5 reasons why Virgil Tracy is my dream guy

With a veritable smorgasbord of strapping male eye candy on display, any hot-blooded 5 year old girl worth her salt would find something to swoon over at 6am most weekends while glued to Gerry Anderson’s 1960s Supermarionation tv series, The Thunderbirds.

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The line-up of talent

The five Tracy men; Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John, played distinct roles in their piloting of International Rescue’s squadron and equally, they had distinct personalities and interests.  They were all fine upstanding men and any one of them would cut the mustard with your mother too.

But here’s why, counting backwards from five (is there any other way?) Virgil Tracy is the only one for me.

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F.A.B is their all-important clarion call and Virgil was the first one to utter it in The Thunderbirds’ very first episode.

4 countdown

Virgil was principal pilot of Thunderbird 2, the coolest, best loved and most versatile vehicle with its interchangeable pods.

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The versatile TB2

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And its pods

3 countdown

If Tracy Island had a Renaissance man, then Virgil was the guy, equally skilled as an artist as well as a brilliant concert pianist.

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Virgil on piano … dreamy!

What about Scott?  Too Alpha Male for me.  John? Too solitary in his star-gazing pursuits. Gordon? A tad tepid, despite his aquatic skills and as for Alan? Skittish and at times a bit of a petulant dolt (besides which, Tin Tin already had him by the strings).

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Alan, Tin TIn, Jeff and Brains

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Alan with Lady Penelope

2 Countdown.

Call me old fashioned, but as a card-carrying pacifist, I’m impressed by the fact that Virgil didn’t actually kill anyone … unlike Scott, Gordon and Alan!

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Scott and Gordon packing heat

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If that weren’t enough, Virgil shares my dad’s birthday – August 15th, albeit some 100 years later.

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Virgil piloting Thunderbird 2

While Scott Tracy was mooted to be modelled on Sean Connery, it was Virgil’s more refined looks, rich, deep voice and rounded vowels that made me giddy, along with his penchant for the odd drop of Pernod while in gay Paris.

Where Virgil’s concerned, thundering hearts are go and SuperMARRYonation was MY dream … no strings attached.

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Crazy Kickstarters that put the arse into ars gratia artis

Kickstarter funding succeeded well ahead of its December deadline for the creation of the world’s largest jock strap, which only goes to prove that what constitutes creativity is also in the eye of the beholder.

With over $1 billion in pledges under its belt since 2009 and with its current poster girl, The Veronica Mars Movie raising $2 million in the first 24 hours of its appeal, Kickstarter is now a serious crowdfunding business model and something of a juggernaut.

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But I prefer to think of it as a Petri dish of quixotic artistic lunacy where a meeting of creative nutjobs and their zealots’ wallets can mosh with their sweaty dosh.

Scratch the surface and you’ll realise that some of the weirdest creative pursuits that got the thumbs up from the rabble start to make Kickstarter feel more like the Colosseum …. if Derek Zoolander was Nero and the whole spectacle was being broadcast by Public Access TV with a pilled-up Liza Minnelli doing presenter duties.

For your edification, I present five perplexing if not utterly dubious concepts that got the green light (or perhaps not).

1. Giant inflatable of Lionel Richie’s head (funded)

Created specifically for Bestival, a four day music festival in the Isle of Wight, the sculpture garnered double its appeal from 211 backers and came to fruition in October last year, as such ‘head-lining’ the event.

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2. Tentacle Bento – a rape-based card game (funded)

At last, an intuitive card game that lets you become a tentacle monster which rapes an assembly of school girls specifically lined up for that purpose. Suspended in May last year but not before it made three times as much money as it needed, with over 600 backers. Kickstarter’s reason for suspending it? The campaign was ‘too sexy’.

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3. Bring your dick to the table! (not funded)

Intended as a ‘fun reminder’ that women are equal when negotiating at the boardroom table, the perpetrator clearly has a serious case of penis envy. Her manifesto? ‘If all it takes is a dick, then here is mine. Now, let’s get down to business!’

Kick bring your dick to the table

4. Drop a baby grand onto a pyramid of champagne glasses (funded)

And why the hell not?

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And my personal favourite?

5. Kickstarter fund to buy Kickstarter (not funded)

Aiming to raise the $19 million it was valued at by worthofweb.com at the time the appeal was submitted by comedian and rabble-rouser Eric Moneypenny, Kickstarter rejected it on the basis that they don’t do ‘fund my life’ projects. Moneypenny insisted he was just following a dream and takes issue with Kickstarter being the judge and jury of his.

