Nostalgia


When I was a kid, the best possible present you could get for your birthday was an Iced Vovo. This morning, as coincidence would have it, I came across this photo of me taken on my third birthday with my Dad making all my birthday wishes come true. Of course, the Iced Vovo was a much more decent size back then, as I mentioned in the last post.

[NB: Iced Vovos were not actually this big. I have achieved this illusion through the use of digital photo manipulation software called ‘Photoshop’. Some of my designer friends use Photoshop every day in their work, so it’s unlikely they will fall for such hijinks, of course!]

vovos

When I was a kid, the best treat you could possibly be offered was a pick from a plate of Iced Vovos. The Iced Vovo is a confection completely native to Australia, and, as far as I’m aware, has never spread beyond these shores. The Iced Vovo consists a biscuit crust overlaid with pink fondant1 which is bisected by a strip of raspberry jam. It is my memory that the Iced Vovo was a lot bigger when I was a kid, and has now sort of shrunk to a much less generous-sized item. I have asked numerous people about this, and everyone seems to be in agreement. It’s one of those things that’s rather hard to substantiate of course, there being no ancient Vovos still in existence. I do hold the fond hope that someone, somewhere in the 1960s thought to take a photograph of an Iced Vovo with a ruler for scale.

  1. NOT marshmallow – that was an entirely different treat, and, in my opinion, a rather more predictable one. []

When I was a kid the most coveted material possession of school life was a set of Derwent Pencils.1 Derwents were the créme de la créme of primary school artistic tools – without Derwents, your chances of ever becoming a new Picasso or Rembrandt were vanishingly small. Derwents were, however, also quite expensive, and my family wasn’t well off, so for many years I had to make do with the much cheaper Faber Castells, and the fond hope that I could, if fate was on my side, aspire to the crazy heights of illustrating pamphlets for the ladies down at the Lilac City Festival offices.

Then, one sunny day – I don’t even think it was my birthday – my mum gave me a box of Derwents.

I was in Pencil Heaven. Just look at that chromatic spectacle of luscious luxurious pencilness! No more scratchy Fabers! Derwents spread their rich waxy hues across the paper like a rainbow rolling softly out over a coarse grey sky!

True, it was just a box of 12 Derwents – not even close to Charlie Peerbohm’s set of two million…

…but they were Derwents nonetheless, and they were mine. It goes without saying2 that I took them to school the very next day, nonchalantly slipping them from my satchel and making sure I used them whenever an opportunity presented itself. I fancied that I caught envious stares from the kids still using Fabers, and I reveled in my new-found Pencil Czar status. Derwents of my very own! It was a happy day.

A short-lived happy day, as it turns out. I arrived home from school, still giddy from the day’s sheer brilliance, opened my bag… and with frightening suddenness an awful realisation closed in on me that somehow, somehow, I’d left my brand new box of Derwent pencils on the bus. Dammit! I even remembered taking them out of the bag and putting them on the bus seat. Why did I do that???! I was devastated. I ran to tell mum.

She looked at me with an expression that was completely inscrutable, and then did something that was unprecedented in my young life. My mother said:

“Oh well.”

And I knew instantly that I had irretrievably lost my Derwent pencils. That, as they say, was that. They weren’t coming back. I couldn’t blame my mum, she hadn’t lost them. And I knew it was completely unreasonable to expect her to get me another expensive set. I was angry. Not with her, but with myself. My pride was hurt and I felt cheated and powerless and stupid. And it was, indisputably, all my fault.

With the full understanding that I was very upset, my parents chose (wisely, I came to realise) not to simply buy me another box, nor to coddle me, but just to let me understand that sometimes life is shit and your only option is to deal with it.

And it set me on the road to discover that a man is a fool who takes anything for granted.

  1. Yes, things were much simpler back then. Now, apparently, kids expect to have phones and computers and all manner of other expensive concessions and treat it all like it was simply their right. “All the other kids have [insert desired item].” It’s not an argument that ever held water when I was a child. Where on earth did this overbearing and irksome sense of entitlement come from? []
  2. Just testing! []

Today it is seven years since my beloved Kate died. The time seems to have passed simultaneously quickly and slowly. I think of you often buddy and I miss you.

Violet Towne has been on holidays visiting me in Hollywood, and while she was here we took the opportunity to visit The Edison, one of the many cool nightspots that can be found in the great big sprawling City of Angels. The Edison, located in downtown LA in a former power station called the Higgins Building, promises a flashback into times when electricity was still a novelty, when the in-crowd dressed for a night on the town, and when cocktails were serious business rather than fluffy concoctions of gaudy alcoholic lolly water.

I read about The Edison over a year ago and it seemed like exactly the kind of place I’d find time to hang out, if it was half as good as it sounded. The club styles itself as a remembrance of things past – an antidote to the crass modern pickup joints that most nightclubs have become. The article I read emphasized The Edison’s draconian dress code: make an effort pal, or get your ass kicked back to the cheap margaritas and watery bourbon up on Sunset.

