Dear AFL, 

Please, sit down, we need to talk. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and I reckon it’s time we broke up, or at least had a trial separation. You see, I … I don’t love you anymore.

There, sigh, I’ve finally said it!

I’m no good at break ups. I got dropped in my youth, I rarely did the dropping; girls would see the futility in flogging a dead horse, while I’d be hoping it might miraculously spring back to life. “I still love you, but only as a friend,” was a common line, and that old chestnut, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

But in this instance, AFL, it’s SO YOU!

I don’t recognise you anymore. Off field, you’ve become so, I dunno, tacky! You once let the game speak for itself and kept hush during breaks. Now, you pound crap doof and moronic MCs into my ears before and after sirens, until I’m not sure if I’m at ‘The G’ or the Chevron, where I could at least get a full strength beer back in the day. 

Then there’s the blitzkrieg advertising, thinly veiled behind inane gimmicks like “Kiss Cam” and “Cuddle Cam” and “Who Can Make The Biggest Dickhead Of Himself Cam”, followed by Betfair odds, product plugs, and more infernal doof, until play resumes and torture of a different kind begins.

I could tolerate all your off-field glitz if the on-field action resembled the game that bewitched me as a kid: when Jimmy Jess bombed 60 metre torpedos from full back to contests; when UFOs were easier to spot than full forwards on the wing; when the only rolling scrum you saw was the half time toilet queue. That’s when I fell in love with you. Deeply! 

But you’re not footy anymore, you’re ‘keepings off’, with piddly chip kicks back and forth (most less than 10 metres, but still paid), surreal free kicks and unfathomable game plans. It doesn’t help that I follow the Keystone Cops (aka Richmond Football Club), or that scoreboards replay – again and again from every angle – our banana peel slip ups, but you’ve become a stranger to me. 

I doesn’t help either, that my son, Sam, is a carbon copy of me at his age: play acting games with balloons (and hilarious commentary), obsessed with footy cards and forever asking to meet Jack Riewoldt. How do I tell him dad isn’t so keen on going every week? He and I used to talk about the astronauts and animals, skyscrapers and singers; today he wakes with questions like, “Dad, do you think we should drop Grigg?” (“YES,” is my resounding answer, “but don’t stop there!”) and, “Dad, when’s Kingy coming back? We need more grunt in the midfield.” (His words, seriously!) 

Call me Dr McFrankenstein!

Truth be told, I don’t really care if Jake King returns. Like 90 percent of his teammates, he hasn’t the speed or skill to take us within cooee of a flag. At least he has heart. As my mate Greville Warwick texted on Saturday night: “Tigers are as tough as a Little River Band lp” (to which my mate, Nick replied: “I think you’re doing Shorrock and co a disservice. They had more grunt than Richmond, particularly during the Farnham era.”)

Tragic, but true…

But this isn’t about the Tiges. They could be 7-3 instead of 3-7 and I’d still be shifting uncomfortably in my seat. Again, it’s you, AFL! It’s your $7.20 mid-strength beers and lukewarm $4.50 pies. It’s the arrogance with which you schedule matches for 4.40pm on Sundays, a ‘school night’. It’s your confusing home and away ticketing and greed during finals, when corporate pandering reaches its zenith and interstate execs – oblivious to the game – score seats at the expense of diehards. It makes me sick!

Dad, God love him, saw the writing on the wall in the 1970s, when, while queuing for Collingwood grand final tickets overnight at Victoria Park, a prolonged shower soaked him to the bone. “The bastards never thought to open the gates and provide shelter,” he spat. “Kids, grandmothers, all sopping wet. That’s when I realised they didn’t care about supporters, only money.”

From that night on, apart from the odd grand final Aunty Aileen snared tickets to, and my bucks night, dad followed his Pies on radio; ideally 3LO, where ads weren’t heard let alone seen. If he were alive today, I doubt he’d follow footy at all; he loved one-on-one contests too much. He and the AFL would not only have split years ago, he’d have filed a restraining order.

I’m not so naïve as to think you’ll shed tears over my decision. You’ve been courting younger, more attractive, less attentive fans for years behind my back. Who wants a bloke in the stands who won’t cuddle and kiss if the ‘Cam’ spots him out, let alone do a handstand. What a boring old fart! But let’s face it, so long as TV ratings are solid (and, by proxy, revenue) you wouldn’t really care if the stands were empty. 

You’re so vain! Stop looking at your bottom line and start thinking about the people who got you where you are. Until then, AFL, you’re dropped!

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This morning, opening the shutters to a bruised and broken sky, my first inkling wasn’t to put something cheery on the stereo, but something that dampened the mood further: Music for Egon Schiele, by Rachel’s. Sitting there, lost in minor chords and teary strings, rain pouring down, I realised how strangely happy I was; how content I’ve always felt when dark weather has music to match. With that in mind, I sifted through YouTube to compile 10 (mostly) melancholy tracks I adore. They mightn’t put a smile on your dial, but they mean the world to me… 

Courage – Sarah Polley

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrpaoC_-Wk8

“Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter”

 When Helena and I left Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter in 1997, tears streaming down our cheeks, two things lingered for days: the film’s sheer emotional power, and Sarah Polley’s haunting cover of Tragically Hip classic, Courage, which bears little resemblance to the original. We bought the soundtrack and kept this track on repeat through an entire bottle of wine one night. It still never fails to move us, although we struggle to watch this clip featuring scenes from the film, especially now that we’re parents.

 The Copper Top – Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu_qjcsF6Gs

“Birth love and death, only reasons to get dressed up…”

If it’s not the most heart-wrenching song I know, it’s certainly the most affecting video. The Copper Top is from Everything is Getting Older, the 2011 collaboration between Scottish jazz pianist Bill Wells and countryman Aidan Moffat, former singer with Arab Strap. It’s a cracker, but not the kind of track you put on a dance mix. This song tears me apart, and yet I play it endlessly. Art, pure and simple!

