Kenny F**ing Rogers

I’m writing this sitting on the balcony of our Melbourne CBD apartment, looking at the skyline of a city that is at a virtual standstill. As if 2020 wasn’t already a massive shit-show, now we find out that Kenny Rogers has died.

I’ve met a fair few musicians over my thirty-something years in the radio business. It’s a perk of the job that you get used to and so it stops feeling like such a big deal after a while, but the story of that one time I briefly met Kenny Rogers is one of my all time favourite tales to tell.

I might ramble a bit here because I tend to write like I talk, but it’s not like you’re going anywhere today, right? Besides, it will do us both the world of good to think about literally anything else other than COVID-19 for the next little while, so settle in for a few minutes, maybe fire up some Kenny Rogers (I recommend “Something’s Burning” or “Rueben James”) on whatever music streaming service you use, and let me take you back in time.

Insert cheesy harp sound effect here…

In 1996 I started working for a radio station in Sydney that at the time was calling itself Kick AM 1269. It has since reverted back to it’s old name of 2SM but back then we were the only commercial radio station in Sydney that played any country music, in blistering AM mono, no less. Our format was country rock and blues, so we played everything from Merle Haggard to Troy Cassar-Daley to Muddy Waters to BB King to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Jerry Lee Lewis to Neil Diamond (…I met him while I was at KICK too. He came in for an interview, played Cherry Cherry live in our studios, and was basically the nicest guy ever. I still have my Fender acoustic guitar that Neil Diamond played on air that day and then signed for me, but that’s a whole other blog.)

KICK AM wasn’t exactly a ratings juggernaut but it was the most fun I have ever had working at a radio station. We knew we were niche and that we were never expected to be anywhere near number one, so we set out to have as much fun as possible while we super-served our little segment of the available Sydney radio audience and they seemed to love us for it. So did the Australian country music community, who were an absolute joy to get to know. It was an incredibly exciting time for me, and I absolutely adored the team of people who worked in that radio station. Still do.

This job also marked the start of one of the most important friendships of my life, with Trevor and Jan Smith, aka the boss of KICK and his wife. I love them both dearly. Jan has this beautiful uplifting nurturing presence that is completely infectious (oops, probably not the best word to be using right now – but you get my point, right?) and Trevor is a proper legend of Australian radio who has been an absolutely vital mentor and friend to me over the ensuing years. Trev also has a magnificent deep booming voice that tends to carry across the room, something that becomes relevant later on in this story.

Did I take that job because I’ve always loved country music? Not even remotely. I took the job because I needed the gig. I knew absolutely nothing about country music, so I had to set about learning about the genre as I went. To start with it was a bit of an assault to my musical sensibilities. For example, the first time I played Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” on the radio I sat in the back of the studio laughing until tears streamed down my face. Was this guy serious? (I still don’t know the answer to that question.) On the flip side, I developed an appreciation for Keith Urban’s guitar playing that remains with me to this day.

Within a very short space of time I came to the conclusion that country is like any other genre. 80% of it is going to sound like utter rubbish, and it’s up to you to find the other 20% that works for you. I quickly fell in love with the artists who were more on the rockin’ guitar driven edge of country music, the best example of this being Junior Brown with his blistering guitar sound and hilariously dry lyrics.

My job at KICK took me overseas for the very first time in 1997, to a massive country music event called FanFair in Nashville. The entire country music world goes to FanFair, so it was the ideal opportunity to collect a bunch of interviews with the artists we were playing on KICK at the time. Trevor and Jan offered to fly me over with them and I was beside myself with excitement, then when I got there and started doing the work I realised that I was completely out of my depth.

Imagine this: I’m there with my very obviously Australian accent and my little DAT recorder interviewing one country artist after another. I had no idea who I was talking to most of the time. It became a sea of random dudes with big hats all merging into one. I’ll always remember Brad Paisley (who was a brand new artist at the time) very politely pointing out to me that the question I had just asked wasn’t something that he could really answer because his name was Brad Paisley and not Tracy Byrd. Oops – I was looking at the wrong artist biography. Sorry Brad! (To be fair, they did look a bit similar at the time, no?)

During FanFair week we stayed at the Vanderbilt Plaza hotel, a pretty high-end Nashville hotel where it was not at all unusual to see the odd country music star wandering around the lobby. One morning I was at breakfast with Trevor and Jan when a guy appeared at the breakfast buffet who looked oddly familiar. As this stranger grabbed his plate and waited patiently for his turn at the buffet Jan nudged Trevor and whispered, “That guy over there looks like Kenny Rogers”.

Trevor delivered his reply without missing a beat, without looking up from his food, and without whispering.

“Everyone in this town looks like Kenny fucking Rogers”.

Remember how I told you that one of Trevor’s many magnificent qualities is his big booming voice? Yep. You guessed it. At this point the stranger looked right at us and laughed, then he put his plate back down on top of the pile and started walking right towards our table. When he was about two thirds of the way over to us we all had the same realisation at the same time. Holy shit that is actually Kenny Fucking Rogers! And he’s coming right for us!

Kenny approached our table, still laughing, and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Kenny!” He shook hands with all three of us (it was a different time…) and said to Trevor, “I’m with you, man. There are a lot of people stealing my look in this town!” Kenny could not have been nicer, asking us how our food was, where we were in town from, how long we were staying, and which artists we were going to see while we were there. He even recommended a place to get some tasty ribs while we were in town. Then he said his polite goodbyes and off he went. The whole thing probably lasted about a minute.

For Kenny Rogers this was probably one of about five hundred conversations he would have had with his fans in and around Nashville that day, and I doubt that he would have remembered it five minutes after it happened, but for us that little exchange is something we will remember forever. The fact that he was so cool about it all made me a forever fan.

So that’s my Kenny Rogers story, and today it feels just that little bit more special. Rest in peace Kenny, thanks for all the joy you’ve brought to so many people through the wisdom of your lyrics (The Gambler! Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town!) and your whole down-home approachable vibe.

The thing about Kenny Rogers is that he transcended all genres. Forget country, that man was a true entertainment legend, and as I was lucky enough to find out first hand he also had a great sense of humour about himself.

Note To Self: Stop Touching Your Face

When I was a kid my parents were always trying to get me to stop biting my nails. Nothing worked, no matter how hard they tried or what punishments were doled out. I was a bundle of nervous tension as a kid and biting my nails always gave me some strange sort of comfort. I know that’s a lame excuse, but most stupid habits are underpinned by lame excuses, right?

Actually, I kept on biting them well into adulthood, possibly as some sort of subconscious act of rebellion, and then last week I suddenly stopped, and I now have a very conscious desire to never, ever, bite them again.

The thing that so decisively ended this long running habit was the exact same thing most of us are probably now thinking a lot more about about in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis: Hygiene. After reading some of the more responsible and informative articles about the Coronavirus epidemic the idea of sticking my fingers in my mouth suddenly seemed disgusting to me, so that’s that. No more nail biting.

The next step for me was to stop touching my own face. It makes so much sense: You touch a surface, then put your hands near your mouth, nose or eyes… Welcome to Virus Town! Population You!

The logical part of my brain immediately adapted to “let’s not touch ones own face then” mode, but there is a more automatic part of my brain that seems to want to do exactly that all the damn time. Once I became aware of it I was truly amazed at how often my hands found their way to various parts of my face. It’s like my hands have been fitted with some sort of magnetized homing device that sends them right up to my face whenever I’m not paying attention.

