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Journal

Tuesday 19th April, 2016

What has happened here? Two blog posts within a week? Crazy times.

Reason being, this last week my story The Great Palinkas - about two soccer tragics who take it upon themselves to hunt down a retired player for not very civilised reasons - has appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction, alongside Road to Andamooka by Irish crime novelist Adrian McKinty.

This is a great Australian online fiction magazine which in the past has showcased the work of such writers as Frank Moorhouse, Rodney Hall, Bruce Pascoe and Christos Tsiolkas. Each issue contains two stories - the first by an established novelist and the second by someone like yours truly, not so established yet.

You can buy the Review of Australian Fiction by the issue or by the volume, both options very reasonably priced, for reading as a multi-format downloadable e-book, by going to their website.

Review of Australian Fiction

Friday 15th April, 2016

Is it really that time of a decade again, when I revisit my webpage? Without consulting my detailed and extensive diaries, or trying to decipher their arcane symbols and long-forgotten codes and ciphers, I estimate that it's been a reasonably productive and not very successful last twelve months for my writing and music, so no change there then.

Success of course is a subjective thing, somewhat. As Iggy Pop once said, Winners and losers, which one am I? Or is it the same, under the sky? Nice one Iggy aka James Newell Osterberg, Jr.

Iggy Pop

There are those who would say that just living the exemplary and fulfilling life that I do is success enough and to want for anything more would be plain greedy. A fair point, and yet there are other, lesser individuals who might measure success in purely materialistic terms, along the lines of acceptances and commissions, which to be fair can be an issue for a writer.

I probably fall between these two stools. Like all writers who take themselves even a little seriously, I appreciate the validation of a sale, and yet (like many writers) much of my work will never see the light of day, even some of my best work. There's not much you can do about this except keep getting you stuff out there, build internal and external momentum, remind yourself to believe in yourself, make the most of your opportunities, and learn from past cock-ups. So, as it turns out, there is in fact a lot you can do.

Whether or not you actually do any of it is another matter. Luck, chance, destiny, they all play their part, so that you may one day inadvertently close the door on an opportunity you hardly even realised existed, then spend six months barking up a dead end and mixing your metaphors. Sometimes only looking in retrospect (seldom wrong but never correct, as Split Enz argued on their 1976 song Sweet Dreams) will provide the answer, often years later.

Split Enz

There is a school of thought, reasonably popular, which goes along the lines of, if only I'd known back then all the things that I know now, then I wouldn't have made all those mistakes and I'd be bloody well right in there. This can otherwise expressed more succinctly as 'youth is wasted on the young', a witticism attributed variously to Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. But is that really true? If you knew all the stuff back then that you know now, you would likely just come across as some kind of uber-smartarse weirdo and none of the chicks would like you anyway.

Oscar Wilde

So the only course of action is to keep on writing, developing your craft, cultivating your contacts, and sending it out into the world. Whether you're an all-round mensch or a bastard head-stepper probably doesn't make a lot of difference in the end, and nor ultimately does 'success' for that matter, since we all end up in the shredder at the end. A lovely thought.

But as I was getting around to saying, I had an okay year. My story The Greater Good appeared in the May 2015 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and then shortly afterwards I sold another story to EQMM called The Guy I Told Stuff To, which will appear in due course.

There was also my poem All The Stuff That's In Your Head, (second line - It won't be there when you are dead) which was published in Melbourne-based magazine Arena. It was the first poem I'd written in many a year, and one which spurred me on to write another half dozen more in quick succession i.e. over the space of the next six months. It remains to be seen whether or not they will ever see the light of day.

I also spent some time working on a feature film idea called Mechanic with a producer in the UK (no, nothing to do with hitmen) but ultimately this turned out to be another of those dead ends. However, the idea is still there, waiting for me to get right. This could take some time.

Then there was the actual commission which came along and made everything bright and shiny again. Like many writing opportunities, it came virtually out of the blue. A friend I knew from the UK who teaches English in Spain wanted me to write a choose-your-own-adventure style story to be used as an English teaching text. Right up my alley, as back in the day myself and a good friend wrote a tasty little choose-your-own adventure called The Sanctum of the Dark Wolf for Proteus Magazine, that ill-fated 1980s UK journal which folded the issue before they published our epic. Yes, that's right. We sold this sucker, and it still never saw the light of day. Chalk that one up under miscellaneous disappointments.