 This is Just a Modern Rock Song – Belle and Sebastian

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT9ZFXu8NRc

“I’ll only but a book for the way it looks (and I’ll stick it on the shelf again)”

 Belle and Sebastian appeal to my inner cardigan wearer: earnest and twee, with achingly beautiful pop melodies. They’re a guilty pleasure I carefully balance with harder edge Scots, Mogwai and Arab Strap. This is Just a Modern Rock Song is a real creeper, a song that unashamedly takes its time before a big brass reveal. I used to play it on the train after Richmond matches, at my saddest, but now they’re winning it gets a regular airing while walking the dog: trust me,  you don’t know melancholy until it’s midday, midweek and you’re alone in a park,  holding a bag of steaming poo. How could you not love a song with the confession: “We’re four boys in our corduroys, we’re not terrific but we’re competent?”

 The Never Ending Happening – Bill Fay

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA9m0BZdrGI

Night falls, stars, sunrise again, birdsong before the day begins…

 Bill Fay released two critically acclaimed and commercially ignored albums in the late 1960s/early 1970s before disappearing into musical obscurity and a series of menial factory jobs. In 2004, when Bill Fay and Time of the Last Persecution were reissued, Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy led a Fay revival, covering Be Not So Fearful and helping coax the 70 year old back into the studio for Life is People, arguably last year’s best album. Fay has lost none of his passion, Christian faith, song writing ability or modesty, refusing all but a handful of interviews and performing only once – this bewitching take of Never Ending Happening – after the album’s release. The way Fay sees it, all that promotion business eats up valuable composition time, and that won’t do. God bless him!

 Cherry Blossoms – Tindersticks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLiKHWsaXbg

“You let me forget again…”

 Tindersticks have been my favourite band for 20 years. They will always be my favourite band, just as Withnail & I will stay my favourite film, paisley shirts my favourite item of clothing, New York my favourite city, and Coopers Stout my favourite beer. Some things just are. It pains me that I’ve only seen them twice: in a 14th century cathedral in Prague in 1995 and the Corner Hotel in 2002. The album version of Cherry Blossoms (Tindersticks – 1995) has a ghostly dual vocal, but no impact is lost in this recent live performance. Here’s hoping there’s 20 more years to come!

 The Melody of a Fallen Tree – Windsor for the Derby

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mhQ4AzYiuQ

“I am the melody of the fallen tree what comes between, you and me…”

 According to my iPod, of the 10,000-plus songs stored, this is the third most played. There’s joy amid the whimsy, but not much, which is just how I like it. I had mixed feelings when Sofia Coppola featured it in Marie Antoinette: happy for the band’s heft in royalties, but fearful I’d hear the song in every second café. (I’m still scarred by the mid-1990s use of This Mortal Coil’s Song to the Siren in a European car commercial). That said, you could put this over a McDonalds ad and I’d still love it!

 The Kiss – Judee Sill

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0feFedDW_iQ

“Holy breath touching me like a wind song, sweet communion of a kiss”

 During one of our marathon music chats last year, Greville Warwick almost fell over (as he does) when I confessed to not knowing Judee Sill’s The Kiss.  “Maaaaaate,” he said. “It’s in my top 10. Trust me, it’s gonna blow your mind!” Within minutes, courtesy of YouTube, this live version made true his promise.  Not until weeks later, when a box set arrived, would I hear the incredible orchestrated version from sophomore album, Heart Food. This, however, remains my favourite: a vulnerable, heart aching performance from a tragic figure who really lived heartache. Trust me, this is gonna blow your mind….

 Kyrie – Popol Vuh

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q19C220Vvo

“aaaaaah, aaaaaaaaaaahhh, oooooohhhh, aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh”

 Did you know that Popol Vuh is a corpus of mytho-historical narratives of the Post Classic K’iche’ kingdom in Guatemala’s western highlands? Neither did I. The Popol Vuh I know pushed the spacial and spiritual boundaries of Krautrock, 70s precursor to post punk, ambient and so much more. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, Aguirre Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo would be lesser films without Florian Fricke’s revelatory soundtracks. Kyrie, from second album In Den Garten Pharaos, is an ethereal masterpiece. Everything Fricke wrote, he once said, was with God in mind. If only God had thought of us music lovers, before taking him from the world at 56.

 Chimes (excerpt) – North Sea Radio Orchestra

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR6axzyFX-k

“Sweet chimes, that in the loneliness of night, salute the passing hour”

 Several years ago, while researching monumental ambient project North Sea & Rameses III, I stumbled across this video by little known British chamber group North Sea Radio Orchestra. It was an epochal musical moment. NSRO ticked all my boxes: they were pastoral, choral, contemporary classical, folk, borrowed liberally (and reverentially) from Yeats and Tennyson, and liked playing in churches. They were fronted by a husband and wife, too, which I seem to have a thing for (Low, Yo La Tengo). Their self-titled debut, Birds and I, a Moon have pride and place on my buckling CD shelf. I recommend you buy them all!

 Tinseltown in the Rain – The Blue Nile

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTMyr9x6ZPU

“Do I love you? Yes, I love you. Will we always be happy go lucky?”

 In 1984, when I never left home without carefully gelled and blow-dried locks, softly permed by my apprentice hairdresser cousin, my copy of Blue Nile’s debut Walk Across The Rooftops was scratched to billyo from overplaying. I loved the Scottish foursome: their kick-arse fringes, baggy daks and, like Brit compatriots Talk Talk, glass half empty approach to New Wave. Tinseltown in the Rain was the tearful soundtrack to several imaginary breakups – imaginary, because I didn’t have a proper girlfriend to break up with until 1985.

 

A few notable absentees:

Miss Haymes – The Durutti Column

The Hour Grows Late – Yo La Tengo

By This River – Brian Eno

Let the Happiness In – David Sylvian

Not Me – Wim Mertens

 

I’m off to a hypnotist soon, determined to try to make sense of dreams that perplexed and plagued me for 15 years.

