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Fast forward

I screamed, bringing the relatives running, and setting the dogs off howling in sympathy.

‘She’s blown a circuit, man,’ I heard my computer-wrangling nephew whisper. ‘Maybe the complete hard drive.’

‘Nah, she’s just seen something she didn’t like on the telly,’ said my son, keeping his wits about him, wresting the remote from my rigid fingers and, with a practised motion, switching channels. ‘Tea and Tim Tams should fix it.’

Later I was able to report that I’d seen the scariest thing on TV, something that summed up the whole damn Area 51-ing, X-filing, grassy-knolling, crop-circling shebang. Little did Rupert’s illuminati pals know that a clue for the masses had slipped under their Echelon monitors when a hardly-known and less-watched craft program on the Odyssey channel let slip part of the Big Plot, the one where we all forget how to read anything but self-help books and the phone bill.

The program was Treasure Makers, and they were teaching you how to use a book for its proper purpose, which was not reading but, according to a ‘craftsman’, as domestic knick-knackery. The genial hostess advised all us housewives to go to second-hand bookshops and ask for the pretty, old ones, with the hard backs. ‘Most of them can’t give them away,’ she beamed. Then you take them home and by divers evil arts turn them into lamp bases, photo frames and, oh, irony—bookends. Craftsman grinned as he drilled through Fowler’s Modern English Usage, placing it at the top of the book corpses.
Some books you want to keep, of course: I couldn’t see the bookend choices, but I imagined Anna Karenina and Ulysses, drilled, glued and gelded to provide a support for Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, The Liver-Cleansing Diet, The Celestine Prophecy and Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It was the worst viewing moment in 2003 and it had plenty of competition.

Whatever else the record-keepers tell you about 2003, the hottest, the direst, etc. (I meant to type ‘driest’, but let it stand, let it stand), this year has been the shortest on record. My records, that is. You know how you find yourself in the supermarket scowling at those damn Easter eggs that pop up straight after the January sales, only to be reminded by a pitying checkout chick that it’s March already? Well, the whole year has been like that. My biorhythms must be slowing down (just to use that term tells you how old I am, doesn’t it?) and my internal relativities are telling me that right now it ought to be about, well, August. The whole year has gone whoosh.

But there’s a paradox to this internal time shift which means that, although it feels like last Christmas was only about four months back, it also seems like a year since Reggie Bird walked out of the Big Brother house, and an absolute aeon since Kath & Kim finished. And another aeon since the golden age of Buffy vanished, leaving a void that Angel, the spin-off, can’t ever fill.

But enough of my temporally challenged flimflammery: suffice it to tell you that the only new word I learned this year was bling and its variant bling-bling. It means flashy clothes and jewellery that recall Dolly Parton’s quip that it costs a whole lotta cash to look this cheap.

I’ve found this out by watching MTV with my son, who has been educating me. Under his usually benign dictatorship I have come to embody that line of Pope’s about first condemning, then tolerating, then finally embracing, because I am now a big fan of Queens of the Stone Age, Justin Timberlake, Christina
Aguilera and The Black Eyed Peas. I have come to think that music videos are groundbreaking art that shame pallid academic conceptual artyfarts, and I can’t stop singing ‘Thanks for making me a fighter’ during the washing up—a lot of learning in a very short year.

The watching has been a bit different, then, from my usual fare of news, current affairs, docos and comedy. What did I like? John Doyle’s Marking Time, Buffy and Kath & Kim, of course, because they were brilliant. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, National Geographic Channel, Jamie’s Kitchen, Roy & HG, Media Watch, John Clarke and Brian Doyle, and Inspector Rex and the Movie Show. But I didn’t like the stupid ignoramus-pomposity of Survivor, the boring-to-distraction real estate shows, or the cruel ill will of whoever at the ABC decided to screen the James Hewitt documentary at the precise time that young Prince Harry was visiting here.

This short year has a long obituary list, however. To the angels went Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn, Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, Nina Simone, Elia Kazan, Donald O’Connor, Buddy Ebsen—all old and maybe ready, who knows? And think of poor Barry White, Maurice Gibb and Robert Palmer, taken too soon. But there were others who might find the company of angels uncomfortable: Edward Teller, Idi Amin, and perhaps Leni Riefenstahl. Peace to them all. And peace, please God, and goodwill to all of us left here.                        

Juliette Hughes is a freelance writer.



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