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The Archive of Blackframes.com.au posts

Old posts from the original Blackframes site

All Day I Dream About Supermarkets

Lach Ryan

foodomans

I find myself in a peak activity period of my life. We’ve just bought our first house, relocated to a new city and are about to welcome into the world our second youngster. This is a time of rapid, confusing and sometimes awkward change; a life-puberty almost. With such a load on my mind, you would think I would be having sleepless nights as I wrestle with these new changes. That I would be struggling to adapt before ‘the second one’ (that’s what we are calling the baby...’runner-up’ seems a bit disparaging) arrives. That these big concepts would be consuming my thoughts as I try to focus at work.

But that isn’t the case.

Almost in rebellion to the scope of what is before us, my mind seems captured by only one subject- Supermarkets.

I am obsessed by them!

In our new area, we are spoilt for choice. I can triangulate my house using the three local Aldis and we sit just outside of another Bermuda triangle of Coles, where independent grocers and competitive pricing have been known to disappear. Woolworths have a smaller presence in the area, but I have never been swayed by their wares. I find there rotisserie chickens more akin to moist rubber ducks. I also like how they insist on ensuring Robbie Williams receive increasing royalties for ‘Angels’ by playing it instore constantly.

Aldi is exotic to me. I read their catalogues like a Spanish nobleman perusing a list of Columbus’ finds from the new world. “What is this Cat Cave you speak of? Bring me one of those!” I once ventured into one, but was overwhelmed and taken advantage of by locals. Friends suggested going on a group tour, so I am planning on booking something with Trafalgar in the spring.

Coles is a place I am much more familiar with. Sure it doesn’t have Jamie Oliver fronting their ads like Woolworths, but they’ve got RSPCA approved chickens and eggs, a status Mr Oliver himself is yet to attain! I was deeply sad to say goodbye to our inner-city Coles. It was the showpiece in the Coles supermarket stable, so advanced and modern it was featured in their ads. Do you know how validating it is to pick up your weekly cucumber from the same pallet Curtis Stone leant against in the Hormone-free Beef ad? Of course you don’t! You probably shop at an IGA.

I was looking for something more. Something to fill the supermarket sized-hole in my heart that Pascal blamed on God. That’s why nothing could have excited me more, not the arrival of my forthcoming offspring, a Lonely Planet guide to Aldi or the destruction of the Angels recordings master tapes in a house fire that also claims the life of Robbie Williams, than the news of a brand new Coles.

Down the road from our new house sits the latest offering from the Coles people, an experiment in Human behaviour as much as it is a supermarket. This store is big enough to park a 747 in, with unique sections for the non-edibles (in most people’s diets) such as socks, baby goods, cosmetics, crockery and party supplies. The aisles are the length of a bowling alley and the width of Kim Kardashian’s front door. Stocked on its shelves are foods from exotic places such as India, the unknown country of Asia and someplace called Britain?

I had been there for just over an hour when I thought I should text my wife to explain why the short trip for a few essentials had turned out to be much more. She probably thought I had tried my luck again at Aldi and got lost.

I texted her “This place is insane!”

Her response came quick. “You’re talking about a supermarket!”

Hopefully you’ll notice that we both adhere to the rules of grammar when texting. Sure we are wasting valuable micro-seconds of our life each text, but YOLO right?!

But I knew she was wrong. That place isn’t just a supermarket. It is an escape. A state of mind. A mind that is too occupied with local supermarkets than the big issues of life currently facing it. A mind that may, just after all, be a little insane.

Now excuse me while I go read the weekly specials catalogue.

 

Saint Alan- Patron Saint of car parking

Lach Ryan

Roger-Moore-The-Saint

Last week I was crawling the streets of the CBD, engine lowly running, stalking pedestrians like an interstate businessman in the red light district, hoping one of them would hop into a departing vehicle. With no car parks forthcoming, except for those in the multi-storey carparks (that ironically only tell one narrative –the ode of the overcharge), I turned to higher powers. I bowed my head with one eye on the road. This was more to keep an eye out for cops policing the new anti-prayer while driving laws, rather than for safety. I then did it. Prayed 2013’s third most requested prayer (behind weight loss and the cessation of banjo-fuelled rock). I asked God for a carpark...and on the third day (it was a Wednesday night) a park opened up between a Mazda and a Honda like Moses parting the imported small-to-medium-sized-vehicle sea.

I am not a Catholic. I don’t pray to Saints, however my recent run in has me curious if there is a Patron Saint working the carpark prayer hotlines. Afterall, who would the Pope call on when parking the pope-mobile during the Christmas shopping rush?!

Let’s say there is one and let's call him Saint Alan. Scholars, Theologians and Historians you ask will probably differ on his story. Some will say he once worked for Henry Ford,  going ahead of the great man to reserve a parking space in close proximity of his destination. Often lying face first in mud to reserve a spot until his arrival.

Another popular tale has Alan as a modern saint, holding the fort at an Edinburgh inner-city church carpark during the 60’s and 70’s. He would volunteer his time to park cars during the days and weekend nights, raising valuable funds for polishing the Church’s organ. He tragically lost his life trying to protect a VW Kombi van from a gang of soccer hooligans.

Some Catholics will even tell you he was a well meaning, roller-skating parking inspector in post-Cold War Berlin, who would often top up citizens nearly expired meters.

We don’t really know if Alan was a real man, or if he is even formally recognised by the Catholic Church. All I do know is God seems to help those who help themselves to after-hours loading zones.

Little Lion Man

Lach Ryan

Lion Man

My three year old son has so much natural energy it would make a wind farmer weep. I put it down to the simple fact that he is three and male. Speaking with a few friends who have multiple kids, (and whose family name was dishonoured by not bearing a male as their firstborn) they are surprised at the difference in intensity between little girls and boys. Right now my guy is obsessed with two things- nightly wrestling matches and pretending he’s a lion. The lion thing comes from watching too much Lion King and I put the wrestling down to a combination of testosterone release and being inspired by the Mexican wrestling mask he was given as a present. El Kido (as he likes to be known) is full-on, coming at me like a young lion cub taking on the older lion. The dual combination is apt. Young boys are just little lions wanting, and sometimes waiting, to roar. We shouldn't cage them- life will do that for us eventually. The role of a father is like that of Siegfried and Roy- we are to tame the lions. To control their natural, raw expression into something that can be focused...and maybe sold-off like thousands of showbiz parents before us.

