Thursday, 24 December 2009

Bear Necessities

In the hallway of our house, just a couple of steps beyond the front door, there stands a small brown bear. He is nude apart from his ageing fur, a splendid pair of shiny red wellington boots and an oversized Moroccan fez which perches on his nose. From underneath the fez you can just make out his bright eyes, fixed on the doorway in a very hard stare. His name is Major Paddington; the rank recognition of many years dedicated service to watching over the places we’ve lived, warding off burglars and monsters.

Paddington wasn’t always a major, nor was he always nude. Once – I’m told – he sported a magnificent blue duffle coat and a large black hat. Sadly they fell victim to moths and had to be thrown away. Ever since Paddington has maintained his vigils au naturel but no one seems to mind.

Perhaps this is because we’ve come to expect nudeness of our bears. By that I don’t mean real bears – grizzly, brown, polar, panda or otherwise – who seem quite content going about their business scaring humans and doing unmentionables in the woods in just their super furry glory. Rather I mean those cheeky, all-singing, all-dancing, joke-telling, honey-stealing, marmalade sandwich-eating bears that inhabit our children’s books, comics, television shows and movies. Like Kylie and Madonna they are immediately recognisable by their first names - Yogi, Boo Boo, Fozzie, Pooh, Baloo, Sootie, Rupert, Paddington, Humphrey – but at least the queens of pop know how to wear underwear.

Humphrey: 'hey ladies - guess what I'm not wearing...'

Here in Australia the most beloved eschewer of undergarments is Humphrey B Bear. Despite sporting a dapper straw boater, a preposterously ornate yellow ribbon cravat and tartan waistcoat (or vest to use the local parlance) it is more common to point out what he is not wearing: pants. What's more, he's semi-dressed and loving it. Humphrey may be mute but he has the biggest bear-laugh on television; I think this is the pleasure that comes from greeting the public tackle out. I assume so, as Humphrey is in distinguished company as this gallery of happy shiny bears - wide-eyed and pant-less - will attest…

Hair Bear Bunch: 'Ooh man, that is li-bear-ating!'

Man: 'Bear... please tell me you're wearing pants...'
Woman: 'Man... please tell me you're wearing pants...'

Sootie: 'Izzy whizzy let's get busy and ... *poof* ... pants are gone'

Bungle Bonce: 'I'm not wearing any WHAT?'

Pooh: 'Not at all dear Piglet, in fact a chill breeze across the buttocks is rather refreshing....'

Wacky Races' Blubber: 'drive slower, I got nuthin holding it in'

Pudsey: do NOT move the blocks

Flippy: giving new meaning to going commando

Yogi and Boo Boo: fragrantly pant-free

Care Bears: 'We care - just not about pants'

Kermit: 'Good grief, the comedian's a bear.'
Fozzie: 'No he's-a not. He's a'wearin' a neck-a tie!'

Superted: I may be a superhero on the inside but remember me thus...

Baloo: proudly displaying his bare necessities

So why don’t our bears wear pants? Well, a better question might be why do they wear anything at all? After all, most if not all of the above choose to wear at least some items of clothing. Some theories are posited by our good friends over at TV Tropes. Noting that this is a phenomenon not just limited to bears (indeed there is a popular urban myth that Donald Duck was banned in Finland for not wearing pants over his down-enhanced bottom) they feel that limits were placed on the amount of clothing our furry friends wear because over-dressing might stop them being recognisable as the animals they are. Safe in the knowledge that people love a bit of anthropomorphism from their animals, our authors have dressed them up to make them more human, but not so much that you’d forget their true bear-ness.

As plausible as this is, I can’t help but feel that the reason for their increasingly pantless state is that bears are fighting a silent war to reclaim their ursine heritage. Denied their basic bear rights and forced to entertain generation after generation of homo sapiens through song, dance and faux camaradarie with children's televsion presenters, the bear nation has decided enough is enough. 'Yes, we will entertain your children; the adulation is addictive and the smiles on their little faces can be quite moving. Mostly though we need the money. So yes, we will wear stupid hats and comedy bow ties and yes, we may once again get ourselves into embarrasing situations over a jar of honey to pay the bills. But know this humans, you will not break us. We are noble and strong. We are ancient and proud. We are bears.'