Proteus

Point being, as a connoisseur of the Fighting Fantasy genre, and having done some hard yards in this ballpark, I was well-equipped to take this one on. The end result was The Christmas Killer, first draft completed recently. Even better, as the target readership for this story is adults and not children, I was able to write a sophisticated grown-up detective story complete with blood, guts and a sleazy protagonist just crying out for a chance at redemption.

So that looks promising. In the mean time, I am still on my quest to write the lowest budget short film script in the history of the planet. Currently I'm down to five dollars and eight cents, although that one's not very good. You need to fork out a bit more to make even a cheap film. My scripts are good, by the way, if you ever want to make one. I'm also working on a rewrite of my children's novel The Ghosts of Lawson. I also have plans this year to write a contained low-budget sci-fi horror film called The Spike (yes, it's about a spike).

Friday 30th January, 2015

With a new story (The Greater Good) appearing soon in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine I was recently asked to write a piece for the EQMM blog site, Something Is Going To Happen.

I think a lot about the effect that modern technology has on our capacity for creative endeavour. New software and increased connectedness can help us immensely and has opened up new ways of writing and music production to a whole new generation. But there is a downside - the new technologies can distract us and if we're not careful can have a fragmenting and dissipating effect on our creative work.

Bordeom, and Other Cures for the Modern World reflects on these issues and how they effect us and our children.

Friday 7th March

I’ve been writing songs ever since I picked up a guitar in 1979 at the behest of some friends who thought I would be a perfect addition to The Band. It didn’t seem to matter that I couldn’t play a note – which was about what they could do too.

If we’d been different people, we might have been one of those vogue punk outfits that made a name from three chords and shouting, but we weren’t. We were us, and so our prog rock fairytale was never told. The music stuck, though. I did end up learning the guitar and playing in bands, and even when I was too old to pretend to be a rock star I kept writing songs.

A few years ago, I found Cubase, midi controllers and soft synths, and started writing what is loosely called computer music. My EP White Noise is a result of that discovery. Writing songs on the computer is not so different from writing on the guitar. You still need lyrics, a melody and accompaniment. But with computer music, you can be the whole band in your own bedroom – bass, drums, guitars (some of them even real), keyboards and vocals.

White Noise is comprised of four of my recent songs – Maryanne, White Noise, Poor Richard and an instrumental piece, Mondo Spirit World Blues – all mastered by friend and former 301 Studios engineer Michael Macken.

I’m proud of White Noise. It may not be very commercial, but it represents many hours of experimentation and fine-tuning to reach a coherent and – for me – a new musical vision.

You can hear the first track of White Noise - Maryanne, on Bandcamp here and buy the EP as a multi-format download.

White Noise

Friday 3rd January

Crimewave 12

Crimewave is published by Andy Cox at the UK's TTA Press. Over the years it has achieved a well-justified reputation for quality, award-winning short fiction. Several Crimewave writers have won the UK Crime Writers' Association Short Story Dagger, including myself with Taking Care of Frank, in Crimewave 2.

Crimewave has published writers such as Ian Rankin, Muriel Gray, Marion Arnott, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Joe Hill, John Shirley, Charlie Williams, Christopher Fowler, Mike O'Driscoll, Tom Piccirilli, Conrad Williams, Mat Coward and Julian Rathbone.

The latest issue includes stories by Simon Avery, Stephen Volk, Joel Lane, Tim Lees, Ray Cluley and myself, among others.

Crimewave 12

Tuesday 31st December

Thoughts On The Things We Used To Do

I wonder sometimes about the acceleration of our dependency on the new ‘communication’ technologies. But only briefly. I don’t actually seem to have much time to wonder any more, since all my spare moments are taken up checking my email, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and posting my pithy and compelling opinions in online newspaper comment sections.

I do wonder something – how these newspapers actually survived before I came along and added my cogent views to the debate – whatever that debate might be at any particular moment. Immigration, education, the new Governor General, the economy, all of a sudden I appear to be an expert on all these things. No doubt these media outlets would all fall in a stinking heap were I to stop visiting their websites and sharing my views, just as Facebook would gradually fade away to nothing.

I don’t even have an iPod or an iPhone or an iPad, unlike many of my contemporaries and all of the younger generations I see wandering about these days plugged into the nothingness of the ether. I do have a smartphone, though it remains dumb in my hands, and still my time is sucked away from me inexorably, as though it has nowhere else to go now but into the maw of the idiot information monster that rules our lives.

