TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT NEW. Matt’s Old Man Rant about the ways of the modern world: The art of buzz-speak


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How do I love thee, buzz words? Let me count the ways!

As the world around us becomes more homogenised every day, so too is the endless stream of buzz-speak used by corporate folk becoming more standardised, more repetitive and more tedious. The more often we hear it, the more diluted it becomes and the less impact it has. To paraphrase the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dearest buzz-speak, how do I love thee? Let me counts the ways.

No, really – I’m going to count the ways!

To start with, let’s be brutally honest: it’s only so many times we can hear someone extolling the virtues of becoming engaged in the journey of discovery in the product space to ensure alignment with corporate values, brand and strategy without laughing. Or falling asleep. Sometimes they rattle off whole sentences, entire paragraphs of words that more-or-less, at the end of the day, essentially say nothing. And as the listener, as a member of their intended audience, by the time we’ve identified, linked and followed all the hidden meanings, analogies and clichés that make up the lion’s share of each statement, we have about as much idea of what they’re talking about as Christopher Columbus had of when his boat would topple off the edge of the horizon. Which is probably no great loss in the end since they usually never say very much anyway; and even if you asked a clarifying question, they’d probably only respond using the same language so you’d still be none the wiser.

Some words, as engaged by corporate folk, have actually morphed into different words over time, to the point where the original word becomes all-but forgotten. A prime example of this is the word ‘about’: exactly when did it become around? We’ve taken away some learnings around the governance space and synergies will be achieved if we think outside the box and exploit the low-hanging fruit. Really? I’d sure like to take away some learnings around what the words you just said actually mean! I’m convinced that most corporate folk don’t know how to use the word ‘about’ any more. Why can’t we go straight to the heart of it and talk about the topic at hand, rather than skirting the matter by going around it? Doesn’t make much sense to me. Surely it’s far more efficient to just show the crux of the issue and get on with it? Maybe we should take this offline?

And speaking of efficient, it seems everyone’s trying to grow efficiencies these days. At a high level, from a forecast perspective, we need to grow efficiencies in the resource space aligned to shrinkage projections. …no, I’m not quite getting that one… so you need to increase the number of staff that you don’t have? Is that it? Or you need to decrease the number of staff you will need over time? Or you’re trying to… nup, sorry, you’ve totally lost me. Even the meaning of the most basic statement can be completely lost in translation from buzz-speak back to plain-speak. With all this efficiency-growing and fruit-picking, you’d think we were working in some kind of market garden. I don’t know about you, but for me the organic concept of growing has no connection whatsoever with the business-centric concept of efficiency and the term low-hanging fruit only conjures images of me wandering through the Garden of Eden wearing nowt but a leaf over my nether-regions, lazily reaching for whatever exotic, brightly coloured fruit is within my reach.

Have you noticed how we don’t receive emails anymore either – our inboxes are apparently populated by communications. Marketing will send a communication to the analyst community and business stakeholders around leveraging the learnings and insights taken from key market segment data. So what you really mean is that someone’s gonna send an email to a bunch of people to talk about how to make the most out of what you found out about your customers, right?

And, apparently, communications don’t go to ‘staff’ anymore either – they go to the analyst community, the management community, or the project community. WTF? Irrespective of how much I like the people I work with or that some of them are my actual friends, I most certainly do not go to work to belong to a community – the dictionary definition of which, incidentally, is “A group of people living together in one place, esp. one practicing common ownership: “a community of nuns”; All the people living in a particular area or place: “local communities”. Right… so nuns and local communities. Well aside from anything else, I don’t actually live at work! I know I’ve done some long hours in my time and people have provided tenths of seconds of amusement by asking me “have you actually been home yet?” when arriving at work in the morning, but I never actually lived there. So that’s cleared up then – we don’t live there, so we’re not a community. Enough said.

Or is it? Coz the flip side of this argument is that, despite the fact that corporate folk would have us believe we all ‘live’ in a office-bound community, people within those communities have increasingly had their status as living, breathing human beings removed. Yes, maybe the time has long-since passed since we were last considered little more than numbers on our employer’s payroll – that just wouldn’t do in the age of political correctness. But people still aren’t people any more. They’re rarely even ’employees’ or ‘staff’, terms that were once both in wide use to describe a collective of people who work somewhere. These days, animate being-status of people who work in the corporate world tends to be further reduced by use of inanimate descriptors, like resources and stakeholders.

Every office-dweller loves a good PowerPoint presentation. You can always tell that someone – generally not the presenter – has put a huge amount of time into them when they’re chock-a-block full of tables and animation. But when did we start talking to a slide. As if to cement the sad and sorry end of the word ‘about’, for some reason corporate folk now talk to slides, rather than ‘about’ them. The next slide covers resource requirements in the training space and our Head Trainer will talk to that. Ummm… excuse me, I’m your audience and I’m sitting right here. Shouldn’t the Head Trainer talk to me about the slide? …or is it around the slide?? At any rate, it’s a commonly avoided fact that most corporate folk actually detest doing PowerPoint presentations with a passion. They generally do so on pain of death and they’re typically too under-prepared or under-informed to do anything but talk to the slide – literally – such is their inability to ad-lib its content.

There are so many others that I could mention – too many, in fact – but the discussion wouldn’t be complete without at least tipping my hat to these:

Insights. Suggestions, recommendations or outcomes of analysing or investigating something.

Time-poor. A term typically over-used by anyone who’s bigging themselves up, busy for non-critical reasons, disorganised, irresponsible, bad at their job, scatty, ditzy or otherwise generally inefficient.

High-level. A term that allows corporate folk who don’t actually know a lot about stuff to get away with not knowing a lot about stuff by presenting statements and summaries that are pitched from a high-level viewpoint. Also referred to as the 60,000ft view by those most accomplished in the art of buzz-speak.

Transparent. A word used to describe what a company should do or say or promise to achieve when, in fact, what it really does, says or actually achieves is either the opposite or completely different.

Blue-sky thinking. A non-committal way for corporate folk to speak of how the company might achieve the heretofore unachieved goals and outcomes that were revealed while being transparent.

…we could go on and on and, although it could be endlessly fun, we’d only arrive at the same conclusion: that buzz-speak is just a load of old corporate bollocks. It doesn’t mean much, nor say much and is generally spoken by those who don’t mean much by what they say and who don’t really have much to say anyway – certainly nothing of any real value to the people they’re saying it to. Buzz-speak is all about saying a lot to say very little. It creates confusion, sends mixed messages and generally wastes the time of both those saying it and anyone unfortunate enough to hear it.

It’s just lucky that it’s also enormously entertaining!

TV TIMES: Here’s the story… of a lovely, endless love affair


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The Brady Bunch (1972-73)

In September 1969, a cheesy and ultimately kitsch sitcom that would go on to become an institution had its première on America’s ABC network. Only four months later, on 25 January 1970, The Brady Bunch had its Australian début on Channel 10 Sydney in the absolute primetime slot of 7:30 Sunday nights. Despite its then progressive premise of the blended marriage, The Brady Bunch was firmly rooted – at least to begin with – in traditional 60s American family values and, already seen as outdated, it never rated especially well on its first run in the US. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald TV critic’s review of the first episode, published the week before it aired, said simply, “Three cute kids plus three adds up to six, and about five more than I can take. Goodbye”. Despite all of this, or maybe even because of it, by 1973 it was consistently one of the highest rating programs on Australian television. It regularly pulled enough viewers to make the list of Top 10 highest-rated shows for the week, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne and even going on to the dizzying heights of becoming the second-highest rated program in Perth during 1976, two years after production ended.

Throughout the 70s and 80s The Brady Bunch was a mainstay of the afternoon and early evening schedules of stations all over the country, with at least one episode of the series (or one of its spin-offs) screened somewhere in Australia every year from 1970 until 1990. By then, the tattered old film copies of each episode had been transferred ‘as is’ to video and you could rarely get through the famous opening titles without the picture and audio skipping ahead multiple times. It was definitely time to put them out to pasture.

