Saturday, 24 November 2012

Young People Know Everything

I think if I have any real talent at all in life, it probably lies in my ability to misinterpret lofty ideas in such a way that when I try and recall them later they don't resemble the original concept in any way, shape or form.

One such concept I may have totally misconstrued is the concept of 'Platonic Ideals', which, as far as I can recall, involves the theory that there exists in the world of ideals a 'perfect' template for everything in existence, which includes objects like chairs, tables, and plants. Probably the best way to illustrate it is when you consider a circle. No perfect circle exists in the real world - but it does in the world of Platonic Ideals.

When I apply this theory to people, I find myself coming to a disturbing conclusion - young people do know everything!

I know this is hard to swallow, but when I consider the most wide-eyed, optimistic and morally righteous version of myself, it probably existed around the age of 18. At this age the Platonic Ideal I constructed for myself would have consisted of some free-lovin', cosmic, bohemian beatnik-type sitting in coffee houses writing intense poetry and being talked about in hushed tones of admiration by other patrons.

Of course, this scenario is for an ideal world. I find trouble usually arises when trying to apply utopian fantasies to the everyday. The real world bohemian Trevor's poetry would most likely be terrible, the other patrons would consider me a poser rather than a delicate genius and the baristas would most likely spit in my coffee. 

The problem with having a vision for a perfect world and a perfect version of yourself is that the rest of the seven billion people on the planet also have their own ideas of perfection. When these other ideas clash with your own Platonic Ideal, then you're forced to deal with the most adult and mundane of realities - the dreaded 'compromise'.

I went to university in my late twenties and as an older student who had lived a bit, I often found the degree of passion on both sides of student politics to be amusing. Being passionate on campus is one thing, but I often wonder how these embryonic politicians fared after university trying to sell their ideas to a marketplace full of self-centred and often ill-informed citizens. Did they have to compromise their core beliefs in order to survive in the world of politics? Sadly, I think the answer is probably 'yes'. 

Winston Churchill once said "If you're young and a Conservative you don't have a heart, and if you're old and a Liberal you don't have a brain." I don't necessarily agree with this, but I know what he was getting at. People probably do get a little bit more cautious as they get older and being young is the only time you really have to outwardly challenge the status quo.

The thought of anybody ever referring to me as being conservative still fills me with dread, but I don't really think the answer to anything lies in the absolute extremes. A younger version of myself probably did. One of the best illustrations of taking your beliefs to an absolute extreme that I found poignant was in the show 'Six Feet Under' where Nate's hippie girlfriend Lisa tried to shoo ants out of her house rather than have to kill them. To me this seems like taking your beliefs too far. Maybe for some people it isn't.

I suppose the best use in life for the Platonic Ideal of your younger self is as an anchor - something to return to and measure yourself by when life doesn't turn out like you imagined. Maybe someone you once loved marries someone else, or you're forced to settle for a job just to pay the bills rather than indulge your passions. It's important to remember that although the younger version of yourself may have been the purer form - it was only that way because it had never been tested against the real world.

Probably a lot of people don't like the younger versions of themselves anymore, but bad hairstyles and fashion sense aside, they still were once you and therefore shouldn't be dismissed.

I think if I visited the bohemian-beatnik version of myself in the world of ideals, I wouldn't have any harsh words to say to him. I would, however, wait for him to go to the bathroom and then go and spit in his coffee. It would give me a sense of satisfaction to dilute some of his smugness and ultimately he wouldn't know any better.

At the end of the day if anybody is going to spit in my coffee, I'd want it to be me.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Keep on Truckin'

This week California passed legislation for a trial of computer-assisted driverless vehicles. I don't think they're ever going to catch on.

If other motorists are anything like me, the feeling of being in control is an enjoyable sensation and giving up this control would be akin to simply catching public transport. The only real advantage would be slightly fewer objectionable odours, stains and unhinged fellow commuters.