I think the problem is that we long too much these days to be a part of something which isn’t really there. We long for that connection, we want to be relevant, to contribute. But online ‘communities’ are an illusion.

I live in a real community with real people, and sometimes that community is reflected in Facebook comment threads and such like, but Facebook didn’t create that community, it is made up of the real people who know each other face to face through the schools our children attend, the local music and art scene, sports clubs.

But still I find myself drawn to the flickering flame of time-wasting on the internet, and as I sit there tapping away as my brain goes mouldy, I wonder idly what I used to do in those spare half hours which I now willingly throw away as though I have an unlimited supply of them.

What did I do with all those minutes that were empty? And there is my answer. The emptiness is gone from my life, which paradoxically makes it so much more empty now than it ever was. If I’m indulging in some idle time and don’t have a remote or a game controller or a phone or a mouse in my hands, I feel lost, like there’s something missing, when all that is really missing is the my old ability to reflect and not constantly be doing something.

The internet makes people stupid. I’m getting dumber by the day as it steals away my capacity for constructive, creative thinking and learning through interaction with the real world. What were all the things I did with all those minutes that were empty?

I don't rightly know, but it must have been better than what I'm doing now.

And they’re all still out there, waiting to be done.

Friday 15th November

Lighting Up

My short piece Lighting Up has gone live on the flash fiction website Horror d'oeuvres today.

HorrorD

Friday 12th July

How It Is With Me And Pies

Up at The Bakehouse, they used to make this great Tandoori chicken and yoghurt pie. Just the right mix of spices, with great flaky pastry and a huge dollop of creamy yoghurt on top of the whole tender chicken mess. A meal in single-serve pie, that you needed a knife and fork and mouth to cope with.

Then one day I went to The Bakehouse and bought a Tandoori chicken and yoghurt pie, and realised they’d changed the recipe. I still recall how I felt on that day of minor disappointment. I felt a little annoyed. Irritated, even. Why change a great recipe? Why fix something that wasn’t broken? Had they sourced a bunch of cheaper ingredients from some cheap-ingredients shonk and tried to palm them off on their loyal customers?

That was my theory, and frankly still is. Cheaper ingredients. Change the recipe. Hope that no-one will notice. Food manufacturers do it all the time, that's common knowledge to anyone with their finger on the pulse. Well, I did notice. Yessiree, this pie-eater was not fooled. I picked it straight away. Different taste. Different texture. Different degree of 'pie'ness. Nice try guys, but this time no banana. Or pie.

So I stopped going to The Bakehouse. I didn’t see why I should hand over my hard-earned cash for a different tasting and slightly inferior product. And whenever I drove past The Bakehouse after that I used to think to myself, ha ha suckers, you could have had my money today, but you changed the recipe of the Tandoori chicken and yoghurt pie, and now I’m eating a sandwich instead. Ten, twenty bucks, maybe even thirty. That’s how much The Bakehouse lost out by changing their pie recipe on me like that.

Then one day I was really hungry, and so I stopped at The Bakehouse. I had my usual, a Tandoori chicken and yoghurt pie. You know what? Despite the new recipe, it wasn’t too shabby. It was actually quite nice. Frankly, I enjoyed it.

And I gotta tell you, don't believe what people are saying.

They make a damn fine Tandoori chicken and yoghurt pie up at The Bakehouse.

Friday 28th June

The cover for Crimewave 12, upcoming from TTA Press. My story The Simpson Frames will appear in this fine publication. Artwork by Ben Baldwin.

Crimewave 12

Friday 3rd May

Why You Should Never Ever Read to Your Children

I read The Lord of the Rings to Zac when he was seven. Too young, I concede, but he did seem to be enjoying it at the time. So I kept going, right up to Shelob’s Lair and beyond. Until I realised that his eyes had glazed over some time around The Mines of Moria, three months before.

He hadn’t been complaining simply because he liked being read to, it didn’t matter what, although he drew the line at the Daily Telegraph.

Ultimately, his vague interest in LOTR died before ***SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN LIVING IN A CAVE FOR FIFTY YEARS*** Sam and Frodo made it to Mount Doom, which may be just as well. The Scouring of the Shire would have driven him nutso.

But I saw even then that it was only my selfish desire for my kids to like the things which I liked that prompted me to read him Tolkien in the first place. And by introducing it to him so young, I quite likely ruined it for him forever. Which is a shame.

