Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Time and Space and Me

I still can't believe it.
I'm pinching myself. Urrrnnngghhh. Mmmmmmnnnnhhhh.
I had more postal business to do yesterday and if you don't know, me and post offices, we are natural enemies in the wild. 
But yesterday, yesterday, it felt like I turned a corner in my life and suddenly was walking along in a parallel universe.
In this parallel universe not only is the post office open after lunch in the summer, like every single week day, it is populated, staffed if you will, by friendly, helpful people.
Pinch pinch.
But I'm ahead of myself.
I got the news that I had to post off some more plakate (posters) to this venue I'm gonna play at. I got this news at 11.57am. I thought, gees, it'll take me two minutes to grab the posters and walk to the car and get out into the street. By then it will be 11.59am. I'll have one minute to drive to the post office. Which is not impossible.
But if I arrive at 11.59.59, for example, the 'ladies' at the post office are gonna see me coming, note full well the fear in my eyes, and slam that door right in my face - even as I'm galloping up the wheelchair-access ramp.
It's only wheelchair-access because it was built so long ago that in those days people had to drag their dead relatives behind them everywhere they went while they waited for the Black Death sub-committee to make a ruling on where their relatives could be burned or buried. Besides, stairs hadn't been invented.
So I figured, "relax Paul, don't even try. Squash that urge to get it done before midday. You can try after the midday sleeping break." 
Not my sleeping break, theirs.
They got to sleep midday til 3pm every week day cos the task of slipping envelopes into bags hung at hip height is taxing almost beyond comprehension. And don't even get started on the skill required to tear pre-torn stamps out of sheets kept in softly padded books kept at room temperature so as to precipitate easy access and somehow assuage the laws of physics. 
I waited til 2.49pm. Then I casually strolled out of the house to my car. Casually fiddled with the rear vision mirrors, all three, til they were just so. Then I drove casually down to the post office, waved a couple of cars to go ahead of me at different junctures... pulled the car into a parking bay, waited for the panic-stricken dude in the car screetching to a halt next to me to alight from his vehicle and rush off to whatever doom awaited him before I nonchalantly exited my vehicle. I then sauntered to the post office, fifty meters away, turned the corner of the building, perambulated along and then up the wheelchair-access ramp and tried the door. 
Of course.
I'd known they were on summer holidays a month ago, but I wasn't prepared for them to still be on summer holidays. 
I read the sign. They were only open in the mornings all during August and up to and including September 10th. 
I felt a twitch in my lip. I began eating my tongue. 
"No matter," I said to God. 
Then I turned and went back to my car and drove to the next town.
"Surely...." I thought all during the drive. "Surely...."
But alas, they too were still closed for the summer and wouldn't return to regular hours til after Sept 10. 
I knew I could not go back to the post office two towns over - it was the scene of my most recent histrionics. I had to try somewhere new. 
So I drove to the town next to the town next to the town that's next to the town next over. 
I couldn't find a post office. I pulled up outside a bakery and went inside. Three men were standing on the stoop. I thought: "I bet they know where the post office is...." but I didn't want to stop their conversation or their enjoyment of lunch.
I went inside and asked the lady behind the counter.
"Excuse me, do you have a post office in this town?"
She shrugged. She didn't know. She pointed to the men out front.
"They are locals, I'm sure they know...." she said.
They did know. They gave me exacting instructions on how to get there. I got back in my car, drove to the post office, parked, and walked to the front doors. 
My heart was heavy. I thought "I bet it's closed for the summer, too."
I pulled at the door handle. Nothing. 
Then I pushed.
It opened.
Angels sang a soft, lilting chorus in my ears. 
A string section dovetailed in... 
Inside the post office it looked modern. Organised. Neat. Fresh. 
You could breathe. 
I looked for the large envelopes I would need. I couldn't find them.
I thought: "I could ask one of the counter staff, but i don't want to make them angry..." 
Then I swallowed my fear and approached a young man behind counter two. "Excuse me, I don't mean to interrupt, but do you have any A4 sized envelopes?"
He smiled.
He said: "Yes, we have them in packs of ten."
Then he strode out from behind the counter and helpfully ushered me to where they were located. 
"Thankyou...." I managed. 
He smiled again.
I picked out some envelopes. I returned to his counter and paid for the envelopes. 
Then I stepped aside to a stand up counter, withdrew an envelope from the pack, wrote the address on the front, with my address on the back, folded up and stuffed my posters into the envelope and returned to the counter. The same counter. 
I said "Can I pay for the postage here or do I have to go over to that other counter??"
Cos that's what you always have to do in German post offices. 
"No no...." he said with yet another smile. "You can pay here too, it doesn't matter."
So I handed over my envelope of posters. I paid a frighteningly small amount for the privilege. He smiled again. "Anything else you would like today?"
I was so taken aback I said: "You know, this right here is the finest post office in all of Germany."
I went back out into the street and noticed that the world was somehow a little lighter, a little brighter. The birds sang. The air was fresh and cool and I drank it down with inordinate pleasure. 
It felt as if time and space had conspired to meet me there and then. The three of us jumped in the car and drove home, fresh and alive and promising each other never to lose touch again.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Moan Me This

