Nov 27
Ticket to Ride
icon4 Nov 27th, 2009 | icon2 Bric-a-Brac | icon3Comments Off

I’m sure I’m not the first person to do this, but I’m going to rant about Ticketek for a few minutes.

We decide to go to the cricket in January, so I sit down at my computer, open up a web browser and connect to the Ticketek website. My eyes are instantly assaulted by so many animated images, scrolling text boxes and overlapping advertisements (no, I don’t want to buy a Robbie Williams T-shirt) that I have to look away.

Gritting my teeth I turn back to the screen and type “cricket” into the keyword search. A few mouse clicks later and I am looking at the ticket selection screen. There are no less than 8 ticket price categories to choose from. We are keen to sit in the upper level of the Brewongle stand, which is in the “Gold” category, so I select “Gold” and continue by hitting the button which reads “Get Tickets!” (Sounds promising, right?)

I am looking at a different screen now. The only options I have are to select a Price Category and number of tickets required. I dutifully select “Gold” from the drop-down list and press “Continue”, knowing that this will get me nowhere. And sure enough, the tickets it wants to give me are in Bay 16-1, in the concourse below the Victor Trumper Stand.

I try to reason with the computer. “But we don’t want to sit there,” I say, “we want to sit in the Brewongle Stand.” It pays me no attention.

Of course I knew all along that this would happen. I knew that the Ticketek website (or “web-shite” – hey, is that a new word?) is woefully inadequate. It is impossible to choose the seats you want. All you can do is specify how many tickets, and in which price category, and the website selects the “best available” seats that meet your requirements. It then gives you precisely 8 minutes to decide whether you want to keep the tickets or not. A photon travels from the sun to Earth in that time, although whether this is relevant I am not sure.

I certainly did not want to keep these tickets, so I hit a button that says “Remove”. Rather than taking me back one step to the ticket selection page, it kicks me way back to the home page, perhaps trying to twist my arm on the whole Robbie Williams T-shirt thing. Fuck you, Ticketek.

OK, to the Bat Phone! But nowhere on the Ticketek homepage does it give their call centre phone number. I had to click on a button that says “Agencies” to find it, in text about 2mm high.

Like many customer service telephone systems these days, my call to Ticketek begins with a computerised conversation which tries to narrow down what it is that I want. The theory behind this is that, unlike humans, computers can deal with thousands of customers at once, are cheap to operate, and don’t need to go to the toilet or down to the street for a quick fag.

My new computer friend started by asking a vague question about what sort of event I was interested in. Wanting to be as non-confrontational as possible, I said ”cricket”.

Based on the subtleties of my verbal response, and through a series of complex algorithmic processes, the computer system was clever enough to understand immediately that I was interested in purchasing tickets for a match in the forthcoming 2009/10 summer of cricket. But it needed more information.

There is a whole slew of cricket being played this summer. Six different competitions in fact. I know because the computerised voice read out all six and asked me to repeat exactly the one that I wanted to attend. And the options weren’t short either. They were things like “Pizza Hut Under-12 Sheffield Shield Alcohol-Free Victor Chang Fundraising Gala 20/20 Match at North Sydney Number Two Oval on February 13, 14 and 16″.

It took more than a minute for the voice to say all six. By the time it got to the end all I could remember of my desired option was “International Cricket Season”, so I said that. There was a brief pause, then I could’ve sworn I detected something like a computerised tutting, as if to say “You weren’t listening, were you, dickhead?”

The computer read the six options a second time and I wrote down word-for-word the one I wanted: ”The International Cricket Season 2009/2010 in Sydney and Adelaide”. I repeated it carefully and in a voice reminiscent of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet.

A sigh of relief from the computer – no need to repeat those options yet again – and I went on to the next step: choosing a date. This was a piece of piss by comparison and so just a few seconds later I was on hold, waiting for an operator (a human!) while listening to a rather fetching piano piece which looped every 37 seconds. And there I sat for 30 minutes. I reckon I could play that piano piece by heart.

Anyway, this long story has a happy ending. I spoke to a nice young lady whose name escapes me, she quickly verified that the information I had earlier given to the computerised lady was accurate, asked me a few more pertinent questions, and before I knew it I was $204.50 poorer. But I had two tickets in the bloody Brewongle Stand!

If it rains on 4th January I’m going to kill someone, I swear.

