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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bmag December 13th 2011 - Pool games

I recently introduced 11-year-old Jack Howson to one of the simplest of pleasures from my childhood: eating watermelon whilst bobbing about in the pool. We placed a quarter slice of melon on a boogie board. Then Jack and I, each armed with a spoon, attacked from either side! It’s our third summer living in a house with a pool and we love it. In winter, it takes much less work (for no reward) than I had feared. In summer, it’s the centre of our world. Hence my invitation in the last issue of bmag for you to share your swimming pool activities. Cut this out and stick it under a fridge magnet for next time someone’s looking bored. And yes, many of these can be played just as easily at a council pool.

The game most mentioned was Marco Polo. This is the classic swimming pool twist on Tiggy. The person who is “it” or “Marco” closes their eyes and calls out “Marco!” every 10 seconds or so. Everyone else in the pool responds “Polo!” whilst at the same time moving to avoid being caught. To add more fun, change the call and response. Borrowing the shopkeeper scenes from Little Britain, Jack and I will yell “Margaret!” to which the response is “Yee-eeeesss!” Even more obscure, is “Yerp” and “Nerp!” from the movie Hot Fuzz. But the Howsons’ favourite version is Silent Marco Polo. “Marco” must listen and feel for water movement. If you’re looking for fun with a pool full of adults who don’t want to be yelling at the top of their voices, Silent Marco Polo is a complete crack-up!

For pool cricket, Jack and I allocate scores to different parts of the garden and pool. A basic tap into the pool is one run, two in the middle third of the pool, four in the end third and so on. Jono Perry plays it this way: “The batsmen are the only people out of the water and have to swim a lap for a run. The dive makes all the difference. Good fun, seriously tiring”. For a co-operative, non-competitive ball game, throw the ball from one end of the pool to the other, adding a point to the total score with each catch. A one-handed catch is worth two. Drop the ball and the score returns to zero. Set a target, such as 20, and see how long it takes to reach.

Ann Orchard suggests racing on “doodles” (I suspect the foam tubes are more commonly known as “noodles”). Ann says she races against her dog, which runs alongside the pool! Amanda Dell says “go underwater then flick your hair to get the weirdest style possible!” Before I go on to somewhat riskier activities, I don’t need to remind you about having at least one sober adult supervising pool activities, right? Good.
Rebecca Shaw’s suggestion: “When I was younger, my brothers put a long wooden pole across our pool. We used to knock each other off with pillow cases”. Michelle Ransom-Hughes says “underwater Chinese whispers is fun”. That’s definitely on the list next time we have a few people over. Steve Molk says “see who can sit on the bottom of the pool the longest”.

Bronwyn of Bundaberg suggests throwing dollar coins into the pool and searching the bottom for them (make sure you count and retrieve them all before the pool cleaner does!) Then there’s that other classic Whirlpool, suggested by a number of readers including Heath Carney: “You walk or run around the edge until it creates a current strong enough to pull you round”. Bernadette Young likes to “see who can surf (aka stand) on a body board or surfboard for the longest”.

Jack Howson is a big fan of Charade Jumping, where one person jumps into the pool miming a task, occupation or sport. Everyone else then guesses what it was. Jason Eade says “line up floating toys across the pool then try to walk across”. And comedian Melinda Buttle goes even more daredevil with “put the trampoline by the pool, hold my body board and jump into the pool while holding my board”. She calls it Boogie Jump. Mel, I can’t compete with that! I think I’ll just get some more watermelon out and float around for a while!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bmag Nov 29th 2011 - Blood donors

The Red Cross Blood Service has been hitting the airwaves again, desperately seeking donations as we head into the silly season. In one interview, the Blood Service’s Shaun Inguanzo told my 612 ABC Brisbane colleague Kelly Higgins-Devine there were just under three days’ blood supply left across Australia. Shaun was encouraging listeners to book an appointment straight away. But, the fact is, many of us are not allowed to give blood, myself included. Perhaps you’re disqualified but don’t realise it.

The reason I can’t give blood is I spent a combined six months in the UK between 1980 and 1996. I’m banned because there’s no test for vCJD, the human form of Mad Cow Disease. I wonder how many other people who like to holiday in Britain every couple of years might fit into that category. Even vegetarians who spent six months in the UK during that time are banned because of what the Red Cross calls “the extensive time period covered by the deferral and the possibility of unknowing exposure to beef or beef products”.

Here’s why some people I know are excluded from giving blood: Michael James can’t donate because he’s been male-male sexually active in the past 12 months. The Red Cross says this is because of “the statistically higher incidence of some blood-borne diseases (such as HIV) and the existence of ‘window period’ infections”. Michael says it’s ridiculous that there’s no option for him to tick “I’ve been sexually active unprotected with a monogamous partner of almost a decade”. Jen Hansen can’t donate “because I’ve had piercings and/or tattoos in the last six months”. Lyndal Cairns was turned away “because my fiancé, who had not had sex with anyone but my fine self for years, identified as a bisexual man.” Lyndal says she has been told that “before HIV, gay men were among the blood bank’s biggest donors because they were so community-minded and healthy”.

Kevin Conway can’t give blood “because I had a heart attack 10 years ago and have been on blood thinner ever since.” Daniel Rose has a lifetime exclusion because “when I was eight, I had a blood and bone marrow transfusion from myself – it was taken from my hip and put in my nose – and the blood service does not distinguish between your own product and other people’s”. Ask around and you’ll soon encounter people you know who are not eligible to give blood. You may not agree with the reasons given by the blood service but put yourself in the position of someone receiving blood and then see how strict you want the Red Cross to be with their screening!

Other exclusion categories include those living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, anyone who has been in prison in the last 12 months, and anyone who has been with a male or female sex worker in the last 12 months. If you’ve worked in an abattoir in the last 12 months or had acupuncture in the last four months, only the plasma from your donation can be used. There’s a full list of who can and cannot donate blood at

Secretly, I’m relieved that I can’t give blood. I don’t like needles or the sight of blood. But if I could, I would. As soon as researchers come up with a test for vCJD, I’ll be first in line with my sleeves rolled up. Currently only three per cent of Australians give blood. If you can, please do. Don’t assume everyone else will step up to the crease. Call 131 495 now and make an appointment. You can donate if you’re 16 to 81 years of age. You can donate for the first time up to the age of 71. Another friend of mine Gayle Richardson can’t donate because she had blood cancer. But she has received blood: “Two bags after giving birth and eight or 10 during chemotherapy,” she says and urges others: “Please, if you can give blood, do. Thank you to everyone who can and does give blood”.

On a lighter note, in the next issue of bmag I’m going to share with you some swimming pool games that my 11-year-old son Jack and I have invented over the past couple of summers. I’d love to hear about yours. Email me (see the address below) with some fun, original ways to entertain the troops in the pool during the school holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bmag November 15th 2011 - Danny and Kevin

When I first started writing this column at the beginning of the year, I secretly hoped the gig would include judging bmag’s Brisbane Person of the Year. I had no idea how difficult it would be deciding on just one winner!

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and I could see that all 10 candidates were worthy of taking out the award, with their outstanding, ongoing achievements in areas as diverse as business, science, the arts, sport and communities.

But in this most terrible of years for Queensland, for his work in the South East Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi, and for training and inspiring the next generation of SES volunteers, the decision to present the award to Danny Armstrong was unanimous.

Danny, as I said to you at the ceremony last Monday night, congratulations and thank you on behalf of your fellow Queenslanders.

I also want to congratulate a Brisbane radio stalwart and good mate who has decided to hang up his headphones after 21 years on the ABC. Kevin “The Big Wheel of Motoring” Weule hosted his first car valuation talkback show in 1990. Last Saturday, with obvious sadness, Kevin farewelled listeners, telling them that after 52 years in the car business it was time to enjoy retirement (read camping and fishing) and make way for the next generation (Kevin’s valuation company and his talkback show are now in the hands of Troy Dwyer).

Regular guests like Kevin Weule are the backbone of a radio station. More often than not they do it for nothing, week in, week out, and they’re as much a part of the station’s sound and success as the paid announcers. I had the great pleasure of working with Kevin when I was presenting regional afternoon radio in the mid 1990s. Heck, I think all of us at 612 ABC Brisbane have worked alongside Kevin Weule and learnt the spiel: “What sort of car? How many Ks? Air? Steer?”! Without Kevin Weule, I’m pretty sure I would have ignorantly sailed through my entire life without knowing the difference between dual-cab and twin-cab utes!

Kevin is a true gentleman who I know will be missed, especially by the older ladies with whom he would flirt (just a little) as they asked him what their “only driven to church on Sundays” car was worth. They were Kevin’s favourites too. You could see it in his face when he was talking to them. And Kevin would always take great care when talking to recently bereaved women faced with selling their husband’s car. Kevin always worried about them being ripped off. If time ran out, he would continue talking to these callers off-air long after the program had finished.

(I’ve just realised this is starting to sound like a eulogy. Well if it is, then at least Kevin is still around to read how much he’s been loved by his listeners and his colleagues at the ABC! We’ll miss you, Kevin!)

As Kevin Weule reflected on his half century in the business, he offered his listeners a final, serious observation: “One thing that should happen in Queensland – there should be annual roadworthies. The only time you do a roadworthy on a car is when you sell it. It’s going to cost Queenslanders a little bit more but you get a better quality of car. Over the years, when you buy a car from NSW, some of them are better cars. Here you can have a car for 10 years and not even take it near a garage.

