Drought relief smells like spin to me

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Last week I saw a Woolworths employee dressed in a checked shirt and a fake Akubra hat dolling out olives, dips, cheese and biscuits to customers in return for a donation. All proceeds were going to the farmers as part of the drought effort. As I looked around, I saw many Woollies staff on checkouts decked out in the same new uniform.

This looks like a giant PR exercise to me. If Woollies were truly interested in helping our farmers they have had decades to work out how to pay them a fair price for their produce. Many studies show the Australian public is generally happy to pay a little more for items if it means keeping farming in Australia viable. It just looks shabby for the supermarkets to wait until the worst drought in living memory to look like they care. Dressing up casual staff in farmers shirts and Akubras to work on the check-out smells like spin to me. Where were those shirts made? China? How about supporting Australian manufacturing, Woolworths? In addition, why do you have to dress up urban staff in country and western garb to make a point? Getting customers to make a donation and getting the praise after decades of screwing the farmers feels cheap.

I do know that Woollies and Coles are making donations from their own profits. I know that Woollies have pledged the profits from a day’s fresh food. I know that Coles have said that they will match customers donations dollar for dollar. These are admirable things. My real beef is the need to turn the plight of the farmers into lavish PR spin (especially given the supermarkets have played their own part in this). Also almost no- one looks good in a checked shirt.

I’d love to see a nuanced rational approach to the drought. It’s entirely possible that climate change will make near permanent drought the new normal (until there’s a massive flood and a new PR campaign kicks in). Maybe there needs to be a national approach to keeping farmers on the land. Maybe I don’t have the answers. But I know for sure that sticking a disgruntled staff member in a checked shirt and knock-off Akubra isn’t the answer.

 

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Ukuleles heal – not in this mean street

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There’s something strange in the zeitgeist when a ukulele is the latest must-have accessory. All over the hipster globe ukulele circles are springing up and any self-respecting millennial is keen to tout their uke appeal.

The ukulele is as stylistically on point as kale chips, fixed gear bikes and $18 Green Ant Gin Juleps. These I get. Kale chips taste good (there’s nothing a bit of oil and salt won’t fix) and so do $18 drinks (once you’ve finished them). Fixed gear bikes look cute on Instagram propped up against a milk crate. I get it, really I do.

But ukulele is the sonic equivalent of Sarah Huckabee Sanders reading a restaurant menu. Only one note and virtually no harmony (okay, none). All ukulele songs sound sort of similar and that’s because the uke only has four chords and takes up to forty minutes to learn. So, after a couple of Quince Aspen Gimlets with locally foraged berries it’s the perfect time to master another life skill. Ukulele – sorted.

Once someone has ukulele proficiency that means they have got life conquered (or slayed as a ukulele player would say). It denotes a connection, work/life balance, authenticity. It’s the new deck of cards, the new book club and the new moral highground. It’s up there with starting an NGO. It’s fermented, foraged, artisan, activated and minimalist. It has its own lingo – uke, noodling, up the neck. How lit is that!

I’ve even seen stickers like Ukes Heal and I’m Pro Ukulele and I Vote, which make me choke on my single-estate foraged blue algae latte. The ukulele might have a cute name (it’s from Hawaii and roughly translates as Jumping Flea) and sound summery but make no mistake. This is not music, this is not healing and the zeitgeist is wrong. And I vote.

Fancy a Tonka Bean Fizz?

So who decided that drinking gin and whiskey is now a thing. In the last few years there’s been an explosion of gin bars, speakeasys and whiskey rooms popping up faster than a Donald Trump tweet. These bespoke bars are a study in comfy clubby leather furniture, old-school framed pictures and hipster pot plants. Many of them invoke the 20’s and 30’s – an era that millennials are obsessed with and think they invented. It goes with the fixed gear bikes, upturned milkcrates and jam jars in an ex butcher’s shop. Throw in a bearded bartender, artsy menu and ridiculous prices and you are all set to order your gin fling (craft beer and organic wine is so last century).

So what to choose? Why not start with a staple. For instance a freshly foraged Lemon Aspen Gimlet with locally foraged berries which are pureed into a sorbet using liquid nitrogen.

Or how about a Pressed Kale Fizz or Green Ant Gin Julep with dill infused green Chartreuse and orange marmalade syrup. Want something more nuanced? Try a Norwegian foraged Cornish Cumbrian or a charcoal filtered sling with a shot of green pea tonic. To mix things up a bit add a single origin shot of peanut butter bitters mist, a cold drip coffee sphere, wood smoke popcorn or an infusion of whey vapour.

If this seems more confusing than ordering a glass of house red, then it’s important to know who is to blame. HIPSTERS! Not content with beer, wine or a gin and tonic, hipsters have to overdramatize the gin and whiskey scene. Make it something it is not, make it expensive and impenetrable. Make it an expensive conglomeration, not just a drink you have in summer on the balcony before you get stuck into the vino. And now, not only does it cost the earth but you have to wait a long time before that first sip. By the time the bartender (sorry, mixologist) has added small batch cardamom mist and hand-massaged pomegranate seed to your drink, it is a good six minutes, which is five and a bit minutes longer than I ever want to wait for a beverage. Anyway who wants salad in their drink. The more greenery you put in it, generally the less gin there is and the more it costs. Clearly hipsters are not very bright.

