RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars season 3 recaps

The shadiest Drag Race recaps on the web. Get ready to death drop, queens!

RuPaul's Drag Race recaps

YASS, HUNTIES! Seasons 6, 7, 8 and a bit of 9 recapped for your reading pleasure. Let's get sickening!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I'm not so Gaga over the Lady anymore

I defended her when she wore that dress made of meat.

I rallied against people who claimed she was “just another Madonna clone”.

I even applauded when she arrived at the Grammy Awards in an egg and claimed she'd been “incubating” in it for three days.

But after what I saw this week, I just can't take it anymore. I'm officially handing in my Lady Gaga fan club membership. And it's all because of a lollipop.

Sure, fine, whatever.

Let me backtrack a few years. In 2009, just before she became a mega huge pop star, Lady Gaga was the support act for the Pussycat Dolls at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

Back then Gaga only had a couple of hits and I barely knew who she was. I was there to review the Pussycat Dolls, but ended up writing the whole article about her.

I remember watching this platinum-haired pixie storming around the stage in a crazy mirrored frock and go-go boots, belting out these super-glossy future-pop songs on a piano, only to be followed by the spray-tanned, silicon-enhanced stripshow of the Pussycat Dolls.

They looked like they'd stepped out of a cheap men's magazine. She looked like a pop star girls could be inspired by. My admiration for her was instant.

She wasn't just a weirdly-dressed spectacle with catchy tunes; she preached a message of acceptance, empowerment, self-love and positivity. No matter your ethnicity, sexuality or appearance, everyone was welcome at the temple of Gaga.

But this week I saw the true temple of Gaga - Gaga's Workshop – and her booming dance music was barely audible over the sound of cash registers ringing.

Gaga's Workshop is a special, limited time only “pop-up boutique” that launched last month in New York department store Barney's. It looks like Adelaide's Magic Cave as designed by Willy Wonka and Andy Warhol, and is filled with every type of Lady Gaga merchandise you can imagine.

And I mean EVERY type. Snow globes, stuffed toys, bath foam, sunglasses, T shirts, keyrings, playing cards, candles, yo-yos, handbags, teacups, iPhone stickers, tape measures (yes, really), hair bows made out of real hair and $575 children's leather jackets with “GAGA” emblazoned on the back in glitter. I felt like I'd walked inside a giant Lady Gaga showbag.

But it wasn't until I spied the lollipop painted to look like the star's face the irony hit me like a studded-glove smack to the face – WE were the suckers.

Here we all were, embracing Lady Gaga's “love thyself” philosophy and celebrating being “born this way”, while simultaneously being sold vastly overpriced lipstick and hair pieces. Not to mention bits of plastic manufactured in China for presumably a fraction of Gaga's price tag. I guess it's easier to feel good about the way you're born if it's not into a poor family in Guangzhou.

Things weren't just overpriced, they were ABSURDLY overpriced. A single gingerbread cookie painted with Gaga's face was $18. A plastic Christmas ornament in her likeness was $25. One pair of plastic goggles clumsily covered in black lace and superglue was $295. I imagined a team of workers sitting in the storeroom with glue guns and bedazzlers, tearing open boxes of cheap crap from China and having a huge laugh.

Seriously, now? $18?

The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth – worse than the one I imagine you'd get if you actually tried to eat her $25 “rock candy earrings” - and I left without buying anything.

Gaga has announced that 25 per cent of proceeds from the Workshop will go to her new Born This Way Foundation which, according to its website, is “a movement to build a brave new world where humanity is embraced, individuals are empowered, and intolerance is eliminated”. Whatever that might mean.

There's been a lot of press about the foundation focusing on anti-bullying strategies, although there's been no hint of what that might actually involve. Perhaps all will become clear when the organisation is officially launched in 2012. When it does, it certainly won't be lacking in funds.

In the meantime, I'll try to get over my shattered love affair with Lady Gaga. Let's call it a bad romance.


You might also be interested in reading my dissection of Lady Gaga's latest music video for Marry the Night.

This article was originally published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on December 10, 2011.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New York traffic: a symphony in F major

I once almost fell off the back of a tuk-tuk rattling through central Bangkok after it swerved to dodge a chicken.

Another time, I spent three hours watching the road through my fingers on Reunion Island after our minivan tried to avoid a traffic jam by driving in the opposite lane.

In Ho Chi Minh it took me days to learn that in order to cross the street you have to make like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade and take the leap of faith – just slowly step out into the traffic and trust that the never-ending flow of scooters and honking cars will part for you. It always does.

When it came to chaotic traffic, I always thought Vietnam won, hands down.

Yep, that wins.

But that was before I had to drive through New York's Lincoln Tunnel at 6pm on a Friday.

To clarify: I wasn't driving. No one was, really, given the entrance to the tunnel was backed up with hundreds of cars – a “parking lot”, as they would say here. My friend Kristin, a native New Yorker, was behind the wheel, taking me and my partner away for a weekend in the country.

About 120,000 drivers a day use the Lincoln Tunnel - a 2.5km stretch under the Hudson River - to commute between Manhattan and neighbouring New Jersey.

On this night it seemed like all 120,000 of them had turned up at once.

Surveying the scene ahead, Kristin started twitching. The twitching gave way to steering-wheel drumming. The drumming was joined by mumbling and intermittent swearing.

