So? You think you’re funny?

13 10 2017

It’s been ten years since I stepped on a sticky stage at the Stones Corner Hotel and relinquished my stand up virginity in front of a crowd of drunk punters. Ten years of sweating profusely on stage, mild anxiety and second guessing my abilities as a comedian. Time sure does fly past when you’re constantly thinking of dick jokes, I guess. Still, I’ve been looking back on those ten years with fondness and I can’t help but wonder what I’d tell myself if I’d met me before I started doing this whole thing…

  1. You’re going to get jealous of other comedians. Don’t do that. Everyone develops in their own right and you can’t get caught up in that nonsense. It will do your head in. A comedian you know just got this awesome gig with an international star? Be happy for that guy. Someone keeps getting the mint spots at that gig you like? That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ll get some sweet gigs in time. Everything will be fine if you work hard.
  2. You are going to eat so much shit that you’ll want to hide in a dark cupboard for a week after the gig. You’re not going to bomb on stage all the time but when it does it will feel like a punch in the guts. Sometimes these gigs will be attended by people you love. Don’t take it out on them because you couldn’t deal with what was put in front of you. Learn from these mistakes. You won’t but you’ll wish you did.
  3. Don’t be afraid of interacting with the audience, you flake. You’re going to spend seven or so years being terrified of the audience. Then one night it’ll all snap into place. Sure, there will be times when the crowd throws you a curve ball but you can deal with it. Learn from other comedians. Some are great at this stuff so buy them a beer and have a chat about it. You’ll never get over your fear of the audience but you’ll be able to deal with it a bit better than that time during your third gig when a drunk lady tried to pull the microphone from your hand at the Kelvin Grove Hotel.
  4. You are going to meet some toxic people. Like any industry, there are noxious germs who will try and pull you down like a drowning man caught in a vicious riptide. The entertainment industry, and you are an entertainer as well as an artist, is particularly narcissistic and it seems to attract a few of these people. Luckily the industry is generally self-regulating and psychic vampires are often identified early on and are shunned by most. That doesn’t mean you won’t interact with them. Take particular note of the one that always tries to put doubt in your mind every time you’re working with them. You’re not going to die on stage just because they did.
  5. Remember when you told yourself that you’d write every cool thought down that popped into your head like that “Guide to Stand Up Comedy” told you to? You went and bought a neat little notebook to jot down your ideas. I found that notebook the other day. It’s empty, you walnut. Think of all those amazing premises that floated off into the ether because you didn’t have that book with you. Well, it’s not too late to start doing this.
  6. It’s going to take you five years to find your voice. Sure, you’ll think you’ve found it by about year two or three but you’re just kidding yourself here. You’re going to start out essentially reciting a set word for word and that will work for a bit. Get rid of the paper and flesh ideas out once you’ve framed the premise. Listen to your comedian mate from Sydney when he tells you after a gig at the Newmarket Hotel in 2009 that you’re funnier off the stage than on it. He’s right.
  7. Other comedians will steal your jokes. It happens; sometimes on accident and other times not so much. Write some new ones. One night you’ll be watching someone you know who has made the big time doing a slot on TV. They’ll do a joke of yours almost word for word and you’ll be angry about it for a bit because it was the best joke you’d written to date and you remember the exact time they saw you perform it. It took you about 13 months to get it down right and now it’s gone. That sucks but you can write new ones. Funnier ones.
  8. You’re going to spend time away from your family. That sucks but you can make up for it. Try and do more around the house and, for God’s sake, don’t let your kids read your set list. Well, unless you want to explain what “ginormous ballbag” means, that is. Tell your wife (yeah, you’re married now, buddy) you love and appreciate her. Don’t take her to gigs where you think you’ll bomb. See Point 2 above.
  9. You’re going to have to play the game. Call those bookers. Go and hang out with some room runners. Tell people about your stuff and how you feel you’re progressing. And would it kill you to get someone to film you every now and then? You do a killer hour long show in 2017 and you forget to film it. That’s going to sting, man. Also, get some head shots that don’t make your noggin look like a Russet potato.
  10. By the time you’re ten years in, you’re still going to feel like you’re learning. If you get stuck, read over points 1 through 9 again. Oh, and exercise more and drink less. In 2009 your shirt will accidentally burst open while you’re on stage and people will see your nipples. Wear a different shirt that night. One without buttons.

StandUp

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Tell Me About the War, Daddy.

4 07 2013

I’ve never been a huge fan of censorship. I mean apart from god-bothering fundamentalists, who is?

“Yeah, I didn’t want to watch that movie anyway! It may affect my moral judgement and cause me to do something silly with this knife!”

Still, as a parent, I am super aware of what goes into my children’s minds. I don’t even swear much in front of them anymore. However, I’m not one of those parents who sugar coats everything and freaks out if their kid accidentally sees the evening news. Personally, I think we overestimate how fragile our children’s minds actually are. While perusing numerous family and parenting forums in my pursuit of morons, I can’t help but notice how many parents freak out when their kids see something bad. Or see someone naked. Or see two men/women kissing. It’s a therapist’s wet dream out there. I almost worry about this generation of children who are being raised in a wonderful but chaotic world. What happens when they use an un-moderated computer for the first time and type “Tits Vagina War Fuck” into Google? Will their little heads explode? When did we become so worried and anxious about what our kids are learning?

Some people would say that when I grew up information about the world wasn’t as readily accessible as it is now although that isn’t entirely true. You see, we had these wonderful things called books. Some of us even had a series of books called encyclopaedias. I certainly did and my parents actively encouraged me to read them. On school holidays, I’d start at the letter A and work my way, alphabetically, down the list. Yes, I was a nerdy child but I certainly learned a lot. I distinctly remember the first time I used these books to help me at school. I’d used them before but I hadn’t thoroughly utilised them as a research tool.