I know I’m not alone. I look around me and people are constantly sticking their fingers in their mouths, rubbing their eyes, and generally inviting all sort of germs inside to party. I had this conversation with a guy at my work yesterday and we both caught each other touching our own faces FIVE TIMES in a two minute conversation. How ironic is that? (…someone alert Alanis Morissette at once!) We were talking about the dangers of touching our own faces, and yet neither of us seemed to be able to leave our own faces alone!

I’m not panicking about this, nobody should, but I do have ageing parents, a sister with a respiratory condition, and a big European holiday coming up, so I have some skin in this game and a fervent desire to avoid catching or transmitting COVID-19 if at all possible. I can’t control the spread of the virus, but I can control my response to it, so that’s why I’m stepping up my hygiene game, which is not such a bad idea anyway.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to watch my hands.

Singing In The Rain: U2 @ Marvel Stadium, Melbourne. November 15th 2019.

I was a bit emotionally exhausted for a day or so afterwards. U2 shows tend to do that to me. When you see that band in person, they really take you on a ride. A proper, loud, brash, thoughtful, get-up-out-of-your-seat emotional rock and roll experience… and they do it to me every single time.

I started counting it up in my head as I lined up at gate 3. This would be the 5th time I’ve seen U2 live. The first two times were within a week of each other back in 1993, when the groundbreaking Zoo TV tour arrived in Melbourne at the MCG (where the sound was awful and I heard everything twice), and then I followed it up to Brisbane (where the sound – and therefore the overall experience – was spot on). The next time I saw them was in Sydney on the Vertigo tour in 2007, which was in my top 5 gigs of all time, and then again in Melbourne in 2010 when they brought that giant claw and plonked it in the middle of what was then called Etihad stadium. I was up close to the stage for that show and my ears were ringing for days afterwards. Totally worth it.

Then, last Friday night, after a nine year wait, U2 were back in Melbourne at the same venue, the recently rebranded Marvel stadium, this time on the Joshua Tree tour. The claw from the 2010 trip had been replaced by a screen four times the size of an IMAX screen. At the precise moment I set foot in the stadium, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds started playing Wonderwall, dwarfed by the aforementioned screen, and the crowd sang along heartily. The vibe of the night was already set.

One of many things I appreciated about this gig was the way it was structured. It started with a bunch of hits that pre-date the Joshua Tree, then the Joshua Tree album in full, followed by a selection of songs that were released post The Joshua Tree. Smart. Simple. Perfect.

During the first batch of early songs the screen stayed dark, gently and cleverly coercing the audience to focus solely on the four guys at the front and the way they play. I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and his theory that to be truly great at anything you need 10,000 hours of practise. This band probably has more like 100,000 hours under their collective belts by now, and you can hear it. Absolute synergy with a chaotic rock and roll heart. Watching them play without the aid of all that technological enhancement served to remind the audience that U2 are a damn fine rock and roll band who do not need to rely on any of that stuff to captivate an audience, but once they unleash their array of high tech toys… holy crap.

The first twenty minutes featured most of the songs you’d expect to hear more towards the end of a U2 show. Multiple musical gut punches… one, after another, after another… and that was before the big screen glowed red and crackled to life for their utterly transcendent performance of The Joshua Tree album. I particularly enjoyed some of the lesser known tracks off that album. Trip Through Your Wires, for example, is not a song I ever expected to see U2 perform live.

To say that the visuals were great for this part of the show would be an insane understatement. The band who re-imagined the possibilities of stadium shows with Zoo TV over a quarter of a century ago (yeah, it’s really been that long, I just checked ‘coz I didn’t believe it either) keep on reinventing the stadium show whilst at the same time making the experience feel… and I dunno how they pull this off… intimate. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but let’s just say that while they were playing Where The Streets Have No Name I found myself watching the screen a lot more than the band. In terms of staging, U2 are basically going up against themselves whenever they launch a new tour, because when it comes to the visuals no other stadium act on earth comes close to what these guys are up to. And that’s before you even factor in the extraordinary emotional charge of their songs.

The rain started falling, prompting Bono to insert a little bit of Singing In The Rain in between all those massive hits from The Joshua Tree and when I looked up ten minutes later (I was way too transfixed on the band and that massive screen to have noticed this any earlier) I realised that the roof of the stadium had been closed. Not only did this stop people on the ground from getting drenched, it had the added benefit of improving the sound considerably up in the stands where I was, to the point where it made me wonder why they didn’t just close the roof before the show started.

After The Joshua Tree, the last third of the show was party time. Even Better Than The Real Thing in particular sounded and looked absolutely spectacular, Vertigo and Beautiful Day went off, and Elevation was clearly written with a stadium singalong in mind, a purpose it serves incredibly well. I’m not generally the kind of guy who sings along at concerts, but there I was giving it my heartiest pretend falsetto: “Wooh-hooo, Wooh-hooh ooh!”

I have a theory about U2 which is based on nothing more than my own observations and gut feel. They look to me like a band that’s just about ready to announce either a long break, or their retirement. The last couple of albums haven’t really set the world on fire, they’ve got nothing left to prove, and like all of us they’re getting on a bit, so it seems to me that now would be a good time to call it quits, at least for a while. All the more reason you absolutely have to go and see the Joshua Tree tour before it leaves Australian shores if you get even half a chance.

The Slovenian Tyre Incident

I loved almost everything about Slovenia, and I get the feeling that if they spent a few trillion bucks on infrastructure and marketing that their popularity as a tourist destination would rival any other European country. Slovenian scenery is world class, right up there with the parts of Switzerland I have seen, but Slovenian roads… hmm, not so much. 

The main highways are all fine, but on a few occasions during our time in Slovenia we ended up driving through little villages with roads no wider than footpaths, and these were supposedly two way streets. Perhaps I had been spoiled by the experience of driving in Austria (…if there is a pothole on any Austrian road I am yet to find it! Immaculate!) but I found driving in Slovenia to be a tiny bit scary at times. For any Australian driver, lining up the car on the right side of the road is an adjustment to start with, and the thin and often windy roads in some of the less populated parts of Slovenia, especially when combined with the constant temptation of allowing the scenery to distract me, didn’t make for relaxed driving. 

It was around 5.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, around 5km out of the not exactly huge town of Bovec, when I rounded a blind corner and drifted a bit too far to the right to avoid oncoming traffic. A thunderous BANG signalled the back of the rental car spanking a cement retaining wall. Oops. Not my finest moment. Within a minute or so a strange noise started emanating from towards the rear of the vehicle and we pulled over to discover that the rear passengers side tyre was almost entirely off the rim, and the entire back end of the car had retaining wall marks on it.

The bad news was that we were now stranded about 5km away from the smallest town we were visiting in our entire trip, and did I mention that it was Sunday afternoon? I didn’t rate our chances of getting help in a hurry (or at all) too highly. The good news is that we still had three or four hours of sunlight left – because European summers are frickin’ AWESOME – and the even better news was that we were able to connect a phone call despite our current GPS position of “somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Slovenia.” 

