Monthly Archives: February 2013

Jetstar’s air sickness bag: proudly brought to you by Buderim Ginger sweets

Advertising is everywhere these days.

I’m travelling on Jetstar from Melbourne to Queenstown, New Zealand.

The doors are closed. The cabin crew complete the formalities.

As we taxi and await our turn on the runway I undertake the pre-take off ritual of going through the seat pocket in front of me.

There’s the in-flight magazine with its features on far-flung destinations on the Jestar route, exercises to prevent deep-vein thrombosis, some duty-free shopping and the crossword and Sudoku that someone’s already filled in.

Then I pull out the familiar white paper bag, only it’s not.

At the very top: it reads as standard “If affected by motion sickness, please use this bag.”

But underneath there’s this in capital letters:

“FEELING  A LITTLE QUEASY? GET NAKED (WHEN YOU GET HOME!)”

Huh?

And on the left-hand side a photo of Buderim Ginger’s sweet ginger pieces (complete with naked venus)

On the right, there’s a story about the painter Boticelli painting the “Birth of Venus” and possibly starting his day with a bit of ginger in his cereal and then a history lesson about how Marco Polo brought ginger to Europe in 1293 and some handy hints on how to enjoy your ginger.

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I turn the bag over.

On the other side there’s a recipe for “MAKING DELICIOUS GINGER BEER AT HOME” using Buderim Ginger Refresher Cordial, which I am told is “the perfect summer drink” with soda water or “great with lemonade” or just plain “icy water”.

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There’s even a word search puzzle to do underneath with words including “ginger”, “refresher”, “Buderim”, “Australian” and “supermarket”

I mentally join the dots and create my own slogan:

“Need a refresher? Get your Australian Buderim Ginger cordial the next time you’re at the supermarket.”

Brilliant, I should be in advertising, or maybe even a guest panelist on the Gruen Transfer

And that’s not all, written down the one narrow side of the bag:  a recipe for making Buderim Ginger’s world famous scones and on the other side there’s eight interesting facts about ginger including that “In Merry olde England, ginger was called the royal spice…and rumour has that it cost more than gold”.

The paper bag now safely stowed back in the seat pocket (and not intended for use) I’ve yet to decide if this is all a stroke of marketing genius (given that ginger is used to treat nausea) or some sick joke on those already queasy by suggesting they remove all their clothes, eat a packet of sweets, think about baking some scones, drink a soda or perhaps do a word search puzzle.

But it does go to show how far the claws of advertising can stretch and perhaps its the marketing department at Jetstar that is the true genius for thinking of selling the space on the vomit bag in the first place (perhaps it was Buderim which approached them with the idea).

There’s advertising in movies (via product placement), there’s advertising, above men’s urinals when you’re peeing (do women have anything to look at I wonder?), there’s advertising on train windows and now Buderim has paid Jetstar to advertise their ginger beer to those suffering from motion sickness.

I never made it to the toilet during the flight, but I wonder if Jetstar toilet paper comes with product advertising?

If not might I suggest an ad for Inner Health Plus to relieve constipation with this slogan:

“If  your bowels are moving, taker Inner Health Plus to get them grooving.”

Sorry ladies, cricket remains still (sadly) a true gentlemen’s game

empty cricket standsThis morning, over coffee in a cafe outside Flinders Station they were showing the recent cricket World Cup Final between Australia and the West Indies.

I should clarify. It was the Women’s world cup final, which took place in Mumbai a city with a population of around 20 million and millions of cricket-mad fans – I know because when I visited a couple of years ago and told people I was a South African living in Australia, people would shout out the names of cricket players they idolised at me:

“Jonty Rhodes. Great fielder.”

“Herschelle Gibbs. I love Gibbs”

“Riiiicky Ponting”

But sipping my coffee and watching highlights of the game I noticed one glaringly obvious thing.

The stands were almost completely empty. Rows and rows of empty seats in a the Brabourne Stadium, one of India’s smallest cricket stadiums that only holds 20,000 people.

No one was watching the game in Mumbai and no one appeared to care.

According to one report I read, there were at most 1,000 people at the game with police officers outnumbering spectators by two to one.