I was in Grade 5 and I had to do a 5 minute speech on a topic of my choice. Everyone did. I was extremely nervous but also rather lazy. Plus, that was the year Return of the Jedi came out so you can understand I was a little distracted at the time. I did my speech on astronauts and it sucked and I was told to do it again. I refined it and did it again, forgot my speech and sucked even harder. My teacher told me I was being lazy and I wasn’t trying hard enough. I went home that night in a dejected state and stared at the encyclopaedias. It was then that I noticed a large Reader’s Digest book sitting on its own. The Complete History of World War 2. I picked it up and opened it to a page showing Stuka dive-bombers hurtling through the air above Poland. I was hooked. I spent the next couple of hours jotting things down and re-jigging my speech.

Stuka

I arrived at school the next morning organized and ready to deliver my meticulously prepared speech to the class. I had brought my book along because I wanted to end my speech showing the class a number of interesting photographs contained inside. My teacher asked me what the topic was.

“Nazi Germany and the Final Solution, Miss” I cheerfully said.

She just stared at me but let me proceed.

I then delivered a 5 minute diatribe about the evil Nazi regime, Adolf Hitler and the attempted extermination of the Jews of Europe.

“Here’s a picture of Auschwitz. And here’s a picture of the mass graves containing lots and lots of bodies. See how the dead bodies don’t have any shoes? They took them off, you see.”

I finished my speech to thunderous applause from my classmates, some of whom also wanted to look at the book. I had bookmarked the best photos for them.

My teacher gave me a funny look and said “Very good Andrew. Thoroughly researched even if the topic was a little grim. A-“

I don’t think I would be out of order suggesting that if a Grade 5 kid did that at school in this day and age that there’d be a bit of an outrage. Parents would complain to the school that their kid saw dead bodies in class and now Timmy wants to know why Adolf Hitler persisted with the war even though he was losing and why do people kill each other. No doubt counsellors would be called in and the young child who thought he’d picked an interesting subject would get in a bit of trouble. You never know. Maybe even Today Tonight would be called in and there’d suddenly be a story entitled “Neo-Nazi Primary School Student Participates in a Gruesome Tirade” wedged in between stories about boat people and dodgy land-lords on their show.

I’m not advocating strapping your children down and forcing them to watch the evening news, A Clockwork Orange style. That would require far too much effort. I know that when the time comes when my son sees something bad on the television or in a movie, I won’t freak out and gnash my teeth while wailing “the world is a bad place and I don’t know how to tell my child this!” No, I’ll talk to the kid. Children are smarter than we think and you can’t keep the world hidden from them.

Now excuse me, I’m going to play some Grand Theft Auto on the Playstation with my son. He likes it when I drive over pedestrians at high speed.

causing-chaos

“Burn them, Daddy. Burn them all”





A Letter to Avis Australia.

9 04 2013

Hello Avis Australia. You recently sent me an email asking me to fill in a feedback form about my latest trip. I generally don’t fill these out but I had a rather unusual journey and I feel it’s in Avis’ best interest that they know my story.

I picked up my car from Fraser Coast Airport on the morning of 19th March. Upon entering my car, a white Ford XR6 (which is apparently part of the “premium range”), I noticed something unusual. I noticed ants. Lots and lots of ants. It appeared that, during a period of wet weather, a large number of ants had decided that the rear passenger panel of the rental car was a superb place for a new nest.  I spent some time trying to remove the ants but they were persistent and numerous. I tried, in vain, to look for the queen so I could perhaps perform some sort of coup d’état but I was running late so I drove my car (and the colony of ants) to Mundubbera.  For most of the journey, the ants behaved themselves but on several occasions they crawled about my person causing me to scream a little bit. I generally don’t mind ants but when they crawl into your various body cavities while you are driving at 100 kph on a rural road, you tend to react in unusual ways.  Some of the ants got also into my pie. This upset me greatly because I am on a diet (according to my wife) and when I go away for work I like to treat myself to things I don’t normally eat. Mainly pies. About halfway to my first destination I noticed the “airbag fault alert” sign came on. This was concerning because the likelihood of having a serious crash while trying to remove ants from my eyes and/or pie was about 1 in 24. I am not sure what caused the airbag fault but it may have been the ants. In fact, I am almost certain it was the ants. I’ve heard they like getting into electronic equipment. Also pies.

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Luckily for me, I did not careen off the road as I am a fantastic driver who is used to wildlife being in close proximity to my facial region. I was able to drive to Bundaberg without crashing and I stayed the night in a motel by the beach. So did the ants who had decided my suitcase was a more suitable place for a nest than the rear panel of a Ford XR6. Who can blame them, really? I went to a hotel for a drink that night and my clothes smelled of ant. When I ordered a beer the bartender said “You’ve got an ant on your head!”

Yes. Yes I do.

As conversation starters go, that has to be up there with the best. I had a decent night sleep in my foetid motel room and was only woken up by ants on 17 occasions.

The next morning I rang the Avis office in Bundaberg and a nice bearded man swapped my car for a lovely brand new Pajero with functioning airbags. This car also had no ants, which was a nice touch, except for the ones lurking in my clothes in my suitcase. I did not tell the nice man about my ant problem because I was worried he’d accuse me of secreting the ants into the car myself. He did notice I was scratching a bit though. I told him I was allergic to pollen and I think he bought the lie.

In the end, Avis was very helpful in replacing my ant-ridden jalopy and providing me with a shiny new car. Please note that I understand that Avis does not yet possess the technological gadgetry to control insects and I do not attribute the presence of ants in my car to Avis in any way. I don’t know how long they were nesting in the car but they seemed like they were there for the long haul. I certainly won’t let this incident affect my judgement on choosing car rental companies but I will always check the rear passenger door panel for nesting insects. You should perhaps put that on a disclaimer. I would have been very upset had the ants actually been wasps.

