Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Mousetrap – How I Got Caught

Here in Gladstone, I’ve been doing some stuff… thinking mostly, about How and Why stuff happens to me?  Like everything else that’s awry with my life, generally it’s all my fault. 

Tomorrow night at 8pm, I will walk onstage and take part in the first ever showing of The Mousetrap here in Gladstone.  With a bit of luck, I won’t freeze, faint, or worse, forget all my lines and stare mutely at the laughing crowd. 

I’ve been reduced to practicing my lines in the solitude of the bush, because my family don’t want to listen to me prattling on anymore, and then there were some very embarrassing moments on the footpaths involving passers-by who were startled by some of my outbursts while I was out and about walking the dogs. 

In the build up to tomorrow night’s performance, I’ve been experiencing moments of fear, exhilaration, excitement, and terror.  Why?  Why do I do this to myself?!

The build up started started about a year ago, beginning with me taking The Littlest Princess (TLP) to see a play at the Gladstone Entertainment Centre, a ripper comedy by the Wild Goose Theatre Company: Unoriginal Sin.  I wanted to expose her to the ‘art’ side, before she got much older and refused to be seen with her ‘Daddy’ in public.

Anyway, it was a great show, and during the interval, TLP and I wandered about the foyer meeting and greeting our friends.  One of them asked TLP if she was enjoying the show, “Very much!” she replied.

“Well, how would you like to be in a play?” asked our friend.

TLP shook her head.  Now, this was the exact moment when I opened my mouth and started the ball rolling on the chain of events that would lead to my public debut as an amateur actor… (very amateur).

“Look, it’s Peter Pan,” I said, “you’ll love it!”

“No Daddy, I don’t want to.”

“Well, that’s ok, if you don’t want to do it that’s fine, but sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, try something different, or new.”

Shaking of a little head.

“Anyway, they only want you to be a mermaid, you don’t even have any lines, all you have to do is sit on the stage, look pretty, and waggle your tail.”

“Oh, I could do that!” came the eager reply.  

So off to rehearsals we went.  Long Suffering Wife wasn’t thrilled, “Great!  Just what I need, more time in the car, carting kids off to something else!” 

Anyway, a star was born.  In addition to being a mermaid, TLP also got to be a dancing fairy! 

Because I signed her up, it became my job to run her to and from rehearsals.  During which I went for long walks (only because I couldn’t find a coffee shop, or snack bar, open anywhere in Gladstone’s CBD after 3pm!)

Then one fateful afternoon, I was chatting with my new mate, Dave Winter, when Beryl Wood (the Director) introduced herself.  “You’re perfect!” she cried, pointing to me.

“Of course I am,” came my modest reply.  But having developed a certain amount of cynicism in my 40+ years on planet Earth, I immediately added, “Perfect for what?”

“Have you ever heard of The Mousetrap?” Beryl asked.

“I sure have!  I can’t wait to see it, I’ve wanted to see it for years!”

“Well, how would you like to be in it?  Have you ever acted?” she asked.

“No.  But I am a card carrying member of Over Actors’ Anonymous!” I replied.  And at this point I did my little ‘Over Actors Anonymous’ routine that I used to entertain my mates with at school.  Beryls face lit up and she clapped her hands, “Oh, you must join us!”

I told her I’d think about it.

What followed was two weeks of phone calls, and pressure from TLP, “Dad, you should get out of your comfort zone and do something different…”  Even my boss said, “Go for it!” Short story;  I cracked.  “Look,” I said to Beryl over the phone, “Is it a big role?  Are there many lines?”

“No darling, it’s a small role, and you’re perfect for it!” 

Some of the gang in action... pictured here are 'experienced' actors - Ros, Lorna, Russ and Dave.

I hesitated, then jumped in with both feet uttering those fateful words, “Yeah, ok, how bad could it be?”

Well, after reading the play and highlighting my characters’ lines, I spent the rest of the night lying in bed gibbering to myself.

