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Preview: Sterne


"Screw good taste" - Alfred Jarry

Updated: 2017-07-27T22:44:12.491+10:00



Why not follow me on Twitter? (Rhetorical question, pls do not attempt to answer.)


(image) Sterne finishes here. What's that? you say. Is it March already? Obviously it's not (you clod) - I've cunningly preempted the post-festive season doldrums by bringing next year's retirement forward to this year. See: cunning.

The Ghost of Blogging Past is off sick today so you're spared the traditional maudlin nostalgia. Suffice to say that Sterne started off as a laugh, developed into something arguably more interesting, if wildly uneven, but hasn't been up to scratch for some time now. Time to move on, and this time I mean it. (*Tears cloud his eyes as he pets the faithful hound one last time before raising his shotgun...*)

Thanks for reading.

Man Celebrates Not Celebrating Christmas


Christmas always comes early for Melbourne man Robert West, even though he doesn't actually celebrate the holiday.

"This is my favourite time of year," West told Sterne. "I get to show off how world-weary and cynical I am, all the while scoring points against soft targets like organised religion and mass consumerism. It's like, well, it's like all my Christmases come at once!"

West's pontificating doesn't stop at religion and shopping. The holiday season he vehemently opposes also affords West the opportunity to speak out on a range of subsidiary topics.

"I love going to Christmas lunch at my parents' place. I don't eat anything, or exchange any gifts - my constant haughty derision is gift enough. Last year I made my cousin cry by explaining in minute detail the battery-farming and slaughtering process that had resulted in the turkey she was eating. And then I sabotaged the bon-bons by replacing all the jokes with selections from Mao's Little Red Book. It was totally subversive, although for some reason everybody still laughed. But they won't be laughing after the revolution! Then there won't be any bon-bons for anybody!"

West said that while his anti-Christmas stance began as an undergraduate pose - "You know, making a point of writing 'xmas', vandalising nativity scenes, knifing shopping centre Santas, that sort of thing" - it has since become a true reflection of his character and beliefs.

"I really am this nauseatingly smug all year round," he said. "Christmas just gives me the chance to show it off."

This Xmas rerun was originally posted on Dec 21, 2005.

An anticlimactic tale


I went into the kitchen this morning to put the kettle on. While I was there I looked out the kitchen window and noted that everything was normal: birds were singing, trees were producing sap/leaves, the clothesline was turning clockwise in a gentle, almost wistful, manner. Most importantly, none of the houses within my purview appeared to be on fire. I left the kettle to do its thing and went back to whatever it was I was doing. (Staring blankly at the loungeroom wall, if I recall correctly.)

I returned to the kitchen a few minutes later and made a cup of coffee. Glancing out the kitchen window I couldn't help noticing that there was an enormous column of thick brown smoke billowing from a house around the corner. "Shit!" says I, and various thoughts scurried through my (thus-far-uncaffienated) mind, eg. Shit! That house is on fire! Surely somebody else has noticed! I mean, shit! The house is on fire! Should I call 000? What if somebody else has already done that! But what if everybody else in the neighbourhood has a job and I'm the only pathetic person home at this hour to notice the fire and therefore the only person who can call 000? Or, what if I'm the only person at home except for the people in the house which is on fire? What then? What if they die? Should I call 000 or should I run around the corner and make certain that the house is on fire (although it clearly is), and if so whether there is anybody inside, whom I will then presumably have to rescue and maybe I'll have to appear on the news for having effected said rescue in which case I will really regret having put on this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt when I got up this morning, but anyway it's the right thing to do, I'm not a hero, I'm just doing what any Aussie would do...

While my brain was faffing around my body had taken control and I was off, dashing down the street and around the corner where I was confronted by an incredible amount of smoke. I had expected at least a few other people to be milling around in the street, mobiles to their ears, but it was deserted. The smoke continued to billow from the rear of the house, although I couldn't see any flames. I decided to get a closer look, so I ran down the driveway, through the side gate, and moved hesitantly into the backyard. The smoke was so thick that I expected the back half of the house to be engulfed in flame and I quickly calculated my course of action: first, call the fire brigade; second, try to find out if anybody is inside and if so attempt to rescue them; third, go home and change into that nice lilac shirt I bought for my brother's wedding, just in case the camera crews turn up.

