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Thursday, October 26, 2006

America's Next Top Model Series Seven #4

Rowr. Sssssssss.
The tension builds this week at the Module Mansion as benevolence turns to malevolence and nice becomes ice. We're reminded that it doesn't matter how pretty, poised and skinny you are – mixing dumb with evil always makes a volatile home brew. This is Whore Wars Episode 4: The Panty Menace.

· We're lulled into a false sense of girly fun as the modules let off steam by lining up some mattresses on the staircase of the Mansion and sliding down them, all the while screaming like a stove full of easily-pleased kettles. Ain't no Scrabble or book-learnin' in this house – when these girls are bored, they chuck themselves off the stairs.

· A Tyra-mail summons the girls all the way to the backyard for a challenge, where they're met by Miss Jay, who is resplendent in a white blouse and black tutu, curtsying on a tightrope. That's the brilliant, life-affirming thing about ANTM challenges – they make sentences like that possible. Realism: no. Sadistic, random activities designed with humiliation and physical injury in mind – Lord, yes. I'm starting a foundation to ensure that this show is preserved for future generations. Brooke remarks that "Miss Jay is soooooo fabulous", and even though she's speaking from the heart, it still sounds like she's translating some semi-obscured hieroglyphics. This week's theme is 'Balance and Posture', and the modules are asked to walk the wire whilst still showing emotion. Shouldn't be too hard, provided you include "Oh, f*ck, I'm gonna die" in your definition of 'emotion'. Caridee comments that she "can't even walk a straight line when I'm dead sober", and then proves it (emotions shown: fear, hilarity, concentration). Eugena the Boring mistakes "tightrope" for "flatline" (emotions shown: ennui, drug-induced coma), and one of the twins is unsure about the whole situation, saying "my sister's feet are really flat-feeted". Um…. honey? That probably means yours are, too. And you're like, really articulant and that. Melrose does perfectly on the wire, and we're reminded of the brimming Melrose/Monique war as Monique looks on, squinting with jealous rage like an angry powerpoint. Monique doesn't do so badly herself at first, but then falls after a quick maniacal giggle (emotions shown: jealousy, mental illness). Pointless. But good.

· We move back inside to the Gladiatorial Arena Du Jour – the phone-room.
In one corner:
Melrose the Mauler
Physical advantage: Butter wouldn't melt in mouth.
Special skills: Very, very big eyes. Crowd favourite. Not certifiably insane.

And in the other:
Mogadon Monique
Physical advantage: Looks like a mean bitch.
Special skills: Obvious mental disability. Excess of bodily juices. Spawn of Satan.

Melrose calls her mother in the phone-room, primarily to tell her about her new enemy, Monique. With impeccable timing and an impressive cat's-bum mouth, Monique storms into the room, wailing that she had already called dibs on the first phonecall. Unmoved, Melrose slams the door. On Monique's arse. See, girls usually don't get violent, because we're too good at storing up hatred until it pours forth, like so much bitter green bile, in caustic verbal tirades. We haven't had much practice at the physical stuff, so when we do decide to get violent, it's… it's… what's the word…. pathetic. And hilarious. No punching. Not even a bitch-slap or a good, old-fashioned eye-gouge. Slammed a door on her arse. Choice. Phonecall over, the two adversaries squeeze past each other in the kitchen and bring out an old schoolyard scrag-fight classic: the Narrow Pass With "Accidental" Shoulder-Charge. When Monique finally gets a turn on the phone for a maternal whine, she declares "Mama, I'm gonna f*ck her up! Excuse my French". That's one loopy mother/daughter relationship. La Umbilicus Diabolique.

· The Monique/Melrose fracas escalates, and like two axolotls in a tank, they circle and scowl, causing the other Mansion inmates to observe from a distance with an increasingly nervous sense of anticipation. Monique and Eugena the Boring, who is fast becoming Monique's ever-willing flunky, do their hair in the bathroom and plot nasty things. Monique explains in her increasingly slurry, seemingly crack-induced drawl, that she's going to wipe her dirty panties on Melrose's bed while she's sleeping. This is disturbing in a number of ways – firstly, that this is the second time Monique has initiated a crotch-based attack on her nemesis, the first being the Hoo-Hoo Dew incident from last week. Secondly, Monique seems to be convinced that her bodily juices (which are, it would seem, in plentiful supply) are heinous and repugnant enough to be used as a substance of torture on the unworthy. She has a Funky Fanny, and she's not afraid to use it. Sneaking into the bedroom, she wipes the fetid garment on Melrose's doona, to the horror and incredulity of the other modules. In their eyes, Monique has now crossed over from 'Nutty Gal' to 'Hide The Knives'. Jaeda worries that Monique may chop up all their clothes, whilst Anchal, possibly alluding to some benign childhood trauma, is scared that she might throw lemonade at them. Because, of course, lemonade would be much worse than panty-muck. The Whore War incites much conversation amongst the modules, and somebody suggests that Monique might just be trying to seek some attention. You think? That's like saying that Paul McCartney's ex-wife might be a little bit of a bitch.

· An ad-break, and I'm thrilled to see that Australia's Next Top Westie Scrag is advertising for next season's auditions. Skinny junkies with lank hair and attitude problems: coming soon to a shopping centre near you.

· Our modules are trolleyed off in the Ditz-Wagon to meet Miss Jay at a… place. With cobblestones. I couldn't really concentrate on the location, because every synapse in my body was firing in response to Miss Jay's massive frou-frou baby-doll dress complete with masquerade mask. I think s/he's trying to seek some attention. Jay introduces Bre from series 5 of ANTM, and despite the fact that she was quite certainly a one-woman panorama of drama in her own time, whenever past modules come back to haunt present series, it's an exercise in yawn. She's there to demonstrate her 'signature walk', which still looks like she's channelling a feisty pony with bunions. There's a line drawn along the cobblestones, and the modules have to do a quick-change into gowns, heels and masks, and - this is the challenging bit that separates modules from mortals – WALK IN A STRAIGHT LINE. I know. I know. It's like what they do at NASA. Unsurprisingly, due to the high degree of difficulty, a lot of the girls suck at their task. The twins in particular appear even more gangly and awkward than usual, even though you'd think their wingnut ears would provide at least some kind of balancing influence. AJ, who I'm inviting over for fondue soon, is a clear contender as she storms down the makeshift runway with ease and attitude. How does she master such a complex feat of co-ordination? She explains: "I'm a natural walker. My feet just go one in front of the other". I can't believe she'd just let her secret out like that. Melrose stops just short of gracing us with the sound of splintering tibia, Anchal is either drunk or controlled by someone who's drunk, and Caridee (there's a fondue fork for you too, sweetie) is reasonably good, if a little melodramatic and theatrical. Just stop and turn at the end, hon. No need to mime the complete works of Barbara Cartland.

· AJ is informed to the surprise of nobody that she has won the challenge, and that her prize consists of picking two other modules to join her in the Dennis Quaid Charity Fashion Show (oxymoronically tantamount in my mind to the Big Kev Book Of Healthy Heart Recipes) in Texas. She picks Caridee and Megg, who responds with "Yeeeeeah!! Rock and rolllll! This is so RAD!!", which reminds me to add 'vomit bucket' to my list of Things To Buy When Next At Bunnings. I've long had a theory: if a clothes shop has the word "fashion" in its name, one is guaranteed not to find anything fashionable inside. If you have to keep telling people you're something, then you're patently not. Consequently, if you have to keep screeching "ROCK AND RAAAWWWLLL", at the top of your voice, you've probably got Celine Dion's back catalogue on your iPod. The three girls fly to Texas and meet Dennis Quaid, who is quite obviously enamoured with Caridee's norks, backstage at the show. Other modules taking part in the parade are all has-beens from previous series of ANTM. It's a charity do, after all. They were young, and they needed the runway. Our girls are flung down the catwalk, and AJ is born for this shit – and she knows it. "Yeah, I'm badass", she exclaims, and I re-think my fashion boutique theory. Because she is. She's badass. Megg is woeful. The momentum generated from her oversized bottom teeth seems to just drag her down the runway, and her dropped-pie-like excuse of a face just comes along for the ride. Caridee is, and it breaks my heart to say so, awful. She doesn't strut so much as have a bit of a fit in slow-motion, like De Niro in Awakenings, but without the stripy pyjamas and three-day growth. Never mind. She pretty.

· Monique, not happy that the focus has been removed from her in favour of Sane People With Personal Hygeine, falls desperately ill. Well, she speaks slowly, sweats, and keeps a bucket by the bed. Every season somebody gets sick, but they always assume the persona of Module Martyr and soldier through photo-shoots and such. Every season someone is rushed to hospital, sirens wailing, and hooked up to something which makes them feel better, and then whooshed back to the Module Mansion in time for their next meaningful task, to awed whispers of "She's so brave", and "Is that puke on her shirt?". Monique is a freakin' amateur. In the style of Tyra, of course: Worst. Fake. Sickie. Ever. It almost looks like she walks herself to hospital, where she lies down for a minute, and then walks home. Diagnosis: Dehydrated. Melrose blames "bad energy", but I reckon being Beelzebub's sex slave can make a girl feel a bit crook, too.