Of course that hasn't stopped me from doing the same thing again and again.

Because one of the coolest things about having offspring is that as they grow up, you can gradually introduce them to all the stuff that you used to watch and read when you were a kid. Or an adult. It’s a bit like being in a new mini gang of nerdy kids who get to like Buffy and Firefly all over again, and how can that be wrong?

Tragically, there are always exceptions. Take Swallows and Amazons. We were at least half way through when we gave it away, Zac through utter boredom, me through utter disenchantment. Don’t get me wrong, Swallows and Amazons is a marvellous adventure story for kids – as long as those kids were brought up at least forty years ago in a time when there actually was time.

Things moved a tad slower back then, you see. And so did books and films. Now we’re all of us so ‘time poor’ that if a film or book hasn’t finished before it’s started, it’s liable to get yawned at and flung to one side in contempt.

It’s easy to tell that Swallows and Amazon – classic that it may be – hails from a different era, because nothing happens until page 423, when one of the children finds a burnt matchstick next to an old apple core and makes a boat out of it.

And yet, I remember Swallows and Amazons as one of the premier rip-roaring, action-packed yarns of my younger days. Sadly, however, I also remember it as a slow and meandering tale from another, more innocent age.

So I now have two memories of Swallows and Amazons, one good and one bad. Which is the right one? Both, I guess, and that is kind of annoying. Because I wish I still had only one – the good one.

Fortunately, not everything has turned out to be crapola.

Conan Doyle and Phillip K Dick still seem to have what it takes, and Zac seems to agree. Which is gratifying, because I would hate it if those guys were rubbish.

I’m staying away from Doctor Dolittle, though, and Comet in Moominland.

I really think they’re great, and I’d like it to stay that way.

Friday 26th April

The Face Tree

That's the name of my new short story, out in the March/April issue of UK magazine Interzone.

Interzone 245

Interzone is available from the publisher - TTA Press - or from Amazon.

Friday 19th April

How Not To End Season Whatever

Warning – SPOILER ALERT for Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead. If you haven’t seen Season Two and/or Three of these series, stop reading now. Alternatively, stop reading now anyway and go out for a walk, you’re spending far too long on the internet as it is.

***

Here it is. Recently, I keyed into a TV series called Sons of Anarchy. Currently it runs to six seasons, and to date I’ve made it all the way to the end of Season Two.

Sons of Anarchy tells the sprawling and unlikely story of a bikie chapter in the USA. These guys and their grateful molls are a complex but industrious lot, and we get to see them at work and at play – running guns, buying off the local cops, intimidating witnesses, murdering people and so forth ho hum.

We get to catch up with them afterwards as well, in their down time, which they spend having lots of sex and drugs and fights. There is also some bike riding. What a life, huh? If only.

And these are the good guys! Distinguished from the bad guys by the odd twinge of regret they appear to feel while blowing someone’s head off or selling them down the river for a nickel to the local cartel.

In Season Two they really are the good guys, because the bad guys are neo-Nazis – and everyone knows how bad they can be. Like, very bad. As bad as Nazis, with the added unpleasantness of being neo. Anyway, it’s a fairly engrossing story, full of porn stars, gangsters, racial tensions, the Irish mafia and cigars.

Except for the ending, which is crap.

Because they leave us hanging.

Don't get me wrong, lots of stuff happens. People get murderated in a satisfying variety of ways. There are sassy chicks, explosions, fisticuffs and blowjobs, and even a truck being driven into a motel. For thirteen whole episodes. Everything is rounding off nicely, lots of loose ends being tied up with bullets to the head and so forth, and then, right when it’s last-piece-of-the-jigsaw time, the main hero bikie Jax’s redeeming baby gets kidnapped by some Irish thug, and...er...that’s it!

Roll credits as hero dude Jax sinks to his knees on the end of the jetty, surrounded by other stunned but somewhat less heroic bikies.

Want to see what happens to the humanising baby whose very existence has been constantly demonstrating that main murdering bikie guy Jax is actually a good bloke and not just a common gun-running criminal? Tune in for Season Three, suckers.

What, thirteen eps, and no closure? Really?

Which brings me, sadly, to The Walking Dead, which, being a zombie show, is hard for me to dislike. But what the hell were they thinking, the way they ended Season Three?