Yours Sincerely,

Andy Thompson

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An Apology

13 02 2013

Hi there Blog.

We haven’t communicated with each other in a while. It’s been nearly a year, to be exact. A lot has happened in that year and some of those things pulled us apart. Oh, I always knew you were there. I sometimes checked on your statistics and every now and then I even read one of your posts and smiled at the memories we shared with the internet. I’m sorry I haven’t written anything in you. I’m not always this neglectful. Absent-minded? Yes, sometimes, but never neglectful. Will you allow me to explain? Thanks.

I’ve always been creative and I’ve always had a fantastic imagination. That’s why when I started doing stand-up comedy, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I mean, sure, I wanted to vomit before every gig but the actual joke-telling part was a lot of fun. It still is. I just never found being creative to be a hard thing. That was until last year. It’s amazing how one day you can go from being a free-spirited scamp writing witty musings and sometimes posting them on Twitter and/or Facebook, and the next your soul is crushed and the last thing you want to do is try and entertain others. That feeling when you hear and see people laughing and you want to grab them by the throat, shake them hard and ask them to stop rubbing it in your face is terrible but not completely unwelcome. I lost it my creative juices and there is a reason for that.

You probably don’t know this, Blog, but there was a lady who used to read you a lot. She read every single post in you and smiled. She adored you, Blog. She absolutely did. She would call me or email me and tell me how much she enjoyed you but she’s not with us anymore. She was my mother and she passed away after a very short and frustrating battle with cancer in April, 2012. 7 weeks from diagnosis to death. Isn’t that fucking rough, Blog? It sure is. I’m glad you agree. Her passing has left a hole in my heart that, on some days, feels like a raw, air sucking wound with bits of shrapnel stuck in it. For a large part of last year, I was numb. That kind of thing really impacts on your life.

I’ve read on numerous occasions that some of the funniest people in the world are also the saddest. Well, for me the funny doesn’t come when I’m sad. I had a horrible year and didn’t write one joke. That’s almost professional suicide. Oh sure, I wrote a boatload of premises and a few ideas popped into my head but the creative magic wasn’t there. The worst thing was that I kind of expected to fall into some sort of fugue state whereby I’d wake up, start writing and after an hour or so I’d have pages full of perfection. In reality, I’d stare at the screen and every now and then I’d write down a sentence only to delete it within seconds. I would do this for an hour or so. I read once that Jerry Seinfeld would write for an hour every day. Well, I did that but it’s just that every line I wrote disappeared into the ether. The pages of material I managed to write (and save) are angry ramblings that appear to be a cross between a high school student’s English essay and the letters submitted to the local paper by a disgruntled senior citizen who hates the world and wants everyone to know about it. I guess there might be something worthy in there. Can you remind me one day to open those musings? That’d be super.

My mother was an inspiration and she was supportive in everything I attempted. I once wanted to play the violin and my mother heeded my wishes and a violin was acquired. I spent 4 years learning that damned instrument and on a few rare occasions I succeeded in making a sound that didn’t sound like a cat being sodomised. She stood by me though, always smiling. Sometimes the smiles were strained. A 12 year old playing the violin can do that to you. When I told her I was going to start doing stand-up comedy, she was delighted and informed me my first gig would be fantastic. She was absolutely correct but I’m lucky she didn’t come to my second where I ate so much fail I nearly quit then and there. The first time she came to see me perform occurred about 7 months after my first gig and it was a surprise. I was lurking in an inner city venue before a show, wanting to vomit, when I bumped into my Mum and Dad at the bar. I was elated to see them but secretly shit-scared. I also spent the next 10 minutes in the bathroom rearranging my material because it was all about her. I’m sure she would have liked it but I didn’t want her to feel bad in any slight way. Funnily enough, I think I still have the recording of that gig. I bet if I rummaged around on the computer I could find it but I don’t want to listen to it. The material would make me cringe but hearing her loud cackle would be too much to bear.

She also loved my writing but I bet even Hitler’s mum loved “Mein Kampf.” That’s what mum’s do. “I like it but not so much with the Jew-hating, Adolf. Here, have some strudel” She encouraged me to write and knowing she enjoyed by stories filled me with joy. Of course, there were some stories I wrote that I probably would have never told her in a million years but, as anyone will tell you, once you have an audience it’s hard to stop. But I stopped writing last year. Writing became hard and telling a joke or funny story became a chore. Yes, Blog, I did enjoy standing on soggy stages making a room full of people laugh but that’s easy when you can fly on auto-pilot. Adding a new tag to a previous bit was a win for me and I kept those wins. They were the small coals that kept the fire burning. My mother always told me that it’s easy to quit and that a lot of people do it because it’s too hard to keep going so I stuck with my craft and kept the ashes warm, waiting for a spark.

It’s been nearly a year since she passed away and that spark has just started to smoulder in some wet leaves. It’s amazing how a small throw-away comment can spur you into action but that’s what happened. Thanks, Mike van Acker. Thanks for kicking me in the gooch and getting me active. As for you, Blog, shall we start afresh? I’m ready if you are.

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My mum loved rude jokes. She loved her grand-kids more.





Let Sleeping Drunken Men with a Sniffle Lie

4 10 2011

We’ve all had horrible moments of shame in our life. Moments that, when we look back on in hazy recollection, make us cringe and feel sick in the stomach. I’ve had so many that I’ve lost count. The overwhelming majority of my shameful moments involve me and a crowd of onlookers who like to guffaw and point. One such time occurred when I was in a co-ed swimming class in Grade 6 and was told to get out of the pool by an angry PE Teacher. I was quite adamant that I stay in the water because of my raging pre-pubescent erection which was causing me some difficulty with regards to swimming in a straight line. When I eventually left, I pretended I had a sore stomach and hobbled, doubled over, to my towel before scurrying away to the change rooms. I’m fairly certain my charade didn’t fool anyone because I was referred to as “Boner” for the remainder of the year but the only person upset during this experience was me. I try not to upset other when I am inflicting shame on myself.