Tomorrow evening we drive through three or four separate nations to arrive at a beach on the north Adriatic. The drive is about the same distance as Gympie to Tamworth, so it's no monster and we have two drivers plus two back-seat drivers. This is what one must do here in order to get to an actual beach. Okay, there's no surf in the Adriatic but one thing at a time.
But today, today I drove to Filderstadt to get my hair cut by a bent-over Italian woman who was tired of living. She wasn't 70 or 60 or 50 or even 40. I'd guess she was 33 or 34. She slaughtered the guy in front of me with her slovenly, inexact swoops of the electric clippers, each swoop accompanied by a moan or a sigh and sometimes even a roll of her heavy eyes.
They made this sound, the eyes: "wwwhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrr cacluck!.... like a pair of 1950s bowling balls.
The dude was thin, like a cardboard cut-out. He sat obediently affixed in his slot on the chair while the sardonic bitch wove her magic Ronson. She had not suffered a stroke, this much one could see, but she moved as if she were having one at every moment. Not only that but simultaneously she moved as if she were the sad and embattled teller of her own sad tale of misfortune and was also the audience soaking in every word, every groan, yawns and all, and was also the jaded judging panel allotting points for content, delivery, originality and theme.
She was, therefore, the complete package. I wondered how someone this bent over from life at 33 would describe herself on a dating website. 
I could have gotten up out of my chair and simply left. But I was torn between the idea of getting a good haircut from someone who at least gave one the illusion of care, and staying to find out where this brief entanglement might lead. Songs and stories, after all, are gifts from the unknown.
The cardboard dude left all-but in tears. His face was red. I looked at it. His eyes told me "leave while you can." I smiled, waved, and eased back into the chair. 
The witch did not attend to me next. She slipped outside for a cigarette, then came back in and swept up the cuttings from cardboard man. I waited, I understood her needs. 
It was all about power. Control. Winning every minute of life by whining on about it, complaining til somebody says, or everybody says "so sorry..." 
She wanted me to be annoyed, impatient for her to get to me. I couldn't have cared less. Take all day, i thought. I'm on summer break.
Finally she approached me from behind and said: "Hair wash is over there"
"No wash," I said. "Just a cut."
She moaned and said "I don't speak English. Only Italian or German."
I said: "You navigated your way through that entire sentence pretty well for a non-english speaker."
In German I repeated: No wash, Just a cut. 
I showed her how much I wanted off. 
She groaned and rolled her eyes: wwwhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrr cacluck!.
"Number 12?" she spat.
I nodded. "But only if you really want to cut my hair..."
She turned red. "Of course! I am here aren't I? I'm not at home, of course I want to cut your hair."
"One would assume so," I said. "But you don't give the impression of being interested in being here at all." 
She threw her hands in the air and said something in Italian. 
I thought: This is my final chance to leave. 
But I let it go on. My curiosity had the upperhand. I already knew we were gonna have a disagreement about the price of the cut at the end. And I knew she was gonna moan and groan and whine and slouch her way through the entire ordeal. I kept wishing she would at least stand up straight.
So she took to me with the 12s. Except it wasn't the 12s. This, I decided to let go because it was part of her plan: to do it completely wrong, to do it badly, like she had with cardboard man and he had not even had the decency to confront her about it. This made her twice as determined to bring me to the boiling point. 
Once she'd done the sides she attacked the top and left whole stands of hair shooting up like clusters of bamboo in a golf course.
I smiled at her. This made her groan even louder. 
Then she took her scissors and comb to the first battleground - the sides. She'd already done them with the not-quite-12s. Now she was hacking into it with a sense of focus that would make Edward Scissor-Hands blush.
Finally she was about 1/3rd done and began blowing the hair out of my face and off my shoulders. She held the mirror up so I could see how she'd butchered my best side. 
She almost cackled as she asked "And?? How does it look?"
She expected me to explain that it just wasn't right yet. But I didn't.
"Cool," I lied. Then I began to stand up. 
She grabbed her blow dryer and started blowing loose hair down the back of my T-shirt cos she'd already removed the apron. 
"Perfect," I said, as my back and shoulders began to itch.
"Do you want some gel?" she spat, suddenly urgent cos she sensed losing a couple bucks.
"No," I said. "I just want to get out of here." 
"No products? No sprays?" she complained.
"None whatsoever," I said. "Let me pay so I can leave and never come back." 
"That's 24 euros," she said with a whine. 
"It's 23," I said. 
"No no no," she insisted. "It is always 24 euros."
"It's 23 Euros," I said. 
She moaned and groaned simultaneously and sort of coughed and said something witchcraft-like under her breath. "Look! There on the big posters on the window it says 24 euro. You see! It is always 24 Euro!"
"That's for a wash and a cut," I said. 
"It is 24 euros always, whether you have a wash or not," she lied. 
"Then moan me this," I said. "Why, on your huge poster, is there that item on the bottom that says "Cut only: 23 euros".
"Oh oh oh oh ...." she moaned, for the first time justifiably. "That poster is old."
"It's the one you just pointed at to justify overcharging me," I said. 
23 Euros it was then. 
For such a meeting of minds however, I would've happily paid double. Gel or no gel.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Leatherbacks and Syrup