And what better way to show your independence in co-dependence than by silently asserting your right to do what you do best? This pantlessness is no empty gesture when you remember
what bears do in the woods. Think about it. How difficult it must be to remove boxer shorts in a hurry with claws? How easy to put your huge clumsy furry fingers through the delicate lace of a pair of bear-bikini bottoms? Surely you need an opposable thumb to un-wedgie a lycra thong when you just gotta go? Is it not inconceivable that bears, constrained by human-imposed 95% cotton 5% elastane bonds have slowly and secretly removed their pants so they can do what they gotta do? 'Humans - can't live with them, can't live without them - but I'll be damned if I'm gonna ask to go poop.'

Of course there are people who are on to bears. Stephen Colbert's hatred/fear of bears is more easily explained in this context. Still it would be unfair to suggest that there is a secret war between all humans and bears. Parties on both sides have made moves to cross the great divide, drawing inspiration from each other and showing that we can peacefully coexist. Consider if you will the similarities between Rupert the Bear and Starsky and Hutch's jive-talking snitch, Huggy Bear. Whilst Rupert may be the straightest, whitest bear alive both he and Huggy share a sense of dandy style and love of flamboyant checky trousers.

Huggy: one pant-lovin' bear

Rupert: gaye and free

Meanwhile there are humans all too happy to support the bear cause. There are many who have taken inspiration from the bears pursuit of freedom from clothing... and one or two other habits besides...

Bears: free and gay

Chief Scout and adventurer Bear Grylls: inspiring young boys everywhere

We have considered buying Major Paddington a new coat, a smart bright red jacket becoming of his seniority and important role as head of security in our family. We still may, but rest asured we will never forget the he is first and foremost a bear, noble and proud, and furthermore we will never, ever force him to wear pants.

Post Script: clearly there are a great many bear fans out there as this remains the #1 story on Mint Custard. Please show your real love of all things ursine with a visit to which is dedicated to ending cruelty to bears worldwide. They need your internet hit more than me and Bear Grylls do...

Super Sonic

I promise this will be my last You Tube post for a while, but I wanted to do my bit to share one of the best clips I’ve seen in ages. The boys from the Model School are friends of mine but please don’t let that put you off…

It’s Hard to Dance When Your Legs are on Fire is taken from the Model School’s new album Memory Walls. Check out their
MySpace page for more details… The Model School blog is also readable here

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Shake It...

Christmas holidays equals Peanuts on the telly, so for those having withdrawals here's something special. Some things just need to be seen...

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Turf War, On A Global Scale

Unseasonal greetings in the sky above Sydney recently (unless the intention was to equate Jesus with a jolly 'Ho Ho Ho' rather than a skanky lady of the night…)

Seems like a lot of effort to go to but then I was reminded of the slightly tense relationship he had with the new guy at work on Big Train… I now think I know who was driving the plane…

Monday, 21 December 2009

Underground Lovers, East Brunswick Club

One thing this decade has proved is that Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame prediction needs an update. Celebrity is still just as fleeting, but our thirst for nostalgia means stars now get a bonus five minutes in the spotlight to cash in later on when the time is right. At its most banal this means the return of Hey Hey It’s Saturday and I Love the Eighties; at its most money-grabbing it means reunion world tours for the Spice Girls and the Sex Pistols.

Cynicism becomes default at these times, but I think amongst all the opportunism and money-grabbing, those extra five minutes can actually be used for good. They offer a chance to remember, to re-evaluate, to right wrongs and bring people together so they can say ‘actually, you were great and we’re sorry we didn’t tell you at the time.’

You could argue that Underground Lovers never really got their full 15 minutes in the first place. As another of the great Australian critically adored/commercially underwhelming bands they remain relatively unknown, even in their home town. The modest surroundings of the East Brunswick Club for their first official comeback gig are testament to that. Yet for the couple of hundred people attending tonight here was a chance to show the original line-up that some of us were listening, way back when.

