Monthly Archives: April 2006

Uncomfortable moment with an ex

By
4
April 27, 2006

I was in a café yesterday, having a coffee with my wife before we went on about our day. It was all quite pleasant until I went in to pay and there, sitting at a table with some other people, was an ex of mine. I saw her. She saw me. I started to smile a pleasant Hello when she quickly looked away. There was no question that our eyes had met and that we recognised each other, yet she just looked away. Blatantly ignoring me, choosing rudeness over politeness.

It wasn’t even a particularly acrimonious break-up. She got sick and was laid up with the flu and a throat infection for a couple of weeks. That’s what she told me, at least. She said she’d call me when she was feeling better. That call never came. I tried to call her a couple of times, but she must have been screening my calls as she never answered. I left a message a couple of times. I even considered calling from someone else’s phone so that she wouldn’t recognise the number. It would have given me a very satisfying, “Aha! Trying to avoid me, are you?” But that would have been petty and rather pointless. So I gave up.

It was guilt on her part, of course. She knew that she’d done the low and sneaky thing, not having the guts to face up to me and say, “I don’t want to do this any more.” The reason she didn’t want to do that, I think, is twofold. One, she was too chickenshit to be honest with me and, two, she was trying not to be honest with herself. She knew that she was weak and she wasn’t prepared to give me the opportunity of talking her out of it. Or even the opportunity to berate her for quitting on me.

It’s happened a few times and it always surprises me. In fact, it seems to happen that way more than any other way and I think it’s because these girls are always a little disgusted with themselves for giving up on something they were always trying to be so positive about. They know it’s wrong, so they sneak away rather than stand up and say, “I’ve changed my mind!” After all, in the long run, what do I care if they leave me?

There’s always plenty more Personal Training clients waiting for a spot to become free for them.

Ban the toys

By
2
April 26, 2006

I was a little bit encouraged while reading the news today, which is quite unusual. Fast food companies are going to start addressing the problem of childhood obesity by no longer giving away little plastic toys in ‘happy meal’ type promotions. This is actually good in several ways. Firstly, it reduces the desire to have more happy meals in order to collect more toys. This is the desired outcome of the marketing in the first place and the fast food industry has recognised it as contributory to childhood obesity. Of course, we all know that the industry is only making these concessions as quickly as possible in an effort to stop the entire banning of junk food advertising. However, let’s be glad of every step forward.

Interestingly, spokespeople for the fast food companies have been saying how the banning of advertising won’t help anyway. Their theory is that the advertising does nothing to promote the consumption of their product; it simply raises awareness of their particular brand. Well, that’s quite plainly a steaming pile of horse turds. If the advertising didn’t result in sales, the companies wouldn’t pay premium rates for it. Of course, the average consumer if considered daft as a brush and corporations prey on this all the time to make us consume more of their crap.

Anyway, they’re going to stop giving away these little plastic trinkets with meals and that’s a good thing. Not only will it hopefully reduce the desire for these meals in the first place, but it should also stop thousands of tons of useless, poorly made plastic novelties from ending up in landfill three weeks after they’re “bought”. Kids have a notoriously short attention span in the first place. Giving them more throw away toys is pointless and unnecessary and everyone knows this. However, the companies create a need, the child complains that it needs this latest thing and the dumb parent concedes and perpetuates the cycle.

Which brings us neatly to the root of the problem. Why do parents let their children eat this rubbish anyway? Anyone with the slightest concern for their child’s wellbeing should avoid a burger joint like they would avoid a campsite for proud paedophiles. If there was ever any proof needed that these things lack any nutritional benefit whatsoever, one only needs to look at the burger on display at the Alpha Gallery in Erskineville. The artist Greg Shapley and his friend bought the cheeseburger at Blacktown McDonalds in January last year. It was exhibited last year and is appearing again from today at Alpha. According to Shapley, “Miraculously, it has not deteriorated at all; the meat is not maggotted, and the cheese is as fresh as the day is was, umm, …processed.”

Not miraculous at all really. It would need fresh, nutritional ingredients to go off. So let’s be thankful that the companies are starting to address the inherent problems of feeding this offal to our kids (grown-ups should know better, after all, and deserve everything they get). Although, it does occur to me that perhaps we’ve got this the wrong way around. If only we could convince these companies to keep the happy meals, but instead of not supplying toys, perhaps they could supply only the toys and ban the “food”. I would venture a guess that the toy would have more nutritional value than the burger.

