Friday, July 29, 2005

Photo time - because sometimes its just easier

Here are some photo's from Lee-Fay and Tim's wedding reception in Sydney last weekend that I recently wrote about. Thanks to Amanda, who provided all of these photo's.

Lets get up close and personal with the happy couple.

Firstly, the beautiful bride, Lee-Fay (in the red), pictured here with (the also beautiful) Amanda.

.. but let us not forget the other half of this dynamic duo, Canberra's very own shock jock, Tim, pictured here again with the lovely Amanda:

Of course, if there is one thing a wedding reception is never short of, its some "hot chicks", or as I like to say, "da ladies" - I had my eye on the one on the left:

Now lets hit the dance floor: enter "the smooth operator":

"Hello Ladies" ...

.. and the competition arrives - and what party would be complete without your PhD supervisor. Thankfully, Nick had his eye on another lady, Janine, and by the looks of it, clearly fancied his chances:

"I was instantly won over by his wit, and sense of humour. Nick always makes me laugh" - Janine (*)

(*) - comment may not have actually been said.

and at the end of the night - chalk another one up for "the smooth operator":

Thanks again to Amanda for the pics!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

.. and while on nerdy topics - robot soccer

As some people know, I used to be involved in RoboCup, which is the world cup of robot soccer. It is made up of a few different leagues, but all involve fully autonomous robots playing soccer (i.e. no human control). I was involved for two years at Melbourne Uni in the four-legged robot league, and got to go to Seattle (USA), and Fukuoka (Japan) to compete. A friend of mine, Bron, who was also in the 2001 robocup team that went to Seattle, just sent me this link to some photo's and video's from this years robocup which was held in Osaka.

Australia has a great tradition in this tournament - in 2002, Australian Universities (including Melbourne) made up three of the top four positions. We lost in the semi-final to Carnegie Mellon University, who then went on to win. This year I believe the German team won, beating Newcastle Uni in the final. UNSW came third overall.

It is a pretty big event to say the least, especially in Japan - in 2002 I even found myself signing autographs (though admittedly, my fan base had an average age of about 8 years old, and seemed more interested in the kangaroo pictured on our team t-shirt than our teams performance) - however, it was great to find a place where being a geek was considered cool (or perhaps the attention was more because we were considered freaks) :)

And you thought tiling the bathroom was hard - try tiling a space shuttle

This morning (AEST), NASA launched their latest human flight space mission from Cape Canaveral, the first since the disastrous Columbia mission that resulted in the ship burning up in the atmosphere. The cause of that disaster was damage sustained to the heat tiles which occurred during take off. In response to this, NASA is reported to have spent up to 1 billion dollars in safety upgrades for this latest mission. I find it amazing that despite this huge amount of money, debris, suspected to be a small piece of heat tile, still managed to come off during take-off. Clearly the 1 billion dollars didn't go towards stickier glue ! This should make for some incredibly anxious moments when Discovery goes out of radio contact during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere in 12 days time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Weddings, Break dancing and Caffeine - just another trip to Sydney

Every now and then, you find yourself doing something that deserves a momentary pause for thought, where you ask yourself, "how the hell did my life bring me to this?" You might think I am about to go into some sort of "how did I end up in Canberra?" speel, but no, not this time (although this thought does enter my mind pretty much on a daily basis - and I might add that this thought is not neccessarily a negative one). This particular event occurred in the wee hours of Sunday morning (aka Saturday night) when I found myself alone on a dance floor, break dancing to Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby", in a Chinese restaurant, harbour side in The Rocks district of Sydney. I was dancing alone, because, through some strange and unexplainable chain of events, my break dancing abilities seemed to be what my fellow dancers wanted at about 2am. This has some history, which I won't go into now, but lets just say that my unique brand of "pasty white guy" hip-hop seems to have found an audience among my new Canberra friends. Anyway, the question that remains is why Aff and I were in Sydney, at a Chinese restaurant, where one could dance while looking out a window at the Harbour bridge on the left, and the Opera house on the right. Only one thing - a wedding reception! And I must say, one of the classiest I have ever been to (second only to my sister Shelley's of course!).

I should say that while the location itself was impressive, the classiness of the reception was certainly not soley the product of this impressive, high risk terrorist target location. Rather, the happy newly weds - Lee-Fay and Tim (though not as new as most marital couples at a wedding reception, given they eloped in Rome about 5 or 6 weeks beforehand), were themselves a class act. They were particularly conscious of the fact that friends and family had missed out on their wedding ceremony, and so went to extraordinary lengths to make up for this by lathering the night with romance and fun. You might think this sounds a little mushy, but at *no* point did I think, "get a room guys!". They provided a slide show of their wedding ceremony, with accompanying music which was very well done. However, it was the bridal dance (for want of a better label) that had brought about many watery eyes in the room (though it may have also been the chilly prawns eaten just beforehand). They danced to a Ben Fold's song that I unfortunately do not know the name of. The dance was amazingly well rehearsed, and certainly was not a bridal waltz. At that point I got the sense that everyone in the room was very glad to be there!