My main concern, though, is how people will release the pent-up anger and aggression that driving affords as an outlet for the average citizen. This is especially worrying in The United States where citizens have 'the right to bear arms'.

I, myself, have been known to transform from the affable Dr Jekyll that the world has come to know and love, to a sinister Mr Hyde when placed behind the wheel of a car. I'm only aware of this when there are passengers in the car with me and another car cuts me off. After the 'red mist' of rage subsides, I often notice fear and shock in my passengers' eyes. This is usually followed by a scramble for the door handle. It seems that most people would rather take their chances and jump from the car at high speed, than be in a car with the beast that has been unleashed.

This is my natural driving state and it only recently occurred to me that this is probably how my daughter picks up naughty words that I'm careful to avoid saying around the house.

There are things I simply love about driving, especially rituals involved with the long-distance road trip. I love leaving the comfort of the big city and encountering the little signs that let you know you're in the country, such as bristly-hair still on bacon ordered from road houses and milk-skin on coffee that you order by the mug. I even like whispered insults directed at us city-slicker types from the burly men in the exclusive 'truckies' section of these road houses.

One of my favourite overheard insults was on a trip with my friend Glenn. One truckie saw us approaching, rolled his eyes and whispered to his friend "Here comes George and Mildred."

Glenn has always had quite bouffant hair, so I suppose I'm George:

I have to admit, it does hurt my pride, though, as I find the idea of being a truck driver rather appealing. I like the idea of constantly moving and seeing new things and people every day, as well as honest work where you can see the fruits of your labour and friendships forged with people that may live hundreds of kilometres apart.

I also like country music compilations purchased from service stations (preferably on cassette), mystery food from bain-maries, cheap sun glasses and souvenir truckers' caps. I like those beaded orthopaedic seat covers that truckers always seem to have and the way kids in cars always do the 'pulling motion' to get truckers to blow their horns.

In my flights of fancy, I envisage that I'd become a talked about and beloved figure, bringing a wry smile to the faces of fellow truckers and a sparkle in the eyes of weary waitresses, when they see my rig approaching. I would graduate to being one of the elite few in the 'truckies only' section, exchanging knowing stares with other truckies when hapless city folk wander into my world.

Sadly and inevitably, one day waitresses and patrons along The Pacific Highway will be concerned that 'Big Trev' hasn't made his scheduled stop and will be inconsolable when they hear the tragic news that I have died. Considering the lifestyle, it will most likely be as a result of complications from diabetes. I know I will have died happy, though, after leading a productive and honest life, with my only secret being the location of the graves of all the missing hitch-hikers over the past few decades.

Even though I'm not a truckie, I have learned a lot about the lifestyle through innumerable trips between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne playing in rock bands. The first thing you learn is whether people are cut out for this lifestyle. I remember on our first trip to Melbourne, our van hit a kangaroo at about 2am in the morning. Everyone scrambled to inspect the damage and consider our options - except for our singer at the time, John - who pretended to be asleep. We were all flabbergasted! Sure, it's important to turn a blind eye on occasions when you're in a band, but this was neither the time nor the place. The band didn't last past this first visit to Melbourne.

On another trip to Melbourne (with a different singer), our friend Martin came along. We didn't have to take any musical gear, so we only hired a sedan instead of a Tarago. The journey, whilst event-free, was hellish, with poor old Martin stuck in the back seat in the middle between two drooling, drunken, smelly boys, asleep and leaning against him. This seemed like a life-changing trip for Martin, as soon after he got married, had some kids and basically straightened-up and flew-right. I'd like to think we helped him gain some perspective on his life through that trip, but the lesson I took away was 'don't skimp on the Tarago if you can afford it.'

The horrors of being trapped in the back seat are enough to make me happily drive entire trips from Brisbane to Sydney without changing drivers - but I'm not a Nazi about it - if someone offers to take over then that's okay. This is one of several unspoken etiquettes that exist on the road.