You see, one morning aged 12, I dreamt I woke in my Lower Templestowe bedroom, threw open the curtains and beheld the World Trade Centre’s twin towers, bold and glistening over nearby Heidelberg. I won’t forget the peaceful stillness, the sense of yearning or the near sadness when I actually woke, threw open the curtains and found them gone.

Boy, did they come back! Behind the MCG southern stand; through a dense jungle canopy; in a desert oasis and, mostly, in New York itself – at least what I imagined it to be. The only common thread to hundreds of twin towers dreams was my inability to reach them. Nights became surreal, frustrating ordeals in which I tried picking my way past cars, people, even creatures that blocked my path. I never could. I could talk in tongues in dreams, I could fly, the Tiges could even win premierships, but be buggered if I could reach Downtown Manhattan.

At least not awake.

In 1995 I flew from Prague to New York, determined to touch in reality what eluded me in slumber. I remember glimpsing them through the Czech Airlines window as it neared JFK, and my heart racing, but I knew better than to count my chickens, lest a mechanical fault, sudden heart attack, hijacking or alien abduction thwart my plans. (That’s how twin towers messed up I was). I never imagined flying into the WTC, though: that was way too fanciful…

An hour or so later, New Yorkers I’d befriended in Prague, who knew of my obsession: Scott, David and Laurie, steered me blindfolded to a Park Slope rooftop, where a Nathan’s Hot Dog was stuck in one hand and a beer in the other. Then came the big reveal: “Stevie, buddy,” Scott announced, untying me. “I give you The Twin Towers.”

There they were, as bold and majestic as they’d appeared 15 years before, only in their right spot. I was thrilled, but not fully satisfied. I had to go there, to best my subconscious and quash once and for all the eerie portent that I would die before reaching them. As we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge that night, they loomed closer than ever. By Broadway, I couldn’t crane enough to see their peaks through the car window. Before we’d even parked, I was out the door and sprinting to the North Tower, no-one blocking my path, no lizard men, no six storey trucks, no invisible arms, no dense fog … 150 metres, 100, 50, 20, 5, 2 then, with a thwack, I planted myself against the concrete and sobbed.

I was still crying, this time at the South Tower, when my buddies caught up. “We’re really happy for you, Stevie,” said Laurie, who felt privileged – if maybe a bit freaked – to be sharing the moment, and she hugged me. “Right,” I said, patting the building like a long lost friend. “I’ll catch you tomorrow.”

From that night on the dreams ended.

Eighteen years on I’m still trying to figure out why they started. Surely there were better nocturnal obsessions than two excessive peons to commercialism. They had none of the Chrysler Building’s grace or the Woolworth’s grandeur. The only things they shared with the majestic Empire State Building was King Kong. They were tall, yes, but not quite like I’d imagined. Would not the Pyramids have been more mysterious, Mt Everest more lofty, the Eifel Tower more romantic? I spent days in, atop, beneath and around the WTC, snapping feverishly and pondering what it was that germinated in a 12 year old’s subconscious and still obsessed a 26 year old man?

A picture is all it took to bewitch tightrope artist Philip Petit, who practically danced between the towers in 1973; a simple magazine sketch of the buildings in a dentist’s waiting room – and before they were even built. Perhaps stills of his feat had lain dormant in my mind? They were on the big screen (King Kong straddled them in 1977, clutching Jessica Lange) and featured regularly on the small. I just don’t remember them registering much.

One day on that 1995 visit, lying on my back taking my umpteenth photo of the towers, I snapped a jet plane flying high above and between them. Five years and two visits later, I happened across that photo while preparing for my debut exhibition and shuddered. I’d never paid much attention to it, frustrated by an inexplicable hairline through the negative that intersected the South Tower (a scratch not present in other photos). Now, it chilled me. The clouds, with a little imagination, resembled white flames, the plane’s dark outline was smack bang in the middle. That’s when it dawned on me; perhaps the World Trade Centre dominated my dreams not because of what I’d seen somewhere, but what I once would?

Helena and I were home watching West Wing the night Jim Whaley flashed on the screen before a blazing North Tower. There were “unconfirmed reports” of a passenger jet striking the upper floors, enough, I would have thought, to abandon normal programming. But Nine returned to West Wing, a decision it would later rue, with rivals Seven and Ten capturing the ‘second plane’ live. By then I’d left messages with David and Scott in NYC and called dad in Melbourne.

“Are you watching this dad?”

“This is your JFK moment, son,” he replied. “You’re never going to forget this!”

How could I, with Flight 175’s impact, from every angle, repeated and repeated; the South Tower collapsing, followed by it’s twin; Downtown shrouded in a cloud of pulverised concrete, steel and bone; a giant hole punched into the pentagon and “another plane” unaccounted for; the world’s final loss of innocence.

I went to bed around 3am, but not to sleep. My towers were gone, no more real now than the ones I’d once dreamt of. I rode to work the next morning bleary eyed, transfixed on Collins Street skyscrapers I half expected a Qantas jet to strike. Every television, every radio, every mouth was filled with the night’s events – except one.

Humphrey B. Bear, who I was sent to photograph at a Surrey Hills podiatry clinic, refused to comment when, alone in the foyer, I asked: “Hey, Humph, can you believe last night? Mate … mate … are you in there? Can you hear me? Did you watch it?”

Humphrey nodded and wiped a pretend tear from his eye. 

“We’re alone, mate, there are no kids here. You can talk,” I continued. The bear shook his head before burying it in his hands. For one brief moment, I took solace from the thought that in a crazy world, at least some things remain constant.

It’s 3pm, June 5, 2013 and I’m at 30,000 ft, two hours into the second leg of a three-flight trip to NYC. I’ve been invited to join a group exhibition in August and thought it best to select, print and frame the pics myself, rather than leave it to Scott, who hasn’t ruled out getting me a solo show. It’s my sixth New York trip, my third without the towers.