The speeches were A grade as well, and for someone like me who has not known Tim or Lee-Fay that long, the speeches were most informative (all I will say is, never let Tim near a nuclear power plant!) Other entertainment included belly dancers, and an MC, Chris (not me) with all the wit, charisma and self deprecating charm that you could ask for in a master of ceremonies. Indeed, as Tim put it when thanking Chris: "our ceremonies were indeed mastered". Chris also has the most professional radio voice you could imagine, which is not surprising given he and Tim have both been involved in Sydney community radio (Tim is now a regular on Canberra public radio).

So the question still remains, how did I end up break dancing to Vanilla Ice at 2am - well, its a simple mix of a couple of things: take one all inclusive bar tab, add four encouraging friends who have seen you do it before, stir in a pinch of anonymity, some cheesy eighties and nineties hits, and top it off with a bucket load of self confidence, and there you have it - a tragic, pasty white, break dancing machine. I should say that this performance came after Tim's Russian dancing, and a number of other solo performances from other guests. It was a great night!

Like all great nights, they inevitably are followed by very dodgy mornings. However, I worked out later that I must not have drank that much at the wedding reception, because I had solid memories of everything, and did not feel particularly bad on Sunday morning. Even if Aff and I did feel dodgy, we had the perfect cure for this on Sunday. I suspect the great wedding reception God's were smiling on Tim and Lee-Fay's reception because on the Sunday, in the very same area of Sydney (The Rocks), Australia's largest coffee festival was being held. Could there be any better way to nurse a hangover than to sit on the grass, with a view of the Harbour, drinking copious amounts of fantastic coffee, at only $1 a pop. I THINK NOT!

Needless to say, I was wired! Aff and I met up with some other friends (who had also come up for the wedding), and drank coffee all afternoon before collecting our car, and driving back to Canberra. With seven caffeine hits under my belt, I can tell you that the drive back to Canberra, which is normally not a particularly interesting journey, was one of the most exciting (and amazingly quick) drives I have ever had, and i don't even know why. That night I stayed up until 3am watching cricket (despite it being largely washed out due to rain) and the Tour de France, and still didn't feel tired when I went to bed.

So anyway, it was a great trip to Sydney. I would also like to use my blog to wish Tim and Lee-Fay a very happy life together.

And to anyone else planning a wedding reception ...

I urge you to consider Sydney harbour ..or at the very least .. include some Vanilla Ice in your music selection :)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Embedded in The Basin - Derek "Desmond" Cleven

Derek "Desmond" Cleven, a good mate of mine from The Basin (where I grew up) in Victoria, has signed away his soul to the great geek Gods, by starting his own blog: The Craic. While Derek says he is not very opinionated, I, like many others know from personal experience that phrases like "The Roos are crap", and "Hey pretty boy, your Holden sucks" seem to extract a slightly more lively response from The Basin's favourite son.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Loose Cannon's - the rising stars of Tuesday night mixed netball - division 6

Last Tuesday night, Aff played her last game for her work netball team, the "loose cannons" (which I am also a team member of). As of next Tuesday, Aff will start training for lifeline, a support network to help prevent suicide. The Loose Cannons had a massive win in her honour, which explains my cheesy grin in this photo taken after the game:

The team - back row (l to r): Affrica, Chloe, Donna, Nicole, Emma.
front row (l + r): Michelle, Chris, Alison, Anthony, Kylie.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Leave lil' Lleyton alone - Australia's favourite bogan

I just read an article about Lleyton Hewitt which I think reflects much of what I think about our favourite fiery Aussie bogan. I actually really like Hewitt, despite his often reported bad behaviour on court (even despite the recent stoush he had with Argentinean, Guillermo Coria, which is perhaps the worst yet). I am not going to defend his behaviour, it is largely indefensible in the court of public opinion, but perhaps this is simply because Hewitt's style of game is just not suited to the scrutiny it receives from those who long for the days of good ol' Pat Rafter.