I know what I should have said

By
1
April 24, 2006

We’ve all been in that situation where somebody, for whatever reason, has pissed us off or insulted us and we had no comeback. Invariably, minutes or hours later, an absolute gem of a rejoinder comes to us. Of course, by the time we think of one it’s about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. In some ways, it’s even more frustrating to come up with a rapier-like riposte too late than to never come up with one at all.

I was reading in the paper today about a few people blessed with the ability to not only come up with a good response on the spot, but to make an art form of it. Probably the most famous is Winston Churchill’s response to Bessie Braddock when she said, “Sir, you are drunk!” Churchill replied, “Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.” Gold.

Another good one, closer to home, the late New Zealand prime minister Robert Muldoon, commenting on the migration of Kiwis to Australia said, “It’s raising the IQ’s of both countries.”

Let’s pop back to Churchill for a moment, as he was arguably the greatest sharp retort expert ever. Nancy Astor once opined, “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.” Churchill’s pause-free response was, “If I were your husband I would take it.”

And a very special one from Anon, Australia (it’s real origins lost in the mists of urban legend). A parliamentarian says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am a country member!” The resounding response was, “We remember!”

The thing to remember is that when someone is annoying you, the best thing is to have ammo ready. Practice makes perfect and someone like Churchill didn’t have a skill like his from birth. He spent years making snide comments to all and sundry until he became an expert. We can be very petty creatures, us humans, and for that reason alone there are few things that will give you the kind of pleasure that a shredding comeback will. Consider it a sport and get practicing.

Our rising art stars

By
0
April 21, 2006

Halinka Orszulok, my wife, is a superb artist. Of course, I can see where some people would spot some room for bias in my opinion. But don’t take my word for it, others agree.

The lastest issue of Australian Art Collector magazine has run a feature called ‘Undiscovered Artists’ (Issue 36, April – June 2006). By undiscovered they are referring to “artists whom, while currently unrepresented, undiscovered or unknown, are ready to shine.” They selected just ten artists from all over Australia. Halinka was one of the NSW artists chosen. High praise indeed from one of Australia’s most influential art magazines.

Each artist got a feature page with an image of their work and a blurb all about them. Here’s Halinka’s page:

Art Collector Article small Our rising art stars

It would seem that Halinka’s star is indeed rising. She’ll also be featured in an interview about her art with Australian fashion magazine RUSSH in the near future.

You’d better be quick and buy her work while you can still afford it. It’s got to be a sound investment now. There’s a link to her site in the sidebar on the right.

But it’s free

By
2
April 20, 2006

I usually avoid fast food outlets like I avoid street corner evangelists. However, every once in a while I have to make a concession. When I’m working, travelling between clients with little time in between, I sometimes have to eat while I drive. If at all possible I’ll find a nice café and get them to make me up a fresh sandwich and a juice. Sometimes there’s not much choice around. My only concession to fast food in instances like this is Subway. They at least use fresh salad and make the sandwich right in front of you. And the fillings, if you choose carefully, are fundamentally recognisable as food.

Today I had to make one of these stops. I went in and ordered my sandwich and (as I am weak on very rare occasions) I asked for a cup in order to have a soft drink.

The girl behind the counter handed me my sandwich and cup (as it’s the type of place where you fill it yourself) and then started heading for a cookie.

“What sort would you like?” she asked, gesturing to the selection on offer.

Confused, I replied, “Er, I didn’t ask for a cookie.”

She shrugged, “They’re free with a soft drink.”

Realisation dawned. “Oh, I see. Well, thanks, but I don’t want one.”

“But it’s free.”

“I know. But I don’t want one.”

“But it’s free.”

My face must have started betraying some level of consternation tinged, I’m sure, with anger. She actually looked at the next person in the queue and made a face as if I was the mad one. Her eyes were apologising to the next customer on my behalf.

“I don’t care if it’s free, I don’t want a cookie.” I thought this was about as clear as I could make it.

“If you buy a sub, you can have a drink and a cookie for two dollars,” she explained, even though I neither requested or needed any further explanation.