I never considered myself a troubadour, or a traveller or a restless soul. I always felt I was a solid, down-to-earth dude with his roots firm and deep in that part of the earth upon which I happened to live at those times when I had such thoughts.

I don't just write sentences that way... it's the way I speak, too.

Only thing that's removed with the written word are the often-times very long pauses in between thoughts. That sentence might have taken a week to write. That’s the majesty of the written word. You can figure it out over time.

That's why I often use so many dots. Some people hate little dots. "Over-punctuation"  they call it. “Sloppy, juvenile.”

To me they are essential.  At their most powerful they are like punctuative footprints walking across a literary gravesite.

You can hear the silence in them ... 
Sssshhhhshshshsh ... hush ... quiet ...

They are made of sheepskin ...

I remember when I wrote certain songs because I remember which putrid, hole-in-the-wall apartment I was living in at the time.
My apartments were usually less than savoury because I didn't give two hoots about such things.
All I needed was six walls: one below, one above and four surrounding - a place to put my writing desk, good acoustics (and the less furniture you have the better the acoustics get) and a window ledge upon which to rest my ashtray and my cigarettes.

One such dive was in Gladstone Road in Highgate Hill, Brisbane.  Gladstone Road is a busy thoroughfare and it has some steep segments and some grinding turns up alongside some raised ridges that drop down toward the Brisbane River.

When the dude showed me  the flat it was a sunny winter's day and the sun was streaming in through the west-facing living room window and cutting deep golden-yellow beams across the two plush-orange sofa chairs that sat there like wide-hipped Godfathers just returned from a month in the tanning studio.

I saw the perfect spot for my writing desk against those windows and salivated at how wide the window ledges were... you could fit two dozen ashtrays on there and still have room for a half-dozen unwashed coffee cups.


That's where I wrote "The Party's Over".
I wrote the song after I took a night off from sorting mail at the state mail centre in favour of playing a half-hour set at the Shamrock Hotel in Fortitude Valley. It didn’t get any more downtown than Fortitude Valley.