It sets itself up so beautifully, too. Crazy, conflicted Rick and his band of desperate survivors have holed up in a deserted prison. A few miles down the road, the even crazier and more conflicted Governor lords it over a barricaded township. One thing leads to another, and by Ep. Ten we’re all primed and waiting for the kill-or-be-killed showdown between Rick and The Governor. Only one can triumph. Will madness win out, or will it instead be extreme madness?

So where does this logical and compelling plotline go? Nowhere, that’s where. The Governor and his militia launch a searing attack on the prison...and are driven back by a couple of weaklings with machine guns. After which, The Governor goes even more bonkers (if that’s possible) and guns down a bunch of his own followers, leaving himself and his two lieutenants to drive off into Season Four.

Meanwhile, Rick and his pals are fine. Able to survive without needing to meet and deal with the massive threat which has been hanging over them since way back in Ep. Three, they, er, do not much at all. Passive redemption through nothing happening, and all is well! Bravo!

Not fair, Season Three writing team. Holding out the promise of a major resolution and then backing out at the last moment because you’re too in love with your characters to want to see them dead? That stinks.

Great modern TV series don’t do this to their audience. The Sopranos, The Wire, they understood that each season works best and most compellingly as a self-contained story. They knew that killing off major characters could be a dramatic strength, not a weakness. This isn't Superman we're talking about here.

It would be ludicrous to kill off Superman, because he's...well...Superman.

The Governor?

He would have been better off dead.

Friday 1st February

A Book What I Wrote

This is my new eBook from Really Blue Books. It's a collection of my horror and sci-fi stories, published over the years in such places as Interzone. It makes a companion piece to Milo & I, a collection of my crime fiction, also published by Really Blue.

Candy Moments is also available from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and on other eBook platforms.

Candy Moments Really Blue Books

Friday 11th January

I Am The Next Big Thing

Well obviously not really, but my old mate and writer Adrian Deans tagged me on the Next Big Thing blog meme which has been doing the rounds. In this hybrid blog meme (or blogmeme) writers talk about their next work. It's just lucky I have one, I guess.

So tell me, what is the working title of your current/next book?

Walter Weaver.

And where did the idea for this Walter Weaver come from?

There are some autobiographical themes in Walter Weaver – nothing direct, but I’ve adapted some events. It’s set in suburban Sydney where I grew up. The main character, Walter, is an amalgam of aspects of a few people I vaguely used to know. Very flawed people, let me say that from the outset. Flawed, and in some cases, dangerous.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s literary fiction. Though funny as well.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Even though Walter is the central character, Walter Weaver has an ensemble cast, so I think I’d probably trawl the streets for unknowns. It’s better than just trawling the streets for no reason, I find. Either that or Leonardo di Caprio as Walter, though he’d have to grow his hair long and act depressive. Could he do it? I think he could. Would he do it? Probably not. For Rosalyn – the femme fatale – someone with range and depth who could play a frighteningly beautiful sociopathic hell-bitch.

In one sentence, what is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Just one sentence? Okay. When you’re young and depressed and stuck in suburbia, sometimes all you need to wake you up are raging bushfires, a doomed romance, and murder.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Who can say? I’m looking for an agent at present, but am also considering the eBook route. My first self-published eBook - Run Over While Staring At A Woman's Legs - came out last year. It was fairly painless, so I may go that way again.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Not nearly long enough. Three months, maybe. I wrote the first draft years ago. Then I rewrote it, several million times. Last year I rewrote it for the last time - probably - completely revamping the final chapters and making it a far better book than previous versions. It is now ready to rock.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It’s hard to say, because Walter Weaver isn’t my usual genre. I write a lot of crime and horror/speculative fiction, and Walter Weaver certainly isn’t that. My favourite recent book that I’ve read is Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. Walter Weaver has nothing in common with that at all.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It was Philip K. Dick, the noted science fiction writer. He wrote two books I know of that weren’t sci-fi, In Milton Lumky Territory and Puttering About In A Small Land. For me, Walter Weaver has something of the spirit of those two obscure, neglected and out-of-print novels, set in a dreamy suburbia where madness and death are never further away than the house next door. Apart from the madness and death parts - they were my idea.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

It’s not very long, so definitely won’t take anyone ages to read.

.....

Well, that's it for Walter Weaver, but I've tagged two more writers who are going to talk about their own upcoming projects, so catch them if you can.

Screenwriter Tom Williams wrote the smash hit British rom-com Chalet Girl.

Horror writer Simon Bestwick is perhaps best known for novels such as Tide of Souls and The Faceless.

Enjoy!