I recently had a minor cold and my snuffling and snorting brought back recollections of the time when I first started having sinus infections. I started getting these horrific things in about 1994 and anyone who has ever had them will attest to the fact that they are a horrible thing to endure. This is especially true for those people around you who find the honking and dribbling sound of someone trying to breathe annoying. These infections are easily treated with hardcore antibiotics but back when I first started getting them, I generally waited until I was positively leaking before I sought treatment. This is probably a good time to inform people that this story will be gruesome and may make people sick but I need to get this out there. I am hoping that this story will be a cathartic experience and that I might get some closure from writing about it. What it probably will also do is make people really wary about inviting me over to stay the night at their house.

It was August 1994 and I had travelled down to Melbourne from Brisbane to see my family and catch up with some friends, namely a good mate named Marty. One night, Marty suggested that we visit a few pubs and have numerous drinks. I had a raging sinus infection and wasn’t suitably dressed at the time but didn’t say no to his suggestion so he loaned me a shirt we stumbled around a few dingy pubs in Carlton and Fitzroy. Our last stop of the night was a bar in Fitzroy whose name escapes me. It was a little up market place filled with cocktail sipping law students but that didn’t stop Marty and I who charged into the premises and started quaffing down beers like the world was ending. Marty took a shine to one of the female patrons, a delicate Goth looking creature in a black frilly dress, and proceeded to woo her as only a 6’3 rugby player with long unkempt hair can. I stood by and watched him, all the while sipping from my beer, swaying gently and occasionally sniffing loudly. I realised he was going to be a while so I focused my attention on the nearby vintage pinball machine. I must have stuffed about $20 into that machine over the course of a few hours when Marty came up to me and told me that he was leaving with his female conquest who appeared to be completely enamoured with him. I was faced with the prospect of a long and expensive cab ride home and started shuffling towards a taxi rank when she called out “We’re going back to my house around the corner. You can come and crash there if you want.”

I agreed. This was a good outcome. I would crash on the floor and, when Marty was ready, we’d both scurry out the door like rats in the night. After a short walk, we got to her place and they both stumbled through the door with their hands down each other’s pants. I felt slightly unwelcome following them inside but I had started to feel a bit sick and my nose would not stop running. I sniffed loudly and informed my gracious host that I will sleep on the couch but she would not have any of that.

“Oh no. Sleep in my bed. We’ll be in my flat-mate’s room. She’s away,”

I tried to refuse but she was quite adamant that guests in her house did not sleep on couches. I wondered if she re-thought this initiative in the morning following the carnage that occurred during my brief stay. They scrambled off to the flat-mate’s room get busy and I staggered into her bedroom. As I opened the bedroom door I noticed an underlying theme. Black. Everything was black and no, that wasn’t because it was 3am. She had black silk sheets and a black silk duvet cover. Her walls were black and the bits that weren’t black contained posters of Robert Smith and Morrissey who both looked out over the room with a haughty sneer. It was a really tidy room and I was suitably impressed with her standards of cleanliness. I was also really tired and rather drunk so I sniffed loudly and passed out face down on the bed. I was in a good place. My last thoughts were “I sure hope I don’t dream of The Cure. I hate The Cure”

I woke up several hours later to Marty roughly shaking me. He’d performed his part of a one-night stand and had decided not to stick around for breakfast.  I went to sit up but something was attached to my face. It was the pillow. The fucking pillow was stuck to my face. Bewildered, I slowly pulled it off and we both heard a “schlepppp” noise as the pillow came free. My nose had been leaking during the night. Well, leaking is probably an understatement. Let’s just say my sinus cavity had exploded. There was thick, sticky, fluorescent green nose-butter all over the place. I was shocked and somewhat amazed at the volume. Then I remember where I was. In a girl’s bedroom, in her immaculate bed, covered in green slime. I scurried back from the toxic goo and looked around at the extent of the damage. Even in the gloom of an early August morning in Melbourne I could see that something had gone drastically wrong during my blissful slumber.

One side of the pillow was completely concealed in green snot. The coverage was so great that I couldn’t even see the pillow-case. It hadn’t dried either. In fact, I don’t think this snot could ever dry out. In retrospect, I reckon some scientists from NASA would have wanted to take a look at it. It could have been used as an excellent malleable bonding agent in space. I looked around and saw more snot on the duvet. A puddle of it, actually. One whole sleeve of my shirt was covered in it. Well, I say my shirt but it actually one of Marty’s favourite shirts. He gawped at me like I was some sort of evil circus freak. I gawped back and sniffed loudly. My hair was all gelled up and one whole side of my face was stuck in a snot-frozen grimace, like the Joker from Batman after a really bad meth binge. We needed to bail quickly so I flipped the pillow over and we both went to work on the duvet, trying to remove the damage as best we could. During the frenzied cleaning process, Marty got some snot on his hand and he started to freak out a bit.

“Gaaah! Guuuur! Fuck!” He looked at his hand in horror and made some mewling noises before trying to rub it off on his jeans. He then looked at me and unexpectedly vomited all over the bed. The situation had gotten out of hand really quickly. I grabbed the duvet and flipped it over; hiding the puke and the nose-slime, before straightening the pillow and making sure everything looks nice. Then we ran like the wind. We ran out of that house like shameful puppies with our tails between our legs.