Paulie put a call through to the car rental company back in Innsbruck, Austria and they arranged for someone from the Royal Slovenian Automobile Club to come and rescue us. The nice lady at Europcar said to call her back if nobody arrived within an hour and a half, so for that time we sat in the car, right next to the incredibly clear and beautiful Soča river, taking the opportunity to swipe away at our phones looking at some of the photos we had taken earlier that day and waiting to find out if it was just a tyre or if we had done more damage than that.

Pause: In case you’re now wondering why we didn’t just change the damn tyre ourselves, I need to explain something about myself here. While I’m very comfortable with technology and will happily figure out how to get in and around pretty much any electronic device that’s handed to me, I am not and have never been terribly handy with anything that is mechanical. Neither Paul or I have even owned a car in the last decade, so anything to do with car maintenance and repairs is a hell of a long way out of our respective wheel houses. Therefore when it comes to changing a tyre on a car, especially if the instructions in the owners manual happen to be in German, forget about it. I’m not proud to admit this, but when it comes to do with anything mechanical I am basically a helpless little old lady. Unpause.

An hour passed, and then it was an hour and a half… and still no sign of help. I kept picturing some poor Slovenian bloke trying to have Sunday dinner with his family going “Yeah yeah yeah, I’ll go and help the stupid Australians when I’ve finished my kranjska klobasa, OK Uršula?”

7.20pm. The light was beginning to fade and the uneasy feeling in my stomach was slowly building. Paul was on the phone to Europcar chasing up our kranjska klobasa eating friend’s whereabouts when two guys in a van with the name of their rafting business emblazoned on the side pulled over.  By now my faith that the help the rental car company were sending was ever going to come was evaporating, so I thought I’d try my luck with these friendly looking strangers. After taking one look at them I could tell they were more mechanically literate than us, which would not be a stretch, so I jumped out of the car and walked towards them.

“You guys need some help?”, asked the driver of the van in impeccable English.

“You don’t happen to know how to change a tyre on an Audi do you?” 

“Actually, that’s my dream car. I’ve got the model before it and I’ve been researching this car for months.”

At that point we lifted the suitcases out of the back of the car and the friendly stranger (who we later found out is named Gregor) unlocked a hidden compartment to reveal a fluorescent warning sign which he unfolded into a triangle and handed to his mate, (who we later found out is a Hungarian dude named Tamás) to place 20 metres down the road to alert oncoming traffic so that he could change the tyre safely. He knew exactly where everything was and how it all worked, and this sudden flurry of activity after two hours of sitting still was beyond impressive. I was also grateful that he at no point looked at us and went, “Why haven’t you done this yourselves? What’s wrong with you guys?”

Within a few short minutes Gregor had changed the tyre, chatting happily as he did about his rafting business and how he liked to help keep Slovenia clean by grabbing one piece of rubbish every time he went in the river. At one point when he was having difficulty with one of those thingys that holds the tyre on (I wasn’t kidding when i said i know nothing about cars…)  he said something in Slovenian that was quite obviously not “Hi, how are you?”

“Ooh, that sounded interesting” said Paul. “What did you just say?”

“That”, said Gregor, “is a very rude Slovenian saying.”

“Can you translate it for us?” Asked Paul.

“In English it means ‘fuck your mother in the pussy’.” 

That was the exact moment when I thought to myself “I like this guy a lot.”

Once the spare tyre was on there was still the lingering question of if we had done any further damage to the vehicle and if it would be drivable or not, so Gregor told us to wait for ten minutes while he and Tamás went and collected their other van – which is what they were on their way to do in the first place when they’d spotted us by the side of the road – so that they could drive behind us into Bovec in case we needed to pull over again. So we thanked them and got back in the car to wait for them when, you guessed it, old mate from The Royal Slovenian Automobile Club finally showed up, in a tow truck no less.

We told old mate that we had already received help and that we wouldn’t be needing his services after all thanks-very-much. He didn’t seem too fazed. He handed me a piece of paper and said “sign here” and after looking the car over he suggested that we take it to the nearest Audio service centre in a nearby town called Tolmin the next morning to get it looked at and get the tyre replaced. He seemed quite pleased to be driving away again within a couple of minutes of finding us.

Gregor and Tamás re-appeared – it was around 8pm by now – and we drove slowly behind them to our hotel in Bovec. (The car felt fine to me, but what would I know.) Once we parked it in the hotel carpark we asked Gregor and Tamás if we could buy them dinner to say thanks. They told us that – because they had stopped to help a couple of hapless Aussies – they were already running late to meet two Finnish friends for dinner, so the Finns came along as well and next thing you know there were six of us out for dinner and drinks at a local restaurant. It was one of the most authentic dining experiences I have ever had, and it never would have happened had I not accidentally pashed that retaining wall.

Gregor took control of ordering food much like he had taken control of the tyre situation, and we were more than happy for him to do so. He asked us what kind of food we liked and then went ahead and ordered everything for us in Slovenian. He also dispensed plenty of local knowledge, in particular when it came to the subject of Slovenian wine.

“The map of Slovenia is shaped like a chicken. Right now you are in the arsehole of the chicken, so you drink red wine. When you get to the head of the chicken, you should switch to white wine.” OK, Gregor, duly noted, thank you!

The food was great, all very authentically Slovenian. We drank German beers and had plenty of laughs, one of my favourite moments being when Gregor taught us how to say “Na zdravje” which is “cheers” in Slovenian and I thought I’d return the favour by letting the table know how we say cheers in Australia. Just for fun, I decided to use the version I’d seen in the 1994 Russell Crowe movie, The Sum Of Us.

“In Australia, we say up your bum!”  

It all felt very international as two Finns, a Hungarian, a Slovenian and two Aussies all shouted “Up your bum” in unison. I particularly enjoyed watching Tamás, this big burly Hungarian dude, going “Up your bum! Up your Bum! Up your bum!” with a huge smile on his face as he went around the table clinking everybody’s glass. I was almost certain he had no idea what he was actually saying, which had me in fits of laughter. We had such a great night that we momentarily forgot about the fact that we still needed to sort the car situation out. 

The next morning we rang the Audi service centre in Tolmin and after a few minutes of back and forth the guy on the other end of the phone bluntly said “No. I do not have this tyre in stock. Goodbye.”  Um… OK then. Time to find a plan B, I guess. 

I stood looking at the hotel car park and the imposing mountains that surround it and started wondering how long it would take us to get out of Bovec as Paul rang Europcar to ask them what they thought we should do next. Impressively, within twenty minutes they rang us back and told us that they had booked us into a tyre place in Villach, back in Austria who had the required tyre in stock and were already expecting us. 

Here’s the amazing part; to get there we had to drive 54km through three countries. Admittedly, a European person reading this probably wonders why I find this so incredible, but the fact that we had to drive from Slovenia through Italy and then into Austria to get a tyre changed was pretty mind blowing to me. We were only in Italy for around ten minutes. In Australia you can drive nonstop for ten hours and still be in the same state.

It was a nervous drive on the spare tyre, especially with mysterious tyre pressure warning lights going off and continuous ominous beeping, but we crawled to Villach without any further drama and it took under and hour for them to replace the tyre, align and balance everything (…or whatever it is that happens with people who know what they are doing with that sort of thing) before sending us on our way again. Even better, there were no out of pocket expenses. We just signed a piece of paper and drove right back over the border into Slovenia. Well played, Europcar!