I decided to explain something to her instead. “Those things are nothing but little blobs of sugar and butter and I don’t want or need one, whether it’s free or not.”

“You still have to pay two dollars for the drink.”

I couldn’t bear it any more. I held out some money for her, staring at her, daring her to say another word. She took the money and gave me change, looking at me as if I was Rain Man.

And people wonder why there’s an obesity epidemic in this country.

Rainbow sheep and kickboxing apes

By
1
April 19, 2006

People never cease to amaze me. They do such incredibly stupid things, so often belying their ability for remarkable things. I say “they” as I’m obviously beyond reproach.

Sometimes, however, people can redeem themselves. Take, for example, the recent rainbow sheep debacle. Political correctness is taking on a newfound level of absurdity every day, overseas and at home. You know where this is going already, I’m sure. A nursery school in England, that shall remain nameless (it’s in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire) started forcing the children to change the words of the classic nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep. For those of you that have been nursery rhyme deprived, it goes like this:

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

Fairly straightforward. The nursery school in question decided that this might be seen as discriminatory. The centre’s manager, Stuart Chamberlain, said, “Basically, we have taken the equal opportunities approach to everything we do… No one should feel pointed out because of their race, gender or anything else.” Even sheep, apparently.

The centre’s project co-ordinator, Felicity Dick, seemed to have a slightly better handle on things. She said, “What is ridiculous is that we were actually singing black sheep, white sheep, occasionally rainbow sheep… We haven’t often sung rainbow sheep as that is not their actual colour.” Thank goodness she’s there to make sure kids realise that they are not weird because they have never seen a sheep like a Gay Pride flag.

So a victory for common sense over ridiculous levels of political correctness. Similar outrage has accompanied stories such as Manchester Police telling its officers not to use the term ‘accident blackspot’ and Mothercare trying to rewrite then ending of Humpty Dumpty in order to avoid upsetting children. People power can overcome stupidity!

Only today I read about fifty seven Orang Utans that were seized in a raid in Bangkok two years ago. They are finally due to be returned to their home countries. They had been smuggled in from other countries, most likely Malaysia and Indonesia, where there are thought to be only around twenty thousand of these proud animals left in the wild.

Why were these fifty seven smuggled into Thailand two years ago? For a conservation breeding program? For pets? No. They were to be trained to fight each other in kickboxing bouts for the entertainment of zoo patrons. And chimpanzees in bikinis would carry large cards announcing each round. Seriously. I may be a novelist, but I’m not making this up. The practice was suspended after considerable outrage and pressure from both police and the public, even though it wasn’t actually illegal.

So there could be hope for humanity yet. Do your bit – stand up against stupidity wherever you see it. If you say and do nothing, the stupid people win. Just look at the US government.

(Sources: Daily Express, BBC, Ananova, Sydney Morning Herald)

Of hippies and eggs

By
4
April 14, 2006

Easter is upon us again. It’s a funny old time of year when you really think about.

Once upon a time, apparently, there was this hippy-like Jew living in the middle east and he had some pretty radical ideas about life. He wasn’t very happy with the way things were going under the Romans and he became quite vocal about it. Alongside this, he tried to convince people to be nice to each other.

Naturally enough, the Romans were a bit upset about this and harried him all over the place until they’d eventually amassed or created enough evidence against him to stage a rather shaky trial. His trial went badly for him and he ended up dead. They didn’t muck about, the Romans. There’s a fairly common view of how this death happened and then there are several other points of view of how it might have happened. Along with that there are several points of view of the hippy’s real ideas, his relationships and how he may or may not have left a descendant line and so on.

Either way, he was a hippy with pretty cool ideas about peace and love that ended up dead. (And he was not the first or the last, of course).

About three decades later this dude called Saul (Latinised as Paul) started a cult, loosely based on the hippy’s ideas. He had never met the man on who’s teachings he based his cult, but he claimed to have received a vision in which he was given permission to go ahead anyway. It became known as the Cult of Christianity. It gained a fair amount of followers and over the next two thousand years became quite popular. A big book was written about it, based firstly on an older book supposedly penned by an older hippy that allegedly got his inspiration while alone up in the mountains. This old book was combined (rather loosely and haphazardly on many occasions) with Paul’s new book and the whole thing gained a great deal of momentum.