This in one of India’s biggest cities, in a country that’s apparently cricket mad.

Just yesterday I’d read a story in The Age by sports writer Peter Hanlon suggesting that women’s cricket had come of age and they were now viewed as true professionals.

It had as its headline: “Sitting up and taking notice of women’s cricket”

Hanlon wrote of the game being broadcast live on Foxtel with ball-by-ball commentary on BBC radio.

But I doubt if apart from the family and friends of the Australian and West Indies cricket teams and a small collective of women who play the game, if anyone listened of watched as Australia raced to a comprehensive win.

They say cricket is the ‘gentlemen’s game’ and generally mean in the sense that you should play it in the spirit of fairness and good cheer. But it has a far more literal meaning.

As for this apparent rise in the profile of the women’s version of the gentleman’s’ game, it’s a theory that sails way over the stumps.

Still crazy after 57 years: the KFC bucket remains on the menu

kfc bucketEvery once in a while, for reasons I cannot explain or begin to fathom, I find myself craving – against my better judgement, no, against my better nature – something from KFC.

Such an evil craving grabbed me this weekend, somewhere between Geelong and Ocean Grove. Next minute I found myself doing a u-turn at the lights and pulling into the distinctive red and white shop and standing in line.

There was a woman in front of me and it was taking ages for the pimply KFC staff snatched from pre-school to fill her order.

What was taking so long?

Then I saw the ‘super variety bucket‘ coming together with it six pieces of original recipe chicken along with six crispy strips, six nuggets, one maxi popcorn chicken, two large chips, one large drink and three dipping sauces.

variety bucket

And I started thinking. Yes, like every other fast food chain, KFC (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken before they dropped the word “fried” to sound healthier) offers a number of healthy options.

But it’s the only fast food chain I know of that offers its meals by the bucket.

You can super size a McDonald’s meal that might squeeze into a bucket, but at least it doesn’t actually come in one.

And you could squeeze a couple of Dominos  or Pizza Hut pizzas into a bucket too, but they’re traditionalists at heart and still prefer to serve pizza in a recycle friendly cardboard box with those cute tiny plastic tables to stop the cheese sticking to the lid.

So I stood in the queue thinking about the bucket being assembled at the counter and remarked (to myself of course not wanting to offend the large woman in front of me) that I could not believe theys still offer a bucket of fried food at KFC to purchase to anyone with $18 in their pocket.

(Also available by the bucket: 12 pieces of chicken plus sides for $24 and 16 pieces plus sides for $30)

There is, nor will there ever be, anything appealing about food served in a bucket.

A bucket is what you put offal in. A bucket is for the slops. A bucket is what you dip a dirty rag in when you’re cleaning the floor. There’s a sick bucket and a vomit bucket. And in Trainspotting there’s three buckets: one for piss, one for shite and one for puke.

But traditions die hard. Since 1957, KFC has offered customers a bucket of fried chicken and 56 years later, it’ s still on the menu.

It seems incomprehensible to me that any fast food chain – when Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world – should be selling food by the bucketload.

Anyway, I ordered a Twister meal and as I ate I saw my future – I’d finish the Twister wrap and chips and mash and gravy and three crispy fried wings and I’d feel in a word “disgusted” with myself.

So in a rare moment of forward thinking, I ate one and a half chicken wings, half the Twister, half the mash and gravy, half my chips and left some of the Pepsi max in the can. Then I tipped the rest into the bin, placed my tray on top and left.

But not before I picked up KFC’s ‘Nutritional Information’ booklet.

Just what did KFC have to say about healthy eating?

I was intrigued. They actually have quite a lot of good things to say about healthy eating including the importance of eating foods from the five major food groups, balancing what you eat with how much you eat and the importance of exercise.

As pertains to their own menu they suggest the potato and gravy instead of chips, water instead of a soft drink and if you do have to have chips, try them without any salt. Plus theirs a big picture of a KFC salad (Yes, they have salad!)

Of course, no one who comes into a KFC is going to try the salad, and why would you have water when the meals all come with a soft drink? Yes, the mash and gravy is delicious, but who eats the chicken without the salty chips?