Obviously I didn't actually want the house to be on fire, but I have to say I was a little disappointed when I got into the backyard proper and saw that the house was undamaged. Then I realised that there was a man standing in the centre of the yard with a garden hose in his hand and a cigarette dangling from his lip. At his feet was a heap of semi-wet leaves that he had evidently set on fire for some reason and was now trying to extinguish.

"Ya right?" he said, flicking cigarette ash into the leaf-pile, which was of course the source of all the smoke.

"Yeah," I said. "I live around the corner. I thought your house was on fire!"

"Nah. Just the leaves. I'm burnin' them."

He seemed disinclined to continue with this witty banter, so I slunk off home, muttering to myself. By the time I got back my coffee was cold so I called the local council and dobbed in the leaf man for burning off. I hope they put him away for life.

Santa-skeptic child "still fundamentally credulous"


Local eight-year-old Marc Coleman's misgivings about the nature of his parents' relationship to Santa Claus have this year developed into full-blown skepticism.

"Marc began expressing doubts this time last year," Marc's mother, Judy Coleman, told Sterne. "It was just little things, things only a mother would notice, like when he drew a picture at school of Santa Claus with the words 'MOTHERFUCKING LIE!!!' scrawled underneath in red texta. That was the first clue that our little guy was growing out of the Santa stage."

The situation has worsened in recent weeks with the irrepressible lad now openly questioning his parents' honesty.

"I asked Marc what he would like Santa to bring him for Christmas. He looked at me and said, 'I don't know, what would you like to bring me for Christmas, Santa - oops, I mean, Mum.' I really don't know where he picked up that sarcastic tone. Bill [Marc's father] and I tend to be more spiteful and cruel than sarcastic."

Fortunately, Marc is "still fundamentally credulous" and prepared to swallow just about anything else his parents tell him.

"Bill and I had a fight the other night and afterwards Marc asked me if his Dad and I still loved one another. I looked deep into his innocent blue eyes and told him yes, we love one another very much and always will. Sucker bought it without flinching. Who's the know-it-all cynic now?"

Bill Coleman agrees with his wife's assessment.

"Yes, the Santa thing's become untenable but Marc still trusts us implicitly. He still believes in the Tooth Fairy, he still believes his dog has gone to live on a farm, and he still believes he can do whatever he wants with his life if he just puts his mind to it. We can probably string him along with that last one for at least another decade. Best of all, Marc still believes in his good old Dad. Just the other day I promised I'd play cricket with him after work. Of course I forgot and went to the pub instead, but when I got home there was Marc sitting on the front porch in the dark with his cricket bat waiting for me. Brought tears to my eyes it did - this kid really will believe almost anything!"

Writers, please stop using:




cleaves (I used this once, but then I got help.)


You don't have to be despondent to work here but it helps


I had a phone interview this afternoon that was distinguished by the interviewer's strenuous efforts to convince me that the job she was interviewing me for isn't worth having.

"Now, the job is desk-bound and repetitive. The same task will be performed again and again for hours on end with only minor variations. How does that sound to you?"

"Um. Ok."

"The salary is $[unimpressive number]. That includes super loading. The before-tax salary is $[even less impressive number]. Employees also receive [paltry subsidiary benefits]. How does that sound to you?"

"Uh. Fine..."

"We're located [a long way from anywhere]. Public transport is limited. Do you have a car?"


"Then you'll struggle to get here. Even with a car it can be a struggle. [Laughs nervously]"

And on it went. I'm certain she must have finished the interview and started drafting her resignation.

It was fifteen years ago today


New review


My review of Murray Bail's The Pages is in Issue 14 of The Quarterly Conversation. I'm pleased to have contributed to an especially strong issue of this always-excellent online quarterly. Issue 14 features eleven book reviews (including TQC editor Scott Esposito on Roberto Bolano's 2666) plus essays on Gaddis, DFW, Carter Scholz, and more.