After 20 minutes of watching the lights turn green and back to red, her patience finally wore thin and she hit the horn. For about 30 seconds straight.

You know that famous scene in Midnight Cowboy where Dustin Hoffman is almost run over by a taxi and angrily shouts “I'm walkin' here!” in that quintessential “Noo Yawk” accent? Imagine him as a stressed-out female office worker, put him in a Honda trying to get into the Lincoln Tunnel and replace the word “walkin'” with “drivin'” and you're getting close to recreating my view from the back seat that evening.

“YEAH YOU CAN STARE AT ME ALL YOU WANT BUDDY, I'M NOT STOPPIN',” she shouted at the driver next to us, hitting the horn again.

Kinda like this.

The lights changed back to green and Kristin kept honking, yelling out to other drivers to join her cause.

Soon there was a chorus of honks in time with the traffic lights, with Kristin as conductor. It could almost have been high art if the symphony hadn't been punctuated with so many F words.

We were amazed. Here in America, a country we thought was renowned for violent road rage, no one was batting an eyelid at this behaviour. Attempt the same in sleepy Adelaide and you'd likely get a crowbar through your windscreen.

Suddenly Kristin spotted a cyclist, and wound down the window.

“I WILL PAY YOU A HUNDRED BUCKS TO GO SLAP THAT TRAFFIC COP,” she yelled, pointing at the overwhelmed officer flapping his hands in the middle of the nearby intersection.

Unsurprisingly he refused, but that didn't deter her.

“Here, you drive,” she told my partner as she jumped out of the car and sprinted off to berate the policeman.

Two minutes later she returned. What had she told the guy? “I told him to do his f***in' job!”

Kristin's mobile rang. It was her husband.

“Honey I can't talk, I'm honkin' the horn,” she said before hanging up and rejoining the Symphony in F Major.

“Come on buddy let's f***in' MOVE! (HONK) Get your head out of your f***in' ass! (HONK) It's a f***in' ZIPPER MERGE people, get it done! (HONK) Do I have to teach you people how to f***in' drive? (HONK) ZIPPER MERGE, YOU F***IN' JERK!”

After an hour and a half the swearing stopped, the honking gave way to steering wheel drumming, the drumming to slight twitching, and then we were hurtling through New Jersey. With a sigh and a flick of her hair, Kristin exorcised the last of her road rage demons.

“I'm sorry you guys, I really wanted you to enjoy that commute,” she said.

Oh, we did.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail Sunday liftout on November 20, 2011.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nightmare (two months) before Christmas

This week I received some distressing news from home.

According to my mother, her local supermarket has been overrun by pumpkins, bedsheets with eyes painted on and crappy bits of plastic in the shape of skeletons in an effort to get people to buy sugary “treats”.

If you have no idea why that would be then congratulations, you're still Australian. If your eyes lit up when you read that and you shrieked “HALLOWEEN!” then congratulations, you're probably still under 25 (it's fun being young, isn't it?). But I'm sorry, you will have to hand your citizenship back.

As I suspect most young Australians know, tomorrow – October 31st - is Halloween. According to legend, this is the day on which the barrier between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and restless ghosts and ghouls roam the earth in search of spiritual redemption, and young girls dress up as sexy nurses and get drunk on alcopops.

I say “young” Australians will know this because for generations, we Aussies haven't gone in for Halloween. Carving pumpkins and dressing up in stupid outfits when you don't even get a day off just seemed a little too much like work to us. Not to mention the whole idea of an event in which strangers are encouraged to give lollies to children is more than a bit dodgy these days.

"And what the bloody hell am I supposed to do with this?"

But it seems the cultural creep has started and along with bad sitcoms and giant sneakers, Australia is starting to adopt yet another bit of Americana. And as our most voracious media consumers, kids, teens and 20-somethings are the first to be infected by the Halloween bug, thanks to endless US TV shows and movies about it.

Speaking as someone who now lives next door to a 365-days-a-year Halloween shop (no, I'm not making that up) I say – AUSTRALIA, GET HOLD OF YOURSELF! You don't need Halloween! It is a bogus festival that, like so many others, has strayed from its simple beginnings to become yet another celebration of mass consumerism.

As in America, the driving force behind Halloween in Australia appears to be the large supermarket chains that will welcome any opportunity to make you buy more crap you don't need. “A festival that forces people to buy chocolate that ISN'T Easter? Brilliant!”

Not even Americans understand the origins of the event, beyond carving out pumpkins and eating candy. They barely even understand the concept of Thanksgiving, which is why one recently expressed surprise when I said Australians didn't celebrate it. (See, we didn't have any starving pilgrims or turkeys and... oh, never mind).

If you want to dress up as a zombie Amy Winehouse (and PS: if you are, you're so unoriginal, EVERYONE is doing that this year) and party with your mates on Halloween then sure, why not. It seems that horse has bolted anyway.

But come on Australia, let's at least nip this whole “trick or treat” thing in the bud while we still can. The more kids that start wandering the neighbourhood asking for sweets each year, the more pressure everyone will feel to stock up and spend more at the checkout, and the more crappy plastic jack-o-lanterns will start appearing in our supermarkets every year. Do we really want another day on the calendar owned by big business, just because we liked the idea of dressing up?