“I don’t know how they’re going to do it. I don’t want to bring it up because it’s going to cost Queenslanders but one lady one time traded a car in and we went to roadworthy the car and she had the back brakes of the car squeezed up with a pair of pinch grips and taped up and she said `I was only driving the kids to school with the car. I wasn’t going anywhere’!

“And if they can’t get the airbags to work, they just disconnect them. A lot of that is happening.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bmag Nov 1st 2011 - Stephen Fry's 3.3 million

Remember the excitement when you hit 50 friends on Facebook or 50 followers on Twitter? Last week I had the chance to ask someone: “What’s it like having 3.3 million Twitter followers?”

Many celebrities, politicians and organisations have smashed through the million follower mark since CNN and Ashton Kutcher famously raced to be the first (Kutcher won in April 2009) but few if any have the intellect of British actor and writer Stephen Fry.

Fry has been in Brisbane to present a live stage version of his ABC TV show QI, at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre this week (Monday 31 October to Wednesday 2 November). Speaking on my ABC radio show, Fry explained why he’s drawn to Twitter:

“It suits me fantastically. Print journalists are a savage, unpleasant and deeply unlikeable people mostly who wish to do one down and make one look an arse so the great thing is when your Twitter followers exceed the circulation of a newspaper you can just tell any press person that you’re not going to do any print media for the rest of your life and it’s great. There’s no newspaper that has a bigger circulation than I do!”

The trouble is, Stephen Fry’s 3.3 million followers tweet him back, about once every 10 seconds from what I’ve seen. So how does he deal with one-on-one feedback on that scale?

“This is the problem and people have to understand Twitter. Sometimes newcomers don’t get quite how it works. You have to imagine I’m in the middle of a forest in autumn and leaves are going all around me in a huge cyclone and I might occasionally grab one and look at it, and grab another and look at it, but the vast majority howl past me without any chance of my seeing them.”

That said, he loves asking a direct question and watching the responses come in. “It’s terrific fun when you show it to someone! Dangerous, intoxicating and thrilling at the same time!”

Stephen Fry knows he can’t promote every charity or fundraiser he’s asked to – “It’s hard to turn them down but I don’t want my Twitter feed to become a bulletin board of good causes” – and when he does endorse a blog or website, it’s likely to crash. Fry’s own site couldn’t handle the 20,000 hits a second it received after he wrote a Steve Jobs obituary and posted a link on Twitter! It makes me think having just 50 followers (or Facebook friends) might not be such a bad thing after all!

The car dilemma in perspective

There was quite a reaction to my column on the two-car dilemma and wants versus needs. To recap briefly, my sister-in-law has garaged her car with us for the past two years while she’s been overseas. However, she’s returning home soon and we must decide whether to buy our own second car or go back to running just one.

Former Ten News presenter now PR executive Kristin Devitt tweeted: “We’ve been a one car household for the past 16 years. All good. Until we start Saturday sport, then all bets are off!” Current Ten News presenter Bill McDonald also chimed in: “Four boys, sport, Mt Coot-tha. Nah, need two cars”. Environmentalist Rowan Barber suggested I investigate one of the “collaborative consumption” car-sharing websites.

Chris Hassall tweeted: “Buy another car but allocate a certain number of days per week to use public transport”. But Deb Russell-Groarke put it all in perspective when she said: “We’ve been a no-car family since our car was written off last October. We’d happily be a one-car family again.”

In the same column, I argued that materialism was out control but “as soon as you realise you can never have everything, you give yourself permission to not want anything more”.

Sarah emailed: “I fully understand and agree with you! I was fortunate enough to be in my early 20s when this dawned on me. My chosen career was never going to give me the earning power to satisfy many of those materialistic desires, so consciously choosing not to go after the latest and greatest has resulted in much happiness and contentment. “I’ll admit it’s not always cool to not want the latest toys and gadgets, but I feel much happier for it now, more than 10 years on. If only more people knew this kind of freedom and happiness!”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bmag Oct 18th 2011 - Two cars, dayight saving vs TV tweeting

We always said we wouldn’t but, for the past two years, the Howsons have been a two-car family. We never planned it that way. But when my sister-in-law decided to spend some time living and working in the UK, she needed somewhere in Brisbane to park her belongings. Now we face the moment of truth. Carly tells us she is coming home at the end of November and, funnily enough, she wants her car back! We must decide whether to go back to one vehicle or purchase a second car.

Where Nikki works, public transport isn’t an option, so she has always taken our car. I would be the one going back to taxis and buses. I do enjoy using public transport. I find it relaxing – as long as you can get a seat – and I believe in public transport as a way of keeping cars off the roads and reducing congestion and pollution. But there is something to be said for leaving work when you want to, having your own space, calling in to your favourite CD shop on the way home, and not having to walk from the bus stop!

And yet, we don’t need a second car. It’s an indulgence and further proof that materialism is out of control. We’re as guilty of this as the next person. When we bought our last television four years ago 32 inches seemed a decent size. But a couple of months ago, 55 inches became just a little too tempting. We now have two TVs. Last time we replaced our computer, we bought two identical ones and put them on a wireless home network. Sure, our son Jack is using one at the moment, meaning I can type this on the other, but did we really need two computers? Probably not. Just like the second TV and second computer, we don’t need a second car. We want one. But we don’t need one. Of course, the ultimate material want is a bigger home. I like the one we’re in but that doesn’t stop me browsing the real estate pages. The trouble is whatever you buy, you’ll always want bigger. Or newer. Or a better view. Quite simply, we are never satisfied.

I’m sure this isn’t an original thought but these words came to me the other day: As soon as you realise that you can never have everything, you give yourself permission to not want anything more. I’m not claiming to be the Dalai Lama or Confucious, but I think I’ve hit it on the head with that statement. It takes a while to come to that conclusion. No 20-year-old is going to agree with it. But as you get older – I’ll be 40 next time – you learn to be at peace with your lot. No promises, but hopefully you won’t see me buying a second car. I’d like to think that, instead, I will top up my go card and hand over the car keys.

Light or wrong? Finally, a word on daylight saving. As someone who moderates radio talkback discussions about daylight saving every six months, like clockwork, I offer the following conclusion: If you like to get up with the birds so you can surf, write, read or garden before getting on with your day, chances are you are happy without daylight saving. A 5am sunrise, as it is at the moment, makes more sense to you than 6am. If you’re not an early riser. If you’d rather use that extra hour at the end of your day, you probably support Queensland joining the southern states in having daylight saving. For you, a 7pm sunset would be preferable to the current 6pm.

There is no right and wrong answer. There are “morning people” and “night people”. Yet every April and October, those pushing for daylight saving get on their high horses and attempt to convince everyone that their way is the better way. As someone whose radio show starts at 5am, you can guess with which camp I currently sympathise! The only argument I see gaining any traction is the frustration felt by those wanting to watch television whilst Tweeting (or Facebooking, etc) along with their friends in the southern states. At least some interactive programs – including Q&A on ABC News 24 and Australia’s Next Top Model on Fox 8 – are broadcast into Queensland at the same time as the other states.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bmag October 4th 2011 - Spencer's advice to high-schoolers

My attention was recently drawn to the amount of work that must be completed by Year 12 students in term three. A concerned dad emailed me his daughter’s assessment list which included seven 1000 word essays and seven in-class exams.

Discussing this on my ABC radio show, the consensus from teachers and parents was that term three of Year 12 was the toughest period in a student’s life, often much harder than university. All this prompted me to pull out a speech I gave to Year 10 students at Aspley State High in 2004. Show this to anxious teens in your life if you think it will inspire them as they begin term four.

Year 10 was a shocker for me. I barely passed. And yet I left Year 12 with a T.E. score of 990, now known as an OP1. The reason I did well in Years 11 and 12? I knew it was time to get serious but also I chose subjects which I enjoyed. At university, I could have done anything but I wanted to study journalism. So I did. Again, I chose a course which I knew I would enjoy. And, from then on, I’ve been having a ball!

I know what you’re thinking – it was easy for you, Spencer! You knew what you wanted to do! I was lucky in that regard. But, if you don’t know what you want to be doing at my age, it doesn’t matter. What do you want to be doing right now? Work towards that. Your goals will change.

My wife Nikki started off studying anatomy. After a year, she switched to journalism and ended up working as a TV reporter and producer. Her anatomy year wasn’t wasted. She was able to take credit points into her journalism degree and she learned that anatomy wasn’t for her.

A friend who works at The Courier-Mail, Michael Lund, started out in a mathematics course. Then he worked out that what he liked about maths was taking complex models and explaining them simply. This led him to a job at a newspaper, where he was taking complex news stories and explaining them simply. He never regrets studying maths, otherwise he might never have ended up in journalism.

What I’m saying is pursue your current dream with all your energy. As long as it doesn’t involved sitting under a tree somewhere, or watching daytime television while the dole trickles in. You do need a job. And you do need money. But you don’t need a great job. And you don’t need lots of money. It helps to find out about jobs before they’re advertised. Do this by mixing with people in your chosen industry. If you don’t know any, do some unpaid work – anything to get your foot in the door – and to build relationships with people you would like to work alongside.

Once you’re inside an organisation – as a casual or intern – there are three things to remember. If you’re asked to do something, do it. Secondly, do it well. And thirdly, be likeable. I don’t think enough is said about likeability. It’s certainly never mentioned in job advertisements, although sometimes you see “team player”. At the ABC in Brisbane, I see casual staff and interns come and go. They’re all capable and reliable. But the ones who go the distance, and end up with full-time jobs, get on with everyone.