With the release of The Brady Bunch Movie in 1995 and the aptly named A Very Brady Sequel the following year, Network Ten saw an opportunity to capitalise on the revived popularity of the series and wheeled it back out – cleaned-up and remastered – for another two prime-time runs. Fast-forward to January 2011 and the launch of the network’s digital station, Channel 11 – and just as I’d suspected, there was The Brady Bunch nestled proudly among the program line-up at 5:30pm just like it had been for so many years before, only this time it was Monday to Sunday – seven days a week! And in that curious way of digital and pay TV scheduling, it wasn’t just on once but multiple times a day… you know, just in case you hadn’t already seen that particular episode on any of its hundreds of earlier outings over the years. To date, Channel 11 is now halfway through its fifth back-to-back re-run of all 117 episodes of the series – once they reach the end they just go right back to the start! The teenage kids revert to nippers and Mike and Carol have to go through the whole wedding and that nasty Fluffy v. Tiger stoush all over again. With only a season-and-a-half left, I wonder if the end really will be the end this time?

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The Brady Bunch (1969-70)

And yet for all the reruns, the DVDs, the movies and the variable-quality spin-offs, I still have the Foxtel box set to record it every single day. The Brady Bunch remains an oddly reassuring presence in my life, a constant in an ever-changing world. 38 years after the last episode and more than 30 years since I sat down to watch the series end-to-end for the first of hundreds of times, how can I still love it this much?

Maybe it’s a ‘time and place’ thing, a warmth generated from memories of what else was going on as eight year old me watched, enthralled, dreaming of becoming a Brady. Or maybe it’s just that, having seen it so many times, I’m intimately acquainted with almost every aspect of it. The volume of obscure trivia I can spout about The Brady Bunch is almost endless – and a bit frightening! For example:

  • The pilot episode (The Honeymoon, 26/09/69) was actually filmed in October 1968, eight months before producers finally got the green light for a series.
  • Mike Brady was written out of the last episode (The Hair-Brained Scheme, 8/03/74) after Robert Reed refused to be involved, arguing that its premise was utterly preposterous and bordered on slapstick.
  • The Brady Bunch had four spin-offs: the animated Brady Kids (1972-74); the cheesy-with-extra-cheese Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-77); The Brady Brides (1981); and the brand’s sole attempt at drama, The Bradys (1990). The cartoon had the most of what success there was, lasting 22 episodes over two seasons.
  • For Season 3 producers re-used the opening title ‘grid’ from Season 2, but recorded a new arrangement of the theme song; for Season 5 they recorded a new opening title ‘grid’ but re-used the Season 3 theme arrangement; neither example of recycling was ever explained.
  • There were four Brady Bunch movies: A Very Brady Christmas (1988), a made-for-TV movie featuring the original cast; The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), a highly successful cinematic release featuring a brand new cast; its almost-as-successful sequel featuring the same cast, A Very Brady Sequel (1996); and The Brady Bunch In The White House (2002), a made-for-TV movie featuring another different cast. The first three were ratings or box office successes; the fourth wasn’t.
  • There’s a door at the top of the stairs in the Brady house – nobody ever opened it and whatever was concealed within was never revealed.
  • The girls’ cat Fluffy and Carol’s parents were never seen again after the wedding episode.
  • Other than the position of the front door being more or less accurate, nothing about the internal layout of the house matched its external view.
  • In pop culture it was long-held that the Bradys were nine people in a large house with only one bathroom and no toilet; the laws of American TV land in the late 60s meant that they weren’t allowed to show toilets, which explains that one; but there was clearly another bathroom in the Bradys house – Mike & Carol’s ensuite in that strange and always unseen void space behind their bed. Alice must’ve used a bed pan. Or maybe the laundry tub.
  • After the show ended, almost anyone asked to describe Carol Brady would’ve said she had a blonde flip. Florence Henderson only sported the famous flip for two of the show’s five seasons and it was only truly blonde for one of them.

… and I could go on and on. But I won’t. Like I said, obscure trivia. Almost endless.

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The Brady Bunch (1970-72)

The 80s truly was the golden age of 60s US sitcom reruns. Australian TV had them all on an endless loop – I Dream Of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, Here’s Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart – but for me none of them ever measured up to The Brady Bunch. They were the antithesis of my tiny nuclear family – and I loved them for it! Certainly none of the others got into my subconscious the way The Bradys did. I lost count of how many dreams I had about finding myself in ‘my room’ in that enormous house, playing with the kids on the Astroturf lawn, squeezing a tenth person around that little kitchen table to have pancakes for breakfast, or getting scolded in that distinctly less-than-harsh way that Mike and Carol always scolded the kids.

Other sitcoms have sucked people in, just like The Brady Bunch sucked me in all those years ago. M*A*S*H, Happy Days, Family Ties, Cheers, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, Seinfeld, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, and not forgetting the current darling of the sitcom rerun set, Modern Family. Oddly enough, most of them have been endlessly repeated by Channel Ten too! But wherever they’ve been screened, all will have diehard long-term fans who find themselves sitting around twenty or more years after the show ends, knowing implicitly what’s about to happen, exactly what someone’s about to say, how many episodes there were and where episode <x> sits within the overall run of the show, when they first aired, who wrote and directed them… somebody will know. Somebody always knows.

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The Brady Bunch (1973-74)

In the meantime, I’ll lament the demise of the old-school sitcom and its old-fashioned values, from a time when there was no sex, no swearing, no internet porn. And never mind comfort – people still dressed in their Sunday best when going anywhere by air. Nobody was ever pregnant out-of-wedlock, or into drugs, or did anything illegal ever (except maybe that time Greg Brady smoked, but that was clearly more a health concern than criminal behaviour!). There was no struggle for equality – women clearly knew their place was in the home or, if working, they accepted that they were tea ladies or secretaries who typed letters. Being gay was still just about being very happy; I suspect Mr Brady knew all about that. Nobody was ever any more naked than they had to be, kids got excited about finding $2 and parents never struggled for money. Aside from brief one-off admissions that teenage sons might need “privacy” because they’re getting older, there’d be no specific detail about exactly what that was supposed to mean and Dads never had to trouble themselves with ‘birds and bees’ chats with their boys. Moms were more likely to be concerned with their girls’ reactions to braces, glasses and lost dolls than they would be about training bras and first periods. Dad could go off to work while Mom and Housekeeper juggled the day’s chores – going to the grocery store, washing, ironing, vacuuming, sweeping the patio and, ever so occasionally, heading downtown for an extremely restrained shopping spree – and somehow Dad and his single salary still managed to afford two cars, a caravan, a trip to the Grand Canyon, three phones, pocket-money for six kids, all the bills and a salary for a live-in housekeeper who went on all their vacations with them but still managed to have her own vacations without them as well. Things would happen and they’d never be spoken of again – and that was perfectly normal. Relatives would come and go and it wouldn’t matter that they’d never been mentioned before, nor ever again. That was, apparently, quite normal too. Pets would be there one minute and gone the next, but kids were never upset by their mysterious disappearance. It was all just normal. Very calm, very happy and very normal.

If only real life was that simple. Then again, I’m not sure it ever really was.

SPIN CYCLE: The 20 Year Itch?


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What’s not to love about 70s-wear?

I absolutely can’t wait for my genuine 90s 70s-style flared jeans to come back into fashion! It’s not wishful thinking either, it’s inevitable.

The 70s has always been my favourite decade. At one time or another, everyone’s proclaimed – mostly with tongue firmly planted in cheek – the superior nature of their own decade of birth, solely because they were born in it. That aside, the little I actually recall of the 70s I recall with great fondness, if only vaguely. It’s what I subsequently learnt about that fabulous decade that’s always left me wishing I’d been born ten or fifteen years earlier, just so I could’ve been old enough to truly embrace a world of impossibly flared trouser legs, platform shoes, wing-like collars, jumpsuits and strange new fabrics that probably didn’t breathe particularly well.