Plus, have you tried “candy corn”? It's disgusting.

To Halloween – Australia says no.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on October 30, 2011.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Lost in translation

``SO, what part of England are you from?"

This is the phrase an Australian in America hears the most, after "Pardon?" and "Sorry, what?"

Usually it's delivered with a knowing smile, as if to say "See, I'm a well-travelled individual, I can pick an Englishman when I hear one."

And then you have to let them down gently that, actually, you're from Australia. AUSTRALIA. No, not Austria. It's in the southern hemisphere. Yes, with the kangaroos, that's the one. For some reason, it seems most Americans are only able to detect two accents - their own, and what they think is British.

I guess you can't really blame them. Most people are exposed to other accents through TV shows and films, and most English-speaking TV shows and films come from America or Britain. They just don't hear Aussie accents here often enough to detect the differences between us and the Poms. The only Australian accent most Americans are familiar with is Steve Irwin, so unless you leap about shouting "Crikey, look at that croc!" they'll just assume you're a member of the royal family.

Now I'm worried that, after a month living in New York, the accent-deaf American ear is rubbing off on me. The other night at a party I asked a girl how long it had been since she'd left London.

"I'm from Sydney," she deadpanned. (In my defence, Young MC's Bust A Move was playing very loudly in the background, and it's impossible to really hear someone speaking when that song is on, particularly during the verse about the girl dressed in yellow who says "hello".)

Of course most of the time Australians are lucky if they can be understood at all in America. Last week I totally perplexed a waitress by asking for a "Diet Coke", which she obviously heard as "doy-ut cark" and, rightly, had no idea how to respond. I could have been threatening to hold up the place in Lithuanian, for all she knew.

After three goes I finally had to do my best "American girl ordering a Diet Coke" impression just to get a drink.

Some Australians have gone to great lengths to avoid acquiring an American accent.

My American friends have also taken great delight in parodying my pronunciation of the word "no".

"Noy! Noy! No-eee!" they shriek, collapsing in laughter, prompting me to pout something like "OY DAHNT SAY NOY, STOP UT!", which doesn't really help my cause.

My partner, also Australian, has requested "sewing needles" and been given instant noodles, asked for "two bowls" and received two glasses of Coke, and a simple request for "chicken on rice" - while pointing to the large "chicken on rice" sign on the restaurant's wall took a good five minutes to resolve.

All of this has led me to finally understand why so many Aussies mysteriously pick up an American twang after living in the States for a while. It's not because they're wankers who want to show off where they've been living. Well, maybe in part. But, mainly, it's because they want to order a Diet Coke and actually receive it, instead of a blank look (and a possible visit from the authorities).

It's because they don't want to mend a patch on their pants with instant noodles.

And it's because, when it comes down to it, anything is better than being mistaken for a Pom.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail on Sunday, October 9, 2011.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

She's the man, as long as it plugs in

Despite anatomical evidence to the contrary, I've always been something of the man about the house.

I don't mean I like to lounge about my house in a smoking jacket, fake beard and y fronts. I only do that on Tuesdays.

I mean that for most of my life, I've been better than the average female at many typically blokey things – like fixing computers, tuning televisions and working out which cables go into which holes on the back of the stereo – and have therefore been called upon by nearly everyone I know to fix some sort of household problem at some stage of our relationship.

My entire family and many of my friends owe their home entertainment systems to my in-depth knowledge of RCA plugs and HDMI inputs.

It's possible my mum and sister would just give up on television after the analogue switch-off if I wasn't around to install their set top boxes for them. Dad's already a lost cause – I gave up on him after he once tried to play “the other side” of a CD.
Being an honorary bloke is something of a badge of pride for me, because I am generally utterly crap at REALLY manly things like building a pergola or reverse parallel parking in one fluid movement.

So it was that when I arrived home from work on Thursday to find the dishwasher full of dirty water and blinking at me, my first thought was “I can fix that.”

The sensible part of my brain responded: “You SHOULD be able to fix that, but maybe you can't.”

And then: “Really, maybe you should call a plumber.”

And then: “No, seriously. Call a plumber.”

But it was too late. Screwdriver in hand, I had already started unhooking the drainage hose from the U bend under the sink.

“Can't be too difficult,” I thought, undoing the input hose from the water tap, smugly congratulating myself on remembering to turn off the water first.

“Look how professional you are! See, you don't need a stupid plumber,” the non sensible part of my brain jeered at the sensible part as I heaved the entire dishwasher out from under the bench, only to discover that didn't actually help at all.

The dirty water remained defiantly on the floor of the dishwasher, gurgling around the seemingly clear drainage hole.

A broken dishwasher is still better than this.

Only one thing for it – scoop the bilge water out and into the sink. And also into the cupboard under the sink, and over all of the recycling, because you disconnected the hose, remember?

“Told you to get a plumber,” sensible brain grumbled.

My next great idea was to determine where the blockage was by filling a cup with water and pouring it down the U Bend. And again, into the cupboard under the sink and all over the recycling because I forgot what just happened three seconds ago.

“IF YOU WERE A TV I WOULD HAVE FIXED YOU BY NOW!” I raged at the machine, angry at my inability to instantly acquire plumbing skills from the surrounding air.