There’s a well-known saying that Bill Gates likes to repeat. Be nice to nerds. Chances are you will end up working for one. What I would say is be nice to everyone because you could end up working for them! At high school there are people you like and people you dislike. There are people who like you and people who dislike you, but when you leave school shake hands with everyone and wish them all well for the future.

Life just keeps getting better and better. I have a job which I enjoy. I’m paid money which I enjoy spending. I have a wife and son, whom I love very much. If you’re having a tough time now, it does get better! And to those who are already having fun, that’s great. It gets better still!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bmag September 20th 2011 - Most abuse is in the home

With Daniel Morcombe’s remains found and a man charged with the Sunshine Coast teenager’s murder, the term “stranger danger” is again front-of-mind. Leading the way are Daniel’s brave parents Bruce and Denise, who have summoned unimaginable strength to travel the state, speaking to school students about personal safety. The Morcombes are also devising a universal distress signal so children can attract attention and fend off would-be attackers.

What concerns me is that any increased media and community focus on stranger danger has two undesirable consequences. Firstly, it creates a perception that our community is filled with child-abductors. The target of this paranoia is generally older men, as seen recently when a group of semi-retired blokes at Palmwoods set up a Men’s Shed so they could socialise and potter together. In no time, there was a complaint to Sunshine Coast Regional Council, arguing that it was no longer safe for children to walk alone in the area.

The second and arguably far more serious side-effect of shining the spotlight on strangers as perpetrators is that the abuse of children in the home, inflicted by trusted adults and family members, disappears into the shadows. As Megan Y said to me in a recent email: “Tragic as it is, cases like that of Daniel Morcombe are incredibly rare thankfully. Crimes like child abuse, abduction and infanticide are usually committed by family members, trusted family friends, church people or foster carers. Why the constant fear-mongering/repetition of the anti-public transport/you must drive your children everywhere meme? I haven’t seen any evidence that the risk of children abduction is higher today than it was when we all walked/rode our bikes/caught buses unaccompanied as children.”

Indeed, a 2007 Griffith University study found that strangers accounted for only 14 per cent of the sexual abuse of children. Friends and family friends were responsible for 50 per cent, whilst 35 per cent of cases involved a family member.

I’m also concerned about the false sense of security created by the Blue Card system which can only ever detect, and protect children from, those who have already attracted the attention of police. There is nothing to stop a child abuser who hasn’t been caught from holding a Blue Card.

All of this leads me to the importance of empowering children within the home. I’m not saying you should panic or suddenly be suspicious of your husband, wife or others who live under your roof or spend time alone with your children. Instead, be pro-active and talk to your children about safety and trust.

Brisbane blogger, radio producer and child abuse survivor Annie Reuss suggests using these words: “An adult who truly loves you will never make you feel afraid – they will always make you feel safe, even when they are angry at you. If an adult ever makes you feel afraid you should always speak to another adult who makes you feel safe.

“Adults should never, ever touch you in sexual places and if they do it is wrong and another adult needs to know about it straight away. Even if they tell you they will do something terrible to someone if you tell on them, don’t believe them. They won’t. “Even if it is someone in your family you must tell someone you trust. You can be brave and you can stop them from hurting others.”

Annie says she always wishes she had spoken up when she was little. “He went on to abuse others and I could have stopped him from doing this by speaking up, but I didn’t and I do feel very bad about that. I didn’t speak up because you know once you do everything changes. Even though you don’t like being abused, it is the only family you know, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

I know other survivors who haven’t felt strong enough to speak up until their 30s and 40s. They share Annie’s guilt – that they could have saved younger family members from the same pain – but at the same time they are relieved to have finally sought justice. It’s never too late for that once scared child inside you to find the strength to tell someone. Finally, a plea to anyone who touches children inappropriately. You are betraying trust, inflicting fear and impacting lives forever. You must stop. Seek help today. Please.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bmag September 6th 2011 - E-Books smell good too!

I’m not sure how serious he was, or whether he regrets saying it out loud, let alone on radio, but according to Brisbane author John Birmingham, the place where you’ll find writers at a writers’ festival is the green room – partly to avoid the punters but mainly to pick others’ brains about tax minimisation! It’s perhaps devilish of me to have memorised that quote from Richard Fidler’s Conversations program, not to mention repeating it here, but it guarantees that whenever the Brisbane Writers’ Festival comes around – this year from 7 to 11 September – I always think of Birmo! Coincidently, John Birmingham has just joined 612 ABC Brisbane for a month, filling in for Richard Fidler!

Aside from tax minimisation, the other hotbutton topic at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival is sure to be e-books. This year, e-readers have taken the giant leap from earlyadopter fanboi technology to widespread realisation that they really are the future. I’ll admit I’m still old-school. I prefer to spread out the newspaper, flick through my hand-delivered copy of bmag, browse my CDs and DVDs, and get my hands on a good book. Preferably one I’ve bought rather than borrowed from the library. And it goes without saying that books smell good!

I will admit that when Geoff Cavanagh from 612’s promos department thrust an e-reader into my hands a few months ago, I could see the appeal straight away. I learned that the screen doesn’t hurt your eyes like a computer monitor. That you can store thousands of books on your reader, and countless more on your computer. That you can look up definitions, check something on the internet, and even switch to audio-book mode (handy if you’re involved in a real page-turner but have to drive somewhere, or cook, or do the ironing!) Feeling somewhat conspicuous lying on the floor of Geoff ’s office, I felt how light it was to hold an e-reader above your head as if in bed. And finally, to my great surprise, I learned that Geoff ’s e-reader, with its leather case, smelled good! Not the same smell as a book but an appealing, comforting smell nonetheless.

Guess what I bought my wife for her next birthday? She hasn’t looked back. In fact, when Nikki decided to re-read George Orwell’s 1984, she chose to pay the – brace yourself – 99 cents for the e-book instead of reading the dog-eared hardcopy that’s been sitting in our bookshelves for years! Yes, she is an instant and complete convert. It takes a critical number of converts for new technology to take off but that is what has happened with e-books and e-readers in 2011. At least one online retailer recently announced it now sells more e-books than physical books.

Hence, as literary types gather for the Brisbane Writers Festival, talk will turn to e-book opportunities and challenges. Brisbane author Nick Earls – appearing at this year’s festival – shared some of his thoughts with me during a recent visit to the 612 ABC studios. Nick says he will still make his $3 a book whether a novel is sold in a shop or downloaded as a file. But without printing and transportation costs, the e-book version can be sold for much less. I could have paid just $17 for Nick’s latest (The Fix) as an e-book. Instead, to feed my need for another trophy with the rest of my Nick Earls collection, I parted with $32.95. Nick points out that in the e-book future, that back-catalogue of his will always be available. Books will never go “out of print”. Nick is already thinking about tapping into the next big development, the e-novella. Longer than a short story, not quite the full novel, Nick says they will be the perfect length for a flight, selling for just a few dollars.

Of course, the role of publishers in all this has yet to be established but Nick says there will always be a need for editors “to tell me what I need to be told”! And then there are the bookshops, which recently marked the inaugural National Bookshop Day to promote the value of a wellinformed, well-read specialist bookseller. For now, they will continue to appeal to those, like me, who enjoy a physical browse, but you have to wonder about their long-term future.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bmag August 23rd 2011 - CEO of Qld Rail

Like many boys, I grew up wanting to be a train driver. More than that, I wanted to run the railways! I know this because I have a scrapbook my mum kept throughout my school years. In 1981, the year we left England, I list my ambitions as engine driver and Chairman of British Rail. The following year, our first in Brisbane, it says Commissioner for Railways for Queensland! Some 30 years on, I have finally achieved my dream, thanks to Queensland Rail CEO Paul Scurrah inviting me to spend a morning with him.

We start at Toowong station. As we go down to the platform, Paul makes a point of holding the hand-rail. Safety is the number one priority, he says, and the CEO must lead by example. I hold every handrail I see for the rest of the day! The 8.35am train is so full that Paul Scurrah and I are pressed against the doors. A passenger relishes the opportunity to tell the CEO that it’s like this every day. He seems impressed that Paul is seeing and experiencing it himself.

We alight at Bowen Hills and attend a meeting about the morning peak. There were 11 delays out of 135 services, considered a good start to the day. It’s suggested the method of recording delays needs a rethink. If trains are 15 minutes apart and 15 minutes late, a passenger might not realise they are on a late service. Journey delays, rather than train delays, might be more accurate.

At Mayne, huge artwork stickers – each the size of a carriage – are being applied to the side of a Tilt Train. And you think covering school books is a challenge! If it helps, they too struggle with bubbles and creases!

Soon Paul Scurrah and I are in the CEO’s 15th floor Ann Street office being briefed on the Sunlander-14 project. By 2014, the Cairns Tilt Train will have business seats (airlinestyle flat-beds) and first class cabins (with double beds and en-suites). The corridor windows in these first class cabins will switch from clear to frosted with the touch of a button. Assurances are still being sought that in the event of a power failure, windows will not revert to clear and expose couples “trying to join the metre-high club”. I’m starting to get a sense of the sheer size of Paul Scurrah’s job and the range of issues a CEO has to be across.