I sympathise a lot with Hewitt because he reminds me a lot of me. I think I am a nice guy, and a rational thinker most of the time. However, when I start playing sport, particularly a game like tennis (which I played throughout my childhood and on and off since leaving school), I can't help but be overwhelmed by a sense of competitiveness and emotion - even if its just a social game. Unlike Hewy, however, I have very little at stake, and so manage reasonable restraint (most of the time at least - my Dad, however, could probably tell some stories about me). For example, if I am playing tennis against you, and I say something like "good shot!" after you pass me down the line with a top spin forehand, you can be sure that in my head I am saying something more a long the lines of "great f#%cking fluke!", followed by some angry and depressive thought about how my life could have turned out so bad as to have allowed that shot to pass me. If it happens again .. well .. actually .. let's not go there. The point is, emotion over reason is common place in th heat of the game, however, I do manage to keep my emotions largely internal. It is also worth noting that these thoughts almost instantly dissipate when the game is finished (so when, after you have beaten me, I shake your hand and say "good game", I can assure you that this translates to "excellent game ... you bastard"). Internalising the emotion is, of course, a good thing when playing a social game of tennis, and I think I do ok. However, if I was playing at the elite level, I suspect I would be much more like Leyton. If I tried to internalise my emotion at that level, then I would probably be more like Pat Rafter, and retire very early in my career.

In any case, I am sure lil' Hewy faces a wall of emotion and frustration, and it is my belief that he is only as good as he is, because he is able to give his aggression an outlet. It's not pretty, I agree - and perhaps Guillermo Coria has a point when he says that he would rather not win any tournaments if it meant having to behave like Hewitt. Hewitt, however, is probably a little more driven to achieve, and for this reason, is not so concerned about what people think of him. After all, Aussie fans tend to forget about such blemishes when you bring home a trophy.

One last point - tennis is a highly scrutinised game when it comes to on court behaviour and etiquette. Watch AFL, rugby, cycling, cricket, basketball etc, and I guarantee you will find many more Lleyton Hewitt-style competitors. The difference is that in most of these sports, such behaviour is considered at the very least, tolerable, and in many cases, quite acceptable.
Again, its not always pretty, but at elite levels of sport I personally don't presume to understand the psychology of achieving at this level.

So I hope people will give our true blue Aussie bogan, Hewy, a bit of slack - until he starts losing of course, at which point we'll crush him like Poo ;)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Canbizzarity number 2 - or is this just plain delusional ?

If I decide to register my car in the ACT (which, by law, i will eventually have to do), I will get a choice of two number plates, differentiated only by the slogan at the bottom of the plate.

Option 1 is:

"Canberra - heart of the nation"

I personally have no issue with this one, its even kind of clever given the ACT looks a little like a heart (or alternatively, a giant poo).

Option 2, however, is priceless:

"Canberra - feel the power".

Yes indeed, I often sit down on the lawns of Parliament house, and just breath in the power, or walk into the foyer of the High court, and just beat my chest and grunt - ooh .. love that power!

Seriously, I can think of no better way to ensure receiving a barrage of abuse, and a possible beating, than to have that number plate attached to the front and back of my car.

Still, it is arguably better than the very short lived South Australian slogan I was recently told about:

"SA - going all the way".

Monday, July 18, 2005

Canbizarre example 1

"Canbizarre", its a new word I've invented since moving up to Canberra and having now experienced much of what Canberra has to offer. As to what it means, well, I'm not entirely sure yet, but I always think of it when I see something that I reckon you could only see or experience in Canberra. Canberra is full of ironic juxtapositions, contradictions and quirks. I have many examples, but today's comes from an event that happened to me this morning, though it is in fact the second time it has happened to me since moving here. This canbizarrity also serves as a warning to bike riders around Canberra, who think they're safe when riding away from major roads.

I was riding my bike to ANU, on a rather crisp morning (the water in the bird bath was frozen, which is a pretty good indicator that the ride is really going to hurt). I decided to take a more scenic route than the usual Belconnen Way (which is pretty busy), and so rode on the bike path which goes through "O'Connor Ridge", next to the AIS. It is also a reasonably forested area, and much of it is well away from road (although, the new Gungahlin by-pass being built right through the middle of all this should fix that soon enough). So imagine this, I am riding down a hill, along a bike track, through a forest not more than 2km away from the city centre. I decided to employ some tactics I had seen in last night's tour de france. I crouched down quite low, stuck my arse in the air, and catapulted myself down the hill. Its usually a quiet track, so I felt no need to have my fingers over the brake levers ready to stop (they were also hurting from the freezing wind). There was no risk of cars, or little kids running out - it was a nature reserve, so I had nothing to fear. Well, that's what I thought, until, about 10 metres in front of me, a very large kangaroo jumped out from the trees to the left of the track. Instantly, my defensive rider skills came to the fore: I shouted "oh f$@ck!" and closed my eyes. My bike veered off to the right, and I then skidded to a halt metres before impact with a looming gum tree, and a rocky embankment. By the time I had stopped, the kangaroo was long gone, and I was left sitting on my bike, facing this gum tree and wondering what had just happened. I only saw the kangaroo for a second, and that was scary enough, but I can only imagine what fear and trepidation poor old skippy experienced when faced with the sight of a rather large male in lycra bike shorts, catapulting down a hill towards him at a million miles an hours, with arse stuck high up in the air.