But the most telling line in the brochure is one under the somewhat sinister heading: “The Choice is Yours”

“With the right choices, KFC’s great tasting food can easily fit into a healthy lifestyle as an….

WHAT FOR IT

…occasional treat”.

There it is people, in black and white. If you’re eating KFC on a regular basis (as I just watched Charlize Theron do in one of the most insidious examples of product placement in the otherwise excellent film ‘Young Adult’) you’re doing your body a grave disservice.

The same nutrition guide also tells you that the average adult diet is 8700 kilojoules (kJ) per day.

Just how many are in the bucket I wondered?

This is the breakdown excluding the drink and dipping sauces:

Six pieces of original recipe chicken – 5355 kJ
Six crispy strips -2204 kJ
Six kentucky nuggets – 1270 kJ
One maxi popcorn chicken – 3087 kJ
Two large chips -4336 kJ

Total kilojoules in the KFC variety bucket – 16,252 kJ.

Or nearly the full daily food intake requirements of two Australian adults – in one meal.

Or put it another way,  if you wanted to burn those kilojoules off by exercise, KFC’s nutrition guide is extremely helpful in working this one out)

A 3 km jog burns off around 1500 kJ says KFC.

Burning off the kilojoules in one KFC bucket would require that you run 32.5 kilometres, around 8 kilometres each if four of you shared the bucket.

Of course that will just burn up the excess kilojoules (if you can actually find the energy to go running after such a meal) but what it won’t get rid are the mountains of salt you’re putting into your body.

I won’t repeat the calculation in the same detail, but consider that the recommended adult daily intake of salt is one-to-grams a day with a maximum of six (according to an article by Sydney Morning Herald health reporter Louise  Hall in 2009).

A KFC variety bucket contains around 7 grams of salt.

In that same article, Lousie Hall, writes: “There is a strong link between salt, high blood pressure and coronary vascular disease, including heart failure, kidney failure and stroke. Children who eat a high sodium diet are at risk of developing obesity, asthma and high blood pressure.”

And as you consume all these figures (perhaps with your bucket of delicious, salty KFC chicken plus all the accoutrements it comes with) consider this final thought.

In 2011, during the Sydney Ashes test match between Australia and England, KFC “magnanimously” donated $1 from every pink bucket of deep-fried chicken to the breast cancer charity, the McGrath Foundation.

(One more piece of KFC bucket trivia: In 1957, the KFC bucket offered what it considered the “complete” family meal of 14 pieces of chicken, five bread rolls and a pint of gravy for $3.50).

Another “magnificent” beet-up from the attention-seeking hypocrite Dick Smith

newbeetrootsizedwebshadow_0For those who missed it, Heinz is threatening to sue Dick Smith after his Magnificent Australian Grown tinned beetroot label included the following:

”When American-owned Heinz decided to move its beetroot processing facility from Australia to New Zealand causing hundreds of lost jobs, we decided enough is enough.

”So we are fighting back against poor quality imported product.”

Since the story “broke” Dick Smith has made headlines in every major newspaper and news website in Australia talking up his products and vowing not to crumble to the whims of the US food-making giant.

Let me tell you something.

Despite what it may say on the label, there’s nothing at all magnificent about any of the products Dick Smith flogs at customers in supermarket stores around Australia.

They all look like cheap imitations of the real thing and that’s exactly how they taste.

The other day on a whim I bought Dick Smith’s ‘Magnificent Australian Grown Raspberry” a spreadable fruit product that masquerades itself as jam.

dick smith

I bought it despite it being more expensive than the French-imported St Dalfour brand, which actually has bits of real fruit in it.

st dalfour

You could almost pick up the Dick Smith brand by mistake (no doubt that’s the intention, it’s surely not flattery) as it is in an almost identical jar, has similar labelling and an almost identical list of ingredients.

(This is ironic of course, given Dick Smith’s public tirade against German-owned Aldi, which makes products that mimic more famous brands)

Except of course there’s Dick Smith face trying to be to jam what Paul Newman was to salad dressing.

Dick Smith’s spread sells for $4.61 and St Dalfour’s for $4.29.

I spread both of them on a half of a bagel and munched away.

OK, I am not going to tell you the Dick Smith brand is inedible – that would be only the kind of media stunt he would pull – but it’s decidedly ordinary.