I arrived in Australia just as the Underground Lovers were winding down, but I’ve never forgotten a blistering show at Sydney’s Petersham RSL in 2000; one of the few performances by a band I didn’t know where I danced from start to finish. Fast forward ten years and little has changed. These may be their first shows together in over fifteen years but despite some cutely-managed technical glitches their distinctive cocktail of taut rhythms, electronic swirls and simple, mesmeric guitar remains undeniable persuasive.

Underground Lovers, 2009

Leaders Vince Giarusso (vocals, guitar, keyboard) and Glenn Bennie (guitar) have never been shy about their influences. The sounds of seventies West Germany, late eighties Manchester and shoegaze and nineties warehouse parties were the foundations for the Underground Lovers’ sound and they mostly still pack the same hypnotic punches. Muscular but fluid performances from Stephen Downes (bass) and Richard Andrew (drums) create plenty of space and momentum for Giarusso, Bennie and co-vocalist Philippa Nihill (keyboards and occasional guitars) to add the anticipation and emotion, of which there is plenty in the air tonight.

In particular the perma-baseball capped Bennie’s rhythm guitar runs riot, with echoes of Barney Sumner, James’ Larry Gott and Saul Davies, Kevin Shields and even (though I doubt he’d appreciate the comparison) Achtung Baby-era U2. Meanwhile Giarusso - proving that great frontmen come in all shapes and sizes looking as he does like a friendly PE teacher - is simultaneously self-depreciating, awkward and brilliant. Clearly enjoying himself he dances around the stage all night, pausing occasionally to chat with Nihill who is equally unassuming.

It is possible that these qualities are what prevented Underground Lovers becoming big stars in the Nineties; an unwillingness to embrace the bullshit of what pop stars should look and act like which doesn’t matter seem to matter in 2009. There is some irony that in the years since they disbanded we have seen the (deserved) critical lauding of James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem. The similarities between the two groups are many, and I’m not just talking about a rabid devotion to New Order.

Still, best not to fret. This is their Extra Five Minutes and it’s time to enjoy the moment and the music. Some of the more straight ahead, indie-by-numbers songs prevent this from being a perfect show but they were in the minority. Against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of rapid-edit visuals we have all the (ahem) hits including a relentless Your Eyes, Dream it Down and an exuberant Las Vegas. The sight of 200 party poppers exploding from the crowd into the low ceiling of the East Brunswick Club during a celebratory Losin’ It will also sit alongside the memory of Leonard Cohen skipping across the stage of the Rod Laver arena as one of my favourite musical moments of 2009.

Nothing lasts forever but I hope we get to see a little more from the Underground Lovers before their latest five minutes is up. There was more than enough tonight to show why they have long been one of Australia’s best kept musical secrets. Take this opportunity to spread the word whilst you can.

· The remastered Underground Lovers back catalogue is out now through
Rubber Records and available on i-Tunes and emusic.

Underground Lovers on MySpace including You Tube clips

Friday, 18 December 2009

Harem Scarem

Proof were it required that best place to look for the next big thing in fashion is 20 years ago; this morning I saw a woman in the street wearing MC Hammer pants. Yes, the harem pant is back, let loose on society and being worn by otherwise sensibly-dressed office workers.
Hammer: Prince of Pants

For those of you who are interested, this particular lady accessorised her gold and green nappy trousers with a rather fetching vintage purple blouse and a string of Lisa Simpson pearls and as such actually looked quite nice. However she did lose points for a casual walking style which failed to show off her flamboyant pantaloons in quite the same way that any variation on the running man dance could have done.

Now, why not celebrate the ongoing curiosity of modern existence that is fashion recycling by treating yourself to a few minutes of Tricky’s Brand New You’re Retro from 1995, featuring one of the best Jacko samples ever…

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Cake or Death? Death Please...

With Christmas just around the corner here’s a handy gift option for all you fans of top quality British Fare. Battenberg Britain (by Nigel Cassidy and Philippa Lamb - Michael O'Mara Books) is a comprehensive guide to why the rest of the world looks perplexed when people say things like 'English nosh? Best in the bladdy world mate’, handily disguised as an ironic celebration of all things foody and nostalgic - so British people buy it.