What's that skip ? - "oh f#$ck!" ?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Ex Factor workshops @ ANU

All ANU students received an email today from the student counselling centre advertising a four week workshop in dealing with relationship breakups. I think this is a fantastic initiative, and one that I wish was around when I was an undergrad. I am sure relationship break-ups are a major cause of depression, anxiety and discontinuation of courses for many undergraduate (and postgrad) students. I have never heard of anything like this being run before, so thought it worth a mention.

The reflection in the mirror ain't always pretty

While Amanda Vanstone may say that no single person can be blamed for the Immigration departments (DIMIA) stuff-ups of late, we as the public must certainly hold our government accountable for this (and not simply forget about it come next election). There is a lot of mention about this "culture of intolerance" in DIMIA, and how this to blame for these mistakes. However, let us not forget that the culture of any government department is undoubtedly the product of the pressures placed on it from above (i.e. government policy). DIMIA sackings, and apologies by the government do not go any where near far enough. This culture of intolerance is most certainly a reflection of the same intolerance expressed in government policy (and the rhetoric accompanying it). A culture change in DIMIA is one thing, but what's the point if government policy does not also embrace the same tolerance and compassion being asked of DIMIA.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Dr Merkel I presume

Congratulations to my good mate, and frequent commenter on this blog,

Dr Rob Merkel

who just received word of his PhD thesis being accepted. No doubt the examiners were won over by his very sexy thesis title:

"Analysis and Enhancements of Adaptive Random Testing".

I invite Rob to post an 80 words or less comment explaining his ground breaking research for all of us. I then invite others to comment on just how much of a geek Dr Merkel really is :)

I would just like to take this opportunity to also point out that Rob, to a far greater extent than me, is a true blue blogaholic, yet still managed to finish his PhD. There is hope for me yet.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The view at the end made it all worth it - or at least the company did

Tolmie trip - part 2

We spent Saturday walking around Mt Samaria state park in the rain, snow and for a brief period at the end, sun. Given it was only a day walk, I, like many of us, did not really give much thought to my preparedness for such conditions. In the rush of packing my bag the previous morning, I must have given it some thought though because I managed to find one glove when I was getting ready for the walk. Thankfully, I did also manage to find my thermal top and rain coat, which is more than I can say for Michael who braved the cold in tracky dacks and a jumper.

The drive to Mt Samaria SP was a small adventure in itself, starting with the departure from James' house. The snow on the ground made for some slippery conditions, and so a fair bit of wheel spinning was involved in getting our cars up the drive way. James' 4WD was fine, however Alec's car required a little extra assistance, so us passengers had to get out and push. After getting the car on the road, we made our way to Mt Samaria, where along the way we dodged kangaroos, drove through rivers, and all the while, Alec appeared to take great pleasure driving over every pot hole he could find.

At the start of our major walk of the day, Michael found an information board describing some of the history of the area. He pointed out to me that the author of this information was a a member of my clan (i.e. a McCarthy). This news wasn't particularly exciting given there are many McCarthy's in Australia (an Irish surname). However, I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little curious as to who this mystery McCarthy was, which is why I walked over to the information board to have a look. In the top left corner of the board, I found the name: "M. J. McCarthy", or as he his better known to his family and friends: "Michael John McCarthy". How do I know this you ask? because its my Dad. It turns out that this mystery McCarthy historian was in fact my Dad. Mt Samaria has a railway and sawmilling history, and my Dad - well - he has what can only be described as a passionate interest in the history of railways and sawmilling in the whole area we were in (pretty much all of Eastern Victoria). He's written books about it (read more about it here). So it all made perfect sense. I, of course, was quite excited and made sure everyone read the board (or at least a paragraph or two). I explained to them that my Dad was, for a brief time at least, possibly the best selling author in Warburton! People seemed suitably impressed by this, so I allowed us then to move on.

The walk itself was great, though weather conditions and the level of difficulty of the track varied. We walked to a height of about 900 metres (but probably started no lower than 500 metres). The walk went pretty much without incident, with the exception of the occasional mystery fork in the track, where a little guess work was required. I would like to say that when we reached the summit of Mt Samaria, we were greeted with a fantastic view, but in reality, what we saw was something more like this:

(photo by James Wettenhall).

