The FOMM alt-Christmas playlist

Alt-Christmas playlist Santa escaping shopping centres to go fishing in Ewen Maddock Dam, photo by Bob Wilson

The first thing you’ll notice about my carefully curated alt-Christmas playlist is the absence of Six White Boomers and The 12 Days of Christmas. I’ll walk out of the room if someone starts on that tedious epic. I was intending to write a Grinch-like piece this week, but instead decided to share my eclectic view of the world through an alt-Christmas playlist.

What set me off on this tangent, dear reader, was making visits to three different shopping centres in the past three weeks. It wasn’t so much the crowds, the noise, the proliferation of tattoos or the inappropriate wardrobe choices that got me down. It was being assailed, or should that be wassailed on all sides by different streams of Christmas music. It ranged from Bing and that tired old northern hemisphere trope to Jose Feliciano wishing us a merry one from the heart of his bottom.

For someone whose preferred background music is Bach or Riley Lee playing the shakuhachi, it is an assault on the senses. It seemed to me, though, that most people were oblivious to Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman, as they trudged around shopping centres at Carindale, North Lakes and Morayfield. In fact, as their laden trolleys would indicate, they seemed intent upon spending.

A survey this week by reckons Australian shoppers will spend $492 (each) on Christmas gifts alone. Women will apparently spend $58 more than men. Finder’s Bessie Hassan said the 2017 spending estimate was slightly lower than 2016, when Australians spent on average $539 on Christmas presents.

The shopping swarms were probably to be expected, given the 3.6% rise in the consumer confidence index between November and December. The Westpac Melbourne Institute’s Index is 5% above the average for the September quarter, which saw a ‘disturbing’ slump in consumer spending.

While consumer confidence may have bounced back at a critical time for retailers and their landlords, the keepers of the index are circumspect.

“…with ongoing weak income growth, a low savings rate and high debt levels, we cannot be confident that consumers have the capacity to sharply lift spending, despite higher confidence.”

The irony of my three visits to large shopping centres is, had I planned ahead to buy the small but well-chosen gifts, I could have done it online and saved myself the grief.

So to the FOMM alt-Christmas playlist; they’re not all leftie, anti-Christmas rants and there’s a thread of peace and love running through all of them.

There are a couple of genuine carols, a peace anthem or two, some Australian content and more.

My music correspondent Franky’s Dad offered to create a Spotify alt-Christmas play list for me. Until he did that, I had not subscribed to Spotify. (Hands up who else has no idea what ‘Spotify’ is. Ed.) Unlike many list stories you will find on the Internet, these songs are not in order of preference. I happen to like all of them, but feel free to disagree or tell me which alt-Christmas song I should have included instead.

All of the links here are to YouTube videos. Just dip into them as the spirit moves you. For those who have Spotify, here’s the link:

1/ The Little Drummer Boy, interpreted here by my favourite acapella group, Pentatonix. If you like the group and this genre of music, they do a splendid version of Jolene with songwriter Dolly Parton.

2/ River, by Joni Mitchell. Ah, what a wistful, sad song. They’re cutting down trees and putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace. But Joni just wants a river to skate away on (as you do if you live in Canada).

3/ Fairytale of New York, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, a bawdy anti-Christmas ballad of drunkenness and fractious relationships. I like the bit where the boys from the NYPD sing Galway Bay. A classic.

4/ I’m growing a beard downstairs for Christmas, Kate Miller-Heidke and The Beards. This quirky, M-rated Christmas satire won the best Comedy/Novelty song category in the 2015 International Songwriting Competition.

5/ 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night, Simon & Garfunkel, 1966. Half a century later, this timeless carol’s theme of peace and goodwill is still being drowned out by the negativity of global news.

6/ Suddenly it’s Christmas Loudon Wainwright III. Yep, it starts with Halloween (forget about Thanksgiving, that’s just a buffet in between). As Loudo sings – it’s not over till it’s over and they throw away the tree.” The Spotify version is a remix, but the impudent tone is still there.

7/ Happy Xmas (War is Over). One of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s many pleas for world peace.

8/ Getting Ready for Christmas Day, Paul Simon. From early in November to the last day of December, he’s got money matter weighing him down. Simon cleverly intersperses the lyric with a 1941 sermon, voiced by black American preacher, Rev J.M Gates.

9/ The Silver Stars, Brisbane Birralee Voices. This is an Australian carol by William James which has also been sung by our Maleny chamber choir, Tapestry.

10/ Little Saint Nick, the Beach Boys. I’ve got Macca from Australia all Over to thank for this as he played this merry tune to close out his show last week. It sounds a bit like a rebadged Little Deuce Coupe, but who’s complaining.

11/ How to Make Gravy, Paul Kelly. Where would we be in Australia without the letter to Dan from Joe, who’ll be spending Christmas in jail? Kiss my kids on Christmas Eve and make sure you add a dollop of tomato sauce to the gravy.

The Christians and the Pagans, Dar Williams. The definitive song about disaffected families and how they come together at Christmas and try to find common ground.

(Our friend Rebecca Wright does a cracker version of this one).

Meanwhile, people, there are only 2+ days more shopping days to spend your quota. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s Money Smart tells us that the average credit card debt after the holiday season is $1,666.  While 82% of Australians will pay this off in up to 6 months, 11% will take six to 24 months; 4% will take two years or more and 3% believe they will never pay it off.

If you are worried about waking up with a debt hangover, go here, where you’ll find helpful tips, It’s probably too late for this year, but as Loudon Wainwright observes, of all such holidays, ‘it’s not over till it’s over’.