Others include:

  • The driver is in charge of the stereo (once again, don't be a Nazi about it, though!)
  • Whoever rides shotgun has to navigate (if need be.)
  • There needs to be a popular consensus on bathroom stops and you can't just stop every time one person needs to go.

As with anything, it's always important to set goals. When we would travel from Brisbane to Sydney overnight I always liked to time it so that we would arrive in Sydney at about 9am for breakfast in Newtown (Lou Jacks was a popular destination). An early arrival would mean you would then have the whole day to muck around, shop and book into hotels before playing a show in the evening. It makes sense, but a lot of road tricks I have picked up through trial and error.

Here are some of them:

  • Get plenty of sleep before going on a big trip.
  • Don't drink too much coffee if you're driving. Drink water instead. This way you stay hydrated and know when you're actually too tired to drive.
  • Don't drink too much water or you'll need to stop for the bathroom too often.
  • If the car is aquaplaning then don't slam on the brakes.
  • Similarly, if a load of building materials falls off a truck and heads towards you, try and drive around the obstacle rather than stopping. (This actually happened!)
  • If you have a trailer, don't get into a situation where you have to reverse out of a park. If you do have to reverse with a trailer, then remember to turn the wheel in the opposite direction to the one in which you want the trailer to go.

Writing this blog does instil a sense of nostalgia in me and is a painful reminder that I haven't done a road trip in a few years. Maybe I'll do something about that one of these days. I realise I'll probably never be a truckie, but that still won't stop me from grabbing a country music compilation and hitting the road.

In the meantime, I hope I've offered some informative tips and helped ignite a passion for motoring in you, dear reader.

Maybe someday I'll see you out on the roads!

Just don't cut me off!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

I Won the Lotto!

About seven years ago I lives in a suburb called Lutwyche in Brisbane. Our house was literally across the road from a pub called 'The Crown'. The food there was okay and most of the patronage consisted of a bunch on uninspired-looking locals who basked miserably in the gloomy atmosphere of a half-hearted attempt to fit-out the decor in an 'Irish' theme.

The main reason that anyone seemed to bother going to the pub was to enjoy the delights of the 'gaming room', where a plethora of pokie machines were crammed into a cordoned-off section from the main room, leaving narrow corridors for punters to sit uncomfortably amongst the whirring noises and flashing lights.

Some afternoons during the week, I would find myself at a loose end and amble on over to play the pokies and have a beer. Sometimes I would win, but more often than not I would probably lose about forty dollars. I went in quite prepared to lose this amount. I saw no real harm in this activity and only felt guilty in the same way a pigeon might, as he continuously presses a buzzer to be rewarded with birdseed in some sort of laboratory experiment.

Something happened one day, though, that changed my mind.

As usual, I was sitting at my favourite machine trying not to make eye-contact with the endless stream of pensioners that entered the establishment. I couldn't help noticing that a girl sitting next to me was unusually young-looking. I hastily glanced over and conceded that she could be old enough to be here - after all she seemed to be quite comfortable smoking her cigarette and drinking her beer. She also had the resigned look of someone who is used to gambling and losing. To top it all off - she was also about six months pregnant!

It would be an hilarious joke if it wasn't true. It's like some ghastly skit about how bad a start in life you had, which is why you could never catch a break.

"I was born to a single mother with gambling problems who smoked and drank while pregnant. Now I have severe learning disabilities and the only job I'm fit for is a politician!"

Suddenly, it didn't seem like just mindless fun anymore. The pub and the gambling industry itself seemed to be complicit in profiting from the disadvantaged. I pretty much gave up going to The Crown soon after this and now don't really gamble except for the occasional game of Keno. I'd like to say it was because I nobly took a stance against the injustice of the industry, but the truth is I think I just figured out I wasn't a very good gambler.

Last week, however, I reverted to my old ways. Along with around eight million other Australians I partook in the Oz Lotto super-duper mega-draw that had the staggeringly-large jackpot of $100 million. I did an online quick-pick which cost about $15 and made me feel very uncomfortable as I strongly disapprove of the ads being shown with Merv Hughes about how 'easy' it is to bet online.