Friday 7th December

I Have A Facebook Page Now

I’ve never been outstanding at publicising my writing. If I ever bothered to tweet, my half dozen Twitter followers could attest to that. Frankly, I find that the line between my huge reserves of natural modesty and shoving my work down people’s reluctant throats is a tricky one to walk.

But I am not a bad writer, to which the droll stylishness of this journal post attests. I have won some prestigious awards, one of them major, one completely international. I’ve had many short stories and articles published, been commissioned to write screenplays, been shafted by countless film producers. Kudos to me, right?

So, I’ve decided to start a Facebook page for my writing, in a clear effort to grab some of your fickle and wandering attention spans. Quick, check your phone messages! Go drink some chai! Or keep reading.

I feel, though – like many others – that Facebook is somewhat on the wane. Ever since it floated and started sinking straight after, FB has been coming up with snazzy new ways to ‘monetise’ i.e. suck cash out of the people who use it.

Yet another cash vampire to join the other four hundred and twenty-six in my life is possibly not what I need, but these things happen. Where there is money, bastards will try to get it. If I actually had some, I’d be worried.

I noticed a new trick recently. Ads for companies that I may one day have respected but which I now hate for appearing on my news feed keep appearing on my news feed. These ads have been ‘suggested’ for me. Suggested by whom, I wonder. Some evil bastard who loathes me, I expect.

You can buy your own ads too, now, to publicise the trivialities of your life. If that’s what you’re into. Don’t think enough people know where you ate lunch today? Then you can spruik that to even more of your one hundred and sixty-four friends than normal. Hallelujah.

Ads. Games. Memes. More games. More ads. Time and money, who needs them really? Pretty soon we’ll all be dead, and then your updates will stop. Though your page will go on forever.

But I’m being a little harsh. If you do like ‘memes’, Facebook is genius! Not to mention that it’s great for keeping up with friends and looking at pictures of cats, something you can often do at the same time.

I thought maybe that after that book came out telling everyone how to use dead ones in a hundred and one different ways, all the cats would have been killed by now. But apparently there are still a few out there, and they keep on popping up on Facebook, complete with their own captions.

So Facebook is actually great, I admit it, I was lying before when I said it was crap. And because I have a page on it, it is now that little bit bigger. Maybe better, too, although on that subject I couldn't possibly comment.

You can ‘like’ my page by going here and ‘liking’ it.

For my part, I would like it if you did that, but without the inverted commas.

Friday 28th November

Twenty-Eight Deleted Scenes

I saw an ad on TV. No, seriously. It was for a new edit of Titanic . You know, the boat film? The big selling point was – get this – twenty-eight deleted scenes.

That’s right, this new version of the film boasts an astonishing twenty-eight deleted scenes. Yeah, you heard me. This brand spanking new Titanic has twenty-eight of the scenes they didn’t think were good enough to be in the film in the first place, crammed back into it in various strategic places, to make it half an hour longer than the interminable three hours that it was originally.

Face it, if you deleted twenty-eight scenes from some films, there wouldn’t be a movie anymore. Which may not be such a bad thing.

Throw in the ads that you get on commercial TV here in Australia, and I estimate that you now have six whole hours of Big Freakin' Ship to be savouring.

Twenty-eight. That sounds like a lot. Is it really possible to make a virtue out of rebroadcasting this fairly ordinary epic film with so much extra padding? Apparently it is.

Not, we’ve cut the crap from this overlong turkey to make it vaguely watchable, but we’ve given you an extra half hour of this lame duck to fill your precious hours with. Thanks very much, no-one.

Waste some time on this, suckers, because it’s not like you’re doing anything better with your frittered lives.

Naturally, I’ll be tuning in.

To see if they’ve changed the ending.

Friday 19th October

Sponsor This

A few weeks ago, I was watching the Rugby League grand final while Tash sat on my head trying to convince me to flick to ABC 3 and get with the cartoons instead. Which as it turned out would have been a reasonable plan.

Storm v Bulldogs? Two teams I hate in a dour struggle to see which could excel in dourness and hate-ability. Was there a winner? Maybe. I can’t recall.

Of course there were ads everywhere you looked. The refs and player jerseys were sponsored. Not to mention the hoardings and the goalposts. Most of the crowd in their designer gear were walking ads for something or other. And there were the usual endorsements running like digital ticker-tape across the bottom of the screen.