In 2002, I visited the gaping hole where they once stood and felt guiltily awkward, capturing the still funereal atmosphere like a gawking tourist. Rain damaged, sepia photos of 9-11 still adorned the gates of a nearby church, each with their own “have you seen?” pleas. I didn’t hang around.

In July 2011, as The Freedom Tower inched upwards, I never went west of Wall Street. I’d moved on, or at least I thought so, for when I got home a friend gave me the breathtaking Man on Wire, a documentary on Philip Petit’s miraculous, dreamlike traipse between the towers. I got to thinking about them again, which led to exploring pictorial libraries, which led to 9-11 documentaries, which led to “9-11 truth investigations”, which led to lots of tense dinner parties as I began swallowing various conspiracy theories. For a while there, days on end were spent studying seemingly credible scientists, architects and engineers aghast at the towers’ collapse (not to mention WTC 7, the “smoking gun”).

It started messing with me. I had to stop.

The actual ‘truth’ of 9-11 is so muddled by claims and counter claims that the world will never know it. For every valid question (why the abnormally high ‘put options’ placed on United Airlines and American Airlines on September 10? Why did the buildings collapse at near free fall speed?  Why did Building 7 collapse at all?) – cockamamie things like ‘no plane’ theories muddy the waters.

Hmm, but then, what did strike the Pentagon?

Where do I stand? Let’s just say I don’t believe a bunch of zealots with box cutters could pull off the crime of the century without considerable ‘intelligence’ backing; more than a fugitive in a cave. Exactly who, I don’t know. I never will. But it’s fishy.

The standard conspiracy line contends that with the Iron Curtain drawn, the Iraq War over and US Military spending at record lows, America needed a ‘Pearl Harbour’ event to justify an incursion into the Middle East and kick start a flagging arms industry. Simply striking the tallest symbols of capitalism wasn’t enough; they had to be brought down. The standard “official” line basically contends that 9-11 was a cock-up, not a conspiracy and that ‘truthers’ are unpatriotic nut jobs.

Each ‘side’ has an arsenal of “experts” to back their claims. Each studied closely make a lot of sense. Again, it’s too muddied for absolute truth to ever come out.

Twenty two hours later: I’m on the Newark Tarmac, staring at the Freedom Tower through a portal not dissimilar to the one which first framed the Twin Towers 18 years ago. My, does it rise proudly over Downtown, catching and refracting glints of the setting sun. Impressive. But I won’t run to touch it. It’s deathly quiet, like my first dream, but that’s because both ears have taken a pressurised hammering from three consecutive flights from Melbourne. I left home 20 hours ago. Now I feel home.

I look at the strip of Manhattan and picture Flight 11 in my mind’s eye, following 9th Avenue to its target. I see Flight 175 from the other direction and the resultant explosion. And I realise that right now, only 10 or so kilometres away, life has ostensibly returned to normal in the financial district. Soon I’ll be making my way to BrooklynImage in a shuttle bus, then a cab. I’m not sure what the next week will hold. I don’t want to think of a solo show, lest I jinx it. But then, some dreams are hard to shake. I know that only too well, and if hypnotists really can help relive your dreams, I look forward to seeing my beautiful twin towers again, however illusive.

It’s battered and bruised, needs a clean and no longer winds with ease, but the late 70s Canon SLR on our mantle is the one I hold dearest; the camera that turned a passing hobby into an overwhelming passion. An angel sold it to me; no kidding, a bona fide, 14 carat gold angel who appeared suddenly on a deserted Swedish train platform only to vanish moments later.

I can still see him 21 years on: barefoot and beautiful, if slightly bedraggled at 3am on a summer’s morn. He cut straight to the chase. “We don’t have much time,” he said, “your train is coming.” Sure enough it was. He fixed me with a meaningful stare before continuing: “Do you need a camera?”

Sure enough I did, more than he could know. But then, last night, playing with the camera again, winding and snapping my way through an old roll of film, remembering the joy of doing so overseas, I wondered whether he knew that all along…

To really understand this story, let’s rewind a week.

It was June 1992 and I was at the tail end of an exhausting, month-long inter rail trip through Europe, so shoestring I took overnight trains to avoid hostel costs. It was classic ‘surface’ tourism, where the simple accrual of passport stamps took precedence. Stupid. But I was young and determined to whiz through as many cities as I could, taking as many photos, on as little money and sleep as possible. 

It had to end badly, and it did one morning on another train platform, this time at Rome’s Termini station.

I arrived from Florence at 4am. With hostels closed and too stingy to fork out for a hotel, I lay down on a bench – but not before tucking my passport down my pants and my camera, an expensive fully automatic I’d bought in Melbourne, deep into my backpack. I’ll get some kip, I thought, wake at dawn and check in somewhere before breakfast. At least, that was the plan.

I woke sure enough, but at 8.30am, surrounded by thousands of hurried commuters. Embarrassed, and strangely groggy, I rose, wiped my eyes, straightened my clothes and lifted the backpack to my shoulders. It felt oddly light. Putting it down, I noticed the top had been cut from end to end. Missing were a pair of sneakers, a pair of RM Williams, a cassette walkman and my camera.

“My stuff has been stolen,” I wailed, little realising that few understood (and even fewer cared), or that it likely happened hours before, when the station was empty, probably with a chloroformed handkerchief and a very sharp flick knife. Fortunately, the thief/thieves hadn’t reached down my pants, where my passport – among other valuables – was still intact.

I felt a strange mix of emptiness, relief that I’d not been hurt and anger, mostly with myself for putting money ahead of logic; in saving $70 on a hotel room, I’d lost more than $1000 of goods.

For three days I wandered miserably around Rome, a feast for the eyes, just not as enjoyable without a lens. (Try as I have in the 20 years since, I feel naked in foreign cities without a camera. I wish that wasn’t so!)