Season’s Greetings and take care on the roads – Bob and Laurel.

Flashback to Christmas 2015

A dog-doo afternoon

Amsterdam dog doo sidewalk photo Laura K Gibb

So I’m walking the dog in unfamiliar territory – Brisbane bayside suburbs. I have my little black plastic dog doo bag tucked into the hip pocket of my jeans, as one should. But it seems many people in this particular suburb don’t give a shit about dog shit, if you’ll pardon my Flemish. If you’d taken a plastic supermarket bag and a trowel on this walk and could be bothered, you’d end up with a good five kilos of dog doo just from this one suburban street and a small park.

The words (above) on an Amsterdam sidewalk translate to ‘dog in the gutter,’ but the city’s tolerance has been stretched. Dog owners must now carry a plastic bag or a trowel and inspectors can issue a €50 fine. There was also a suggestion that owners be traced (and fined) through DNA tests on dog doo, according to the English language NL Times.

Some responsible Australian dog owners have somehow trained their pets to back their arses under a tree or shrub to do their number twos. If you don’t have a bag you can just throw a bit of mowed grass over it.

In one of the episodes of the Stan series Billions, Public Prosecutor Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), bullies and shames a guy into picking up after his dog. It’s a gratuitous and outlandish scene in a series known for gratuitousness and outlandishness.

My favourite line is (guy) “Why don’t you mind your business?” Chuck replies “This is my business.”

(Actually it’s the dog’s business, if you want to be pedantic).

If you are a dog owner, this YouTube video of the dog doo scene will hopefully remind you to ‘do the right thing’.

There are many other examples of TV writers (Family Guy) and others taking up the dog doo theme.

Songwriter Loudon Wainwright III works the dilemma into a song (Man and Dog from his 2014 album Ain’t Got the Blues (Yet).

Here’s the appropriate verse:

“When a man has to carry a plastic bag
on his person at all times
when a dog dumps on a side walk
walking away is a crime, living in the city…

(this will lift your mood, maybe)

Loudon sings about walking your dog as being a good way to meet a woman, although one would suggest that carrying a (full) plastic bag on your person would not be alluring.

Walking a dog in a strange neighbourhood means people don’t call out hello to the dog by name (even if they don’t know yours). Also, you don’t know which yard has a dog that will bark and snarl or if the gate is open or shut. Some people, on seeing a large dog with jaws approach, will pick up their little squealing ball of fluff, which, while seemingly prudent, is apparently not the best way to socialise animals.

On my walk last Saturday I did meet a woman who came out of her driveway to sook over the normally sooky dog but he was too intent upon, as my friend Mr Loophole calls it, “reading the P-mail”.

I told She Who Sometimes Scoffs I was thinking about writing a column with the dog as narrator, which she said had probably been done. She was right.

Here’s a reading list which is probably by no means exhaustive:

So after flirting with that idea: “Why do you want me to come? There are so many far more interesting things over here.” Or “Why do you want me to put my lipstick away? Call a spade a spade, you stupid human.”

So I decided on a different approach, and that was to use the failure of dog owners to clean up after their animals as a clumsy yet probably accurate political analogy.

Let’s use the current Queensland Labor government as an example. The party has been in a tenuous state of power since January 2015 and will contest an election sometime in the next 12 months.

In the interim, the government is supporting Indian company Adani’s controversial plan to develop a new coal mine near Alpha in western Queensland. This would require the building of a railway line to the Abbot Point coal terminal north of Bowen to export coal from the (expanded) port. This proposal has sparked a broad protest movement with former Greens leader Bob Brown weighing in.

“In 40 years’ time people will be talking about the campaign to stop Adani like they now talk about the Franklin (Dam). “Where were you and what did you do?” they will ask.

“This is the environmental issue of our times and, for one, the Great Barrier Reef is at stake,” Brown wrote in the Guardian Weekly on March 24.

The Queensland Labor government wants this project to happen. Promised employment, it seems, is the government’s main reason for risking environmental damage to the Great Barrier Reef and incurring the wrath of many loyal Labor voters.

My point, if clumsily made, is that if and when the Queensland government is toppled, it will be a replaced by another regime. When protestors make their valid points about the risks of environmental damage, the next government can always say, “It’s not our mess”.

One could make the same case for offshore detention centres, the proposal to drug test welfare recipients or the cashless welfare debit card being trialled in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

The potential for the latter to become a big mess is that a cashless welfare card system could be extended to all welfare recipients, even pensioners. Now that’s not a mess I’d want to clean up.

Returning to the original rant, people should pick up their dog doos. If you forgot a plastic bag (and we have all done this), as Chuck Rhoades suggests, “pick it up with your hands”.

Paul Giamatti’s character says to the shamed guy as he’s walking away:

“Sir, still some over here.”

“That’s not (dog’s name), man!

“It is now,” says Chuck, while talking on his mobile about his nemesis, the crafty funds manager, Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis).

The scene ends with Chuck thanking the guy for doing his civic duty. “Feels good, doesn’t it.”

One could extend this analogy to the real estate development company which mistakenly sent an email to its entire database thanking recipients for supporting their Sunshine Coast development. Mine was addressed, ‘Dear Bob’ and thanked me for supporting Sekisui’s development application for Yaroomba Beach. At some point I must have signed a petition against the proposal so I was one of unknown numbers of people who got the email from the developer thanking them for supporting the project. We got an apologetic email from Sekisui about the same time we read the story in the Sunshine Coast Daily.

To me, the second email was like the guy who walks his dog without a plastic bag and has a citizen shame him into picking up dog doo with his hands.

It’s called doing the right thing.