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Given Bruce had never actually watched Millionaire Hot Seat quite why he agreed to be part of the audience is unclear. Perhaps it was the slim chance of being pulled from the crowd for the opportunity to win $1,000 / shame himself, although one lesson from today is that his lack of Australianism meant he would have been screwed over by the quizmasters’ obsession with Aussie colloquialisms in the early rounds: “A shag on a rock”; “You’ve got tickets on yourself” – you what? “Get fucked” he understands, but beyond that…

Anyway, having genned up on the format over a parma at the Fox on Sunday night, he rocked up at The Bridge for a pre-Channel 9 lunch and the warning: “The memo said no checked shirts”.

“There was a memo?” said a bemused Bruce.

“Something to do with the cameras not liking them,” said his fellow audience member, a veteran of Sale of the Century and Deal or No Deal and clearly someone who knew what he was talking about.

Saddened at seeing the prospects of returning to Collingwood a millionaire recede yet further, he plodded to join the line outside 9’s crumbling Richmond HQ: a collection of pimply media students, Pies fans desperate to bask in the presence of Chief Pie and the unemployed / unwashed (NB – the aforementioned categories did overlap) awaited. The sadness was soon multiplied when the forms were handed out regarding confidentiality.

“Are you connected to any of today’s contestants?” they read.

It meant only one thing: the contestants were already chosen; Bruce and friends had been dragged along under false pretenses. Rather than sit through five shows like obedient Pavlovian mutts with the prospect of one of them getting on the show they faced sitting through five shows like obedient Pavlovian mutts without any prospects whatsoever.

Once waved into the studio, things took a further turn for the worse. The warm up guy appeared, a former children’s television performer (apparently) now plumbing the depths of comedy with repetitive digs at the Kiwis in the crowd, references to his wife and slightly seedy chat up attempts with a ditzy blonde media student. And boy did he go on, encouraging us to practice the various forms of clapping, cheery and commiserating that would be required during filming while displaying a Greyfriar’s Bobby-like devotion to King Eddie.

Finally the pain ended (or at least took on a different form, somewhat like the effect of morphine on a burst appendix). The Clown moved off stage, the lights dropped and the audience erupted. Eddie appeared, started his spiel, stumbled over his words and the teleprompter stopped working. Genial Eddie wasn’t happy, indicating he might not be the sort of person you want to mess with, then disappeared. Take two went more smoothly, the contestants proved mostly useless and a guy walked away with $1,000.

The Clown’s promise of major prizes for audience members – which were later revealed to be $50 notes by a mountainous walking tragedy who has attended every Millionaire screening since day one (and received our raffle tickets out of thanks / pity) – weren’t enough to prevent plans to escape before the second show. They were foiled nonetheless as, barring time for a suit change for Eddie, there was no break. In the end, however, it was worth staying.

Between shoots, Eddie likes to take the mic from The Clown and banter with the audience. Here are three examples of what ensued:

“What’s going with you then, Snowy?” to an albino schoolkid.

“You can give it to him tonight” to the partner of a failed contestant from Sydney.

“An ammeter measures electric cunt. Er, current” to a female publican in a dazzling, sparkly – some might say electric – red blouse.

The first one set two of Bruce’s companions into fits of giggles while the second spread the fit to Bruce and his other companion, leaving all four doubled over trying to suppress snorts while a young woman attempted to win several thousand dollars like naughty schoolkids trying not to get caught in assembly. As for the third, well, it’ll be interesting to see if the producers manage to edit out the time Eddie said “cunt” on telly.

Is it wrong?

Never one to trouble himself with being up to date, on the ball, fingering pulses or any such thing, Bruce has fallen in love several aeons after the fact. Driving through town listening to the RRR signupathon yesterday, patiently waiting for the presenters to shut up and play some tunes, he was rewarded with a truly sublime track – a remix of Noiseworks “classic”* Reach Out (Touch Someone) by RRR presenter Faux Pas. Some follow up enquiries were in order and now Bruce awaits with baited breath the announcement of a live show or two.

Until then…

* Yes, those are fingers in the air speech marks

Since nailing their flags to the Collingwood mast, Bruce and Fran have taken their fair share of abuse for choosing late in life to become supporters of a team associated with ranks of Woodstock-smashing, toothless, tattooed bogans. And, while Bruce has suggested they get half a tattoo of the Collingwood crest on each of their arms and has been known to enjoy the odd pre-mixed, it is somewhat unfair: anyone who stood with him at the North Melbourne end of a game earlier in the season would agree that neanderthal lumps can be found among the supporters of any side.