The white in the background is fog. Team Samaria, starting from the left-front and going around the circle consisted of: Lisa, Michael, Alec, Claire, Cathy, me (looking down because that was probably the best view available), and Aff. James was behind the camera of course.

We kept walking for a little while longer, saw a waterfall (well, we stood on a viewing platform for a waterfall that we couldn't really see, though some people decided to go, quite illegally, beyond the viewing platform to see if there was actually a waterfall at all. James took this photo:

After finishing the walk, we headed back to Team Tolmie HQ where we were delighted to see that despite most of the snow having melted along the road side, quite mysteriously, it still remained around James' house. Of course, the powdery snow of the morning had now turned to icey sludge, and so a continuation of my morning's frolicking in the snow was not really an option. At this late stage of the day, soaked right through and clearly again "f#$@cking freezing", I was happy to leave the snow outside, and find warmth inside. James responded to this need by cranking up the "Hush Master" again for electricity. Michael was on wood fire duty, while the rest of us gathered around the kerosene heaters .. it was a multi-fueled heat fest, and it wasn't long before James' temperature gauge ascended to double figures - we were toasty! After a shower, and a moment of sitting in front of the heater in quiet contentment, there was only one finishing touch required. Thirty seconds later, this was resolved when I opened my first beer of the night. Others were getting tucked into the wine that had been left chilling on the back porch in the snow. And so began the evenings festivities.

... the final instalment still to come

London bombings article

i just read this article on The Age's website. It is written by a journalist who was on a train taken out by the London bombings last week. It's worth a read, though not necessarily an easy one.

"It never snows in Tolmie" - J. Wettenhall

Tolmie trip - part 1.

"it never snows in Tolmie" were the words my good friend James announced on Friday night at his family holiday house, nestled away in the heavily forested hills of Tolmie about 20km North East of Mansfield in Victoria. Aff, Claire and myself (code named "team Canberra") drove down from Canberra (about 7 hrs drive!) to meet up with some other good friends ("team Melbourne") for a weekend of catching up, bush walking and general Tom foolery. Friday night was cold .. very cold in fact. It was also raining, which lead me to inquire into the possibility of snow. James responded very assertively in the negative: "it never snows in Tolmie", so I believed him, along with the other 6 guests who arrived on the Friday night. You can therefore imagine the excitement and confusion that woke me up in the wee hours of Saturday morning (it must have been at least 10am!) when Aff broke the morning silence by screaming "it's snowing". I thought to myself, "oh no, Aff's lost it again", but then decided to humour my apparently unstable partner by opening the curtains just a little to see what the fuss was about. I have to say, a few choice words were spoken when I set my eyes on this:

(photo by James Wettenhall)

This sparked a flurry of movement. I threw off my sleeping bag, and ran out of the bedroom, and was just about to run out the back door but was warned against this by James' very useful sign posting:

(photo by James Wettenhall)

At this point I also realised that I was dressed only in a t-shirt and shorts, and was f$%@ing freezing. We needed heat. While the house has a wood fire heater, it is not particularly efficient in warming the house up. The house has therefore been equipped with quite an arsenal of heating devices - electric (running off a generator) and kerosene heaters were available. (A warning to all Tolmie residents - in the event of a bushfire, stay well away from James' house!).
Of course, using the electric heater (and the toaster for breaky) required the use of the generator. Now, I don't mean to be picky, but I am not entirely sure James' 1500 Watt generator, branded "The Hush Master" is really as quiet as it claims to be. Imagine someone starting a lawn mower on your back porch, because that's what it sounds like. This, of course, was no bother to those of us who have visited James' house before. The chain saw like sound of the generator is as familiar to us as the chirping birds and the wind blowing through the trees.

After a shower, and some frollicking in the snow (which involved me throwing snow balls at a tree because no one else seemed quite so keen), my attention then turned to breakfast. What a feast. Pancakes were on the menu, and I consumed my fair share. Toast was also on the menu - you'd be amazed how much power a toaster needs - the generator gave a noticable splutter (or perhaps grunt) everytime someone put some bread in the toaster. I was also extremely happy to see someone had thought about our caffeine needs. Alec had brought his stove top camping Espresso coffee maker, which immediately brought a sense of joy and relief to my day when he asked me "do you want coffee". As many know, coffee pretty much accounts for 90% of my daily activity. My purpose in life is quite simply: to hunt for coffee, and then drink it (the other 10% is beer). Needless to say, breakfast was a feast, and we ate like pigs.

Of course, the primary reason for being at Tolmie was to go bush walking. It was still snowing outside, and very cold. Many of us hadn't really considered this possibility. However, despite the little voice in my head saying "what are you doing Chris! it's still f#@#ing freezing", I, along with the rest of "Team Tolmie", decided to continue with plan A, and go for the planned bush walk.