Finally, once again at Roma Termini, I reached the biggest fork in my overseas path. Of myriad options, only two appealed: 1. Begin a six-month journey home via Egypt, Israel and India or 2. Head north to Lund, Sweden, where my on-again/off again girlfriend, Camilla Svensson was a student. I was in two minds, to the point where I grabbed a coin and assigned each side a destination: heads homeward, tails Sweden. I can still see it spinning around and around before landing … heads.

With that I got on the first train to Sweden. 

I couldn’t let the coin decide, not with an inner voice that suddenly cried: “Noooooo, that’s not your fate; there’s no four year Prague stay with ‘heads’, no Helena and, ultimately, no Max and Sam. Egypt is in for a pretty serious earthquake, too. You don’t know this yet, but Camilla is back with her ex. You have no future together. But you’re going to stay for a month and have a ball before returning to London. You’re going to fly to Turkey later in the year and meet a pair called Chris and Bryony, who you’ll follow to Prague. There, in a fabulous chapter of your life, you will become a journalist and fall in love with a Czech Canadian. Then, and only then, will you return home. Oh, and don’t worry about a camera, that’s been taken care of.”

Which brings me back to that Gothenburg train platform, alone, clutching a fully manual camera it will take me a day to figure out how to open. It will take weeks (and countless over exposed film rolls) to learn the three-way dance of aperture, speed and ISO. By then, that no-nonsense Canon will have become a trustworthy, much-loved companion.

In all probability it was stolen goods and my $10 went towards a few beers or, perhaps, something worse? At least it went to a good home. The other possibility, remote, but the one I like entertaining, is that ‘the universe’ knew I needed a reliable, cheap camera and provided one.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it was ‘hot’ and that guy was probably no angel, but I’m serious when I say he was there one second and gone the next. And ‘angel’ makes a better yarn than ‘thief’.Image

David Lee Moth

Moths arrived in biblical numbers last week, like locusts to a crop. At the height of the plague, you could hardly see for fluttering wings, or hear over a piercing Bernard Hermmann like soundtrack: “eeeesh, eeeesh, eeeesh” as they swarmed into every nook and orifice.

And I mean every!

OK, I exaggerate, but that’s how it felt one night recently with three tap-dancing on a lamp, six slam-dancing against a window and two (I swear) darting from a cereal packet as if they’d been sprung making out. Then there was the “clothes dryer incident” in which no less than 30 dead moths were piled up inside. That’s when I freaked out!

“This is some seriously ominous biblical shit,” I said to Helena, reaching for the Good Book.

“Yeah, um, obviously?” she replied.

“We have likely done a great wrong,” I continued. “Maybe it was just you? But I will do some reading and ask forgiveness.”

“This is a joke, right?” she asked. “Haven’t you seen the news? There’s a moth problem in Melbourne right now.”

“Not like this,” I insisted. “Consider Job 4:19 – ‘How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?’ Huh? Huh? Our house might be brick, but Eltham is pretty mud-brick, which might as well be clay, and the ground gets pretty dusty in summer, doesn’t it? And those things flying around look like moths to me. EXPLAIN THAT!”

“Hah,” she sayeth unto me. “You’re an idiot!”

“Well might you scoth,” I went on. “What do you make then of Job 27:18: ‘He buildeth his house as a moth, and as a booth that the keeper maketh?’”

“I make of that what I make of most of the Old Testament and much of the New,” she said. “Nothing. It’s gobbledygook.”

“What’s gobbledygook about a house being made of moths,” I cried, exasperated by now. “I mean, look at this joint right now. It’s totally made of moths.”

“Listen, they’ll leave eventually,” Helena assured me. “Until then, clear the ones from the boys’ bedroom and learn to live with the ones elsewhere.”

This, I thought, was a bit rich coming from a woman who thinks nothing of springing out of bed at 3am, deranged, to spray a mosquito, trampolining for extra height, or screaming – and I mean SCREAMING – for me to “take care of” spiders (the Sopranos meaning of “take care of”).

Mostly, I refuse. Apart from mozzies and blowflies, I won’t kill any insect – deliberately at least, which hardly makes me a Buddhist, but will hopefully spare me a few karmic lashes in the afterlife. We have a range of different-size receptacles, which I place over different sized creatures, and different size and strength papers to slide underneath before depositing them outside – in the garden with most things, to Sydney with spiders. Cups do the trick with most insects, but sturdy, ice cream containers are required for massive Eltham huntsmen, who goad you from the wall while munching on legs of lamb.

I could heed Helena’s usual knee-jerk suggestion, and smash them over the head with a cricket bat, but you only get one shot at something that big (and besides, there’s the plaster to think of).

Moths, though, required skill and patience to remove from Sam’s room, where the night light shines bright. Verbal suggestion doesn’t work, nor pleading, nor flapping sheets, nor cigarette lighters, nor tennis racquets, nor toy trombones, nor incense and trust me, I’ve tried them all. Some docile moths are happily cupped in hands, but most lead you on a merry dance that’s anything but merry, until you’re perched on a bedpost or scaling a wardrobe, while the kids cry: “Hurry up, dad, we want to sleep” (they fear moths) and there’s four more to go, and 100 or so in the other rooms, and it’s 9.30pm and you’ve had a hard day and you feel like crying.

But you don’t, because you refuse to let them break you.

I realise that by simply sending them outside I’m basically saying: “Go forth, little moth, and make more moths, so you can sneak back in through whatever crack you’ve found and magnify my torment.” But I won’t kill them. They’re moths, and I remember dad cupping them in his hands when I was young. “They’re just moths,” he used to say. “They’re harmless, you should never kill a moth.” And so I don’t, despite them peeling away at my sanity strip by strip.

I like the thought of honouring dad’s wishes, and hate the thought of ‘thou shalt not kill’ applying to more than humans in the ‘ultimate’ court. Imagine it, this giant fly in a judges wig bellowing: You, Stephen McKenzie, are charged with the first degree murder of 25,000 flies, including the torture and murder of 500 between 1973 and 1979. How do you plead?”