· The next morning, the modules are summoned to this week's photo shoot. Monique somehow manages to gather the strength to haul her arse into the Wagon, and the girls are met by Jay, who introduces them to designer/photographer Charlie. They're told that they'll be doing a mock-up runway show, and have to look poised and photo-worthy at all times, as the photographer will be in the makeshift 'media pen', snapping away. Monique has a sudden attack of the flutters, and decides she's going to take the car home and sit on her arse instead of undertaking the shoot, because she's so weak. What's that, Monique? You're weak? Why didn't you say so before? And again? Over and over?

· The final part of the photo-shoot challenge is revealed: the runway is actually a series of blocks all strung together. Floating. In a pool. Bless, you writers and producers. You continue to Rock. My. World. Megg pumps her fist with excitement and I gag up a piece of dinner. The audience, fresh from an audition at a cut-price drag show, file in and take their seats, and we're on. Brooke stops at the end of the runway and does what I first think is a little dance, but then realise is the flailing, desperate movements of Plain Girl On Surfboard. Jaeda makes the swift transition from Muscular Man to Muscular Man With Inner-Ear Infection, and Anchal is laughable. The girls are not helped at all by the fact that they're trying to "rock" frocks straight from Dynasty: The Linda Evans Years. Caridee manages to walk the whole length of the runway with her left tit hanging out – instead of feeling like a right tit, she storms on through regardless, and the pixel pixies have a field day. Megg seems to be asleep, prompting me to do same, but AJ predictably sets the floating catwalk on fire. Twins Michelle and Amanda again scrub up surprisingly well, but still manage to look like anaemic monkeys on skates. Eugena summons the Patron Saint of Windmills, then promptly plunks herself into the water, scraping some flesh off her knee in the process, and Melrose is confident. The modules all come out at once for a finale walk, and the moment goes down as one of the snot-shooting funniest things I've seen all week. Picture a suburban shopping-centre marionette show in which the puppets are all made out of toilet-rolls and pipe-cleaners, add some class A drugs and a wind machine, and you're there. Side-splitting.

· Monique sits at home lamenting her fate, and introduces this series' First Bible Reading. At some point a module will always refer to the gospel to get her through the hard times, because we all know that God Loves Fashion. Doesn't it say in Naomi 15: "and He tried on the pink Manolos, and yea, they were good". Very few modules have done a reading quite as dramatically as Monique, though – on a banana lounge by the pool, in a floppy hat, with a single, glistening tear rolling down her face. I was expecting her to writhe, hiss and scream "It BUUURRRNS!", but I was sadly disappointed.

· ELIMINATION: I have to, of course, start with Tyra's outfit. Better than in previous weeks, but still evidence that last night's chicken WILL NOT be crammed happily into The Size Tyra Still Thinks She Is In Her Head, we're inflicted with a light blue corset which has the unfortunate habit of squashing Tyra's boosies into captive things the size of dinner plates. Poooooor Tyra's boosies. Twiggy, Miss Jay and Spunky Nigel, who I'm making bikkies in the shape of, are all there (surprise!), with guest judge Charlie the Photographer. Today's elimination challenge is to show the judges a signature walk whilst balancing a fruit bowl on your head, which is why watching this show should be made Federal Law. Suffice to say, fruit (including Miss Jay) starts bouncing all over the place, with few highlights other than Caridee getting rid of the fruit and wearing the bowl as a hat. I have to say at this point: Our Man Jaeda looks like she could bench-press a Mustang. That is all.

· Photos are picked through, and Monique is asked why she didn't complete the shoot. "I'm really sick and really weak", she moans, and the judges give her crap about it. Nigel tells Brooke that she's "a bit of a fruit and nut", which doesn't mean much, but anything which comes from Nigel's mouth is fine with me. The judges tell Eugena that her eyes are dead in photos, which is nothing compared to the pus-oozing, yellow-with-death appearance of her manky runway injury. Ew.

· The judges deliberate, and an event occurs. This event makes me want to crawl back into the womb. We'll call it the Great Episode Four Calypso Debacle, and then we'll try to forget it ever happened. I hate to espouse the potential infringement of copyright, but seriously – YouTube. Go. Whilst discussing Monique, Miss Jay decides to sing his opinion, "She don't wanna be here", Negro Spiritual Style, prompting all judges to thud on the table in time, repeating the "chorus" again and again. Tyra, sniffing the faint scent of Time To Be A Freak, imagines she has a soulful voice and starts embellishing the basic melody with trills, grunts, and wwwwoooooooahs, and dances her great, gelatinous mound of a body around the desk. If this song is released as a single, I'm shooting myself in the stomach. It goes on for too long, and then it just keeps on going. You know that look people get on their faces when they're watching their drunk septuagenarian auntie hoik up her skirt and dance the Macarena at a wedding? Go there.

· Time for the fall of the axe, and the modules' names are tiresomely read out one by one, until only Monique the Merciless and Eugena the Boring remain. Tyra gouges Monique with the fact that she doesn't want it enough, and implies that perhaps she wasn't all that sick. Eugena gets a roasting about how cocky she is, even though she's nowhere near as good as past contestants. Then, in a move sure to take the psychotic thrill out of all future episodes, Monique is sent home. She comments that the "whole time here was a waste", adding 'Ungrateful Troll' to her already heaving resume. Bye, Monique! Don't scare any nuns on your way out.

Next week: All the modules cram into the shower at once, Anchal sobs with insecurity, and Melrose turns sour as her Boss of the Mansion reign crumbles. Soap. Mope. Misanthrope.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thursday, October 19, 2006

America's Next Top Model Series Seven #3

Not since 101 Dalmatians have I seen so many bitches with bad hair in the one room. Magnificent. I always, always love a Makeover Episode, but this one came with extra claw-sharpening and a few choice bleeps in addition to the usual wailing and kvetching. Buckle in for the 'Short Back And Snide Asides' episode of America's Next Top Model

· Okay – the new version of the theme song sucks arse. Because she doesn't have her greedy fried-chicken fingers in enough pies already, now it seems Tyra "sings" the theme, or at least speaks all the breathy, saucy bits – especially the one that starts it all: "You wanna be on top?". I suppose if Tyra's always on the bottom, that would explain why her hair is always such a god-awful mess.

· Twin Michelle and Piggy Megan practice their runway walks in the Runway Walk Practice Room, and gush about how it's good to be supportive of each other. Megan gushes a bit too much, and I start to twig that she's the first of this series' token gay girls. This means she will lose.

· A Tyra Mail gets the girls up at some ungodly hour, and Monique gripes about how she didn't get her beauty sleep. This starts a bell tolling which continues to ring throughout this episode, and it's a bell which signifies that Monique is a catty, prissy, stuck-up, hard-faced, bitter demon of a girl, likely to stir up mayhem at every turn and cause some excellent, excellent telly in the meantime. It's a very telling tolling. The Jays meet the girls for a café breakfast and discuss their upcoming makeovers. Continuing the Groundhog theme of Things Which Happen Every Series, Jaeda the Jaw boasts "My hair grows so fast. Shave it. I don't care". Hands up who senses a delicious tanty just around the corner? I do! I do! Wheeee!

· Incongruous, irrelevant breakfast over, the girls head back to the Module Mansion, but find that something large and heavy is blocking the door. It's Tyra! She leads the modules through the house with a quick psychotic sashay, and reveals that the living room has been transformed into a Makeover Salon. The mountain may not come to Mohammed, but promise it a trim and some highlights and it'll bring its own towels. Tyra introduces their stylist, Frederic Fekkai (too… many… jokes… about … surname… rushing… rushing… all at once…), who she says has done her own hair for years. Run, girls. While you still can. Tyra then, one by one, lets each module know exactly how they'll be shorn, shaped, and shaved by unveiling truly abysmal drawings of each girl with her new do, apparently sketched by the slow kids in a Year 9 art class at a school for children with rickets.

o Melrose will be platinum blonde, which may only serve to make her lips and eyes look bigger. Soon they'll meet over her nose and she'll suffocate.
o Brooke Witherspoon will be taken from blonde to chocolate, because blondes love it when you do that.
o Eugena the Boring will be given hair extensions. Yawn.
o Piggy Megan will be going blonde, blonde, blonde.
o Anchal will be given layers, and her hairline will be taken back an inch by way of medieval torture and a pair of tweezers.
o Malicious Monique will have her old weave removed, and a new one put in. Why?
o Caridee will be given blonde extensions, even though she's perfect.
o A.J. will be given a Linda Evangelista short cut, which she already kind of has, but they can't just have her sitting there reading a magazine, can they?
o Skanky Megg will be given big, frizzy hair extensions, apparently to make her look even more like a dirty Guns & Roses stage door diehard.
o The twins are both going red, but one will be wavy and the other one straight! Gasp! They cry bittersweet makeover tears, because they don't want to look different to each other, because they know that being ugly and pale with big ears and no chin isn't enough to keep them in the competition.
o Jaeda the Jaw is told that because she looks too mannish, they're going to enhance her masculine features, which to me seems like giving Marcia Hines shoulder-pads. They promise her a Halle Berry short, short cut, which justifiably brings on a storm of tears and despair, despite her breakfast bravado. Jaeda shouldn't cry. She already looks like a man – when she cries she looks like Angry Man With Testicles In Vise.