And as he points out, ” It’s not like there was nothing in this for them. Kickstarter makes a profit off of every successful Kickstarter, so Kickstarter would’ve made even extra money from my purchase.”

The fact that a $10,000 pledge only got you a pizza party with ‘new Kickstarter CEO Eric Moneypenny’, probably didn’t help much.

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For more crazy Kickstarters and a double dose of ‘arse gratia artis’ try:

Yourkickstartersucks.com and Freakstarter.com

Love and other catastrophes: the weird world of romance novel genres

I have Australian band Smudge’s recent gig poster to indirectly thank for propelling me down an interweb rabbit hole to Planet Bizarro Romantico; the crazy kingdom of romance novel subgenres.

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Last time I looked (way back in the 90s) Fabio, the Italian male model with the body of a stallion and intellect of a hamster, all but monopolised the genre’s cover art with his swashbuckling simplicity, honed as it were by the Easter Island Statue School of Acting.

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But now that romance novel sales top $1.5 billion+ in the US alone for a market that appears to be permanently on heat and seeking ever more customised titilation, the genre has spawned thematic subsets of an increasingly obscure, bizarre and unintentionally hilarious nature.  

For a literary form where the suspension of disbelief is the price of entry, poor old Fabio just couldn’t carry off what’s required of today’s cover model, which includes everything from a white lab coat and stethoscope to Mormon underwear, a yamulkah or even a sex change.

So here are just four reasons why it’s Fabiover and out!

#1 Amish Romance

‘You can leave your hat on!’

Evidently there’s nothing quite like the raw magnetism of a sombre, bespectacled chap in a straw hat and merkin beard to get you all hot under your grandpa shirt collar.  The only sense I can make of this genre is that The Amish’s dislike of both electricity and shirt buttons makes for a fumble-free evening’s roll in the hay.

Amish romance novels

#2. NASCAR romance

‘Wheels and doll baby’

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If you’re not really the horse and buggy type, then you can always rev your engine with NASCAR which funds a line of over 30 novels and appears to specialise in the relentless pursuit of cringe-worthy motoring puns, starting with the titles like, ‘Overheated’, Hitting the Brakes’  ‘Hearts Under Caution’ and plot descriptions like ‘The spark plugs between the two start firing almost immediately’. I’m just waiting for the short story, ‘Speed Hump’.

#3 Medical Romance

‘Is that a speculum in your pocket? …’

It may be one of the fastest growing subsets but the medical backdrop appears to be largely incidental because none of the female patients is ever subjected to anything as tawdry as a breast examination, pap smear or treatment for chlamydia. That’s also because the heroine is never actually a patient, presumably because the legal and ethical complexities of a doctor-patient sexual relationship simply get in the way of the prescriptive plots. As an Irish psychiatrist noted last year after studying the genre and posting his findings in “The Lancet”, almost every medical romance is the same and virtually every one of them is utterly scandal-free.  Only one diagnosis for this lot. DOA!

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#4 Paranormal Romance

‘Let’s get (meta)physical!’

Women have long gnashed their teeth over the paucity of male talent on Planet Earth.  Now they can exit the real world and try their luck instead with a vampire, ghost or shapeshifter. Even the Grim Reaper (seriously!). Most stories follow the Buffy/Angel model where the frisson of excitement lies in the forbidden fruit of alien-human mating. Assuming vampires play to type and do a lot of biting, the sex must be truly, er, transcen-dental.

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But, four on the floor and I’m already beat! For those still aching for more there’s also Time Travel, Lesbian, Gay, Satyr, Amnesia, Centaur, Mail Order Bride, Faery, Hannukkah and even Transexual subgenres.

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Fortunately, the saving grace that made this whole mad adventure truly worthwhile was the light relief of the romance novel cover piss-take, the grandmaster of which is a stud named Longmire who looks like the bastard son of Bill Bailey and Ron Jeremy and whose motto is ‘All the Romance. None of the Bullshit’.  

My personal favourites are ‘Lord of the Tube Socks’ and ‘For the Love of Scottie McMullet’.

Read ’em and weep.

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The most romantic gesture you can never make again.

As the commercial juggernaut that is Valentine’s Day hurtles towards us like space debris, it is with wistful yearning that I recall the most romantic of gifts, a memory now receding in the rear view mirror of my mind’s eye.