Sadly I was only five years old by the time New Year’s Eve revellers were ushering in the bold new world of the 1980s. I’d tried more than once to create my own home disco – a stylish mustard-coloured barrel vacuum cleaner was my stage, its nozzle was my microphone and flicking the light switches on and off was about as hi-tech as it was ever gonna get! But I can only lament that I was never old enough to fully immerse myself in the musical and fashion debauchery of that time. Anyone who had the good fortune of escaping the 80s was able to look back on it as an entire decade of fashion delinquency that should’ve never been allowed to happen! So it’s mildly ironic that some commentators of the day – the same ones who were probably looking at their electric typewriters through glasses half the size of their face, with enormous hair, wearing grey acid-wash high-waisted jeans and weighed down by the world’s biggest shoulder pads – should’ve so often delighted in describing the 70s as “the decade that fashion forgot”! Even as a kid I never got it, I always loved everything about the 70s – the music, the funky houses, the shag-pile carpet, Chiko Rolls, the peculiarly Australian fascination with Fondue, the giant Australian-made cars constructed entirely of reinforced steel with their scalding vinyl seats and molten-metal seatbelt buckles. But above all else, I adored the unique clothing! So when it all came back into vogue in the early 90s, well… you probably can’t even begin to imagine how very often I creamed myself with delight!

I was watching the wonderful Myf Warhurst’s Nice on ABC1 the other night and she was looking at fashion fads from down the years. One of her guests commented that the fashion cycle typically means it’s 20 years between fads and styles going out of fashion and coming back ’round again. Even with fashions being recycled on an every-other-decade basis, some become such a hybrid of the original as to be almost unrelated to it. But with the speed of the digital world and our youngest generations apparently possessing the attention span of fleas, has the ‘chronic hysteresis’ of the fashion cycle actually contracted?

In the last hundred-or-so years we’ve seen it happen time and again. While the 1920s was arguably the decade where fashion truly became more twentieth century than nineteenth, the late 1930s, the 40s and at least half of the 50s were all about flare, width and excess for both men’s and women’s fashions – wide collars and lapels, wide-legged pants, wide ties.

By the end of the 1950s everything had narrowed right down. Today, ask anyone what they’d wear as 60s-themed fancy dress and they’d almost always go as some weird crossbreed of styles from the late 60s through to the late 70s – the 1969 hippie / Woodstock look, the Jimmy Hendrix-style striped flares, the stringy suede vests, the over-sized pink or orange-tinted round sunglasses, probably a perm, lots of flowing floral or paisley material; in fact, 60s mainstream fashion was dominated by relatively conservative designs with tiny collars, narrow-lapelled suits, stove-pipe trouser legs and pencil-thin ties, a look which carried on into the early 70s.

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Big enough to house the population of a small European nation

Seams and cuffs soon started moving outward again and by 1974 the world was awash with any kind of design that was higher, wider, floppier and generally larger than it needed to be: culottes and bellbottom trousers were so wide as to give the allusion of perpetual motion, with small children walking along the street sucked into a vacuum of excess material, never to be seen again! Suit lapels were equally wide, presumably for no other reason than to counterbalance the absurd width of the trouser legs; if you’ve ever looked at a modern suit breast pocket and thought how pointless it was, imagine how pointless they were in the 70s when they were completely hidden behind the lapel! Open-necked shirts sported collars so wide that sufficient rapid movement of both could quite easily propel the average man on the street skyward, such were their wing-like proportions. Dangerously high platform shoes were worn by women and men alike and big hair abounded – ridiculously over-sized perms, unisex shoulder-length dos, inconceivably large Afros big enough to house the entire population of a small European nation; it really was all about having as much hair as possible for most of the 1970s.

In the early 70s there’d been a 1940s influence on women’s fashion; towards the end of the decade came the first 50s revival, perhaps inspired by Grease, though who can really say which was the chicken and which was the egg. After years of disco and flared everything, by 1979 disco was dead and everything that’d been wider than wide for most of the decade was once again narrow. By 1984, what had already shrunken down to a 60s-inspired narrow had been reduced even further to impossibly tiny proportions. Collars were so small that they almost weren’t there – eventually the fad of ‘grandpa shirts’ would ensure that they were, indeed, no longer there at all! Ties reduced to such an extent that they became no more than a small belt buckle supporting two shoe-laces. Skinny jeans made their first appearance, which was no doubt a wonderful thing for anyone with an eating disorder or no body shape whatsoever, but for the rest of us – to paraphrase Gran from Absolutely Fabulous – it was rather like squeezing toothpaste back into the tube.

By 1986, musically the 60s revival was in full swing, but fashion-wise it was a slightly different story. As if to offset the reduced proportions of almost everything, select items were getting much, much bigger. While the thin mainstays of collars, lapels, ties and pants remained, almost everything else went completely the other way, not least of which were hair, shoulder pads, jackets, jumpers, belt buckles and shoes; all of these spent the latter part of the 80s and the first years of the 90s as big as they could possibly get. In fact, if the late 80s in Australian fashion is remembered for anything at all – aside from how very hideous most of it actually was – it would be three defining unisex atrocities: Ken Done and Jenny Kee over-sized over-coloured jumpers, hugely oversized hair (including massive mullets) and enormously oversized shoulder pads large enough to form the foundations of a twenty-storey building.

Then, just when it looked like ladies’ eyebrows and spectacles couldn’t get any larger or geekier-looking, everything that had been big started to downsize, while everything that had remained narrow started to flare out again. By the end of 1992, the 70s influence was clear almost everywhere and within twelve months the full-on 70s revival had arrived. ABBA, Priscilla, Muriel’s Wedding, anything disco – if it wasn’t genuinely 70s, it was made to look or sound like it. Much of it was 100% copycat – flares, platforms, florals, paisley, brogue – though, thankfully, some of the more questionable designs and styles of the 70s – gabardine, crimplene, rayon – have remained the exclusive domain of costume hirers and senior citizens’ wardrobes.

The prominence of flares and platform shoes somehow managed to wane and revitalise three or four times throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s. But by 2003, as was inevitable, the 20 year itch kicked in again and the 80s were back – in a big way. Flares were gone, everything wide was narrow again. Skinny jeans made a reappearance and, as if they hadn’t looked bad enough the first time, by 2005 the young folk were well into the swing of wearing them with the waistline somehow supported below their butt cheeks. This was a carry-over from a fad that had started years earlier and involving much more capacious jean-wear; it had seemed obvious then that when the size and style of those jeans changed, so too would this slightly oddball style of wearing them half way down their butts with the underwear exposed and the crotch somewhere around their knees – but no, it wasn’t to be. In fact, a handful of styles have remained for longer than they were fashionable the first time… it’s been a decade-long 80s revival. Not as 80s was though, but more as 80s is, or as 80s might’ve been; hip-hop with a bit more hip, new romantic with a touch less romance and even less new.

Almost ten years on and it seems there’s a developing preference for greater width emerging from European fashion houses – it’s the 20 year itch happening all over again! But this time around, when we all jump back into our flares, pop the giant collars over the lapels of our velvet jackets and teeter about on our six-inch platforms, trying desperately not to fall off and break our ankles all Baby Spice-style, what’s it actually going to be? What exactly do you call it when you’re copying the style of a decade that very obviously copied the style of two decades earlier which, in turn, also copied two other earlier decades over the course of its own ten years?

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And what’s wrong with men in heels?

Call it a 90s revival. Call it nouveau pastiche. Call it what you want! It’s all a bit confusing but, in the end, it doesn’t really matter – I’m always just on the look-out for the next 70s revival, so I know exactly what I’m gonna call it.

Now, back to those genuine 90s 70s-style flares… all I need to do is work out how to make my waist three sizes smaller and we’re sorted!

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT NEW. Matt’s Old Man Rant about the ways of the modern world: Love To ‘Like’ You Baby…


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How do you solve a problem like ‘like’?

