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Friday, 24 May 2013 - 9:53am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 24/05/2013 - 9:53am

How would Richard Branson solve your problem? With a publicity stunt. How would IBM solve it? By telling you nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. How would Bill Gates? By conceding that yes, somebody else's software is superior now, but the next version of Microsoft's is going to be even better, so buy Microsoft now to avoid looking foolish later. Disney? By taking an idea from folk culture and trademarking the life out of it.

It's no accident that the marketing industry has plenty of gurus; carpentry or plumbing not so many. Anybody who happily accepts the mantle of guru is almost certainly a fraud.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 - 9:55pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 22/05/2013 - 9:55pm

Nobody has a genuinely "spare" room. How many people do you know who have a totally empty room, or maybe a bare room with one or two pieces of furniture covered with sheets?

Many people have a room that they call the "spare room", because it's not the kitchen, lounge room, dining room, etc., or it has a bed in it but not one that someone sleeps in most nights. Perhaps it's just a storage room, or a room the cats really like so you leave them to it, or it's where you have your model railway but you still call it the "spare room" because who's ever heard of someone having a "train room", or a "cat room", or a "Marvel Comics room" adjacent to your "DC Comics room".

We have a region of what is technically the same room as our kitchen which an estate agent would call a dining area. Because everything that slithers out from between an estate agent's lips is a lie, the dining area is too small to accommodate even a modest dining table, unless you dispense with half of the chairs. So my dear lady wife and I do so, and use the space for card games and jigsaw puzzles and perverse sexual practices (only two out of three of these things are true, sadly - I used to like the occasional game of cards) on a dining table pushed up against the wall. We never dine there, it is not a room, but it is still "the dining room".

Who are we to label rooms? I say we should just let the rooms be. Maybe number them if we must. Or give them proper names: "I have to go to Simon; can you wait in Meredith for me in case the potatoes boil over?"

Friday, 17 May 2013 - 11:11pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 17/05/2013 - 11:11pm

Our microwave has just broken, and I'm totally lost.

I remember when microwave ovens were the exciting new thing that every household needed because of the inexorable oncoming revolution of microwave cookery. And every household bought a microwave and tried to cook with it, and found that it produced stuff that was hot and soggy, but not really cooked.

But then we found out that microwaves were really good at defrosting and reheating things. Not, I hasten to add, using the in-built defrost or reheat functions of the device. These invariably left you with partially-frozen, partially scalded food, or a frightful explosion that required a time-consuming mop-up operation. Instead we have all developed our own microwave "hacks", finely tuned to the particular device and the food we put in them.

What I find interesting is that everybody bought a microwave because it promised the ability to cook a leg of lamb in the time it takes to iron your bell-bottomed trousers, and that when you arrived at your cocaine-fuelled swingers' party to pop the lid of your tupperware container, revealing your enormous tasty joint, you'd be the belle of the ball.

But if you were to try to sell the things honestly, saying that they don't do any of the things you already do particularly well, but they do some other things sort of okay if you are really prepared to put some time and effort into it...

Anyway, mine's broken, and I'm totally lost. There's probably a metaphor for technology in general to be found here, but I don't care; I have a lot of cold food to deal with.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013 - 10:58am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 23/04/2013 - 10:58am

There's nothing quite as prestigious as receiving an award from a publication you advertise in. I'll never forget winning the Trading Post's Garage Sale of the Week. You can't buy recognition like that. Oh hang on; yes you can.

Monday, 22 April 2013 - 6:37pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 22/04/2013 - 6:37pm

Oh, FFS! You're paginating an 800-word 15 year old humour column? You do realise we've all installed adblocking extensions on our browsers, so increasing the number of "hits", "pageviews" or "impressions" is pointless? Why not just outright lie to your advertisers instead? It amounts to the same thing in practice, and irritates your readers less.