The gift that aroused the greatest frisson of excitement in me cost all but nothing in dollar terms yet displayed more meaning and beauty than just about anything else I received.

It could also have the same intoxicating effect on any other day of the year too.

That American poet, film critic and essayist Geoffrey O’Brien referred to this highly visible pastime of 1980s youth culture as ‘the most widely practiced art form in America’ is all the more appealing given so many were creating for so few; in fact for the most part, for an audience of just one person.

Behold, the humble yet glorious romantic pursuit that was the mixtape.

There was no greater labour of love than a compilation of songs conceived for a party of one.  Sometimes the selections were overt in intent. Other times, particularly amongst shy types, oblique and tentative layers of meaning might unfold.

For you

Each was unique but all of course reflected the compiler’s musical tastes and their considered selection could become an artistic statement in its own right.  To that end, the mixtape required a theme or mood to evoke an experience shared, a simmering feeling, an unexpressed emotion.  It was never just a random selection of songs thrown together.

And the ordering was just as important. Would it be a musical journey with each track acting as a layer in the aural brick road? Or a surprise package with alternating genres and tempos that delivered a mercurial experience as you seesawed your way through the audio hurdy gurdy?

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As Nick Hornby wrote in the mid-90s classic, High Fidelity: “Making a tape is like writing a letter … a good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.  You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with ‘Got to Get You Off My Mind’ but then realised that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music with black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and … oh, there  are loads of rules.”

Yes Mr Hornby, there were loads of rules and not just creative ones. Like ensuring the last track on Side A wasn’t cut off.  Better still that you’d mathematically engineered the playlist to leave as little blank tape at the end as possible so as not to interrupt the flow when it automatically switched to track one on Side B.

Likewise it was imperative to have the precision of an orchestral conductor with the Pause button so there were no audible clicks between songs.  And then there was the cassette case artwork and liner notes to consider, a whole other artistic pursuit in itself.

I made quite a few mixtapes of my own in the 80s and as they used to say at the Streets’ factory, you never share ice cream with someone you don’t like.  Similarly, you never made a mixtape for someone you didn’t like.

all_tapes400 Whether they were for friends or more, I still thought of them as a romantic exercise in musical self-expression and shared experience that spoke of great affection and appreciation for the recipient.

And if you happened to be creating a mixtape for someone you fancied, were falling for or were actually in love with, they could be all-consuming, ambitious projects of epic, heroic, Herculean proportions.

Sure, CD compilations and MP3 playlists became faster and more convenient methods by which to deliver the goods but like the romance of rail travel in the 1920s, a mixtape was as much about the journey as it was the destination.

Which is why I fully appreciated the magnitude of the gesture when I was on the receiving end.  More so, the singular sensation when receiving a mixtape from someone I was enamored of, which could set off an involuntary flush of pink to the cheeks and a palpable 128 beats per minute from beneath my shirt.

And that was before I even hit Play.

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Postscript: For those desperate to relive the halcyon days via a 3D printer and flash drive try MakerBot Mixtape. A quick look at MakerBot Mixtape

The Shaggs: Best worst band in the world

The late American rock critic Lester Bangs described the Wiggins sisters’ one and only album, Philosophy of the World as ‘a landmark in rock and roll history’, Frank Zappa apparently declared them ‘better than the Beatles’ and Kurt Cobain put the album at number five in his all-time Top 50, well ahead of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation and REM’s Green.

the Shaggs

It’s true that people tend to be passionate about The Shaggs … one way or another.  In the opposing corner of the ring, Rolling Stone magazine described The Shaggs as sounding like ‘lobotomised Von Trapp Family Singers’, The New Yorker as ‘hauntingly bad’ and another reviewer was sufficiently traumatised by the listening experience to state he’d ” walk across the desert while eating charcoal briquettes soaked in Tabasco for forty days and forty nights not to ever have to listen to anything Shaggs-related ever again.’

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Rocking out at the local town hall

The fact that this seemingly inconsequential curio of an album could engender such extreme reactions is one of the many delicious aspects of The Shaggs’ enduring appeal.

Their story features some archetypal themes, including a domineering father from Freemont, New Hampshire, hell-bent on realising the American dream of his daughters’ fame as a three-piece band, foretold by his mother in a palm reading. In the relentless pursuit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Austin Wiggin hauled them out of school and made them practice endlessly until they were, by his reckoning at least, match fit to record an album..