· The modules are set upon by washers, dryers, hackers and stylers in a Makeover Montage which includes all the predictable yet delicious elements: buckets, nay KEGS of tears are cried, and Jaeda is only outdone by Malicious Monique who, horrified at people seeing her weave-less, sits in the loo and hyperventilates with horror. Mr Jay rolls his eyes like the row of tents he is, and in a three-ring Cirque De So-Gay, has a spray at the girls, making a point that I shout at the screen every single series – models are a symmetrical collection of faces, bodies and hair, whose opinions DO NOT MATTER. Take it and like it, as they say in the classics.

· Results are varied, with at least a third of the modules looking worse than when they started, like they fell out of an Early 90's Hair Tree and hit every frizzy twig on the way down. Skanky Megg, despite her joy at now being able to "headbang even harder", has been inflicted with matted hair-extensions so artificial-looking she looks like Barbie's friend Skipper's Even Uglier Friend, with no campervan, no townhouse, and no running water. Don't go near her with a naked flame. Or a bottle of amyl nitrate, while we're talking. Brooke Witherspoon's blonde-to-brown transformation means the hotness difference between Cruel Intentions and Election, and may be her blah undoing. Jaeda the Jaw is terrifying in her new role as Conan. She's one unhappy, scary dude, dude.

· Megan speaks on the 'phone to her girlfriend. I knew it!

· A Tyra Mail sends the girls to meet Mr Jay at a skyscraper for a stupid, pointless, product-placement challenge. The instructions are as follows:
1. Run to a table full of Cover Girl makeup products and pick the right colours for yourself.
2. Run to the elevator. If you miss the elevator, you're disqualified.
3. Put make-up on in elevator
4. Get off a few floors later, run to racks full of frocks and pick "a look"
5. Run to the elevator. If you miss the elevator, you're disqualified.
6. Repeat the above with accessories
7. Be met on the top floor by Queen Latifah and crap on about your "Fresh Cover Girl Look".
Family restaurants worldwide could have commemorated this challenge by bringing out a McBoring Happy Meal, except for a couple of minor highlights. Malicious Monique missed the second elevator, and was disqualified to the sound of all the other models taking a nervous inhale, and Melrose commenting cagily "We're all getting beaten up tonight fer sure". Caridee had a rare lapse of taste and wore a scarf around her head, floor-scrubber style, and Brooke Witherspoon decided her look was "Prom Queen" and announced it like she was reading from an autocue in another country. Eugena the Boring won the challenge, apparently because she used colour the best, and picked Caridee and Jaeda the Jaw to share her prize of a brief Cover Girl photoshoot for their website. Even the prize was boring. We've pleased the sponsors now. Can we move on?

· Malicious Monique is pissed. She's not happy that she was disqualified from the challenge, and like most of the girls in the world who need a brisk knee-capping, she takes it out on everyone else. And that is why this show may get a mention on my tombstone. A brilliant Drama in Three Parts ensues, and I move to the edge of my couch, eyes and mouth agape.
Part One, In Which Monique Hogs The Phone.
Monique spends THREE HOURS AND 34 MINUTES on the telephone. Sometimes she's speaking to her mother, and sometimes, just to give her mansion-mates the shits, she listens to the dial tone. At least I think it was a dial tone – it might have been a brain activity monitor.
Monique's mother's conversation proves that the self-obsessed, potentially crazy apple doesn't fall far from the tree – when Monique complains about the other "raggedy, no-talent" modules, her mother (no doubt with waggling head and preacher-hands) exclaims that they'd better watch out when they "Mess wit a child of GOD!". I love that God always makes his way into this show. We all know from the Bible that every time a model vomits, Baby Jesus cries. Monique's mother then urges her to "Tell them 'I AM A PRINCESS OF THE THRONE!'", which to my father would mean that she's a girl who spends a lot of time on the toilet.
Part Two, In Which The Modules Revolt Against The Princess.
Melrose is fretting about using the 'phone, as she needs to speak to her landlord about not getting thrown out into the street, so she subtly tries to get Monique's attention through the tinted 'phoneroom glass. When this only draws scorn from Monique, the other modules pitch in to try and prise the Throne Princess from the receiver using all their guiles and wiles, which for Caridee means bringing out everyone's favourite – the Pressed Ham. Nothing seems to work, and Monique gets so angry she looks like a cat that's been shaken up in a box of thumbtacks.
Part Three, In Which Anchal Finally Shows Her Stones.
Anchal is so incensed by Monique that she storms into the phone room, wrestles the receiver from her, and with screwed-up face, pointing finger, and the personality we all knew was hiding in there somewhere, gives Monique a verbal Brazilian of pure caustic brilliance. The ANTM censors have a field day as most of Anchal's diatribe is brought to you by the letter F. Monique screams back, flips the bird, and in a comparatively flaccid response, tells everyone to "kiss her grits". The girls have a good, traditional bedroom bitching session, and we have her, ladies and gentlemen: Public Enemy Number One.

· Wow. I have like, a really high stupid threshold, and this week's photo shoot was just about the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Seriously. Like, stupider than Peter Andre, man. 3 "extreme hair" stylists, including one who calls himself "Weavin' Steven", God help us, are introduced. These are people who create massive, teetering hairstyles complete with colours, sparkles, towers, model helicopters and motorised moving parts. And they shouldn't. Imagine dropping some LSD, reading some Lewis Carroll, listening to some Zappa, spinning around really fast and then designing a hairstyle. Not good.

· Monique is trapped under a strange, swoopy rooster shape complete with mini-trophy, and is convinced she's the best module to ever squint her way through a shoot. Anchal looks amazing under a haystack, despite a flopping prop, but Brooke, adorned with patriotic hair and sparkles, tries to summon the angry flag within, but fails. Twin Amanda looks great in red sweeps and jewels, but is flat in her photo, whilst sister Michelle looks ridiculous as a dopey toucan, but manages to pull off a half-decent photo. Megan's hair is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen in my life. It's a monster mullet. With Princess Leia-style side-croissants. WHICH ARE POWERED BY A BATTERY AND SPIN AROUND AND AROUND. Make it stop, Mummy. Somehow, under her whirling pastry goods, she manages an excellent shot. Megg is a fugly piece of white trash, and this fact will never, ever change. AJ gives good facial but her stripy hair overpowers her, and Caridee comes off a little draggy beneath her great big red hair and great big red eyelashes. Eugena thinks she knows everything, and is even boring in black and red feathers. Melrose is a much-improved rainbow, but Jaeda, despite a green and yellow flowery group of lumps on her head, still manages to look masculine.

· Back at the house, and Melrose freaks out when Monique, fresh from the pool in a wet cossie, splashes her with water that seems to have come directly from the crotchular region. Let's call it Dew From Hoo-Hoo Springs, and leave it at that. Melrose rolls around on the floor, and threatens to vomit, prompting all the modules to start praying that Monique is eliminated. I want her to stay for as long as possible. She may need electro-shock therapy, but she's GOLD.

· ELIMINATION. Tyra's outfit is not good. No, ma'am. A velvet corset keeps last night's eleven-piece bucket at bay, topped with metres and metres of drapey, tenty blue fabric which bunches and catches in all the wrong places. Miss Jay has an Alice band in his hair, Twiggy looks a bit bedraggled, and Spunky Nigel, who I'm keeping locks of my hair for, looks through the telly into my soul. Guest judge is Tracey, the hair photographer. The judges hate Megan's photo, which I think is actually a winner, call Caridee a drag queen, think Twin Michelle's decision to kiss her own arm in the shot is inspired, and are underwhelmed by AJ and Monique. They give Jaeda some schtick about her lack of confidence about her new man-hair, and she looks like the saddest gladiator in the world.

· The judges deliberate, and Scary Blue Tyra starts calling out names, including Monique's which causes everyone except me to say "poop". Another week of psychotic bitchiness? Thank you, ma'am – may I have another? It comes down to Jaeda the Jaw and Piggy Megan, and to save time, Tyra just tells them they're both shit. For some reason Megan is sent home, ridiculous considering the deformed lumps of girl still in this competition. Bye, Megan! Don't be openly gay on your way out, or another opportunity might be whisked roughly from beneath your feet.