Still, having befriended a Pies-supporting MCC member, they’ve recently taken to watching games in style and this weekend had hoped to be eating in the members’ dining room beforehand. This required planning, particularly when it came to dress, especially for Bruce, who has stood still fashion wise while Fran has become rapidly Collingwood-ised (bag lady chic). A few requests for advice later and he found himself in Episode, in Brunswick, the sort of place that takes the time (and fun some would say) out of hunting for vintage clothes in opp shops. Twelve suits and 20 waistcoats later, he was looking very much the reincarnation of David Niven, albeit fatter, lacking in moustache, poorer, monogamous and not dead.

Pondering the wisdom of karaoke later

Pondering the wisdom of karaoke later

With Fran attired in a 40s style tartan dress that Julie Andrews might have knocked together for Gretel, they set off for the ‘G in style. Sadly, the dining room had proved a step too far for their host at this popular a game so the European, in Spring Street, had to suffice. Its period feel suited perfectly, even if the busy Saturday morning crowd made service a little hurried and impersonal.

At the ground, even among the plentiful suits in the third floor members’ bar, the Scottish-tailored suit stood out while the Pies delivered a solid smashing to the woeful Tigers. For the first time ever, Fran held off from having a pie (clearly feeling it would destroy the illusion of grandeur). It felt wrong to let the standards drop, so an upmarket bar crawl had to follow. It started with tapas at Movida Next Door, served by a wonderful moustache that Bruce really should have stolen to complete the Niven-esque look. Then a misstep – Spice Market, in Russell Street, the sort of place that’s all style, no substance (or all tits, no taste, as Bruce suggested later) – for a couple of cocktails, nibbles and bubbly, before more cocktails at the Hairy Canary, where the arrogance of the barman who seemed to be catching a cold every time he went to the toilet cost them a mention in the paper.

At this point, it became clear that dressing up smartly can only do so much to improve behaviour: Bruce had phoned ahead to book a karaoke booth… Collecting yum cha on the way, the poor folks at Kbox suffered almost four hours of caterwauling (although Fran’s convinced she’s pretty good). And, just to complete the fall, Bruce had to return, hungover, the following day to collect the sunglasses he’d left under the table. Niven would never have sunk so low.

Somebody. Please! Just... turn... it... off......

Somebody. Please! Just... turn... it... off......

As acknowledged weeks ago, Bruce and Fran held out little hope of Masterchef Australia replacing the hefty hole left by Biggest Loser. The main issue then was the levels of arrogance displayed by the three male hosts. In the ensuing weeks, the pain of watching them has been intensified by Channel Ten’s presentation – essentially an inability to allow a sentence to end without pausing for

.

.

.

dramatic effect then foisting Real Stock ads on us.

It’s started to impinge on everyday life. Before adding milk to his coffee in the morning Bruce has to open the door of the fridge, look inside pensively, then grab one of the free ad rags stuffed into his picket fence and spend three minutes flicking through it before finally deciding that, yes, he will put the milk into his coffee. Fran, on the other hand, has started talking to herself. It begins with the morning alarm clock:

“Now Fran, it’s 6.15am, that was your first alarm call. It means that later on this morning you are going to have to get up and go to school,” she says, before depressing the snooze button and adding: “You now have five minutes to go. That’s five minutes to go.” At which point, Bruce has to restrain himself from turning over and smashing her annoying, bald little head with his fist.*

Sadly, the program has become to them what COPS was in the early 1990s to Bill Hicks: the sore tooth that you can’t stop touching. Every time Mini-Me appears with his snear and yells some inane encouragement (yesterday to declare that the reputation of Australia itself rested on their ability to make dim sum) or Jabba the Hutt does another impersonation of the over-indulged eight-year-old posh kid trying to please mummy before morphing into a lecherous version of the lizards in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas‘ acid-tripping bar scene, Bruce begins yelling while Fran starts writhing uncomfortably on the sofa next to him like a smack addict convinced there’s something under her skin.

YET THEY WATCH IT EVERY BLOODY NIGHT!

At least Police Chief Wiggum appears to have settled into his role, revealing a pleasant, encouraging nature and a willingness to leave the scripted, excruciatingly pointless, tension-building links to his co-hosts.

According to a TV column by Debbie Schipp in yesterday’s Herald Sun the Twittersphere is awash with people commenting on the show. Who can blame the Twits? After all, if you’re full enough of your own self-importance to believe people need to know your every thought (says the blogger – oh the delicious irony…), then why not emit your shrieks of despair and anger in 140 characters or less: “GET YOUR FACE OUT OF THAT PLATE, YOU BALD SLOB!” perhaps or “WHEN’S PRESTON’S LIZARD TONGUE GOING TO FLICK OUT AND GRAB THAT SPARE SPRING ROLL?”, even “SOMEONE PLEASE COME AND PLUNGE A STEAK (sic) THROUGH MY HEART”.