What is it with the Facebook ‘Like’ button anyway? How did four seemingly innocuous blue letters become quite so over-used!?

Scenario 1: you post a question on Facebook. Does anyone know the ingredients for Vietnamese-style prawns and Hearts of Palm with Green Tea-Noodle Salad? Can anyone tell me where Yakutsk is? Anyone know where I’ll find the closest Nauti & Nice Adult Megastore to my home in the outback of north-west Western Australia? You’ve seen the kind of thing before.

Some friends are eminently forthcoming with comments that directly respond to your question(s). Others, though, are somewhat less obliging – they click ‘Like’. They neither answer the question(s), nor point you in the direction of someone who might be able to, nor provide any other useful comment whatsoever. They just hit ‘Like’ and move on, the online equivalent of giving you a quick and cheery wave as they pass you in the distance.

Scenario 2: you post a sad and sorry tale of woe as your Facebook status update. You’ve never felt so unwell. You’re practically dead. You’re utterly depressed. Your situation is terminal.

Some friends go to the heart of the issue, offering suggestions of what you might want to try, to help improve how you feel; some will openly share observations from personal experience or from having seen friends or family go through similar situations; while some won’t feel able to provide any really useful input, so instead they offer soothing words of comfort or encouragement. Then you get the ones who click ‘Like’ – it’s as if they didn’t read a single word of what you said and remain completely blind to your discomfort. What exactly did they ‘like’ about what they just read?

Has ‘Like’ – whether in the Facebook world or the real one – morphed into an all-encompassing positive response, inclusive of (but not limited to) ‘like’, ‘agree’, ‘ditto’ and, presumably, whatever else can be shoe-horned into the category? Is someone who ‘Likes’ a question actually saying “I’m glad you asked that question, I’ve wanted to ask the same thing”, or “I’d also like to know the answer to that”? Fair enough if all you actually posted was a series of questions. It’s more of a mystery when you’ve just posted your latest sob story – what exactly do your friends mean by clicking ‘Like’ at that point? What are they trying to tell you, by ‘liking’ the fact that you feel so under the weather you could quite happily slice your own face off?

I always thought the word ‘like’ had a broadly understood meaning and that, at least in the online world in the wake of the Facebook revolution, the action of clicking ‘Like’ served a fairly specific purpose too. I’m no longer convinced that either of these things is true and have a sneaking suspicion that the modern concept of ‘like’ may only be very vaguely related to its traditional meaning.

It’s one of the great mysteries of the modern, online, digital, social networking world. I can’t possibly ‘Like’ it until I understand it.

SAY THAT AGAIN?: Matt’s Top 10 misused words and phrases


Everyone knows I’m a lover of language. My inclination toward the written and spoken word is a long-standing affair of the heart. I’ve been known for years as something of a “grammar nazi”; whenever I’m away from the office I inevitably return to a backlog of requests for help – “is this right?”, “where does the apostrophe go in this sentence?”, “does this read correctly or should I say it differently?”, “what’s a better way of saying ‘pompous arrogant git’?” and the like.

So it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I find myself biting my tongue in all kinds of settings, when I hear how so many people so often misuse common words and phrases. Small things mostly, but in the end if it just isn’t right then it just shouldn’t be said. Such bastardisation of the beautiful English language; it truly makes my heart break every time I hear it. If I were a betting man, I’d say the chance of me being slightly obsessed had pretty good odds.

Let me be very clear up front: I’m not talking about the likes of “excape”, “expecially” or “arks” here, which are no more than mispronounced words – I put them in the same class as lisps, pronouncing ‘r’ sounds as ‘w’ or ‘th’ sounds as ‘f’ – all basically speech impediments. No, what I’m talking about here are words or combinations of words, contractions or even whole phrases that just don’t mean anything when used in the way that many people string them together.

As with any list that I hastily cobble together I don’t claim this to be definitive, merely a selection of my (least) favourites.

‘Return back’: no! You can go back or you can return. You don’t return back. Come to that, what would ‘returning back’ even be? It’s almost… I dunno… a double-negative? I think it’d be something like going to a place, then coming back, then going back to the place you just came back from. I think.

‘Would of’ / ‘could of’ /’should of’: no! It’s would’ve, the contraction of ‘would’ and ‘have’. “I would of done it”, “it could of been”, “you should of told me” – yes I know what you mean, but none of these statements mean anything at all when they contain the word ‘of’.

‘Rather then’ / ‘better then’ / ‘other then’: no! It’s than, not then! What on earth could a phrase like “other then that” possibly mean? Answer: not very much and certainly not what you’re trying to say!

‘Prospective’: of customers, yes; of tenants, yes; of home buyers or someone in the market to make any other kind of purchase, yes. Of viewpoints? No! It’s perspective, not prospective. “From our prospective, it’s not a big deal”, “from the business prospective, it’s top priority”… no! Neither of those statements means anything! Prospective is all about the future, something that someone wants to do and by God they’re gonna do it. It’s neither a position to have, nor a position to take. Nothing happens, anywhere, ever, from someone’s prospective. Never. Ever.

‘Too’ vs. ‘To’: “that’s to funny”, “there’s to much to do”, “I’m to dumb to know better” – no! It’s too! T-O-O. It’s an adverb that quite literally adds to the the weight of the word it’s used in conjunction with – so it’s not just funny, it’s too funny; I’m not just dumb, I’m too dumb; there’s not just much to do, there’s too much to do. The reminder comes from how you pronounce ‘too’, when you say it out loud, differently to how you pronounce ‘to’, which ends up sounding more like ‘t’ when you’re speaking. Right? Make sense now? Hmmm… perhaps an understanding of phonetics is a bit too much to expect of someone who can’t spell ‘too’?

‘Mute point’: no! It’s moot. It’s a moot point. What the hell is a ‘mute point’ supposed to be when it’s at home anyway? What exactly do people who say this actually believe they’re saying? What is a mute point, if not a point that can’t speak? Or maybe that’s the answer right there, staring me in the face!? Even people who use the term ‘moot’ tend to misuse it anyway, as a means of cutting off discussion on the grounds that further discussion is unwarranted or the topic is no longer valid. Which is actually wrong. That isn’t really what ‘moot’ means at all. But if someone thought that’s what it meant, but in fact thought the word was ‘mute’ rather than ‘moot… hmmm. ‘Mute’ is an inability to speak…. a ‘mute point’ would be, maybe, a point that isn’t worth speaking about any more??… oh dear God, I think I’m almost starting to make sense of it! That’s pretty frightening!

‘Try and…’: no! It’s try to! This one is so common that even people who, in theory, should know better do it – journalists, writers, people who generally speak well in almost every other way, all have been guilty of misusing ‘try and’. But what most people don’t recognise – again because most people don’t actively think about the individual words they use – is that saying ‘and’ in the context of ‘try’ adds a whole other element to what you’re talking about; in essence, it completely changes what you’re trying to say. Example: “I’ll try to get it done” – meaning, I’ll try my very best to finish whatever is the topic of discussion; as opposed to “I’ll try and get it done”. Totally different meaning, because the ‘and’ means there are now two separate actions in that statement – I’ll try (try what exactly, who can say because I haven’t actually said what I’ll try) and after I’ve tried whatever mysterious thing I’m going to try, I’ll then do whatever we’re talking about me doing as well. See? Are you following this? Do you get it? Please tell me you get it…

‘To all intensive purposes…’: no! No, no, no, no, no! What on earth does an intensive purpose have to do with anything!? You might have an intensive purpose, but it doesn’t mean jack in the context of what you just said! As with other misused phrases, I can’t help but wonder what the ‘intensive purposes’ user actually thinks of the words they’re using, particularly since most people do use the (misused) phrase in the right context. Do they ever wonder what an ‘intensive purpose’ has to do with anything, when they clearly know they’re just using a fancier-sounding version of “essentially”?