Next week, catwalk practice is ramped up to include tightwalk practice, there's more bitching, and an increasingly physical Melrose/Monique war is waged afresh. Struttin'. Tuttin'. You ain't Nuttin'.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Steak N' Chicks Tuesday #6

It's all about boobs.

The latest Steak N' Chicks Tuesday had a charitable twist, being as it was in October, the Cancer Council's dedicated Women's Cancers Month. The Council encourages chicks (which we are) to host a dinner (which we did) during which you squeeze your mates for some cash to hand over to cancer research, particularly breast cancer.

Alex volunteered her and Anna's gracious abode as a venue, everyone brought a plate and a fistful of bucks, and we even considered a commemorative boosies-out salute. But we're far, far too cosmopolitan and sophisticated for that.
We made a few hundred quid for the cause, and I left before the cleaning up. Sounds like a perfect night to me.

17th October 2006 – Alex's house, Paddington.

The Place
Alex's house is tops. Any house right next to a pub obviously has an automatic head start in the points department, (I think the girls of the house may have referred to the pub once as "the outside fridge"), but who doesn't love a tastefully kitted-out 3-bedroom Paddo terrace? Just something about 'em. Alex, in a nod to Pink Ribbon theme, had decorated with all things pink, including candles and Hundreds And Thousands biscuits. Because Alex is Alex, and has talents bestowed on her by seraphim, she still managed to make it look understated and tasteful.
The kitchen at the house is brilliant – a great 70s-style, shiny-wood number straight out of a fondue-soaked ski chalet. Due to everyone preparing their plentiful plates, and Tegan's and my usual and predictable desire to show off our culinary skills (instead of, oh, I don't know – relaxing and being sociable), the Chalet Kitchen was a hive of frenzied foodstuff-related fussing – a blur of hands, "excuse me"s and wine-bottle-opening with bits of parsley and parmesan mixed in. Chicks made themselves comfortable in the loungeroom, dining room, and courtyard, and the atmosphere was brilliant – a bit of wine, a bit of gossip, and the thoroughly smug air of people gorging themselves for charity. Noice.
As usual, I can't move on without mentioning the ablutionary facilities. They're upstairs. And the soap stinks nice.

The People
It's easy to get people to attend Steak N' Chicks – there's just two things you have to do: Mention cancer and get them to pay in advance. A brilliant turnout, with 14 chicks in attendance – Me, Alex, Cherie, Tegan, Edwina, Claire, Ella, Alyson, Di, Sarah, Angela, Anna, and TWO Vanessas for the price of… well, two. The beauty of Steak N' Chicks Tuesday is that you just about always meet someone new, and, being the discerning and exclusive high-falutin' sorts we are, they're always good value. Conversation flowed as easily as the wine, which thanks to Anna's wheeling, dealing and price ceiling was outrageously plentiful. Conversational topics ranged from food, to trips overseas, to food, to men, to high school, to food, to galahs, to drinking, and settled eventually on Botox. At this point Ella whipped out something I'm calling 'Jolie Juice' – a vial of lip-gloss which has the added bonus of making one's lips swell. Naturally we all jumped on it, and in no time at all we were shiny, mildly puffy, and sporting the kind of extremely minor discomfort that all true beauty demands.

The Food
Us chicks know our grub. And how to amass great heaving piles of it. Claire and Alyson started everyone slavering with a gob-stuffing collection of cheeses and dips, including Claire's infamous Salsamole. Or Guacasalsa. Or something. The Pink Table was soon completely dwarfed by Ella's divine salmon tarts (and I know tarts, mate), the Vanessas' salads, (colourful, creative, crouton-adorned), Tegan's chicken & pesto gnocchi (I'd turn my head away from Johnny Depp for a mouthful), Edwina's pizza (god bless pizza – all the time, every time), my risotto (forgot the mushrooms, made up for it with garlic and parmesan), and my favourite of the night, Cherie's stuffed mushrooms. I never met a funghi I didn't like, and I'm thinking of eloping with these delicate, insanely delicious mouth-sized morsels. Dessert took the form of Di's chocolate fudge tarty/slicey thing ("wheat free!" shouted the normally pastry-deprived Angela), and Sarah's sticky date pud, both of which I'm entitling Things I Will Eat When Sex Is Not An Option. Magnificent.
My only regrets are not sneaking leftovers out in my handbag and not counting how many glasses of wine I had. I'm certain we all reek of garlic this morning, but in a self-satisfied, elegant way. Yes. We reek elegantly. And swear like brickies.
Anna has given herself the task of collecting everybody's recipes for the food they provided and collating it into some kind of commemorative pamphlet. The only thing we need is a title…..
The Boosie Banquet?
Nosh For Norks?
Foodie Fun-Bags?

No. No, of course not. Cancer is a serious, serious business.

The Summarising Bit
What a gaggle of magnificent women. I don't know about anyone else, but I came away with a smile on my face (with slightly plumper lips than usual) and a stomach girth the likes of which I don't normally lug around. Being charitable feels good, but being charitable by stuffing your maw with excellent food ROCKS.

So long, and thanks for the mammaries.
Sorry. Had to get one more boob gag in.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

America's Next Top Model Series Seven #2

Oh, thank God.
All traces of dishwater blandness gone – I'm sorry if I frightened anyone with my temporary lack of enthusiasm last week.
We've got clichés. We've got diva behaviour. We've got stupid, stupid hair.
What we've got is the 'Them Bitches Is Mental' episode of America's Next Top Module.

· We're in Hollywood, and the Cliché Counter 5000 clicks over for the first time as our modules-in-waiting walk along the pavement stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Christian, a dusky lemur of a girl who may be in the running to be the Series Seven Brat, comments that "being close to Tyra is like touching my dream". Pfffft – it's not like Tyra's a deity or anything – it's not like someone would build, like, a shrine to her or something….. (open-endedness intentional).

· Miss Jay, in demure black headkerchief (remind you of any bi-racial butterflies?) meets our girls in a big room with a catwalk in the middle, and introduces two designers from the label Elmer Avenue – or two fashionable heads with a couple of overdressed fops dangling underneath. The modules' attention is drawn, with very little encouragement, to a…. wait – what's the collective noun for male models? A 'crotch'? A 'mullet'? A 'strut'? Um…. to a ponce of male models descending on the runway, dressed in Elmer Avenue clothes. Imagine Green Day just after being Queer-Eyed, and you're halfway there. This week's challenge is outlined – the girls have to pick a male model, undress him (quickly, unfortunately – really a task that, done properly, should take some time, music, and oil of some description), "feminise" his outfit (more so) upon themselves, and "rock it down the runway".

· Something I'm noticing a lot so far this series is the Groundhog Day Effect – with unerring predictability, the same phenomena re-appear every single series. The first and most prevalent of these is the Screeching Banshee (SB), exercised in numerous styles, usually for very little reason. In this case, the SB is summoned at the drop of a hat (and tailored trousers) as the modules descend, wailing, on their chosen Himbos, tearing at the male models' clothing with (ironically) gay abandon. The girls dress themselves in menswear, most foregoing pants for a kind of slutty executive look, and commence their hammed-up trots down the runway. A.J., who is fast becoming my firm favourite (whaddaya mean she looks like Eboni? Shut up.) rocks it with a bit of tongue thrown in for good measure, Anchal oozes Princess with a tight-sphinctered haughty jaunt, and Megg tries her darnedest to assert herself as Rock Chick, succeeding only to underwhelm with Overtones of Trailer Park. Twin Michelle looks like she might have an itchy groin, Monique (a major Diva contender) flashes her daks with mouth agape, and Melrose canters down the catwalk pony-style, hips boinging around on well-oiled slutty springs. The designers deliver their critique and, apparently thinking with their easily-impressed pant-pythons, announce Melrose as the challenge winner.

· Cliché Counter 5000 starts whirring into action as the modules discover they're to be carted around in a custom-built stretch limo. The SB is deafeningly summoned once again as they open the car doors to reveal a truly tasteless interior, complete with ubiquitous imagery of Tyra The Omnipresent. It sounds like that piercing, midway-through-a-hens-night point, and I can hear kelpies yelping distantly in my neighbourhood. Christian the Quotable gushes "this is how Christian is supposed to be treated – like a queen". From past experience with this divine yet deeply unnecessary show, I have a theory: She Who Speaks In The Third Person Usually Needs A Slap Upside The Head. Bless 'er.

· A new-format Tyra Mail containing a key to the (Groundhog) Module Mansion sends our bevy of booties into paroxysms of squealing once again, as page five of this week's script seems to read "Scream. Run. Repeat". The doors to the mansion open to reveal easily the most disturbing display of narcissism I've ever seen, and trust me, I'm familiar with the concept. In past series, the Module Mansion has been adorned with images of famous supermodules, past and present, and past ANTM contestants, but this is beyond. This is the Shrine Of The Chocolate Granite, themed with megalomaniacal excess as "covers" of the fictional Tyra Magazine gaze down on the girls from every available surface. Pictures of Tyra watch the girls cook, dress, shower, and sleep, HAL-like, and I'm not ashamed to say I'm a little bit frightened by the spectacle. There is a Tyra Clock. The face of the clock is a picture of Tyra, surrounded by twelve little pictures of Tyra. When the big hand is on the Tyra, and the small hand is on the Tyra, you know what time it is? Time to get the f*ck out of this scary, scary house. Scream. Run. Repeat.