The example of a lion isn't just a convenient analogy allowing me to craft a few hundred words around some witty gags. My kid is a pseudo Simba!

Just this afternoon I had de-claw him with clippers after he scratched up my face like Michelle Pfeiffer auditioning for her role in ‘Batman Returns’. The child has taken to roaring when he is angry, which can be hard to explain when buying cured meats from the Deli. My wife is frustrated with a lack of progress regarding toilet training but I suspect he is just marking his skinny jeans as his territory, so other style-deprived children in his day-care don’t try and take them. When it comes to day-care, he has been bitten a few times by another pesky cub but that was probably part of a struggle for leadership of the playground. When it comes to hunting, he has recently joined in with his father, helping take down a wild and large capricciosa (no anchovies), even stealing the last piece from his old man.

Eventually this cub will grow a mane,probably still in primary school if he’s like his Dad, and go off and start a pride of his own. My job is to teach and protect him until then, keep him away from poachers and Broadway productions of Disney classics.

I know that society is not too fond of wild lions, big or small, roaming around. I just hope that the schools and offices he finds himself in don’t end up caging the pure, expressive energy of that Little Lion Man.

Looking for Love on the Open Housing Market

Lach Ryan

model house

House hunting, in the internet age, borrows much from online dating. It's all a big search to find 'The One'. Purely mobile app based, you simply filter your desired results based on location, numerical range (age and price) and features (a voluptuous figure is like original hardwood floors). US- FHB’s with GSOH willing to RSU (roll sleeves up). Needs to be close to good schools, coffee and Thai takeaway. Needs to be away from Bogan’s with rusting car lawn sculptures.

YOU- mid-century brick, 3BDR, OSP, good bathroom. Likes young families, being dressed up and having your garden done. Non-smoking, AC and pet friendly preferred.

You send an enquiry to show your interest and if all seems OK, a date is set to meet. You prepare yourself the morning of the inspection, thinking that this could be the first time you meet ‘The One’. Driving down the highway, expectations high, you hope they too are preparing themselves to look their best...

Too often however, you find yourself turning up to these the property blind dates, the open for inspection, and being disappointed that she looks nothing like her photos online. Couldn’t she at least put on some foundation and cover those imperfections and age lines?

To begin with she is obviously older than she led you to believe. Not only that, but the backyard is in total disarray and who even knows what to do with upstairs. Quickly into your meeting, you get the impression she comes with baggage and there is far too much work to be done. You can see that if some guy who was good with his hands spent the time fixing her up, she might be something special. But that’s not going to be you. Not at this stage of your life. Besides you’ve got kids to think about and this is not the type of environment you want them to be around.

Then you try something different. For a while you start hanging out at the reception bars of real estate agents. Reception bars aren’t the right place to meet your dream home. They only attract junior agents trying to offload you deceased cat lady estates or old meth labs.

Your other option is to just play the field, become an investor and negative gear your way through the market. Throw yourself around with multiple properties, just looking for your own returns not worried who you screw in the process.

But how long can it go on? The only other option is to rent. That is real estate de facto, where neither partner trusts the relationship to properly commit beyond 12 month periods. It’s also not the best environment for kids. Plus the government doesn’t look as kindly on it as they do those smug types, coupled up with their own home. We often talk with them. Those who have found their dream home. They smugly tell us the trick is to not try. It will just happen. “You’ll feel the spark and you will just know” they say.

You’ve just got to keep on believing 'The One' is still out there. That it will come along soon. Hopefully really soon, before we grow old and end up living in a tent by the side of the freeway growing tomatoes from discarded McDonald’s thickshake cups.

The Secret Life of Promotional t-shirts

Lach Ryan

Logo here

A promotional t-shirt, like chicken pox and broken hearts, is something we have all had at one point in our lives. You know these tee types- wearable advertising given to you from a fun run, swim event, annual conference, retail, promo, team activity, branded giveaway, charity cause or election campaign. The 90’s was the golden era for promotional t-shirts. The internet hadn't yet taken hold and marketers were looking for an alternative to print, so the 180 gsm cotton t-shirt reigned supreme.

I still remember my first. I received it in 1992 when I was 10. The promo was for a lite milk company celebrating their endorsement by then Olympic swimming champion Kieran Perkins. It was decorated in a full-body Kieran Perkins signature, accompanied by about 17 milk logos. The best thing about it was the color- a muted fluorescent yellow that looked like the ink from an impotent highlighter.

‘Milky Kieran’ as I affectionately referred to it, would go on to see me through summer nights as a pyjama top or occasionally accompany me to the beach, like a 10 year old boy’s equivalent of a sarong. Casually thrown over Speedos, a golden tee to protect me from the sun’s golden rays and golden Ray the resident beach pervert. I don’t specifically remember other kids complimenting me on the tee, but I have the photo and memories that more than sustain me to this day.

What is it about a promo tee that makes them cease to have a life outside of their moment? They are the Cinderella of the clothing wardrobe. They have their moment at the ball then are quickly relegated to the role of gym gear, pyjamas or work wear. Granted not all elements of our society hide them away. Farmers and tradesman are more than happy to indulge in some campaign-chic, donning inspiring numbers from the studios of our top paint, plumbing, fertilizer and insurance brands. You only need to head to an op/thrift shop to find whole aisles dedicated to them, represented by the likes of: “Organten 34th Annual Hamster Jamboree” “I ate Big Bill’s Fish Boat Roll” “Beekeepers Union Spring Conference Canberra 1996” “A vote for Fabian Legg is a vote for uni-cycling”

The great thing about the op/thrift shop is they act like a museum to the art of the promotional tee. Here all the elements of a good promotional t-shirt are on display. Poor cuts, unused pantone colourways, horrid typefaces and prints that look like they were created by injured animals walking across the keyboard of a Mac. However, I think there is something wrong with a society that relegates these archives of advertising to sub-standard clothing roles. The first promo tee was produced for The Wizard of Oz in 1939 (true fact) which was made from cats wool and steel (unconfirmed fact). That is 75 years of fashion history which we can’t just throw away. This weekend, I ask you to not wear your promotional upper-garment during physical activity. Instead give it an iron, match with a dress pant and take it out somewhere nice. Show the world your best kept fashion secret!

