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Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Street performers


There are an unnatural number of street performers on Circular Quay which means there is always something to watch whilst you eat your lunch. Street acts are one of many things in life that tend to polarise people, you either like 'em or you don't . Generally - this will come as no great surprise - I don't. I do not subscribe to the theory that they enliven and add colour to a bleak and forbidding urban landscape as they tend to congregate in the most open and pleasant areas and get in the way until you give them money, ruining the pleasant stroll you were having. Having said this some of them are quite good but they vary in quality from pointless semi-gentrified begging through one-trick-pony and bizarre sideshow all the way to bloody hell! Circular Quay has all four...


Pointless Semi-Gentrified Begging
My objection to this isn't so much the begging as the fact that the performers in question are attempting to pass off something which is badly thought out, requires very little effort and would be illegal begging if it weren't masquerading as performance. This seriously detracts from other performers who are actually trying and should be punishable by a year at a Grotowski based theatre school.* There are a few contenders for the title in this category, mostly of the if I dress up like something stupid people might give me money type, but the one that springs immediately to mind is:
  • Bad Effort at a Pantomime Horse - A one man pantomime horse, badly executed or at least he should be. Maybe not so much a bad panto character as a one trick pony, his entire act is being dressed up as a crap pantomime horse but without the comedy of there in fact being two people inside. What else does he do? Nothing, absolutely nothing. He could have a poorly made toy jockey on his back with a carrot suspended from a fishing rod which he could chase around. He could find a friend and make a proper pantomime horse that has a back end that attempts to move in the opposite direction. Maybe he doesn't have any friends or maybe he just isn't trying at all. I found this act so bad thast it confused me. In a daze I sauntered over to a trio stood not so far from Bad Effort at a Pantomime Horse and started staring at them waiting for them to do something with the odd collection of sticks and strange wheeled vehicle the had with them. Snapping out of it I realised that they were in fact three old people, one in a wheelchair, waiting for the minibus driver.

  • Dress Up Like a Ten Foot Dickhead Man - At least I think it's a man, you can't tell under the costume. Again not so much of a performer as a clothes horse (can I get any more bad GeeGee gags in this post I wonder?). This one has not only a stupid costume but a stepladder. He looks a bit like a character from a Japanese mythic painting, face-mask and all. Apparently welded to the back of the painted mask is something that looks like a metal peacock. Under the highly coloured and decorated robes the "performer" is a not so cunningly concealed stepladder on which he is standing, giving the "amazing" illusion that he is ten feet tall. For some reason this is supposed to want to make you give him money. The stepladder renders the idiot standing on it immobile if he wishes to stay inside his costume meaning that he is limited to gesturing at people as apparently wearing an elaborate costume and standing on a stepladder renders you mute.

For once and all: if you are going to wear a stupid costume at least do something whilst wearing it, otherwise you may as well be a mannequin and mannequins don't get paid.

One-Trick-Pony
A category reserved for performers who can do only one thing (often in a stupid costume). Such as:
  • Paint Yourself Silver and Pretend to be a Robot Man - He has bought a child's face mask and covered it in tinfoil, ruined a suit with silver paint and has mastered the art of standing still for long periods of time and occasionally moving in a jerky vaguely mechanical fashion. I have several objections to this:
    1. Robots, like mannequins, don’t get paid, ever.
    2. Animate Robots don’t exist and if they did they would scare small children too.
    3. This is performance is a cross between a mime artist and a clown, which on it's own is reason enough not to attempt it, it also has a sci-fi theme, requires large quantities of silver paint and could be easily put together by a children's TV presenter. None of these things in themselves constitute a red flag but all three together is a serious warning.**
    There seem to be several of these and they differ only in the tint of their paint. Some paint themselves white and pretend to be statues, how startlingly original.

  • Oriental Fiddle Man - This is too culturally different from Australia's largely European musical roots. The far greater use of minor tones in Japanese music would put a lot of people off on its own. If that doesn't do it then the instrument of choice almost certainly will. The Japanese two string fiddle, whilst capable of some beautiful tones when acompanied, takes on a sonorous and rather grating quality after a while. As the fiddle has only two strings, its timbral range is very restricted and it is tough to know when a new song has begun or even if the player has finished tuning up. When a performer saws away at it all day and half the night it becomes just plain irritating. Shame really, it's very different from anything else round there.

Bizarre Sideshow
There are a few of these, they tend to be musical in nature and confound your expectations. I have no real objections to this brand of street performer they tend to stay out of the way and they at least cover the noise of the traffic.
  • The Sensitive New Age Economic Realists (actual name) - A small band made up of retirees (not to be mistaken for The Sensitive New Age Bluegrass Cowpersons, who are from Perth and perform rock hits in bluegrass fashion, All Along the Watchtower is particularly good as I recall). They have guitars, violins, a squeezebox and not once have I ever seen them play them. They normally seem to be sat around in the sunshine drinking beer which is what I plan to do with my retirement. How they make any money or if they even intend to I cannot tell.