The book takes its name from Battenberg Cake; a sickly sweet pink-and-yellow-sponge-wrapped-in-bright-yellow-almond-Playdoh-icing creation beloved of British grandmothers and people who prefer tea to coffee. I’m not a fan, but I do have some affection because a friend of mine had a ‘Battenberg or Ginger Cake?’ indie disco dance, so-called because his rotating hand twirling motion resembled a man offering sizeable portions of said weighty cakes to passers-by.

I’ll admit I haven’t read Battenburg Britain myself, but a casual look at the contents page on
Amazon does read like a perfect shopping list for a very happy (though vitamin deprived) bad food-ophile like myself, which I suspect is the point… No mention of Mint Custard though which goes to show that some things are best done yourself.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Shower Power

Another pleasant side effect of my increased gardening activities has been getting very dirty. I mean proper mucky; a kind of seven-year-old-just-finished-playing-football-for-three-hours-in the-park kind of filthy. Most days I return from the garden with grime under my fingernails, the hairs on my legs dyed soil-brown and a comedy mud and dust moustache. This has led to some brilliant George and Mildred moments between me and Mrs Custard with her threatening to hit me with a rolling pin should I tread any of my dirt into her clean floors.

There is something undeniably satisfying about rinsing-off well-earned muck in a hot shower – something which got me thinking about other great shower times. So, because it’s the end of the year and everyone is doing lists, and because I haven’t done one for a while, here is the Mint Custard Top 10 Best Times to Have a Shower:

  1. Post-23 hour flight from Manchester to Australia when the in-flight booze has worn off and turned to hangover
  2. When it’s 30 degrees in the shade at midnight and sleep is proving elusive
  3. Scoring first go in the bathroom when you live in a share house with five others (and their various sleeping-over partners) and the hot water tank can only cope with three good showers
  4. When you’ve just had your hair cut at the barbers and they haven’t tucked the cloak in properly
  5. When you’re getting ready to go out on a Saturday night and you’ve got the music on and all the doors open
  6. When you’ve just carried five bags of groceries home via the bus and a steep hill in the cold wet sleet of winter
  7. Walking to work on your 30th birthday without an umbrella listening to Spring Rain by the Go-Betweens on your walkman-type device whilst the heavens open but you’re so happy you dance across George Street in Sydney being sure to stomp in every enormous puddle*
  8. Getting home after a three-day music festival where your sleeping bag got soggy and you had pointy rocks for a mattress
  9. I once had a shower with two American girls’ (Preposterous Tales by I, Ludicrous, 1987)**
  10. Straight after you’ve dyed your hair and it all bleeds out like Janet Leigh in Psycho…

* this one is hard to replicate I'll admit, but believe me, it definitely deserves to be at #6

** I can’t claim to have done this one either, but I think we all have our own preposterous tales to tell

Amazing Race

Analysis of the Noughties is starting to roll in, with many list-makers pointing to the fist-in-mouth embarrassments of David Brent, Larry David et al as the best comedy television had to offer. Yet, at the end of a generally uninspiring decade for Australian television comedy, I couldn’t let John Safran’s Race Relations come to an end without another Steven Colbert-style tip of the hat to Melbourne’s most infamous self-hating Jew. In a post Office/Curb Your Enthusiasm world John Safran should be applauded for his attempts to put the ‘doc’ back into mockumentary.

Despite a stated aim to guide people through the minefield of inter-cultural dating, Race Relations was mostly another vehicle for Safran’s unique blend of heart-on-sleeve social evangelism and bum-clenchingly embarrassing stunts. Some fell flat (despite the great build-up, the revelation to his endlessly supportive family and friends that his marriage to a relative of Osama Bin Laden was a joke at the expense of his childhood friend was like watching a child with their first whoopee cushion) but we were also taken to places few expected they would ever see on national television, let alone prime time on the ABC.