“Guilty, your honour.”

“Then you shall be capsicum sprayed and swatted until you are dead. Again. And then, when you have risen, you shall have the face the mosquito court and all its wrath.”

In spider, beetle, cockroach and snail court, any lawyer worth his/her/its salt will have my charges downgraded to involuntary manslaughter at worst. But I’ll never face moth court! In fact, I’d like to think moths will be character witnesses at my trials (the mosquito one especially, coz that’s where I’ll be most f*#ked!)

Anyway, sure enough, Helena was right: a few days ago, I woke up to a moth-free house. No more fluttering, no more kids whining, no more opening cereal boxes with trepidation. I checked every room, every cupboard, every nook and cranny. Nothing. They’re gone, as if it was all just a bad dream, and I’m thrilled.

Still, is it asking too much for them to have said goodbye?

P.S. Our Scottish cleaner, Norma, got to the bottom of the dead moths in the dryer mystery. When I told her how it felt like I was in the middle of some supernatural thriller, she asked whether the damp clothes in question had been outside and if an elastic-rimmed bed sheet was among them? Yes, on both counts. “Ay, thaaa’s whits haaapened,” she said. “They’ve caught theirselves in thaaa n you’ve throoon thehm in the dryer.”

(There, that explains it, sadly…)

Whenever I'm hanging over a swinging seat, 20  metres in the air, I always make sure to double wrap the camera strap around my neck, lest it drop 20 metres onto the ground, or worse, someone's noggin. This was taken at Disneyland. If this photo came with sound effects, you'd hear Sam screaming beside me, "Dad, I told you this would be scary, I WANNA GET OFF!"

Whenever I’m hanging 20 metres in the air over a swinging seat, I always make sure to double wrap the camera strap around my neck, lest my Canon drop 20 metres onto the ground; or worse someone’s noggin. This was taken at Disneyland. If this photo came with sound effects, you’d hear Sam screaming beside me, “Dad, I told you this would be scary, I WANNA GET OFF!”

This was taken at the tail end of my exhibition opening. That's Brooklyn boy Johnny Kitchins (centre) and a chap whose name escapes me, but who was thoroughly charming (despite the "kill" tattoo on his skull that suggests otherwise). We took to the floor in an attempt to add 'artistic spice' to social snaps. Ah, Jameson's Whiskey, you gotta love it!

This was taken at the tail end of my exhibition opening. That’s Brooklyn boy Johnny Kitchins (centre) and a chap whose name escapes me, but who was thoroughly charming despite the “kill” tattoo on his skull that might suggest otherwise. We hit the floor in an attempt to add that “extra something” to a social snap. Ah, Jameson’s Whiskey, you gotta love it!

In Newfoundland, Helena and I bought a 'joke box' for Sam, a present befitting his personality. He quickly set about leaving fake poo in his grandmother's fridge, fake vomit beside his dinner plate ("Baba, this tastes terrible, baaaarrrffff!") and buzzing people's palms. Another winner was the 'fake teeth', surreptitiously inserted before this photo at Ottawa's parliament precinct.

Helena and I bought a ‘joke box’ for Sam, a present that befits his personality. He quickly set about leaving fake poo in his grandmother’s fridge, fake vomit beside his dinner plate (“Baba, this tastes terrible, baaaarrrffff!”) and buzzing people’s palms during handshakes. Another winner was the ‘fake teeth’, surreptitiously inserted before this photo at Ottawa’s Parliament Precinct.

Ottawa's 'Melbourne Central' is the Rideau Centre, a pretty non-descript shopping centre you could insert in any western city. I have experienced off-the-charts levels of boredom there with Helena. "Clothes are cheaper in Canada," she always says. "Please, let me just try on these four more and i'll be done." This was taken during one such interminable wait. (By the way, four always turns into six).

Ottawa’s Rideau Centre, a non-descript shopping complex you could insert in any western city. I have experienced off-the-chart boredom there. “Clothes are cheaper in Canada,” Helena always says. “Please, let me just try on these four more and i’ll be done.” This was taken during one such interminable wait. (In fairness, she tries more than she buys).

Getiso Rogers, the five year old son of dear Newfoundland friends. This shot was taken moments after he hoovered into our bedroom one morning on a tricycle and stuck his fingers in my ear, all the while whispering, "Are you sleeeeeping?" If he wasn't so adorable, I'd have killed him.

Getiso Rogers, five year old son of dear Newfoundland friends. This shot was taken moments after he hoovered into our bedroom early one morning on a tricycle and stuck his fingers in my ear, all the while whispering, “Are you sleeeeeping?” If he wasn’t so adorable, I’d have killed him.

Middle Cove on a 25 degree day, St John's equivalent to  a heat wave. There was no way I was going into a puddle, let alone the sea, but these little locals were lapping it up.

Middle Cove on a 25 degree day, St John’s equivalent to a heat wave. There was no way I was going into a puddle, let alone the sea, but these little locals were lapping it up.

I can't remember this exact intersection, but it's like many others midweek, around midnight in Midtown - ALIVE!

I can’t remember this exact intersection, but it’s like many others in Midtown Manhattan, midweek, around midnight – ALIVE!

In 2002, when I stayed with my buddy Scott in Wyckoff St, Cobble Hill, the brownstone opposite was already the street's most colourful, with thousands of tiny buttons, mirrors, pieces of glass and ceramics adhered to the wall. Today, artist Susan Gardner's home is almost entirely mosaic and has become a fixture on the tourist trail.

In 2002, when I stayed with my buddy Scott in Wyckoff St, Cobble Hill, the brownstone opposite was already the street’s most colourful, with thousands of tiny buttons, mirrors, pieces of glass and ceramics adhered to the wall. Today, artist Susan Gardner’s home is almost entirely mosaic and has become a fixture on the tourist trail.