‘I Use To…’: no! It’s ‘I used to’. When you say you ‘used to’ do something, you mean that it’s something you did in the past. It’s a past-tense thing. Dropping the ‘d’ changes the meaning of what you’re saying entirely – something I use to help me clean the glass, something I use to wash the car with, something I use… it’s just different. ‘Use’ is present-tense, it’s now, it’s something you do and not something you did before or don’t do any more. You’ve heard the Gotye song haven’t you, “Somebody That I Used To Know”? Everyone in the whole world has heard that song and what a wonderful achievement in correct use of the English language it is too! Hang on, no it isn’t!

‘Somebody that’: – no! It’s ‘who’! Somebody who I used to know. Someone who I trust. People who do certain things. Only inanimate objects – i.e. not living creatures – are described as ‘that’. The building that wouldn’t fall down. The day that rocked the world. The scandal that toppled a Prime Minister. Rule of thumb: if you’re talking about a person, whoever it is, unless you intend to pour scorn and venom all over them by using the word ‘that’ to refer to them (i.e. I will not associate with that revolting thing over there!”) then it’s only polite to describe them as a person and not a thing.

It’s always the little words too. Well, almost always. It’s the smallest words that often make the biggest difference to what we say, every single day. If the average English speaker would only think about the words they used, rather than just saying words that sound right, it’d become pretty clear almost immediately that ‘would of’, ‘use to’, ‘other then’ and the like just don’t make sense.

But I don’t think many people care too much about what they say any more.

THE CUSTOMER SERVICE EQUATION: there’s no “i” in Team Telstra


Telstra

There’s no “i” in Team Telstra…

The other day I was at the end of my tether just trying to load a basic webpage on my iPhone. So I went online and, after a brief search for something that could help, I started an “instant chat” with a member of Telstra’s mobile support team.

The initial enquiry form asked me to enter all kinds of details. I’m sure anyone who knows me or who’s read this blog won’t find it hard to believe that I was pretty specific about my problem.

When the “instant chat” initially connected, I was introduced to a very courteous online presence – for the sake of argument, let’s just say she was known as “Imelda”. I never know whether to believe these are their real names or not, but one thing seemed clear: I had an innate sense that if I spoke to her, she’d sound just like all the “Joeys”, “Marions” and “Ana Marias” I’d spoken with at Citibank over the years. In short, I was pretty sure that Imelda was somewhere in Manila.

After several chat minutes (because everyone knows a chat minute is about the equivalent of two and a half actual minutes) of re-explaining to Imelda exactly what I’d already entered quite clearly and in some detail into the initial web form, it became clear that I was going to have to speak to someone slightly more techy. Someone who was simply able to read and digest the very basic problem I’d already been asked to describe would’ve been an acceptable alternative, even by this very early stage. I’m not sure why Telstra choose to assume all their customers are, by default, brain-dead and don’t provide an immediate Tech Support “instant chat” option. It’s all about cutting out the middle man, I say.

So Imelda called my landline. First she very courteously introduced herself, then very courteously reiterated the problem, just for our mutual understanding of course, then very courteously introduced her technical specialist colleague “Mark”*#. Just as “Mark” got into his own introductory spiel, the line suddenly went dead. Luckily the chat window was still active, so I told Imelda what had happened. After a time, she explained there must have been some “technical issue” (a-ha, I believe you Imelda) and that she’d try again. She called back, put me on hold briefly, then introduced me – again with almost painful courtesy – to “Antonio”*#. “Antonio” got a little further into his introductory spiel but, again, without warning the line went dead. Luckily for me, I suspect Imelda had hung about to see if the technical fault was recurring. When I confirmed what she no doubt already suspected, she called back a third time, put me on hold again and this time introduced me to “John”* #.

Thankfully Imelda had very wisely decided not to do anything post-transfer this time and the call continued unabated until my mobile web connectivity had been restored to a somewhat more acceptable level of service. But the whole thing got me to thinking.

Other than for one very brief period more than ten years ago, I’ve had a Telstra landline, mobile or internet connection since 1996. And what do I get for more than sixteen years of loyal custom? Well, had that question been asked of me up until 2008 I would’ve been one of the few Australians that had Telstra’s back. I’d had nothing but good experiences with Telstra and all of the services they’d provided me over the years. Which isn’t to say that anything especially good had actually happened, but I’d never gotten anything less than I’d have expected as a customer who signed up for a fairly standard service offering and paid his bills more-or-less on time. Then the unthinkable happened: I had my first taste of the kind of customer service that Telstra was known for.

In mid-2008, I decided it was time to speak to Telstra about changing the home phone account from my former housemate’s name into my own. Before long, I’d spent more hours on the phone than I care to think about, even now; I’d been shuffled about from person to person, department to department, state to state; I’d had more calls “drop out” and go unanswered than the average call centre would have in a year; I’d been offered so many callbacks from people who turned out to be, in 100% of cases, impossible to ever track down again that I’d filled several A4 pages with hand-written notes of our unfortunate interactions. Multiple times I was assured the delays were entirely due to a Telstra system outage at the time that my initial request was submitted. Oh I see. And that was my fault… how, exactly? Fourteen weeks and one visit to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman later, my request was finally actioned. The relief was palpable.

Some time later the same year, I went onto the Bigpond website to amend to my Internet plan. A fairly straightforward transaction, I would’ve thought. One, in fact, which Bigpond actively encouraged customers to make with great ease and simplicity online, any time of night or day. Make no mistake about it, I’d asked them to significantly increase my Internet plan. I was, in effect, inviting Bigpond to deduct $50 a month more from my bank account than they had been doing up to that point. I duly received the email notification of my request, as promised. I waited 24 hours – nothing. I waited another 24 hours – still nothing. I called Bigpond to ask where my request was up to, only to be told that a Telstra system outage at the time my request had been submitted had “probably” prevented it from going through successfully. “Probably”. Nothing like a bit of solid reassurance from the one person who should be able to tell you what’s going on. What followed was another series of promises, something approaching twenty hours of phone calls, misdirected and redirected transfers, more dropped calls, more callbacks that never eventuated from people I never heard from ever again and could never hope to track down, contact not noted on my file, requests not made on my behalf as promised and an ever increasing blood pressure reading. Ten-and-a-half weeks and a second visit to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman later, my request was finally actioned. The relief was still there, if slightly less palpable than before.

Towards he end of 2010 I was moving house. For reasons that are now unclear to me – possibly on account of some perceived financial benefit – I’d decided some time earlier to combine my landline and pay TV services on the one bill and have them all provided by Telstra. Heaven forbid I should go without my pay TV, but somehow I’d forgotten to ask anyone about the disconnection and reconnection of the service so, the day before the big move, I called up Telstra – by now expecting next to nothing, just to avoid inevitable disappointment. To my utter surprise and delight, I didn’t have to wait on hold – I went straight through to the woman who ended up helping me. She was extremely pleasant to speak to, nothing was too much trouble and we chatted about the weather and the woes of moving house while she did whatever she was doing. In less than five minutes I was off the phone and the next afternoon I turned the TV on and it was more like I’d rearranged the loungeroom than moved house. Everything was exactly as it had been. You could’ve blown me down with a feather!