The oil slick that imagines itself the sea

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 21/04/2013 - 2:13pm

Last night I was at a party held by a couple of friends who I've known a long time, but not very well, in their grand, well-appointed house on a gated waterside estate. There were a few people there I knew slightly, more people that I knew not at all, and still more that were the pre-school children of the above, stumbling about, hitting their heads on things, and screaming at random intervals (the children, I mean).

In these situations, most conversations start with the question "What do you do?", and this was the first social situation I'd been in where I was able to answer "I'm involved in this fantastic IT industry grants program called Newstart Allowance." Ha ha. With increasing alarm I found nobody laughing at this line, not because it wasn't particularly funny (which, to be fair, was the case), but for these three reasons:

  • They thought I meant the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme.
  • They didn't know that "Newstart Allowance" was the official bureaucratic term for the dole.
  • They had no reason to know better because neither they nor anybody they knew had ever been on the dole. Newstart Allowance just wasn't a part of their world.

The second question strangers ask each other in these situations is "Where are you from?" Indeed they are often given to marvel at how absolutely nobody in Coffs Harbour seems to come from Coffs Harbour. One fellow I spoke to last night did so, and I am guilty of likewise wondering at this apparent phenomenon during my first few years in Coffs.

If you visit the decidedly downmarket Toormina Hotel, as I did earlier that day until the muzak drove me out (Oh, Meatloaf! You took the words right out of my mouth. It must have been while your music was making me vomit.), you will however find the majority of the patrons and staff are Coffs born and bred. You will also find that they know all too well what Newstart Allowance is, and what it's like to work low-paid, tenuous, often cash-in-hand jobs. They also know what it's like to live in a situation where the instruments of the state can be capriciously used against them; where AVOs and DoCS (now rather unbelievably known as FaHCSIA, which unless I'm mistaken would make the staff FaHSCIsts) can be wielded as weapons in acrimonious relationship breakups because magistrates and bureaucrats see them as second-class citizens.

Through the Boambee East Community Centre's excellent Life Skills for Blokes course, and volunteering at the Mens' Resource Centre in Coffs, I've heard awful stories by heartbroken people in situations such as losing access to their children, and unable to even speak to them on the phone for fear of ending up in jail. These are for the most part (though I admit not universally) thoughtful, intelligent, thoroughly decent people.

In contrast, if you attend any one of Coffs' multitude of business networking functions, you will struggle to find anybody who isn't a mindless, heartless, unscrupulous scam artist. These are the complete dullards who consider their fatuous enterprises to be the primary source of the region's wealth (such as it is) and bleat with panic and terror at the thought of losing any of their privileges, which are funded mainly from the pockets of that socially and economically disadvantaged majority of the local population who are completely invisible to them. They are the "key stakeholders" who craft the public policy upon which, once settled, they graciously permit us "public consultation". 

These people are a thin, rich film riding on top of the rest of society; the oil slick that imagines itself the sea.

At the Toormina hotel you can see the prematurely old and zombified shuffle, shake, and shudder their way to the nearest ashtray to clumsily stub out their cigarette butts. While watching one such fellow, I was reminded of something which I discovered while filling in Centrelink forms; something that a decade at the computer keyboard had hidden. On the average Coffs Harbour income, a moderate amount of beer at the pub is a rare luxury, but an excessive amount of wine-like product from a cardboard box is quite affordable. Consequently my nervous system is so shot that I find I can barely hold a pen, much less write with it. I've joined the rest of the trembling zombies created by the celebrated Coffs Harbour lifestyle.

At least I know that my Coffs zombie-hood is largely a product of this environment. The majority of my fellow zombies in this sprawling, key-stakeholder-designed, civic-infrastructure-free expanse of what Phillip Adams calls "brick veneerial disease" have never known anything else, and can only wonder why they feel so lonely, isolated, angry, and in such relentless psychological pain.

I am angry, and I don't quite know what to do about it. At least I know which side I'm on. I think maybe we should do something about that oil slick.