Our original plan was to drive south that day and end up on the Slovenian coast in Piran, but by the time the tyre was fixed this had become impractical, so we decided to cancel our Air BnB in Piran and head to the Slovenian capital, with a couple of fun stops to do a little bit of exploring in some smaller towns in between. 

We had initially only planned to spend one night in Ljubljana, and I will be forever grateful that our Slovenian tyre incident effectively turned that into two nights. Ljubljana turned out to be one of the highlights of that trip, and it really would have been a shame to only spend one night in that special little city. Honestly, I’m a little sad that we never made it to the Adriatic coast and that we never got to properly explore the Soča Valley but nobody got hurt, and we are already planning on going back to Slovenia one day to see the parts we ended up missing out on this time around. 

So I guess the moral to this story, if there is one, is to always go with the flow when you travel and to get the top level rental car insurance, especially if you’re overseas, and especially if (like me) mechanical spasticity is one of your issues. And if ever you find yourself in Bovec, Slovenia looking for a rafting instructor, see if you can track Gregor and Tamás down. They’re top fellas.

Fleetwood Mac And The Art Of Concert Etiquette

My first live Fleetwood Mac experience was in Perth in the late naughties, with the classic line-up minus Christine McVie. It was pretty damn good. The second time was a few years ago in Melbourne with Christine McVie back in the band, and that time it was damn near perfect. They started with The Chain and finished with Christine McVie sitting at the piano singing a faultless version of Songbird. I still get goosebumps every time I think about it.

Stevie Nicks seems to get the most attention, and it’s always a genuine thrill to hear her hit certain notes and deliver that signature sound that’s been part of our lives for so long, but the star of the show for me both of those first two times I saw Fleetwood Mac was Lindsey Buckingham. He brought an energy to his performance that was thrilling to the point of being ever so slightly terrifying. Based on my experience of seeing those two shows, Fleetwood Mac live without Lindsey Buckingham seemed like an unimaginable prospect, which is I guess why Fleetwood Mac needed to hire two people to replace him.

So as the lights went out at Rod Laver arena on Monday night I was more than mildly curious to see how the band would look and sound without Lindsey in it. My answer came about ninety seconds later when Neil Finn oh-so-convincingly sang the opening line of The Chain. “Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise…” Having grown up on a steady diet of Split Enz and Crowded House I’m pre-disposed to loving whatever Neil Finn does, so admittedly my opinion might be a bit tainted, but I thought he nailed it. His interplay with Stevie Nicks both in banter and in song looked comfortable and real to me, and he had that trademark Neil Finn earnestness and enough raw talent going on to make me almost forget about the elephant that was not in the room. Almost. But you can’t call it Fleetwood Mac without some searing lead guitar work, and that’s where their other new recruit comes in.

Mike Campbell’s moment to shine was when he launched into Oh Well, and when he started singing he sounded so much like Peter Green that I think my heart might have stopped for a tiny moment. The effortless cool and technical excellence that made Mike Campbell so entertaining to watch in Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers was very much on display, but it’s easy to forget just how good he is in the context of being amongst so many other great players in Fleetwood Mac. (One constant across the three times I have seen this band live is that John McVie always looks like he’s strolled off a golf course and right onto the stage. I love that!)

Fleetwood Mac know how to put on a great show, but if I told you the band had my full attention all night I’d be lying. Two songs into their set a guy and girl in front of us sprung up from their seats to have a bit of a dance, thereby completely obliterating my view of the stage. It didn’t bother me because A.) I totally get that people want to dance – it’s a concert – so I say let them dance and enjoy their moment. And B.) For me it wasn’t really about the visuals anyway. With all due respect to Stevie Nicks, I already know what she looks like and I know she’s more than likely just twirling around with her cape so I don’t get the feeling I’m missing out on some amazing visual treat, and even if I am I can always refer to the screens to the side of stage.

The guy sitting next to me did not share these feelings. He tugged on the shirt of the guy dancing in front of us and said somewhat aggressively, “Hey mate, sit down, would you? I can’t see anything!” His girlfriend turned around and stated the obvious, “It’s a concert!”, and spun right back around and kept on dancing. (I’m totally team her at this point.) Then one of those yelled conversations that can only happen at a concert takes place between the guy in front of me and the guy next to me. Talky spit was flying about everywhere along with lines like “I paid good money for these seats!”, “So did we!”, and “Get up and dance yourself then, dickhead!” Thankfully things did not escalate as I feared they might and the guy and the girl soon acquiesced and resumed their seats, looking a little glum at the idea of the cranky random behind them forcing them to sit down.

Then a funny thing happened. The band start playing Everywhere and all around us people stood up and started dancing. (I’d have thought that Dreams would have been the song to do that, but whatever…) I found this to be extremely entertaining, mostly because the dancing was so bad. There’s a very particular dance a man does when he’s been forced onto his feet by a woman and would actually much rather be sitting down. The shoulders bounce up and down and there’s this little nervous foot-shuffle that can only be borne out of pure embarrassment. I found it fascinating. A show within a show.

With half of Rod Laver arena now dancing badly, the people in front of us turned and gave the guy next to me a look that screamed “So what have you got to say about that then, huh?” and he replied out loud with “OK, sure, get up and dance, have fun, whatever…” which is exactly what they did, not just for that song but for pretty much the rest of the show. (But not during Mick Fleetwood’s seventeen year long drum solo, not even Mick himself could stand up for that long.)

Just when I thought things were calming down the guy right behind me decides to sing along to Rhiannon in a completely random key at the absolute top of his lungs. As with the dancing, I get that this guy is having a moment, and my take on it is to let him have it. Who knows how many years this guy has waited to see this song performed live or what might have been going on in his life in the lead-up to this concert? Maybe it’s his first concert. Maybe he’s just had his ninth round of chemo. You just never know, so you know what…? Go ahead and belt it out, dude.

Returning my attention to the stage, it occurred to me that there is no other band on earth that has a story like Fleetwood Mac’s. So many incredible musicians have passed through that band over the years, and they somehow survived it all and kept on touring. Seeing Neil Finn leading the band in Don’t Dream It’s Over and hearing Stevie Nicks sing the third verse is evolution personified. Even if you’re not a fan you’d have to admit that Fleetwood Mac are the world’s most resilient band, and that’s gotta be worth dancing badly and singing out of key for.

Subconsciously Gay Teenage Bedroom Wall

I think you can tell a lot about my deeply closeted teenage self from the way I chose to decorate (if you can call it that) my bedroom. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to take a Hanimex snap of one of my teenage bedroom walls, and I still laugh out loud every time I look at that photo.

Starting from the top left and moving in a roughly clockwise direction, we start with a poster for “John Lennon: Imagine – The Film”, a choice that would feel way more credible to my adult self if not for the knowledge that my teenage self had never even listened to The White Album from start to finish. I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to really delving into John Lennon and The Beatles, so I’m not sure exactly why I had this poster but I suspect it was a lame attempt to seem much cooler than I actually was.

Moving on, there were carefully cut out posters of Elton John and the members of U2. Then there’s a Donald Duck mask, which my adult self can’t figure out the significance of at all, a big yellow novelty street sign that says “Last Dunny 240km”, a big sticker of a can of Tooheys Draught beer, and then comes the good stuff: two posters that I now can look back on and see as clear and obvious signs of my being, as people used to put it in my home town, “…a bit of a worry”. One of them proclaims “If you think sex is a pain in the ass YOU’RE DOING IT THE WRONG WAY!” and the other one says “Unless you’re a haemorrhoid GET OFF MY ASS”.