I still feel really bad about this even though it happened some 17 years ago. Marty was absolutely filthy with me because I had destroyed any chance he had of going back into that bar and I had also ruined one of his favourite shirts. I can’t help but imagine the look on the girl’s face when she crawled into bed later that day. In small distant part of my mind I can also hear her screams in horror and she slides her foot into what must have felt like slightly cold elephant placenta. I don’t know her name and I certainly can’t remember the bar in Fitzroy but if she is somehow reading this then I want to give her a heartfelt apology. That’s the least I owe her. I also probably owe her some new sheets and a duvet cover. Maybe even a whole new bedroom suite.

Sorry about my nose.





R.I.P. The Epic Bus Adventure

14 06 2011

Recently I flew down to Melbourne to visit my family and celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday. While sitting on the plane, wedged between a rather hostile elderly lesbian and an obese businessman who insisted on reading his broadsheet newspaper which meant every turn of a page nearly resulted in me copping a fistful of sausage sized fingers to the chops, I started thinking about the amount of travelling I have done in my thirty-seven years on this planet. Sometimes this travel was conducted on a plane, sometimes by car but mostly, it was by bus. Generally a Greyhound or a McCafferty’s. Nearly always in uncomfortable silence. While I was coasting through the air getting whisked in the face by smallgood-like hands, I thought about how the notion of travelling across this land has changed in the last thirty or so years.

All aboard! I hope you don't mind the smell.

Planes are good. I like flying and planes are a great way to get around but only since air fares dropped, along with customer service, with the advent of budget airlines, has flying by plane been cheap. I mean, it has always been accessible but generally not to the ‘great unwashed’. They always took the bus. So did I. I usually washed however. Now that planes are cheap and easy to get on, I can see the demise of the ‘great Australian bus trip’ on the horizon. I firmly believe you haven’t lived until you’ve spent thirty hours on a bus, sitting in an uncomfortable position as you drifted through one lonely town after another. A bus trip was an adventure. You don’t have any adventures flying to Melbourne from Brisbane. I once had an issue opening my packet of nuts but that’s about it.

The first major bus adventure I embarked on occurred when I was in high school in 1990. My parents had moved to Melbourne and I went to boarding school on the Gold Coast. Rather than shell out the absurd amount of money required for a return ticket on a plane (probably in the order of $800 for a concession card holder back in those days), my parents decided to bring me home for the holidays on the bus. This was fine by me. I had a number of books, a heap of batteries for my Walkman and a zest for adventure that only a 16 year old boy can have.

I boarded my bus at Southport. It arrived two hours late and the waiting throngs piled on. It was a Friday afternoon and the bus was packed with people heading home to Brisbane for the weekend. Yes, when you left the Gold Coast to go to Melbourne, which is located approximately 2,000km to the south, you drive north. Okay. This was strange but I wasn’t going to question the driver who looked a tad angry about his station in life. Instead, I asked the lady with the severe bun and rigid smile at the counter in when we got to the bus terminal in Brisbane.

“No sweetie. You’re not heading in the wrong direction. The bus goes out to the west and then down the inland route. It’s quicker that way”

Quicker that way. Those words were repeated in my head numerous times during the next twenty-nine hours.

We were herded back onto the bus and away we went into the setting sun. It was at this stage that my Walkman broke. The batteries didn’t die. It did. This didn’t seem to bother Gary who was sitting next to me and had been talking to me non-stop since the Gold Coast even after I had put the headphones on. Gary was going down to see his family. So was I, I said. Gary had just been released from a minimum security prison. This was excellent news, I remarked. Gary agreed. I made sure my wallet remained on my person the whole time. I decided to get some shut-eye as the bus trundled past the town of Warwick. I snuggled into my spare jacket with one sweaty hand clutching my wallet lest Gary help himself to its contents.

I was gently shook awake by Gary a few hours later and I remember squinting at the lights of a truck stop trying to work out where we were. It was 1am. The bus had been on the road for 6 hours. Surely we must be somewhere in Western NSW. Somewhere near Dubbo? No. We were in Goondiwindi. Goondiwindi is still in Qld. We had been driving for six hours and still hadn’t left the state I had started the trip in. The Gold Coast is about thirty kilometres from the fucking border of NSW and Qld and I still hadn’t crossed it.

Quicker that way, apparently.

We were told to get off the bus. People weren’t allowed to sleep on the bus while it was stopped. I am unsure of this reason but I am fairly certain people like Gary are somehow responsible. We shuffled around in the bright insect ridden lights of the truck stop until our driver told us we could get back on. I think I ate a Chiko Roll while I was waiting. Maybe even a battered sausage. I can’t be sure but I am fairly certain whatever I ate was deep fried. That’s all they serve in those places. I clambered back into my seat, along with my new best mate Gary, and looked forward to hopefully getting a decent sleep.

You don’t really sleep though, as anyone who has travelled on a bus can attest to. You drift in and out of this twilight type snooze where you are completely aware of everything going on around you. The snoring. The rustling of chip packets. The farting. Always the farting. Man, some people really relax when they sleep. I certainly didn’t, not with Gary sitting next to me. Also, we were sitting next to the toilets so we had to put up with people bumping the way down the aisle to use the loo. Then we had to put up with the smell.

Sometime later, Gary once again shook me awake. Surely it must be mid-morning and we had to be about halfway to our destination? No, nowhere close. We were in Tenterfield which, thank God, is actually in NSW. We had stopped to pick up another passenger and our driver felt it would be a great opportunity for another break. Once again we grumbled our way off the bus for thirty minutes and then back on again. Basically we did this all the way through NSW. We’d be driving for an hour or two and then we’d stop. I ate countless Chiko Rolls and possibly read a few well-worn New Idea magazines.  By about hour twenty, the trip had morphed into a vicious cycle of staring at mind-numbing scenery interspersed with a frenzy of deep fried food gorging every ninety or so minutes. Why didn’t I read my book to pass the time? Because every time I picked it up Gary asked me what it was about. Once I put it down for two minutes and picked it back up and Gary said “so, what’s happening now?” Rather than spend a good forty-five minutes re-telling the plot to Stephen King’s “It” I decided to pass the time looking mournfully out the window.