Not content with gin, hipsters have also moved into whiskey and spinning it like a vinyl record. I can see why whiskey is hipster heaven or on point as an actual hipster would say. Whiskey bars are intimate and clubby and the names of whiskies usually sound bespoke and hand-crafted. Besides who doesn’t want to imbibe a wee dram in a place called Irish Snug, Swine Moonshine, Whiskey Ginger.

Luckily for hipsters, no-one really knows how to drink whiskey. It is a drink that was last around in the 1950’s and 60’s, which means millennials have been able to pretend they invented it. Anyone who was thoroughly refreshed by a whiskey bar in the 50’s isn’t going out to bars any more.

Even though I’m not that ancient, I yearn for that time a few short years back when I could order a glass of $8 wine in a bar with only a short queue. Of course, this gin fling and whiskey fetish is nothing new. It’s the new smashed avo only in liquid form. Like edible flowers it won’t last. And like millennials it will fade and get old then wither. Just not soon enough.

Banks are not the French maids of the corporate world

Why does the Commonwealth Bank have concierges? The moment you walk in the door a “concierge” greets you and asks you your business.

The bank seems to think that giving a sexy French title to what is essentially a corporate triage nurse is going to make them alluring. Eh, no, they are still a bank.  

Also, this concierge greeting system doesn’t work. When the concierge is talking to another customer, or at lunch or getting a coffee or making the most of toilet time and customers arrive they tend to stand there looking confused and blocking the entrance. The other day I even saw them ask other customers what they are meant to do. Thanks Commbank – now you are getting your customers to do your work for you too.

When the concierge reappears, they elaborately log the query on an iPad and direct you to a lounge where other clients are sprawled. I suppose this is kind of like a hotel lobby, hence concierge, but somehow I am not feeling that holiday vibe. It’s all in the name of the bank trying to convince us it is not a bank. I’m surprised it is not doing single origin coffee or serving bliss balls.

Of course, the bank is just emulating numerous of companies giving exciting names to bad jobs eg Public Waste Technician for toilet cleaner, Mobile Sustenance Facilitator for food truck worker, Gastronomical Hygiene Engineer for dishwasher.

Concierge might not be so funny as these but it is equally ridiculous. A concierge is a bank employee and a queue is a queue. It doesn’t matter how the bank tries to pimp this up, it doesn’t matter how long I spend on the lounge deep down I still know I am at a bank. Also, I am not entirely sure we want banks to be sexy. They are not the French maids of the corporate world. We don’t want them to pacify us with their concierges and their slightly uncomfortable lounges and their open plan offices for discussing personal finance. We don’t want peppy staff. We want bank tellers.  

I suspect this is a move by the bank to limit costs. To employ very low-cost, non-teller staff to stand around, to give the impression of being looked after while in fact being treated worse. Then dress it up as personalised service and an exotically European title. Commonwealth Bank have saved half a salary and we have been treated just that much worse without anything concrete to complain about. I mean, it is hard to complain about being greeted without feeling like a tool. And queueing on a loungesuite is hard to whinge about without it sounding like a massive first world problem. And you can bet the bank is counting on that.

 

Government? Who needs it?

So, Australia hasn’t had a proper government for around three years. The Abbott experiment was a mad scrum of throwback ideas, awkward doorstops and daily outrage followed by months of inaction.

The start of the Turnbull experiment was a melee of ideas, broad smiles and a collective sigh of relief that we finally had a prime minister who spoke in complete sentences and didn’t walk like Donald Duck.

But as it turned out, a prime minister who spoke in complete sentences was too much to hope for too. Fasttrack to a year later and we still have a prime minister who speaks in three word slogans and looks like a ghost of his former self but with a manic grin on his face. Meanwhile Prime Minister meekly submits to the schoolyard bullies and nothing gets done; nobody is obviously in charge and the government limps on. At least I think it does – no-one is paying attention.

But it’s got me thinking. Do we need government at all? Maybe we are a self-governing society. People are still going to cafes, going to the beach, going to work and getting paid. They are still getting married, going to the doctor, going to school and catching up with friends. They are going on diets, they are exercising, they are planning holidays and continuing to ignore politics. Life is going on as normal.

In Belgium a few years ago a hung parliament meant that a caretaker government with very limited powers was put in charge for nearly 18 months. And exactly the same thing happened. Life went on! Who knows, maybe it was better with fewer politicians. I do realise Australia has a majority government, but in a way it is similar to a hung parliament – we have a gridlocked agenda and a parliament not able to make decisions.

So, here’s my solution – a plebiscite question as follows: Does Australia need a government? Yes/No.

And … make the result binding, please.