Ode to Fish ‘n’ Chips

Lach Ryan

FnC

There is a tradition that is not only specific to Australia, but to the season of summer. In a world of mega, franchised take-aways and hipster food vans, one retro delicacy stands the test of salty time. They are humble in both their ingredients and their packaging and recently, during a midweek meal by the bay,I was reminded of their simple brilliance. I write today to pay respect to the understated delicacy that is fish n chips.

Fish and Chips are traditional and extremely popular throughout the Commonwealth countries, especially along the coast. The great thing about the fish n chip tradition is also about how the meal itself is consumed. What makes them so quintessentially a summer meal is the cultural trait of eating them by the beach.

Families in Australia will often purchase their fish n chip, and then head to a local beach, beachside park or ocean lookout and feast away. No one is quite sure where this tradition originates from, but Anthropologists suggest it has something to do with a need to eat food closest to where it originally came from. This is quite a weird practice when you think about it...it’s not like people turn up to farms every time they have a steak. In Australia, the standard ‘fish’ served with your order is known as flake, a type of shark meat. This allows Australians the opportunity to get back at the sharks. An “eat them before they eat us” approach. It has never really been publically discussed, but perhaps if the Australian public stopped eating sharks, then the sharks would stop eating them.

The paper parcel in which the food is wrapped adds to the mystique of the meal. The brilliance of the paper wrap is that it doubles as a plate for serving. Hazards tend to exist when consuming fish and chips outdoors. In the wild, their natural predator is the seagull. Hordes of gulls will descend on your picnic spot as soon as they hear the rustle of paper being unwrapped. It’s for this reason I suggest you don’t hold Secret Santa gift-swaps down by the beach, lest ye be preyed upon by hungry gulls looking to eat the ceramic handcrafted, toilet roll holder Darlene in Logistics crafted you. To keep seagulls at bay, families will often allow their dogs and toddlers off the lead to go and chase them away.

If you have never experienced fish and chips, make it a priority this summer!  F ‘n’ C shops tend to be more plentiful near the coastline, but still can be found inland. However, you might want to follow my grandfather’s wisdom who, paranoid about food poisoning, refused to eat fish unless he could see the ocean. Late in his life he developed cataracts and, as he was a devout Catholic, every Good Friday we would have to serve him dinner in an inflatable boat in the bay.

Hot, convenient, inexpensive, satisfying and just a bit wrong, nothing tastes more like summer than fish and chips! Except maybe sunscreen

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Lach Ryan

Christmas look

It seems retailers are trying to push Christmas out to a nine month season, launching it earlier and earlier each year. This year I swear that no sooner had the last melted Cadbury cream Easter egg been wiped off the shelf, then they were being replaced with little chocolate Santas, quicker than you could say '"Holy-chocolate-covered-religious-holidays!" So how do we know when Christmas has officially begun? This helpful checklist below will help you know when it’s all systems go with the Ho, Ho, Ho.

Invitations for work end-of-year parties - it's the end of another corporate year (nearly...late November when the function venues are a bit cheaper) and its time to celebrate our wins (ignore the losses...particularly those relating to staffing positions, funding, court cases or revenue). Let's all get together as a team/family (far-fetched perhaps, but what is the appropriate collective noun for a bunch of strangers forced to spend 8 hours a day together? Inmates?) and have some fun (as much as $44.95 per head will allow, in-line with the HR Party Policy distributed as an attachment to this invite).

Increased trading hours (and catalogues) - Did you know that Buypoint Heights Shopping City Metro Square will be open for the entire month? That's right; we won’t be closing our doors! Come on down, do some present shopping, meet Santa plus the local teen street gang that now lives in our foyer. Not sure what to buy for that person you feel obliged to have a standby gift for in case they give you one? Don’t worry! We'll be sending you enough catalogues to your letterbox to paper-mache an elephant.

Pine trees- are like the jockeys of the tree world. They are ugly and people tend to only notice them one month of the year. I remember going to get a Christmas tree as being a significant event. You'd go with your Dad and your Grandfather out to the country to find the right tree, chop it down and bring it back home, with its aroma filling the house for the next few weeks. Nowadays you go to the Target post-Christmas sales to find a plastic imitation tree with laser lights, DVD player, WiFi and GPS at 50% off. You happily chop down the knees of the old man considering buying the last remaining one, take it home and let the toxic fumes of the Chinese-plastic fill your cupboard for the next year.

Talk of seasons, holidays and Xmas- if there is one thing Christmas can no longer be about, it's the Christ. Remove all references to it and talk like a tourism brochure in generalities about 'season' and 'holidays'. If you must, make it sound like a talent quest for Catholic priests and call it X-mass (extra 's' optional). It seems the baby in the manger has grown up to be too confronting a theological and philosophical question for today's human. We are more concerned with living in a world where a magical, frequent flying, red suited old guy drops off presents to kids he's been watching sleep all year. Not only that, but parents encourage their children to go sit on the lap of this fat weirdo while his elves (don’t even start!) take a photo of the whole thing. Best not to mention the story of God taking the form of man to live amongst us. That’s just too weird.

Kris Kringle- who is this strange dude and his weird gift giving process? Perhaps the most famous Kris to have ever lived, besides the guys in Kris Kross, his legacy is an approach to present giving that is both easy and infuriating. As one who finds this minimalist gifting custom a stress, the advice I received a few years back seems to work. Always give a cigar. Apparently people can’t get enough of improving their chances of gum and throat cancer, whilst looking like a fat financier.

End of year wrap up blogs - written by lazy bloggers just before they head off on their summer holidays to live it up at a foreshore caravan park for 10 days and nights of keyboard-free craziness. Nothing suggests more than the year list post that the creative juices have been squeezed fully out, and all that is now being served is pulp and rind. Occasionally though they can be helpful. Like the one I read today on the '10 Most Influential Cats of 2013'.

 

 

 

New life is what happens when you're busy making family plans

Lach Ryan

cabbage patch

The planning industry tends to be dominated by the big three- Financial, Wedding and Funeral. It seems that if you do the first one well, it will lead to many options for needing the second.  That in turn will often guarantee a craving to need the services of the third. Family planning though, is the hippy cousin of the planning big 3, long overlooked to attend industry functions since the rise of Google. The wisdom of family planning theory however, still has its place in modern life. I come from a family who practice the 'Band' model of family planning, one child for each of bass, drums, guitar, and vocals. The 'Nationalist' approach of 3 kids, (one for each of you and one for the country) and the 'Catholic' approach (one for each day of the week) although popular, never greatly appealed.  A friend once told me about the minimalist approach to family planning. It goes that you should just have two children, one to replace each parent.

