australia day… my way

This evening, down at Altona Beach, I strolled in the evening sunshine and literally watched the world go by. Australia Day had brought everybody out to enjoy the beach, and the council had put on a festival to help.

A small number of Aussie flags were flying on cars and transferred onto sunburnt cheeks, a few green-and-gold sports shirts were in evidence, and two mounted police officers flew the Boxing Kangaroo flag from their saddles.

On the boardwalk people wore hijabs and chadors, beach towel turbans and long-haired topknots, bikinis and board shorts, saris and sarongs. There was Greek baclava, Italian woodfired pizza, vegetable samosas, New Zealand “fush, chups and igg”, SES sausages in bread, all for sale within a hundred metres. Young muscle-bound men showed their Polynesian tattoos with pride, and one brave soul rocked a bleached-blonde flat-top and bandana.

One end of the Esplanade had live Country & Western music, the other Tongan reggae blaring out from a huge speaker. Kite surfers hung out down the western end of the beach whilst kite flyers dominated the east.

I saw Africans of every stripe, Japanese tourists and Vietnamese families, three generations of Pacific Islander at the same all-day picnic, young and old from sub-continental Asia, Italian nonnas with gaggles of grandchildren, a handful of mix-race couples of various flavours. Not many pale-skinned, freckled people like me though.

There was no “love it or leave” slogans, no “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” chants, just people being people, chatting and laughing, running after two-year-olds, drinking coffee and beer, ignoring boys and posturing in front of girls. This is the Australia I subscribe to, the Australia I belong to.





heartbreak… 21st century style

It was a brief, but short-lived, love affair. A chance encounter online then, finally, a hurriedly-arranged reunion on Australian soil. The few weeks of anticipation dragged as my impatience rose and my expectations fell. How could it be the same as the last time I’d seen him, back in London, so many years ago? I warned myself not to let my hopes get the better of me.

The night came at last. It was the first time I’d set eyes on him in over fifteen years, and he hadn’t changed a bit. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, he had me from the first time he spoke.

Continue reading

return to forever

I have to commence this post by stating that I am not a jazz aficionado, but when Orlando gets that excited about a gig, you know it is going to be worth it.

Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale assembled in Melbourne for the Return to Forever IV tour, and we were four rows from the front.

It was a distinctive crowd at the Forum, for this most exclusive of gigs. Carefully chosen outfits by men of a certain age. Long, flowing grey hair and meticulously trimmed beards. Shaven heads and goatees. A red bandana tied defiantly around an inevitably bald pate. A pork pie hat. At least one Marks-and-Spencer-style navy blue polo shirt. High-waisted pants. A safe pair of black jeans made completely illegal by being thrust into a pair of highly decorated cowboy boots. Black and white Rude Boy loafers. The odd glint of silver jewellery, inappropriate in a man of that age. At least one pair of glasses exactly like John Richardson’s funky old/new fogey ones.

And that was just the band.

I’d have to say I understood very little of what was going on, but I knew it was important. After a while I realised I was holding my breath. What these men were attempting (in fact, succeeding at) was far beyond anything I’ve ever seen attempted live. I have seen many incredibly talented individuals and bands playing live music, but I would have to say this was the cleverest group of musicians I have ever seen. This went beyond raw talent. This was like seeing a bunch of mathematicians live on stage, attempting to solve the Grand Unified Theory in parallel, reaching a crescendo of simultaneous mathematical prowess on a row of whiteboards, thus solving one of the greatest puzzles of our generation.

Lenny White seemed to toy with the rest of the band. The only one operating with no sheet music, he spent almost three hours on stage behind a complicated drum-kit driving the tempo wherever (it appeared) he wished. I could only guess at which segments were rehearsed and which were improvised.  Stanley Clarke took centre stage with his bass guitars and double bass. He, of all of them, got the biggest reaction from the crowd whenever he took the musical lead. Chick Corea’s curly grey head bobbed up and down behind a barricade of keyboards, sometimes taking control, sometimes doing exactly as Clarke or White dictated.

I felt as if there was danger in the air. I felt as if I was watching a group of extreme acrobats performing without a safety net. My mind was exhausted from hard concentration, focusing myself to help them get to the finish line by sheer force of will.

It wasn’t a performance at one level, it was an exercise in survival. One of the most exciting musical events of my life.

this will only make sense to AIIMS-trained people… part 2

And now….