Next, a briefing about new measures to prevent level crossing injuries. There’s been a 10 per cent increase in pedestrian nearmisses. New pedestrian gates will be rolled out at key stations, starting with Geebung. Innovative ways of preventing vehicle incidents will be trialled, including runwaystyle lighting in the road and “pinball-machine flippers” instead of traditional boom gates which are “designed to stop horses not cars”.

Channel Nine has been given an exclusive story about anti-rock-throwing fences being installed on the Gold Coast. Paul Scurrah and his media advisers discuss the message they want to get across, that there hasn’t been a death yet but the next rock thrown could be the one. We head to Central Station for the interview.

At Central, I meet two of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen. Sitting in a small room, side by side, with a microphone each and several CCTV screens in front of them, they make all the platform announcements for Central, Roma Street and Fortitude Valley stations! I notice several massive ceiling fans above the platforms. They’re brand new and ready for summer. Paul Scurrah jokes he hopes the hotel above doesn’t take off when they’re turned on.

We catch a train to Roma Street, where I’m shown security footage being analysed and compiled for the police and courts. A former forensics officer, now with Queensland Rail, describes how tough it is watching fatalities over and over from several camera angles. When a recording has sound, it’s worse. He says you have to tell yourself the death has already occurred and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Finally, over lunch, I meet the man behind @QueenslandRail on Twitter. No wonder Nathan Scholz is invited to address conferences on how companies can embrace social media. No-one does Twitter better. He is responsive, informative and personal. Indeed, that night, whilst I’m flicking through photos and showing my 11-year-old son Jack my Queensland Rail name-tag, it’s a tweet from @QueenslandRail that provides the perfect end to my day: “Spencer Howson, it was our pleasure to help you fulfill your childhood dream”.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ekka, Big Pineapple and helping tourists - Bmag August 9th 2011

Calls to move Ekka

August in Brisbane means one thing – the Royal Queensland Show or Ekka. But every year there are calls to move the Ekka to October. The arguments go something like this... At the moment, the show circuit ends in September (Noosa and Gold Coast). Instead, the circuit should build towards a big finalé in Brisbane. Secondly, there are no public holidays in the months leading up to Christmas. NSW, South Australia and the ACT have Labour Day in October. Victoria has Melbourne Cup Day. Western Australia celebrates the Queen’s Birthday in November. In Queensland, we have nothing. The third and most obvious reason for moving the Ekka is that Brisbane’s peak flu season (the middle weeks of August, according to the Australian Medical Association) coincides with our annual exposure to the Ekka masses.

But really, can you imagine the Ekka in October? By then, says Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Tony Auden, the westerlies have gone and been replaced by “northeast storm days and southeast shower days”. In other words, we would miss out on all these beautiful fine sunny days. Sure, it wouldn’t be so bitterly cold sitting in the stands at night, but to borrow from the movie The Castle, you would change the whole “vibe” of the Ekka. The first Brisbane Exhibition opened on 22 August 1876. This year’s runs from the 11 to 20 August. Should it be moved to October? What do you think? Email me at the address at right.

Can the Big P be saved?

Late last month, a television newsreader caught my attention with the headline: “An Australian tourist icon has been named a terrorist threat”. Here’s how much of a parochial Queenslander I am: I automatically thought she was talking about the Big Pineapple! She wasn’t. She was talking about the Sydney Opera House but what does it say about me that, of all our beloved Australian icons and attractions, my brain would go straight to the Big Pineapple? That may be because my late stepfather Ed Devenport was the architect who designed it back in 1971. But more than that, it’s because going up the pineapple, riding the nut-mobile and enjoying one of those famous ice-cream sundaes, are among my first and favourite memories of Queensland in the late ’70s.

Kerry Brown, author of soon-to-be-released history of the Big Pineapple Our Sweetest Icon, also remembers the Big Pineapple in its heyday: “Every child would go home and plant a pineapple,” she writes. Sadly, as disappointed tourists discover for themselves every day, the Big Pineapple – which should be celebrating its 40th birthday on 15 August – went into receivership in 2009 and has been closed since October last year.

In Kerry Brown’s words, it’s in “a dreadful, tragic, deplorable state of disrepair”. So you can imagine Kerry’s joy, and mine, when it was recently announced that the property will soon have new owners. I’m told the as-yetunnamed investors also have fond childhood memories of the Big Pineapple. They want to reinvent agri-tourism for the 21st century. What a sweet 40th birthday present! But can they make it work?

Help for tourists

Last issue, I asked you what we can all do to make things smoother and more enjoyable for tourists visiting Brisbane. Wendy Davison, reading bmag whilst holidaying in Brisbane, emailed: “As bus travellers, we were unsure when to expect our stop. There was no map inside the bus, as is usual in other cities. It would be very easy to have signs indicating the next stop.”

Ron Nankervis wrote: “When I arrive back into Brisbane, I am amazed that tourists whose first language is not English struggle to fill out the Immigration Entry Card. If only this card was printed in various languages.”

Patty Beecham told me she and her husband were caught in soaking rain in Hong Kong and had tried for 45 minutes to hail a taxi “when someone came up to us and spoke English, asking us where we wanted to go. Thank goodness!” She says she’ll never drive past another tourist in Brisbane again without offering to help them.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bmag July 19th 2011 - Frustrations of a tourist

How do you prevent niggling little frustrations from getting under your skin? What’s your strategy?

A former ABC boss, Chris Wordsworth, once offered these words of wisdom: “Let the cr*p wash over you”. In other words, save your energy for the important things in life. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Unfortunately, on our recent family holiday in Europe and the USA, several incidents caused me to waste energy being frustrated.

What most of these examples have in common is they occurred because we weren’t in familiar surroundings.

As I run through them, think about visitors spending time in our city and the little things we do that they might not instantly understand.

In New York, I learned that you can’t take a bottle of water into the Museum of Modern Art. I offered to drink the water so I could later reuse the empty bottle. No, insisted the security guard. Even empty bottles were banned!

I’ve since learned that a controversial art work was damaged by a protestor throwing chemicals from a water bottle.

Later that day, leaving a coffee shop, I handed my empty paper cup to the cashier and asked if he would put it in the large bin behind him. “No”, was the curt reply. “The trash is over there”. As I walked off, he laughed with the next customer: “Obviously not from the U.S.”

A New Yorker friend of mine later explained that my mistake had been to expect “courtesy and common sense”.

For Independence Day, the 4th of July, I took the family on a Hudson River fireworks cruise. When we boarded the boat the first thing we saw were dozens of plastic fold-up chairs stacked on both sides of the deck.

As we started to unfold and set out the chairs, security staff – dressed in those clichéd black tee-shirts with the word SECURITY in bold white capital letters – informed us they were not to be used and we had to stand up for three hours.

After a near riot, with one woman almost physically dragged off a chair by a security officer, they backed down. It probably helped that several other passengers had started filming. For the life of me, I still can’t work out why the heavy-handedness. There was no shortage of chairs or space.

Still in New York, when I left $100 of my wife’s shopping in the back of a cab, we were told minutes later by our hotel concierge there was no point even ringing the cab company. “This is New York,” he said. “The next passenger will have just picked up the bag”.

Perhaps I’m looking at this through maroon-coloured glasses, but I’m pretty sure that if that had happened in Brisbane, I could have tracked down the cab and its back-seat contents in no time.

It wasn’t just New York that tested our patience. After missing a connecting flight in Frankfurt, our airline gave us a hotel room for the night. Unfortunately, the taxi took us a similar sounding hotel in another city!

When we eventually arrived at our lodgings, armed with $90 from the airline for dinner, the hotel wouldn’t let us spend the credit on its a la carte menu.

To order from the menu, we would have to use our own money. So, the smorgasbord it was. I can tell you there is no way we ate $90 worth of cold meat, soup and salad that night!

Okay okay, I know I’m starting to sound like Eric Idle complaining about the tea in Monty Python’s Travel Agent sketch: “They don’t make it properly do they? Not like at home!”

My point is this: When tourists spend time in Brisbane, what are the little things we do – probably unthinkingly – that cause unnecessary frustration? Let me know if you have examples and suggested improvements.

Let’s face it, no matter how fantastic a time you have on holidays, you always remember – and tell other people about – the things that go wrong. That’s just human nature.

Whether it’s spontaneously offering to take a group photo, asking if someone needs directions, or just saying “G’day” in a shopping centre elevator, we can all play a part in making sure tourists love our city as much as well do.

Panic present buying

It’s confession time. I bought a panic present.

I was sitting at JFK airport in New York, about to fly home to Brisbane after four weeks in the UK, France and the USA, when I started to remember people for whom I hadn’t bought anything.

One last look at the airport souvenir stand and $85 later, I had a bag full of random goodies!

I was chuffed with the I-heart-New York pewter cow key-ring for 612 listener and farmer “Lord” Julian of Boonah.

But I really don’t know how my radio producer Anne Debert will react to her present, which I shall reveal to you shortly and give to her tomorrow.

The business of gifts from overseas holidays is tricky. Do you buy for someone only if and when you see something perfectly suited to them? Or do you make a list beforehand and make sure everyone on the list gets something?

The range of place-branded items is astounding. Oddly, I didn’t see spoons or thimbles anywhere but there were coffee cups of all shapes and sizes, fridge magnets, cushions, baseballs, beach-bags, photo frames, coasters, pens, shot-glasses and all manner of clothing.

Snow domes remain a constant – just ask Liam Renton from Brisbane’s community radio station 96-Five who has one of Australia’s biggest collections.

