Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The latest, most dangerous drug ...

If in about 10 years you see a guy on the train reading the Da Vinci Code it'll probably be me. One of my reading habits is to pick up popular books many years after they've dropped off the bestseller lists. Right now I'm reading Emotional Intelligence, and although I was a bit leery at first (mostly because of what seemed to be the marketing angle) it now has me in its grasp.

I particularly like the bit that explains how anger is bad for your health, but also produces a rush or a high, therefore making it addictive. It struck me that the 'innocent victim' feeling, or righteous indignation that Goleman describes is very similar to what we experience when we watch the news. We all gather around the TV to hear about the latest crime/tragedy/cockup, and while we hope that the people responsible for said incident will get their comuppance, we know they probably won't. Grrrr.

On the surface, it doesn't seem like a very satisfactory experience, but if you check the ratings, a lot of people are doing it. Maybe one of the reasons for this is the anxious/angry buzz it gives us. Taking it a step further, I got to thinking that the powers that be often employ this effect in advertising and health warnings too.

Remember, for example, when scientists discovered that Mediterranean races had fewer heart problems than others? They looked at the Australian diet to work out what we could do better. Next thing you know, sunflower oil was disappearing off the supermarket shelves to be replaced by olive oil. But sometimes I wonder how much was the oil and how much the lifestyle -- ie, unless you move to a Mediterranean village and start fishing, no quantity of olive oil will help you. And it would be a sad irony indeed if all the advertising about coronary artery disease and olive oil actually caused more heart attacks as we stressed out about all the chico rolls we ate as children. Or what about the gruesome anti-smoking ads that the cancer institute here puts out? Could they be contributing to the problems rather than fixing them?

Although I don't watch the news, I do like the occasional dose of righteous indignation. Late last year I was out with some friends, one of whom was visiting from Melbourne with his new girlfriend. She was talking about how science could soon increase our life expectancy to 150 years and I pointed out that there might be a few other problems that we should focus on before we worry about extending our lifespans any further. Very simply and calmly she said no, that she thought it was great, and that things in general in the world were improving.

What a conversation stopper! Everyone at the table went silent for a minute. I had been about to launch into a tirade about everything wrong on our planet, but her statement knocked all that on the head. Whether or not I agree with her, what it made me realise was that I was anticipating my fix of doom and gloom with some glee. When I couldn't have it, it was kind of like having a cocktail mixed and served in front of me and not being able to drink it.

So where does that leave me (besides craving a martini and a cigarette)? In fact it leaves me precisely on page 178 of Emotional Intelligence. Stay tuned for next week's entry: an introduction to Harry Potter.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bigots on the Train

Yes, we're back with another riveting episode of BIGOTS ON THE TRAIN. This week, a relaxing sojourn in the mountains ends in bloody tragedy – stay tuned.

Ads x 5

Cue theme music, shot of train pulling out from station.

Everything was going smoothly on the Sunday afternoon service from Mt Victoria to Central.

Cut to inside train, a general sense of wellbeing permeates carriage.

Lesly, Santiago, Mark and Richard had just spent a pleasant weekend with Rod and his family in the mountains and were returning to Sydney when–

Actually, let's skip the TV show thing. The two guys got on our train around Mt Druitt. They were your garden variety bigots, both a bit drunk, one more vocal, the other a classic yes-man. As we headed towards Central they treated us to a kind of Very Lonely Planet Guide to Sydney.

At Penrith:

Bigot 1
: I hate all these people out here. They're all cheating welfare, f*cking c*cksuckers. This is the last time I ever come out here.
Bigot 2: Yeah.

At Auburn:

Bigot 1: F*cking Vietnamese. They come here and work for nothing and wreck the economy. And Kevin Rudd wants to get rid of the IR laws. [Laughs dismissively]
Bigot 2: [Shakes head] Idiot.

At Redfern:

Bigot 1: They should rename this station f*cking boong town [laughs at own joke]. Or didgeridoo town [laughs harder].
Bigot 2: Yeah, didgeridoo town.