Coney Island on a warm Sunday. This was taken 15 or so minutes before I coerced Helena into taking rollercoaster The Cyclone with me. "It's not a scary ride, sweetie," I lied through my teeth. "I promise". She rode the entire thing with her eyes closed and mouth wide open in the most piercing shriek. I couldn't stop laughing. (Could I go to hell for that?)

Coney Island on a warm Sunday (i shouldn’t shoot people topless, but …) This was taken 15 or so minutes before I coerced Helena into taking the nearby Cyclone with me. “I promise, it’s not a scary roller coaster, Sweetie,” I lied through my teeth. She rode the entire thing with her eyes closed and mouth wide open, emitting the most piercing shrieks. I couldn’t stop laughing. (Could I go to hell for that?)

Much of the flight from Newfoundland to Ottawa was through foreboding clouds, but not until Montreal did lightning start flashing, turning the pitch black sky on like a lamp. By the time we landed the sky was being streaked with fork variety, the type planes (and passengers) like least.

On the night flight from Newfoundland to Ottawa, things got a bit hairy above Montreal with flash lightning illuminating the night sky every five or so seconds. Soon after we landed it had turned to dramatic fork lightning, the type planes (and their passengers) like least.

Helena and I met this lovely freelance journalist on the jetty at St John's on our first night. Can't say I warmed as much to her pooch, though, who didn't like the camera, and hated the bloke holding it more. Let's just say I wasn't the only one seeing red.

Helena and I met this lovely freelance journalist on the jetty at St John’s one evening. Can’t say I warmed as much to her pooch, though, who didn’t like the camera, and hated the bloke holding it more. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one seeing red at this moment.

Apart from Nathan's Hot Dogs, the boardwalk and The Cyclone, nothing says Coney Island like a bloke pushing a refreshments cart through sand.

Apart from Nathan’s Hot Dogs, the famous boardwalk and The Cyclone, nothing says Coney Island like a bloke pushing a refreshments cart through sand.

I must have spent two hours on the Brooklyn Bridge one night, much of it leaning against railings either holding my breath, statue still, or flicking my wrists during long exposures. This was a one of the latter.

I must have spent two hours on the Brooklyn Bridge one night, much of it leaning against railings either holding my breath – statue still – or flicking my wrists during long exposures. This, looking to the East Village, was a one of the latter.

I went Manhattan one night determined to shoot everything at F1.2 with my new lens. I lasted about half an hour. This is one of the few I liked.

I went to Manhattan one night determined to shoot everything at F1.2 with my new lens. I only managed about half an hour before I was back above F5.6. This, though, is one of the few that worked.

Helena and I came across these Newfoundland mutts towards the end of the breathtaking (in scenery and exhaustion) Signal Hill trail. I remember wishing the two of us could briefly swap places. They looked so chilled!

Helena and I came across these Newfoundland mutts towards the end of the breathtaking (in scenery and exhaustion) Signal Hill trail. I remember wishing the two of us could briefly swap places. They looked so chilled!

Every day in Ottawa was spent in the top floor pool at Helena's folks' condo. The boys' grandmother, frustrated by their inability to swim, paid for intensive lessons while we were in Newfoundland. By the time we returned, they were regular fishes. This is them diving into the deep end with NO LIFE JACKET!

Every day in Ottawa was spent in the top floor pool at Helena’s folks’ condo. The boys’ grandmother, frustrated by their inability to swim, paid for intensive lessons while we were in Newfoundland. By the time we returned, they were regular fishes. This is them diving into the deep end without either fear or life jacket!

In a Wendys at Detroit Airport, Max and Sam launched into a bizarre meditation on God, "the sky", angels, Egypt and lord knows what else, that had my head spinning. Little did I realise it was simply their surrealist take on this colourful 'tunnel', which connects one section of the airport to another. And there I was, thinking they'd perhaps had a genuine vision of sorts.

In a Wendys outlet at Detroit Airport, Max and Sam launched into a bizarre meditation on God, “the sky”, angels, Egypt and lord knows what else, that had my head spinning. Little did I realise it was simply their surrealist take on this colourful ‘tunnel’, which connects one section of the airport to another and which they’d walked moments before. And there I was, thinking they’d perhaps reached some genuine divine understanding.

Montreal; two locals sharing a joke and one surreptitious photographer waiting for the punchline (which isn't easy when they're talking French and you can't understand a word). I think I got it, though.

Montreal; two locals sharing a joke and one surreptitious photographer waiting for the punchline (which isn’t easy when they’re talking French and you can’t understand a word). I think I got it, though.

Every morning in Ottawa, Sam and I played an 'I spy' type game with buses, which you could see for miles from our 20th floor apartment. Regular buses ("kids") were one point, buses with another half attached ("teenagers") were two points and double deckers ("grown ups") were three. He always beat me. I was disturbed a few weeks back to learn that six people were killed a few weeks back when one such "grown up" ignored a crossing and was struck by a speeding train. I never told Sam. This was taken one night on the other side of town.

Every morning in Ottawa, Sam and I played an ‘I spy’ type game with buses, which you could see for miles from our 20th floor apartment. Regular buses (“kids”) were one point, buses with another half attached (“teenagers”) were two points and double deckers (“grown ups”) were three. He always beat me. I was disturbed to read that six Ottawans were killed a few weeks back when one such “grown up” ignored a crossing and was severed by a speeding train. I never told Sam. This is a “kid” pulling into a bus stop on the other side of town.

I posted a similar pic  from St John's, but this one, with the bird, has a bit more impact.

I posted a similar pic from St John’s, but this one, with the bird, has a bit more impact.

Santa Monica Beach, five or so hours before we boarded our flight home.

Santa Monica Beach, five or so hours before we boarded our 14 hour flight home. I know where I’d rather be.

This is Sam, two or so hours after we arrived at Anaheim's Howard Johnson Hotel. This is photo number four in an eight part study in child jet lag I will post one day. Suffice to say, 15 minutes after this shot he and his brother were bouncing on the bed and on their dad's head!