In early 2011 my new housemate and I decided to combine some of the services in both our names into one name and bundle them together. I’d received multiple letters from Telstra about how they’d taken their customers’ feedback on board, they accepted that the level of service they’d provided had been below par and that they’d actively worked to fix it. What could possibly go wrong? So off we went, first to one call centre, then to another; with the first having told my housemate that she’d need to speak with both of us to get anything started, when we got through to the second, not only was most of the information we were provided almost entirely different, but we were also told it would be far easier to do what we needed done by visiting a Telstra store, where we’d be able to get exactly the same thing done but more easily and far more quickly for having been there in the flesh. Though I was immediately suspicious, we still blindly believed it was probably sound advice. She just sounded so convincing. Then we got to the store. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I walk into a telco’s shopfront and announce that I’m there because the call centre told me it was the best option for what I wanted to do, the first thing I want to hear the underwhelmed shop girl say probably isn’t “oh… I don’t know why they told you that, it’s not actually easier to do it with us”. Gee whiz – ya reckon? How about telling me something I hadn’t already worked out years ago! Having provided all manner of documentation to identify ourselves, having completed a multiple page application form and been given a photocopy of said form as evidence (presumably of nothing more than the fact that we’d both written on it), I promptly packed a suitcase and went overseas for a month. When I got back, it took us another month or so to work out that, in fact, nothing at all had been done. The landline was still in my housemate’s name. Nobody had contacted either of us. Nobody had sent us an email. And when I called and spoke to “Alice”*# in Manila, it was clear from the get-go that she really didn’t understand what I was telling her. How did I know this? Just a wild guess – having to explain the situation and what we’d been trying to achieve from it four times was something of a give-away. “Alice” told me she’d investigate and call me back within 48 hours. So after another twelve weeks and yet another formal complaint to Telstra… nothing. I just gave up. To this day, fourteen months later, the request has never been actioned, nobody’s ever provided a reasonable explanation why and, least surprisingly of all, I’m still waiting for “Alice” to call me back. But I gave up. I got to the point where I had no more energy to dedicate to Telstra and its consistent ability to right-royally fuck up everything I ask it to touch.

I’m convinced that the woman I spoke to about my Foxtel service back in 2010 didn’t actually work there. She couldn’t have. She was probably just passing the office one day, minding her own business, when she heard the phone ringing, went in of her own accord, answered the phone and somehow understood exactly what I needed, how to talk to me like a normal human being and exactly what needed to be done. It’s certainly nothing I’d ever expect from an actual employee of Telstra.

My latest interaction with Imelda has done nothing to change the image I have of Telstra – that of an over-sized, massively bloated, grossly inefficient organisation that resorts to off-shoring key frontline and support staff instead of continuing to support employment here in Australia. Although, given the damn most of the Australian staff I’ve dealt with haven’t given, that probably isn’t such a bad thing. Poor Imelda – it probably wasn’t entirely her fault and at least she tried her best. I’m still waiting for “Alice” to call me back. And Deanne. And Stephen. David. Marco. Arabella. Courtney. Bree. Alyson. Jonathan. Chloe in Melbourne. Brooke on the Gold Coast. Mathew in Adelaide. Peter in Tasmania. Oh and Kris in Brisbane, Staff ID #B10467 – she never called back either. Oddly enough when I asked, nobody seemed to know who she was, or even what Staff ID #B10467 was either!

As hit rates go, I’d say mine with Telstra was especially poor. How the hell any organisation of its size and standing can get away with providing such a consistent level of astoundingly bad service, I can’t even begin to fathom. Just as there’s no “i” in team, there’s just as assuredly no “me” in Team Telstra.

*not his/her real name
#no way I can prove that, just a hunch

YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY: Matt’s 10 least favourite habits of drivers on Sydney roads


DriversSo here it is, my 10 least favourite habits of drivers on Sydney roads. Not the definitive list by any means and probably not restricted to drivers in Sydney either, but since this is where I do 99.9% of my driving it’s my main point of reference.

When I was a kid we moved around the country a lot with Dad’s job. By the time I was 16 and gagging to get my Learner’s Permit, Mum & Dad had accumulated a plethora of anecdotes and viewpoints about which drivers from which cities and states were better or worse than others. There was all manner of ethnic stereotypes being thrown about back in those days, none of which I’ll repeat here – suffice it to say that if you were an Aussie kid who ever went driving with your Mum & Dad in the family Datsun during the mid-80s, you almost certainly know what I’m talking about. For example, old men with hats were always to be avoided, irrespective of whether the hat was actually on the old man’s head or sitting on the rear parcel shelf – apparently leaving the hat on the rear parcel shelf was even worse! Queenslanders were, without doubt, the worst drivers on the road, anywhere, period… although, conversely and concurrently, they were apparently the only ones who knew how to use a roundabout properly, presumably because being the first ones to get them meant they’d had the most opportunity to practice on them. Later it was the West Australians who fell victim to my parents’ tongue-lashing for being, without doubt, the worst drivers on the road, anywhere, period. Victorians were apparently the most courteous drivers in the country, with all manner of on-road civilities afforded their fellow drivers – plus they must be clever what with that very silly hook turn thing they have to contend with in Melbourne. Meanwhile Novocastrians (residents of Newcastle, if you’re wondering) became known for the widespread habit of racing up to T intersections and rarely stopping regardless of the signage, as well as for habitually cutting corners when turning into a T intersection, such that you’d be convinced they were almost certainly going to side-swipe the front of your car as you waited for them to glide past, seemingly oblivious to how close they’d come to making contact. All the way through – and despite the glitch with the Novocastrians – New South Wales drivers, particularly those from Sydney, were absolutely without doubt 100% far and away the best, the only ones who knew how to driver ‘properly’, without question.

It’s only fair to note at this particular junction in the story that Mum and Dad spent most of their first 40 years as residents of Sydney or the NSW Central Coast. As a kid, I thought they were just making well-balanced observations of the way things were; as a ‘grown-up’ (chronologically, if in no other way) and with the very great benefit of hindsight, I now see there was huge potential for some degree of bias in their observations.

So while there aren’t any old men with hats or ethnic slurs in the list of my 10 least favourites, I’m still a product of my upbringing so I guess my observation of driving styles was preordained.

MATT’S 10 LEAST FAVOURITE HABITS OF DRIVERS ON SYDNEY ROADS

1. Red P-Platers. They just scare me and I stay as far away from them as possible. That is all.

2. Speeding. I’m convinced that nobody in Sydney knows (or cares) how to drive at the speed limit. Anywhere. Ever.

3. Swinging out across double unbroken lines into the path of oncoming traffic to get around someone else because you can’t wait the 15 seconds it takes them to move out of your way. Not sure when this became acceptable… actually, it isn’t acceptable. Stop it at once!

4. Hogging the right lane of the freeway. When travelling almost the entire length of a freeway in the left lane becomes the fastest way to get where you’re going, there’s a problem.

5. Not stopping at Stop signs or giving way at Give Way signs. There’s an excessively silly T-intersection near my house that proves, every single day, just how stupid and dangerous this can be.

6. Not slowing down at speed humps or a chicane. Not sure when drivers began dictating their own speed limits at traffic-slowing devices, but these days few seem worried if they cruise across a hump doing 60.

7. Driving around with all the windows down and the stereo so loud and the subwoofer so subwoofery that every window in my house rattles. Sometimes my rib cage too. I don’t like your music and I’m not impressed by your volume. What are you overcompensating for?

8. Tailgating. You do realise it only makes me slow down even more, don’t you?

9. Speeding up to get as far along the left lane as you can get when it’s clear that the left lane is going to end, then forcing your way into a gap that wasn’t there until you made me leave it. If you’d only been nice about it and just waited your turn, I probably would’ve let you in anyway. Now I just want to run you off the road.

10. Using your right indicator to go straight through a roundabout. Seriously – you’re entering a circular piece of road, swinging around the left side of a big round bit in the middle and going straight out the other end. At no point, neither in this nor any alternative universe, will you ever be turning right in this scenario.

I’m pretty sure I have ten more. No, too much fun all at once.

Now if only everyone in Sydney drove as sedately as people in RAdelaide, our roads would be a much calmer, nicer, friendlier place to be.

A QUESTION OF CONGESTION: Redefining 9 to 5


The other night I was watching one of those documentary-type things on one of the Foxtel channels about the London Underground – oddly enough, I think it’s called The Underground.

The episode was heavily focussed on stations’ management techniques for both traffic on the rails and traffic on the platforms during morning and afternoon peaks. One of the controllers described how fine the balance is between having not enough trains in the tube system and having too many: too few and the platforms become a log jam; too many and the tube network itself becomes a log jam.