Nov 22
Go Figure
icon4 Nov 22nd, 2009 | icon2 Music | icon3Comments Off

While flipping through Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald I came across a section entitled “Christmas Gift Guide 2009″. The idea is a bunch of “experts” in various fields – design, fashion, technology, music, and so on – provide a list of Christmas gift ideas, presumably for those who lack inspiration or imagination.

The first item on the “Music” page was this:

My first thought was, “what the fuck?”

If you can’t work out what it is, I’ll help you out. This is a Johnny Cash figurine, which can be purchased from Hobbyco for the bargain price of $29.95 (or from Amazon.com for US$6.99 plus shipping). But who would buy this?! It looks awful! His face is all screwed up – he looks more like the Incredible Hulk than the Man in Black.

It’s a bit hard to tell from the picture above, but Johnny is walking along a railway track, and in fact he is striding purposefully along a single rail. Get the reference? He’s “walking the line”. How literal-minded are these people?

If poor Johnny was alive today, I’m guessing his response would be something like this:

But that’s not all. On the same page was this:

Yes, it’s Kurt Cobain, as seen in Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session, complete with mic and music stands. Good Lord, who gave permission for this travesty?! Does anybody seriously think Cobain himself would approve?

Amazon has dozens more of these things. Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, The Ramones, AC/DC, Sid Vicious, the list goes on and on. And some of them are truly terrifying. Here’s Mick Jagger:

Hmm, I’ve just been doing some sums, and in fact these are quite cheap given the present US$ exchange rate. I could ship out, say, 15 or 20 of these suckers, and that would cover just about all my Christmas gifts for 2009 …

OK friends, if you’re expecting a gift from me this year, pretend you didn’t read this, and act surprised for my sake. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

Nov 15
Terviseks!
icon4 Nov 15th, 2009 | icon2 Food, Music | icon31 Comment »

A belated tänan väga to Christina and Pawel for the hospitality they displayed at their recent Estonian/Polish bash. After being greeted by the hosts, who were resplendent in Estonian traditional dress, we settled in for a pleasant evening of Esto-Polish delights.

The vast array of dishes on offer is a blur to me now, although I remember the blood sausage with special fondness. Served with potatoes, Estonian sauerkraut and cranberry relish … mmm, delicious! Also on offer – courtesy of Yusuke – was okonomiyaki, a sort of “Japanese pizza”, which was a revelation. This is definitely something to look out for. But perhaps my favourite was Pawel’s Polish apple pie, which had me saying “tak, proszę!” to a second (and third) helping.

Another highlight of the night – at least for Rach and I – was our discovery of Żubrówka, a distilled rye vodka flavoured with bison grass from the ancient Białowieża Forest. Polish infants are weaned on this stuff at an early age, but sadly I had to wait 39 years for my first taste. The customary drinking technique is for all present to drink a shot in unison, with a hearty cry of “terviseks!”, followed by a swig of apple juice. Alternatively the two can be mixed, but the vodka is pleasant on its own.

Each bottle of Żubrówka traditionally contains a blade of bison grass, purely for decoration, although this didn’t stop certain Antipodean party-goers from attempting to consume the grass once the bottle was empty.

Topping off a perfect evening, Rach and I were lucky enough to win what was possibly the first ever Estonian/Polish trivia competition, our prize being a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka! Jah!! (I always knew my encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Polish trade unions would come in handy one day.)

During the course of the night I couldn’t help but be impressed by the music that was playing quietly in the background. The unusual mixture of traditional Eastern European folk, eighties pop and Lloyd Webber-style musical theatre was ear-catching to say the least. I made a mental note to see what I could find out about the Estonian rock music scene.

Although viewed as undesirable by Soviet authorities, popular music established itself in Estonia in the seventies, in the form of a heavy-style progressive rock. One of my favourites is Gunnar Graps Group (or simply “GGG”), who in appearance and sound are very similar to UK metal pioneers Judas Priest, while also incorporating a distinctive Eastern-European melodicism.

Here is GGG performing the song “Hingeleegid”:

Of course, the story of Estonian music doesn’t end with Gunnar Graps Group. There is something for everyone, whether it be the runic-folk-metal of Metsatöll, or the chart-topping girl group Vanilla Ninja. Let me end by playing another clip, this time by subversive punk rockers Singer Vinger. Here they are in 1987 performing “Mina pean sambat tantsida saama”. (I’d give anything for the lead singer’s T-shirt.)