As a television show Race Relations certainly had its flaws. Like a modern Hollywood blockbuster it was sometimes big on spectacular set pieces but lacking in direction. Press has tended to focus on these events – the crucifixion in the Philippines, the knicker-sniffing, the Palestinian sperm donation, his makeovers as the world’s oddest looking black man and least attractive ladyboy – but this is to ignore the moments of genuine pathos that have made the show so watchable. Anyone who saw the look on Safran’s face as he climbed out of a freshly dug hole alongside his mother’s grave or watched him biting off more than he could emotionally chew as he attempted to interview his ex-girlfriend and her husband will tell you there was more to Race Relations than Borat-style shock tactics.

The emotion was mostly raw enough for the camera to tell the story alone, but I was still left with lots of questions at the end. What did it feel like to be taunted, flogged and crucified by a crowd of Filipinos? What kind of feelings surfaced when he found himself pouring his heart out to a Japanese surrogate mother? None of us was looking to Safran to answer the world’s race problems, but a greater degree of genuinely personal insight based on these extraordinary experiences would have provided a more satisfying conclusion. Maybe that’s been kept for the DVD extras, but if so it’s a shame.

Still, none of this is to deny that Race Relations was amongst the very best television in 2009. My desire for more is based on the quality of what we have already received. Turning the reality genre on its head by turning the camera around might appear self-indulgent but for me it was an exceptionally brave move – like reading out your teenage diary to strangers. Rarely do we see our stars so vulnerable and exposed and I think - however contrived some of it might have been - we all learnt a little something about our favourite Carlisle Street resident. I hope he did too.

John Safran’s Website

Sunday Night Safran (John’s JJJ radio show with Father Bob)

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mint Custard's Review of the Decade

10. 2003
9. 2008
8. 2002
7. 2004
6. 2009
5. 2001
4. 2006
3. 2000
2. 2005

and the winner is…

1. 2007 (obviously...)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

"There are some who call me… Tim"

Memory can be a cruel mistress sometimes. She can convince you that night is day and black is white, hide your hotel on drunken nights in foreign cities, and make you inappropriately confident that the capital city of Canada is Vancouver at trivia nights. Being vain and self-important I find it is important to back up my increasingly unreliable memory with displays of persuasive bullshitting. This, I naively believe, perpetuates confidence amongst my peers that I have a vague idea about what is going on in the world… which I clearly do not.

A recent example was based around my outwardly firm conviction that I knew the names of the ghosts in Pacman. I did know that one of them was called Inky, and the others variations thereof (Blinky? Stinky?) but for some reason had got it into my head that, unlikely as it may seem, one of the ghosts was rather quaintly called Tim.

Whilst I had by doubts that such a thing could actually be true, I spoke of Tim to all and sundry with great confidence and gusto to a point where, despite any compelling evidence either way, his unlikely existence pretty much became fact. Mrs Custard and I even reached the point of referring to all ghosts as ‘Tim’ as a kind of shorthand, in the same way that – thanks to Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz - all vampires are now ‘Draculas.’

And yet I couldn’t escape a nagging thought in my head that maybe, indeed probably, I was wrong. What if I was basing my ‘fact’ on a casual glance at a freshly reset High Score chart - one where Inky, Blinky and Co reigned supreme, but someone called Tim had chalked up a fairly creditable fourth spot? Was I putting myself, Mrs Custard and those I had confidently spouted off about Tim to at risk of ridicule at the hands of an over-zealous 80s gaming nerd just because I didn't want to admit that I might have made it up?

We may live in an age where search engines offer an answer to everything (to the point where there is even a site called but I had resisted verifying my Tim theory on the internet on the basis that I didn't know what to do if it wasn't true. In my heart of hearts even I found it improbable that the spookiest name the programmers could come up with to scare the willies off Pacman was Timothy. But I needed to know, so just-fucking-google-it I did.

At first it seemed that I was right about being wrong. A casual search for Pacman’s phantom nemeses revealed Blinky (a red ghost), Inky (blue/cyan), Pinky (go on, have a guess) and – seemingly confirming my fears - their little orange compadre, Clyde. ‘Bugger’, said I. Ignoring the fact that Clyde is just as ridiculous a name as Tim considering Inky, Pinky and Blinky’s matching monikers, I still felt decidedly foolish for propagating the idea of a fantomas with a plummy Home Counties’ bent.