It’s the eternal – and seemingly unanswerable – question of any large metropolis. We may not have anywhere near the same volume of foot, rail and road traffic in Australia as in US, UK and European cities, but it’s all relative. Certainly here in Sydney it’s an issue that’s been one of the most recurrent political hot potatoes for as long as anyone can remember. As the population of Greater Sydney creeps ever closer to five million, the situation can only get worse.

The city’s been blighted by short-sighted Government decision-making for years and the signs have been there for all to see.

Almost a century ago, when Dr. John Bradfield’s original plan for Sydney’s Underground Railway, the Harbour Bridge and surrounding roadways was put to parliament, it proposed the construction of a far more extensive network of underground railway stations beneath the CBD than was ever actually built. It also proposed railway lines from the CBD out to the Eastern Suburbs and up to the Northern Beaches. Everything was put on hold until after World War I and by the time a revised plan was passed by parliament in the early 1920s, it was the last nail in the coffin of what could’ve been a brilliantly effective transport system for the city of Sydney. But instead of the eleven originally proposed underground stations, the CBD made do with four, constructed along two parallel dead-end lines that weren’t linked together at Circular Quay until 1956; the Eastern Suburbs railway was delayed more than sixty years until finally opening in 1979; and the Northern Beaches railway was never built at all.

The closure of Sydney’s once extensive tram network – it’d been the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere in the 1920s – saw the last tram on the network running to La Perouse in 1961. Conveniently enough for the comparatively empty streets of the day, many of the tram routes were turned into bus routes.

A light rail ‘network’ came into being during the late 90s; though there’s talk of expanding it, for now it’s so small as to be insignificant in the broader scheme of things.

During the 1990s and 2000s a raft of tolled motorways was constructed, some of which simply took over from existing roads (or parts of them) and were only ever designed as two lanes in either direction, which wouldn’t even have provided sufficient relief from congestion in the 1970s, let alone today.

Sydney buses are all but useless during peak times, since they’re just as mired in the congestion as every other vehicle on the road. While the number of dedicated bus lanes has increased and, in turn, improved the efficiency of bus travel around the CBD itself, they don’t carry on far enough beyond the CBD to provide a truly efficient public transport alternative. In fact, such is the existing level of congestion that it’s not uncommon for Sydney buses entering the CBD from the north on weekday mornings to be backed up half way across the Harbour Bridge, waiting to somehow squeeze onto the already clogged and narrow streets approaching the terminus that almost all of them use – that’s a lotta buses carrying a lotta frustrated passengers banked back a very long way!

And let’s not even get started on the Monorail! For all the benefit it actually provides, the best thing that could happen since it was opened almost 25 years ago for Australia’s bicentenary is its imminent closure and removal. Next year can’t come fast enough.

And all of this crammed into a 225-year-old streetscape that was never planned in the efficient way that, say, the streets of Melbourne and Adelaide were laid out and which was certainly never designed to carry such enormous volumes of traffic. Yet still we see Government after successive Government pitching yet another plan to resuscitate, renew, revitalise and restore public transport in Sydney – more trains, more buses, more railway lines, more railway stations, a new underground bus terminus, an extended light rail system, a new CBD tram network, new rail connections to long-overlooked suburbs in the city’s north-west and south-west… the promises are never-ending; the abandonment of each and every plan is practically a given.

Just about the only clear change during recent years has been the introduction of ‘green’ lanes, dedicated road lanes to encourage greater use of bicycles across the city – and that’s problem #1: green lanes aren’t across the city, they’re only in parts of it. The fact that some lanes end abruptly at intersections without continuing on the other side is another contributing reason for so many bike lanes remaining largely free of cyclists most of the time. In the end, all their introduction really served to do was further reduce the amount of usable space for driving lanes or kerbside parking in a city already at breaking point.

And the State Government recently re-affirmed a staunch disinterest in the notion of a London-style congestion tax. With all the other problems in play, I’m actually glad. It would’ve just become another discarded plan anyway.

So what to do? After a century of talks, proposals, promises and plans that all inevitably come to nothing, it must be time to look at different options. Clearly, changing or adding to the existing road, rail and bus networks is a no-go. As much as most of our self-serving politicians are only in office because they keep the masses believing that plans to make everything better really do have a chance of coming to fruition, it’s pretty clear that most Sydneysiders don’t hold out much hope any more. There must be another way, surely?

Well I think there is! And, to me at least, it seems so simple that I can’t believe it’s never been seriously discussed.

If the first problem is that too many people are on the roads and in the public transport system at the same time and the second problem is that the first problem isn’t likely to be fixed in any of our lifetimes, surely all that needs to happen is for some key changes to be made to the way businesses function that will ensure, once and for all, that all of those people aren’t going the same way at the same time. All we have to do is redefine the outdated concept of 9 to 5 and we’re sorted!

In 2012, in a global community and with all kinds of wonderous technology at our fingertips, there’s absolutely no reason for so many people in so many cities across the world to all have to be in the office from 9am to 5pm. Sure, someone will always come up with reasons why certain roles and certain industries “have” to function at particular times; there’ll always be people who “need” to work at particular times for family or other personal reasons; but there’ll be just as many people who don’t, who aren’t locked in to a specific set of hours in which they can / will / are prepared to work. From a business perspective, the reality is that there’s a significant volume of people in any given workplace who simply don’t need to be in the office from 9-5: non-critical support roles, non-customer facing roles, processing and admin roles, all could be staggered across the course of a day without impacting efficiency or the contribution to the business of people in such roles in any way.

If every company in Sydney were to divide its workforce into quarters and require staff to start work at intervals between 7am and 10am, rather than having 90% of them arriving between 8:45 and 9am, the positive impact on road and public transport congestion would be profound. The difference is immediately obvious to anyone who catches a train in Sydney before 7:30am and after 8:30am. In 2011 I got into the habit of heading off to work on the 8:56 train; I never had to jostle for a place on the platform, always had my pick of seats, I was never surrounded by a carriage full of frustrated commuters packed in like sardines, I never had to navigate my way through a scrum of travellers all trying to be first through the gates and escaping the station, there was no shoulder-barging on over-crowded footpaths and I’d still get to the office by 9:30am – though it was endlessly amusing how many times I’d be accused of being “late” by people who certainly weren’t still there by the time I left at 6pm.

Even if this needs to be legislated or otherwise enforced, organisations must be held accountable for the impact they have on the environment. These days they all claim to be doing everything in their power to reduce their carbon footprint, but by maintaining a standard set of working hours for no clear reason, they’re knowingly feeding into the problem of congestion which, in turn, has disastrous impacts on the environment. If they’re really serious about reducing their carbon footprints, it’s gonna take more than just ‘green’ printers and environmentally friendly dishwashing liquid – there’s some serious redefining to be done!

It’s funny how that Dolly Parton movie “9 To 5” and the totally unrelated Sheena Easton song “9 To 5” were both released in the same year. 9 To 5 must’ve been pretty relevant back in 1980. But things have changed and businesses need to keep up.

Unless they’re also going to re-introduce rotary-dial telephones, typewriters, Maiden Hair ferns, secretaries, smoking in the office and a 100% tolerance of sexism, there has to be a realisation that the concept of 9 to 5 is just as outdated.

It’s not 1980 any more.

mattsoldmanrants: Suggest-An-Old-Man-Rant


As some of you know all too well, I’ve been ranting like an old man for years. A friend even suggested recently that I’d surely run out of things to rant about if I kept up such prodigious output via my blog… I think not!

That said, today marks a week since I created my very first blog! Who woulda thunk it – one whole week as a blogger and already an anniversary! So to celebrate, I’m taking onboard someone’s suggestion that I open up mattsoldmanrants to external suggestions. How will I do this? By opening up mattsoldmanrants to external suggestions!

My rants are always based on my observations of life and the world around me, but some of my most ranty rants have actually come from someone planting the seed with me before I even knew I had anything to rant about!