There are desk models of iconic buildings such as the White House, Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower.

You can even take home a miniature set of a city’s public transport or emergency vehicles.

To get an idea, pop into one of Brisbane’s souvenir shops next time you’re in the city or at the airport. They have much more than just clip-on koalas these days. You can probably even buy a mini City-Cycle play set by now. If not, someone can have that idea for free.

One thing you can get at Brisbane souvenir shops is kangaroo jerky.

Before we went overseas, I asked my 612 Breakfast listeners for gifts ideas from Brisbane. Someone suggested roo jerky so I bought some and we taste-tested it live on air.

I have to say that it might be a fun novelty gift, to be consumed with alcohol and washed down with lots of laughter, but roo jerky is not the sort of thing anyone should have to eat on the radio at 5.20am! The smell alone!

Still, I gave a packet to BBC Radio 2 Breakfast presenter Chris Evans after I’d spent some time with him in London. Sensibly, Chris said he would take it home and try it later. I haven’t heard how – or indeed if – it went down!

I suppose for the most part, souvenirs are bought for oneself as a reminder of places visited.

On this recent trip, I bought five tee-shirts including one from London’s “Dr Who Experience” and another from the Calvisson Barrel Organ Festival, as well as New York and Washington fridge magnets, a New York photo frame and theatre programmes from “Spiderman—Turn Off the Dark” and “Much Ado About Nothing” starring former Dr Who stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate. (I did tell you I was a Dr Who fan, didn’t I?!)

We’ll see how many of these survive the next spring clean.

On previous trips around Queensland, I’ve proudly returned with a small pottery sheep (from Cunnamulla), a scrap metal dog (Blackall) and a 750ml beer “tally” somehow stretched to about a metre (Central Highlands).

We still have the sheep and dog but the beer bottle – which I always regarded as artistic genius – has gone to a better place!

Which brings me to the panic present I bought at JFK for my radio producer Anne Debert.

No, let me withdraw that word. I didn’t panic. It made complete sense at the time! It’s only in the hours since that I’ve started to panic – about how she’ll react to such a random workmate gift!

You see, Anne’s husband Len is from St Louis, Missouri. And at JFK airport, sitting in the middle of all the fluffy toys marked “New York” was one bearing the name “Missouri”.

I rifled through the toys. There was no other “Missouri”. This was clearly a mistake and just as clearly, in my mind at least, it was meant to be bought for Anne.

So next time you call in to the breakfast show, ask Anne how she likes her very cute, bright green and purple, floppy-earned puppy-dog!

What’s the best and worst souvenir you’ve ever bought yourself or someone else? It’s confession time!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bmag July 5th 2011 - South of France

I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be a wine and olive-fed writer based in some exotic location like Morocco or Italy or France. So, I’ve come to the small French village of Calvisson, population 3000, just to the south-west of Nimes and 20 minutes drive north of the Mediterranean Sea, to find out.

In truth, the Howsons are here to stay with my mum and step-dad, who have recently retired and moved from Brisbane. The village they have chosen is hundreds of years old and well off the beaten track. There’s not much English spoken but Mum and John studied French for five years before they came and the locals can tell. Try some French on them and you will be rewarded with a little English and somehow you manage to connect.

It’s 11am and I’m sitting in a secondfloor bedroom window with a notepad and coffee. The stone walls of this fourteenth century terraced house are so thick I have plenty of space in the window to plonk myself down and write. It’s 32 degrees. The sky is blue and without cloud. The sun is hot but a breeze flows up the street and it’s very relaxing just watching people walk past. Look, it’s the postcard image of a man carrying two baguettes! The streets in Calvisson are so narrow I could almost hold hands with someone across the road. There’s a musty stone informed smell everywhere but somehow that adds to the romance.

By 1pm I’m sitting outside the bar in the main square. With shops closed from midday until 3pm, this is where locals are drawn. A round of five drinks costs me just $10. I choose a shiraz from the local winery. Light, but perfectly refreshing on this warm summer’s day. The bar is such a focal point that whenever you go past you look to see who’s there. I might not have met them but I already recognise the regulars! You instantly take a liking to the barman, Roget, who’s dressed in white and has the sort of well-worn face you just want to photograph. His eyes smile and both his nose and bushy moustache are pronounced. Almost cartoon-like. I suspect Roget likes a drink himself.

Now it’s 3pm and I’m on the beach at nearby Aigues-Mortes. It won’t be dark until 10pm, quite the novelty for someone from Brisbane! I’m on a sunlounger, under an umbrella, with a waiter offering me a drink. This time, I opt for a juice d’orange.

At 5pm I’m in a café in Nimes just metres from a 2000-year-old Roman amphitheatre. Christians and lions once “met” inside these walls. The history is breathtaking. I down a pint of lager. On the way back to Calvisson, I pick up a couple of baguettes (or as we would say, “French sticks”). These are consumed with a dozen cheeses, sensational rosemary-dipped olives and a bottle of wine – this time a merlot – again from the local winery.

It’s 8.30pm and we’re at a street party thrown by the “high quarter” of the village. It was still light as we walked the 300 metres to a covered market square where 100 or so locals are eating and drinking at three long rows of trestle tables. The Howsons don’t speak any French but, in no time, Nikki and I are in a Conga line. And leading the celebrations, dancing next to the DJ on a stage too small for the two of them, is the barman Roget! He is the life of this party and of the village!

It’s 11pm and this time I’m writing at the dining table in mum’s kitchen. Again, glass of wine in hand while Nikki contemplates a gin and tonic to finish off the night. At this time of year, there’s something happening every day in Calvisson. Last night, it was a bonfire – with tapas and wine – to celebrate St John. Tomorrow, we’re invited to a luncheon and a dinner. That’s after we’ve been to the fresh produce market in the morning. Frankly, I don’t know how all these writers find the time to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). There are too many olives to eat. And is that another cork being opened? Sorry, must go…

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bmag June 21st 2011 - Trivia night terror

When my son Jack started school six years ago, I may have told the principal I was willing to do anything with a microphone as long as I never had to turn sausages! I say “may” at the instruction of my lawyers who are currently working on getting me out of hosting trivia nights for the rest of my life!

But it’s not just the school that invites me to host trivia nights – and truth be told, I generally always say yes!

You see, I have a head for useless information and I love asking quiz questions but for reasons I shall explain, running trivia nights is the most terrifying duty I am ever asked to perform! If you’ve ever been to one, you’ll have an idea where I’m going with this. But there are some behind-the-scenes goings on I am ready to reveal!

The obvious challenges for a trivia night host are: firstly, the people at the back who can’t hear, partly because of the ageing PA system, but mostly because of the people in front of them yapping all night; secondly, the people who are yapping all night but still ask you to repeat all the questions!

Then there are those who delight in pointing out others who are using their mobiles to phone-a-friend or search the internet and ask “What are you going to do about it?!”

Finally, there’s the table of professionals who go from trivia night to trivia night with specialists in different subject areas. They take their own booze informed (not adding further to the fundraising effort), drink too much of that booze and spend all night querying the answers. They also tend to win, much to the chagrin of the organising committee.

But sometimes it’s the organisers themselves who bring on the MC terror. Specifically, the person who’s been volunteered – probably against their will – to come up with the questions. At one bowls club trivia night the questions were written by a rail employee. The one which almost caused a riot was: in the Santa Claus Steam Train Special departing Roma Street on December 13, how many passengers are allowed in the dining car in each sitting?!!

Another time I wasn’t allowed to pay World War One as the answer because the question-writer insisted it wasn’t called World War ONE until there had been a World War TWO!

And once, the person in charge of marking made a simple mathematical mistake and the wrong team was awarded all the prizes. I hadn’t noticed either but at the very end of the night, whilst the chairs were being stacked, one of the actual winners whispered in my ear. (He’s now an MP, so maybe this story will one day surface in his autobiography!)

So what have I learned from hosting all these trivia nights? For one thing, always provide your own questions!

At least if you’ve done the research, you’re in a position to argue the toss. Unfortunately this still isn’t fail-safe. Thanks to the urban-myth-busting deliberately planting mistruths on its own website – apparently to teach people never to rely on one source! – I erroneously marked people down for saying the talking horse Mr Ed wasn’t played by a zebra! (And would you believe, the same aforementioned now- MP was there again! And yes, it is possible his team would have won the night if not for that one mistake by yours truly!)

But the main thing I’ve learned is that when Jack starts high school in 2013, I won’t tell anyone that I work in radio! Instead, I’ll turn up to the first P&C meeting with my barbecue apron on and tongs in hand!

Entertainment overload

In the last issue of bmag, I lamented the difficulty of keeping up with all the movies, television, books and music that are created every year.

Jen Hansen emailed: “There is never enough time to watch and listen to everything but if you keep an open mind, occasionally you stumble across some timeless pop culture gems.”

Bruce Redman tweeted me: “It’s awkward when a person marries younger
and they don’t have the same pop culture history.”

And Andrew Murrell said it saddened him to think of all the television he would never see – shows that will be made after we are all long gone. Time machine anyone?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bmag June 7th 2011 - Keeping with TV, movies, music and books

Think how many movies are made each year. Add all the television hours that are produced. How are we meant to keep up?

We’ve had television in Australia since 1956 (1959 in Brisbane) and we’ve been making feature films since 1906 (The Story of the Kelly Gang was the first) and that’s just in Australia. Globally, the Internet Movie Database ( lists more than 55,000 television series (more than 991,000 episodes) and 257,000+ movies. And those numbers are growing daily.