Then, as the hooter sounded to end the first term, I heard commentator Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren (geddit?) say, “We’ll back after the break with Toyota Half-Time and the Coles First Half Action.”

Of course, the Keno Replay is a long-standing tradition now, fitting in nicely with the promotion of pointless gambling during broadcasts. But sponsoring half-time breaks and even ‘first half action’, that’s a relatively new concept.

I have to say, though, I like it. I like it for the possibilities that it opens up. Because if you can sponsor half time, or a half-time highlights package, then you can sponsor anything, right? And that can’t be bad.

I’d like to see some innovative thinking here. How about Woolworths sponsoring a player’s half-time slash? Or Fosters endorsing players as they gob all over the field, knee each other in the head, or bit off the odd ear?

In fact, why not sponsor the players’ names themselves? And why stop there?

Ford Falcon Billy Slater scoops up the Hewlett Packard ball on his own Coca Cola half way line, beats a Google tackle from Microsoft Michael Ennis, sidesteps past Samsung Sam Kasiano, and passes to Allianz Cooper Cronk! Allianz Cooper Cronk! Allianz Cooper Cronk, he’s still going! Allianz Cooper Cronk dives over to score a Telstra try in the Nissan corner!!!! Oh my Panasonic God! What a State Grid Corporation of China and Associated Companies player!”

There are opportunities here people, and you know, they aren’t necessarily confined to the sporting arena.

For instance, not that long ago, I scratched my butt.

I haven’t been sponsored for that yet.

If there are any major corporations out there who might be interested, I’ll probably scratch it again in the next half hour or so.

Friday 28th September

We’re All Beta Testers Now

Ever felt like you’re a beta tester? Beta testing is what happens to gadgets, video games, plug-ins and apps before they’re released into the wild. It’s a process designed to iron out the bugs and smooth the rough edges from new tech through consultation with geekoid insider customer groups and rabid volunteer early-adopters.

At least, that’s what it used to be. In recent times, all that’s changed. The truth of it is, we’re all beta testers now. Whether you know it or not, these days you’re the one beta-testing all the gadgets, devices and apps for the corporations which purport to sell them as finished product. You’re working for The Man, twenty four-seven, and you’re doing it for nothing.

Apple hit the news recently, and not just for the new iPhone 5 which once again saw a mass outbreak of Dweeb Queues across the world.

The iPhone 5 has a new Maps app, see? It replaces the tried-and-true Google Maps with a piece of complete dung which gives wrong directions, sports inaccurate maps, and generally makes people swear even more than they normally do while driving.

Do Apple care? Not really. As they blithely press-released, “We are continually improving it and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people that use it the better it will get.” See what’s happening here? If you use it, then it will get better. Not, if you use it, then it will work. It’s up to you, guys and girls. We’ve provided you with the turd, now go out and polish it.

The problem is that we’re all so hooked on our new tech that we’re not going to do anything about it. Do you think that the Apple-ytes who slavishly follow and buy every new Apple gadget that appears are going to give it all up because they’re being drip-fed this cack? Unlikely, and that’s what crApple banks on, the knowledge that they have a captive market which has bought so heavily into their brand that, for them, there is no turning back. Not ever. They have internalised the whole show. They identify with Apple. It has become a major part of who they are.

Somewhat sad, really. Sob.

I haven’t internalised Apple. It remains bleakly external, like...a brand.

I haven’t internalised my T-Box either, a piece of complete rubbish that Telstra sold me recently. Very thoughtful of them. It hardly works at all.

The screen freezes whenever a train goes past. We live next to the train line. There are trains all the time. So the screen freezes a lot. It’s a lottery whether we’ll get Channel X or Y, or whether the programme guide will work, or whether a scheduled recording will go for more than five minutes in playback – and they’re the good things about it.

But I like to watch recorded TV. Here in Australia, where there are so many freaking ads, it’s almost mandatory, like voting or building tollways. And Telstra know that. They know I’m prepared to put up with this utter crapidity in order to not have my Torture-Box disappear back to their Tinkering Unit for an Unspecified Length of Time.

Because my Torment-Box isn’t broken. I know it isn’t, and they know it too. It’s just a very poor piece of kit which was never designed to work properly. Oh, maybe it will one day, once all the poor sucker beta-testers out there like me have complained enough.

But I’m getting sick of complaining. I’m losing the will. It takes a certain energy and bloody-mindedness, and I don’t have that any more. I know that’s what they’re counting on as well, the Apples and the Telstras and the Microsofts. I know that most of their customer support is designed to deflect me from what I really want, which is a product that actually functions as it should.