I've always like that.

So it is with much excitement, anxiety and general wooziness (probably more from having been out in the sun for last few hours) that I write of the news of my impending fatherhood. Wifey and I have decided to create the sequel to the much-loved 2011 blockbuster that was 'Archer'. The studio was more than happy to green-light the project, and production on-set ran very smoothly. Unfortunately, Joel Edgerton was unable to reprise his role as 'Kind Hospital Security Guard 2' but there is a great cameo from Kirsten Dunst as a surly community dance instructor to look out for. We are now in post-production and the director is overseeing the final edit. We hope to have it released around late June 2014, just in time for the northern hemisphere summer season.

I am looking forward to strapping on the Baby Bjorn once again, and heading back into the ball-pit of newborn babies. The responsibility to steward and shape another life is one I take on with great enthusiasm. Having a little life that is completely reliant on you for food, shelter, clothing and comfort makes parenting a control freaks dream!

People keep asking me if we are going to find out the sex. I am undecided. What I will be sure to get the doctors to check is that it is human and not amphibious. Frog-children can start out very cute, but get extremely demanding when they are tweens.

Honestly I don't care if it is a boy or a girl; I will love it just the same. Either way, I will still make sure that it knows how to make people laugh, hold a decent conversation, kick a footy, throw a punch, cook a meal, handle money, pray, appreciate a coffee and that its Dad will always love it, no matter what.

Angel in a Mercedes

Lach Ryan

Vintage Mercedes

As a Kid, there was this one verse in the bible that intrigued me more than others. Hebrews 13:2 says "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares". I got the gist was of the text was about showing hospitality and kindness to all, regardless if they were familiar to you or not. For a kid, hospitality was easy- it just meant showing them where the toilet is,sharing your Cheezles and giving them a turn on your BMX. But this angel stuff is confusing for a 10 year old. How do you entertain angels? Do you need to get special catering for them?  Book a DJ? Perhaps organize a tour to Phillip Island?

A few week ago I think I actually got to experience this verse, but not in a way I imagined when I was a kid. Turns out angels don't ride BMX's. They drive Mercedes.

I was getting off the shuttle bus from my work commute, ready to jump on my scooter (I am aware of how tragically Bond-like my life is) when I spot in the mirrors a big, bronze Mercedes rumbling into the car-park. I smelled this thing before I heard it, oozing diesel fumes and making  noise a factory of Prius' could only dream of. It pulled up right next to me. The door popped open slightly, then was helped on the rest of the journey to 'open' by a seasoned, stumpy leg. The owner of the leg, and the car, was a stocky 60 something male with a type of grey-blonde haircut you purchase at a shopping center. His weathered face was looking me over, intently. I was slightly concerned by the dramatic nature of his arrival upon my evening, getting a strong Eastern European organised crime vibe from him. Then he spoke.

"How fast they go?" "What?..." "The scooter." "Oh right. yeah. ummm..  mostly sit on 40 round here but I've had it up to 80km comfortably." "That right? Gee. Never would have thought..."

Our conversation maintained this intensity and depth for another five minutes.

I observed that the Merc Man was very happy to be talking to me. Maybe I resembled a Ukrainian rockstar, maybe he was very lonely. Recounting the story now, it seems sleazy to have a 60 year old man strike up a conversation in a carpark, but I never got those vibes. It was an easy exchange between two beings. He seemed lonely if anything. He wanted someone to talk to about the ownership and economy of scooters, and in that time and place, I could offer that.

So I did.

Driving away, the simple and complete randomness of the exchange stayed with me. It wasn't that an old guy striking up small talk about the weather and auto-parts is that strange, it was the genuine enjoyment the guy seemed to get from the simple conversation and how in turn I enjoyed talking to him. What had just happened? Then that verse came back to me. Maybe I had just entertained an angel?!

So it turns out angels aren't into BMX's but they are intrigued by the mechanics of 150cc German scooters. But shouldn't they turn up and talk me through a big life decision? Comfort me in times of sorrow or doubt? Reveal a mission from God that I must complete with a quirky soundtrack? Aren't angels supposed to have wings, not 1990's era Adidas zip-pants?!

Maybe not. Maybe they are just about simple connections and helping us to realise that, ultimately life is about relationships and the ability to commute urban centers in an efficient manner. Still don't get how the vintage Mercedes fits in.

Real Men are Hands On

Lach Ryan

image

There is something about the hands. They are always there in front of us, reaching out into the world before any other member of body is brave enough to do so. Hands could very well be the most defining characteristic of the sexes. On women they can be svelte, polished, supple or sometimes just the slightest bit clammy and floury. A man's hands are like driftwood. Each should tell a shanty tale of a life of adventure. Formed in the waves of living life or, in the case of amputees and modern pirates, in a Chinese prosthetics factory. Today Guys, or pre-Men (PM's),  tend to have the paws of a hand-modeling doctor who is heir to a moisturizing company fortune.  I will volunteer quicker than a bored pensioner, that the work I do during the day is far from meaningful or manly. Spent hunched over a desk banging at Bill Gate's tuneless-keyboard, surrounded by 20-30 something women in a corporate hen house. About as hands-on as I get is the occasional tussle with the lid of a jar of pre-made salad dressing, for one of the ladies at lunchtime.

In many young men there is a simmering desire to do something more, something with the hands. Sometimes that urge is to punch the face of the invisible powers that be, other times it is the desire to fashion a middle finger at the monotony of corporate caging or simply just do a hand stand so at least some blood will rush to the head. A Real Man's ™ hands should see more action that a special forces soldier in Afghanistan. A Real Man™ is hands on. That means rolling up the proverbial sleeve, or in the warmer climates, revealing some shoulder. So what does hands-on look like in these confusing,web enabled, post-postal, metrosexualised times?