The Edison is dedicated to a resurgence of Old World style and sense of romance that once dominated Los Angeles Nightlife. Thus, innovative, sophisticated and cultured attire is required. We will always strive to more quickly accommodate those whose style and imagination suit the environment. Our door has sole discretion with regards to enforcement of our dress code.

Fair enough! This is not something that daunts either myself or Violet Towne, and so, dressed in our best retro 1900s contemporary fusion we headed off downtown to see what the best of the best had to offer.

True to the form of door bitches from here to Bullamakanka, the guy with the clipboard in front of The Edison was brimming with attitude. There was no way he was going to get us on dress code, so the best thing he could come up with was to ask for our ID. What? We’re being carded? I haven’t got the foggiest idea what this was all about – there’s no mistaking either me or VT for being under age, sad to say,1 and I really can’t think of any other reason he’d need to see ID. Prissy little power-monger. I fought back a very strong urge to call him ‘sonny’ and ask if his mum knew he was out this late. But all was well – we had a reserved table and he was plainly short on reasons to keep us outside, so in we went.

The Edison is a stunning place. The staff, dressed impeccably in a mash of couture that spans the fin de siècle to the 1930s, were polite and appropriately haughty. A descending stairway of impressive industrial gravitas takes patrons down into the club, which is arranged as an asymmetrical juxtaposition of halls and rooms radiating off a large bar. Each space has its own individual valvepunk flavoured interior design, and any of them would be a fun place to end up for an evening.

We were seated at a small table in the main room, a proto electric-age cathedral, with cascades of filamented light bulbs streaming from the ceiling, and every naked brick wall reflecting back projected images from the films of D. W. Griffiths and George Méliès. It was truly wonderful.

Drinks? If you would be so kind my good man! For Violet Town, an Absinthe ’75 – a cocktail made with Kubler absinthe, lemon and champagne. For me, The Edison – bourbon, pear cognac and honey. The recorded music meandered from Cole Porter to swing with detours via Gershwin and Tommy Dorsey. A pretty girl dressed as a green fairy appeared, pushing a little trolley of chemical flasks – flavoured absinthes by the test-tube. We each took a walk through the rooms – the early clientele seemed right in the spirit. There was a guy wearing a top hat and emerald green earrings, on his arm a woman in a long silk dress as red as fresh blood. Some kids who’d obviously escaped the ID screening looked pretty good in neckties and waistcoats, and their young girlfriends a little too dangerous under black veils.

For the first hour, it was the only place in the world I wanted to be.

And then it all went to shit.

Yes folks, the high-falutin’ talk of dress code, the pinch-nosed door Nazi, the pretensions to a time when things were… civilized… all seemed to melt down into a pathetic limp acquiescence almost on the dot of 9pm at which time there was an influx of the trashiest riff-raff I’ve seen this side of Marulan RSL.

Dress code? You say what? How did that guy with the cornflower blue shirt (no tie) and the plaid tam-o-shanter get in? What about the chap with the ill-fitting sports shirt (no tie) and tan slacks (did he come direct from his job at Kwik Kopy?) Or the girl with too much lipstick and the oh-so-teeny figure-hugging silver lamé dress? (No Atlas, that image you’re forming in your head is wrong. Add another 90 pounds to it, and reduce the dress by two sizes). What about those two sleazy guys in the black open-neck shirts with the gold chains? Innovative, sophisticated and cultured attire? If you’re in a Greek disco.

The only dress code I could see in operation here was ‘no flip-flops’,2 and I’m not at all sure that the doorman wouldn’t have turned a blind eye to that either if someone slipped him ten bucks.

Around about this time, the guy waiting our table completely lost the plot, screwing up our drink orders and vanishing off out of sight. It was like someone had flipped one of those big old relay switches on the wall and plunged the building into a dark mediocre funk.

And then, as if the invading hoi polloi had brought their own CD collection as well, the music also went to shit. Gone was the urbane swing and the jaunty Cole Porter, submerged by the same old thumpy crap you can hear in any nightclub in the Western world. Oh the humanity. It was vastly disappointing. It was like waking up from the best dream you’ve ever had and realizing it was a school day. It was like seeing Blade Runner for the first time and wishing you’d never seen the mawkish ending and that the movie had played out with the profound scene of Roy Batty and Deckard on the roof of the Bradbury Building.3

We stayed for another hour or so but the vision of what this place might have been had well and truly faded. Such a grand inspiration suffocated to death by the vast bland pillow of ambivalence.