But I no longer care. I’m a beta-tester now.

And so are you.

Friday 21st September

The Google Ad Thingie

Don’t you love the way that the Google ad algorithm works? If it is an algorithm. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe I used the word ‘algorithm’ because I read it in the paper recently in connection with something else sneaky that Google is doing and decided to use it in this context as well.

The way the ad whatsi works seems to be, say you get sent an email about how your friend likes throwing weasels into a bucket, then an ad for buckets, or weasels, or throwing, or stupidity, will appear in the column beside it. Targeted, you see? Clever. Moron Weasel Factory. Five Weasels for the Price of Eight.

But it doesn’t have to be emails. It can be other things. Just now I made a detour to my Google spam folder to delete my spam, and above the now-empty spam page (hooray, no spam here etc) is a link to a Creamy Spam Broccoli Casserole recipe. Which makes 8 servings. That’s not bad, I guess.

So if you have a large family of people who’ll eat any old crap, this could be the recipe for you.

Thanks Google. Thanks spam.

Thanks for nothing.

Friday 14th September

I heard some guy on the radio the other week – a muso from some band, apparently – saying that he had been mountain climbing, and how great that had been, because he’d been able to ‘face his fears’. Immediately I thought, what a dick. What, the fresh air wasn’t enough? He had to ‘face his fears’ as well?

I’m guessing he meant a fear of heights and not a fear of being considered a dimwit. That part of it I can understand. I have a fear of heights too. It’s a very well developed fear, cultivated over years of being on the ground. Actually, it’s why I stay on the ground.

My fear of heights is supremely rational. Every time I happen to stray too close to the edge of a cliff, my fear of heights says to me, What would happen if you fell over? Get away from the fricking edge, moron! I listen to my fear. I don’t have any idiotic desire to ‘face’ it. I just get the hell out of there and go sit in the car while those tough fear-facers near the flimsy wire barrier have what they think is a great time dicing with death.

Fear is healthy. I'm not talking about crazy-type fear, where you yammer like a baby whenever you see your own shadow. I’m talking about justified fear. All you dweebs who make the jaunt up Everest? Did you know that there’s a 1 in 8 chance that you won’t make it back down? That the peak of Everest, the bit where you’re on top of the world, is a graveyard littered with the bodies of all the other drongos who tried to conquer their ‘selves’ before you?

Do you know why the bodies are still there? Because at the top of Everest, you’re so physically close to death anyway that it’s impossible to drag the dead people back down and give them a proper burial. Go face that.

Sure, if you’re truly phobic about something so that it affects your day-to-day life, then consider getting some help. If you’re triskaidekaphobic and find that every time you hear or see the number ‘13’ you throw yourself under the nearest pillow, that’s a medical condition. Get it sorted. But if on Friday the 13th you suffer from vague uneasiness for five minutes and then forget about it until next time it's mentioned on the radio, believe me, you don’t have a fear you need to face. You’re just a superstitious twit.

As a teenager, I remember reading Dune by Frank Herbert. Several times. It’s a good book. But the whacko religious sect in Dune, the Bene Gesserit? They had a saying about fear: 'Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.’

Cobblers. Fear is good. It's there for a reason. Fear has meaning – it lets you know when to run like mad, in the other direction. Sure, stand there like some bonkers Bene Gesserit type when the avalanche is rolling towards you.

See what happens.

Friday 7th September

Today I had occasion to take a leak in a strange woman's house - don't ask me why - not that the woman was strange, just the house - and I noticed at once that she had one of those Precarious Toilet Seats. If you're a bloke who pees standing up, you'll know what I mean.

The Precarious Toilet Seat is always down when you first enter the bathroom. Now, I know that there are certain people (some of them women) who resent the fact that on occasion a man will not put the toilet seat back down into its default position. Who knows why this is? Anybody? Not me.

But the Precarious Toilet Seat, it has little desire to remain upright no matter what. Lift it, adjust it, the PTS will always be teetering on the edge of something momentous, something dynamic, something fierce, as it struggles to hold itself erect.

Technically speaking, the Precarious Toilet Seat presents several challenges, not least of which is, how the heck do you stare out the window and scratch your butt while you're taking a leak if you need one hand to keep the seat in place?

I don't yet have an answer to that question.

All I know is that from now on I'll be peeing in that woman's back yard.