My characters is described as a wild eyed, shabby haired, neurotic young man.  He isn’t gay, just childishly flamboyant.  In the darkness, I waved a languid hand in the air, ‘Of course,’ I thought, ‘I’m ‘perfect’ for the role…’

And after months of practice, I’ll be introducing him to the people of my town tomorrow night.  Fortunately, I’ll be surrounded by some very talented people, who have been a great help in bringing me out of the acting closet.   I hope they can fight… because I’ve got to navigate a semi dark car park after the show that may contain certain homophobic elements.

And when all’s said and done, I’m glad I did it.  I’m sure everything will be fine on the night.  And with a bit of luck, this experience will have taught me how to say ‘NO’ in future.

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Simple September – So long to living in the Past

Well folks, this week marks the end of my Living in the 70’s experiment, and semi-reluctant return to modern life.  My only disappointment was not being able to dress like an authentic 70’s person, as Long Suffering Wife absolutely refused to tell me where she’d hidden my old towelling hat, ultra-tight shorts, and ‘Life.  Be In It’ t-shirt.

Anyway, for one pleasant month, instead of trying to figure out how to use, fix, or maintain, all the new-fangled technology cluttering our house (and eventually, our recycling bin), I’ve spent more time reading, walking, playing my guitar and singing; accompanied by the sound of doors and windows slamming shut up and down our street.

And I did a lot of thinking, recalling the people and things I’ll never see again, e.g.: Grandma, and my flat stomach.  This initially made me feel a bit sad, but I brightened up instantly when I remembered the other stuff I’ll never see again; Leyland P76’s, Tang, bright green lino, black and white TV’s, and Donny Osmond.

Plus mere words can’t express how fantastic it made me feel to know that I’ll never, ever again, have to endure another Sunday evening of toe curling agony watching The Black and White Minstrel Show.

It’s easy to pine for the nostalgic past, but if I was brutally honest, things weren’t that rosy back in the 70’s.  You see, in spite of the Brady’s and Walton’s foisting American family values on us, divorce and crime rates shot through the roof, streaking made its’ debut at the cricket, and, for some crazy reason, we thought singing chipmunks were cool?!

Meanwhile, Uncle Sam was bombing the daylights out of third world peasants in an unwinnable war, and leaky boats full of refugees were turning up in droves on our shores hoping for a fresh start here in Oz… you know, not that much has changed really.

And that goes for me too.  I’d like to report that my month of living in the past has changed me in some amazing way, but it hasn’t really; I’m still pretty much the same bloke I was a month ago, just much hairier.  Actually, quite a lot hairier, because my out of control 70’s hairdo was the one thing Long Suffering Wife couldn’t stop me from wearing.  Eventually she handed over my battered ‘Hang Ten’ cap to cover it up.  Dyn –O – mite!

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Simple September – Reading Adventures

‘The Three Investigators’ books were fairly popular with my mates back in the 1970’s.  Written by Alfred Hitchcock, they were mystery stories involving three Californian lads who worked out of a cubby house which had electricity, an office, a laboratory, a printing press, and possibly a spa.

Now that I think about it, I spent quite a lot of time screaming too... thanks to these stupid books.

The trio were always solving crimes involving kidnappers, spies or smugglers.  After ingeniously besting the baddies, they usually received a huge cash reward, or the Mayor awarded them medals, or the keys to the city.  Did we believe this rubbish?  Of course we did, we lapped it up!

So imagine our excitement when one of our gang announced that he’d found a cave on the side of One Tree Hill near the Drive-in!  He showed us where it was, and peering into the gloomy depths, we could make out boxes stacked against the back wall.

My mate, whose imagination ran on hyper-drive in its’ relaxed state, immediately deduced that we had stumbled upon a counterfeiting ring, and that we should stakeout the cave.  Thanks to those damned Three Investigators books, it never occurred to us that there might actually be another, simpler, explanation for the boxes being there.