· Brooke, our Witherspoon-esque bouncing bimbo, wastes no time in logging her first to-camera diary-room entry. "Bring, bring!" she says, talking into her hand like it's a telephone. "Bring, bring! Hello? What? I get to live my wildest dream today?". Mental.

· There are 13 girls, but only 11 beds, and Monique is one of the girls who misses out. Monique is a Brat In The Extreme, and exclaims "I am NOT sleepin' on no beanbag". As such, she fronts up to the bed of Eugena (who is so boring I hardly even remember she's there) and pours water on it. Enter Eugena, and Monique announces "I decided to pee on your bed today". Heads waggle. Shoulders are pulled back. Fingers point. Hands go to hips. I love it when two stereotypical black girls get their hackles up. It's so choice. People call other people 'bitches' and 'punks', and Eugena apparently gives in, which pushes her further to the back of the Boring Drawer. At least Monique finishes with "I don't care. You can all bite me".

· More uppity territory-spraying as Melrose declares herself Boss of the House in so many words and instructions, and I notice at this point that Anchal the Indian Princess has one, and only one, facial expression, which I'll call Pretty Girl Who Just Smelt A Fart. Vacant, with a tiny bit of Wistful mixed in. The obligatory (Groundhog) house meeting is called – the kitchen's filthy, waaaaaaaaah, you're taking too long in the shower, waaaaaaaaah, I won't change for anyone, waaaaaaaaah.

· A Tyra Mail arrives whilst all the modules are all squeezed into the one spa (Production Meeting Point Four – How To Get More Blokes To Watch), and it says "People think models are stupid anorexic bitches – are you?". Come ON. Give us a HARD question. If they weren't, I'd be watching Spicks and Specks right now. The Mail gets the girls wondering about this week's photo shoot, but they're not sure – perhaps some amateur dramatics and certifiable psychosis would help? Just a thought.

· The next morning the girls gather at a random mansion, and Tyra turns up playing a character. My life is but a series of insignificant events which occur in between watching Tyra playing characters. Today's character seems to be French-Accented Model Diva Who Screams Like She's Got A Kidney Stone. I love it so much, it needs a haiku:

Tyra, wave your arms,
Roar your mighty, raspy yawp,
You nutty sheila.

It's bad. Real bad. She's trying to typify the ageing, cranky, Naomi-esque phone-throwing has-been model, calling the modules "Young beeches", saying she's hot and getting all the girls to blow on her, tripping over, and flailing around on the ground whilst shrieking like a stuck cheetah. I'll leave the summary to the Christian the Quotable, who offers: "She's skipped some meds or something". After one last demonic wail in which Tyra waggles her unfortunate, flabby bingo-wings in the air, Jay announces that the modules are about to do the Most. Controversial. Photo. Shoot. Ever. Cue ad break. Exhale.

· Oh, god, we're back. The "controversial" photo shoot consists of each girl being made-up, dressed and posed as thirteen different model stereotypes. Controversial? Hardly. A skip through a field of intensely entertaining daisies? Hell, yes. Hot photographers (I still love you, Nigel) Oliver and Dan are introduced, and it's on.

· Monique is "phone-throwing model", and has the emotional range of a piece of toast. Jay tries to draw out some much-needed anger by calling her "bitch" and "dumbass". I sit on my couch and say "Word". Caridee, who is my second-favourite module (whaddaya mean she looks like Joanie? Shut up.), gets to be "dumb blonde" module, and does so well she looks recently lobotomised. Megg is "alcoholic, drug-addicted model", and swigs from a bottle of Scotch whilst a male module taps her arm to try and find a vein. Then they start the photo shoot. Phnar! Trash. Eugena the Boring is "black model trying to look white" (wha?), and I'm distracted by a crack in my loungeroom wall. Megan is "lapdog-toting model", and scrubs up rool noice, with the disturbing yet appropriate task of clutching onto a Chihuahua named Tyra. Anchal is "diva in gold dress", with a vacant stare and, I've just noticed, a great big arse. Christian is "model-turned-actress", and does the same pose over and over again, known in acting circles as the "I Feel Faint". Yawn. Brooke is "back-stabbing bitch", and despite a good dose of hair-pulling, underwhelms in drapey satin. Every time she speaks it's a bit like she's reading from a children's book that she's holding upside-down. A.J. is "casting-couch model", and looks AMAZING whilst lounging on a (gasp!) couch, eyeing up a male co-module. She kicks it. She's my favourite. I hope she likes my risotto. Jaeda is "plastic surgery model", and is given the impossible task of trying to emote with bits of sticky-tape on her face. The fact that her high school year book photo probably has the caption "Bloke Most Likely to Crush Beer Cans With Jaw" doesn't help, either. Twin Michelle is "bulimia", and actually looks surprisingly good, even for someone sitting on a toilet covered in cake. Twin Michelle doesn't do as well as "anorexia" despite having the frame for it. Melrose, who spent most of the day wallowing in her challenge prize – having an assistant and being dubbed 'diva for a day', gives Jay a bit of attitude whilst being "model who won't get out of bed for less than $10K", and then gets in trouble for acting like a diva. That would be irony, people. She has a bit of a sob in the crapper afterwards.

· A Tyra Mail announces the first elimination in a brand new, renovated elimination room which looks a bit like the Starship Enterprise, and we're treated to the first of many no doubt vomitous Tyra Elimination Outfits. Today she's channelling a 50s-era martini-sipping drag queen, with a two-tone bouffant do and a sincerely grotesque frock which is at least fifteen sizes too small. Her norks could do with a bit of Geneva Convention action. The boring prizes are rattled off, and Tyra introduces the judges. First Spunky Nigel Barker (Hi, honey!), who I'm doing yoga for, Miss Jay, and the flaccidly uninteresting but endearing Twiggy.

· Photos from the shoot are picked to pieces, interspersed with Tyra jumping up and giving some of the girls an Elimination Room Makeover, which means clothes and hair are wrenched, tied, and removed in an effort to make them look more like.. like… well, whores. Megan is told that her nose can appear "piggy" in photos and Caridee is complimented on her acting ability. Tyra says "You gave stupid, you gave idiot – you gave so many types of dumb", and then demonstrates. Megg is a skank. There. I've said it. A.J. admits she has low self-confidence, and Tyra gives some bizarre advice about how to make her neck look longer by pulling some faces behind a ring-binder. Jaeda is, without doubt, really a man. Nigel discusses the twins, and mentions that his wife is both an identical twin and a supermodel. I know what you're thinking, but no – it's not me. It's some trollop who deserves to die.

· ELIMINATION: The (Groundhog) photos of the successful modules are handed out one by one until we're down to Melrose Bossy Bigmouth and Quotable Christian. The band-aids are ripped off with traditional malicious gusto - Christian is told she doesn't look like a model and is boring, whilst Melrose is told she delivered nothing except attitude. Melrose is safe, though, and collapses to her knees sobbing, in a really good impersonation of an idiot. Christian is out. Bye, Christian! How about one last zinger on your way out? "I'm crushed", she says. Oh.

Next week: The Makeover Episode! A guaranteed winner. Hair is cut, crying is inevitable, and Monique pisses everyone off by hogging the telephone. Shears. Tears. Ears.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Henry Lawson Is Stalking Me From Beyond The Grave #2

The Bush Bard is back, and this time he's thirsty.

I had lunch at the club up the road today, and while my companion was waiting in the interminably long queue for food orders, I busied myself (you've all done it – do anything except sit there like a loser staring into space) by reading a couple of old text messages, flipping through the cocktail menu, and faffing around in my handbag. Eventually, out of options, the only thing left to do was read the freakin' coasters.
They turned out to be (no surprise in a Rugby Club) rugby-and-beer-themed coasters. Being possibly the most gentrified of all thick-necked, nose-mashing sports, the images of jerseyed giants were accompanied by snippets of Australian poetry in flowing, loopy script. "Nice", I thought, and quickly perused a spot of Banjo Patterson and Dorothea MacKellar on the cardboard squares strewn about the table.
Eventually I took a sip of my drink and there, underneath, condensation-smudged but clear, was the following:

The glorious words and music
of Australia's song shall come
When her true hearts rush together
at the beating of a drum…

- Henry Lawson.

Yu-huh. I'm like catnip to the old bugger.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

America's Next Top Model Series Seven #1

Welcome, dear friends. It's back.