In fact perhaps he could change the name to Dick Smith’s Decidedly Ordinary Australian Grown raspberry spread? At least he’d be poking fun at himself. Hey, he might even sell more products.

But the question must be asked: why is a product made from ingredients grown in Australia and manufactured in Belrose Sydney more expensive than the better tasting French-made product that is made from imported ingredients and flown in from the other side of the world?

But these sorts of things are, I am sure, just silly details for the man who is no doubt lapping up all the media attention generated by his latest spat with Heinz.

The cold, harsh facts are that Dick Smith is a complete hypocrite.

Dick Smith made his millions flogging cheap Asian electronic products at Australian consumers for years, products most likely made by small children in overcrowded sweatshops.

He was happy to flog them and happy to get rich doing so.

Now that he’s flush, he’s conveniently turned himself into a champion of Australian-made products even if they’re more expensive than those made overseas.

Yes he gives the profits earned on these so-called magnificent products to charity (only ocker Australian charities need apply) but unfortunately, he’s used the moral high ground to spread a subtle message of xenophobia, racism and hypocrisy – disguised as being proudly Australian.

He’s a bit like one of those people who waves the Australian flag on Australia Day and talks about how proud they are to be Australian and then picks a fight with an Asian or Muslim while walking home with his mates.

Just watch his banned commercial, which turns the fate of refugees aboard a sinking boat into joke about buying his products and you’ll get the picture.

And how about this page on his website, with its covert anti-Muslim message.

Count how many times the word China pops on the pages of Dicksmithfoods.com.au in reference to foreign ownership of Australian businesses and then try find mention of how Chinese demand for Australian raw minerals has propped up the economy for the last four or five years.

And while he is happy to list all the Australian brands now in the hands of  foreign companies, he conveniently fails to make any mention of the Australian mining companies that own mines in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and Asia helping to generate mega-profits.

Yes Dick is happy to lend his support to Cate Blanchett when she spoke in favour of the carbon tax (though too gutless to actually appear in an ad in support of the tax), but did he have anything to say when his friend Gina Rinehart suggested Australian miners be paid $2 per day like their African counterparts?

Not a word.

But find a story about an Australian buying an Australian business (Dick Smith was happy to lend his support to Rinehart’s failed bid for control of Fairfax, despite the obvious damage it would do the freedom of the press) and Dick Smith will be there wearing his vegemite hat and waving the Australian flag.

The truth is we don’t need Dick Smith jumping up and down from his mansion on the outskirts of Sydney (reached by helicopter no less) telling everyone what they should be buying at Coles and Woolies and not at Aldi or Costco.

We’re smart enough to make our own choices about what we buy and who we buy it from.

I have my own magnificent gesture for Dick Smith, from now on I promise that even if his product is cheaper, tastier and made from ingredients grown in someone backyard down the road, I’ll choose to buy the imported product.

And I’ll shop at Aldi, and buy a BMW (one day) and fly Emirates instead of Qantas, sipping an ice-cold Heineken while dining on Norwegian smoked salmon and perhaps potatoes grown in Idaho.

Train surfing: the latest (deadly) teen craze?

train surfingHave you ever heard of train surfing in Australia?

I was on the Craigieburn train from the city this week and three kids got on. They were probably around 15 or 16 years old.

As we approached Essendon station, one of the kids, the skinniest one, made his way to the door and then popped out onto the platfom.

“Are you going to surf this train Paco?” his two mates asked as he disappeared from view.

In between remarking on how crazy their mate Paco was, the two mates stuck their heads out the train at each station to check if he was presumably still hanging on to the roof of the train or had fallen off.

This was done with a mixture of admonishment and admiration as if they wished they were as crazy as Paco, but glad they weren’t nearly as brave.

This apparently is “train surfing” – climbing onto the roof of the train and “surfing” it while it moves.

As we headed towards Oak Park, a train coming in the opposite direction whizzed past at what felt like 200 km per hour.

Was Paco still hanging on or was he a bloody, mangled corpse lying on the tracks betwen Glenbervie and Strathmore?

His friends didn’t seem too bothered.