Ate tracks


(image) This mix is for Bel. Others may also listen, here or here:

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He War, Cat Power
I Found Out, John Lennon
How Could I Be Wrong, The Auteurs
Shabby Doll, Elvis Costello & the Attractions
The Magnificent Seven, The Clash
Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis
Seven Days Is Too Long, Dexys Midnight Runners
Sad Dark Eyes, Mick Harvey
Guilt, The Long Blondes
Editions of You, Roxy Music
Sacred Songs, Daryl Hall
Aviatrix, Jack Frost
White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane
I've Been Out Walking, Nina Nastasia & Jim White
Bigmouth Strikes Again, The Smiths

Picture of The Long Blondes' Kate Jackson used under CC courtesy of celticblade.



I don't have one (again). Actually I haven't had one for over a fortnight now, but I've been too ashamed/drunk to mention it here. It's the usual story ie. a long and boring one. I didn't especially like the job, but I expected that. What made it unbearable was a protracted campaign of arseholeness towards me on behalf of the manager and assistant manager. They just didn't like me - honestly, how is that possible?! - and after a while I stopped trying to get them to like me, preferring instead to ignore everybody and engage in subtle and inconsequential acts of sabotage. This was a new experience for me - normally I manage to strike up at least some kind of working relationship with even the most obnoxious people. Anyway, I was already considering quitting when it became apparent that I was being subjected to the classic method of getting rid of casual staff: leaving their names off the roster. I took the hint and told them where to stick it.

So now I'm unemployed yet again. Although the constant barrage of bad economic news doesn't fill me with confidence, I do feel that I am due for a change of fortune. (That's about as glass-half-full as I get, I'm afraid.)

I'm not here, this isn't happening


(image) Obviously I am here and this is happening. I was just testing if you were paying attention.

New 8tracks mix. Listen here or use the widget:

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"Used Go-Go", Kazutoki Umezu (Ribot alert!)
"The Yesness", The Matthew Herbert Big Band
"Cuts and Lies", Acoustic Ladyland
"Moonshine", Dave Douglas
"The Movers and the Shakers", Herbert
"Montuno", Marc Ribot
"STHLM", The Vandermark 5
"When the Levee Breaks", Stanton Moore
"At Les", Innerzone Orchestra
"(Little) King Ink", Flat Earth Society (takes a while to get going, then it's epic)

Photo from here.

Come to my arms, my memish boy!


A book meme, via Laura.

What was the last book you bought?

Make that books because I had a bit of a spree on Tuesday: Bornholm Night-Ferry by Aidan Higgins, Not Fade Away by Jim Dodge, two of James Sallis's Lew Griffin books, and Burning Your Boats by Angela Carter.

Name a book you have read MORE than once:

The books I have read most (ie. probably at least a half-dozen times each) are the ones I was especially enamored with as a teenager: Dune, Catch-22, Good Omens, Use of Weapons, A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court, various Wodehouses, Vonneguts, James Ellroys, Carl Hiaasens, Michael Moorcocks, Ballards, R.L. Stevensons, etc. As an "adult" the books I keep returning to include: A High Wind In Jamaica, Lolita/Pnin/Pale Fire, Titus Groan, Lucky Jim, Martin Amis up to and including The Information, Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler, Decline and Fall, But Beautiful, and probably a dozen more that I can't think of right now.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Certain non-fiction books have been eye-opening in various ways. I'm not sure fiction could ever change the way I see life - I'm not even sure what that means - but perhaps the steady accretion of reading experience has altered my thinking in ways I can't objectively analyse.

How do you choose a book? e.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?

It's more serendipity than anything else. As for cover design, I generally won't choose a book because it has a good cover, but I do sometimes reject a book because of a bad cover.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?


What's more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

I like traffic lights.

Most loved/memorable character?

Bertie Wooster/Jeeves. You can't really have one without the other.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Stone Junction by Jim Dodge.

What was the last book you read?

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. It was terrible.

Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?

Many times. I sometimes give up on books halfway through the first page.



My review of Louis Nowra's Ice is in the November Australian Book Review. The issue also includes my "In Brief" review of Wayne Grogan's Heavy Allies.

Arts degree


For the last fricken time, no, it doesn't mean I can paint!