It has yet to prove itself, and the format seems to have as many new concepts in it as a packet of Corn Flakes, but here it is.
It'd better be a bumpy ride, I tells ya, because it's through gritted teeth that I'm going to have to call this the Dishwater Episode of America's Next Top Model. Show me all the shirtless photos of Nigel Barker you want (in fact, yes – do that) – the first episode is always a teensy bit dull. Nobody hates anyone yet, including me, but I've definitely pegged some contenders….

· Oh, my god! It's a flashbacking summary of Tyra Banks' career! Blah, blah, blah. Big hair. Big norks. Tyra's version of Blue Steel, which we'll call Chocolate Granite. Whatever. It's not the past Tyra we're interested in, it's the future Tyra – what bizarre, barely-containing outfits will she be wearing to eliminations? What hairdresser-took-the-brown-acid masterpieces of coiffure will she be sporting? What personality traits will she be brutally assassinating? And how many times will she wobble her over-exposed booty at the surely-blind-by-now cameraman? The answer to all: Heaps.

· The usual suspects are all here – Tyra of course, Mr Jay, who is still clutching onto platinum blonde like it's 1988, Miss Jay, who looks more and more like a kind of camel/Condoleezza Rice hybrid every series, and Nigel Barker, hereto known as Spunky Nigel, who I'm re-filling my underwear drawer for. No indications yet as to whether the pleasant but bor-hor-horing Twiggy will again be the fifth judge, but my fingers are tightly crossed for the reappearance of Janice Dickinson, world's first ever supermodel, biggest ever psycho b*tch, and Person Most Likely To Be Constructed Entirely of Synthetics By 2009.

· Another ANTM constant, which gives me an attack of the amuses every single series, is the odd, odd, collection of names that bored illiterate parents give their daughters. This year, in the 33 semi-finalists, we're introduced to Jaeda, Evita (who will, I'm sure, cry for me), Jaslene, Ginger, Eugena, Brittany, Anchal, A.J., Christian and Caridee. People, listen to me. When naming your child, it takes more than just shaking up Boggle cubes in a bag.

· Miss Jay meets the semi-finalists at the airport in a pilot's hat and a skirt, asking the modules to follow him towards a big blue bit of cardboard, where the girls are to "give 10 incredible poses" in their first ever photoshoot. Wait – I should start to say phrases like that as if I'm channelling Tyra – their First. Ever. Photoshoot. During this session, we're introduced to a few more of the hopefuls – A.J., who is a bit more rock n' roll than the others, and almost certainly this series' token Sexually Curious Module, Ginger, who has a lot of lips which seem to keep blood from flowing to her brain, and the thing or things that terrified me the most – twins. Now, I'm a twin myself, but I'm afraid that simply sharing a uterus with someone shouldn't give you any more rights and privileges in life than people who have the sense to have a single womb all to themselves. I guess Amanda and Michelle are pretty, in the same way that a damp sponge coated in flour is, and they're certainly thin, but this reeks so piquantly of Obvious Plot Manipulation that I'm feeling faint. The girls say matter-of-factly to camera that "there's not a lot of tall twin models". There's not a lot of pygmy ice-skaters, either. Your point?

· After the shoot, the modules all meet up on a hotel balcony to eat fruit and scream hysterically at stuff. Ron and Richard Harris, the twirling, gayer-than-Christmas twins (good lord) from last series swirl in and twirl out, to piercing appreciation from the girls, then a cataclysm of screams, tears, fluttering hands and jumping-up-and-down explodes as Tyra makes an appearance. She hosts the show. She drops in on the semi-finalists in every single series. You're semi-finalists. She's here. Woo.

· Our nearly-modules have one-on-three interviews with Tyra and The Jays, with the usual let's see you walk, let's see you talk, let's see your blue veiny body in a bikini rigmarole. Apart from Christian being able to re-create every Tyra Banks pose ever shot, Jaeda claiming that "the whole football team think I'm hot", Becky admitting she raises pigs, Angela claiming she went from Homeless to Homecoming Queen, Brittany tap-dancing and Caridee having a garter removed by Miss Jay's teeth, this segment was predictable pap – run in, say you're excited, walk, turn, pout, be fierce, leave. This series, no-one stands out so far as The Idiot, The Psychotic, The Haughty Beeyarch, or The Hyperactive. Where, oh where have all my stereotypes gone? Megan (aka Mollie-Sue clone from last series – Hi, Mollie-Sue!), throws in a disturbing sob story about being in a plane crash at age nine, in which her MOTHER DIED ON TOP OF HER, stopping her dying of hypothermia herself due to residual body-heat. Please don't give Megan a spot in the finals. How can I make scathing, catty comments about someone like that?!

· The modules are herded like stick-insects into the hotel foyer, and told that the first cut is about to be made – there are 21 magazines in the adjoining room, all with Tyra on the cover (yawn), with pictures of the 21 so-far-successful modules inside. GO! RUN! Like a frenetic pile of chopsticks, arms, legs and torsos mix in a frenzy of desperation. The successful girls cry. The unsuccessful girls cry. One of the rejects says through tears "I'm gonna keep on lovin' myself". No, dear. Try to get out of the house once in a while.

· The Jays throw the so-far-successfuls right into work with a photo shoot – the modules are led to a trough full of make-up and hair extensions, upon which they greedily feed for 15 minutes. Faces (and pants) drop when our gahls are told they'll be shot in the nuddy today – NUDE STRIP SHOT SHOCK! Ginger the token prude wails and moans about showing her privates, and only drops her towel momentarily for the photographer to snap two frames. Evita has a giggle about her TWO KIDS seeing her naked, the twins are pale and knobbly, and I hope one of the crew has been instructed to wipe down the posing platform between each sitting.

· Photo-shoot over, and the judges trawl through photographs to pick the final 13, and almost every photo makes me yelp with horror. Honestly, sometimes the Makeover Episode just can't come fast enough. The Fugly Twins get through, although Tyra calls their names at either end of the process, just to start the Plot Manipulation juggernaut rolling with some drama and suspense. Also chosen are Melrose (honey blonde, big lips), Jaeda (black/latino), Eugena (black, face a bit like a powerpoint), Brooke (white bread pretty, should stop rapping immediately), Anchal (Indian, long hair, pegged her as a princess), A.J. (short-haired, at least bi-curious), Christian (possibly has sense of humour, so no real place in the show), Megg (rock chick), Megan (Mollie-Sue look-alike), Caridee (blonde, possibly stupid), and Monique (black, gorgeous). More freakin' tears and hysteria. Jeez.

Like I said, the first episode is never totally inspiring – it's kind of like the foundation that future bitchiness and severe personality disorders are built upon.

Next week, the 13 finalists discover their new module castle, Monique "pees" on the bed, and Tyra "unleashes her inner demon", possibly by screaming. Setting. Wetting. Blood-letting.

Northern Exposure Part II

….. I'm wrong sometimes.
Sleeping is very difficult at the Sydney Junction Hotel. I'd have a better chance of catching 40 winks if I curled up in a bathtub filled with broken bricks and wild dogs. Thumping, rubbish music downstairs was replaced at 3am by the pub's previous contents spilling out onto the street. A few ticks of the clock later and the discordant chimes of the SCREECHING SATANIC RAILWAY CROSSING ALARM kicked in every half hour. Until dawn. You could practically tell the time by my muttered under-breath obscenities.

Eventually, and yet much earlier than I'd ever planned, I balanced my throbbing head somewhere on top of my tired, wired shoulders and dragged my leaden feet down the hall to the shower to scrape off a grimy layer of hangover. Eventually Kyles did the same thing, and we had only two things on our mind – water and bacon. We packed and trudged ungracefully down the stairs to the front bar at about 9:30, handed in our key, stowed our bags until later and asked Cheryl for two massive glasses of water. She obliged cheerfully, adding "..and why do youse need those, do youse think?", and laughed at our sorry, sorry, pale turquoise selves.

A girl recommended a place called Impact for breakfast, and I have to say they should fire their graphic designer immediately, but give their breakfast cook a pay-rise, a hug and a big bottle of Scotch. Bright pink banners with non-ironic 80s-styled writing are wrong in almost every context, but especially in food-related scenarios. My 'breakfast baguette', though, was a gigantic, artistically-angled mound of crusty bread, double-cream scrambled eggs, dark, dense, buttery mushrooms, bacon and rocket, and Kylie's eggs Benedict was a masterpiece of Hollandaise proportions. And we inhaled them.

Parts One and Two of our hangover cure effectively stomached, we made a beeline for the beach to start Part Three via a pleasantly nattering cabbie, who was able to remember the exact address of almost everywhere he'd ever been in Sydney. We fronted up at Newcastle Beach, noting the area's fondness for constructing buildings, towers, signs and aerials as an assortment of massive phallic symbols, and decided, in a sudden wave of ladylike politeness, to nickname Newcastle 'DickTown'. The beach was big, wide, gorgeous, and refreshingly un-Sydney-like, and we found a good spot, stripped, creamed, and plonked. I made my way through an impressive number of pages of Kitchen Confidential, and every so often Kylie's phone alarm would sound, signifying Time To Turn Over. Our soundtrack consisted of nearby teenage mutterings, footballs bouncing dangerously close to our digs, and constant rip warnings being bellowed by the ever-vigilant lifies from the massive (phallic) megaphones atop the surf club.