  • Rasta in White - This guy is pretty cool. He is extremely black wears a very white suit and has long greying dreadlocks. He plays pop hits from the Eighties on his steels drum including Love is in the Air, Lady in Red and Brown Eyed Girl. Good but weird.

  • Sammy Davies Jr Jr - An Afro-Caribbean guy with a pretty good voice who rather sadly has a face like a 1950's stereotyped charicature of a black man - big lips 'n' all. He dresses like he is in Run DMC and sings Frank Sinatra songs to a backing tape. He is either being unbeleivably ironic in a post-modern manner that would have Baudrillard breathless and afraid of a genius capable of such brash sweeping statements, or he just happens to be a black man that likes to sing Frank Sinatra songs. At any rate Ol' Blue Eyes seems a little different in his latest reincarnation.

  • Didgeridoo Techno - A troupe of Aboriginal Australians that play traditional instruments over a dance soundtrack. Not bad, but not unique either.


Bloody Hell!
Normally circus performers, typified by a guy I saw at the Edinburgh festival and again in Covent Garden. For his closing piece he would lie on a bed of nails and get people to drop a bowling ball from the top of a step ladder to crack concrete slabs held on his bare chest. The next two performers make the audience keep their distance with the aid of that most robust of safety devices - a length of rope on the ground. They treat this like a magic circle, performing the most amazing feats of skill and dexterity with hot stuff and sharp things in the firm belief that the rope barrier will protect the audience. Strangely it seems to work.
  • Fire Eating American - Not Bill Hicks reincarnated but an actual fire-eating American. You can feel the heat from his act from the other side of the walkway. I have no idea how he has managed to retain facial hair, surely this can't be safe for a fire breather.

  • Token Brit - There's always one. This guy is a real showman, he spends quite a while talking to the audience whilst laying out his kit. As his kit includes many sharp things, including a chainsaw this attracts a fair bit of attention. His closing piece is eating an apple whilst juggling machetes whilst riding the tallest unicycle I have ever seen. He does it all in the name of proving that he is "not a pom", despite his pronounced Bristolian accent. You could be forgiven for thinking that he is trying too hard.


There aren't any pictures of the performers themselves to go with this post as if you take a picture of them they expect you to give them money, an expectation that summarises my main problem with street artists. In the main they expect to get money for doing the absolute minimum. If you are a musician sell your CD or play a variety of tracks, if a mime artist or performer be entertaining - I don't mind you asking for money if you are entertaining - but put some effort in or you don't get nuffin' you dole bludging waste of silver paint.

*For anyone who doesn't know about middle-european physical theatre - i.e. everyone - Grotowski's theatre school was more of a Gulag designed to weed out the uncommitted so for the first year you would probably have been getting up at 5am to sweep the corridors and clean the toilets for ten hours being fed only on a thin soup. If you were very lucky and looked like you had really got to grips with cleaning toilets you would be rewarded with a 3 hour lesson in the most physically and vocally demanding avant-garde theatre practice that a serious-minded Polishman could think up. Now that's what I call punishment.

**Sci-fi theme: lots of good things have come out of science fiction, mostly athletic women in tight clothing and hangover friendly TV.
Silver paint: anything that requires large quantities of silver paint and is not a German sports car should be treated with suspicion until its' usefulness is proven.
Children’s TV presenters: have put together many good things, usually other television programmmes with a strong psychedelic element and drug habits of superhero proportion.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

work, rafting, giant teddies

Well that was a bastard of a week...
I'd almost forgotten how much of your free time this working crap can take up. I've barely had a moment to myself to arse around on the internet. At least I'm not alone. Charging is so busy that his blog, normally updated at least weekly has slowed to a monthly tickover.

I have been sorting out exams for financial planners all week. It's quite amazing how disorganised people who many trust with their financial security actually are. I had a new candidate for an exam being sat tomorrow at four O'clock this evening. If this idiot is allowed to sell financial advice then there is no hope at all.

In between dealing with people signing up at the last minute, chickening out at the last minute and failing to book their assessment at all I have had to compile 11 feedback reports from other training workshops and man the helpline. It has quite removed my ability to think of anything vaguely amusing to write. Never mind there's a weekend coming up and I am off out for drinks.

We went white water rafting last weekend at the park built to house the canoeing at the Sydney Olympics. Rather oddly it's in Penrith (this is nothing, over here Padstow is on the same train line as Lewisham). This is a rather odd arrangement of raised concrete formed rapids next to and above a lake. Five enourmous pumps remove water from the lake and pump it to the top of the rapids where gravity does the rest of the work and pulls the water back in to the lake. It looks a bit odd when they turn the pumps off and you are left with what amounts to a concrete riverbed covered in slime. Rafts go from the bottom, in the lake, to the top via a 40 meter conveyer belt which is even odder.