So I did what all people my age do these days when faced with a problem they can't solve. I asked Google.

“All our dishwashers are programmed to drain at the start of each cycle,” said the manufacturer's website.

“If your dishwasher is not draining, start a wash cycle and stop it after 45 seconds.”

So I pushed the wash button. Like magic, the dishwasher did what the internet said it would - it drained. Into the cupboard under the sink and all over the recycling, because I had forgotten to hook the hose back up to the U bend first.

So in essence, Google fixed my dishwasher.

Don't tell any men though – they might revoke my club membership.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on August 7, 2011.

Pure water torture

We've got a new swear word round our place - “bosch”, and derivatives thereof.


The usual accompaniment to the swearing is a cold, wet, barefoot walk round the side of the house to fiddle with aforementioned heater followed by a sprint back to the bathroom in a rather pointless effort to “save water”.

Like this, but with less smiling.

You see, at some point in the last few months, our water heater has become cursed. There's no two ways about it. One day it was working, the next - it had developed a crushing personality disorder that rendered it all but useless except in the most particular of circumstances.

Some examples of circumstances in which it does NOT like to produce hot water are:

three seconds after you have removed all your clothes and are shivering next to the shower with one hand on the hot tap
three seconds after you have removed all your clothes and are shivering next to the bath with one hand on the hot tap
any point at which you need hot water for an essential purpose and it is a) raining, b) hailing, c) snowing or d) all three

On the other hand, it is virtually guaranteed to instantly produce hot water when a plumber is looking at it. Sadly this is not a cost effective solution to the problem.

It all started when my boyfriend and I went to Melbourne for a weekend. Maybe the water heater got jealous, maybe it felt lonely. Maybe it died of a broken heart. Or valve. Whatever happened, we endured freezing cold prison showers for days after we got back until we could get a plumber out to replace the thing.

“Nah, you can't put a new one there,” the plumber said when he saw the position of the old heater. “That's against new building regulations. Gotta be at least 500 mil from an adjacent overhang and no more than 300 mil vertically from a horizontal protrudance.”

I nodded sagely, as if I understood what he was going on about.

To replace the heater meant putting the new one on the opposite side of the house and running new pipes up through the roof, he said, all at a cost of about $3000.

This, I understood.

Fortunately, the plumber identified the problem with the old heater and got it working again with a few new parts. But he didn't reckon on the curse. Within 24 hours it was back at it, acting all moody and being a bosching nuisance. Until plumber number two turned up, then it worked perfectly.

“It's a bit hard for me to er, fix it if, er, it's working,” he said, before fiddling with a few nozzles, twisting a few wires and going home.

The water heater waited approximately 30 seconds after the plumber's van had left the driveway, then promptly switched off again. I swear I heard it laugh.

Soon the morning shower ritual became like a segment on one of those bad Japanese gameshows where contestants are made to chew cacti or rub chilli powder on their nether regions - a weird russian roulette involving either an arctic waterfall or a scalding hot spray.

The first five minutes of every shower had to be spent with one hand in the freezing downpour, trying to detect a change in temperature as your arm went numb.

(So ingrained is this behaviour now that while visiting my mum's the other day I was actually impressed when hot water came out of her kitchen tap less than two minutes after switching it on. I felt like a medieval peasant out of some bad sci-fi time travel movie. “Arr, what be this magick? This be the devil's work!”)

Weeks of this sort of thing will tend to drive you mad, which is why by the time plumber number three visited us last week, I was beginning to feel slightly deranged.

I think I scared him a bit as I tried to explain the intricacies of the curse on our water heater.

“It works four times out of 10,” I said, “But it works nine times out of 10 if you take the cover off first. And sometimes if you blow on it, but only if you twist that knob at the same time. And it helps if you've already used it once before that day, but not more than three times.”

Sadly he had much the same reaction as plumber number two. And so the bosching water heater continues to not bosching work properly. Bosch it.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on July 17, 2011.

Cruise control

At the risk of offending a large group of people I'm going to go out on a limb and say that people who regularly holiday on cruiseships are, shall we say, cut from a different cloth. Hawaiian print cotton, usually.

There's something about the type of person who goes in for that whole culture - parking oneself on a ship and watching the world gliding by from a deckchair – that I just don't get. I don't understand those cruisers who don't even bother to go ashore, ignoring any local sights in favour of a 24/7 view of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Why don't you just book a hotel room somewhere and lock yourself in? It's cheaper.

Maybe it's because they get to be kings and queens of a giant vessel for a month that many cruisers also seem to have an enlarged sense of entitlement.

"I bet all the people on that boat are jerks."

A friend who recently went on a cruise scheduled to take in Japan said some passengers had angrily demanded their money back because the March tsunami had forced a cancellation of the stop. How very dare those Japanese!

I had my own run-in with crazy cruisers from the first day of my cruise holiday in Italy. We were being taken by bus from Rome to the port of Civitavecchia to board the ship when suddenly, drama struck.

“Hey, the driver is nodding off!” shrieked a woman up the front.

He WAS driving slowly, but his eyes were open and he certainly wasn't veering over the road. A well-groomed American man sprung from the back row to investigate.

In his shiny white sneakers, Nike sports socks, neatly ironed cargo shorts and polo shirt, this guy could have stepped out of an ad for “Wealthy American Traveller” magazine. He was the type of guy that touts hone in on the second they step off the bus. A typical cruiser.