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Austin ‘Shaggs Svengali’ Wiggin with his wife.

As weirdestbandintheworld.com notes, at first listen, Philosophy of the World seems like an absolute mess; the drums are arrhythmic and out of sync; the guitars are often out of tune; the sisters’ harmonies are childlike and spookily dissonant. The lyrics make Rebecca Black’s “Friday” sound like Emily Dickinson; songs are about such profound topics as Dot’s pet cat (“My Pal Foot Foot”) and how awesome the Wiggin parents are (“Who Are Parents”), although they do also try to get deep on the title track: “The skinny people want what the fat people’s got/And the fat people want what the skinny people’s got/You can’t please anybody in this world.”

But, as many musicians and critics have pointed out, there’s a consistency to The Shaggs’ music that suggests they actually knew exactly what they were doing. During the recording sessions (at which the engineers would have to mute the control room so the Wiggins couldn’t hear the howling laughter), Austin would often stop the girls midway through a take because “they made a mistake” The engineers were shocked, considering what they heard sounded like nothing but mistakes.

Either way, The Shaggs sounded unlike any other band on the planet but there’s nothing to suggest it was a contrivance on their part. They were just being who they were (and for the most part that meant supremely untalented), but as Bangs pointed out, the beauty of it was that ‘they wrung out every ounce of whatever talent they did have.’

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The Shaggs reunite at CBGB in 1999.

the Shaggs stage musical June 7 2011

The New York Theatre Workshop’s production of The Shaggs musical in 2011. Dakota & Ellen Fanning are also said to be planning to star in a biopic as two-thirds of the band.

Whether you consider them banal or brilliant, more idiot than savant, gratingly simplistic or intensely complex, syncopated or constipated, The Shaggs certainly put the sing into singular.

Visit The Shaggs website here

Eyes wide shut at the world’s only Penis Museum

The weirdest museum collections around the globe provide intriguing insight into a country’s predilections and preoccupations; there’s the Instant Noodle Museum in Yokohama, the Barbed Wire Museum in Kansas, Dog Collar Museum in Kent, Celebrity Lingerie Hall of Fame in Hollywood and the Museum of Toilets in New Delhi.

So it’s inevitable that Iceland, renowned for its spouting geysers and volcanic eruptions, plays host to the world’s only museum dedicated to penises.

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That 60% of its 11,000 annual visitors is female surprises only for the fact that the gender skew isn’t much higher, given that my ticket appeared to include a complimentary speedball of awkward discomfort that, if I’m anything to go by, should see male visitors suffer on a Belushi-like scale.

It’s not just that there are over 200 species of appendages on offer, but that the first one taking pride of place on entry is a veritable assault to the senses.

Had I been invited in times past to view a blue whale’s penis in its prime, I suspect I would have politely declined.  That my first (and by the grace of god, only) experience of the aforementioned member was slowly decomposing in formaldehyde – a blanched, mangled monster of a thing that resembled a giant turnip with a nasty case of psoriasis – will haunt me until my final breath.

Lurching past jar upon jar of tortured specimens floating in aspic was, well, jarring to say the least.  (The good news for dieters though is that the whole experience is a terrific appetite suppressant)

Jar Jar … blinks!

Thank goodness then for the mood lifting effect of a glass case housing sculptures of 15 human penises immortalising Iceland’s victorious Beijing Olympic silver medal Handball Team in an artistic style I found reminiscent of wild mushrooms swaying side of stage at a Flaming Lips concert.

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Unsurprisingly the museum has garnered international media attention, including a reportedly ‘side-splittingly funny’ Canadian documentary called The Final Member, which charts the museum’s quest to obtain its first human penis.

The Final member

The founder Sigurdur Hjartarson has been on a mission to procure a human penis for years, saying that ‘without the human, the collection is not complete’.  In 2011 his wish was granted by Pall Arason, a 95-year-old Icelandic man claiming to be an adventurer and ‘Iceland’s biggest ladies man’ who bequeathed him his posthumous penis.  However things take a turn for the worse when Siggi fails to preserve Pall’s remains properly, rendering them ‘unflatteringly shrivelled pickled parts’.

Tom Mitchell.

Tom Mitchell and his Elmo schematic.