My son Jack was born 28 years after me. That means, to hold his own in a conversation about popular culture, he has to absorb 28 more years of television shows and movies. Not to mention 28 more years of books. And then there’s music.

As a radio presenter, music is close to my heart. Sometimes when I give talks at service clubs and the like, I’m asked if I can play “better music” on air. What this generally means is “the music of my formative years”. The trouble is that we’ve had pop music – songs that still sound great in 2011 – since the 1950s. Certainly since the 1960s. Since I started on radio in 1990, there are 21 more years’ worth of popular music from which to choose. And still only 24 hours in each day!

Perhaps you think you have a firm handle on the popular culture of the past 50 years. But what about your children? And your children’s children? And your informed children’s children’s children?! The only way future generations will be able to keep up is for someone to invent a way of downloading movies and television series directly into the brain within seconds!

One thing you can do to help the next generation is to consciously expose your children to your favourite music, movies and television shows. So far at my place, I’ve scored wins with The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Goodies, Dr Who, Monty Python and The Muppet Show. I’ve had less success getting Jack hooked on 2001-A Space Odyssey. But there’s still time. He’s only 11. And I know I’ll be able to get him hooked on Man About the House!

When I asked my listeners if they’d done this, the phone lines went into melt-down. It seems many of us harbour the desire to preserve and pass on the popular culture that means something to us.

But it’s an uphill battle. Cast your mind forward and imagine what things will be like in 500 or 1000 years. Which movies will everyone still know and watch in 2511? As the years pass, the cut-off grade for a movie to survive the next generation and the next will get tougher and tougher. Sorry to say it, but perhaps none of the movies made until now will still be watched in 500 years.

Back to television in 2011 and one of the side-effects of these myriad shows on however many channels there are is an end to the mass watching of TV shows. There are exceptions – phenomena like MasterChef and our lingering attachment to the evening news, for example – but on the whole we’re heading away from the traditional notion of the nation watching something together. The downloading of television series, and their availability on DVD and Blu- Ray, further drives us to choose and watch TV in small groups or alone. And I reckon that’s a shame.

Back in the ’90s, I went to a Melrose Place party at a five-star hotel in Brisbane’s CBD! As a reporter, you understand! Across the country pubs would host weekly viewing nights. I can’t imagine too many shows these days having that sort of mass appeal or pulling power.

My blueprint for power (If I ruled Queensland) in the last issue of bmag sparked quite a reaction. The policy that appeared to resonate most was my promise that television shows would start and finish on time.

On Twitter, people were fighting over various ministries. For example, self-described Corporate Clown James Caldwell nominated himself Minister for Dr Who! James, you can be the Minister Assisting the Minister for Dr Who (because that will be me!)

Alan Clarke emailed: “Loved your article but you’ve missed one. Make it illegal for restaurants to insist ‘one bill per table’.” I agree!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bmag May 24th 2011 - When Spencer is Premier

Nova 106.9 breakfast host Meshel Laurie was recently asked in a live chat online who she hopes is Premier of Queensland after the next election. Her reply: “I wish Spencer Howson could be our Premier. It would be a lovely, informative state and [referring to my penchant for donning ABC-branded clothing] we’d all wear tidy polo shirts every day”.

Crikey, I thought to myself. With Meshel Laurie’s clout behind me, I’d better come up with some policies quicksmart. I started jotting down ideas. I also enlisted my ABC breakfast listeners and together we’ve come up with a blue-print for my assault on the top job. Email me at with any additional policy ideas!

It goes without saying that world peace and an end to poverty and discrimination top the list and will be achieved within the first 100 days. But the real question is: what next?

First of all, there will be a government-sponsored advertising campaign reminding people how to use apostrophes, the difference between “there is” and “there are”, and when to use “fewer” instead of “less”. A second campaign will teach people how to indicate on roundabouts and how to stand on escalators (to the left unless overtaking).

In a similar vein, ABC listener Pam of Eatons Hill wants white dotted lines on all footpaths to encourage people to walk on the left. Sue says pub pool rules should be standardised. For example, does a coin on the table mean you play the winner or you take over the table? Colin, of Bribie Island, suggests a set day and time for leaf-blowing and mowing to make the rest of the week just a little bit more peaceful!

Under a Howson government, airports will paint a yellow line two metres from the luggage carousel, behind which passengers can wait until they see their bags.

Shops and fast food restaurants will have one queue, peeling off at the cash registers. There is no fairer way of deciding who is served next. It also saves the stress of trying to pick the fastest queue! There will be no such thing as a minimum EFTPOS transaction. Instead, you will be given the option to pay a small surcharge. I watched a young boy the other day unable to purchase a $4.99 toy because of a shop’s $10 minimum transaction. I’m sure he would have been happier to pay an extra 15 cents than cough up another $5.

Listener Glenn, from Eden’s Landing, wants petrol stations to display tomorrow’s price alongside today’s. Chris suggests a signal be devised so that motorists can indicate they’re about to perform a U-Turn. Marlene says seniors wanting smaller portions should be allowed to order from the children’s menu in restaurants.

When I’m Premier, we’ll have more doors on trains, making it easier for passengers to get on and off, and speeding up the entire network. When you have no mobile phone coverage, you will be given the option to pay a small fee to use a different carrier. This will be just like paying to use another bank’s ATM. TV shows will start and finish on time. Post offices will have stamp machines, or separate stamp queues, so you don’t get stuck behind people paying bills, applying for passports and buying novelty office equipment for birthday presents!

Finally, to ensure the ongoing support of my campaign manager Meshel Laurie, everyone will be supplied with free polo shirts!

In response to my last column on improv vs scripted theatre, I received a note from Alison Pollard-Mansergh who plays Sybil in the touring Faulty Towers Dining Experience. Alison is back home in Brisbane now but was on tour in the Netherlands – they read bmag online all over the world! – when she wrote: “I’m often asked how I could play the same role in the same show for 14 years. The reason is that the show is both scripted and improvised. Often the audience doesn’t know where the script ends and the improv begins. This is a huge joy for us as performers. It’s about time improv had a resurgence in Brisbane. International festivals such as Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes are full of fantastic edge-of-your-seat improv shows.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bmag May 10th 2011 - Improv vs scripted theatre

There’s a theatre show in Brisbane at the moment which never ends the same way twice. As a result, fans return night after night and are rewarded with a different experience every time. But it’s risky for both the performers and the audience.

It’s called Prognosis: Death! and is best described as a long-form improvised comedy. You might know improvisational theatre – or improv – from TV shows such as Whose Line is it Anyway? and Thank God You’re Here. Those with a longer memory might recall Theatre Sports on ABC TV in the late 1980s, introduced by Paul Chubb and featuring the likes of Andrew Denton, Shaun Micallef and Glenn Robbins.

Unlike Theatre Sports, with its short games and sketches, Prognosis: Death! is a single story, similar in length to a scripted play and with an interval, but the plot is concocted on the night, based on suggestions – or “offers” – from the audience. This particular show has become something of a cult hit and is currently playing its fourth season.

Queensland Theatre Company also has a long-form semi-improvised work playing in Brisbane this month. An Oak Tree is a two-hander. One actor has a script whilst the other must improvise. The latter role is being performed by 23 different actors during the season.

But improv theatre is not for everyone. I started to wonder whether there was a strong divide in the theatre community between traditional plays and improv so I put the question to my actor friend Norman Doyle.

Norman quickly calmed down my journalistic instinct to paint the story in black and white! He says, “It seems to me an odd debate. There’s no real conflict between actors doing plays and those doing improv. They’re often the same people. Improv is useful for actors in plays, both in rehearsal and, when required, on stage. To contrive a division is spurious. We’re all in the same pool, but are more proficient at different strokes than others.”

However, when asked about his preference, Norman Doyle offered this insight: “I’m not big into improv for the simple reason that many practitioners are 10 times less funny than they think they are. If you play funny, you’re less funny.” Ouch.

Natalie Bochenski, artistic director of ImproMafia, the company behind Prognosis: Death!, admits “it can fail. It does fail. But when you hit a high note, when a story comes together, or a joke just bursts out of nowhere and makes the audience guffaw, the feeling is unlike anything I personally experience in scripted theatre. You could say the lows are lower but the highs are oh-so-higher.

“Some actors don’t like improvisation or won’t do it. Some say they don’t have the skill for it but I suspect it’s more about fear.”

Of course, that risk is there for the Theatre on the edge audience as well. If you’re hooked in by a positive theatre review and go along to a play, you’re safe in the knowledge you will see close to the same production you were reading about in the review. But with improv, you can’t be sure what you’ll see.

The fact is, some improv moments will fall flat. But from my experience, the audience is always so supportive, so ready to be taken on a mystery tour, that somehow it works. It’s not the dips you’ll remember the next day. It’s the great moments and the huge belly-laughs. And you’ll marvel at where the performers pulled them from.

Prognosis: Death! is on at Brisbane Arts Theatre, Petrie Terrace, and An Oak Tree is on at Bille Brown Studio, South Brisbane, both until 14 May. Norman Doyle’s next play is Nina Raine’s Rabbit at Metro Arts, city, from 22 July to 6 August.

