Rik Mayall: Mayhem and missed opportunities

So if it was a Thursday night in the early 1980s, I know what I was doing. I was huddled with the family around the TV screen, waiting for the next episode of The Young Ones to come on the ABC around 9pm.

We eventually taped all the episodes and watched them incessantly — and I do mean incessantly. When I was 14, I suspect I could have recited all 12 of them, word-perfect. And now Rik Mayall is dead, at 56, far too young.

Twice in the last decade, I tried to see Mayall on stage — once in Bromley in the stage version of The New Statesman, once in Cambridge for a production of Michel Frayn’s Balmoral. On both occasions, his understudy had to step in. It just wasn’t to be.

Mayall crammed a lot into his career, but three in particular matter to me. Two will be on a lot of lists being made by stunned Mayall fans today: The Young Ones (natch) and Flashheart in Blackadder. The third is his role as Richie Rich in Filthy Rich & Catflap, generally considered a “flop” but one of my favourite TV sitcoms. Time to dig out the (unedited) DVDs.

And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, “Other kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rik be dead when we still have his poems?”

The Internet proves my grandfather was a hoon

I love random Google searches sometimes. I did a search on Malcolm Esau (my grandfather, second husband of my paternal grandmother if you want to be pedantic) and found this extract from the Advertiser of Tuesday October 22 1940:

Frankly, this comes as no surprise. My grandfather Malcolm often boasted about how he learned to drive (on a farm property) before the age of ten, and later in life he joyously embraced an alleged South Australian loophole which said that laws regarding compulsory seat belts did not apply to those over seventy.

It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that he was shocked/digusted by my own inability to drive. In 1987, he attempted to teach me to manipulate a car, and the result was appalling to everyone involved. He was a charter example of the kind of person for whom driving is entirely instinctual and who as a result cannot pass that knowledge on to anyone else. But despite that and his in-no-way-latent racism, I always enjoyed his company.

Random searching also reveals that Malcolm was the best man at a wedding in September 1941. There are a stack of related social and birth notices I need to dig into properly.

Pedant note: I’m not obsessive about blood; people in my family are family. As far as I’m concerned, I had five grandfathers (Fin, Bill, Malcolm, Jack and Eric) and four grandmothers (Bobby, Elvira, Freddie, Joyce), and I’m very grateful for all of them. Since the post is about him, here’s a picture of Malcolm in December 1986:

Gough Road: My 2011 #NaNoWriMo novel is done!

For the second year running, I’ve taken part in and finished the NaNoWriMo challenge — writing a completed novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. I didn’t finish quite as early this year and I wrote a little bit less, but I’m really pleased with the result. For those of you who are curious, here’s the blurb:

Gough Road
Lonely people live between 40 and 44 Gough Road. At 40a Ricki Smith is a nymphomaniac with an unpleasant mother. Simon and Stephanie Benning compulsively renovate 40b while dreaming of a life outside London. Mike Gage in 44a is an Australian bank executive obsessed with a railway line that was never built. Karim Napur watches immigrant workers come and go from the crowded flat at 44b, while Sandra Bellfall’s house at 42 is getting emptier all the time. But which of them will be the first to die?

And yes, I’m still exploring options for what to do with last year’s novel. I re-read it recently and enjoyed it, which is good. Now I should let other people do that.

Qantas: It’s hard to fix problems you don’t recognise

In an interview in today’s Australian, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has the gall to suggest that Qantas handled the volcanic ash-induced delays on flights out of Europe back in April this year well:

How the company managed its way through (the volcano crisis) was a real credit to it, and the feedback from passengers, and the positive impact it had on our reputation, was actually quite good.

I was on the first flight Qantas actually ran out of London after the volcano incident, and, as I’ve already documented for Lifehacker, it was a total shambles. What made it so annoying, and makes Joyce’s comment so galling, is that much of what went wrong wasn’t to do with the climate — which Qantas can’t control — but with its ability to communicate with passengers — which it absolutely can. If the litany of miscommunication, outright lies and pointless inconvenience Qantas delivered on that occasion is supposed to be a “real credit” to it, I shudder to think what a bad experience might be like.

What I would have Tweeted during QF127

One disadvantage of flying more or less anywhere apart from the US is that you can’t Tweet in-flight and drive everyone on the ground nuts. If I had Twitter access during flight QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong, this is how the sequence might have gone:

Hope someone occupies this biz class seat next to me or @alexkidman will be even more pissed off down in economy #KidmanNewWorldOrder

Fortunately, someone has shown up. Unfortunately, he already stinks of sweat and we haven’t even taken off yet.

Free copies of the AFR are always better on a Monday.

Mmm, Penfolds 389. That’ll do for the next five glasses.

Damn, I watched all these episodes last week on the A380. Repeat mode.

Same episode of TAYG has been encoded two times in a row. #fail

Biz class staff already worried they’ll run out of broccoli soup and I’m in the very first row.

More wine? Yes please. #bizclasswanker #KidmanNewWorldOrder

Dinner done. Damn, I have to work for the next five hours.

Gee, this pop CD selection is a bit rubbish. Thank God for Lily Allen. Memo to Tony Abbott: “Fuck You” on repeat.

“You never make me scream.”

Distribution of tech hacks on QF127: Biz 1. Premium Economy 2. Economy 2. Corrections welcome.

Qantas does not censor the song title “Fuck You”. Take note, News Ltd and Fairfax.

“Lay the burden down, yeah lay the burden down now.”