But hold on – apparently that’s not what they’re saying. Oh no, there’s a group of people discussing Preston’s cravats; one columnist apparently would like to marry him. She should talk to Fran, who’s taken to watching it with a sick bowl close at hand for the moments when he attempts to smile and/or slurp up an extra piece of food.

That said, who didn’t smile when Simple Sam won last night’s dim sum challenge, hey? And, according to my watch it’s only 275 minutes until tonight’s eliminator. Gives me plenty of time to poke this sore tooth. Ow…

[* She’s not bald]

The Sunday afternoon visit to the laundrette had already thrown up an amusing little piece of Collingwood. The first of the tumble dryers to finish its cycle contained nothing but pairs of Levi 504’s in shades varying from very black through black to very dark blue and dark blue. All the same size, all clearly belonging to someone who was 1) dedicated to their look and/or 2) afraid of making choices of a morning.

As Bruce was folding them carefully on the table (after resisting the urge to fold them incorrectly so they’d all have creases down the front – not so cool now, hey, Levi boy!) the acrid smell that had welcomed them into the shop appeared to get stronger.

“It stinks in here,” said Bruce.

“Oh my God,” said Fran. “Those clothes are on fire!”

True enough, smoke was rising from a pile of dishcloths, overalls and aprons at the end of the table. Bruce pulled them apart: an intense heat was burning inside. It appeared someone was trying to start a fire.

“Jesus. I’d best go and get some water,” said Bruce, racing next door to Cavallero, bumping past the returning owner of the Levi’s as he went.

Three buckets later – and with a month of airing his clothes to get rid of the smell to look forward to – the smoke had subsided, half the laundrette was filled with puddles and a load of destroyed fabric lay scattered on the floor.

“Ah, I told them never again,” said the Chinese lady in charge of the laundrette who had just appeared from the rear door.

“Who do they belong to?” asked Bruce.

“James’ place. You know, the Greek one on Johnston Street. They did this before,” she added, resigned to a ruined Sunday afternoon.

Bruce and Fran returned the buckets to Cavallero where they were offered coffees for their troubles, although not before the Levi’s man had stolen their place in the laundrette queue. Opportunistic bastard. Another Smith Street dweller had also come in by this stage, seemingly unpeturbed by the stench from the smoldering pile, and continued with her washing.

It left Bruce and Fran pondering two things:

  1. Are Collingwoodians so laid back they’d have left the laundrette to burn to the ground?
  2. How spicy must the hot dishes be at Jim’s Greek Tavern?

It was time to get away from the city – and time to get a little off the beaten track: no more Mornington, Great Ocean Road, Yarra Valley or the Dandenongs.

90 Mile Beach, on Victoria’s south coast beyond Sale and towards Lake Entrance, seemed to fit the bill: hardly anyone had been there and there was little written about it online (what comments there were tended to be of the “It’s our secret, we don’t want lots of people coming” variety).

Bruce and Fran had a new tent to try out before the music festival season kicked off (yes, this is being written several months after the fact; see below) and Parks Victoria operated 20 free campsites on a stretch of the beach, itself a long (90 miles long apparently), straight strip (a spit perhaps?) lined with sand dunes, that encases an inland waterway.

Ninety Mile Beach

The township of Seaspray sits at one end with Paradise Beach marking the eastern end of the free camping area (although the beach continues some distance beyond there). Neither appear to have much going on, although being five days before Christmas, it probably wasn’t peak season. Still, peaceful serenity was the aim of the trip.

Unfortunately peaceful serenity was the last thing on Fran’s mind once the Hoonmobile began swinging through the free campsites. Perhaps it was the terrifying experience of stopping off in Traralgon for supplies – more fast food joints than brain cells and enough potential Biggest Loser winners to keep Channel Ten execs decked out in gold chains well into their retirement – that had her feeling all Wolf Creek. Or perhaps it was the fact that every campsite appeared to be populated entirely by Ute-driving men with mean-looking facial hair wearing lumberjack shirts, heavy boots and meaner glares.

“Can’t we just go and try the one at Paradise Beach?” she asked after the sixth of 20 had been searched, revealing the only pitch far enough from anyone else to be full of mosquitos and post-wipe tissue paper.