At Pascoe Vale station, one stop before I got off, Paco’s mates got off and wandered off down the platform, without Paco.

I got off the train at Oak Park and as the train left the station I waited for it to pass to see if Paco was still hanging on, no doubt grinning.

Put there was no Paco. Who knows where he was? Had he gotten off earlier? Was he ever surfin the train? Had he fallen off?

In May last year The Age newspaper reported the story of a teen who fell off a train on the Sandringham line, critically injuring himself, while train surfing with his mates.

In January, a teen died after being electrocuted after train-surfing. He was sitting on the roof of the train.

In 2004, a 14 year-old boy had both his legs amputated after falling off a train while train surfing in the UK.

There are a three basic requirements to be a train surfer:

Firstly, you have to be a complete idiot.

Secondly, you have to have friends who are also hopeless idiots as well.

Thirdly, you have to believe you’re invincible.

Searching for Sugar Man: Finding the real Rodriguez is a delight

RodriguezcoldfactLike every other person I knew in South Africa, I owned a copy of Rodriguez’s album “Cold Fact”.

All the plaintively sung songs stuck in my head and like everyone else, I knew all the lyrics

“Sugar man. Won’t you hurry.Cause I’m tired of these scenes.For the blue coin, won’t you bring back. All those colours to my dreams. Silver magic ships, you carry, jumpers, coke, sweet mary jane…” I would sing along to the CD in my car or in my bedroom.

You could buy the album in just about any music shop in town. I am sure I bought my copy – now lost – at ‘CD Warehouse’ in Rosebank, in the leafy, northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

It was always on special, alongside the best of Santana, Led Zeppelin IV and Simon Garfunkel’s Bridge over Trouble Waters and something by Van Morrison.

R39 (about $10 Australian) is what you’d pay for a copy in those days.

My friend Doug Cohen, who introduced me to a lot of good bands, told me that Rodriguez was dead. He’d shot himself on stage.

For many years I believed him. Nobody told me otherwise. It’s not the kind of story you make up and at the time I was kind of obssessed with dead rock stars.

I owned and would read and re-read a book called “Rock n’ Roll Heaven” about dead musicians who died in their prime including Jim Morrison of The Doors, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones. There were about 30 or so musicians in Rock ‘ Roll Heaven – Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, even ‘dorky’ singers like Karen Carpenter, but no one called Rodriguez.

Then one day I heard he had apparently risen from the dead: he was coming on tour to South Africa.

I never went to the sold out concerts in Cape Town (or the ones in Johannesburg) , but watching the documentary film “Searching for Suger Man” I wish I did.

Not a man who sheds a tear easily, I found my eyes brimful with tears throughout much of film, during which two South African music fans set about finding what happened to this enigmatic singer-songwriter with the haunting voice and lyrics.

The film begins with one of the fans  a Cape Town vinyl record shop owner – Steven ‘Sugar’ Segerman driving along the windy roads of Camps Bay, listening to the track “Sugar Man” and remarking how he too believed that Rodriguez was dead.

Then a journalist – Craig Bartholomew-Strydom-  joins him in the quest.

In Segerman’s version of the legend, he heard an even more grotesque ending: Rodriguez had set himself alight on stage.

And so the film follows the two fans as they seek out their hero, finding to their astonishment that he is very much alive.

When they do track him down in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Detroit and convince him to come to South Africa to play for his adoring fans – “You’re bigger than Elvis over here,” Segerman tell him – they find a softly spoken, gentle man but with the same, haunting voice and guitarmanship.

And despite missing out on fame for much of his life, he is not in the least bit bitter; though he has spent his life restoring houses, working in car factories and raising a family in one of the poorest cities in America, rather than live the lifestyle of a rockstar.

“This is the music business. There are no guarantees,” is how contemplates his very late-realised fame.

But better late than never.

Discovering his legions of fans does not change him. He is the same man he was when his songs were unappreciated, but he is pleased to have been given a chance to be a star and play his music.

They describe him – those people who first discovered him and produced his first records – as better than Dylan, as a poet of the streets, a keen observer and teller of tales at the poorest end of town.

He is proud but unchanged. He talks of his music and the path of his life in that same soft, sweet, gentle voice that comes across in his songs.