“Excuse me sir, are you FEELING OK? Are you FALLING ASLEEP?” he shouted slowly, in that way people do when they don't speak a foreign language, as if increasing the volume somehow makes them easier to understand.

This elicited a series of annoyed grunts from the driver, accompanied by a dismissive wave of the hand and a swift increase in volume of the Europop on the radio.

“Does anyone speak Italian? How do you say 'go faster'?” Nike socks yelled down the bus.

Various passengers started chirping out “Rapido? Rapido! Moo-ey rapido?”- even after we passed a horrific accident in which a sports car had hurtled off the road and into a tree, presumably because its driver was travelling “rapido” at the time.

Unfortunately for Nike socks, who had by now appointed himself boss of the bus, the driver was a fat, balding Italian man who was not interested in discussing his driving abilities with American tourists.

He also had a very respectable handlebar moustache, a toy stuffed rabbit nailed to his dashboard and was clearly not falling asleep. I secretly hoped he'd roll up his sleeve to expose a swathe of dirty Italian tattoos before headbutting the guy.

After about 20 minutes of various passengers chanting “rapido” at random times, and the driver continuing to ignore them, we passed a sign saying “Civitavecchia – 3km”.

“Well, I think we made it!” announced Nike socks, as if he'd personally guided us through a war zone unharmed and now deserved a medal.

“Now let's STEP ON THE GAS!” he thundered.

Considering we had more than two hours to board our ship which was currently 3km away this seemed unnecessary.

Suddenly, a woman declared she had seen the ship in the harbour, and we'd passed it.

These people, who couldn't read Italian road signs and had probably never been to this town in their life, were now concerned the driver had missed the turn off.

“He's missed the turn off! We've passed the town! I can see the boat back there!” they all started shrieking.

“ALRIGHT, LET'S GO, RAPIDO!” exploded Nike socks, who had just about reached the end of his tether, unlike the driver who was nonchalantly trying to tune the radio.

“We passed Chi-veckia! WE PASSED CHI-VECKIA!”

A quick glance at a road sign revealed we had indeed passed the town – to access the roadway for large vehicles. Five minutes later we pulled into port.

Job done, Nike socks returned to his seat at the back of the bus to boast about his achievement in navigating us all safely to the port he couldn't pronounce and didn't actually know how to get to. Just in time for the buffet.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on May 15, 2011.

We just clicked

The other day I bought a gizmo on the internet. It took about 10 minutes, cost me just $8 including postage, and I did it in my pyjamas at 11pm.

In terms of convenience, you can't really get much better than that. (And before we go any further, no, it wasn't THAT kind of gizmo, thanks very much. I already have two SlapChops).

By contrast, I tried to buy the same gizmo from a shop the previous week and it was a pain. It took me 40 minutes to find a park and battle the crowds before I could even locate one, and when I did it was a grossly inflated $40.

Not that I could have bought it if I'd wanted to, as it was in one of those mega electrical stores that sells everything from popcorn makers to computers where the three overworked staff are permanently tied up with clueless shoppers trying to explain the difference between gigabytes and megahertz and why none of that matters anyway if they only want a laptop to look at photos of their grandkids.

And it goes without saying (I hope) that none of this was achieved in my pyjamas.

The moral of the story is: Internet shopping is quick, convenient, usually cheaper and allows consumers to buy anything, any time - and now with iPhones, iPads and smart phone technology, anywhere.

These ladies normally shop online too, but their computer crashed.

But Australian retailers still seem to be wondering why shoppers are turning off traditional storefronts. Stores that are only open from 9 to 5 (except for late night shopping days, granted). Stores that you have to fight to find a park for. Stores that never seem to have any staff to help you. Stores that have to drastically mark-up the cost of things to cover their overheads.

They have long complained about internet shopping and how it's costing local jobs, how it's unfair, how it should be taxed, yada yada yada.

The fact is, if Australian retailers had jumped on board the online shopping bandwagon 10 years ago, they might not be in this mess now.

Electrical giant Harvey Norman this week announced it will launch an online version of the store in a few weeks, which is great news, even if CEO Gerry Harvey did sound rather like he'd been railroaded into it and would prefer the internet to just go away, thanks very much.

In his announcement, Harvey complained there was "no history of anyone making money" through internet retail. (I assume he was talking locally, unless he's somehow never heard of Amazon, BookDepository or iTunes.)

If that's true, perhaps that's because Australians have a) never really tried to sell things online and b) never been very good at it.

Our two biggest department stores - Myer and David Jones - mostly use their websites to promote their catalogues and store locations, only offering a small selection of goods in special "shop online" sections you have to squint to find.

Compare this to American department stores Nordstrom ( and Macys (, where the entire website functions as the shop (how novel), and the benefits of using it are made obvious to the shopper: Free shipping! Spring sale! Online specials! Aussie shops take note: It's 2011. You don't need to tell customers to "click here" anymore. Just give it to us.

Overseas retailers are winning Australian consumers' dollars not only because they're cheaper - they offer more stuff and they know how to sell it to savvy web users. It's not rocket science.

The thing is, there are drawbacks to buying things from international sellers that local retailers could seize on if they were smart.