Dear Edison owners: 10 big points for trying. No points at all for sticking to your principles. Somewhere this side of your grand vision, you appear to have well and truly lost your way, and it’s a great pity. Phone me when you really do have a dress code and taste that lasts at least till midnight, and when you’ve ditched the appalling and totally inappropriate ‘dance’ music. Then I’ll be back. Until then, I’m off to find The Tesla.

  1. Unless of course there is an upper age limit for The Edison – I hadn’t thought of that till just now. []
  2. In Australia it would be ‘No Thongs’ but that phrase has an entirely different meaning here. And I’m guessing that such a rule would have turned away at least half the female clientele, aside from being rather challenging to enforce… []
  3. Which is, coincidentally, only a few blocks away from The Edison. []



The blogosphere is a funny place, defined as it is by ephemeral digital bits that flit around the planet at speeds that were once inconceivable, and turn up on luminous screens as words and pictures of pretty much every imaginable sort. At this point in time there are probably somewhere in the vicinity of 200 million blogs on the web,1 and although the boom years of blogging have probably passed, the number is still growing.

Of course, of these 200 million offerings, barely a hand full are worth attending to, as we all know. And even of these, most settle into the well-worn, usually pedestrian, reiterations of the kind of media that we’ve had for centuries: magazines, news reports, gossip, diaries and opinionated grumblings.

In my opinion, the real potential of blogging has been overlooked by all but a very special few. Joey Polanski, or ‘Sir’ Joey as he is known around these parts, is one of those special few. Or, I should say, was one of those special few, for as many of you already know, a couple of days back, Joey brought down the curtain on his blog The Joey Polanski Show. I watched the lights go out in the JPS theatre with the greatest of sadness, because over the years, the flitting digital bits that have made their way to my screen from JPS Central have formed themselves into something quite remarkable: a friend.2 When I started blogging, I would never have thought something like that possible. Now Joey’s retirement is certainly not the same as if he suddenly disappeared and I never knew what happened – indeed, I even had warning that the Show was going to fold. But it does leave me with the feeling that an actual real friend has left town and that when I wander past his place all I’ll see from now on is windows with drawn shades and cobwebs forming under the eaves.

I think I do understand Joey’s reasons for closing up the show though. Sometimes a thing just runs its course, and the time becomes right to leave it be. I can’t imagine that happening at The Cow just yet, but I know I couldn’t absolutely rule out the possibility. Whatever the reasons, Sir Joey says that even though the theatre has gone dark, the old hoofer isn’t averse to a special appearance now and then and I hope that’s so.

I said before that Joey was one of a special few that, in my opinion, understood the real potential of blogging. The way I see it, anybody can write a diary, but it takes skill, and humour and prescience to understand the idea that a blog works best as a two-way street. This, indeed, is one of the reasons I think that the traditional media is having so much trouble with their presence on the net – they don’t understand the fundamental appeal of being an active part of the thing you’re reading.3 That was one of the very first things that attracted me to The JPS – even when I first started visiting YEARS ago, there was a constant amusing, sometimes hilarious, banter going on. It was like wandering into a party in full swing, and being handed a beer at the door.

The best thing was that Joey started coming to my parties too, and brought some of his infectious irreverent humour with him, and I know you’ll all agree that his shtick in the comments of some posts has often been more entertaining than the posts themselves. On more than one occasion I’ve even had to step back into the shadows and let Polanski and Atlas steal the stage entirely, and indeed, those two guys are responsible for big chunks of Cow Lore. It is without doubt a situation of the sum being greater than the parts.

Joey’s Shelf will remain permanently installed at The Cow. It’s in the basement (which I confess, is prone to flooding) but I do make sure that Sister Veronica dusts Joey’s trophies every now and then, and removes any of the crap that Atlas has dumped there. I urge you to visit The Shelf from time to time as a sort of homage to Joey. You never know what you’ll find.

Joey, thanks for all the good times over at the JPS. Thanks for the laughs and the pomes. And thanks, above all, for getting it.

So, as this sad era comes to a close, only one thing remains to be said:

Sir Joey Polanski: The Cow Salutes You!

  1. It’s actually hard to get an exact figure. This number is based on a best-guess estimation from Technorati and Google. It’s probably an underestimate if all foreign-language blogging is accounted for. []
  2. And a strange and wonderful kind of friend; the person who I know in my head as ‘Joey Polanski’ is a fiction concocted by a real person. I’m sure there’s a lot of that real person in Joey Polanski’s character, but I am always aware that ‘Joey’ does not exist in any corporeal way. And yet, I still conceive of him as a friend. What a remarkable a magic trick that is! []
  3. The Guardian gets it – there is an increasing involvement of readers in the Guardian site. The comments on many articles rage into enormously entertaining debates, and there are Guardian photography and writing competitions – active communities that feel like they are part of The Guardian world. Contrast that with Rupert Murdoch’s cloistered communities, dotted with doddering old fogeys who are wondering why the Letters pages are so empty all of a sudden. []

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