What happened to the money? Half a million records sold at least in South Africa alone. He never saw any of it. That’s one question the documentary does not answer.

But Rodriguez appears to be a man beyond bitterness and material gain. His life has been hard, honest, but good. He has raised his three daughters to believe in themselves regardless of money, class or privilege. They are strong and proud.

He is Rodriguez.

And now, as I type away in the kitchen or as I walk to the train station in the morning, I find myself singing all those songs from Cold Fact, the album where he floats in a bubble, a contented shaman with his sunglasses, purple shirt and sandles.

‘H’ is for ‘homeopathy’ or ‘hoax’ or ‘healing’

snake skin oilI’ve recently discovered the writings of the late John Diamond.

Many in Britain will know who he is, but many more will know him by association: he was married to the celebrity chef, Nigella Lawson, and they had two children together.

Diamond was a prolific journalist and columnist, writing in a very dry and witty manner about a whole range of subjects that caught his attention from bottled water to second-hand cars to Hasidic jews.

Before he became ill with throat cancer, Diamond tackled the subject of alternative medicine in a number of columns, but as he battled against the ravages of his disease, he dedicated his weekly column in The Times to sharing his struggles – without sentimentality or expecting sympathy – and looked deeper into the billion dollar alternative medicine industry, not least because so many of his readers wrote in to suggest alternative ways of fighting his cancer.

He also starting writing a book that had the working title of “An uncomplimentary look at complimentary medicine”

These six chapters along with a selection of his best columns were compiled into a book called “Snake Skin Oil and Other preoccupations“, which I have just finished reading.

In the  unfinished book he attacks homeopathy, along with all the other alternative treatments, calling it a sham with no healing powers whatsoever.

His principal attack against homeopathy is that it defies rationality and that furthermore, it has never been tested, nor will the homeopathic establishment submit it to proper, scientific testing.

This is an extract from his book:

It is a fundamental tenet of homeopathic theory that the active ingredient – arnica, bee venom or whatever it is – must be successively diluted some large number of times  until – all calculations agree – there is not a single molecule of that ingredient remaining. Indeed homeopaths make the claim that the more dilute the more potent it’s action.

This is not just John Diamond’s interpretation of the basis of homeopathy – the dilution of substances – but can be found on Wikipedia, or on the website of the Australian Homeopathic Association and numerous other places. Last year, there was a damning indictment of homeopathy as having no medical basis to heal in a leaked Australian government report last year.

Of course, as Diamond points out, the idea of diluting something until nothing remains defies science, chemistry and modern medicine.

But homeopaths will argue, he says, that it’s effects are physical, not chemical, with some trace memory left behind, a “physically imprinted template” on the water that cures the patient.

Diamond points out there would be a “brand new principle of physics” perhaps even a “new fundamental force in the universe” if this theory of dilution was  proved true.

Excuses made by homeopaths for not having their theories subject to conclusive tests “scrape the bottom of the barrel” including, he says, the homeopathic community’s claim that their theories are “true on a human level and can’t be tested in a laboratory”.

All of this I completely agree with and yet, funny things is, I have my own experience with homeopathy, a treatment I never sought to question at the time (the name sounds so scientific), and which did, by whatever means, make me feel better.

I should give some context.

I was at the time suffering from debilitating panic attacks in London, which were making my life miserable.

I started seeing a cognitive psychologist who suggested I also see a homeopath.

I knew nothing about homeopathy and it was only when I read Diamond’s book that I learned more about it.

Truth be told, when I think back on my consultations with my homeopath, a small, sweet-natured woman, about 50, who worked from a clinic in the East End of London, I remember them very fondly.

She worked from a tiny room up a narrow flight of stairs. I would catch the District Line and get off at Bethnal Green I think to get there.

My first consultation was very much like seeing a psychologist. She asked me to talk about myself and what was troubling me.

I did. I told her my life story.

And she listened.

At the end of it all, she paged through a thick old book with a leather cover and held together with bits of tape.

Then she opened a rectangular wooden box filled with tiny little jars of pills, which all clinked around as she searched for the right one for me.

Each bottle had a little cork stopper on top. She pulled it off and put a few tiny white pills into a small brown envelope with instructions for when to take them.