Enter Tom Mitchell, a middle-aged Californian horse farmer who’s so keen to be the owner of the world’s first celebrity penis that he’s willing to amputate ‘Elmo’ while he’s still alive.  Getting a tad carried away with what I like to refer to as his Pickle-Me-Elmo project, Mitchell goes on to get an American flag tattooed on its tip, commissions a fancy display case for it and seriously contemplates launching a comic book called The Amazing Adventures of Elmo, which features the penis in a cape (the cape bit being, to my mind, about the only predictable part of the proceedings thus far).

But that’s the kind of high weirdness and freakish devotion you’re bound to attract with a concept like a penis temple.  For the more pedestrian of us who remain thoroughly bemused at best and otherwise vaguely traumatised, it’d probably make more sense if the museum called itself Phallo-Illogical.

As the Daily Beast website notes, Iceland is home to many celebrated and much loved wonders. Volcanic mountains. The Blue Lagoon. The best lamb on the planet.  Musicians Björk, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós. Four-time “World’s Strongest Man” winner Magnús Ver Magnússon and the evil ice hockey team in D2: The Mighty Ducks.

The Penis Museum, by contrast, would do well to keep it in its pants.

The Wild Wild World of fashion’s WILD & LETHAL TRASH

Walter Van Beirendonck, the unlikely 90’s fashion guru who looks like a cross between a Hell’s Angel and the Jolly Green Giant, captured my imagination when at one of his collection’s showings in Paris the front row seats normally reserved for celebrities and editors were occupied by stuffed bears, relegating the fashionistas to the back row behind the toys.

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It was Walt’s ‘fuck you’ to the fashion establishment at a time when it was bookended by haute couture’s firmly entrenched elitism and the ‘flavour of the month’ sombre deconstructivism of the Japanese school led by Commes des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo.

Van Beirendonck burst on to the scene with cult clubwear label, Wild & Lethal Trash (W&LT, pronounced Walt); a riotous mashup of sci-fi, neon, ethnic, holographic, hi-tech, in-your-face, fetish, cartoony clothing which at first glance appeared to be no more than a visual cocktail of corrosive fun cooked up by a caustic adolescent mainlining raspberry cordial.

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But on closer inspection W&LT’s work reveals deeper layers of meaning on everything from the environment and safe sex to the class system and the media, delivering a hearty meal that includes an amuse bouche of provocation, entree of social commentary and main course which carves up fashion snobbery (in fact Van Beirendonck was the very first designer to stream his shows live for all to see and put his collections online for all to access). That he completes his fashion feast with a dessert hit of psychopathic optimism and unbridled joie de vivre is the icing on the cake indeed.

Van Beirendonck is probably best known for his superhero outfits for U2’s 1997 PopMart tour, but he’s also designed costumes for the Paris Opera Ballet, collaborated with Bang and Olufsen, Coca Cola and, somewhat  ironically, even Commes des Garcons.

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But his footprint extends far beyond the Northern Hemisphere, with Australia’s own connection to Van Beirendonck running threefold; a collaboration with Australian industrial designer Marc Newson in 1998, a t-shirt project for electronica outfit The Avalanches in 2002 and until October this year, the staging of ‘Dream the World Awake’ at RMIT University’s Design Hub in Melbourne, the first major retrospective of his work outside Europe.

Perhaps it’s because Australia is still a relatively young, irreverent and essentially optimistic country that we find we have so much in common with Walter and his ethos.

I’m just hoping we can further lure him into our clutches with an Antipodean diffusion label collaboration called W&LTzing Matilda.

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The author’s one remaining (and much loved) Van Beirendonck creation, Bought somewhere in the early 90s in Paddington, Sydney.

Sydney’s answer to the Soup Nazi

A few years ago three friends and I ventured into Surry Hills’ Absinthe Salon.  Having immersed ourselves in the swirling mythology of wormwood, the Green Fairy, Toulouse Lautrec and Moulin Rouge, we geared up for a night of bewitching intrigue with a snifter around the corner before wending our way through deserted side streets and alleys to the salon’s doorway, which we half expected to creak open with all the subtlety of an Addams Family sound effect.

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We were excited, which was evidently our first mistake.  The door swung open to illuminate our eager faces against that of the proprietor, who assessed us with narrowing eyes and a look of thinly veiled disdain creeping into the creases of his face. The stasis dragged to the point where I wondered whether a secret code was required:  ‘The hen is in the nest. I repeat, the hen is in the nest.’  Er, perhaps not.  Finally the silence was broken with a barked  “Enter!” giving us the distinct impression that we were privates on parade rather than patrons of his trade.