... to be continued.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London bombs - friends ok

For those who know these people: our Aussies embedded in London: Terry, Tim and Taryn, are all fine. It appears their only discomfort (apart from the obvious shock of it all) was the insane distances they had to walk to get home that night.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The real reason Paris lost the Olympics

Forget Chirac's comments about dodgy English cooking and mad cows. Any bid that warrants receiving a gift of support from Celine Dion, (a song ), and a message declaring:

“It means a lot to me to support Paris 2012. It is as a French woman at heart that I offer you the hymn “A Paris”",

is in real trouble.

I think I speak on behalf of all music lovers of the world when I say "thank you!" to the IOC for dodging that bullet.

Bridge over troubled water

One good thing about the rain (and yes, its raining again today) is that Sullivan's creek (or "Sulli's" in Ye Olde Boganish), which runs through the ANU campus, actually starts to look like a proper river. Typically, the river is quite shallow and doesn't really flow. The water just kind of sits there, festering away, no doubt making it the perfect breeding ground for some sort of flesh eating bacteria. As far as I can tell, it is really just a glorified open drain, but with lots of ducks.

The creek, however harmless it may seem, is apparently not to be messed with. Today at lunch, I was told about a drunk ANU student who drowned in the creek about 15 years ago. It was a day, not unlike today, when the rain was coming down. This guy decided to jump in the river and go for a bit of a ride (on some sort of floating device I assume) down the fast flowing water. What he obviously didn't count on was the small footbridge, normally perched about 2 meters above the water level, being on this occassion, only a couple of centimeters above the water. Well, the rest of the story, as they say, is history.

The moral of the story:

never under estimate a drunk undergraduate's ability to find danger in seemingly harmless places.

... and perhaps a mental note for future campus designs:

don't put the student bar next to the campus river.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Minister or Preacher ?

Is it just me, or do other people have a bit of a problem with our politicians making such public appearances at religious events like the Hillsong Church's annual conference yesterday. I, for one, think this is entirely innappropriate. In addition to our possible future prime minister and the NSW premier, another 5 federal ministers were there. I don't care if our politicians attend these things, as they have as much right as anyone else to practise their faith, but to get up and make speeches on behalf of the government goes way beyond blurring the line between state and religion. I trust Peter Costello will balance this with a trip to his local Mosque or Buddhist temple, and give a similar government endorsement with as much enthusiasm as the one he gave at the Sydney SuperDome yesterday.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Lord of the Dance

As I mentioned last Thursday, Aff and I were planning to attend a Rock'n'roll night organised by PARSA (the ANU's Postgrad Association) that night. Well, we did, and in fine style I might add. Most interestingly, the night turned out to be a learning experience, on many levels. We learnt three dance moves - "the halo turn", "the push turn", and the slightly more advanced "figure eight". We learnt these moves in about 15 minutes, which one of the instructors, Betty, informed me is a lot faster than the usual three weeks it is normally taught in. Given these moves were not particularly difficult, I imagine the first three weeks at rock'n'roll dancing school are pretty dull. However, after seeing Betty (aged about 65 I'd say) and her partner (Geoff I think) take to the dance floor a bit later on with some of the most "athletic" moves you could imagine, I now realise things do get a little more tricky. While impressed with Betty and Geoff's moves, I found it a little hard to watch as Betty's skirt appeared to spend more time above waste level than below.

As I mentioned, the night was a learning experience, and while three dance moves were "mastered", the greater education was in Aff and my relationship. I don't want to draw too much from the experience, but it appears we have two major issues:

1. control issues: Aff has to lead! I found myself somewhat belittled in front of the keen eyes of our instructors when Aff would yank my arm into the air to initiate "the halo" turn. I, of course, would protest that this was my job, however, this did not seem to stop her then leading me into a push turn, without consultation. It is hard for a man to hold his head up high amongst his fellow dancing brethren when clearly he does not wear the pants on the dance floor.

2. trust issues: When I step on the dance floor, I would like to think I am a capable and responsible member of the dance floor community and therefore not in need of restraint. Sure, I occasionally break into small spurts of break dancing or moon walking, and yes ... on the very rarest of occasions, I may attempt some sort of interpretive dance - however, I do not see this as a danger to my fellow dancers. Aff, however, appears to be a little concerned that my dancing may cause injury to myself or others ... or perhaps even worse ... cause embarrassment. I am waiting on video evidence to resolve this issue.

In actual fact, Aff and I worked pretty well. I also managed to find a number of other willing dance partners on the night (I am still trying to recover from Pietro's athletic abilities), and so it was great fun. All the same, I don't think I am quite ready to enrol in rock'n'roll school just yet.