Postage from overseas can be expensive and slow - nothing takes the gloss off your "instant purchase" quicker than having to wait five weeks for it to arrive. You wouldn't have that problem with a local purchase.

Plus you don't always know who you're buying from, or what they might do with your credit card details. But local brands like Myer, Harvey Norman and DJs already have a level of trust built-in that will go a long way with shoppers.

I'm glad Harvey Norman is taking the plunge into the big scary world of online retail. It's about time for the others to stop shivering on the shore and jump in too.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on April 3, 2011.

Nightmare on Hindley Street

Have you ever watched one of those horror movies where someone has been locked away in a room somewhere working for hours and hours, avoiding all outside communication, and when they finally emerge they discover the world has been taken over by slobbering, stumbling, aggressive, psychotic zombies?

Have you ever thought “I wonder what that would be like”?

Well I can tell you exactly what it's like, because it happened to me last Saturday. And it's called Hindley St.

It was 2.30am, I'd just finished work and ordering a taxi on the phone was proving impossible. So I decided to walk to Hindley St. If only I'd waited.

Walking through Adelaide's deserted streets it was hard to imagine the gory battlezone that awaited me just two blocks away - although in hindsight, signs of the impending apocalypse were there. Like the bloke who had his girlfriend in a headlock on Leigh St while her friends shrieked and thwacked him with handbags, and police tried to separate them all. That wasn't usual.

Or the bloke vomiting just outside Topham Mall, still clutching a stubbie. That didn't normally happen.

If this had been a horror film, audiences would have been smacking their foreheads at about this point and yelling at me to turn around and go back to the office. But I persevered, albeit clutching my handbag a little bit tighter.

And suddenly there it was – the heaving, sweating, puking, neon-lit horrorshow that is Hindley St.

A mass of slurring, wide-eyed zombies stumbling along the footpath and spilling onto the road, falling in front of cars and shouting obscenities at anything that moved. Nine different soundtracks from nine different bars colliding in mid air like a miasma and smashing into drunk teenagers stuffing their faces with McDonald's. Chubby girls in cheap lycra dresses riding so high you could see their even cheaper undies, men with shirts undone and guts spilling over their jeans.

At least they still have their shoes on.

Nightmare on Hindley St.

Within 30 seconds of stepping onto the footpath, a fight broke out between three men just a few metres away from me.

“WHO ARE YOU CALLING A ****?” yelled one as the other two started muscling up.

Two cops strode over as I swiftly moved further down the street, still looking in vain for a taxi.

Then I noticed more police, and ambos, and about 20 onlookers had gathered around the nightclub across the way. A man lay on a stretcher, covered in bloody splotches that looked suspiciously like stab wounds. He was wheeled into the back of the ambulance as I ran to the first free cab I saw – only to have it snatched by a man with a bloody hole in his jeans knee.

I spent seven whole minutes on Hindley St last Saturday night, and it was seven minutes too long. I felt threatened, unsafe and yes, a little bit scared.
What the hell is going on here? What has HAPPENED to Adelaide's west?

Ten years ago, even five years ago, my friends and I used to go clubbing on Hindley St - but I can't remember it ever being as bad as this. I can't remember ever feeling unsafe just walking along the footpath. I can't remember ever being physically repulsed by a street before.

Sure, I accept that as a tired, sober office worker I was quite the anomaly on Adelaide's most notorious party spot in the wee hours of Saturday morning – clearly Hindley St is not designed for people like me. I get that.

But is that really a defence for the absolute cesspit the strip seems to have become?

Is it really good enough to have to accept that “if you don't like it, don't go there”?

Shouldn't we be able to expect more from what is touted as one of the major after-dark attractions of our city?

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on Feburary 13, 2011.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Wait for it, wait for it...

I bought a dishwasher last week.

It's shiny and silver, and it has five different wash cycles and an internal heat fan and buttons that light up. It's my first ever dishwasher, and it's fantastic.

It's also currently sitting in a cardboard box somewhere – possibly on a container ship in the middle of the ocean, or maybe on a factory floor in Shenzhen underneath a sign that says “for dispatch” in Mandarin - and has been for the past two weeks.
And unless someone pays attention to that sign some time soon or speeds up that boat, I expect it will remain so for a further three – at least, that's what the store I bought it from tells me.

That's five weeks to get a dishwasher from a shop down the road into my kitchen. I suspect it would be quicker to study advanced electronics and build my own.

This guy ordered a new fridge in 1987. It'll be loaded onto the boat in China next Monday.

Not only am I waiting more than a month to get my shiny new appliance, but I'm also currently in a three week long queue to see an eye specialist, it's taken me two weeks to get in to see the dentist and I'm half way through a four week wait to get the internet connected.

And I am about to tear my hair out. It's a feeling similar to road rage, only without the car or the road. Just the rage. Boiling, red hot wait-rage.

Now, I know that having been born in 1980 I'm technically a member of Generation Y – which basically means I use Facebook a lot and have a short attention sp... LOOK AT THAT BIRD!

It also apparently means I am more impatient than most. (Hey, when you get used to downloading a movie within seconds of having decided you want to watch it, it's not much of a leap to constantly expect immediate satisfaction.)

But I'm sure it's not just 20-somethings like me who think waiting for anything
these days is beyond the pale. Chronic impatience is a pan-generational, modern affliction. And I blame technology.