We split up, one group watching from the Drive-In side, while the rest of us dug in on the Philip Street side.  Just before sunset, as we were discussing giving up, several shadowy figures appeared through the long grass.  Suddenly, being a hero lost all its’ appeal for me.

But my mate was made of sterner stuff.  Gripping me under the arm, he leaped up and shouted, “This is a citizens’ arrest!  Don’t move!”  Then all hell broke loose.

The ‘baddies’ were teenagers who had come to their hideout to smoke, and gawp at the smutty magazines they’d stashed in the cave.  The last thing they’d expected was our covert sting operation, but once they got over their initial shock, they got mad.  Real mad.

We escaped the pummelling of a lifetime only by leaping off sheer cliff faces during a desperate downhill flight.  I eventually made it home, where I gathered up all my Three Investigators books and tossed them into the bin, before hobbling off to find a First Aid kit.

Since then I’ve stuck to the only true literary hero, The Phantom.  Mind you, I’ve often wondered what he’s got stashed away in all those boxes at the back of his Skull Cave.

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Simple September: Work Changes Since the 70’s

This week, at the halfway point of my Simple September, living in the 70’s experiment, I’ve been giving some thought to the changes we’ve seen in our workplaces since the 1970’s.  It’s difficult to list the dramatic transformations that have occurred to our working lives over the last 40 years, but I’ll pop some paper in the ol’ typewriter and give it a go.

Harsh cutbacks lead to some 'creative' use of the remaining office furniture

For starters, the tasteless calendars, ashtrays on desks, poorly lit and badly ventilated buildings, asbestos everything, smoked filled rooms, ceiling fans, pub lunches, and horseplay involving pinching secretaries’ bottoms or stuffing apprentice’s undies full of grease, have gone out the window.  In fact, windows’ have gone out the window.

Modern offices are tightly sealed, climate controlled, and noiseless environments.  These days, the only people getting fresh air, a little exercise, and some idea of what the weather is like outside, are smokers.

But nothing has transformed our working lives quite so dramatically as the computer.  We’ve grown so reliant on them that it’s hard to imagine how our offices, factories, small businesses, and ladies of the night, ever functioned without them.

In the 70’s we were boldly assured that super-efficient computers would halve our work and create paperless offices.  Well, they were sort of right; they seem to have halved the number of people at work.

Shackled to computers for long hours, many of todays’ employees tend to eat smoko ‘Al Desko’, super-efficiently catching up on news websites, forums, online games, or funny emails.  And we’ve nearly achieved the paperless office, simply by stuffing the mounds of paper on top of our printers and photocopiers straight into overflowing recycling bins.

Modern managers now work 24/7, conducting online meetings, texting, tweeting and emailing questions, reports, directives, or butt kicking’s, via their mobile devices.  Honestly, medieval peasants had more quality time off than these wretches, only because the bumpkins had to stop working when the sun went down.

Then there are all the jobs that didn’t make it past the year 2000: typewriter engineers, grocery packers, fuel pump attendants, tea ladies, paperboys, milkmen, and Telstra repairmen.

My grandchildren will be doing jobs that don’t exist now, and hopefully in forty years’ time they’ll have something that an aging dinosaur like me could do; probably outside in all weather, strapped into my hover chair, cleaning office windows and picking up cigarette butts.

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My Latest Project

I’ve been mucking about with another little side project, one which highlights some of the creative folk living here in Gladstone region. 

You can check it out here:  http://creativefolkgladstone.wordpress.com/

I’ll be updating it weekly, so pop in regularly.

Enjoy!

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Seventies Roadtrippin’

Last weekend I took the family chariot down to Brisbane, and this being Week Two of my Simple September, living in the 70’s experiment, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the changes I’ve seen over the years when it comes to long distance driving.  Well, I had to do something while I waited for the lollipop folk to let me crawl forward to the next set of roadworks.

When the Lollipop man says 'Stop' he means it!