Finally, in my column in bmag a few weeks ago (22 March), I told you about Evan Davis and his event-based travels around the world. Evan’s Twitter friends have just spent a couple of weeks with him in the UK, at the Royal Wedding and searching for the Loch Ness Monster. Evan, dubbed “The Man in the Front Row of History”, was even part of the BBC’s coverage of the wedding! For those who are keen to armchairtravel with Evan, his next event is the Eurovision Song Contest in Germany. Click on

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bmag April 26th 2011 - Discovering Brisbane's past

The Howsons are off to Washington soon and my wife Nikki has been reading just about everything ever published on visiting the US capital. Recently Nikki was reeling off all the museums in DC.

There’s the Spy Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of African Art, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Women in the Arts, the Museum of Crime and Punishment...and the list goes on. Heck, apparently the gift shop alone at the American Building Museum is one not to miss.

But all this talk of museums in Washington reminded me of all the ones we have right here in Brisbane. No doubt you know the Queensland Museum and the Museum of Brisbane (currently at 157 Ann Street) but what about some of the others?

For example, you don’t have to go to Melbourne to ride a tram. On a Sunday afternoon, take the family to the Brisbane Tramway Museum at Ferny Grove. The Workshops Rail Museum at Ipswich runs semi-regular steam train trips from Brisbane.

Underneath the Goodwill Bridge is the Maritime Museum with its centrepiece, the Queensland-built frigate Diamantina, on which Japanese garrisons on Nauru Island and Ocean Island signed surrender documents at the end of World War Two. The Maritime Museum’s latest acquisition is Jessica Watson’s round-the-world yacht Pink Lady. Become a member ($40 for a family) and you get exclusive access to one of the best vantage points for Riverfire.

The Queensland Telecommunications Museum at Clayfield introduces you to the world of pre-electric and electronic forms of communication. If you can successfully send your full name in Morse Code to one of the museum’s qualified telegraphists, you can purchase (for a dollar!) a certificate celebrating your achievement. One of Brisbane’s newest museums is the MacArthur Museum on Queen Street, from where General Douglas MacArthur commanded Allied Forces between 1942 and 1944. Sit at the same table where MacArthur developed strategies when thousands of American troops were based here, filling our shops, cafes and pubs and entertaining our women!

At the Queensland Military Memorial Museum in Fortitude Valley, there are pre-federation Queensland military uniforms, medals, weapons, trench art and other memorabilia. The Queensland Police Museum at Police Headquarters shows you the history of policing from 1864. You can test your detective skills using clues from a simulated murder scene. The Queensland Racing Museum at Eagle Farm is one of only eight in the world dedicated to thoroughbred racing. The Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying houses the artefacts used to determine the state border.

QUT Gardens Point has an Art Museum. And at the University of Queensland, St Lucia campus, there are no fewer than six separate museums, including the Anthropology Museum, the Antiquities Celebrating the past Museum, the Museum of Medical History and the Physics Museum.

For a day-trip, there’s the Redcliffe Museum, the Queensland Ambulance Museum at Wynnum, the Redland Museum in Cleveland, the North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum, the Samford Museum and the Yugambeh Language and Heritage Museum in Beenleigh. And I haven’t even started on the historic buildings like Newstead House, the Commissariat Store and Miegunyah.

It is sometimes said that we don’t appreciate our heritage in Brisbane and it’s true we’ve lost plenty of beautiful old buildings along the way. But, at the same time, we have no shortage of places celebrating our past. And I reckon I might have just about matched the number of museums on Nikki’s Washington to-do list!

In the last issue of bmag I explained the benefits of converting to digital radio. Here are some of the comments from people who have tuned in. Jono Perry described the column as “absolutely fantastic” and added, “I have three digital radios and couldn’t live without them.” Ken Jones wrote: “I have put up with the tragic AM band but now help has arrived. To me, it is not quite FM but it leaves AM for dead.” And Katie Clift tweeted me: “There’s an SBS Eurovision channel?! All my Christmases have come at once!”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bmag April 12th 2011 - Digital Radio

You may have read that 612 ABC Brisbane did very well in the first radio ratings survey of 2011. Whilst B105 is the top-rating station overall, I’m extremely proud that for the past 12 months, 612 Breakfast has consistently been the most popular morning radio show in Brisbane. However, there is a second set of listening figures released at the end of last month which I am just as excited about.

Less than two years after its launch, digital radio now has more than 700,000 listeners around the country. Not bad for new technology that’s taken a while to come down in price and that noone has been told much about.

Eventually it’s expected AM and FM will be switched off and you will need to make the move over to digital (or DAB+ to give it its proper name). And if that all sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s just like the switch to digital TV. Remember when ABC TV was just one channel? Now we have ABC1, ABC2, ABC3 and ABC24. Digital radio provides this same choice.

612 ABC Brisbane has had as many as four different shows on air at once, using analogue and digital services. For example, every Friday night during footy season, ABC digital radio listeners can choose between AFL, NRL or a sport-free evening show. Earlier this year, the ABC mounted temporary channels called Queensland Floods, Cyclone Yasi and Christchurch Earthquake, each carrying live rolling news. The recent Cricket World Cup was broadcast live on digital radio. And on 25 April, there will be an ANZAC Day channel broadcasting archival material as well as ANZAC Day services from around Australia and abroad.

It’s not just the ABC getting into multi-channel digital radio. Every month, 4KQ’s second channel plays a feature artist non-stop. These have included U2, Queen and The Beatles. There are new music stations, like Radar and Nova Nation. Barry is a 24-hour comedy station. Popular community stations 96-Five and 4ZZZ each have a second channel on digital radio. And SBS soon will switch on a Eurovision Song Contest channel, playing hits and misses from the past 50 years.

There are some sticking points with digital radio, not least of which has been the cost of the receivers. However, you can now buy a decent digital radio for between $50 and $100. The coverage area needs improving. I have picked up digital radio as far north as Bald Hills, west to Ipswich and south to Waterford. But if you’re on the Gold or Sunshine Coasts, don’t even bother. There’s also a school of thought that says internet listening – including via phone apps – will make digital radio redundant. I’d argue that whilst online listening is popular, it also incurs a download cost. By contrast, digital radio is free-to-air and who doesn’t like something that’s free?

As you can tell, I am passionate about radio. It’s the instant medium you can take with you anywhere and have on in the background no-matter what you’re doing. But, competing as it is against online news and personal MP3 music collections, radio has to reinvent itself and keep pace. That’s why I’m so excited about those digital radio listening and sales figures.

Most exciting of all is the recent news that some car manufacturers will soon start installing digital radios as standard. Once your new car introduces your ears to digital radio, you will understand what I’ve been going on about for these past two years!

Four reasons to get excited about digital radio:

1. Superior sound quality. FM listeners won’t notice much difference but you should hear your favourite AM radio station in digital stereo.

2. Digital radios have a screen on which your radio station can post news, weather or the name of a song.

3. Some digital radios have the ability to pause and rewind. This is similar to the PVR you might have for your TV.

4. Finally, and this is the clincher, radio stations can have more than one program on air at once.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bmag March 22nd 2011 - Charlie Sheen and Evan Davis

When Charlie Sheen launched himself on Twitter recently, we were immediately reminded what makes the social networking site so good. At the same time, we were reminded what makes it so bad. So good is the instant and direct access to celebrities. So bad is the instant and direct access to celebrities!

If you’re not into Twitter, then you’re probably a Facebooker instead. Not many people seem to be in both Team Facebook and Team Twitter. If you’ve listened to me on radio, you’ll know I’m firmly in the Twitter camp.

Everyone’s experience is unique, and what you get out of social networking depends on who you follow (Twitter) or befriend (Facebook), but I have to agree with this explanation (source unknown): “Twitter makes you love people you’ve never met. Facebook makes you hate the ones you know.”

I can’t think of a 12-month period where I’ve met as many new friends as I did in 2010, all thanks to Twitter. I’m looking at you @PeterJBlack, @VoodooDollSinna, @SimonBand, @Annieb25, @Taezar, @HeathC and @KatieClift!

But the Twitter friend I most want to tell you about is an unassuming 30-something bloke called Evan Davis or @EvanontheGC.

Evan’s hobby is taking his Twitter followers travelling with him. Evan doesn’t have a partner – he’d love to find the right lady – but has hundreds of companions wherever he goes. What’s unusual about Evan’s travels is that, thanks to “a few good investments”, he’s already been to most countries we’d all love to visit so now he concentrates on what he calls “event holidays”.

Last year, he went to the Canberra tally room on election night, returning to the national capital for the first day of parliament. (The poor bloke didn’t pack his good shoes and ended up wearing a pair lent to him by the Member for Moreton, Graham Perrett!)

There was the Eurovision Song Contest where Evan met and was photographed with the winner. New Year’s Eve was spent watching the crystal ball dropping at Times Square. And, naturally, his next trip is to London for the royal wedding.

Evan also has a curiosity for local events, taking his followers to the first game of the relaunched Brisbane Bandits baseball team and on an official bus tour of the Ipswich Motorway roadworks! Evan’s now part of my ABC radio show, known as “the man in the front row of history”. I can’t wait to hear his reports from William and Kate’s nuptials.

Recently, Evan and I sat down over lunch to talk about the pitfalls of travelling alone. It’s well known that hotels cost more if you’re on your own but worse, apparently, are the constant approaches from prostitutes. Evan says one night he had to fend off nine and was forced to retreat to his room! By contrast, Twitter has made travelling alone much more enjoyable. Evan’s followers back home are always with him, commenting on photos and suggesting things for him to do.