The dude who invited me to play, Vinnie, was the singer in a punk and rock band who's name I can't remember. I do remember they were pretty good, but the bikers who hung out at the Shamrock on a Friday night were unmoved by their punk antics.

The bikers were unreservedly terrifying. I was duly terrified.

I was relieved that the punk band cleared the room during their first set. Turned out the bikers couldn’t stand punk. By the time I got up to play during their break the room was empty.

I had never been so happy to play to no one.

But when I started to play my acoustic guitar and sing, a couple of massive, leather-clad bald men with huge moustaches and beards and tattoos sauntered into the bar, sat on bar stools and swivelled their tattoos toward the stage to listen to me play. They seemed intrigued by the mellowness in my voice. 
Try as I might I could not make it sound non-mellow. I tried to roughen it up but it just came out like sickly honey. I thought for sure they were gonna take me out back and drive over my syrupy head after my set. I couldn’t have imagined that they actually enjoyed it.

Then a few more came in. Then others. Pretty soon they were all back in the room, listening with a kind of childlike innocence at me singing my songs. I also sang a James Taylor cover, Fire and Rain, and still no violence was triggered.

I played the whole set like a deer caught in the glare of  headlights... and only when I'd finished and gone home and written the song, and then gone to bed, and then woke up and practiced the song again and then later told some friends about it, and only then after Vinnie offered to be my manager and I refused his offer did I realise what a strange but beautiful moment I had been a part of. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Necessary Accessory

Mexican four-piece flamenco guitar bands confuse the living daylights out of me. 

Not because of any flamenco rhythm they got going on, or the wild Disneyland-Zorro-Exhibition-tourist-office hats or anything like that. 

No. It’s none of that.

It's the short dude with the handlebar moustache and the jumbo guitar. He blows my mind, every single time.

I'm like: "Is that guy really short, or just a long way away...? And if he's such a long way away... why IS that?  And why is his moustache so... so... present and enlarged?"

And then I'm like: "But his guitar looks so much bigger than everybody else's guitar. So maybe the guitar is like real real close, up against the camera lens, with the moustache, and the dude himself is way way back."

And then I'm like: "But how can it beeeeeee???"

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mum Drove Getaway

I went to a family reunion once in 1982. You might wonder about what sort of lack of cohesion there existed in my family that we needed to have a reunion. Most families, after all, are never so disjointed that they need a reunion. Like the cast of Gilligans Island or the Brady Bunch. Now they needed reunions, but us?
We had the reunion because somebody realised how many of us there were and most of us had no clue about the extent of exactly who we were related to. The winters in my home town were legendary and there were few distractions from the task of populating the planet.
At this reunion in 1982 the organisers, who I assume I was related to, hired or took by force the show grounds at a town called Crows Nest. It was an outdoor event and no non-family members were invited. In excess of 2000 people turned up, all related by blood in one way or other to me and my mother and my brothers and sisters. They weren't blood relatives of my father - that was for another reunion which would probably never be held on account of bad blood over real estate, money, domestic violence, and various internal squabbles all loosely based on various teachings in the good book. Not "On Our Selection". I'm talking the first boy band: Mathew-Mark-Luke-and-John.
The family reunion I went to in 1982 at Crows Nest is where I discovered that my family on my mother's side had a kind of predilection for endurance sport. I had won the boys section of my school cross country race a couple years earlier and as it turned out the winner of the girls section that same year was one of my cousins. We met up at the reunion and shared gasps of disbelief. I should have known we were related because she had the same surname as my mother's maiden name: Blinco. Blinco always reminded me of that TV show "Sgt Bilko" starring Phil Silvers. Fogarty always reminded me of two things: CCR and first mates on Victorian-era sailing ships.
The 1982 reunion came at a sea-change moment in my life. It was then that I'd decided I had to start posting my poems and short stories on the University notice board next to the cafeteria so I could sit and watch people's reactions to them and it was also then that a dude I knew, now a world-worn journalist, came around to my tiny flat to appeal to me to keep writing stories even though I had just in fact quit university.
"You got to keep writing," he told me in all earnestness.
"I know," I said, simply. "Thanks…"
So I kept writing and have never stopped. It's a central part of how I make a living and always has been except for brief stops and starts in pointless clerical jobs and non-writing jobs over the years.
The reunion was a misnomer for me particularly because I'd never met most of the people who were present and who I was related to. A reunion implies re-connection, uniting again. To me the whole day was a blank slate of unfamiliar faces, upper arm fat, home baking and slightly out-of-date family cars.
There were no formalities to the day, not that I remember. It was like a music festival with no music. We all sort of camped out for the day around the perimeter of this enormous field drinking hot tea from thermos flasks and eating sandwiches while nothing went on out in the middle.
After a few hours my mother turned to me and my brothers and sisters and said: "Shall we?"
So we left.
Before we left though I felt it necessary to steal two chairs that had been dotted around the place for us to feel welcomed by.
My mother didn't want to know about the theft. "Well just look the other way while I put them in the boot," I said.
And she did.
Then she drove Getaway.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