I remember I was told not to eat an hour after taking one, or some kind of similar instruction.

And you know what, over the sessions I saw her (maybe half a dozen times), I did start feeling better.

But who can say if it was those little pills of apparently nothing (trace memory of something), which contained, who knows what, that helped me get better.

It could have been them I suppose.

Or maybe it was just the soothing manner in which she spoke to me and put me at ease, or the ritual itself of talking, getting things out of me, then waiting as she selected the pills from her enormous box of tiny jars and the clinking, reassuring sounds they made.

Ritual+ placebo = healing?

PS. This is the final column John Diamond wrote before he died, very poignant and worth reading.

Django Unchained: an entertaining, overly long disappointment (with a great soundtrack)

django unchainedI had my misgivings about watching a pirated version of Quentin Tarantino latest “Django Unchained”. It felt almost sacrilegious to watch the great man’s work on the small screen.

Tarantino’s films deserve the expensive big screen treatment, complete with popcorn and coke and maybe even chocolate.

Let me be clear: I didn’t pirate the movie myself, I was given a copy and as I say, I had my misgivings.

But to be honest, I might have felt a tad annoyed if I’d paid top dollar to see this film and popcorn charged at a 5000% mark-up.

It’s not his best.

It’s very long (some judicious editing would have helped and I’ve since read that it was the first film Tarantino has made without regular editor Sally Menke, who died in 2010).

And it’s got some very silly moments, the silliest by far being a ridiculous cameo by Tarantino himself, putting on a very bad Australian accent. What an Australian would be doing in the American wild west in the mid-1800s is the obvious question to ask, but given that it also added nothing to story or film, it made me wonder if Tarantino has got a little too clever for his own good.

But it is an entertaining film, a Western with almost as much violence and gore as Kill Bill (the blood literally explodes off bodies) has a lot of very good scenes and some great songs and atmospheric music; but as the sum of its parts, it does not quite work.

The plot is fairly straightforward:

Eccentric German bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and invites him to become his partner and fellow outlaw killer and share in the spoils. As a reward for his services, Schultz promises to help Django rescue his wife, Brunhilde (a fellow slave brought up by German speakers, hence the name) from Cotton plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his obsequious slave-hating butler Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), one of the nastiest characters put on film by Tarantino.

Along the way they kill a lot of people. there’s a lot of blood. A lot violence and gore.

There’s a couple of great cameos from the likes of Jonah Hill as part of a group of bungling Klu Klux Klansmen who complain about how badly their wives have cut the holes into their hoods so they can’t see anything; Don Johnson plays a suave, bigoted plantation owner;  and for Australian fans, Wolf Creek’s John Jarrett also pops up as another Australian somehow caught up in the American slave trade.

Christoph Waltz as Dr Schultz is the standout character for me. Jamie Fox as Django is physically impressive and also plays his part with the right amount of style and swagger, but for me Waltz is the star as the happy-go-lucky, but deadly-with-a-pistol bounty hunter, masquerading as a dentist, with a tooth bobbing on the top of his carriage. He plays the role with real panache and is also by far the most likeable character in the film; an enlightened European, he treats Django as an equal, while just about everyone else in the film (including slaves themselves) calls slaves “niggers” (Somewhere, someone has tallied up the number of times the “N” word is used in the film and it must in the 100s.

In his role as the bounty hunter, Waltz is almost the mirror image of Colonel Hans Lander, the smooth, despicably evil Nazi he played with Oscar-winning success in Inglorious Basterds. He is one of those actors that has real magnetism and the film is worth watching just for his performance alone.

Leonardo Di Caprio is good as the wealthy, manipulative plantation boss Calvin Candie, but it did a feel a little as if he was going through the motions in this role, drawing on past characters he’s played.

There’s also the usual snappy Tarantino dialogue through much of the film, especially in the early scenes between Django and Schultz, complimented by some beautiful shots of the American wilderness.

But it’s a disjointed, uneven film that would have been a better film were it shorter, more tightly made.

There’s the sense that Tarantino – the master film-maker and auteur that he is – can do anything and get away with it, hence his own silly Aussie cameo.