So next time you hear about Charlie Sheen, or some other reckless celebrity, giving Twitter a bad name, think about the good people for whom Twitter is truly life-improving. People like Evan Davis.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bmag March 8th 2011 - Which Opposition voice should be heard?

With just over a year until the Brisbane City Council elections, newsrooms in this city are grappling with a quadrennial dilemma – how much space or airtime to give the Opposition’s Lord Mayoral candidate? The question arises because the Opposition’s Lord Mayoral candidate is not the same as the Leader of the Opposition. Usually, for reasons I will outline, he or she is not even an elected councillor. So, who should speak for the Opposition? Its Lord Mayoral candidate or its leader? And does the answer change as we get closer to the March 2012 election?

Let me explain how we come to have this situation in Brisbane. Our Lord Mayor is directly and popularly elected – just like the US President – not chosen by the winning party’s councillors. If a councillor wants to run for Mayor, it’s sudden death. To run, they must relinquish their seat or ward. Hence, the practice is for the Opposition – currently the ALP – to put forward an outsider for the top job. Greg Rowell was Labor’s candidate in 2008. Four years earlier, Campbell Newman was brought in by the Liberals to oust sitting Labor Lord Mayor Tim Quinn. For the March 2012 poll, Labor has named businessman Ray Smith (interviewed in bmag’s last issue, 22 February).

Naturally Labor wants Mr Smith to receive maximum exposure over the next 12 months, so he is now being offered to the media to comment on council matters. At the same time, Cr Shayne Sutton is the ALP’s elected Opposition Leader in the chamber. At some point, you will want to hear from the man who aspires to wear the mayoral robes. Even today, 12 months out from the election, if Ray Smith makes a specific promise about what he would do as Lord Mayor, then you would expect the media to report that. But last month, when council was accused of misspending flood recovery money, the media release I received was full of quotes from Ray Smith and none from Shayne Sutton. Sure enough, when I sat down to watch the evening news, there was the Opposition’s Lord Mayoral candidate and not the Opposition Leader.

Now you might ask – why don’t reporters just by-pass Mr Smith and only seek the views of Cr Sutton? Let’s just say the parties are well practised at putting forward their preferred spokespeople. The Brisbane media faced this dilemma when Campbell Newman was pre-selected by the Liberal Party two years before the 2004 election. And it will inevitably surface again in the lead up to the 2016 poll, whichever side is in power at the time. Who do you think should speak for the Opposition?

In response to my column in bmag’s last issue and my proposed ad campaign encouraging children to stop their parents pirating movies and TV shows, Tim puts me in my place with this email: “Being a young adult who has downloaded many, many TV shows, most of those while still a child, children are generally the ones educating their parents, showing them the best ways to download pirated material. I showed my mother how to do it.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bmag Feb 22nd 2011 - TV/movie piracy

It looked like I was about to do a bad bad thing. Not that I was. But it looked like it. Then a 10-year-old saved me! And, at the same time, gave me an idea that might just put a big dent in TV and movie piracy.

My light-bulb moment occurred whilst driving son Jack and his school-friend Cameron into the city for a boys’ day out. With Jack in the passenger seat and Cameron in the back, my phone rang. I was passing it to Jack so he could speak with his mum when Cameron started chanting “pull over, pull over, pull over!”

Parents, you know what it’s like when someone else’s child is with you. You don’t want any tales told when they get home. You’re always on best behaviour. So, despite the fact I wasn’t on the phone – Jack was – I pulled over. And it started me thinking.

Children clearly have the power to influence through shame. We know they teach us about the environment – I don’t know about your place, but Jack’s always switching off appliances at the wall – to the point where I’ve given up re-setting all the clocks every day! And there have been some killer antismoking campaigns featuring children and their dying parents. So, what’s the next parental policing job we can give our children? How about the very-now, hidden-in-the-home crime of internet piracy?

Before I go on, I know why people illegally download television shows. Mainly it comes down to the tardiness of the Australian networks when it comes to showing new overseas shows. For example, Channel Ten made Glee fans wait until this month to see last year’s Christmas special. And many Little Britain fans have already downloaded the new Matt Lucas/David Walliamson series Come Fly With Me which concluded in Britain at the end of January. The same goes for the new Matt LeBlanc series Episodes which Brisbane downloaders have just finished watching.

Local TV blogger even has Best Show Not On Australian TV as a category in his inaugural Molky Awards 2011.

As I see it, movie piracy is much harder for anyone to justify. Pirated TV shows have at least aired somewhere in the world. It’s no different to asking an overseas friend to tape an episode and mail it to you. But it does hurt the television industry, denied money from advertisers. Money that would be pumped into future productions. Feel free to email me explaining why you download movies (see below). I’m keen to better understand people’s reasons.

For now, though, I’m putting TV and movie piracy in the one basket, and have come up with a TV commercial to stop it. The ad comprises a simple conversation between a man and his son but it contains key lines which no TV or movie pirate wants to have chanted back at them! Imagine what would happen if this appeared during children’s viewing time.

DAD: Simon, we can watch the latest episode of Survivor tonight
BOY: Do we have it?
DAD: Almost. 15 per cent to go. Should be ready in about 20 minutes.
BOY: Dad, where do you find Survivor on the internet?
DAD: Just people…
BOY: Is it legal?
DAD: Well…
BOY: Dad, are you breaking the law?
DAD: …
BOY: Dad, I don’t want you to go to jail. Let’s wait until it’s on TV.

Of course, there is another cheaper, easier way to stop piracy. Australian TV stations can start screening programs within a day of them being shown overseas, as ABC1 did with the 2010 Dr Who Christmas Day episode.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the Secrets of Brisbane book I’m compiling.

bmag reader Jenny S. has sent me two crackers – the second “t” in Turbot Street is not silent, and don’t be too surprised if an entire house is moved from your street in the middle of night!

And I’m not sure how long this one will stay now it’s been revealed, but Evan shares this secret: “When using a Go Card, if you travel somewhere and, within an hour after touching off, you get back on the bus/train/ferry to go home, the return trip is free. Translink’s transfer rules don’t seem to recognise a change in the direction of travel.” Love it!

My ABC colleague “Whistling” Warren Boland also adds this one – stand outside Lang Park when there are major concerts on. You might not hear every word but you still feel like you were there! I must confess to doing exactly that when Robbie Williams played in 2006! Keep them coming. If I use your secret, you’ll get a special acknowledgement in the book, to be launched on 25 March.

Monday, February 7, 2011

BMag February 8th 2011 - Secrets Revealed

It’s 30 years this month since I arrived from England. And I’m well aware that many people arrive here at this time of year, usually because someone in the family starts a new job. So I’ve decided to write a book about our city. Not a What’s On guide or a list of theme parks and art galleries.

Secrets of Brisbane will be just that: what noone tells you.

So what would you tell someone who’s just moved to Brisbane? And for any newcomers to Brisbane, I hope you get something out of the following:

If you’re going into the city on a weekday, the parking can really break the bank. However it’s only $15 a day (all day) at the cultural precinct car parks. Walk or bus over the Victoria Bridge and you’re in the Queen Street Mall.

You’ll find an entire community of people – usually tourists and students – sitting outside the State Library at night. They’re using the free wi-fi internet. There are even power points on the outside of the building to plug into! It’s free to join a Brisbane City Council library. Each card holder is allowed 20 items at once and that includes a huge range of movies and TV shows on DVD. Free DVD hire for a month at a time!

We have a Chinatown in the Valley but some of our best Chinese restaurants are in Sunnybank on the southside.There are great views of the city from Mt Coot-tha and Mt Gravatt. Both have restaurants but Mt Gravatt has a curfew. Public transport is cheaper with a go card. And cheaper still between 9am and 3.30pm and after 7pm.

Buy a house near a train line. Trains have delays but they can’t get stuck in traffic. And once you have bought somewhere, Brisbane City Council will give you two free trees a year. Take your first rates notice of the calendar year to a participating nursery.

Apart from winter, it’s always best to carry a brolly or at least have one in the car! Become familiar with the Mt Stapylton radar on the Weather Bureau’s website.

The cheapest cinemas are not the ones found in shopping centres. There’s free improv theatre Monday nights in the Valley. Visit for details. And there’s a free board game night in King George Square on the last Thursday of the month.

Here are just three ways to avoid a council fine. Don’t park across your own driveway. Don’t park in your own driveway if you’re blocking the footpath. And don’t leave your bins on the footpath more than 48 hours after they’ve been emptied.

There are tight parking restrictions around the Gabba (or Woolloongabba for the real newbies) and Lang Park on “event days”. Oh, and Lang Park is also known as Suncorp Stadium. To some, the William Jolly Bridge is still the Grey Street Bridge, 56 years after it was renamed. To children, it’s the Inspector Gadget Bridge. Watch “Inspector Gadget 2” and you’ll find out why!

You can turn right from Hale Street onto Coronation Drive, despite the lack of signage. It’s as if they don’t want you to know. And you only need one tag in your car to drive on any of our toll roads.

Now, what have I missed? Email me ( and if I use your suggestion in Secrets of Brisbane, you’ll get an acknowledgement in the book.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Resolution

I know what you're thinking - New Year's resolutions are lame. It's true.

Call this what you want but my plan for 2011 is to write.

My main outlet for frequent, random thoughts will remain Twitter with some tweets being pushed through to Facebook.

But in 2011, I'm going to have a crack at longer pieces.

And who knows, some of them might even get published ...