The reception room leading into the salon itself was a peculiar assault to the senses of absinthe-themed bric-a-brac and exposed brickwork more reminiscent of a Budgewoi timeshare than a Parisienne salon. My bullshit radar pinged me with an alert that the evening may in fact have all the authenticity of a thoroughly punchable mime artist.

Absinthe salon 1

And so began a litany of sermonised conditions announced with a heady blend of gravitas and ennui, including the three drink limit, various instructions on etiquette and a clear indication that we were at the behest of the proprietor’s ‘my way or the highway’ school of hosting.   Not to have our spirits dampened, one of my friends jumped in by asking ‘Will we see the Green Fairy?’.  Oh dear … BIG mistake (#2).

Before he could finish the sentence a strangulated voice resembling a seriously pissed off Arnold Schwarzenegger boomed ‘I HATE it when people ask me that!  You are not here to see the Green Fairy. You are here to respect the absinthe and to take it seriously. I will have NO MORE TALK OF THE GREEN FAIRY!’, as his fist thumped something, quite possibly his wife.  And with that he turned on his heels and the curtains parted as we meekly followed into the salon itself.

Absinthe salone inside

A chintzy room was filled with tables of people just like us, but something wasn’t quite right about the scene and it didn’t take Hercule Poirot to work out what.  Vaguely terrified patrons had been rendered mute en masse, lest they incur the wrath of the Absinthe Nazi.  I had never been in a place where so many young people had gathered to drink hard liquor where the room was so wholly sapped of its life force.  It was as if we were all at boarding school detention lining up for a caning.

The laminated menu provided an extensive and somewhat bewildering choice of brands but having already had our gonads chopped off at the front door, we felt in no position to make a decision so we shrivelled into submission until the decision was made for us.

absinthe menu

A large ornately decorated water cooler sat on the table with four pouring spouts and we drenched our spoons and sugar cubes in the customary fashion but I can’t say absinthe and water is my preferred drop. It reminds me of the sort of remedy your grandmother would give you as a child for constipation if she couldn’t find any prunes in the pantry.

Gladly though, with the Absinthe Nazi now distracted with other prey, we could relax a little and let the bizarre proceedings catch up with us.  Mistake #3.  One of us tittered, manifestly showing complete disrespect for the establishment by demonstrating what is otherwise known in the bar trade as ‘having a good time’.

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Anna, Lucia, Lincoln and Paul fake having a good time.

Mein Host stormed back over to us and said ‘Enough.  You will not get your third drink.  You are drunk. You are finished. Out!’.

By which time we were thoroughly delighted to extricate ourselves from what was the most comprehensive level of self-aggrandising bullshit masquerading as epicurean high art we could all remember.

But not before we picked up our gonads from the reception floor and hurled them along with some fairly impressive ‘bomb mots’ in the proprietor’s general direction.

Indeed, if the Absinthe Salon’s walls could talk that night, they’d have had Tourettes!

We ran onto the streets, heaving with laughter while happily leaving the frightened faces and neutered nether regions of Sydneysiders in our wake.

And then we went out for a real drink.

Jon Gnarr – world’s coolest politician

When your mayor is a former punk bass player, chooses to protest the incarceration of Russia’s Pussy Riot by riding on top of a van wearing a pink dress and balaclava and calls those in France protesting the gay marriage bill ‘assholes’, you can only hope that Iceland’s Jon Gnarr is also running a finishing school for would-be politicians.

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Gnarr in drag for Gay Pride

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While Gnarr’s roots may be in comedy as he rightly points out, ‘Just because something is funny doesn’t mean it also can’t be serious’ and his bio serves up exactly that as a veritable gumbo of travails and triumphs.

Misdiagnosed with severe mental retardation at the age of five and treated in a psych ward in his formative years, Jon determined at the age of 11 that school was of absolutely no consequence to his intended future as a circus clown or pirate and essentially went on strike, refusing to learn anything further.

By 13 he’d joined Reykjavik’s punk scene, graduated to vocals and playing bass with The Dripping Noses, and along the way becoming pretty tight with members of Bjork’s early band The Sugarcubes.

By the 90s he’d swung into comedy radio, tv and film writing, a stint as creative director at Icelandic ad agency EnnEmm and then starred as a bad-tempered Marxist in his hit television series Night Shift, Day Shift and the final installment Prison Shift.  Having had the rare privilege of watching all three series I can vouch for it being some of the best television comedy I’ve ever seen.