In the end he looks a bit foolish and completely out-of-place (and out of his depth I am sorry to say) not quite sure where to place himself on camera.

As for that accent – Strewth mate, you sound like a real drongo!

‘Gadget’ peer pressure or “what’s that piece of cr*p you’re using?”

351571200_1db3e97f22_zI’ll come right out and say it. I don’t yet own a smartphone.

Shock. Gasp. Horror.

I still have one of those Nokia cheapies.

It’s not that bad.

You can search the web if you’re nostalgic and fancy recalling what dial-up internet used to be like… and it has maps that load up just as you reach your destination.

I also don’t own an ipad or any tablet, though I do have a kindle, which my wife bought me for my birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I like gadgets and if money were no object I’d buy all of them, Stephen Fry-style, in one big splurge (I believe Fry has quite the gadget fetish and likes nothing more than to come home with a crate load of the latest techno gadgets).

I just seem to be making the transition to new technology a lot slower than most and delaying the capital outlay.

It took my wife and I an age to buy a flat screen digital television.

A year ago we were still watching movies on the equivalent of a postage stamp.

It was only when we realised that going to the movies  would be hard when our Edie was born (read my post: My eight months without cinema for more on this) that we splashed out and got a 42 inch beauty for a bit of the home cinema feel.

Funny thing is, some of the older technology is a better suited to my purposes.

For example, going for a run, the tiny little square ipod shuffle (the one Apple brought out in 2006 and are still selling) that weighs as much as a feather and is smaller than After Eight dinner mint is perfect for the task – why bother strapping a full-size ipod to your arm and running lopsided? (Actually, I’ve seen people wearing full-sized ipods or iphones on both arms to balance themselves out I imagine – no kidding.)06shuffle_earbuds

But I have to say, the pressure is rising and I am starting to feel like I’m living in the dark ages for all my lack of technological accoutrements.

It started with a phone call to a family member, which ended with me being admonished for not having an iphone.

“What? You don’t have an iphone?

“What kind of phone do you have?

“You have what?

“Jaysus.

“Well you better getter one.”

This was followed a few weeks later with this somewhat bitter aside: “You know, if you had an iphone or a Samsung Galaxy I could send you a photo of what I am describing right away?”

“So…when are you getting one?”

Then over dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago “You know you should really get a smartphone. You’re a journalist. You’re a blogger. You really need one.”

And then in the office earlier this week, I was ambushed by my colleagues “You mean, you don’t have an ipad or an iphone?”

Snigger, snigger.

Joke about wife not letting me buy one.

Snigger, snigger.

OK, everyone just calm down. Put away your “Steve Jobs RIP” banners. I get the message.

Yes I know:

  • I’m the only one on the train who doesn’t whip out his smartphone to tap out a message, update their Facebook status or tweet a thought for the day.
  • Yes there are old grannies with perms and tissues tucked under their hand knitted jerseys that can swipe across a smartphone screen faster than flip through a magazine.
  • And yes, the rumours are true, they’ve started giving out an iphone and a book of McDonald’s baby happy meal vouchers (haven’t you heard of the McSlop?) with all new babies born in Australia?

Truth be told I do find myself paging longingly through store catalogues and admiring the phones and tablets on offer, but then when I see the prices or the contracts and the monthly fees I tell myself I can manage another month with my piddling device.

I recall the very first mobile phone my father had.

It was the size 0f a mini rocket launcher and weighed as much as a brick. It could just squeeze into his bedside draw and had a long aerial that you pulled out army style. Boy, was it cool!21581808_45a7b5da91

Flashing forward in time…I’m sitting on court number one at Wimbledon, pork pie in hand, jealously studying a bloke in sunglasses and a tan, snooty girl-friend on his arm, checking his email on a small squarish device called Blackberry.

Whatever happened to those? Apparently even child soldiers in Africa refuse to use them.

But I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m tapping away on a palm-sized gadget, making 1970s-faux images with Instagram and sending witty tweets about advertising slogans while walking around the city during my lunch break.

Hopefully I won’t end up as one of those freakish stories you read about in a little item on page 12 of Mx: man hit by bus while crossing road, laughing at silly photo of monkey wearing underpants on his head on facebook.

Tap tap.