In an apparent attempt to offset all of that extremely suspect bum talk, right next to those signs was a poster of my favourite race car driver, Dick Johnson, driving his number 17 Ford Sierra. Next to Dick was a picture of what was – at the time – my dream car, a convertible Ford Capri. (I ended up with an 1982 Green Ford Laser hatchback… close enough, I guess.) Next was an autographed picture of Gavin Miller, a rugby league footballer I happen to share a first and last name with who used to play for the Cronulla Sharks. To the left of the other Gavin Miller was a large poster of Mick Jagger, then the ticket stubs from the first two international acts I ever saw live in concert, Elton John and Melissa Etheridge, and finally, a poster of a chocolate cake with the slogan, “Too much of a good thing is simply wonderful!” (Again, kinda suspect in it’s campness… Simply Wonderful? Hello Frisco!)

What can’t be seen in this photo is that on the opposing wall of my bedroom were two large block-mounted posters. One of them was the poster for Rocky III featuring a shirtless and oiled up Sly Stallone, and the other even larger poster was a shot of Prince live on stage, wielding a yellow guitar whilst wearing nothing but matching undies. I will never forget how much I squirmed when my mother came into my room, examined the Prince poster, then called my father in.

“Ian, come and look at this! You can see his pubic hair coming out of the side of his little pants!”

I’m amazed that Mum and Dad didn’t figure out that I was at least a little bit queer based on the way I chose to decorate my bedroom, but then again this was the 80’s, a don’t-ask-don’t-tell decade full of super gay public figures who were somehow able to hide their sexuality in plain sight. Freddie Mercury’s band was called Queen, for Christ’s sake. Remember how they used to say that Liberace just hadn’t met the right woman yet? If you require further proof of what I’m on about here simply do a YouTube search for Wake Me Up Before You GoGo then take a look at the pants George Michael was wearing in that video clip and ask yourself how there could have ever been a moment in time where any of us thought that man was in the slightest bit heterosexual.

I was 22 when I came out, which is 8 years after that photo was taken, and I now realise in retrospect that my bedroom was pretty much a shrine to unresolved sexuality. My bedroom walls had it all figured out way before I did. (If I were able go back in time to point that out to my fourteen year old self, that daggy kid would have spontaneously combusted on the spot at the mere thought of it.) I laugh at myself when I look at that photo of my old bedroom wall now, but I was just doing what any teenager would do. I was using the space on my bedroom wall to express my emerging identity. For the first time in my life I had control of my very own space, so I did exactly what I wanted to do with it… and that just happened to be very very subconsciously gay.

Tipping Culture

I recently returned home after a three week Canadian adventure which blew my mind in about seventeen different ways. I loved pretty much everything about it. Canadian nature, Canadian cities and towns, and above all Canadian hospitality. Canada ain’t cheap, actually it’s the most expensive holiday I’ve ever had, but it is a world class travel destination and I’m so glad I went. With the notable exception of a coffee shop chain called Tim Hortons which should immediately be declared a national embarrassment, I would recommend Canada to anybody. (To balance out that Tim Hortons slap, I would however like to shamelessly plug another Canadian coffee shop chain called Second Cup. Now that’s how you make a good cup of coffee!)

Pretty much the only thing that I didn’t gel with on the whole trip, and it’s something I have never really been able to wrap my head around, is tipping culture. Here in Australia you only tip if you feel you’ve received particularly excellent service, and I think that’s the way it should be everywhere. Seriously, can’t we just drop the whole charade?

In Canada it is customary to tip a minimum of 15% and for anyone who is used to tipping that’s probably not something they devote much thought to, but from an Australian perspective I find the whole idea completely ludicrous. I do however get that tips are how servers make their money, so as the kind of traveler who tries not to be a complete arsehole where possible I just grit my teeth and play along.

The performance starts the moment you walk in and get seated. The server starts putting on a show, and you can sniff their desperation. I feel sorry for them, which in turn makes things uncomfortable for me. They shouldn’t have to act like a trained seal to get paid. The restaurant should just damn well pay them what they are worth. Since when did balancing the books of someone else’s restaurant become my job? And beyond that, who actually gets my tip anyway? If it’s only my server who ends up with the money I have issues with that. Shouldn’t the person who actually prepared the meal get an equal if not greater share of the spoils than the person who brought the plate to my table?

And it’s not just tipping that gets me. What’s with the idea of telling me the price, and then adding the sales tax afterwards? How annoying is it to rock up to the cash register with a twenty dollar note to pay for an item that is tagged as costing $19.99, thinking you’ve got this nailed, only to find out that the actual price is some seemingly completely random amount like $23.96? Oh for fucks sake! Can you not just put the actual price on the price tag? Call me crazy, but I’m one of those “just tell me what it costs and I’ll tell you if I’m willing to pay it or not” kind of guys.

Same deal with haggling. I find zero joy in bargaining, possibly in no small part because I am awful at it. I once spent ten minutes haggling over the price of something at some markets in Vietnam only to work out once I got back to the hotel and grabbed a calculator that I had just spent a chunk of my precious holiday time arguing over what equated to eight Australian cents.

I found it fascinating on this recent Canadian trip that when it was time to pay the server not only brought the machine over for card payments (That does not happen in Australia. Here you still have to go to the counter to pay. Why, I have no idea…) but that the machine automatically prompts you to tip and even calculates it for you. I guess when it comes to draining your wallet they want to make things as seamless as possible. Who can blame them?

Here’s how it works: You press OK on the total for the meal, then you are prompted with “Add Tip?” Press OK again and you’re presented with your ever so helpful tipping options. You can either stipulate the dollar amount you want to tip or you can choose to tip as a percentage, usually starting at 15%. For this specific thing I am very grateful ‘coz the last thing I generally feel like doing at the end of the meal is maths on the fly. Then once the machine ever so helpfully adds it all up, you press OK, and you’re out of there safe in the knowledge that your server won’t be working for free today because some ignorant Aussie tourist didn’t tip them properly. (There were a couple of occasions in Canada where the lowest percentage presented on the machine was 20%, which immediately prompted me to think “how dare you try to fleece me like that, I’m starting this transaction all over again and you’re only getting ten percent!”)

The whole tipping thing is head-doing, and that performance the server has been putting on ceases the moment the credit card transaction is approved. At that point you no longer exist. Try it. Say goodbye on your way out of the restaurant and see if you even get eye contact. I didn’t. It felt like, “Show’s over, I got paid, you’re dead to me now” and I totally get it. I’d do the exact same thing.

I’m all for people getting paid for their services, but surely there’s a better way to go about it than the tipping system? Here’s a wacky idea: Just incorporate the money needed to make sure everyone gets paid in the cost of the food, then let people decide if they want to pay for it or not. Then, if a server does get a tip, they’ll know it’s because they were great at their job, not just because of a ridiculous and outdated pre-existing expectation.

Parlez-vous Anglais?

