Thursday, 7 July 2011

Vale Rex

This may be the oddest tribute yet to Rex Mossop, former rugby league player and commentator. Some of you may be wondering what on earth a Melbourne-based comedian and lesbian could possibly have to say about such a man. For starters I grew up in New South Wales and though I’m not old enough to remember his playing career, I certainly remember him as a commentator during the 70s and 80s. I only met him the once, but it was memorable enough to prompt me to write this piece.
In the mid-80s Rex was a regular panellist on Andrew Denton’s ABC show ‘Live and Sweaty’. One week I was a special guest. When I turned up at the studio one of the other panellists, sports journalist Debbie Spillane, greeted me with great joy. She figured that with me being a lesbian and all, that Rex would dislike me more than her, and that for once she wouldn’t be the butt of his jibes during the show. It seemed a reasonable theory. Mr Mossop wasn’t renowned for being gay friendly. Although he did once say something that a lot of lesbians would wholeheartedly agree with. When asked his thoughts on the idea of Manly beach becoming a nudist beach, he’s alleged to have said, “I have nothing against male genitalia, I just don’t want it shoved down my throat’. Amen Rex!
In the green room before the show it became clear that it wasn’t just Debbie Spillane who was looking forward to fireworks between me and Rex. The general expectation seemed to be that a juicy confrontation might be on the cards. I’m not really into angry confrontations or argy-bargy so I thought I’d introduce myself to Rex beforehand, just to let him know that I was a friendly sort of person. So I walked up to him, stuck out my hand and said, ‘Mr Mossop, I’m not sure but I think I may be your worst nightmare’. He looked at me and said ‘What do you mean?’ I replied that I was a lesbian. His face froze, but he shook my hand and that was it. No more chatting before the show.
However, I think Rex appreciated me being up front and honest and must have decided that I wasn’t too bad a person. He was completely charming to me throughout the whole show. If memory serves he even paid me a compliment or two. Much to the confusion of everyone in the studio. Then Andrew posed a question to all the panel members, who was more gorgeous, AFL players or rugby league players? When it was my turn I just threw up my hands and said I had no informed opinion. Then we got to Rex. And he said, ‘Well I’m going to have say AFL players. That Dermott Brereton has got a lovely bottom.’ I had never seen Andrew Denton speechless before then. In fact I’d never seen a whole studio full of people completely gobsmacked before. It was a lovely, lovely television moment.
Afterwards I was accused of having worked some weird lesbian mojo on Rex that affected his brain, but I plead complete innocence. During the after show drinks in the green room, Rex came up to me and we chatted for about half an hour. At one point I asked him why on earth he’d made that comment about Dermott Brereton and he just grinned and said he knew what everyone was expecting and thought he’d surprise them. He certainly managed that. After he left I was promptly informed that the whole evening was unprecedented. Rex never stayed for drinks after the show and never chatted to any of the guests. I was touched. I may have only met him that one time, but he was a complete gentleman. And isn’t nice to be reminded that friendliness is possible across the most surprising cultural divides? Vale Rex, and I hope you’re having a wonderful time catching up with all your old playing buddies.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Demise of Borders

Are you wondering why Borders are on their knees and slipping into receivership? The answer is very simple; their books are too bloody expensive. Any discerning book buyer has been steering clear of them for a while. I even reached the point that I was going to tell family and friends not to give me Borders gift vouchers anymore because they just weren’t worth it. What might cover one and a half books at Borders would get me more like two or three at any other book store. In a world where you can track down anything you want on the net and get it cheaper than from a local shop, jacking up prices was a very dumb idea.
The stench of a dying business has been discernible for some time. At my local Borders the first thing to go was the music section. Then my favourite weird, fringe-book section disappeared. Then more and more tables appeared with froufrou collectibles, knick-knacks and other assorted crap. It stopped feeling like a bookshop and became more like a high end variety shop. It became more apparent that this chain was not run by book lovers but people obsessed by shifting ‘units’. Books as commodities, not sources of knowledge and entertainment. Few of the perky young sales staff seemed to really know anything about books. If it wasn’t in the database they didn’t have a clue. All of which is a guaranteed turn-off for genuine book lovers.
I know this sounds stupidly romantic and sentimental and that booksellers and publishers have to make hard, practical decisions in an increasingly difficult marketplace, but please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, there is still a place for good bookshops. Shrinking your stock down to guaranteed mass market crowd pleasers, movie tie-ins and Top 100 titles and then churning through them quickly because some marketing genius has decided that books have a shelf life only marginally longer than fruit is completely counter-productive. You’re just sending more people to the net to find what they want.
It’s fashionable to think that bookshops and books themselves are a dying art form, doomed to fade away in an e-book, digital media tidal wave, but that’s a load of nonsense. No media has ever killed another media and books will never die. However convenient and useful computer technology is for transferring loads of information, people will still want to grab a reassuring physical object from their bookshelf and be able to flick through it at random. The feel, touch and smell of books will always be more seductive than data on a screen. Besides, computers are still so stupid and susceptible to crashing or mangling files ( I almost lost a complete draft of a book once when my computer had a nervous breakdown) so why on earth would I entrust my personal library to such a machine?
The irony in all this is that computer technology is about to rescue books from the dustbin of history and drag them into the twenty-first century. The technology is quite literally just around the corner. It’s called print-on-demand. It’s basically a machine that can print, bind and spit out any book in its database in about an hour. It’s still a bit slow and clunky but like all technology it’s going to get faster, smaller and cheaper. It will bring the world of books up to speed with the modern world and make it more compatible with the internet. Instead of a six to twelve month turnaround from manuscript to finished book, you’ll be able to upload a manuscript to the computer system and make it instantly accessible anywhere in the world. Books will be able to become viral. A machine like that in every bookshop will free the publishing industry from expensive overheads like industrial printing, having to determine the size of a print run and having to physically box and ship books all over the country. Not only should it be a whole lot cheaper, but with a bit of luck, we as consumers will also be able to nominate the size, format and print size of the books we want. Being able to break down huge books into a more manageable number of volumes and with larger print will be a godsend to many older and disabled readers. So my advice to Borders and all the other booksellers and publishers worried about their future would be this: get together and throw some money at the development of print-on-demand machines. It will transform all your old-fashioned business models, guarantee your future profitability and make your readers very, very happy.