The ultimate aim of Google and Facebook is to merge with each other, to know each other in the biblical sense, to surround themselves with the accoutrements of the civilised world, aka the cream of the apps, and to provide us all with an alternate reality, another dimension.

In this other dimension we will know, once and for all, not how we see the world and our place in it, but how the world sees us, in cold hard facts as well as in socially acceptable and easily digestible chunks,  and our place in that world.

In this other dimension Google earth will not just show models of buildings, and photographs of forests, and glue all the satellite images of world geography together to make a kind of patchwork quilt, a familial hand-me-down version of planet earth, it will instead show us everything that is going on everywhere at any given moment... and even perhaps, those moments which are yet to arrive. Aka the future.

Because to piece together everything that is knowable now is to open the door to predicting which way any given marble will roll, any given smoke particle will float, any given wave will radiate, any given mind will think.

In a sense we have been preparing ourselves for this world for some time. Think of how much more alert we've become, how much more savvy we've become about so many things... simple things like computer graphics, like film technique, like art and photography, like writing, like sculpting, like children rearing, like treatment of others, like integration, like the blending of musical styles and genres, like corruption, like pollution, like warfare, like drug trafficking, like arms dealing...

We can now see clearly when someone comes on TV and is lying about something.
We see it in their eyes, in their body language, in the wavering of their voices. We now know that athletes dope, that politicians betray, that corporations steal and lie and cheat and kill and deny and quash. We now know that governments murder, neglect, abuse, and favour. that policemen bash, that singers lip sync. We are evolving. We are getting better at providing ourselves with background information that is helpful and which informs us and the decisions we make in reliable and even wise ways.

Google and Facebook are leading us in all directions at once. But the most worthwhile direction is the direction inward... the mapping of the inner self. The inner world. By relating to those around us, and by having those relationships documented, we can see more clearly where we fit, how we fit, what our limitations are, our habits, our strengths, our weaknesses, our pros and cons. It's a fascinating study of humanity. We are watching ourselves evolve, interact, become somehow more present in the physical world while traveling somehow through both cyberspace and through non-space, through the realm of dreams, of energy, of spirit and in the final analysis those two, or three worlds will meet and mesh and intertwine and lose themselves and their perceived barriers in a single new dimension which we will all recognise, once we see it and feel it, as home. 

Whirlpool With A Good Idea

There's a place you go, when you are making music. When your voice enters the picture, and slots down inside, in between the two bristling azure-blue mountain ranges of stereo to your left and right, and it shoots along like a neon jet fighter, like the ghost of Luke Skywalker, like an improbable bird of prey, down the throbbing, lucid length of that ravine of sound and when it clicks in it is effortless and eerie and brutally real and insanely now and the sound, the song, that thrusts up from deep in your soul and erupts out into the atmosphere is muscular and hollow and transparent like a tube of water and pulsing and ecstatic and it is so totally your own voice that everything else about you disappears into it, feeds into it, until you yourself, as others know you, are no more.
The amount of energy required to deliver the song is the exact amount of energy that makes up your totality. So you have to continually circle yourself around the song, the sound of it, keep feeding through it, into it, out of it again, looping your entirety through it until you become a blur, a whirlpool with a good idea.