In 2014, at the ripe old age of 41, I went to Europe for the first time. Well, not all of it; just a few nights in London, followed by bit of France, a bit of Switzerland, a bit of Germany, a few nights in Amsterdam, and then one more night back in Paris before flying home. It was so much more than a holiday. That three week adventure was a real game-changer for me in terms of my world view. Australia is an insanely long flight from just about everywhere, so I think maybe my sense of needing to get out there and see what the rest of the world has to offer is heightened by the geographical isolation of my home country. I’ve made it a life goal to travel as much as I possibly can, in part because I absolutely love the adventure of it all, in part because being kid free and mortgage free and allows me the opportunity to do so, in part because I’m still young and healthy enough to be able to get the most out of it. Travel is life. St Augustine nailed it when he said, “The world is a book. Those who do not travel only read one page.”

I’d traveled overseas a little bit before the big 2014 European trip. Two working holidays to America in the late 90’s, a four day work junket to Singapore and Vietnam in 2006, and a wonderfully relaxing week in Fiji in 2007. Those trips mostly involved situations in mainstream tourist areas where I was able to speak English and be understood, so navigating the language barrier was a brand new and slightly daunting experience for me on this 2014 trip. From the moment I arrived on the continent, as the Eurostar out of London pulled in to Gare du Nord, I was – not surprisingly – surrounded by the intoxicating sound of people speaking French. It’s such a beautiful language to listen to even when I have no idea what is being said. I needed to work out how to perform basic transactions like ordering food and asking where the toilets are armed with no more than a few very basic phrases in French, and initially that felt like an almost overwhelming challenge, especially with jetlag involved.

On our first day in Paris Paul and I were walking the gorgeous streets of the Le Marais district near our AirBnB when we strolled into a Sephora store to check out all the colognes we hadn’t yet seen on shelves in Australia. A young shop assistant approached me and, to my absolute horror, started speaking to me in, of all things, French. (I know, right? Shocking! Alert the media!)

I froze, realising much to my own horror that of all the handy French phrases I had armed myself with, simply saying “I’m just browsing, thanks” or French words to that effect was not among them. As someone who speaks for a living and is used to being able to communicate freely with people, this was a whole new experience for me. I handled it pretty deftly, though.

“Paul! Help!”

Paul, who speaks three languages and was therefore much more accustomed to these kinds of situations than I was, addressed the shop assistant with a friendly, “Non, merci” (gee, that wasn’t so hard after all was it?) and the shop assistant cheerfully toddled off to the other side of the store and left us alone. Phew. This was clearly going to take some getting used to for me.

After another hour or so of admiring the streetscapes of Paris, mouths agape from the extraordinary beauty of it all, we were standing on a street corner in front of an ATM when a gentleman approached, speaking in rapid French, quite obviously wanting to get past me to use the ATM. Without giving myself time to prepare an appropriate response in French, I stepped out of his way as I blurted out the first words that came into my mind, complete with my Australian twang.

“Go for it, mate!”

The French guy looked at me like I was from outer space, which made Paul laugh quite hard for hours afterwards. “Go for it, mate!” then became one of the catchphrases of that trip.

Paris was a steep linguistic learning curve for me. An odd mistake I kept on making was using “bonjour” at inappropriate moments, for example, as I was walking out of an establishment. Yeah, that’s right, I would wave and say “hello!” as I was leaving a room. Go me.

Have you ever heard it said that French people are rude? I used to hear that all the time when I was a kid, mostly from people who have never been to France, and one of the things this trip taught me that the whole French-people-are-rude thing is a fallacy. I found the vast majority of people I interacted with to be really sweet and polite despite the language barrier. Once I got the hang of using “Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?” (“Hello, do you speak English?”) perhaps with a little “Excusez moi” (“excuse me”) thrown in for good measure, I found that those who could speak English were happy to do so, and those who didn’t would mostly be pretty cool about it. There was one woman in a department store who got all snotty with me when I hit her with the old parlez-vous anglais, but that’s OK. There will always be a certain percentage of not-very-nice-people wherever you go, right?

Morning Pages. 9.33am. Friday. June 27th 2014.

I’m sitting at a little cafe near the Eiffel Tower, which is much bigger in person than I expected. Got some awesome shots, walked around, and now we are about to have a little coffee and take in the ambiance of this place while I do some writing for a while. Love it.

Random Parisian observations: French women tend to walk the streets with confidence, shoulders back, tits forward, looking awesome. Men about my Dad’s age dress with confidence and style. Bright colours, scarves… Awesome to see, although I can’t help but think that if my Dad tried dressing like this back in Bathurst he’d be driven out of town. People’s default expression is set to cheerful. Lots of giggling in amongst overheard conversations. Walking past restaurants I can’t help but notice that nobody is on their phones. People are learning forward, making eye contact with each other, gesticulating with their hands as they speak. It’s infectious and adorable. Paris people just look so casually classy. American tourists stick out like dogs balls here, and not just because of their bum bags (which ought to be banned by the Parisian fashion police) and the truly extraordinary volume of their voices.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that French people seem to be very happy and polite most of the time, but when they snap it happens very quickly and decisively. We were in a fruit shop yesterday and I must have brushed against a mango which fell down from it’s display. It was very obvious to me that the woman behind me was very displeased with me. No idea what she said, but it sure as hell wasn’t complimentary.

I’m just loving sitting here. Did I mention how much I adore Paris? It’s too beautiful. My real life feels like it’s a million light years away. Oh cute! Just spotted a Jack Russell on the corner. That’s another thing I love about Paris. Dogs go wherever the owner goes, and that’s adorable. I’m yet to step in dog shit, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

The jetlag is still a bitch, so we had a nap yesterday. Then came ten of my favourite minutes of this trip so far – gathering food for lunch. We found a bakery on our street where we bought a chicken and salad baguette. I know that sounds ordinary, but I swear it was the most amazing thing I have ever eaten. We also bought some mint flavoured Perrier water (why do we not have this in Australia?) and some fruit, including the most incredible banana ever. It had the most banana-y flavour in the history of banana-dom. When it comes to food, the French really know how to nail it. Actually, this city is a real treat for all five of my senses.

I’m also learning a lot about the art of photography on this trip. About fifteen hundred photos so far, and I’m guessing a hundred of those will be good, and out of those maybe forty will be total gems. How lucky are we to to live in a generation where you don’t have to do shots on film with no idea how they worked out until you get them back from the chemist. Just snap away at will… No worries! Go for it, mate!

From France we moved on to Switzerland, where many languages are spoken, including English, so no problems there. In Germany, things got even easier because your average Berliner speaks better English than most Queenslanders do. Not once did I hear a local utter the word “like” where it did not belong in a sentence. However, walking past a restaurant table full of American tourists in Berlin I heard the following:

“So I like said to her, like, are you kidding me. Like, really? Like, what were you thinking?”

As with France, I had armed myself with a couple of key phrases in German. Almost every time I tried to use one of those phrases to a German person they would just speak back to me in English, as if to say “Nice try, let’s just make this easier for both of us and do this in English hey?” They didn’t even seem to flinch or take any issue with it. It became a challenge for me to use a German phrase convincingly enough that I could get a local to respond to me in German. It only happened once, and when it did the response I got was in rapid fire German, and I was immediately lost.

“Aaah… Sprechen Sie Englisch?” (Aaah… Do you speak English?)

My most memorable experience to do with language on this entire trip took place at, rather unglamorously, a McDonalds in Munich. The pretty girl behind the counter smiled sweetly as I approached and I started with my very best “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” Her adorable little face twisted up and she held her thumb and forefinger together as she said “Aah, a little.”