Sure you've got the option of all the classics trades for those who weren't keen on further education, ties, working indoors or making a standard wage with limited tax benefits. Then there are those accompanying classic male hobbies like fishing, knot tie-ing, dog patting, boar hunting, ball sports, tinkering with vehicles, engines and technology. Now there is nothing I love more than waking up in the morning, hands still intact, slamming a tumbler of whisky, shaving with my heirloom hunting knife then jumping in the ring at my local 'Y' for some bare knuckle boxing some local down-n-outs. But that's not all there is to the work of a Man's hands.

It should be more broadly acknowledged, that a real man's hands can also prepare a meal, type a tale, strum and bash out a set, paint a picture, snap a portrait, tend to the sick, comfort the lonely and hold the hand of a loved another. A real man should be able to show strength and sensitivity with the same set of hands.

Too easy it seems the pre-Men of our generation find themselves using their hands to hold themselves down. Grasping onto bottles, holding themselves back from their children, hitting out at irrelevant and invisible threats, keeping arms length from real relationships or just spending far too much time down their own pants. These 'dudes' are happy placing their palms out for a ticket to an easy ride, rather than putting their palms down on the wheel and just driving for themselves.

Far better men than I have said, and I agree, that one of the best things we can do with our hands is to pray. It's an act of admitting you can't do it all and need help from a higher source, that even my man-strength isn't enough. I often pray that God would guide my hands to do something good, something meaningful, something with purpose. Something manly. But then I look down at my hands, notice my nails and briefly consider if I should try a manicure...and realize there is a long way to go.

Real Men Don't Catch the Bus

Lach Ryan

weird bus

Riding the bus is a unique term. When you ride any other vehicle you are usually the sole driver. In reference to a bus, you are not even the driver! The ‘bus rider’ in this case is simply a passenger. All though undoubtedly unique and a bit special, adult bus passengers are not individuals. Recently I have been ‘riding the bus’ as part of my commute to work. This is a temporary state whilst other options are on hold, along with my masculinity. You will be disappointed to know that riding a bus doesn't even call for any unique attire. What’s the point of a man getting on, or in, a vehicle if he can’t even accessorize? We can’t come up with Bus-braces or similar?!

Transportation options for men have always been varied. More than just classic cars, iconic men have long transported themselves through time on equally masculine vehicles. We are talking cowboys on horseback, escaping POW’s on motorbikes, Lycra clad lothario’s on road bikes, gentlemanly giants in hot air balloon, astronauts rocking rockets, salty sea-dogs in submarines and billions of bros on boards. How one chosen to get from A to B has always been a reflection of the man himself.

There are some known options that don’t quite cut the mustard sandwich for any Real Man™. You could look at your yacht, tandem bicycle, llama and even roller-blades. But in this instance, I am talking about the bus. Real men don’t catch the bus.

Most young males will first experience the bus during their schooling. This is fine. It can be a place of many youthful memories. The bus is often the place that the Birds & the Bee’s turn into the Vultures & the Wasps. A space where the opposite-sex is clumsily approached, in preparation for a time when the backseat will be traded for bar stools.

I once stopped a bus, and I did it with nothing but the power of mime.

Each day on the way home from school we would cluster our bikes at the top of  the hill to chat, before heading our separate ways. We were always trying to one-up each other, and this particular day I decided I would do something none had tried before; mime.  As a luxury coach (the type used to take your Nanna to the city once a month to see some TV host from 20 years ago perform in musical adaption of Cheers!) passed, I seized the moment.

Gracefully I mocked throwing an unwanted apple core at the Bus windshield, complete with the follow through of a Yankee’s outfielder. The driver reacted just like the flying fruit safety video advised, locking the brakes manically with all disregard for his, his passenger’s or any other vehicles general safety and desire to live. Not one to wait for the applause or admiration of my colleagues, I bolted; using everyone of the 12 speeds on my bike to get home.

The next day we were hauled before Assistant Principal Lovejoy (real name!) and scolded for practicing mime likely to cause injury in a public space. I felt bad, but then frustrated. Who is that stupid to react in such a way to mimed fruit? Bus drivers.In much the same way dentists are believed to be failed medical students, bus drivers are thought to be failed tank drivers. That, or ex-prisoners and just those with a dislike for their fellow man.

No man ever dreams of growing up to be a bus driver. It is something some people just end up doing , much like orienteering. No man really dreams of continuing to ride the bus during adulthood either. Look at any urban bus today and you will see it populated with majority females. On the shuttle bus I commute on, I am the only male. The bus must look like some weird cult group on our trip into town for supplies.

Most men found on a bus will be there by court or doctor’s order. Nobody chooses the bus. Even eco-greens will use all their solar powered savings to buy a Prius before ever riding the bus.

If like me, you’re currently catching a bus, you’ve got yourself Zone 1 all-day pass to an unmanly ultimatum. The good thing about the bus is they stop regularly, allowing you to get off and get on with more manly ways of commuting. Like a scooter.

Real Men Don't Eat from Cans

Lach Ryan

eat can food

Whether it’s a bumper crop, a feature film, a balanced budget or just a few kids, real men produce. So when it comes to food, something we do three times per day, a man must be productive. Food is sustenance. Without it, shelter, water, emotional support, a torch and perhaps an strategy for dealing with wolves, life will cease to exist. That is why I am stating that Real Men™ don’t eat from cans, jars or tubs. One thing a jar has never produced (besides affordable housing) is a proper meal.

Now to clarify, I do understand that occasional these receptacles may be the chariot by which certain ingredients arrive in dishes; however they are not intended to be the plate itself. Men at heart are hunters, bringing down the beast of the lands and the plants of the rugged soil (you try making vegetarianism sound sexy). This has been the case ever since God clicked the Swatch watch of time onto 'go'. The new hunting grounds are now at the wholesale markets, local farmers market or roadside stalls where men can get proper with produce. But wrestling with a hygienic sealed lid that even Ironman would struggle to open, is not 'cooking'. No matter how creative you can be with a can-opener, it’s not the makings of a Masterchef audition routine.

To dismiss food preparation as a lady-skill is pure folly, like believing socks and sandals to be a necessary combination. Most of the world’s greatest chefs are male. Our mothers and sisters have longed delivered from the kitchen, but when the heat is applied and the cupboard bare, a man must step in. We've got it wrong. Women have it easier in the kitchen. Why did we choose the backyard? Get them under the hood or on the tools while you get your hands into a cake mix. It's an easier way, plus it ends with cake.