On Sunday we went to a free festival with Techno and Drum'n'Bass and people on stilts dressed as giant teddy bears. No we did, honest. I have pictures, I didn't imagine it whilst drunk.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

AAAARRRRRR

Shiver me timbers right soon it be the time o' the year when it be right to talk like the cutlass wavin' scum o' the spanish main.

Avast ye scurvy dogs September 19 be Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ashes

Well I wasn't expecting that!...


Unfortunately I was knackered last night so I didn't stay up to watch the cricket but walking home you could hear the cursing coming from people's living rooms. Very satisfying, but it still didn't look like we'd win.

The Aussies aren't particularly bad losers, they clearly need some advice from the English on how to be uncharitable and start bitching about team selection and bad umpiring. There is a little of this going on, which I imagine might balloon into something significant over the weekend. The one thing I have noticed is that Kevin Pietersen is apparently English when he gets out for 0 but South African when he makes 158. Funny that.

Your average Australian seems to consider it bad form to mention the fact that they've lost, they'd far rather you didn't mention it but there are some very tired despondent people around the office today. This week's Aussie bating activity will throwing easy catches to Australians all week and seeing if they can hold them. Oh, the fun I shall have.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Snowy Mountains

If there's one thing I didn't expect to be doing in Australia it was snowboarding. Where exactly would you go snowboarding on the world's driest continent? Surfing certainly, there's a fair bit of coastline, but snow was not amongst my thoughts when I moved here. But snow there is. Atop the imaginitively titled "Snowy Mountains" sits a layer of skiiable snow for two months a year...


"Look Bruce, mountains."
"Stone me they're beautiful Bruce. What's that white stuff on the top of 'em?"
"Well I guess that would be snow mate."
"What the bloody hell shall we call these snow capped mountains mate?"
"Well, we need something descriptive but original. Something distinctive that encapsulates our pragmatic national character, our utilitariam literalism, doggedness and frontier spirit."
"Er...how about Oowoga Loonga Wooratoowa."
"...You weren't listening to me, were you Bruce."
"Sorry mate, I was thinking about beer. How about ...The Snowy Mountains."
"Good on yer."

The Snowy Mountains are a fair bit lower than the European mountains I've been to, top station on Mount Perisher is only 2,014 metres ("It's bastard cold up here Bruce, what shall we call this perishing cold mountain?"). The mountains are also a bit flatter with more of a bowl effect to them which means that the marked pistes only denote groomed snow, you can go across pretty much any bit of the mountain. The snow was a bit slushy because of the absolutely blazing sunshine. In retrospect I should have put some sunscreen on in the morning as by lunchtime I was crisping up nicely. Panda eyes are not a great look, red panda eyes even less so.

Perisher was less technical than European mountains but there are a lot of trees and some fairly sizeable "unmarked obstacles", or bloody enourmous rocks to give them their full name. This does mean that there are some pretty tidy little bouncy jumps to have a go at all the way down the mountain. Your average run would have you haring down the hill dodging trees and keeping a little wide on the track to find the bumps to jump off and then having to hold your speed accross a wide flat section to reach a steeper narrow section leading back to the lifts. The runs are not very long but they are good fun.

The lifts by comparison were bloody awful. Not one of them had footrests meaning that by the end of the day your left leg felt somewhat longer than the right. If the wind started to blow the board caught in it and started dragging you under the restraining bar, if there was one. One lift we went on looked like it had been constructed by sawing narrow park benches in two and welding poles to them. These didn't just lack a footrest but also a restraining bar. In place of this was a piece of light steel hawser that had a socket clip on the other side of the chair, it was a very long way from reasssuring. It wasn't a great option but the alternative was the longest, steepest most painful T-bar it has been my misfortune to experience.

For those who have never tried snowboarding try to imagine being given a roughly T-shaped rod and, standing on your board being dragged up the mountain by hooking this inside your front thigh. Needless to say it isn't my favourite way to travel. The picture makes this look pretty easy and for the first three times you do it in a day it is, then it begins to ache a little and then it begins to really hurt until finally you consider purchasing a team of huskies and learning to drive them simply to avoid having to do it again. Actually, that's not a bad idea...hmmmm....husky boarding eh?....

At the bottom of the mountain there was a fair bit of wildlife, much of it roadkill but much more of it alive and weird. We saw wombat and a lot of roo (collective noun: mob or troop). Wombats are very strange things, like someone was trying to breed a footrest to go with their sofa. Apparently they scarper pretty quickly if you walk towards them, I can't say they look like they're capable of anything other than lumbering. "...of course they're all called wally..." said our septegenarian driver. Of course they are.