I looked at the board behind her and was once again grateful that cappuccino is a word that seems to be understood around the world. (Truth be known I’m more of a skinny flat white guy, but you know… path of least resistance) I held up one finger, said “cappuccino, bitte” and then made a stretching motion with my hands to demonstrate that I wanted that in a large. I could tell in an instant that she totally got it.

She nodded and smiled sweetly then she even attempted, albeit clumsily, to ask me how my holiday was going in her very best English. When she handed me my coffee I pointed at her and said “Your English…” then pointed at myself “..better than my German!” She giggled, I giggled and waved goodbye, and I walked out of that Maccas feeling amazing about that exchange.

That’s when it hit me: Friendliness is an international language, and we all speak it. You can get your message across using body language, tone, and intent and have a really satisfying exchange with another human being without needing to share the same language. This realisation made the planet feel like a smaller and much more accessible place, and that is one of the many valuable life lessons travel has so far taught me.

At the very end of the trip we had another interesting experience to do with language, but this time the language was English. I don’t mean to come off as unpatriotic here, but I have to be honest: A full on bogan Aussie accent can be the linguistic equivalent of fingernails going down a blackboard, especially when you’re stuck in a long check in queue at Charles De Gualle airport and you haven’t heard another Aussie accent in a few weeks. It was a particularly cringeworthy moment for Paul and I, and one that I can imagine just about every Aussie who has travelled can relate to, when we overheard an Aussie Mum who was clearly having a frustrating day trying to wrangle her little shithead.

“Jayden! Is that your suitcase Jayden? JAYDEN, get your arse over here, NOW, Jayden… JAY…DEN!!!”

There are no words to describe how piercing and irritating this woman’s voice was. If I was Jayden I’d want to run off in the other direction too. Team Jayden!

Paul grinned as he leaned in towards me. “Hey Jayden”, he said quietly in his best pretend Aussie bogan accent, “Go for it, mate!”

*I was totally kidding about Dubbo. It’s a hole.

People Shit Me Sometimes

First, the disclaimer. My life would be utterly devoid of meaning without the connections I have made. The energy exchange I enjoy with my partner, my family members and my friends is a non-negotiable requirement for my day to day happiness. There’s nothing quite like a long chat with a loved one who knows your entire history and totally gets you.

I’m lucky enough to have a handful of close life-long friends, all of whom I trust completely and would do absolutely anything for, and some of whom I have known since kindergarten. These people don’t just keep me entertained, they also keep me honest, and I love them for it. I don’t even need to be in super-regular contact with some of these friends for our connection to remain as strong as ever. Sometimes our lives get busy, as lives tend to do, and six months or more can go by without any contact whatsoever, but the moment we do connect again everything snaps back into place instantly and it’s as if we are just continuing the last conversation we were having.

Over the course of my adult life, for a variety of reasons, I have let some friends go, and some friends have let me go, and that’s OK. You don’t always grow in the same direction as the friends you had when you were in your teens, or as your life circumstances change a friendship that once seemed vital might feel a lot less so for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you just drift apart slowly and sometimes there’s a definite end point, like a big fight that the friendship can’t recover from. It happens. Actually, it needs to happen. Who the hell even has the time to stay connected to every single acquaintance they have ever made? For me, the occasional culling of my circle of friends, as brutal as this may seem, feels necessary and healthy.

One of the things I would like to think I am getting better at as I get older is working out which connections are helpful and enriching, and which ones are actually much more toxic and draining than they are worth. In other words, I think it’s important to work out who the psychic vampires are in your life and unapologetically ditch them.

Psychic vampires are those people who leave you feeling strangely depleted after you have spent time with them. They will make every conversation all about themselves and their drama du jour and they will drain every last drop of energy you have if you let them. Sure, sometimes a friend might be going through a tough time and it needs to be all about them for a while. We all have times where we need to pull focus in our friendships, and the willingness to hear a friend out when they are in need is an important part of what makes a long term friendship tick. Occasionally you’ll need to lean on each other, and the balance of the conversation tilts accordingly. But the difference between a real friend and a psychic vampire is that a real friend at least knows how to stop talking after a little while and ask, “…and how are you?”

Psychic vampires are one of many personality types I tend to avoid. I’m also super-wary of anybody who makes sweeping statements about themselves, because it is usually pretty obvious that the underlying truth is more often than not the exact opposite of whatever they are telling you.

I’ve never met an honest person who says “I’m a straight shooter” or an intelligent person who feels the need to tell you how smart they are. People who say things like “I really need to focus on myself for a change” are some of the most selfish people i’ve ever met. It’s been my experience that people who say “I hate drama” love starting it. Whenever I hear someone say “I’m fine” it immediately makes me suspect that they are far from fine. I point-blank refuse to to trust anyone who says “trust me” and I am utterly convinced that anyone who says “I’m always happy” secretly cries themselves to sleep at night.

It amazes me how often I hear people make proclamations about themselves that are the exact opposite of the truth. If you want to put this theory to the test, listen carefully next time you hear someone say “I’m not racist, but…” and there’s a pretty decent chance that whatever comes out of their mouth next would make a KKK member blush.

If, like me, you try to avoid stupid people where possible the good news is that the signs of stupidity are generally pretty easy to spot. Stupid people love starting sentences with phrases like “Not a lot of people know this…” immediately followed by something that anybody with an IQ above room temperature already has already been well aware of for their entire lives. Stupid people have a tendency to over explain the basics, assuming that everybody else is as dull as they are and that they therefore require a detailed explanation.

Stupid people don’t learn from their mistakes, expressing shock when they get the same result over and over again. In an office environment, stupid people will use made-up buzzwords to mask their lack of knowledge. Stupid people will present you with a fully formed passionately presented opinion on a news story they haven’t fully read, lacking the ability to filter information and sort facts from bullshit because they get their news from their Facebook feed which they themselves have curated so that the news stories they see all support their pre-existing beliefs.

I recently had an Uber driver who revealed himself to be a flat earther. That was a pretty excruciating trip home. If I’d have been in a taxi I would have told him to shut the fuck up about thirty seconds into his inane ramblings, but concern that my Uber rating might be impacted if I told him what I really think had me sitting there silently nodding along to his bullshit.

He repeatedly used expressions like “everybody knows that…” when describing things that there is absolutely no verifiable proof of. “I saw this documentary and it said…” was another favourite go-to expression, and he finished each thought with “that’s a fact!” despite not presenting anything that seemed even remotely verifiably factual. He even offered to send me the YouTube link to the documentaries he was talking about, “…so you can learn more about it” which made me shudder slightly when I remembered that as an Uber driver this guy already had my phone number. I mumbled a lie about looking those documentaries up myself thanks very much, and got out of the car as quickly as I could. Zero stars for you, my Uberlosipher friend.

Stupid people can’t tell your from you’re or there from they’re from their, and when challenged on this they will often respond by wearing their stupidity as as some sort of bizarre badge of honour, as if their lack of education somehow makes them more ‘real’. Stupid people also have a bizarre habit of putting the letter K where it does not belong, resulting in made-up words like ‘ekspecially’ and ‘somethink’.