Kylie battled the rip for a few minutes without drowning, but soon the sight of some straight-out-of-Puberty-Blues chicks scoffing potato scallops stirred us, and we packed up and went in search of deep-fried starchy goodness. I haven't craved a potato scallop for almost half my life, so I was surprised, but fully intent on our mission. The kiosk at Newcastle Beach was packed with a non-mobile queue, so we followed our noses around the heads to Noddy's Beach, an even pleasanter stretch of sand, grass, and gorgeous beachy Art-Deco frontage. We quickly located the un-cleverly-named Noddy's Kiosk, inside which we encountered quite possibly The Stupidest Girl In The World.

In exasperated, conversational point form:
Stupidest Girl In The World: "Is anyone waiting?"
Jo & Kylie (not out loud): "Ummmm…. maybe the fourteen people in front of you waving their money…?"
SGITW: "What would you like?"
J&K: "A bottle of water and 4 potato scallops, please".
SGITW: "You'll have to wait for the scallops".
J&K: "Ok. How long?"
SGITW: "I don't know. Ten minutes?"
Ten minutes later…..
SGITW, laden with delectably greasy bag: "Two scallops? Anyone? Two scallops?" (silence)
J&K: "Ummm…. we ordered four scallops?"
SGITW: "No…. I'm sure these were for someone else. Do you know who served you?"

And so on. I won't even go into the Great My-Scallops-Are-Still-Frozen-In-The-Middle-You-Dopey-Cow Fiasco. It's enough that we went through it. I won't take you down with us.

Eventually, after wiping the greasy sheen from our satisfied faces, we strolled along The Esplanade towards Newcastle Station. The Esplanade seems to serve two purposes:
1. To give People Who Stroll a nice, scenic hobble along the waterfront; and
2. To give People Whose Cars Are Their Life-Partners somewhere to cruise and park.
The phrase "show us a burn-out, mate" in native Novacastrian drawl was heard gleefully at this point. Alas, a burn-out was not.

Kyles and I cabbed it back to Hamilton on a coffee-seeking mission and sat down at a very nice joint called Eurobar. Eurobar houses two significantly notable things – outstanding chocolate fudge cake with unnecessarily decorative cocoa, and Newcastle's only three attractive men. Kylie flirted with grace and panache, I smiled like an idiot.

Aesthetic sensibilities satisfied, we hauled our mildly sunburned arses back to the SJH to collect our bags from Cheryl, and thanked her heartily for her hospitality. I stopped myself from grasping her shoulders and shouting "Double-glazed windows, woman! Do it now!", and just nodded instead.

Relaxed, sun-kissed, coffeed up, with a train ticket in my pocket. Must be time to go home.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Northern Exposure - Part 1

God, I love long weekends. I love being able to fill up two full days with activity, mania and enthusiasm, and still have one day up my sleeve for reflection, possibly regret, and sitting on one's arse on the patio with a book and a cuppa.
Suffice to say, I won't be regaling you with tales of arse-sitting, reflection, or tea.

Kyles ran a "let's go to Newcastle" idea past me earlier in the week, as a couple of digital media artists she'd met recently were involved with Electrofringe, part of the This Is Not Art festival in the relatively Northern city. Within ten minutes of the suggestion, we'd checked the train timetable, booked a room at the curiously named Sydney Junction Hotel (SJH) in Hamilton, downloaded the festival guide and formulated a plan.

I met Kyles at Central Station at 7am on Saturday, and we did what everyone does before a trip – had a cup of terrible coffee and a disgustingly delicious ham, tomato and "cheese" toasted sarnie. Eddy Avenue at dawn's crack on a Saturday is a bag-clutchingly entertaining place, filled with the kind of people who either woke up crazy, or have been crazy aaaallll night. After a sip of brown milky dishwater, Kylie elbowed me and said "Here we go – the bros are in town", indicating towards a sideways-baseball-capped, bandanna-ed, pants-rolled up cliché, and his considerably more dapper and sheepish friend, both of whom strutted into the plaza like Ozone and Turbo from Breakdance II: Electric Boogaloo (but without the poppin' or lockin'). Rather than saving the Community Centre from certain destruction, Ozone proceeded to execute the Most Thorough Hammy Stretch In History, utilising at whim every tree, railing, bench and retail outlet to assist him in his quest for bendiness. Then, of course, he started kickboxing an invisible foe, bless 'im.

Our view of these athletic goings-on was briefly interrupted by some amorous attention from a local gent, which we politely declined. I was tempted to help the poor man with a quick workshop, including role-play and self-assessment, on Opening Lines Which Are A Mistake, but there simply wasn't time before our train arrived. Additionally, I'm not sure exactly where one can go with "I like Girls. Girls are fantastic. I reckon they're fantastic. I like girls. I'm not with them much, though". Non? Pourquoi?

After waiting for a few minutes on what turned out to be the wrong platform, taking winsome photographs of ourselves in front of the wrong train, a helpful fluorescently-clad man steered us in the right direction, and we settled into our seats. Kyles busied herself recording some video for her scheduled 'Painting With Light' workshop later in the day, and I made my usual Saturday acquaintance with the Herald Cryptic Crossword, obviously because I'm the most rock n' roll person in the universe. Two silver-haired types behind us appeared to be reading aloud from the Pensioner's Book of Conversational Stereotypes, specifically referring to the chapters on The Virtues Of The Seniors' Card, How Public Transport Works, and I Bet I'm Taking More Pills Than You. A skeletal, possibly clinically-insane boy sat near us and muttered softly to himself, and a bunch of lads, all seemingly with the nickname "Boofhead", got pinched for not buying tickets, but otherwise it was a reasonably pleasant and uneventful journey. At one point Kylie asked "Do you reckon we can name all 50 American states?". I didn't. I was right, but that didn't stop us from becoming utterly, utterly obsessed. Like I said – rock n' roll.

We arrived at Hamilton station just before 11am, and saw our hotel, the SJH, across the tracks and road. Our access was temporarily blocked by an electronic arm which stopped us crossing the tracks to our certain death as a train approached, accompanied by a very stern and eardrum-rupturing alarm. Remember that alarm. It's a significant character in this yarn, and one that makes me want to learn how to use a mattock.

The SJH appears to have been recently updated, showing that the Great Blonde-Wood Pub Makeover Cancer was not solely confined to Sydney. It was inoffensive enough, with a massive central bar, a restaurant at the back, a pool room, a beergarden, the obligatory pokie den, a dance-floor, and some very comfy couches. We were welcomed to our digs by a nice bloke and his missus, neither of whose names were offered, so I'm going to call them Ken and Cheryl. I have a suspicion that, since Kyles and I decided to make the budgetary accommodation decision to share a queen-bedded room, Ken and Cheryl may have suspected we were Hamilton's Newest Lesbians, rather than the certified man-loving straight chicks we actually are, but for $45 dollars a night, whatever. The room was worth every cent, too – and not a single penny more. It had at least two mod-cons, being a kettle and a window, but the share toilet and shower were at the end of the hall, and the only mirror in the whole place (yes, yes, I know that's girly, but a chick likes to look noice on inter-city jaunts) was a tiny rusty bugger in the toilets. I'm not complaining. I'm just letting you know.

Our plan for the day was to have a quick squiz around Hamilton and Newcastle proper, possibly fitting in a brief beach visit, and then making the Painting With Light workshop in time for Kyles to have a play on the computers and interview the attendees for an article she was writing, followed by, as anyone who has ever met us could assume, a bit of food and a bit of drink, before a happy game of pool and some possible cocktail sampling before a good night's sleep. It was a nice plan, concocted by the naïve in a factory staffed by Seventh Day Adventists.

We strolled up Beaumont Street in Hamilton past an inordinate number of themed restaurants, and hopped a 222 bus to Newcastle station, passing a pub called the Duck's Nuts, which I was determined to visit later just so I could say I had (it's kind of an OCD thing), and Australia's longest continuous string of bridal shops. It seems that in Newcastle on weekends, you surf, drink, see a band, and then propose to whoever's standing next to you. We alighted at the station and wandered along the waterfront towards the sound of distant guitars – there seemed to be a yoof rock fing happening, which, with a bit of retrospective Googling, turned out to be the Strikeback Festival. Threatening black clouds mixed with way-hey-hey too many black t-shirts and eyeliner crimes encouraged us to turn back towards shelter and grab some lunch. We spent a gorgeous hour at the Customs House Hotel – a mildly swanky sandstone edifice, with a big umbrella-strewn courtyard and a broad, cane-chaired, mint-juleppy verandah overlooking grassiness, treeness, and waterness. We ingested well-prepared animal parts and bread products, and my favourite wanky accessory – the Personal Pepper Grinder – came out for the fries. I figure if you're in a place that gives you a separate little dish of beetroot jam with your burger, it's okay to bring out the PPG.