It was a fruitless request: Paradise was full to bursting with men of similar appearance, but this time they’d brought their trucks and what appeared to be armour-plated buses. Given the Australian surf fishing championships take place here every January they were all probably there to get in a little practice (either that or it was the Australian Bear Association’s pre-Chrimbo hugging convention). Still, the Hoonmobile was turned around and pointed back to Seaspray.

Fran’s courage pricked by the fact that none of the sites they’d visited earlier contained trucks, they returned to the earlier campsites with a fresh determination. This determination drove Bruce to believe the Hoonmobile had enough floor clearance to drive over a sawn off tree in the middle of the soft, sandy ground. He was wrong. Neither forward nor reverse would shift the car. It took Fran hopping into the driver’s seat and Bruce recalling his days as a prop forward to get it moving – even then with an unhealthy farting noise from the exhaust.

Eventually they settled, finding a quiet spot 100 yards from the sea’s edge and a short walk from the toilet. Tent erection in comparison to what went before was a breeze – aided by the opening of a Cooper’s Pale or two – and soon they were on the beach.

Talk about getting away from it: in the two days they were there, no more than a dozen people could be spotted within 10km in either direction on the beach – and no one ventured down there after dark (either the men were eating the day’s catch or hugging manfully), making every crash of the waves on the shore their own. Saturday’s weather was good enough for a spot of sunbathing, the water almost warm enough for a swim (well, a jump given the ferocity of the waves) and a smorgasbord of dazzling shells lined the water’s edge (and now a bathroom in Collingwood).

A well-stocked esky, a box of red as good as boxes of red can be, portable Ipod speakers and a pair of folding chairs made for comfortable star-gazing (and the glowing cocktail glasses from Wicked! made up for the torch dying). They even got deep, concluding something along the lines of:

“Even though the sun gives the Earth its energy, perhaps it’s actually there to keep us stupid, to keep us from being too ambitious. After all, it’s only when the light has disappeared from the sky that you get to see the sky as it really is and realise what is out there. The blue sky of the day is like a blanket hiding us from reality, like in The Truman Show.”

And so on…

They even saw a UFO on the second night. Both spotted a particularly bright flashing light that hadn’t been there the day before or indeed a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t moving like a satellite. Then, after a few seconds, it started moving rapidly away, heading diagonally eastwards and upwards until it disappeared.

“Did you see that too?” they asked each other, later recounting the moment excitedly to their neighbour, himself not averse to spaced-out nights on the beach, who rather mundanely pointed out that it wasn’t so much a UFO as an O: apparently satellites do move like that sometimes.

Appeal letter two in the mail

Appeal letter two in the mail

By that point they were home and about to discover that the damage to the exhaust was going to cost $350 to repair. They’ve just had a bill through from Vic Police to say they used a stretch of the Eastlink getting there, haven’t paid the toll and now owe a further $113. Some free camping trip.

Fran has just had to cancel a long-planned trip to Hong Kong at the end of this month to visit her sister and baby nephew because Victoria is to swine flu what the Pope is to AIDS. Bruce has already had one moan about the Australian Government’s handling of the bug and the pissweak media scrutiny they’ve faced over it – here.

However, neither aspect seems to have improved. Given that Australia was among the later countries infiltrated by the pig sniffles, it boggles the mind to think it – not one of the developing nations – could be the reason the threat level is raised to pandemic.

This morning, on ABC, the issue was raised again with Victoria’s head of public health. Bruce expected the ABC’s questioning to be of a more thorough bent than that of the commercial television news but, alas, no. It went along the lines of:

Journo: “How seriously ill are the Victorians now in intensive care for swine flu?”

Head of Public Health: “I don’t know. All I know is that they are in intensive care.”

I DON’T KNOW! Shouldn’t you perhaps have asked, since you’re Head of Public Health. And shouldn’t you perhaps have been pressed on this?

Journo: “Why has the spread been so bad in Victoria?”

Head: “Well, because the symptoms can be so mild we think the first case may have come in from the States undetected and spread before we knew about it…..”

But weren’t you supposed to have tough regulations in place to spot any cases aided by the headstart of watching it spread to several other countries first? And shouldn’t you have been pressed on this? No, once again an official was allowed to get away with declaring ignorance of facts that they must surely have known.

A doctor friend in New Zealand who has an even younger child than Fran’s nephew sees no reason for Bruce to cancel his visit planned to coincide with Fran’s trip to Hong Kong.

“Swine flu is a lot of smoke, little fire,” he reasons.

So, these latest events highlight a few problems:

  1. The continuing incompetence of the Australian Government
  2. The continuing ineptitude of the Australian media
  3. The overreaction of the Hong Kong medical fraternity

Worst of all, however, it means Fran’s now coming to NZ with Bruce. A week’s freedom ruined…