Men should know how to cook. I can think of nothing worse than being an old man, my wife long dead from the zombie virus that I survived thanks to my Swiss Army knife, and being unable to generate a regular meal for myself. My hunting reduced to nothing more than a feeble reaching at cans on the shelves of my local Coles, not caring if it is cat food, apricots or coconut milk. I would rather decapitate myself with the serrated blades of the can-opener than subject myself to that sort of daily menu.

So what is to be done about remedying this trend? Man up and buy a cook book! Can't read? Then watch TV or the Internets. There is this guy Jamie Oliver who is pretty killer at doing cooked food. Listen and learn from him. Stop opening the jar/cans and start opening your minds. Women love a man who can cook. Men love women who can cook, so you really can’t lose.

There is well known saying - "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime".

I would add “Teach that dude to cook; and you've got the makings of a successful seafood restaurant."

 

Real Men Don't Walk Small Dogs

Lach Ryan

Chihuahua

At the of risk sounding like a workshop at a juvenile detention center, ‘What is Masculinity?’ In our current state, this notion is as loose and wide as a sumo wrestler's favourite pair of Calvin Kleins. Constantly it is examined in the media through the lens of love, war and circumcision. Sometimes it is easier to chip away at the outer chocolate shell of what-is-not, until you are left with what-it-is; a delicious ice cream of man-truth. In that spirit, over the forthcoming series of posts, I will take a stand and define what Masculinity is not. First item on my agenda- young gents walking their female partner's small dogs. Where have all the real men gone? I can tell you they are not out walking a Maltese Shihtzu!

This small, cultural ripple threatens to become a wave that drowns me in first world anger. Every evening I see them. Perfectly normal-looking young gents, in the prime of their lives, strolling like owned pets at the behest of their female lovelies. Trotting after designer, cross-inbred toy dogs attached to nothing but a bright coloured ribbon masquerading as a lead. Their robotic expressions tell of an argument lost long-ago. Both man and beast striding in neutered solidarity. Clearly these dogs represent not only a domestic compromise, but a compromise on what it means to be male.

What has created these dog walking wash-outs? Premarital cohabitation? High density living? Hollywood? Experimental dog-breed offerings not seen since German science labs in WW2? When did it become OK for any self-respecting man to be seen within a drop kick of these things? A real man should have a real dog. Think  dingoes, wolves, junkyard mutts and German Shepards like Inspector Rex. Not all man-dogs need to be aggressive. A Labrador is probably the closest thing in temperament in the animal world to the average guy.

I think it is safe to say a real man does not exercise something he could feasibly eat in one sitting. He does not stroll with something that has both been in a handbag, and has a miniature superman costume, unless its his own child. He doesn't engage anything with the descriptor 'miniature' in front of it, unless it is golf or a chocolate bar.

I appreciate it is a slippery slope when you question a demographics masculinity, but if all we achieve today is that we can cross   'walking the dog, regardless of breed' off the list of qualities of a 'Real Man' than we can all walk a little taller.

 

Don't Fear the Beard, Man

Lach Ryan

Beardie

I used to think there are just a few things left that only Men can do - pee standing up, front a metal-core band and grow a beard. After  hearing  of a friend's recent music festival experience, it seems it is only the beard that remains. The beard is truly the last bastion of masculine traits, one not equalized by females. The mighty beard. A strong, aggressive expression of testosterone worn like an apron of hair around one's jaw. An apron that seems to taunt "If you're thinking of coming into this kitchen, you better wear a hairnet amigo,  'cos its gonna get all kinds of beardy." I have been struck and inspired by just how many guys in my daily interactions are currently sprouting some face follicles. What started as an ironic hipster-trend has now morphed into something more. It's as if we've all reached into the cupboard of masculine expression and found beards, discarded like an old jacket left up the back between short shorts and utility belts.

Society has tried for many years to domesticate Men, caging us like lions. Anyone who's ever kept lions knows the second thing you do is trim their manes. The first is to check they aren't from Narnia or a licensed property of Disney. When a lion's mane is taken from him, so is his identity. Now the Lion doesn't know what he is. He's there thinking "Am I a cat? Am I a tiger? Am I a mortgage broker?" As soon as he is confused, he is ready to be tamed and remolded.

It is much like that for many men. Corporate puppies told by their masters to keep clean shaven. Why? Because with a beard comes power. The power of  potential.There is a cultural tide turning back to the way of the beard. An undercurrent of Men are forgoing the razor, and letting stubble turn to growth. A growth, I believe,  that is as much on the inside as it is on the outside.

It should be noted however, that a study by the University of New South Wales proved that women find some facial hair more attractive than none. Guys are meant to be hairy. Somewhere along the line grooming got out of whack and we started shaving everything (side-note- perhaps God intended pubic hair to be some sort of sexual velcro?). Marketers want us to be as smooth as boys, hair and care-free.

I look at my work. A couple of the managers have recently stopped shaving and cultivated some fun fuzz. I realised I started to feel more free to express my urges. I have never been a regular shaver (twice a week at best, with an almost constant state of stubble fit for an early 90's action star), I realise my reaction to my manager's highlights how much we buy into the social stigma of the beard. Men need to rebel. Like the Digital agency director I know, sporting a bushranger beard. Or the Life Insurance guy who's keeping his ginger mane long to entice his fiance. One of my best mates is, like me, not blessed with much on top. But he is once again able to embrace grooming via the hair on his chin'n'cheek construction. My father-in-law is so defined with his beard it has become a part of him. Family and friends wouldn't know him without it and he'd probably need to apply via deed poll to shave it.

In the 60's women burned bras. Freed from having their breasts under arrest, they were able to feel the potential of their physical identity as women. So could not the beard be this for men today? God knows we need it. Generation after generation of guys wandering lost and confused as to what it means to be a man. Walking out on children and marriages, hitting out through misguided aggression, faltering with true expression and imploding into depression. Could the simple act of cultivating, caring for, committing to and maintaining a beard start to redefine a new sense of Masculinity? A beard makes a much cooler path than the other option - a bonsai tree.

So maybe all these beards that are appearing are the outward expression of something growing inside alot of guys. Maybe it is the age I am at, when we stop being 'Guys' and start to become Men. But we shouldn't fear beards. They represent hope that good Men are still possible...and that shaving is for women's underarms and legs.