The view. Stunning isn't a word that comes to mind after 20 hours.

By the time we arrived in Melbourne I was a wreck. My parents picked me up in the city and asked me how my trip went. I think they even smiled when they asked that question. My hair was all over the place, my jacket smelled like Chiko Rolls and my wallet was well worn from being clasped in my hand the whole trip. I looked like I had spent two days sleeping in the boot of a car. The worst part about my three weeks at home on holiday was the grim realisation and the feeling of dread that I had to do the trip all over again. I pleaded with my Mum and Dad to fly me back to school but the trip certainly couldn’t be as bad as I made out. No way. I must have been exaggerating. Besides, the return ticket had already been paid for and I could always read my book if I got bored. This was my mother’s suggestion. I could have strangled her.

Once again I was bundled on the bus and I watched my parents wave goodbye and we slowly rolled north to Queensland. Our driver this time around was very jovial. He really loved his job and made sure we all knew where we were and if we had driven past something vaguely interesting. Usually by a crackling loudspeaker. I wanted to murder him but the old ladies in the front two rows were particularly enamoured with him. They laughed and encouraged him. “Tell us more about the bushrangers in this region” they’d ask. And he would. I wanted to murder them too. In fact, I wanted to cut everyone on the bus. It may have been the raging hormones coursing through my veins but mainly it was bitterness and anger. At some stage near Parkes, I looked out the window and saw a plane flying high in the sky. The contrails flowing behind it seemed to mock me and I nearly started softly sobbing. Luckily I was able to actually read my book due to the lack of criminals sitting next to me.

Every two hours the driver would stop the bus and put on a video for us all to watch. Each time I craned my neck to see the small screen, hoping for some sort of blockbuster movie I hadn’t seen but it seemed the video collection on the bus consisted solely of episodes of “The Leyland Brothers.” For those of you who haven’t seen The Leyland Brothers imagine Steve Irwin, crossed with a religious pastor with added valium. That’s what the brothers were like. The driver would make us close the curtains so we could “make the most of the show” and the Leyland Brothers would do their thing which generally consisted of them driving across slightly wet streams and looking at kangaroos. In one episode, they made damper. That was a doozy, that one.

Making damper must have been a step too far for one young couple seated across the aisle from me because they started making out. Making out with a large dose of heavy petting. I know they did this because I was watching them intently. I still vividly remember the blanket covering them jerking about like they had trapped a small rabbit in there while they looked on with rapt faces as Mike and Mal Leyland made a safe campsite near a creek. I also remember seeing the girl fling her beau’s ejaculate onto the floor of the bus when they had finished. It stayed there for the remainder of the trip. I am yet to see anything like that on a plane.

Given the large volume of Ed Hardy clad bogans noisily scarfing peanuts on my last plane flight, it’s only a matter of time.

RIP – The Epic Bus Adventure

Mike and Mal Leyland. Outback pioneers. Also know to inspire random hand-jobs.





Goontastic Retail Adventures

9 04 2011

The other day, while I was walking through a bottle shop looking for something suitable to drink with our dinner, I had a flashback. It wasn’t a horrible flashback like one brought on by too much LSD or the “horrors of ‘nam” but one brought on by the familiarity of my surroundings. I don’t mean that I feel super comfortable in a bottle shop because the staff at my local know me by name and just nod when I say “the usual thanks, Terry.” It was different. I had a flashback to when I worked in that industry. Actually now that I think about it, an acid or a ‘nam flashback would have been more enjoyable. I’m not suggesting that working in a bottle shop is worse than visions of slaughtered Vietcong soldiers but I certainly had some experience working there that would make a grizzled war veteran shudder.

I started working in a bottle shop in 1997. I won’t name the bottle shop or the hotel it is attached to because they are still trading and I don’t want to ruin what meager business they get. Not that anyone who reads this will actually go there. The clientele generally just read either Zoo Magazine or New Idea, depending on the gender. This shop was in a shed. I’m not saying this in an off-hand manner. It was a bloody shed. Drive-thru at the front and liquor barn out the back. The drive-thru mainly sold cartons of XXXX Gold and the liquor barn sold cask wine. Just loads and loads of cask wine. Sure, they stocked some lovely bottles of wine but the patrons generally shuffled past them to get to the casks stored at the back.

“Wine in a bottle? I don’t care if it tastes better. This one has 4L in it for the same price. Got anything sweet? I like wine that tastes like bourbon and coke. Got any of that?”

Working in this place in summer was like working in a furnace. The workers positively leaked. Bottles of sparkling wine would randomly explode on the shelf showering anyone nearby with shards of glass and tepid fizzy cat urine. The casks were the worst. Secondary fermentation brought on by the heat and the small amounts of air that casks let in would cause them to expand. Some would only bulge slightly. Others resembled garish balloons that made faint “weeeeeeeee” noises if you were game enough to put your ear to them. Some afternoons we’d have a cull. The boss would choose some poor lackey (read: me) to gently place the casks outside and pop them with a stick. Generally a long stick. Let me tell you, I know exactly what a bomb disposal expert in Afghanistan feels like. The trembling touch, the fact that everything goes quiet and all you can hear are the hushed voices of people nearby and perhaps a dog barking down the street. I’d put a cask on the ground and get my ‘poking tool’ which was a broom handle with a nail on the end. Most of the time the end result was anti-climactic. Other times these things would explode, covering me with half-rotten Fruity Lexia. I still gag when I smell cask wine. I hated this task so much. That was until a member of the public told me he’d buy them off us for a dollar a cask. Given these were ullages and we’d get reimbursed by the company rep we didn’t mind. Every week he’d come in and take away our rotten wine. You could smell this guy coming a mile away. To this day I have no idea what he did with it.