Somewhere in between:

Bigot 1: Can you imagine bloody Julia Gillard as treasurer? She's a f*cking lawyer. Costello's a lawyer too, but at least he's ...[trails off]
Bigot 2: At least he's a bloke.

Sure, it's nothing we haven't all seen before – like, get over it man. Though John Howard (who I know checks in to this blog from time to time) might be a little disturbed by exactly how retarded some of his supporters are. Could have been nice to get a little singalong going of Your Racist Friend, although probably too subtle. Maybe a bit of goosestepping down the aisle and some 'sieg heils' would have been more appropriate? Or, I could have loudly shared my new idea on disrupting Australian politics with Richard.

I call it a popular gerrymander and it's pretty simple. You just arrange for a whole bunch of like-minded people to move in to John Howard's electorate before the next election. They can rent apartments – no need to buy property. A few thousand could be enough to tip the balance, make Howard lose his seat and render him ineligible to be PM again.

Mark: Brilliant or what?

Bigot 1: Oi! I'll 'ave ya!

According to witnesses, the man – who shall remain nameless – flew into a rage and attacked Mark with a bottle-opener key ring.

Cut to outside of train window, blood spatters across it from inside. Screams.

But of course that's not how it happened. I did nothing, which isn't half so good for ratings. Remember that next time you bite your tongue.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Under the weather

It seems like not long ago I was posting about the weather getting warmer and the joy of seeing jacarandas out in bloom. Well someone obviously hasn't been burning enough fossil fuels because autumn arrived right on schedule this year.

There are the usual signs: days get shorter and colder, guys on the train start wearing their suit jackets again, and the pharmacists and medical centres advertise flu vaccines. I've already succumbed to an early season cold, not bad enough to justify 'chucking a sickie' but it has brought back a lot of memories. Illnesses are quite evocative in their way, and there's something about the symptoms – particularly the way my eyeballs hurt when I look too far to one side, or up or down – that is pure Sydney for me. I can't put my finger on it, but the colds simply weren't the same in Bogotá. Not saying they were better or worse, just different. But then it's only logical that as well as different food and music etc, you should have different viruses. Isn't it?

This morning I bought some cough lollies at the station and it made me smile to see all those old standbys: the Anticols, Butter Menthols, Soothers and Throaties. But you know how it is with cough lollies – half a packet later the only real effect they've had is to leave you feeling sick from all the sugar. So this afternoon I hit the chemist and got some proper cold and flu tablets.

As always, taking this medicine makes me wonder why I don't do it more often. I dropped a couple as soon as I got home and now I feel awake, pleasantly wired and productive – much more so than when I'm in good health. Do we even need to be sick to take them? Perhaps the only thing standing between me and completing all those side projects is a couple of packets of Coldral ...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Support my team, or go to your room

Is it wrong to hope that your children grow up to support the same team(s) as you? Is it bad to try and influence them? Does it even make a difference? My father certainly never pushed me to follow any particular team, or play any particular sport. Come to think of it, he's never evinced the remotest interest in watching sport, and yet, here I am.

I didn't set out to influence Santi, but it just so happened that we were buying him a knitted snake from a craft show in Bogota and one of them was in the colours of West Ham United. The snake doesn't get much attention these days, but it's always there at the side of the bed.

Then there was the football shirt, which I admit, may seem like a fairly strong push, but it was a present (thanks again, Greg and Zoe) and he only really wears it when we watch a game together.

And since we've arrived in Sydney, we haven't seen any games because of the time difference. Maybe it's better that way -- so far this season we've had dodgy last-minute transfers, takeovers, a change of managers, injuries galore and players who say they're visiting their sick grandma in the Isle of Wight then jet off to South Carolina for a weekend of wild partying. And through all of this, most of the performances have been, as one poster at my favourite WHU website so aptly put it, 'beyond toilet'. On the weekend we saw the highlight of a very bleak season -- after that we went on to lose 3-4. We are going down. Man it sucks when your team is crap.

Anyway, enough blubbing. I do wonder what sports Santi will end up playing, and who he'll end up supporting. What will happen when Australia take on Colombia? Mainly I hope that one day we can sit down together with a beer and cheer on the same side. What's so bad about that?