After I made the bet, it annoyed me that I spent the rest of the day considering how I would spend the $100 million, even though I knew full-well that the chances of winning were one in 3.7 million. They don't call it the idiot-tax for nothing!

I fortunately know that I'm bad with money, but news reports where they would ask random pensioners  what they would do with the winnings further incensed me. Most of the answers were along the lines of 'Oh I'd go on a nice holiday and give some money to my family' - Do these people know how much $100 million dollars is? People with no imagination should not be allowed to win the prize. Off the top of my head, how about:

'I would hire someone to vanquish my enemies'

'I would drape myself in the finest silks and be carried everywhere by pole-bearers'

'I would rent advertising space on billboards around the country which would feature my smiling and benevolent face'

'I would buy-back the bones of The Elephant Man from the Michael Jackson estate'

These are all good suggestions, but whenever a jackpot this size comes along it's always accompanied by muck-raking current affairs stories about people who have won the lotto and blown the lot.

Keeping this in mind, I eventually decided that the best thing to do would be to try and keep relatively busy and just live off the interest from the money. After careful consideration, I decided that buying a vineyard would be the best idea. Sure, I have no skills in farming and whenever I look at a plant it seems to visibly wilt, but, being suddenly independently wealthy, it would not matter if I made a profit or actually produced anything at all. In fact, it'd be beneficial! I wouldn't end up drinking the proceeds of the vineyard and inevitably become a bloated alcoholic corpse.

Being the glass-half-empty guy that I am, this initial rush of euphoria didn't last long. I could still envision myself winning this fortune, but I also started to contemplate the trappings of my winnings. If the fact that you had won became common knowledge, surely you would be accosted at your home by pan-handlers and charitable organisations? It's annoying being harassed by companies like Greenpeace (who I fundamentally agree with) when I'm broke. Imagine what it would be like if I actually had some money!

Security would suddenly be an issue. What if all the people that knew about my dark and sordid past suddenly decided to blackmail me? Even worse, what if someone decided to kidnap my daughter and hold her for a huge ransom? I would then have to hire some Liam Neeson-like character to get her back. Sure, I could just pay the ransom, but I don't negotiate with terrorists!

By the time the draw came around on Tuesday night, I was secretly hoping that I wouldn't win. I didn't watch it live, but I was notified of the result the day after, by email. Just as logic would predict, I had failed to win anything. My secret relief was tempered by an annoyance that in some games I didn't get a single number.

This week, I'm glad to not have that false-hope eating away in the back of my mind. If I think objectively, I really have won the lottery. I'm a fairly well-educated middle-class white man living in a pretty well-off country, I've had a relatively incident-free upbringing and now have a happy and healthy family myself. The world is geared towards people like me to succeed.

So why does it often not seem like enough?

Ultimately, I think gambling appeals to the worst aspects of people's characters. For the majority of people it's probably just greed, but the real bad guys in my opinions are the ones in charge of the gambling syndicates who feed off people's desperation, when odds are stacked so far against the punter. Ozlotto is innocuous enough and a lot of lotteries even give back to the community, but maybe these lotteries make gambling seem commonplace and harmless which could entice susceptible people to more dangerous forms of gambling.

Of course, this could all just be a bunch of sour grapes from my now-unattainable vineyard.

* * * * * 

By the way readers. The title of this blog isn't as misleading as you might think. My wife Edwina actually won $48 in the lottery. This begs the question 'How much money would someone have to win before you would consider murdering them?'

Luckily for Edwina I think it would have to be at least triple-figures

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Bad Hair

I think it's true for all of us that there is a divide between how we see ourselves and how others see us.

In my mind I see myself as a foppish English private school boy, skipping merrily along the riverbank on the way to rugger practice with my chums - thick, lustrous locks blowing in the wind and a long fringe dangling playfully over one eye.