Hugs and kisses then to DS Cohen (‘professional writer, video game historian and gaming industry professional’) for restoring my faith in my undeserving memory and for proving that when it comes to trivia, even the most unlikely of facts can be true. Cohen’s
Classic Video Games blog recounts the full history of Pacman and all its incarnations, including Ms Pacman and, crucially, Junior Pacman (who knew?!)

For those who are interested, it would seem that whilst Blinky and Co were ever-presents in Pacworld from the original 1980 arcade version onwards, young Clyde suffered from multiple personality and gender identity disorders over the years. By 1981’s Ms Pacman (in which our eponymous hero stuck a digital bow in his hair and - Lou Reed-style - he was a she) our friend Clyde had become Sue; still resplendent in orange but no doubt with far more interesting underwear under his/her cloak.

Two years and five well-milked incarnations later, step forward Jr Pacman (1983) – the whirly propeller-hatted son of Mr and Ms Pacman who carries the pill-munching action outside of the traditional four walls of the maze. Blinky, Inky and Pinky return – but this time Sue is gone replaced by – you guessed it – Tim! Cohen notes that young Tim didn’t last long; his transgender tendencies clearly got the better of him and by 1987 he was back again as Sue. Still, however fleeting it might have been there was a Tim, and my Swiss cheese memory feels slightly less holey than it once did.

Thinking again about Tim I wonder whether there is a lesson for me to learn from this story. Even though he turned out to be real, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t lying about his existence. I never really believed in Tim, but that didn’t stop me trying to get other people to believe, mostly because I thought it was a cute little story. Really I just got lucky; my drunken memory turned out to be more accurate than I deserved. If there is a moral I think it boils down to this: there are fibbers and there are fibbers and some of the fibbers get found out and others fibber live to fib another day. In Pacman terms I lost a life but got an extra man for finishing the level. For that dear Timothy - nee Clyde, now Sue - I thank you. May your 8-bit memory live on better than mine…

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Here Be Spuds!

I know that I'm probably a little old to be excited by the fact that when you plant seeds, things tend to grow, but honestly, look at this picture and tell me that it's not ace that you can put four potatoes in the ground and get this many back. Beats the return on the pokies, I tells ya.

Some baby potatoes, aged three hours. Aw bless.

I Hear the Train A'Coming

Newspapers and commuters have been getting a little hot under the collar here in Victoria this week about Metro Trains, the Hong Kong based suckers who yesterday officially took over from the much-hated Connex as the private operators of the Melbourne train network.

Unsurprisingly their first 48 hours in charge have been full of the same kind of commuter-torturing fuck-ups that typified Connex’s reign. Personally I think it was a bit hopeful to expect a smooth handover of a system responsible for over 500 million journeys a year, but still the press have been dispassionately quick to point an accusing finger and seek out angry commuters to tell us that how their lives have been ruined by public transport.

I think I’ll give Metro a chance to get their feet under the table before I eventually decide that they're a bit rubbish, but I will say now that I’m disappointed by their decision to re-record some of the on-board passenger announcements. A daily highlight of my journey was pulling into North Melbourne station and hearing the robot-lady advise passengers that they might wish to 'change here for trains to Werribee, Williamstown, Sydenham and (with a voice bordering on the incredulous) Craigieburn?!' I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d added 'Really? Craigieburn? They have a train station?! In Craigieburn? Those fuckers? Really? Craigie…? Burn...? Get the fuck out of here! Craigieburn?! Well, fuck me…'

Sadly I noticed today that Robot Lady has seemingly come to terms with the inclusion of Craigieburn within the Greater Melbourne public transport system and no longer sounds quite so disbelieving. Shame. Perhaps Metro Trains has been counselling staff – of real and artificial intelligence - to cope with anticipated trials ahead. If they haven't then I’d suggest that they start now… pretty soon they might need it.