Hello Manila. Please close your call centres. #KidmanNewWorldOrder

Inbox cleaned out. I mean email, you sick mofos.

You have no power, Tuesday. I shall prevail.

“All we’ve ever wanted is to look good naked, hope that someone can take it.”

If my laptop was running any hotter, the fold-out table would melt. That apple juice was certainly timely.

“Little bit of weather to negotiate.” Maybe there’s an excess sick bag supply.

I’ve never written that much on a plane before. Time for a break and a trashy documentary.

Would I like some Sauvignon Blanc? Yes please.

Sweaty guy is giving me “you’re an alcoholic” looks. He might be right.

Cabin crew just emptied the wine bottle into my glass. I didn’t refuse.

Descending into Hong Kong. Nice islands. #KidmanNewWorldOrder

Five final thoughts about Las Vegas

Heavens to Betsy, I’ve been out of Vegas (and CES 2010) for nearly a week and I never got around to covering all the various bits of weekend excitement. So here’s some quick thoughts around a few key themes before I have to get all New Zealand on everybody.

RADIO: This year, being at CES was rather good for my media profile. While I was still in town, I did a phone interview with the ABC overnight program. That was pretty enjoyable, though being the ABC I had to avoid specific product mentions. Later in the week, I also talked CES on 6PR in Perth, where host Simon Beaumont described me as a “high-energy supergeek”. He doesn’t know the half of it.

WARM GLOW: I’ve got to admit it, I enjoyed the summary of my work for the week on ITJourno (which is a subs-only site, hence my need to repeat it here):

CES is perfectly timed for tech editors because they can come back to work and just feed a whole swathe of wire content into their CMS’ systems. However, that certainly hasn’t been the case at APCmag which over the past week has been turned into the vehicle for Angus Kidman’s prolific, and quite amazing, output from CES.

As of this morning, Kidman had penned more than 20 pieces from CES. Click here to see all of Kidman’s coverage, which has been all the more remarkable because they’re not blog-standard press release rewrites of product launches. You won’t see a better example of a journalist demonstrating their ability to dig out unique and quirky angles, amongst a background of mostly formulaic coverage. APC has been running wire stories as well for all the big announcements, but it’s been Kidman’s stream of pieces that has made APC a unique destination to visit during CES. As you would expect from Kidman’s coverage, he’s managed to slip in stories about Lady Gaga, sex robots and once again bagging Monster cables for being ludicrously expensive. It’s worth noting that Kidman continues to edit and write for Lifehacker. Epitome is in awe.

SINGING: The Piano Bar at New York New York is awesome (thanks to the Sony Australia team for taking us there). Especially impressive was that one of the guys playing actually knew ‘Khe Sanh’, having been asked by far too many Aussies over the years to perform it. We still had to throw a couple of twenties at him to get ‘Down Under’ on the set list, but it was worth it.

TRIBUTES: I wanted to see a show on the Sunday night, but the choices were pretty limited. I eventually made good on a long-standing promise to myself to see ‘Legends in Concert’, the tribute show which ran for years at the Imperial Palace and last year moved to Harrah’s. In the current lineup, the acts are Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner, Bette Midler (which is cheeky when she’s actually appearing just over the road), Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. Jacko’s track selection was a bit weird, I have to say, offering up both ‘Jam’ and ‘Black Or White’ but nothing from Bad. I’ll write more about this some other time perhaps.

Kirstyfest 2009 in photos

I went to Kirstyfest, the annual celebration of my all-time favourite singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl, in London on Sunday. Fab time as always, summarised here in pictures and too-brief captions. (Apologies for the inevitable misspelt and forgotten names.)

The famous bench in Soho Square.

The fabulous Jean Newlove, Kirsty’s mum.

Singing “Soho Square” in Soho Square, accompanied by 150 or more Kirsty fans (not pictured).

Stage decoration at the Phoenix Arts Club.

The fabulous Claire, key organiser for the day.

Jean updates us on the Justice for Kirsty campaign.

Galore poster, auctioned off for £300!

The fabulous John M (from San Fran) kicks off the music.

Sometimes it’s just all about the guitar.

Next up: Terry.

13 years old and already a Kirsty fan.

Too many instruments is barely enough.

“No, we can’t do ‘You Caught Me Out’.”

Sometimes it’s just all about the guitars.

Mark Nevin, Kirsty collaborator and all-round nice guy.

“I hope I see those pigeons fly . . .”

Mark and friend grooving to ‘Cowboy’.

Leeches . . .

and Pea. (Their gag, not mine!)

‘They Don’t Know’, skiffle style.

The final tribute number.

Can’t wait for next year . . .

The language learners

The other day, in the South Australia state library, a man came up and asked me what a word meant in the novel he was reading. He looked vaguely sub-continental, in his forties.

He had underlined the phrase carefully in pencil. High-heeled shoes. I tried to explain, slowing my habitual mumbled bursts. He sketched out the shape in the air, smiling with comprehension.

Emboldened, he asked again. “And also this one?” Cackled with glee. “Glee is happy, I think.” Yes, that’s right. I couldn’t actually cackle – we were in a library – but laughing is easy to explain.

Last night, on a late train in Sydney, there’s a European couple, doing grammar exercises out loud. She’s working on where to place never in a sentence. They seem very happy together, conjugating.

If you believe a certain kind of person, a nasty breed of politician, Australia is filled with people who have no interest in learning English. I am having trouble finding them these days.