After graduating from the Liquor Barn I was moved into a small detached bottle shop in a major shopping centre. It was here that I was exposed to the general public in a big way.  I didn’t mind working in retail. Sure, you meet some weirdos but generally people are nice. They like to tell you things about their day and how little Cathy is doing at school. I used to pride myself on my ‘attentive listening face’ and my ability to nod in all the right places despite not even knowing what the conversation was about. Sometimes I’d laugh. “Ah! Ha ha ha” I’d chortle and they’d laugh too and I was known as “that nice young chap at the bottle-o.” My, if only they could read minds. Some of the old dears would bring me cake to eat because they felt sorry for me being left on my own for long periods of time. I would reluctantly chew a piece of cake which had the flavor and consistency of a piece of linoleum and listen to them drone on as I mentally counted the bottles of wine on the shelf behind them. Some days would drone on by and I’d swear that the clock would tick backwards. Sometimes having customers coming in would be a welcome interruption to my day. There are only so many times you can read the back label of the bottle of Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet.

One particular incident involved a pile of cheap wine we had stacked at the front of the store. This stuff was horrid. We had a tasting once with it as the feature wine. It was a real la-dee-dah affair. We had a large oak barrel rolled into the store, white table cloths and even real glasses made of glass. It was a pity the stuff we tasted resembled battery acid with red colouring. People were swilling it down and loving it. To this day I have no idea why. I’m no wine snob and I’ll try anything once regardless of price but this stuff was vile. We sold it for $2.99 a bottle and still made a handsome profit.

A lady came in one day and was transfixed by the pile of cheap wine stacked at the front. I had done a great job with some tinsel and it almost looked classy. She said to me, “excuse me, can you tell me something about this wine?”

“It’s $2.99,” I said.

“I see” she replied. “But what’s it like?”

“It’s $2.99” I repeated.

“Oooh a bargain. Does it have a nice taste?”

“It’s $2.99” I said again.

“I see” she said, completely oblivious to the fact that I couldn’t describe the taste to her without swearing. “Would you drink it?”

“I would probably use it to clean my driveway” I replied.

“Okay. It is a cheap price isn’t it?

“Yes, ma’am, it certainly is cheaper than most other driveway cleaners. A bargain, in fact.”

“Would it go well with lamb?

“Well, you could use the bottle to bludgeon a lamb to death…so yes!”

“I will buy 4 cartons please”

“Excellent choice!” A sale is a sale, even if I am selling radioactive coolant.

One of the more harrowing experiences occurred one busy Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoons were chaotic. Just hordes of people lining up for cheap cask wine, generic beer and disgustingly sweet pre-mixed cocktail drinks. This Saturday was particularly busy and the line of customers stretched back from the counter where I worked on my lonesome. A lady approached the counter and placed her chosen wines on the bench. I looked up and noticed that she was shaking and appeared visibly upset.

“Are you okay, ma’am” I said.

“I don’t want to ruin you day but…um…a man in the line behind me is urinating in your store”

Right. I looked down the line and sure enough there is a degenerate middle-aged man wearing a vintage 1982 ‘Life Be in It’ t-shirt and short light blue Stubbies. I could see a dark wet patch on the front of his shorts and a puddle at his feet. He was looking up at the ceiling in that nonchalant manner we all do when we piss our pants. I served the next 2 people and he moseyed up to the counter. He had a hair-lip scar and the rheumy eyes that all the seasoned professional alcoholics seem to have. If there was an Olympics for alcoholics this guy would have been a medal chance.

“Can I help you mate?” I said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Uh yeah mate. Do you have any casks of Stanley Moselle?”

“We have heaps of them up the back, sir” I replied.

“Can I have a cold one?”

“No. No you can’t”

“Oh. Can I have a hot one then?”

“No. No you can’t have a hot one either”

“Why not?” he asked.

“You can’t have one because you are blind drunk” I said.

“I’m not drunk”

“Can you explain why you pissed in my store then?”

“I couldn’t hold it in. I’ve been at the pub all day”

“I see.”

“So, can I have a cask?”

“No. Get out of the store now you filthy scumbag”

I served the next customer who was a middle-aged man wearing a suit. He said, with an extremely stiff-upper lip English accent, “Andrew, I must commend you on your composure. If that was me serving that wretch, I would have kicked the fucking shit out of him.”

There was never a dull moment working there. I spent the next hour after the doors closed cleaning drunk hobo-piss off the store’s carpet. Lucky I had a near endless supply of caustic cleaning product.

$2.99 a bottle.

 

The other day, while I was walking through a bottle shop looking for something suitable to drink with our dinner, I had a flashback. It wasn’t a horrible flashback like one brought on by too much LSD or the “horrors of ‘nam” but one brought on by the familiarity of my surroundings. I don’t mean that I feel super comfortable in a bottle shop because the staff at my local know me by name and just nod when I say “the usual thanks, Terry.” It was different. I had a flashback to when I worked in that industry. Actually now that I think about it, an acid or a ‘nam flashback would have been more enjoyable. I’m not suggesting that working in a bottle shop is worse than visions of slaughtered Vietcong soldiers but I certainly had some experience working there that would make a grizzled war veteran shudder.

I started working in a bottle shop in 1997. I won’t name the bottle shop or the hotel it is attached to because they are still trading and I don’t want to ruin what meager business they get. Not that anyone who reads this will actually go there. The clientele generally just read either Zoo Magazine or New Idea, depending on the gender. This shop was in a shed. I’m not saying this in an off-hand manner. It was a bloody shed. Drive-thru at the front and liquor barn out the back. The drive-thru mainly sold cartons of XXXX Gold and the liquor barn sold cask wine. Just loads and loads of cask wine. Sure, they stocked some lovely bottles of wine but the patrons generally shuffled past them to get to the casks stored at the back.