Bring the, or at least some, noise


Following Amanda's lead I have signed up to 8tracks which is similar to the late lamented Muxtape but more reliable and user-friendly. My first mix is of recent jazz (save for the David Murray tune, which is from 1980, although to some that probably counts as "recent jazz"), including four tracks from the Clean Feed label which I'm big on right now. Listen here or make use of the widget:

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"Spain Intro", Michel Camilo & Tomatito
"The Whimbler", Gerry Hemingway Quartet
"Gat Swamba", Garage a Trois
"Hard Sole Shoe", Jenny Scheinman
"Old Grooves for New Streets 2", Way Out West
"Correspondent", Mi3
"The Last of the Beboppers", Adam Lane
"Big Love (For Joe Giardullo)", Luis Lopes
"Dewey's Circle", David Murray

Red is the new black


Karl Marx is back in fashion, which explains why I keep seeing young ladies heading off to the races with large bearded Germans draped over their shoulders.

Barrington Bayley


He died the other day. If you like weird sf you need to track down some of his books.

The upside of the downslide


Sportsbet chief executive officer Matt Tripp said in an economic crisis people drank and bet more.

"I'm sure the mindset of a punter broadly changes a little bit when his back's against the wall. I can assure you our turnover hasn't dropped at all, we're actually writing more bets than we ever have," he said.
What a wonderful, glass-half-full perspective Mr Tripp has. If only more people could be so positive - but I suppose then there would be less despair for Mr Tripp and his ilk to make money from.

Shiny and new


I live in Melbourne's "leafy" eastern suburbs, about equidistant between two very different commercial centres. To the south is the Box Hill shopping centre/transport hub/mall/open sewer conglomeration, which, despite the vomit spatter and ever present threat of having a cigarette put out on your face, is nevertheless vibrant and honest and has a lot of shops with funny names (Nob Nobs, Hung Long Video, Hellboy e-gift).Box Hill (artist's impression)To the north is Doncaster Shoppingtown, a 1970s shopping centre clustered around a small office tower and buried under several square miles of car park. The centre has recently undergone significant renovations, allegedly doubling the number of shops in the complex - just in time for the recession!Doncaster Shoppingtown (artist's impression)The final stage of the renovation was unveiled yesterday morning and I happened to be there to see it. Unfortunately I couldn't get past the burly men in suits who were guarding the roped-off VIP section, but I'm told the Premier was there, cutting a ribbon or whatever Premiers do when opening new shopping centres. (Perhaps they go to Target and lay the first by?) The whole place is incredibly shiny - we saw a guy mopping a load-bearing pillar! - and there are plenty of posters telling you how classy the joint is. Also, because there's a Myer in the building, there are pictures of Jennifer Hawkins and her one facial expression everywhere you look.The new Shoppingtown is even more pretentious than the old one. There's a David Jones, a Colonial Fresh supermarket,where the fruit and veg are kept crisp by a constant drizzle of vapourised water, a shop called Jones the Grocer, which is about as wanky as it sounds. There is even a "butler service", whatever that means in the context of a shopping centre.Westfield is clearly trying to position Shoppingtown as the shopping centre for this part of the world. (Previous title holder: Blackburn Square. Just kidding.) It will be interesting to see how it fares, especially with the economy in the toilet, and with competition from outlet malls like Brand Smart and the Do Fuck Off empire. No doubt by Christmas the various luxury services will have tapered off, the pillar-mopper will have been turfed onto the streets, and there will be a Dimmeys where David Jones used to be. That'll bring in the crowds - from Box Hill.[...]



(image) The MS Paint arrow and exclamation marks say it all.

Thirty today


I'll be thirty tomorrow, too, and for the 363 days after that, so it's probably not worth getting too worked up about. We did have a party though - I wrote and scheduled this post beforehand so I wouldn't be tempted to write any maudlin requiems for my lost youth when I came home drunk at some ungodly hour. That's the kind of forward planning we mature types specialise in.

Back to the


Waiting for my train last night I noticed this on the platform:

(image) It didn't seem to be working, hence I am writing this in the present.

The soul of man under retail


I have discovered the cure for aging: get a job where they treat you like you're sixteen, even if you're not!



My (brief) review of Michael Meehan's novel Deception is in the October Australian Book Review. Readers who recall this post might be amused by the contributor bio they've given me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my castle in the Loire.