The reality is somewhat different. I'm a 41 year-old Aussie house-husband desperately trying to hold on to some 1990s slacker ideology. My hair is grey and wiry with a receding hairline that gives a sort of silver-mohawk effect, like some sort of over-used toilet brush that's being sold at a garage sale.

It's not what you'd call a best-case scenario.

I'm lucky, however, because I was able to hang onto my hair long enough to trick a woman into loving me and eventually marrying me. Freed from the fear of having to appeal to the opposite sex, I can now happily let myself go to seed. I do feel sorry for the poor girl, though, because what she ended up with probably looked a whole lot better in the catalogue. Buyer beware!

There is the fear in the back of my mind that I might one day find myself single again. Going on a blind date with a woman now would be the stuff of nightmares and I think I would spend the whole date apologising for my lack of sex appeal as large clumps of hair drift down into my soup bowl. The date probably wouldn't even make it to the main course. Afterwards I would retreat to catacombs under the city where I would hide away from the prying eyes of strangers and the cruel unforgiving glare of the sunlight. At least here I would be some sort of urban myth and create an air of mystery!

For the past few years I have gone to the barber sporadically and in-between have tried to cultivate an Albert Einstein look. Because I'm such a cheapskate, I consider it value for money, but also I don't enjoy the look of nervousness from barbers who seem to be trying to hide an 'Oh my god - there's nothing I can do for this guy' look of terror on their faces.

If I'm honest, I think even my attempt to look like Einstein has been unsuccessful.

I think I look like this:

When in reality I probably look more like this:

I do feel a twinge of guilt when I think about the amount of time and energy I have spent worrying about my hair and what I can do with it. Surely this energy could have been better utilised exploring world's beyond our solar system, or finding a cure for the myriad ailments that ravage our modern world?

I think it's only fair, therefore, that I share some of my exhaustive research with you, dear friends.  

After careful consideration about the best possible hairstyle for a balding man, I consider this to be the champion: 

That's right folks! The Danny Devito bald ponytail as featured in the movie 'Twins' wins my vote as the best hairstyle a bald man can attempt.

My reasoning for this is that, above all, you have to own your baldness and nothing shouts out 'I'm bald!' more than the contrast between the hair at the back of your head and veritable desert that exists on top. I realise that anyone attempting this hairstyle has to be supremely confident and not every man can pull this off without the added benefit of being a beloved Hollywood movie star and powerful force in the entertainment industry.

For the less successful bald man I would offer this advice:

The worst thing you can do is the combover. Wake up! - you're not fooling anybody. Also, don't waste your money on any lotions that promise miracle results or wigs. My theory behind this is that even if you can fool everybody else, ultimately you can't fool yourself. I'm sure that when Shane Warne looks in the mirror every night he still sees a chubby little baked-bean eating rampant texter with thinning hair, rather than the supermodel-dating Sam Newman-apeing nightmare he has become.

It's almost another issue entirely, but hair should also be age-appropriate and even those blessed with ample follicles should try and at least have a hairstyle that reflects the dignity of their years. Those desperately but unsuccessfully hanging on to their youthful 'dos include Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Elton John's 'ginger wig'.

Only African-Americans and possibly Asians should attempt the 'shaved head' look. Sam Jackson looks cool, but Britney Spears looks less-so with a shaved head. There's an important message here - if you're going to attempt this look- make sure you're head has a good shape and is free from scars. Also, a lot of men seem to couple the 'shaved head' look with ample facial hair which, to me, gives the impression that they secretly hope their facial hair will migrate to their head.

The best look, in my opinion, for the less-confident bald-headed man is what I call the 'Sting' look:

There's enough stubble to suggest that he's aware of his receding hairline and he still proudly shows it off. He also has a great-shaped head and has an air of confidence and acceptance.

Unfortunately for the average bald-headed man, Sting also possesses a fabulous physique, piercing blue eyes, strong cheekbones and an insatiable tantric sex drive.

Oh dear - If you want me I'll be hiding down in the catacombs.