Sam, two or so hours after we arrived at Anaheim’s Howard Johnson Hotel following 20 hours in the air, in terminals and on buses. This is photo number four in an eight part study in child jet lag I will post one day. Suffice to say, 15 minutes after this shot he and his brother were bouncing on the bed (and their dad’s head)!

The first pic I took on holiday, at LAX through the window of the bus headed for Disneyland. I dunno what it is, but every time I see people with mobile phones I feel compelled to shoot them (figuratively speaking).

The first pic I took on holiday, at LAX looking through the window of a bus headed for Disneyland. I don’t know why, but every time I see people with mobile phones I feel compelled to shoot them (figuratively speaking).

Remember those creepy Budget Direct ads, the ones with the laconic old guy and his young French paramour (“Budget, luv, Budget”)? Right off the bat they had me wondering: are they a couple? Surely not! And if so, ewww! The first ad, the one with the bicycles, was merely flirtatious. The second, playing pool together in snazzy threads, hinted at more. It was the third, in a steamy bathroom, that dispelled all doubt; he shaving in a dressing gown, she shampooing and cooing in the shower: “Booojet Booojet, Booojet Booojet”. “Budget, luv,” he replies. “Budget Direct Car Insurance.”

Hah! Hilarious, right?

As for that crazy dance hit Gangnam Style, the one with the Korean rapper and a cast of booty shakers; ads can only dream of such impact. It’s the classic song worm, a tune so wily, so manufactured, so damn catchy that I sing it to this day and hate myself for it: “EH, SEXY LADY, EH, EH, EH, OPPAN GANGHAM STYLE”

Anyway, on Tuesday, Budget Direct met Gangnan Style in the family change room at Eltham Leisure Centre, performed by Max, Sam and their buddy, Taj, under the shower. “Booojet Booojet” they sang, pretending to lather, before launching into a bouncy rap, “Oppan Gangnam Style” and back again: “Booojet Booojet, Oppan Gangnam Style, Booojet Booojet, Oppan Gangnam Style.”

It was the shower scene from Psy …

You don’t know ‘creepy’ until you’ve watched five year-olds mimic Gallic temptresses and weighty 35 year-old Asian rappers. Starkers! I was dumbstruck. But it’s the out-of-nowhere appearance of that Budget jingle, a commercial they can’t have seen on ABC 3, that threw me most. When and where did they hear it, given Budget retired it ages ago, replacing Michael and Michéle with Zeek and Zia, their super intelligent alien neighbours? (I’m serious, you can’t make this cocaine fuelled stuff up).

I’ve been wondering a lot this week; do advertisements hibernate in kids’ brains, and how damaging can they be; which in turn has me wondering; is it time I got a job and stopped wondering about such stuff?

I wonder…

Even today, in 2013, the eggs of 1970s ‘ad worms’ hatch in my brain and pour out like burps: “Simon, Tahiti”. “’Ave a good weekend”. “Mrs Marsh, it does get in”. “Trust British Paints, ba-da ba, sure can”. Is Max and Sam’s Budget Direct ad my Louie the Fly, their Gangham Style my Car Wash? Perhaps. And yet I’d never have stripped off in front of dad to sing “One spray and Louie the Fly is AT THE CAR WASH Wooh, AT THE CAR WASH, Yeah….”

He’d have flipped.

I don’t watch television, so I’ve no idea what commercials are doing the rounds. But I do tune to 3AW, home to the most inane, mind numbing, moronic advertisements imaginable. This poses a problem, for while Ross and John crack me up in the morning, Sports Today is my nightly mass and that sanctimonious reactionary, Neil Mitchell, keeps my enemies close, breaks are peppered with crap like  “Frank Walker from National Tiiiiiiiiiiiiles”, “Go Harvey Go”, The Draaaain Maaaaan”, and that infernal “Blind Factoreeeeeeee”. Hardly Sterling Cooper.

Still, when I think tiles and televisions, blocked drains and drapes, those four companies instantly spring to mind; proof that while fingernails on blackboards mightn’t be pleasant, they at least grab your attention. So, while it’s tempting to lynch the ad execs behind such dumbing down, they’re probably lauded in a game measured ultimately in ‘units shifted’.

I blame that bastard Saba furniture ad in the mid-1980s, the one with the little snot rag who gushed, “Don’t say Baa Baa, say Saaaaba”. It was shit advertising’s nadir: take a precocious kid, get him to stretch the bejeezus out of a company name, throw in a pair of cockatoos and voila. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PdWyYrU_B0

Punters flocked to the joint, partly to ape the catchcry at the source, partly to see Dave and Mabel, whose mock kidnapping only added to sales. “F#@king GOLD,” reads one Saba-related tweet I stumbled across. “Biggest catch phrase in Aussie marketing history. That kid should be knighted and get free beer for the rest of his life. I’ll gladly track him down just so I can high five his rad self.” (Rad, alright! By campaign’s end, “Saaaaaaaaba” was so long, the kid’s face almost turned blue).

Believe it or not, similar praise exists online for Frank Walker, who once simply introduced himself on radio as chief of “National Tiles”. Today, he does free dive intensives to prepare the lungs for his drawn out “tiiiiiiiiiiiles”).

More power to you, Frank; but I don’t want your imbecilic commercial to seed in my sons’ brains, so that when they’re in the market for tiling products, they instinctively land on your doorstep. Similarly, when the summer sun calls for shade, I don’t want them to blindly think ‘Blind Factory’ like I do Mortein every time a fly buzzes past.

I’m loath to think of them being hotwired so young by an industry I distrust (and even more scared of what jingle they might marry to Gangnam Style in future….)

Still, the sad fact is we all have to promote ourselves somehow. It’s the world we live in. With that in mind, stay tuned for the next instalment from “Stephen McKenzieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, Photo Journaliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiist”.