward points to spend. It’s probably the biggest reward any frequent flyer program has ever given out and certainly the most glamorous way to spend points.

And forget saving your miles for a year to get this prize, this is as many points as twenty five thousand return economy flights from Sydney to Brisbane or Melbourne would earn you. Five thousand if you fly business class. Twelve thousand return trips from Sydney to Perth, although it does beg the question of what the hell you are going to do in Perth that many times. Approximately fifty thousand hours flying, including at least a thousand hours of turbulence.

One hundred and fifty thousand hot Virgin Blue hosties provided for you to fantasize about later.

Virgin Blue has always had an eye for the flash, in their promotions and in their hosties too. They don’t have any ugly ones, (rumour has it they have an unofficial and illegal “we only hire hotties” policy) although a few appear to have painted themselves an alarming shade of Oompa Loompa orange. Perhaps it makes them easier to see if the plane goes down. You can only wonder how they will apply all that orange foundation in space without the aid of gravity. Among Virgin’s many other offerings, perhaps they can release Virgin Vie Zero G, the first cosmetics line the space traveller who wants to beat the backpacker blues and look as hot as a rocket burning up on re-entry.

One small step for man, one hell of a lot of time watching the in-flight safety demonstration and wondering if this will be the flight that mars Virgin’s safety record. Probably not really an option for nervous flyers.

I tried to check the odds on a web site that calculates the odds of a plane crash, based on the location and airline safety record, but the site – www.amigoingdown.com – had, appropriately enough, crashed. An ominous sign, perhaps, or were the admin just trying to get their air miles up before the cut off on June 30th?

Exact dates for the first sub-orbital space flights have not been confirmed, but passengers who will fly in Virgin Galactic's first year of operation will be expected to be amongst the first 1,000 people to go to space. It’s not for tourists either – even the most serious of intrepid backpackers would have difficulty coming up with the $200,000 US dollars you normally need to pay for it. Three days of training will be needed to prepare for the flight, which will travel to 50,000 feet at over three times the speed of sound, gravity crushing your body into your seat for a lot of the trip. Small wonder that, when you look at the poll on the Velocity website, so many people have picked a preferred option of a shopping spree to dealing with zero G.

It’s a tough choice, especially in the current economic climate. Do you take the shopping and run, or drive away in the cars? Do you take advantage of downsizing and spend a year on a luxury holiday? Or do you take the ultimate trip, a trip so exclusive and expensive that your fellow tourists so far number under 500? Just forty years after the first man walked on the moon on July 20th, 1969, you could be looking at the curvature of the earth from above. You could sail above world, silent and serene in the vastness of the sky.

Socrates said that man must rise above the Earth to fully understand the world in which he lives. Leonardo Da Vinci believed that when mankind learned to fly, we would be free. They did not have the chance to see this, but you do. All the majesty of creation spread out around you and the world glowing in the sky like a blue lantern. The earth, the heavens, the wonder of the cosmos.

And, best of all, not a single backpacker in sight.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Flying High

Delta Airlines look set to start offering cheap flights with free booze from Sydney to LA, starting next month. And I, for one, won’t be booking them.

Yes, you read that right. The permanently broke Irish backpacker turned Aussie, whose travel and beer spend monthly is higher than her horribly expensive Sydney rent, won’t be booking or even looking at them.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my fondest, and fuzziest, memories involve free bars. There is a place for free alcohol in both my heart and real life. I just don’t think that place is on a metal tube packed with three hundred people and only three bathrooms, whizzing through the air at 600mph.

That’s over 900 kilometres an hour, for those of you too drunk to convert. The reason that you are so drunk is that the cabin pressure affects how your body deals with oxygen, meaning that a small beer can affect you like a very large one.

While getting extra drunk on less might seem great, you’re getting something else for free too. You can also look forward to a mother of all hangovers after the flight. Dehydration from alcohol is bad enough when you are on the ground, where a typical comfortable humidity level is over 35%. Relative humidity is 20-25% in the Sahara deserts, which seems dry until you realise long haul high-altitude flights average around 10%.

You’re probably already mildly dopey from the cabin pressure and losing water fast. There’s not a moisturiser in the world that can handle that and half a bottle of vodka to “take the edge off”.

If you need to take the edge off, you should probably look at options other than alcohol which, in addition to being a depressant, also increases anxiety and the chance of panic attacks. But there’s not much point you sticking on your headphones and trying to relax when the bloke next to you is on his fifth beer and trying to either pick a fight or pull the hostie.

There is nothing wrong with a little alcohol applied to the correct point. Friday night dancing, lunch in a sunny beer garden, relaxing in the bath after a long day – all these cry out for a glass of your favourite tipple.

But strapped into your seat in a row, surrounded by silent strangers, and with nothing to distract you but the in-flight magazine, it’s not much fun. What is normally a relaxing and social experience becomes solitary and oddly creepy. It’s like something out of 1984.

“When the flight is underway and the seatbelt light blinks off, it is Compulsory Fun Time for you, citizen. Open your drink, place in the provided glass. Drink your drink. Do not move from your seat unless you wish to use the bathroom. Do not have more than the prescribed amount of fun. When the seatbelt light goes on, return to your seat. All fun must cease as we approach landing. I repeat, all fun MUST cease.”

Not to mention the fact that if someone decides to get drunk and rowdy, you are stuck with them until the flight lands. It is apparently considered bad form to ask the bouncers to chuck them out at 40,000 feet. This is what you have to look forward too on your flight, being stuck with every idiot who equates flying to LA with a fourteen hour booze cruise.

Unlike a pub, here people can vomit into bags while remaining in the seat next to you, and that’s fine.

And unlike the pub, you can’t just leave when you want to get away. When some guy from business class starts hitting on you talking about his “extra legroom” or a smashed cougar keeps leaving the bathroom door open and winking, you’re stuck there. Passing out drunk would seem like a great option, but there’s ten people queuing for the bathroom and you think you can hear someone either having sex or vomiting in there.

Stressed staff, terrible dull decor, dehydration, people sweating booze and swearing, children kicking your seat and the chorus of wailing babies – you might as well go drinking in A&E.

I like a drink, but fourteen hours on a plane recreating a hospital ward or police waiting room at 2am on Saturday morning doesn’t sound like fun. Which is why, while I am delighted Delta are offering, I won’t be taking the cut price dipsomaniac deal to California.

I’ll be flying one of the other airlines and enjoying the savings. Competition from Delta will bring down the price of flights, and Delta’s flights will take the passengers I hate to travel with off my hands. I can get to LA, on the cheap, and arrive fresh and ready to enjoy my holiday.

I’ll drink to that. And I’ll happily pay for that drink too.

808 words