Friday, July 01, 2005

"It was a guitar swapping frenzy": A review of "The Lenders" CD launch

A friend and work colleague of Aff's, Tim Windsor, is lead singer, guitarist and harmonica player for a folk-rock band called "The Lenders". On Saturday night, June 25, The Lenders launched their debut CD, "wire", to a crowd of over 100 people. The venue of choice was one of Canberra's great institutions, "the bowlo" (The Wests' Turner Bowls Club). Any excuse to go to the bowlo is always warmly welcomed by this beer drinking, poverty-line dwelling student, but when the reasons for going extend beyond the usual aim of consuming the world's most insanely priced drinks (i.e. genuine 1972 prices), then you know you're in for a treat.

In what must have been a moment of pressure induced insanity in the weeks leading up to the event, Tim asked me to write a review of their cd launch. I considered this proposition for some time - was it possible to write the review and still devote enough time to my latest project of building an automatic cat feeder out of old milk cartons? The decision, in the end, was not a difficult one. The cat would have to wait - The Lenders needed me. If you think being asked to write the review propped my ego up to unbearable levels, then you'd be right. However, you should have seen me on the night when, upon arrival at the door, I was informed by the band's appointed, and self proclaimed "door bitch", Janine, that I was on the free entry list as - wait for it - the official reviewer. I, of course, responded in the only way appropriate - with the biggest Bee Gee's strut you've ever seen!. And of course, having been given the official reviewer status, any remanence of objectiveness or independence was instantly thrown away - this review was destined to be the greatest piece of fluff a band could ever hope for.

I often think a band's choice of venue speaks volumes about their tastes and influences. Based on this, one might conclude The Lenders like incredibly cheap drinks, enjoy the occasional flutter on the pokies, and I dare say, fancy their chances in the bowlo's Friday night meat raffle. However, on Saturday night, the bowlo ceased to be the bowlo as we know it. Instead, the function room was transformed into something quite removed from the Bowlo's usual existence. The band opted for a rustic feel. The lights were dimmed, providing a soft, welcoming tone to the evening. People sat on large tables, each decorated with a centre piece. The stage was endowed with red curtains, and massive red medieval looking chairs, which appeared to have been stolen from King Arthur's round table. I was later informed that these chairs formed part of the Luke Hambly's (the drummer) dining set. There must be some wild dinner parties at his house! If it wasn't for the large blackboard to the left of the stage listing the chef's specials, and the massive rugby function (complete with karaoke) in the adjacent public bar, one could easily have forgotten this was the bowlo at all (except, of course, for the world's most insanely priced drinks, which thankfully, survived the transformation). The decorations clearly reflected much of what was central to The Lenders. I spent considerable time contemplating the symbolism of the centre piece on my table - a piece of wire wrapped around an incense burner. Perhaps the wire represented their country roots, or farming backgrounds where things needed fixing, and fences needed building ? And the incense? Perhaps it embodied the contrasting softness in the band's music, their contemplative, philosophical side - telling stories of childhood fun, small town up-bringings .. and magic potatoes (!?) In the end, I decided it was simply a piece of wire wrapped around an incense burner, and made my way to the bar for further enlightenment.

The Lenders were supported by two other fine examples of Canberra folk music. "The Cashews" certainly warmed the bowlo up nicely, with some beautiful harmonies between the male and female lead singers. I am guessing, however, that The Cashews have fallen on rough financial times given half their instruments appeared to be purchased from Toys'r'Us. Their use of a multi coloured xylophone, however, was a nice touch. The second performance of the night, by Sara (pronounced "S-ah-r-ah") Vancea, also provided a most pleasant warm up to the main act of the night.

There were no clocks in the venue, so I have no idea what the actual time was when the Lenders first appeared on stage. My only guide of time was my beer consumption, which would have made it "4 beers'o'clock". At this point, the MC for the night , Tim Baynes, introduced the band, and so it was, with my fourth beer in hand, that the Lenders launched their CD. They began the first of two sets for the night.

It should be noted that I only met the lead singer, Tim, a few weeks before when Aff and I helped him and his partner Yvette (sp?), paint their recently purchased house. Tim, on that occasion, was covered in paint and dust as he went about the task of ripping old rotting floor boards up (at one stage proudly showing us the remains of a very long gone cat he had uncovered underneath the floor boards). You can therefore imagine the contrast I experienced, when I saw Tim up on stage at the bowlo, far removed from his world of house renovation. Sporting a sharp looking suit (without tie), which he later thanked his Dad for allowing him to borrow, along with trendy white collared shirt, combined with his quietly confident stage presence, and natural charisma, he looked quite the part. I must admit, however, at first (and somewhat disturbingly) he reminded me of David Cassidy . This took a little time for me to get over, but once the band started playing, it was clear this was, thankfully, not the Partridge family.