Over the years that book has been rewritten time and again, with lots of bits added and lots taken away, dependant on the whim and personal desires of each editor. Throughout this slow and sometimes quite malevolent transformation, the Cult of Christianity itself has grown and morphed along with it, also gaining and losing things as it went.

Today men (as women are fairly universally excluded) control all sorts of factions and splinter groups of the original Cult. They are frowned upon by the followers of the older way of Judaism, on which the Cult is based, and the followers of the younger way of Islam, which is supposedly the real version, demoting the hippy back from Messiah to Prophet and putting the emphasis back on the over-riding theme of a monotheistic god. Ironically, they’ve ended up raising their own Prophet to a status higher than any other, which defeats the object a little bit. And while these people frown on all the various forms of Christianity around today, so do all sorts of other groups. And the Christians frown back. An awful lot of blood has been spilt in the name of the hippy’s teachings. Most of these groups seem to think that killing people that don’t believe them is the surest way to spread their original message of peace and love.

And now, two thousand years later, people will spend this long weekend looking solemnly at images of this Jewish, middle-eastern hippy, himself transformed into a handsome blond haired, blue eyed paragon of harmony, rather than the swarthy political agitator that he most likely was in reality. They will ask themselves why there isn’t more love and peace in the world as they marvel at his death and subsequent alleged resurrection and they’ll silently thank him, as he died for their sins.

Then they’ll give each other eggs made of chocolate and laugh at the antics of a funny rabbit.

Where have all the good ideas gone?

By
2
April 11, 2006

Whatever happened to good ideas? It’s a real shame that Hollywood these days seems to think that people will only pay money to see something they’ve seen before. Perhaps they’re right, but that would be even more sad. I’m prepared to believe that Hollywood are a bunch of money grabbing parasites, but I’d rather not think the general public are totally stupid. I know, there’s often so much evidence to the contrary that it seems hard to think otherwise, but let’s have a little faith in our fellow man here, people!

What am I rambling about? Good question.

I’ve just read that there’s going to be (another) remake of My Fair Lady (with the currently in favour Keira Knightley touted as the front runner to get the lead role, by George.) Why?

It seems that unless it’s a remake of a previously successful film or television series, or a sequel to a previously successful film, Hollywood won’t touch it. I’m a great fan of movies, but I want to see new movies. I don’t give a good hoot if Jessica Simpson is hot in denim hot pants, that’s no excuse for making a movie from the Dukes Of Hazzard tv series. The series was bad enough in the first place. Distressingly, even Peter Jackson is guilty, remaking King Kong. The original film was an absolute blinder, years ahead of its time. Why does Jackson feel the need to do it again seventy years after its time? Sit back and have a think for a minute about how many sequels there have been in recent years. Then consider how many of those sequels were even close in quality to the first, let alone better. I’d like to cite the truly awful Matrix trilogy as a perfect example of a great initial film sequel’d into stinking dogmeat. I’m sure with very little thought you can come up with your own examples.

There are so many creative people out there with so many good ideas. If people voted with their wallets and stopped going to see these rehash “blockbusters”, then maybe Hollywood would look to a new direction. All the time that people are getting sucked in by extravagant effects and seriously obscene budgets, there’s no need for Hollywood to change its modus operandi. Keep churning out the remakes and all the stupid people say, “Oooh, look! A shiny new thing that I know I’ll like because it’s just the same as the old thing that I already liked!”

There is some hope, however. The Oscars this year gave Best Picture to Crash. A new story from independent producers. So we can hope that there will be more interest in making films that people don’t already know the ending to. If anyone out there is interested in starting something really magical, I’ve written a very original novel that many people seem to think will make a great movie. I’m open to offers.

A return and an interview

By
0
April 9, 2006

Well, I’m back from a most restfull holiday. It was great to get out into nature, sleep, swim and generally recharge. Now to unpack and try to get my head around the concept of getting back to life as normal again. Wouldn’t it be nice if the holiday was life as normal and we just stopped for a couple of weeks here and there to work? We humans seem to do so many things backwards.

Meanwhile, you might be interested to read this. While I was away I was interviewed about RealmShift. Have a look here. You can also follow a link from there to the review.

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The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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