In the 70’s our cars were insanely large.  My fathers’ Valiant had seats so huge you could play tennis on them.  We didn’t have GPS, air bags, DVD players, or air-conditioning, so during Summer you had to drive with the windows down; which left you with an interesting hairdo and a sunburnt shoulder.  And when you unthinkingly rested your arm on a sunny window sill, the chrome metal strip would instantly sear your skin like a flame grilled steak, leaving you scarred for life.

Back then, if you maintained the posted speed limit, and didn’t stop at the Big Cow, Big Pineapple, or Big Anything, it used to take six to seven hours to get to Brissy.  Today, with lowered speed limits, roadworks, and Big Trucks carrying Big Mining Parts, or Big Demountable Buildings, blocking the highway every ten kilometres, you can now do the same trip in, oh, seven to eight hours.

And I recalled how highway service stations weren’t just food serveries filled with tourist tat; they actually fixed cars and sold spare parts.  If you wanted to eat, you’d picnic at a roadside park.  My job was to fill our billy can from any nearby creek, taking care not to accidently on purpose push my little brother into the water.

1970’s highway dunnies were dank, dark, stench filled caverns, that were usually crawling with cane toads and other undesirable pests.  It was actually more appealing, safer and hygienic, to park your bum over a roadside ants nest.

We used to pass the time listening to the radio, talking, playing board games, trying to guess what the squashed animal was, and squabbling over Phantom comics.  You certainly couldn’t tune out your family for the duration of the trip with electronic music, games and movies like some earphone wearing zombie.

Todays’ highway expeditions are no longer the epic adventures they used to be.  In fact, thanks to safer roads, better equipped cars, and hi-tech gadgets, they’re hardly any fun at all now…

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Normal Service Has Been Resumed

Hello Folks, after a month of avoiding my computer, internet and any other modern device, I’ve been a tad reluctant to return to the modern world.  But, for better or worse, I’ve decided it’s time I gritted my teeth and started scribbling electronically again.  During September, the following posts were published in the Gladstone Observer, starting with this column published on 1.9.11, I’ll post the others soon:

During week one of my Simple September programme, I decided to handwrite some letters to distant family and friends, just like I used to back in the 1970’s.  And while I searched the house for my good pen and some paper, I imagined an elderly clerk down at Oz Post calling over the juniors and showing them my letters, then explaining that this was how people used to communicate back in the ‘olden days’.

Sitting down, I made a list of people to write to, then started merrily scribbling away.  Now, it’s been a very long time since I’ve handwritten a letter, and gazing in horror at the illegible scrawl on the page before me, I decided the best course of action would be to scrunch up the sheet and start again.

Ten minutes, and thirty carefully written words later, the result was legible in a ransom note sort of fashion, but not something I’d be happy to put my name to.  Not unless I was trying to claim some sort of special allowance from the Government.

I eventually finished one letter, and as I was squeezing the blood back into my right hand, I stared glumly at the long list of people I had intended to write to.  At this point, my thoughts turned to carbon paper, photocopying, or buying several blank cassette tapes and doing a spoken word letter, but of course that would be cheating.  Besides, I couldn’t find a working cassette recorder, or a single sheet of carbon paper, in our house. 

I would have to persist.  So, gripping the pen between my numbed fingers, I immediately got to work; starting with crossing two thirds of the names off my list.

My children, who regard e-mail as ‘snail mail’, couldn’t understand why anyone would put themselves through this ordeal.  They’ve obviously forgotten the sheer joy of receiving a hand-written letter, particularly if it includes photos, drawings, or money.  And I’m yet to open an email that has the nostalgic aroma of my Auntie’s favourite perfume.

You may be happy to know that I finally managed to write to all the people on my list.  Only because I bought a fistful of postcards, then scratched on the back of them:

“Wish you were here.”

I have never been more brutally honest in my life; because if they were here, I wouldn’t have had to write to them.

 

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