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Gnarr – far left in his series, Day Shift.

Gnarr’s foray into politics in 2009 was driven in equal parts by satire and an unsettled country upended by a financial crisis, political cronyism and  four old parties that had dominated Iceland’s political scene since the 1930s but no-one was more surprised than Jon when Gnarrs’ Best Party won comprehensively on what was essentially a comedy ticket.

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The Best Party’s logo

The Best Party’s election campaign included:

  • To improve the quality of life of the Less Fortunate: We want the best of everything for this bunch and therefore offer free access to buses and swimming pools so you can travel around Reykjavik and be clean even if you’re poor or there’s something wrong with you.
  • We promise to stop corruption. We’ll accomplish this by participating in it openly.
  • Cancel all debts.
  • Take those responsible for the economic collapse to court: Felt we had to include this.
  • Listen more to women and old people: This bunch gets listened to far too little. It’s as if everyone thinks they are just complaining or something. We’re going to change that!

Upon being elected, Gnarr announced that he would not enter a coalition government with anyone who had not watched the HBO series ‘The Wire’, he posted a video holiday greeting wearing a Darth Vader outfit and regularly posts memes to his official Facebook page.

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Two words Jon …. Totally Gnarrly.

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The Hemp Olympix; where the drug testing’s mandatory

Nimbin, a lush patch of earth 780 kilometres north of Sydney, has long been known as the dope growers’ capital of Australia.

It also plays host to Mardi Grass, where 10,000 hippies converge every year for a two day festival of all things combustible.

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The high point (if you’ll excuse the pun … and brace yourself for more to come) is the Hemp Olympix, the catalyst for which lay in the objections of left wing radicals to the ‘commercialised, corrupt and corporatised circus’ that the Modern Olympic Games had become.

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Grass Artia Gratis

And so the concept of the ‘alternative games’ took root in the town that put itself on the map in 1973 for Australia’s version of Woodstock and has been synonymous with green activism, flea markets and long-bearded alien spotters ever since.

Roll on some 30 years and The Hemp Olympix continues to impress for upending well-worn stereotypes on three counts – the first being the fact that the event even exists, given that pot smokers are hardly renowned for their organisational skills.

Stoners can also be an utterly humourless lot and yet The Hemp Olympix has some playful touches:

  • The Joint Rolling competition (two categories). Speed and my favourite, Artistry for the ‘most original and beautiful with as many papers as you like within ten minutes’.
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1999 Artistry winner

  • The Bong Throwing competition (male/female categories). Interestingly this category has an educational function at its heart as organisers have long been concerned for the health of young bong smokers who use plastic bottles and garden hoses known to release toxic fumes when lit. Incidentally the bong throw must not exceed a run up of ten steps and must conclude with a yell which the rules rather superfluously indicate ‘must contain at least one sound’.
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Be gone evil bong!

  • Irongrower Person Event (male/female categories). This obstacle course mirrors the real life feats of cultivators by demanding that competitors carry a 40kg fertiliser bag (20kgs for women) and water bucket between marked points without spillage. Damage to the lantana tunnel obstacle on the way through results in instant disqualification.

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  • The Furry Freak Brothers lookalike competition. Enough said.

And finally, perhaps the biggest surprise of the lot, police participation. Seriously. The Hemp Olympix includes a Tug-O-War competition between the Police and the Polites (aka hippies) which is all the more remarkable for the fact that as recently as 2006, the New South Wales riot squad, accompanied by sniffer dogs, raided Mardi Grass and arrested scores of festival goers.

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But in what appears to have been a win for the Nimbin community, the police have subsequently given up its attack strategy as the poor sniffer dogs were, quite literally, losing the plot, particularly as villagers had been scattering marijuana leaves all over Nimbin to lead any sniffer dog ambush astray.

Happily these days the police presence is an altogether more supportive one. As local area commander Superintendent Matt Kehoe has said ‘The community supports the festival so our aim is just to ensure a peaceful festival and target anti-social behaviour’.

It’s good to see then that thanks to the cops, the grass is indeed greener at The Hemp Olympix these days.

Needless to say I’m holding my breath for the announcement of The 2014 Hemp Olympix, but evidently they must still be mulling over the programme. I can only hope that they have even grander plans of a joint venture with the Bong Bong Races.

http://www.nimbinmardigrass.com/2013/

http://www.bongbongprc.com.au/