Nov 13
Tooth Hurty
icon4 Nov 13th, 2009 | icon2 Bric-a-Brac, Memories | icon3Comments Off

What’s the best time to go to the dentist? (See the title of this post for the answer.)

So I had a wisdom tooth pulled out yesterday. Upper left. It had been giving me gyp for a few weeks, nothing too bad though. Nowhere near as painful as when my other wisdom tooth went to the dark side, a year or so ago.

Let me digress for a moment by saying that I am not a big fan of going to the dentist. This probably goes back to when I was in primary school, when we used to have an annual event called a “Brush-In”. The Brush-In (presumably the name is in the vein of “bed-in”, “sit-in” and so on) was a kind of enforced, intensive tooth-brushing session, overseen by a crack team of dental hygiene professionals. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Wrong.

The problem was the toothpaste. They weren’t using no Colgate, let me tell you. This stuff was fucking disgusting. It was pink and gritty, and its smell alone was enough to send a kid running. The rumour in the playground was that if you should be so unfortunate as to swallow any of this rancid paste you would vomit uncontrollably until your body was purged of the vile poison.

The Brush-In could occur on any day of the year, and we were never informed in advance. It would simply be announced with little or no notice, and we’d be marched across to the toilet block where the Brush-In crew would be waiting. Every kid would be given a new toothbrush and a paddle-pop stick with a lump of the deadly pink goo. In groups of six we’d stand at the sink and brush away until our overseers were satisfied.

My next brush (pun intended) with the dentist came when I was 12. For some reason one of my front baby teeth refused to fall out on its own, and was beginning to look a little ridiculous. Mum took me to a dentist one day after school, and before having the offending tooth ripped out, I was forced to brush once again with the same pink gloop as I’d dreaded for so many years in primary school. Anyway, the tooth came out easy – it was loose anyway – and apart from the shame of walking around Woolworths with a mouth full of cotton wool while mum did the weekly shopping, the trip was a success.

It did, however, mark the beginning of a dental drought for me, as I wasn’t to go to the dentist again for more than 25 years.

Which brings me back to having my first wisdom tooth pulled out, which happened about a year ago. I won’t go into gory details, but it really hurt like hell, an abscess having formed under the decayed tooth cap. Luckily, Rach’s uncle is a top dentist in Newcastle (like me, he’s a proud Novocastrian) and he sorted me out nicely, got it out in just a few minutes without any pain, and the relief was blissfully instantaneous.

Yesterday’s operation was only slightly more difficult. The tooth itself needed a bit more coaxing out of its position, but now I have a nice big hole where the tooth used to be. Luckily, my teeth are generally pretty solid – no cavities, no fillings – so I’m going to see if I can’t beat my 25 year record.

Here is a video of some dude getting a wisdom tooth yanked. This dentist also works part time as a butcher. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish.

Nov 3

I just invented a tongue-twister. It came about because Rach and I were discussing my love of choc-top ice creams, and how I can’t go to see a movie without getting one to munch on during the Coming Attractions.

By far the best choc-tops are at Dendy Cinemas in Newtown. They make them fresh each day in a variety of ever-changing flavours (my favourite is boysenberry), and the cones are always crisp and fresh. Unlike Greater Union choc-tops, which taste like they’ve been in the freezer since Star Wars came out. Generally speaking, the smaller the cinema, the better the choc-top. This I call “Snubian’s First Law of Choc-Tops”.

My Second Law of Choc-Tops pertains to the fact that no matter how fast or slow you eat your choc-top you will always take the last bite at the precise moment the lights go down and the main feature begins.

Anyway, there’s a film I want to go and see, but it’s playing only at the Chauvel in Paddington, a cinema I’ve never been to before. Naturally my main concern is the quality of their choc-tops, and how they might rate as compared to other cinemas. This led me to create the following tongue-twister:

Which choc-top tops the choc-top charts?

Not bad, huh?

Here’s another one I heard many years ago from a Dutch guy I worked with who seemed strangely obsessed with it:

The Leith police dismisseth us.

This is one I love to tease Rach with, because she can’t seem to say it at any speed. It doesn’t make a lot of sense – I think it’s actually part of a longer poem – but it gets extra points for difficulty. Leith is a town in Scotland by the way.

Then for sheer ridiculousness and impossibility, there’s this:

Blake’s black bike’s back brake bracket block broke.

Try saying that with a mouthful of choc-top.