Stupid people think it’s a great idea to advertise their dislike of animal cruelty by posting sickeningly explicit images of animal cruelty all over your Facebook feed. I’m sure you know people like this. These are the kind of people who fear change, exhibit a victim mentality, make excuses, fall for every conspiracy theory doing the rounds, spew hypocrisy based on their lack of self awareness, and just generally annoy the living shit out of everybody who gets sucked into their orbit of idiocy often without even realizing what they are doing. That’s the funny thing about stupid people; they’re usually much more blissfully unaware of their own limitations than the smarter people around them. It reminds me of the movie The Sixth Sense.

“I see stupid people. Walking Around Like Regular People. They don’t know they’re stupid.”

Pause: Now that I’ve totally ruined the end of that movie for anyone who hasn’t already seen it, time for a quick reality check. If you’ve just read that laundry list of annoying habits of stupid people and seen yourself in some of them, well… you’re not alone. I’m putting my hand up and copping to having exhibited at least half of those traits at some point. I mean, who wasn’t at least a bit of an idiot in their early 20’s? I know I was. Unpause.

Here’s another curious thing I have noticed about stupid people over the years. When you meet someone who is highly intelligent, it’s usually pretty evident right away, but sometimes dumb has an odd way of creeping up on you slowly. There have been occasions where I’ve known someone for six months or more before I have come to realise just how stupid they really are, at which point I start backing away slowly.

But it’s not all bad. In a roundabout way I actually learn a lot of important life lessons from the stupid people I come into contact with in that they have a strange way of reminding me how not to behave and what not to become. That’s why I call these people (behind their back, of course) my challenged zen masters, a term which is admittedly way more offensive than anything these people did to deserve that title in the first place. And in case you’re now wondering, no, I am not in the least bit concerned about offending my challenged zen masters because I have hidden my criticism of them in a place they will never find it; sixteen hundred words deep into a blog.

Construction Noise

We’ve lived in a Melbourne CBD apartment building for just over four years, and the other day Paul made a casual observation about our living situation that made me stop and think.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit weird that we live in close proximity to more people than we have ever lived before, but we don’t know any of their names?”

Good point.

Growing up in Bathurst I knew the names of people all up and down our street. Now, I barely have any communication at all with the other residents when I see them in the lifts. Beyond the occasional meaningless exchange about the weather or how long the lift is taking to get to the ground floor, people tend to remain silent and avoid eye contact until we hear the ding and get out of the lift and on with our days. It’s not that I feel any sense of hostility towards the other people who live in our building – at all – it’s just that I do not feel the need to be all chatty with my fellow residents. So what is that all about, then?

Maybe it’s because there are just so many people, around a thousand of us between the hotel that occupies the first few floors and the people who live in the apartments above. Even if I did make a conscious decision to try to get to know everyone, that’s way too many names to commit to memory. I can’t even remember what I had for lunch yesterday, so good luck with that.

Maybe it’s because as I hurtle towards the age of 47 I just don’t feel the need to go out of my way to make new friends any more like I did when I was in my twenties. I tend to chastise myself for doing a pretty poor job of keeping in touch with the friends I already have, so at this age and stage of my life I really don’t feel like I have a tonne of spare time or energy for new people.

Then again, maybe this is just what CBD living has done to me. Is the constant business forcing me to create a shell around myself in which I can then peacefully go about my day? Is that it? Dunno. Maybe. All I know is that whenever I go back to Bathurst to visit my family I’m always pleasantly surprised by the fact that Bathurstians will tend to say hello to you as you pass them on the street, whether they have ever met you before or not. Try that on in a big city and prepare to be pepper sprayed.

I did make a bit of an effort when we first moved in, but it didn’t last long. It was late 2014. The former drab office building we were soon to call home had just been completely gutted and renovated, so we were effectively the first people ever to live in our place. It still had that new apartment smell, and with facilities like a pool on the roof and a gym on the first floor I figured that there would be plenty of opportunities to find a sense of community there. For the first few weeks I would try to strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone I bumped into, like a hyperactive seven year old.

“Hi! What’s your name? When did you move in? Are you liking it so far? How good is the pool? Why are you slowly walking backwards away from me?”

Within a few weeks it became pretty obvious to me that our building was never going to be a social club, so I gave up and returned to my bubble. There have been exceptions. There’s a really sweet natured Indonesian dude who lives on our floor who is always up for a bit of quick friendly banter (friendly enough for me to know that he’s from Indonesia, not quite friendly enough for me to recall his name, but still…) and at one point there were signs posted in the lifts inviting the whole building to a movie night, “…for some bonding with your fellow residents, popcorn, and a screening of The Breakfast Club. Text Fiona to RSVP”, which earned a very firm “No thanks, Fiona” from me on about seventeen simultaneous levels.

It’s not just the disconnect from our neighbours that makes living in a CBD apartment tower interesting. There’s the never ending oddness of seeing rain but not hearing it because we are so far above street level, the nightly ritual of hearing a symphony of fire alarms going off because for some indeterminable reason the builders decided to put smoke alarms right over the top of the stoves in all of the apartments, and there’s the joy (for me, anyway) of standing on our balcony watching all the new buildings gradually springing into existence. Construction, like a lot of things I know nothing about, absolutely fascinates me, and there is a tonne of it going on in this city right now. Some nice ones, too. I will never stop appreciating how the new buildings in Melbourne aren’t just unimaginative fugly steel boxes as I watch them being slowly born.

My personal favourite is on the corner of Collins and William streets. It’s nickname is The Pant-Scraper because when the two towers currently under construction are joined together at the top, it will resemble a big silver pair of pants. (No, really. Google it!) From our balcony we can admire the ongoing construction of a massive purple skyscraper we have dubbed The Eggplant for obvious reasons, as well as a gargantuan tower on Spencer street that will soon house the six star (!) Ritz Carlton hotel. It’s going to be a monster, and the construction geek in me loves watching these buildings climb into the air to play their part in enhancing the Melbourne skyline.

But, and this is a very large Kim Kardashian sized but(t), the obvious downside of all this construction is the noise. When we moved in there was a moderate hum, and now as the cranes have moved closer and closer, especially since they started building something right across the street from us, I can’t stand to be on the balcony for more than a few minutes without noise cancelling headphones. Those things save the game for me. I wanna hug whoever invented those. Mr or Mrs Bose, I presume. Once I’ve got those things on everything suddenly gets peaceful again. It should be law that anyone who buys or leases a CBD apartment is handed a pair of noise cancelling headphones the moment they sign the documents.

A hidden advantage of living in such a noisy environment is that not once have we been asked to turn our music down, which I take to mean either that we have impeccable taste in music or that the people next door can’t even hear it over the cement mixers and the incessant jackhammering.

There’s still a lot to enjoy about living right in the middle of Melbourne. It’s a beautiful city to walk around, and when I don’t feel like walking the fact that trams are free inside the CBD is an added bonus. I haven’t even thought about owning a car while I’ve lived here, there’s great food everywhere, and thanks to the grid system even a geographically challenged individual like me finds it hard to get lost. The positives have so far outweighed the negatives, but the ever-increasing construction noise is starting to surface as a deal breaker.

It’s reached the stage where we are starting to talk about moving somewhere with a bit more space and lot less noise in the not-too-distant future. This is not a forever lifestyle, not if you want to preserve your sanity. CBD living has many advantages, and I’m glad we did it, but now that we’ve done it, I think we’re pretty much done with it.

Oh… wait! I remembered… Jason! The Indonesian guy’s name is Jason!