We weren't like this 15 years ago.

Before email, before Google, before mobile phones and instant text messaging when we didn't have the ability to contact everyone at all hours of the day no matter where they were, it was quite normal to wait for things. You want to write a message to someone? Put pen to paper, whack it in an envelope, stick it in the big red box and wait a few days.

You want an answer to a question? Go to the library, take the time to look it up in a book.

You need to talk to someone? Call them at home. If they don't answer, it's because they're out. So wait. Then call them again.

Back in 1995 if you arranged to meet friends somewhere and they were late, you had to wait. You couldn't just move on and text them to say you were going to a different place, meet you later. How did we all cope with that? These days it's just unthinkable.

We've all gotten so used to getting everything exactly when we want it – be it someone on the other end of the mobile, or instant cash from a machine in a wall, or an answer to a tricky pub trivia question via Google – that it drives us mad when things take any longer than “immediately”.

It seems wrong to be this way, to feel aggrieved when things don't happen exactly when we want them to. It seems somehow childish and petulant. Something we should all be above.

Perhaps we all need to cast our minds back a decade, remember how we used to cope with waiting just fine, and relax a little more.

Still, five weeks. That's just ridiculous.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on September 26, 2010.

Retro fashion fallout

If you're over the age of 25 and are labouring under the delusion that you're still “cool”, I've got news for you: you're probably not.

(I say “probably” in case this magazine has somehow found its way into Johnny Depp's loungeroom and he is currently reading it, in which case – hi! You are still cool.) (Also, please don't make any more pirate movies, thanks.)

I hate to break it to you, but unless you're regularly featured on Rage or in the credits of Quentin Tarantino films, once you find yourself in the back end of your 20s you automatically become so uncool you might as well be your own parents. Any older and you might as well open your own socks and sandals boutique, selling novelty ties on the side – THAT's how cool you are.

You may feel permanently 21 and hip, but if you're ever in doubt of your true age pick up a copy of your local street press. You'll find out pretty quickly just how old you really are.

Take me, for example. I may be only a few weeks shy of 30, but after leafing through some local street rags recently I have discovered I am actually about 82.

Whereas 10 years ago I'd gladly read about new bands, new songs and what brand of sneakers we should all currently be wearing, this time after flipping through a number of feature articles, fashion spreads and social photos my only thoughts were “What the hell band is that?” and “That girl should really put on a cardy”. I'm only a few steps away from whacking youngsters with my handbag for not standing up for adults on the bus.

I shouldn't have been surprised – I've been aware of my gradual journey down the slippery slope to dagdom for some time. It all started about three years ago when I noticed floral vests for sale in a shop in Rundle Mall. And young girls were buying them. FLORAL VESTS. Worse than that, they were teaming them with high waisted stone-wash denim shorts and patterned tights – willingly! It was like a long lost video clip from Girlfriend - I kept expecting Robyn Laou to burst out of the changerooms and for everyone to break into a few bars of “Take It From Me”.

It was then I realised the unthinkable had happened - the 90s had become cool again. All of a sudden two decades had passed, and snap-in-the-crotch bodysuits were suddenly de jour once more. And the trend hasn't slowed down: now every time I venture into the mall it's like I'm being haunted by the Ghosts of Fashions Past.

My mother warned me about this day. I remember when I was about 15 raiding her wardrobe and finding a heap of 70s fashion pieces hidden at the back – leather coats, platform shoes, bodyshirts, flares. I'd struck the jackpot.

“Why didn't you TELL me you had all this cool stuff?” I wailed.

“Darling, it's not cool when you actually lived through it the first time,” she said.

Now, surrounded by teenage boys in tight bleached jeans and Wayfarers and girls in sunflower print dresses and floppy hats, I finally understand what she meant. None of it looks cool to me, which of course just means that I am now utterly, drastically and irreparably UNcool.

C'est la vie. I guess it had to happen – we can't all be Johnny Depp. But if I ever see someone in happy pants or Hypercolour T shirt, I really will whack them with my handbag.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on October 5, 2010.

Hungry? Can it!

I don't want to alarm anyone, but I think the end is nigh.

I know those crazy old men with hand written signs have been predicting it for ages, but now I really think they may be right – for I have seen the end of days, and yea, it is a sandwich in a can.

That's one of the signs of the Apocalypse, right? Plagues and pestilence, four horsemen, and a sandwich in a can?

There I was, minding my own business, when the "Canned-wich" (you have to admit it's got a catchy name) popped up on television - a fluffy white bun spread with jam and peanut butter, wrapped in plastic and shoved into a can. It keeps for years. Apparently they're going to sell it in vending machines.

If your reaction to this news is "When?" then you should probably stop reading right about now.

If however your reaction to this is similar to mine - ie: screaming a la Janet Leigh in Psycho and shouting "WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?" - then you'll agree urgent action is required.

Frankly, we should have seen this coming.

We Australians love to think of ourselves as foodies – we pride ourselves on our fresh produce and farmers markets, and continually pat ourselves on the back for our world famous seafood and meat. And then we let a canned sandwich into the country. (I mean really – with all this fuss about boat people, you'd think they could handle a bloody sandwich. Border security's got a lot to answer for.)