 

 

 

Jobs for Pollies

The politicians of Australia are not doing a very good job. If they were, things in the 45th parliament would get done. But it’s not the pollies fault. Many of them are in the wrong job and should be in an entirely different profession altogether. Like these:

Malcolm Turnbull – with his posho voice, old-man handsomeness, tailored suits and didactic hand gestures, he is like the headmaster at an exclusive boys school on the last day of third term delivering his address. By then students are long past caring. Occasionally he may raise some good points but no-one’s listening.

Bill Shorten – is hard to get an occupational handle on, but Operations & Logistics Manager for Woolworths seems like a reasonable fit. He gets to be the nerve centre of Woolies, but in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. It’s a respectable job that pays well but he gets to deal with truckies and, if he’s nice to them, they sometimes let him drive the truck.

Richard di Natale – Richard loves the countryside, otherwise he wouldn’t be a Green. He’s got acreage, runs livestock and makes his own pizza. I’m thinking cheesemaker. He’d look great in a white coat and, being a doctor, can handle the cheesemaking chemistry. Let’s let him loose with a Wattleseed Gloucester, a Kumquat Colby and Red Gum Honey Runny and he could be the best cheesemaker in the land.

Tanya Plibersek – hands-down vet and a damn good one too. With her short blonde hair that won’t get in the way of angry animals, calm yet slightly worried face your pets are in safe hands. Whack on a white coat and she could have her own TV show.

Julie Bishop – it’s hard to get a handle on what the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister is suited to. She looks immaculate, toes the party line, is hardworking and will never be Prime Minister. But there not much personality going on so we’ll stick with the superficial. A brand manager for a high-end make-up company, say L’Oreal, is more her calling.

Let’s break for a minute and chuck in Annabel Crabb who clearly wants to be a pollie’s granny bearing baked goods and wearing weird vintage. Now back to Canberra ….

Penny Wong – another pollie who can rock a white coat AND a suit. She’s private, detailed, boring and good with a precision hit in the senate. She’d make a fine forensic detective. She could have a great future ahead of her.

Barnaby – just be Barnaby. Nuff said. He’s already doing it – Tamworth farmer. Dog lover, actor-hater – Barnaby, stick to what you’re good at.

Christopher Pyne – The Fixer has escaped from the toy box and needs to return! He’s like a jack-in-the box – just when you think he must have run out of batteries, up he pops with his manic smile and recorded message.

Christopher Pyne and Albo – together it’s different. They are like the two old men from The Muppets who sit in the stalls throwing commentary and digging at each other but secretly can never be parted.

Albo without Christopher Pyne is another escapee from the toy box. But he’s the cuddly teddy one, dressed in a miniature footy jersey.

Tony Abbott – is like that mildly pervy guy who is employed by the gym doing no-one knows what and roams around selling big tubs of protein and maybe a rogue steroid or three. Either that or he could be an onion farmer.

Peta Credlin – not strictly an elected official, but someone forgot to tell her. Clearly she is an Amazon, something out of Game of Thrones, riding through the forest, claws at the fore, ready to pounce.

KRudd – with his ever so perfect hair, perfectly round face, bleak eyes and pretend folksiness, he’s like a parson. A parson in a well-heeled suburb in a nice parsonage, that is. Either that or he is Mr Sheen. Or a dentist.

Nick Xenophon –  St Nicholas of Adelaide, the patron saint of Whyalla has the whiff of an enigmatic Greek orthodox priest. He lives a simple life, wears black, lives alone and has a past (but no-one knows what it is) and is champion of the underdog. Amen to that.

Pauline Hanson – Jill of all trades, this one-time fish and chips shop owner, turned pollie/jailbird/reality TV star is in a career rut. What to do? She can’t go back to the fish and chips biz, her shop is now run by Vietnamese immigrants. Perhaps life art model – she would get the attention she craves and she doesn’t get to speak. As for her fanbase of older white men – they’d love it.

Has Sydney lost the plot?

Yes. It. Has.

Sydney’s a bit of alright for a weekend fling or as a place to show off to overseas visitors, but basically Sydney is not a place in which to live an actual life.

Here’s why Sydney ain’t working so well anymore:

It’s too tribal – east, west, north, south are all separate kingdoms and never mix.

It’s too expensive – a meal out is the same as a small Pacific Island’s GDP without the smiles. Also finding a park for said overpriced meal will involve yet another mortgage.

People aren’t that nice here – but in fairness no-one who spends at least two hours a day commuting to their boring job is going to act all that nice.   

Speaking of which …. the city is now an apartment ghetto, with none of the requisite schools, transport, roads, infrastructure. No planning. Zilch. How very Sydney.

It has no arts soul. Unlike Melbourne, it is a follower not a leader in the hipster movement, it slavishly follows overseas trends. It hasn’t had an original idea in its life.

It’s good looking but that’s not enough anymore. No conversation, no soul, no originality, no purpose. As a place to visit, there’s no better. I really believe that but living in Sydney has lost its gloss.