“Wine in a bottle? I don’t care if it tastes better. This one has 4L in it for the same price. Got anything sweet? I like wine that tastes like bourbon and coke. Got any of that?”

Working in this place in summer was like working in a furnace. The workers positively leaked. Bottles of sparkling wine would randomly explode on the shelf showering anyone nearby with shards of glass and tepid fizzy cat urine. The casks were the worst. Secondary fermentation brought on by the heat and the small amounts of air that casks let in would cause them to expand. Some would only bulge slightly. Others resembled garish balloons that made faint “weeeeeeeee” noises if you were game enough to put your ear to them. Some afternoons we’d have a cull. The boss would choose some poor lackey (read: me) to gently place the casks outside and pop them with a stick. Generally a long stick. Let me tell you, I know exactly what a bomb disposal expert in Afghanistan feels like. The trembling touch, the fact that everything goes quiet and all you can hear are the hushed voices of people nearby and perhaps a dog barking down the street. I’d put a cask on the ground and get my ‘poking tool’ which was a broom handle with a nail on the end. Most of the time the end result was anti-climactic. Other times these things would explode, covering me with half-rotten Fruity Lexia. I still gag when I smell cask wine. I hated this task so much. That was until a member of the public told me he’d buy them off us for a dollar a cask. Given these were ullages and we’d get reimbursed by the company rep we didn’t mind. Every week he’d come in and take away our rotten wine. You could smell this guy coming a mile away. To this day I have no idea what he did with it.

After graduating from the Liquor Barn I was moved into a small detached bottle shop in a major shopping centre. It was here that I was exposed to the general public in a big way. I didn’t mind working in retail. Sure, you meet some weirdos but generally people are nice. They like to tell you things about their day and how little Cathy is doing at school. I used to pride myself on my ‘attentive listening face’ and my ability to nod in all the right places despite not even knowing what the conversation was about. Sometimes I’d laugh. “Ah! Ha ha ha” I’d chortle and they’d laugh too and I was known as “that nice young chap at the bottle-o.” My, if only they could read minds. Some of the old dears would bring me cake to eat because they felt sorry for me being left on my own for long periods of time. I would reluctantly chew a piece of cake which had the flavor and consistency of a piece of linoleum and listen to them drone on as I mentally counted the bottles of wine on the shelf behind them. Some days would drone on by and I’d swear that the clock would tick backwards. Sometimes having customers coming in would be a welcome interruption to my day. There are only so many times you can read the back label of the bottle of Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet.

One particular incident involved a pile of cheap wine we had stacked at the front of the store. This stuff was horrid. We had a tasting once with it as the feature wine. It was a real la-dee-dah affair. Proper glasses, white table cloths and even real glasses made of glass. It was a pity the stuff we tasted resembled battery acid with red colouring. People were swilling it down and loving it. To this day I have no idea why. I’m no wine snob and I’ll try anything once regardless of price but this stuff was vile. We sold it for $2.99 a bottle and still made a handsome profit.

A lady came in one day and was transfixed by the pile of cheap wine stacked at the front. I had done a great job with some tinsel and it almost looked classy. She said to me, “excuse me, can you tell me something about this wine?”

“It’s $2.99,” I said.

“I see” she replied. “But what’s it like?”

“It’s $2.99” I repeated.

“Oooh a bargain. Does it have a nice taste?”

“It’s $2.99” I said again.

“I see” she said, completely oblivious to the fact that I couldn’t describe the taste to her without swearing. “Would you drink it?”

“I would probably use it to clean my driveway” I replied.

“Okay. It certainly is a cheap price isn’t it?

“Yes, ma’am, it certainly is cheaper than most other driveway cleaners”

“Would it go well with lamb?

“Well, you could use the bottle to bludgeon a lamb to death…so yes!”

“I will buy 4 cartons please”

“Excellent choice!” A sale is a sale, even if I am selling radioactive coolant.

One of the more harrowing experiences occurred one busy Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoons were chaotic. Just hordes of people lining up for cheap cask wine, generic beer and disgustingly sweet pre-mixed cocktail drinks. This Saturday was particularly busy and the line of customers stretched back from the counter where I worked on my lonesome. A lady approached the counter and placed her chosen wines on the bench. I looked up and noticed that she was shaking and appeared visibly upset.

“Are you okay, ma’am” I said.

“I don’t want to ruin you day but…um…a man in the line behind me is urinating in your store”

Right. I looked down the line and sure enough there is a degenerate middle aged man wearing a vintage 1982 ‘Life Be in It’ t-shirt and short light blue Stubbies. I could see a dark wet patch on the front of his shorts and a puddle at his feet. He was looking up at the ceiling in that nonchalant manner we all do when we piss our pants. I served the next 2 people and he moseyed up to the counter. He had a hair-lip scar and the rheumy eyes that all the seasoned professional alcoholics seem to have.

“Can I help you mate?” I said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Uh yeah mate. Do you have any casks of Stanley Moselle?”

“We have heaps of them up the back, sir” I replied.

“Can I have a cold one?”

“No. No you can’t”

“Oh. Can I have a hot one then?”

“No. No you can’t have a hot one either”

“Why not?” he asked.

“You can’t have one because you are blind drunk” I said.

“I’m not drunk”

“Can you explain why you pissed in my store then?”

“I couldn’t hold it in. I’ve been at the pub all day”

“I see.”

“So, can I have a cask?”

“No. Get out of the store now you filthy scumbag”

I served the next customer who was a middle aged man wearing a suit. He said, with an extremely stiff-upper lip English accent, “Andrew, I must commend you on your composure. If that was me serving that wretch, I would have kicked the fucking shit out of him.”

There was never a dull moment working there. I spent the next hour after the doors closed cleaning drunk hobo-piss off the store’s carpet. Lucky I had a near endless supply of caustic cleaning product. $2.99 a bottle.