Kyles and I commented on the ubiquitous regional blokey chatter (overheard on the train, the bus, and in the pub), which basically consists of grunts, "f*cks", and strings of vowels unbothered by recognisable consonants. Provincial snobbery? Perhaps, but is going an hour without hearing one man instruct another man to insert a dog in his anus really too much to ask? Regardless, we were extremely relaxed after lunch, and Kylie floated the idea that perhaps her actual participation in the afternoon's workshop might not be as useful as stopping by near the end of it and asking attendees what they thought. Somebody said something about shopping, and our fate was decided – we ambled enthusiastically towards Hunter Street Mall, because that sounded like the best of place to spend money on stuff.

We were mistaken. Take Pitt Street Mall (obviously not a good start), get rid of all the blokes wearing actual shirts, close half the shops, keep all the shit ones open and you're about there. The shop we spent the most time in was the chemist. Enough said. Whilst buying fifteen things each that we will never, ever need, Kyles asked the sales assistant where a good place to get coffee was. The girl suggested Gloria Jeans, and then recoiled in horror at our involuntary expressions of disgust. Her horror quickly changed to a serene, backlit kind of recognition, as she realised the truth – we were uppity Sydney hedonists, not convinced we were drinking proper coffee unless it was served by a scruffy gent with genital piercings. Like, she realised we were wankers, and directed us to Derby Street. Bless you, my pastel-clad purveyor of balms and potions. Freakin' BINGO.

I slurped down an excellent coffee served by an unshaven idiot (perfect!), and Kyles and I pounced on shop after shop filled with owner-designed frocks, quirky shoes, ironically-printed t-shirts , skinny, vegetarian, sour-faced staff and dresses which would certainly show way too much of our boobs. Retail Heaven, in other words. Derby Street has a Surry Hills/Glebe kind of vibe, with the associated good places to eat, drink, and spend money. So we did, until Kylie looked at the time and realised that, if we really hustled, we could probably catch the last 15 seconds of the Painting With Light workshop her new mates Kat and Jasper were running, so we hauled arse through some truly gorgeous tree-lined, terrace-house heavy streets to the college, where we walked in the door just as everyone at the workshop was walking out. I was introduced to Kat, an endearingly pigtailed artist, her new husband Jasper, also an artist (but without pigtails), and Jill (although Kyles and I heard "Julie" and proceeded to call her that, un-corrected, for at least two hours), an American visiting artist who had been squeezed into Kat & Jasper's hotel room, literally in a drawer, Japanese-style, by the festival organisers. They didn't seem at all phased by the fact that we were much, much later than we said we'd be, and suggested a drink after dumping their equipment at the hotel. There was something about that afternoon. People kept suggesting good stuff.

We all squeezed into the tiny hotel room (I sat in the drawer) and Kyles and I realised that the American Jill/Julie may be able to help us with our Naming American States obsession, which she did – screwing up her face and dotting her finger around an imaginary map in the air. From rough scrawls and disjointed counting, we assumed we had all fifty, and left the hotel to have a drink at the Duck's Nuts, which to my utter delight was right across the road. Comedy photos taken, we spent a short while in the depressing end of a depressing pub ("Duck's Nuts" obviously not meaning the same as "Dog's Bollocks"), buoyed only by lively conversation and a little bit of beer. We noticed that we were, in fact, one state short, and leapt up joyfully (well, sort of went "ray") when we nailed down the last sucker – MINNESOTA. In honour of Jill/Julie's help, we nicknamed her Minnesota and wrote it on the wall. And now, I shall never speak of naming all fifty states again.

We left the Nuts and wandered the streets investigating some of the Electrofringe installations and happenings – NewShop, a futuristic supermarket which was apparently a direct ripoff of another artist's futuristic supermarket, Unreasonable Adults Gift/Back, a concept-based swapping program which I didn't have the energy to get into or understand, a couple of shopfronts containing artsy sculptural bits, and then what seemed like the hub of the matter – a building with beer-laden tables, chairs, and art students spilling out into the street. I suffered a distinct university flashback at the sight of random clusters of pimples under interesting haircuts swigging beer and scowling, and was thankful when we turned away.

Kyles and I, having been walking around in the same clothes since sun-up, got a cab back to Hamilton to doll up and have something to eat, arranging to meet Kat, Jasper and Minnesota later for drinks. We sat in a place called Thong Thai for about three days waiting to order, ending up with some reasonably decent crisp-skinned chicken with a brilliant ginger dressing. Back at the SJH, I ordered an uncharacteristic soda and lime for my clothes-changing refreshment, whilst Kylie opted for a Lime Splice – an okay-tasting teenager of a cocktail complete with pineapple wedge and bendy straw. When she asked the bargirl to suggest a cocktail, the "Sexual Chocolate" sounded like it wouldn't fit through any straw yet invented, so she opted for the gentler, more tropical thang. It always feels good when you stay at a pub to grab a drink, open an out-of-the-way door with your special key and just waltz upstairs to your room.

At this point, having our conversation interrupted once or twice by the train-crossing alarm across the road and its ability to permeate brick, glass and bone, we wondered with a nervous giggle what time the last train came through tonight. Not the last we've heard from the bugger.

On her way back from changing in the distant bathroom, Kylie apparently clocked one of our neighbours, and she made delicate hand signals and facial expressions to me to indicate that he may have been quite intensely interested in self-gratification, to peals of mirth from me.

Acceptably groomed, and having received a number of texts from the three artists announcing that they were completely smashed after an intense cocktail-drinking session, we cabbed it to a really, really nice bar called Terminal One on the waterfront. Kat, Jasper and Minnesota were indeed at least three sheets to the wind, and poured us champagne whilst summoning the cocktail waiter. No pineapple wedges and suggestive names here, mate – I imbibed a magnificent chunk of the menu, including an apple & sage martini and an apricot & rose margarita. 'Cause I'm all class, like.

Suddenly we were beset by the shrill stylings of a hen's night, the members of which had followed Kat to our table after meeting her in the ladies, not believing that she was 40 and had just married a 24-year-old. The sophisticated buzz provided by the cocktails was somewhat lessened by the appearance of a girl in a blue frock and pink veil pinned all over with cardboard hens, each inscribed with a tops dare like "Feel a guy's arse on the dancefloor", or "Ask three guys how big their manhood is". Two of the hen's posse had parts of themselves wrapped in bandages and Glad Wrap, apparently so they wouldn't spill drinks on their new tattoos. I'd be happy to transcribe some of the hens' conversation here, but I'm pretty sure only Alsatians could hear it. They were harmless enough, but after they left I had a bit of residual humming in my ears.

A lot of the next hour has, in retrospect, lost some of its chronological order, but randomly arranged imagery includes more champagne, lychees, newlyweds having ever-more amorous embraces, the phrase "Frocked Up Large", a couple of broken glasses, a change of table, a dairy queen carved out of butter, and finally a moment of clarity as I ordered what I insisted (erroneously) would be my last drink of the night – a proper salt-crusted margarita.

Let's take a moment to honour the margarita, and also to simplify it a little.

At this point, the conversation became political and quite possibly very, very boring, peppered as it was with phrases we seemed to insert purely to prove that we could still pronounce things. My offering was "That kind of thing just makes academia stagnate", which was completely blown out of the water by Kylie's awe-inspiring "Like a self-actualised biographical novella". It's all just bollocks though, innit?

Kat and Jasper had left at some point, assumedly to have a good snog before Minnesota returned to her drawer, so the three of us jumped in a cab (ignoring, with terror, passers-by asking if "youse were garn to Fanny's"), and decided to introduce Minnesota to the joys of our "loungeroom" at the SJH. We started in the pool room, beating a couple of guys soundly at first, and then doing not so well in subsequent games. I must mention here how sweet everyone in Newcastle is. The girl who accidentally smacked me in the face with a pool cue apologised like, a thousand times. Minnesota developed a dangerous-sounding case of the hiccups, so Kyles and I bundled her into a cab outside, and thought we might try popping into a neighbouring pub, named "Signals" after it's clever, clever proximity to the railway station, and immediately regretted the decision. Main bar: girl singing Meatloaf karaoke. Toilets: drunk pregnant girl calling cab. Beergarden: aggressive fat girl getting the pip with her boyfriend and smashing a glass. In life there's usually only one or two reasons to leave a drink unfinished, and here I was with three!

We practically sprinted back to the relative comfort of the SJH and celebrated our escape by having a quick bum-shake on the old dance floor. You could almost see my batteries running out, so we each grabbed a soft-drink and a packet of chips and dragged our soggy bodies up to our room. Cheese corn chips never tasted so good. Even now I can't believe that sentence came from me. Never mind – at least the dark, velvety chasm of sleep was about to envelop me….