Introducing: SUGGEST-AN-OLD-MAN-RANT!

Hit me with your suggested old man rant topics! Anything goes – it’s impossible to shock me and I’m open to absolutely anything at all. No sacred cows, no elephants in the ranting room! If your suggested old man rant resonates with me, consider it done 🙂

Use the Reply function at the bottom of this post to let me know what topic you’d like to see a full-on, no-holds-barred rant about!

For now though, I think I’ll go smear some more vaseline all over the lens, pour a glass of Passion Pop, slide seductively back into my stylish 80s spa-cum-plungepool-cum-round bathtub, smother myself in bubbles and get the faux-antique rotary dial telephone ready. I’m waiting for your call…

FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS: The horrors of the daily commute


DailyCommute

The train on platform 17 goes to Town Hall, via the City Circle. First stop Museum, then St James, Circular Quay, Wynyard and Town Hall… hold on!

There are few things I loathe in life more than being crammed inside a packed train carriage at 7:30 in the morning, surrounded by things I just don’t want to deal with at any time of day, let alone first thing in the morning: being practically able to taste what someone had for breakfast, last night’s whole head of garlic, a latte – skim, I think, maybe one sugar – or that last cigarette, as their breath wafts gently across my face, caressing my nostrils with its warm, silky aromas of… ewwww! Some people have the most rancid breath! Other people, I’m convinced, bathe in vats of après-rasage or cheap perfume which is offensive enough, but far less offensive than someone who’s never experienced the pleasure of personal hygiene products. There’s almost always someone whose iPod volume is on the ‘split eardrums’ setting; someone having a phone conversation at the top of their voice; someone in a suit – usually pinstripe – throwing a broadsheet newspaper all over the place (though not for much longer!) and someone else, also in a suit, who you can just tell plainly doesn’t need to be wearing a suit, but they’re so taken up in the whole corporate thing that they think they’ll look better than everyone else if they wear a cheap brown pinstripe suit and beige shoes… wanker. The person closest to you almost always has half a tub of product in their hair, conjuring terrifying mental images of the train coming to a sudden halt and you inadvertently making contact with their head and being stuck there for the rest of your collective lives. There’s almost always someone who pushes to be first through the doors, first to their onboard location of choice and don’t think for a second that they won’t squeeze the life out of themselves just to fit into the tiniest available space! Wherever there’s seating for three, you’ll find two seated at the extremities and a large, comfortable-looking space in the middle that’s almost impossible to get into, if you can get to it at all… and funnily enough, I had an onboard adventure recently that began just like this.

Here in Sydney we’re lucky enough to be ferried from place to place on exotic double-decker trains, similar to the suburban trains in Paris and, I suppose, elsewhere. CityRail’s fleet of rolling stock is a hodge-podge of vaguely similar designs, with some cars older than me, other cars introduced as recently as last year, but they all share more-or-less the same basic layout. There’s a kind of mezzanine-esque level – ‘the vestibule’ – as you enter the carriage, a long bench-type seat along each of the two longest walls and four or five steps leading to the upper and lower decks. I try to avoid the upper decks because… well, just because. I’d also rather stand than go anywhere near the lower decks. For reasons I’m yet to fathom – and I refuse to believe it’s simply because they’re at the bottom – the lower decks seem to be a magnet for all manner of undesirables: more of those people with zero sense of personal hygiene, empty bottles, pages of discarded newspapers strewn all about; when it rains the lower decks become rivers on rails; when it’s hot, it’s hotter down there than anywhere else in the world and when it’s cold enough up top, it’s colder still below stairs! Plus, all that looking up at platforms whizzing past does weird stuff to my eyes, so I just stay away.

DailyCommute-VestibueSeats

Only stick-insects need apply…

Anyway, long story getting longer, for the nearly twelve years I’ve lived in Sydney I’ve invariably gravitated toward the vestibule – there’s almost always room to stand and you’ll occasionally even get a seat, plus there’s a much more efficient escape route from the vestibule than from the upper and lower decks. So I get on the other morning and it’s one of the newer carriages, with not so much individual seating as five or six backrest-shaped pads along both sides. Five or six very narrow backrest-shaped pads. I don’t know where these things were designed, but the extremities of the average Sydney rail commuter rarely fit within the outline of the backrest-shaped pad! Luckily the bases of all five or six backrest-shaped pads, though also somewhat akin to a seat-cushion in shape, essentially form a bench so it’s reasonably pain-free to get yourself comfortable when the train’s not full.

On this particular morning, however, the train was filling up pretty rapidly.

Readying myself for my usual standing position by the door least likely to open more than once or twice, I spied, with some suspicion, that one of the very narrow backrest-shaped pads appeared to be unoccupied. There was a girl in obvious officewear on each side and no one in between them. It was like one of those slow-motion sequences from a movie – tens of seconds seemed to pass as I moved stealthily towards it, turning any number of scenarios over in my head. There had to be a reason it was vacant: there’d be rainwater leaking onto it or a giant blob of chewing gum right where my right buttock would come to rest, or there’d be coffee spilt on it, maybe even some partially dried vomit? What would I find? As I continued the never-ending trek from door to empty seat, eyes darting side-to-side to prevent any vulture-like old women from snaring my catch away from me, I felt just like the hero of the piece diving in slow-motion across the path of a bullet while crying “Nooooooooooooooooooo”… but nothing. There was nothing there. Just the backrest-shaped pad on the wall and the seat cushion-shaped pad below it. What’s going on here? I looked around suspicously. Nobody looking back. Nobody making a move. Hmmmm…. it does look very narrow. I know I’ve lost a bit of weight recently but… hmmm… not sure… three-point turn… reverse in…. lower the butt… I should have a wide load sign back there… wiggle it… just a little bit… aaaaaah. And relax.

I was so relieved at having made it into the available space without nearly as much trouble as I’d expected that I almost missed the girl to my left politely shuffling over to make a little more room. “Thanks”, I smiled, thinking it was only right to acknowledge her small act of kindness. I was all aglow – how wonderful that people still do nice things… when suddenly, “tut… tut”, shuffle shuffle, from the girl to my right. I was still smiling about the girl to the left when I caught a glimpse of the girl to the right looking me up and down, most displeased judging by the expression on her face, tutting and cursing as she violently wrenched her handbag off the seat beside her and dumped it with an audible thud on her lap, before shuffling herself over to the right another centimetre or so and going back to her Facebook status update. Now I understood why that spot had looked so narrow – she’d reserved half of her own seat for her bigger-than-Ben-Hur-handbag and half of my seat for half of her own body.

As I continued to smile, I pondered what had just happened. Was it so terrible that I’d wanted to sit down, just as she was doing? Maybe I should’ve asked her to move over a little more so I could put my wallet or my man bag on the seat beside me, just to make a point? Maybe I should’ve thought terrible thoughts about her Facebook status update being full of spelling and grammatical errors (although I daresay it already was)? Maybe I should’ve just said “thank you so much, I’m so sorry to inconvenience you by asking you to put your bag on your lap and sit on your own seat rather than mine”… but I didn’t do any of those things. In fact I didn’t do or say anything at all. I didn’t have any nasty thoughts or think ill of her in any way. I just kept smiling. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the imagined theatrics of getting to the seat in the first place, as if I’d just macheted my way through an overgrown jungle, somehow lessened the blow of her callous disregard and venomous facial response? But… no! No, no, no, this won’t do at all! Without my over-thought and sometimes extreme reactions to everyday situations, I won’t have anything to rant about!

Later that day, to appease myself somewhat, I posted my own Facebook status update about what had happened. Thankfully, it was the cathartic moment I needed. I finally realised that however much I’d smiled throughout the events of those few moments, the reality was that I was gonna sit on that damn seat irrespective of who or what was in my way. And sweetheart, if that girl was you and you’re reading this now, I have only one thing left to say: you really should be very grateful that I’ve lost a bit of weight or you’d have lost more than just a seat for your handbag!