Friday, 19 April 2013 - 2:37pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 19/04/2013 - 2:37pm

The week in review, from the pages of the Coffs Coast Irritant:

Champagne corks could be heard popping in the McMansion of Ken and Barbie Hines, as they celebrated the news that housing in Coffs had become even more expensive. Watch out Port Macquarie, we're about to snatch the coveted title of Australia's least affordable town from you!

Climate change just keeps on showering us with goodies; first cane toads, now year-round mosquito-borne disease. If I had any money, I'd be betting it on crocodiles in Boambee Creek by 2020. Also, there's an animal called a mangrove jack. I thought it was just an ironically ocker name for a café.

On Sawtell beach, two people got caught in a rip and dragged out to sea. Three people swam out to save them, got caught in the rip and dragged out to sea. Had paramedics not intervened, half the population of Sawtell would be on the way to Lord Howe Island now. We're a brave little village, but not very bright.

A massive funeral stopped traffic along Hogbin Drive as a thousand friends and relatives spoke movingly of a shy, bookish introvert, not keen on sport, with an endearingly reserved but polite manner. You're not buying it are you? Okay, he was really a "normal" knockabout larrikin who tragically took one knock too many on the football field.

A heartless bastard might argue that Coffs has so many obnoxiously charismatic meatheads that one less is no great loss, but one must remember that the sustainability of any population of footballers is very fragile. Like pandas, they mate very infrequently, and are very particular about doing so only under the right conditions. Unless at least twelve of their closest friends are in the motel room, with a carton of warm lager, footballers have absolutely no interest in sex.

The Greens are running a campaign of hope in the Federal seat of Cowper. It's a good thing hope springs eternal; they will be needing an awful lot of it. I also hear Faith can move mountains. She's a big girl.

You would have thought that Southern Cross University would have been exempt from university funding cuts, on the grounds that it's a vocational training college, not a university. Apparently the government has been misled by the name. They're not the first, I suppose.

As anybody who knows me will testify, I've had just about enough of the negative Nellies who are constantly running down our beautiful region. Why all this talk of "notorious" accident blackspots? Why not "famous" accident blackspots, or even "scenic" accident blackspots? Accentuate the positive, people!

Sunday, 14 April 2013 - 5:13pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 14/04/2013 - 5:13pm

I don't believe one can say that Richard Dawkins "has made a career out of academic rigour". While I'm in no position to comment on his academic work, his brand of popular science is as infuriatingly simplistic and irrational as his brand of atheism (and the two are arguably not unconnected). The backlash against "New Atheism" is a welcome one. Any damage done to atheism was done by Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, and Harris, not by their critics.

Saturday, 13 April 2013 - 4:06pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 13/04/2013 - 4:06pm

We've had very good intell about the quality of the officers in the Coffs-Clarence Local Area Command over the last year. They do such incredible work that they must be on steroids or something. Whoever wins officer of the year, they're all entitled to keep their heads up.

Saturday, 6 April 2013 - 7:29pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 06/04/2013 - 7:29pm

"Here on the Coffs Coast we are lucky to have friendly streets and a thriving community"? I never cease to be amazed at the powers of self-delusion of estate agents.

Have you never been for a walk through Toormina or the Coffs CBD after dark? Have you not noticed that we have a third-world economy based on tourism, palliative care, and urban sprawl (plus a bit of cottage-industry methamphethamine production)? Or that any young person who plans to do more with their lives than make coffee, pour beer, take bets, sourly announce "Lunch is finished. We can do ya coffee and cake", build crappy pre-fab brick-veneer shacks two to a flood-prone quarter acre on concrete slabs ringed by Colorbond, or change the nappies of the demented, should get the hell out and never look back?

Yes, we have some lovely beaches - which "key stakeholders" are plotting to comprehensively defoliate in order to improve their ocean views (and property values - good news for estate agents). And yes... no, hang on, that's it; I'm out of good things to say about the Coffs Coast.

We could brighten our community by fixing these problems, not pretending they don't exist.