 

Vitamin D is for Deficient

Lach Ryan

ku-medium

Cometh the winter, cometh the medical trend reports. If it’s not bird, swine or albatross flu, it is warnings of a super-zombie virus immune to soup. Right now the hottest thing in medical trends since Tahitian tongue tinea is Vitamin D deficiency. Australian’s may live in one the driest, sun drenched clear-skied countries on the face of God’s great green, groaning, gulping, groovy, gothic, gassy, googly earth but that we are told this not enough. It seems the shift from the anti-cancer council message of Summer's “Don’t go out in the Sun” has become so effective that  Health authorities have come out with a Winter version “Please, go out in the Sun...its getting kind of weird.” This mixed messaging has left the Australian public in a standstill, confused and pasty white.

What is vitamin D? It’s a hormone that helps your body soak up calcium, ensuring you keep your bones and muscles intact. In the past vitamin D deficiency was the cause of rickets, but now it is more closely linked to sales of fake tan, supplements and the concerns doctors give otherwise healthy people. More concerning is that it has recently been linked to Cancer. This means too much sun is a bad thing, but so is not enough. 'Enough' is classed as 2-3 hours per week of direct exposure onto the skin during the winter months. However, it also appears the vitamin D is a racist little brat,  as a bigoted 3-6 hours are recommended for those with darker skin.

Yummy staples like eggs, fish, liver and some milk has been known to boost Vitamin D levels.To counter the risks of deficiency, a focused diet can be enjoyed to optimize vitamin D uptake. Why not enjoy a simple sandwich made of two slices of bread, a piece of liver and 11 crushed fish oil tablets drenched in milk and served with a boiled egg? Most people would rather risk the osteoporosis than submit their taste buds to such punishment.

We have become increasingly paranoid about our VD levels (not that one... it grows without impediment), as testing levels have increased by five times that from original rates 8 years ago. Among those at risk include the elderly, pregnant, the pregnant elderly and shift workers (excluding  those employed at  7-11 and other fluorescent lighted environs).  Particularly vulnerable is anyone who covers-up for extended periods of time such as ninja’s, superheroes, morph suit enthusiasts and beekeepers.

Let's get real. In this busy, microwave meal, bag-less vacuum, working world we don't have time to sit in parks flaunting our rolled cuffs to the gaze of the solar rays. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels - go see a doctor. They will be more than happy to give you some pills. Pills that basically give your system the same vitamin D hit you would get from 20 minutes of daily sun exposure. Meaning you no longer have to go outside! But be warned. When next year's winter medical warnings come through, and they link vitamin D supplement pills to an outbreak of Vampire-ism, don't come looking for my blood.

Coveting is a Cancer and a Killjoy (or How I bought a New TV)

Lach Ryan

black_white_tv

A week or so back I bought a new TV. Earlier the same week I also got an ‘all clear’ from a type of medical test you want clearance from. These two things are unrelated. In a way.

The Doctor didn’t say “Well Mr Ryan you don’t have cancer, so I recommend you go out and buy a new TV.”

Me: “Really?”

Dr: “Yes its standard medical practice now. Last week I informed a woman her haemorrhoids would clear without surgery, then I advised her to get a new fridge.”

Me: “I see. What’s the thinking behind this? Some sort of psycho-physiological positive reinforcement? Treating my body for not been crap?”

Dr: “Yes that and my brother-in-law manages the local Good Guys. You pay less for cash there, you know.”

So out I went and saw Dr Senjakrumi’s brother Devon and got myself a great deal on a new TV.

Basically the situation was that our old TV had died. Not of cancer, but just old age. The set went and with it our belief that we could possibly entertain ourselves without it (not before a week and a half of dusty board games and half finished e-books).

Going into the electronics store, my aim had been to get a 42inch LED TV. The old set we had was 32inch plasma that looked more 2003 than a popped-collar on a polo shirt.

Walking through the maze of plastic LED walls, I passed the 32inch screens that once had satisfied my eyes. But next door to them was the future... all 42 inches of it. Those extra pixels cried out to me ‘Look. Look.’ Then I realised it just was an excited Vietnamese man hidden by the screen, showing his wife his latest discovery... a 50inch Full HD LED monster. Seeing me captivated by the Vietnamese gent’s set, the sales guy casually remarked “Why settle for 42inch when you can have 50inch? In comparison, 42inch just seems so small! You know now that you have seen it, you will always want bigger.”

There it was. The problem with everything. Until a few moments before, I was stoked with the 42inch set! It was 10 whole inches bigger than anything I had previously known. Then along came the Look-Look guy and his 50 inches of fury, and I had to have it.

I realised this act was symbolic. We are always coveting the next, literally, best thing. From iPhones to jobs, houses to partners, clothes to cars, holidays to food. Why can’t we be happy with what we’ve got? Can we not just enjoy it and be thankful for the fact that we actually have IT and not worry about upgrading or chasing THAT?

Unfortunately I am very competent at that type of behaviour. I did buy the 50inch screen but only because I got a deal where it was a $20 difference from the 42inch. Since I have had it, most of my friends that have come over have said... “Wow. It’s bigger than ours.” Then turning to their other: “I think we need to look at getting a new one too. It’s getting too small.” Last time I checked with the vet, TV’s don’t shrink with old age.

As broken humans we are conditioned to want what we don’t have. Pascal will tell you it is a God-shaped hole we are all trying to fill. I tend to agree, but that then means that God looks an awful lot like electrical appliances, crossed with a clothing rack and a sprinkling of Apple products. God actually was onto this early with his 10th Commandment, or as he called it - coveting.

In one month or one year, my new TV will be just my TV. Eventually it won’t even matter to me. Not in an immaterial sense, but a my-TV-is-now-old way. It’s been said many times before, but all these feelings pass and we need to be happy what we have now. Our partners, our friends, our house, our food...our health. It only takes a few days of waiting for a Doctors test result, with a your health on the line, to make you realise what you have is enough... and that it could, and eventually one day will, be all gone.

50inch is great, but 42inch is fine. For now. Soon they both won’t matter and that can be sooner than you think. But hey, everyone loves a bargain!