The Planning Officer Theme Tune

Sung to the tune of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles

(this one is a joint Lauren – Mairead effort)

yeah I tell you something
I think you’ll understand
when i say that right now
I wanna make a PLAAAAN

I wanna make a PLAN, I wanna make a PLAN

oh please say to me
you’ll tell me all you know
and please watch with me
as our situational awarenesss GROWS

now let me make that PLAAAAN
I wanna make a plan

and when I wear a yellow tabard, it’s fine
it’s a great feeling when the IAP

is defined

is defined

is defined

yeah you
got that something
I think you’ll understand
when I say that right now
I wanna make a PLAAAAN

now let me make that PLAAAAN
I wanna make a plan

irish christmas songs

Well, I am not sure if you are expecting Daniel O’Donnell or Enya, but here are some of the best Irish Christmas tunes of recent years.

  1. Christmas Countdown – Frank Kelly: those of you who are not Irish will know Frank Kelly as Father Jack from Father Ted. Worth listening right to the end, just for the insults.
  2. This Christmas – Funzo: this was the ultimate winner of the 2009 Christmas FM song contest. Reminds me of driving around Dublin city listening to Christmas FM on the radio, with all the Christmas lights shining in the dark, and Ashling and Connor in the back seat.
  3. Christmas Tree Song – Dustin the Turkey: Dustin is a famous Irish TV and radio personality. Yes, I realise he is a turkey puppet.
  4. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2: From one of the Very Special Christmas albums.
  5. A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris de Burgh: yes I know this appeared in another listing of mine, but it is one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time.

Have I missed anything?

christmas in the city

Part two of my Christmas song odyssey – tunes that are perfect for Christmastime in the city. We have no sleigh-rides and often no snow, even in the northern hemisphere.

  1. Christmas In The City – Mary J. Blige: this reminds me of driving home from Lygon Street on a hot and steamy Christmas Eve night with Mena, the city lights shimmering as we cruise by with all the windows open.
  2. Christmas In Hollis – Run DMC: a classic track from the movie Die Hard. McClane asks Argyle the chauffeur if he has any Christmas music. Argyle replies: “This is Christmas music!”
  3. Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto – James Brown: nuff said.
  4. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues: the ultimate song from New York City. This song reminds me of the my first December away from home after emigrating in the recession of the late 80s. Every time I heard this song I cried.
  5. Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea: my strongest memory of this song is driving to Birmingham Airport from Leicester one wintry December evening, to fly home to Dublin for Christmas. Love that M42.

Australian Christmas Songs

Listening to Christmas FM is a favourite pastime for me in December. With inches of snow all over Ireland and the UK, there isn’t a Christmas song that isn’t even more apt this year for you lot. Here in Australia, though, so many of the traditional Christmas songs just don’t fit:

  1. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
  2. White Christmas
  3. Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire
  4. Frosty The Snowman
  5. Jingle Bells
  6. Walking In A Winter Wonderland
  7. Sleigh Ride

Even Last Christmas by Wham! sounds weird with all those sleigh bells in the background.

 So I started thinking of an all-Australian Christmas song playlist, that I don’t have to keep skipping through. Here is my top ten.

  1. Little Saint Nick – Beach Boys: anything from the Beach Boys has enough of a summer flavour to make it perfect for an Australian Christmas.
  2. Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade: I know he talks about sleighs and snow here and there, but it’s a great Christmas party tune for people of my vintage.
  3. Santa Claus is Coming To Town – Perry Como: the classic Christmas Eve tune, and I love Perry Como for a Christmas tune. However this version by Bruce Springsteen somehow fits the Aussie music vibe just a little better (jump about a minute and a half in)!
  4. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland: the original version from the wonderful movie “Meet Me In St. Louis” – a guaranteed weepy. Alternatively, I also love this version from the Pretenders.
  5. Six White Boomers – Rolf Harris: the quintessentially Aussie Christmas tune. From Rolf, of course.
  6. Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt: never mind Madonna or Mariah, this is the original and the best.
  7. Mary’s Boy Child – Boney M: maybe it’s the steel pans in the background but this is perfect for a hot sunny Australian Christmas. And watching yer man dancing is also excellent.
  8. Do You Hear What I Hear – Whitney Houston: not the original but I love this version. All about the birth of the baby Jesus, and no mention of snow at all.
  9. A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris de Burgh: no Irish Christmas would be complete without this brilliant track from Christy Burke. Perfect anywhere in the world.

Any others from you fellow Aussies?