The band began ripping through a combination of their own songs, as well as some well chosen covers. They threw into the mix, a variety of styles - folk, rock, country, and yes, bazaar songs about magic potatoes. When 5 beers'o'clock arrived, in an unprecedented dilemma, I found myself reluctant to get up from my seat to go to the bar for fear of missing something on stage! This was a clear indication that this band had an amazing ability to captivate it's audience. Thankfully, someone else not so frozen in musical bliss, noticed my situation, and bought me another beer. As I looked around the room, I saw others facing similar dilemmas. I saw people without a drink, people needing to go to the toilet, or a smoke, yet despite this, they were glued to their seats (though facial expressions gave some indication of their internal anguish). Relief only came when a song finished, and Tim would inevitably have to swap guitars. This then sparked a flurry of movement, as audience members sprinted to the toilet, raced to the bar, or simply migrated aimlessly around the room in an apparent daze, only to plonk themselves on the floor when the next song started. I also took a number of "guitar swapping opportunities" to tend to my own needs, which of course brought forward 6 beers'o'clock, despite 5 not quite having been completed.

Like all good things, they must inevitably come to an end, and so it did for the Lenders' gig. This, however, was not without some effort from the crowd to keep things going. As the band said their goodbyes, the applause erupted around the room, and continued for some time. Being the official reviewer, and sensing the vibe of the crowd, I thought it my duty at this point to take the lead, and start the inevitable chant:

"keep the bar open!"

Thankfully, others in the audience were considerably louder, and perhaps more sober, and responded with the more appropriate chant:

"we want more!"

The Lenders appeared to toy with us at first with wild claims about not having anymore songs to sing. Finally, however, they caved into the relentless pressure of the crowd, and gave us one more hit of fine folk-rock medicine. Upon completion, the band then said their final goodbye, clearly meaning it this time, and I, along with the rest of the room, sat motionless and spent. If I were a smoker, this would have been the point in which I pulled out a cigarette, and just sat back in quiet contentment. However, I am not a smoker, so did the next most appropriate thing I could think of, and headed for the bar. This, as it turned out, was the very last beer sold for the night, which for unknown reasons, made me feel proud.

The crowd then started to filter out, despite the music for the night having not quite finished. The rugby function next door showed no sign of wavering in their enthusiasm for karaoke. However, my usual craving for karaoke was non-existent on this night, having been treated to far greater examples of music by the Lenders (and I guessed my usual karaoke favourite, "Cococobana", probably wasn't quite what the big burly rugby boys next door were in the mood for). I looked to see whether there was any wild post-gig party planned, but the band appeared more interested in cleaning up, and thanking friends. This, I thought, was the last great gesture of the night from this un-assuming, down to earth, folk-rock band who's only claim to fame is that "they are punctual". It was a great night, and having now heard their CD, "wire" a number of times, I highly recommend it to anyone. Well done boys!

Fighting for workers rights .. or clogging a city .. which matters more ?

I won't go on a big rant about this, but just state my bias: that I am completely against the Howard government's planned industrial relations reforms.

It is very interesting to read The Herald Sun's" report on yesterday's protest in the city streets of Melbourne. The Herald Sun, who never let an important issue get in the way of what is just easier to understand, ran with the Headline: "Workers clog city to protest". The story goes on to talk at length about how the protest caused mayhem and disarray in Melbourne's streets and businesses. They provide what is almost a passing reference to the actual issue that caused 120,000 people to get out on the streets in the middle of winter and protest. Also note that the headline mentions nothing about what the protest is about, suggesting only that some renegade "workers" caused a clogging of Melbourne's streets. Given Melbourne's streets are usually clogged with traffic anyway, I doubt this was that much different. And I love the photo they have chosen showing a mounted policeman looking over the crowd - just to give that sense of potential violence. Did anyone hear of any violence reported in the Melbourne protest ? I think I heard someone say "Howard is a dickhead" in one of last night's news reports, which in these troubled times, almost warrants a visit from ASIO.

So yes, of course the protest caused disruption, that's what protests do. The workplace relations minister, Kevin "Kevo" Andrews (is it just me, or does he look a lot like Noddy?) made it clear how much money these naughty workers have cost our apparently cash strapped nation - "10's of millions of dollars" - that's almost as much as those "be alert, not alarmed" fridge magnets! Make no mistake, you would have to look a long way back through Australian domestic history to find an issue more worthy of causing disruption in our nations capital cities. I just hope the Herald Sun's readers can see through the spin when they read about why their tram was delayed yesterday.

So I guess it did end up being a rant .. :)