I'm not saying we shouldn't be proud of the excellent food we do in this country, but let's not kid ourselves – we're far from “fresh food people”.

Travel to France or Italy, Thailand, Vietnam or Malaysia and you'll understand what fresh food is. The French would rather guillotine themselves than eat canned bread – they buy a fresh loaf from the bakery every morning. We Aussies buy a block of squishy factory made stodge each week and bung it in the freezer for toast.

Italians wouldn't dream of keeping plasticky, pre-sliced cheese in their fridge – why would they when practically every street corner has a fully-stocked deli on it, filled with fresh hand-made cheeses, cured meats and pasta?

Feel peckish walking down a street in Adelaide and you'd be lucky to find a coffee shop to buy a sandwich in (canned or otherwise) – and even then, only if it's lunch time. Try that in almost any Asian country and you'll be spoiled for choice at any time of the day with vendors cooking satays to order, or whipping up bowls of noodle soup with fresh herbs, or filling crusty bread rolls with salad, chicken and herbs for the perfect hunger fix.

Let's face it, for all the fuss and bluster about Australia's love affair with cooking, food and all things MasterChef, that show was still being propped up by ads for things like “chicken in a can” and the frozen chicken parmy meal in a box (just like a pub meal – but sadder, and lonelier).

Apart from being fairly revolting concepts, aren't these products just redundant? Why buy a frozen schnitzel when all you need is meat, egg and breadcrumbs to make a fresh one? Why buy canned chicken when you can buy an ACTUAL roast chicken and cut it up?

If that's not bad enough, I saw a self-heating can of hot chocolate at my local supermarket this week. Pull a tab, give it a shake, wait three minutes and presto – piping hot beverage. Why is this product necessary? The only situation I can think of in which it might be useful is if James Bond had to defuse a milk-soluble nuclear bomb and only had two minutes and 58 seconds to do it.

Actually, there is one other situation in which all of these products become useful – the Apocalypse. Better stock up your bunkers, I hear it's heading our way.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on August 15, 2010.

A recipe for disaster

You learn a lot of things when you move house.

Like how there are more cords hanging out the back of the TV than there are actual appliances, and what actually happened to that sausage that "disappeared" from the frying pan the night you drank seven vodka cocktails and decided to cook an early breakfast (hint: it didn't "beam itself back to planet kransky", like you thought at the time).

You also learn how difficult it is to find boxes, friends with trailers and an unlocked skip, and how doorways always shrink when you're trying to get a fridge through them.

I learned that I have 49 cookbooks.

I also learned that when placed into a single cardboard box, 49 cookbooks weigh about the same as a small child with a gland problem.

To my knowledge, I have never bought myself a cookbook, not even when drunk. (Not that I find myself drunkenly stumbling about bookshops very often, but you never know these things.)

I reckon I've received about five through various PR companies in connection with my job, and a fairly generous estimate puts the amount received as gifts from friends at about 10. So where the hell have the other 34 come from?

Unless I have been breaking into other people's houses and raiding their kitchens while I'm asleep (a not so unlikely possibility given my history of sleep activity – once my sister woke up to find me swinging off the end of our shared bunk bed like a monkey, chirping on about bees), my only explanation is that I am a cookbook magnet - some kind of medical marvel that magically and unconsciously attracts recipebooks wherever she goes. No doubt when I am dead, publishing houses will fight over the rights to my body, knowing that the biological marvels within it could be turned into a moisturising cream that could permanently propel Matt Preston to the top of the bestseller list.

I've got Creative Steam Cuisine, The Big Book of Wok and Stir Fry, The Food of India and, inexplicably, two copies of Salvatore Pepe and Amanda Ward's “Cibo” (so if I do happen to actually use one and accidentally set fire to it, I'll have a backup).

I've got the full range of celebrity releases from Maggie Beer, Donna Hay, Bill Granger, Gary Mehigan and Jamie Oliver, not to mention The Sopranos Family Cookbook which not only shows you how to make lasagne but also illustrates how to clean up after murdering your cousin. Very handy.

I've also got the Australian Women's Weekly Cookbook For All Seasons, a very aptly named book, particularly if your chosen season is summer 1977. “Ragout of Octopus”, anyone?

I admit I got quite excited when I found one called "Recipes to the Rescue", imagining some musclebound cookbook in tights and a cape lifting a toppled bus off some school children with one hand – but then I read the subtitle: "recipes for those with allergies and food intolerances". What a let down. Why do I have this book? The only intolerance I have to food is when there isn't any around.

But perhaps stranger than my cookbooks' mysterious provenance is the fact that 46 of my collection of 49 have uncreased covers and pristine, unsoiled pages, because they have never actually been opened.

Before you look down on me for being some sort of pretender – showing off all my cookbooks without knowing the difference between a whisk and a moderate oven - it's not that I don't cook. It's just these days I'm just more likely to use Google to find a recipe than a book. Which explains why almost every one I have is in as-new condition while my laptop is flecked with tomato puree, cream and flakes of cheese. (Add some fresh basil and you've got a delicious after work snack!)

Given that is one of Australia's most popular websites, I'm clearly not the only one. And yet cookbook sales are still through the roof. So who is buying them all, and why?

Oh, yeah. I forgot. So they can keep giving them to me as gifts.

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's Sunday liftout on July 25, 2010.