Healesville, Sanctuary of Strange

Lach Ryan

ANZAC Koala

Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia. A day to make biscuits whilst remembering those that died in past wars. A day that defines our young nation's character via the lens of tragic loss inflicted from conflicts vastly removed in relevance from our remote state. It also means a public holiday. Out of respect for the fallen, our country's retailers choose to close the doors to their premises until 1pm. This allows the general  public to reflect on the sacrifice of the diggers and wonder what to do. Some choose to attend special dawn services, others attend parades where the young watch elderly ex-servicemen walk aimlessly and wave ( in a nice reversal of the normal parade dynamic). Still others, as I observed, like to turn up to these closed shopping centers and sullenly hold a makeshift moment of confusion-fueled reflection. As they stand in the crisp mid morning, car keys in hand,  prompted to turn their thoughts from the shopping list to the lives lost in Afghanistan. We chose to head out of the city, to a place in the Yarra Valley- Healesville. The name of the place gets its origins from the first British settlers, who would often stop there on their travels to consult with an Indigenous Orthopedic specialist. The man, Gunjamarila (which is Aboriginal for Dr Toe) was said to be one of the first know practitioners of foot doctory. Here, settlers would get their bunions, achilles and excess fluid seen to.

Healesville today draws people for many reasons such as the food and wine offerings, its natural beauty and the native animal zoo known as The Sanctuary. Mostly it draws people due to an old scientific research project involving a magnet that works on the unique magnetism of people's personalities.  The magnet, a joint venture between the CSIRO and Tourism Board, is hidden within the town's municipal center and literally attracts hundreds of thousands of humans each year.

We however were there for the The Sanctuary, a place where wild animals who are placed into captivity for the benefit of international tourists, can feel safe and pampered. First we came across the cabaret-costumed, chicken-dinosaurs known as the Emu. Next to us were some North American tourists (couldn't tell whether they were Canadian or American, as they were neither ignorant nor wearing double denim) who  referred to them as Eemoos, making them sound like some sort of digital cow. In line with our nations coat of arms, Kangaroos were there too. In a pen. How do you contain Kangaroos? I hear they can leap over buildings in a single bound, are faster than a speeding locomotive and can stop bullets. They also contribute regularly to a major metropolitan newspaper. There was a Red, a Grey and a Silver one...much like ones options at any Volkswagen dealership.

Next was the main attraction- Koalas. A safe bet is that if you can see a Koala in the wild, somewhere within a 10m radius will be a German backpacker. After the war, Germans were looking for some purpose as a people. After much debate, it was decided they should wander the world in search of Koalas. The smarter ones eventually find their way to Australia, but you can't knock the enthusiasm of those in the Brazilian rainforest. I felt sorry for these Koalas, not because of Greta and Andreas constantly capturing every tweak of their fury face, but they way they lived. Each day they are propped into a carved eucalypt log loaded with the Koala equivalent of a brick of cocaine - fresh branches of gum leaves. Here they slam their face into the green goodness like Pacino in 'Scarface', machine gunning their onlookers with dazed disaffection.

We saw some enclosures where Platypus were supposed to be. Who knows if they were. The Dingoes were my highlight of the zoo. Up close, they appear as very similar to the common dog. Apparently they are all thought to have descended form one single wolf that immigrated across from Asia thousands of years ago, probably to study. It is no surprise then that their little in-bred brains make them go looking in tents for midnight snacks.

The whole exercise was to show our son Archer some native animals up close, but this point was clearly lost on him. He just kept requesting to see the gorillas. I explained that gorillas were an introduced species to this country, and haven't been seen in the wild since 1937 when one was spotted shopping at the Myer Mid Year sales.

Our trip was topped off by a quick stop at a Valley Dairy, where we tasted some locally made cheese. They had selections of Goat's and Cow's cheese. One with ash sprinkled over it and tasted better than anything that I've ever made  featuring charred ash. People who work in the dairy industry, to me anyway, all seem a little strange. Perhaps it is the oversupply of calcium in their diet. This guy was quite keen for me to try a slice of Human milk cheese he had been working on, a colostrum Camembert. It was at that point we said farewell to this overall-ed oddity and headed back to the city. I'll be stuffed if those brave souls sacrificed their lives at war, just so I can use my freedom to eat freak cheese! To adapt a Vandal's lyric "Australia stands for freedom, but are we truly free, if you can walk into a dairy and order some boob cheese?"

Appiness by the Kilowatt

Lach Ryan

anti social technology

It is likely you are reading this to simply distract yourself from the boredom of whatever life activity you find yourself in; commuting, eating, toileting, working, piloting, ruling, creating, procreating, taxidermy or even haberdashery. The fact is that we are all now wired for constant, meaningless Oh cool they are  touring at the end of the year!... Sorry I got bored writing that last sentence and checked Facebook. Where was I? Distraction- that's it. We are all wired (or is it wireless?) for constant distraction. If not via an web connected screen, it's via an iDevice. How many brunching mid-twenties girl packs do I have to behold, not engaging with each other, but their phones. How many guys aren't Man enough to stand in line with only their thoughts without putting their hand in their pants to play with their mobi-thing? Parents at parks capturing their kids first back-flip  engaged with the record button and not the moment. Couples on dates with nothing more to talk about than what lives people are editing for Facebook. Kids at live gigs reducing life affirming experiences down to pixels on a screen. Muppets simultaneously steering bikes and cars whilst getting angry with birds. From the desk to the couch, the bike to the bed, public transport to the toilet. We are all looking to tiny screens, just to stop looking inside ourselves.

Bit glum? I only need to look at my life.

Those moments I catch myself jumping onto apps in a vague attempt to distract myself from the dull waking hours. A bad day can tend to look something like this: Wake. Breakfast. Check apps. Work. Lunch with apps. Home. Check apps before dinner (recipe via an app). Upload dinner photo to app. More apps of an evening, whilst waiting for TV to improve and sleep to come. When waiting my my 2 yr old to fall asleep, I'll regularly switch between apps relating to new jobs, property for sale, home loan calculators, banking and the secret Instagram account I load selfies of my hands onto, trying to get modelling jobs. The apps trick me into thinking this availability of information in my hand will translate into a new reality. It never does. Doesn't sound good does it?  I should go see somebody. No need- they have an app for that now. This is appiness.

There needs to be an 'Off' button. Surely there is an app that locks you out of all your other apps for a set amount of time? One so we won't all be distracted. We could think and feel all those things (good and bad) that we haven't been, and go do something about them. All that would probably happen is TV ratings would go back up.

* If you are bored and looking for something then check out the song that vaugely inspired this post. Two different versions, same singer-songwriter| here + here