Evening after evening by the telephone

Red PMG-801 rotary phone from 1966

I'm conducting a little experiment. Actually, that implies there's a hypothesis to be tested or some expected outcome, which is not the case. Instead, I just want to have a little fun with it.

I'm making my phone number public.

It's a new (Melbourne-based) number which redirects to my previously unused landline.

If you want to call me to say hello, that'd be great. If you want to put on a voice and do your best celebrity impressions, that's okay too (any interesting pranky stuff I'll probably tweet about).

There's no caller ID, so I won't be screening calls. There's also no voicemail, so you'll either get me or you won't. There'll be large swathes of time I won't be around, or will have to take the phone off the hook, but I'll try to make it as available as I can.

I've fulfilled a childhood dream and bought myself a gorgeous, bright red rotary phone (pictured). It's a 1966 PMG-801, and built like a tank. I know because when I discovered it didn't work I had to open it up to reattach some of the wiring. That's what I'll be answering on.

I've posted the number on Twitter, you can go and get it there. If it stops being fun, I'll just cancel the number.

Ten years of tea

I am a tea drinker. I don't drink coffee. I sometimes stand in the windows of the glamorous, ultra-white coffee shops packed full of people awaiting their cups of caramel lava and wonder if it's time to join the club. I glance at the top shelf, in the back corner, almost completely out of reach and lock eyes on some faded tins of loose-leaf tea. English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Peppermint and Chamomile. The Beatles of the tea world (Green tea is the Yoko). I wonder when those tins were last pried open, a few moments after someone says, "I've already had three coffees today, I think I'll have a tea."

The smell of tea always appealed to me. Once, as a child, I insisted my parents make me a cup. It was brewed from the bright yellow Liptons black tea, the paper bag so rough I wondered how much of the paper fibre would shed into the cup. I held it under my nose to breathe in the warm woodiness, much like sitting next to an open fire. When it was finally cool enough to sip, I took a small mouthful. "Ew, it tastes like dirt."

When I was in my final year of high school I would occassionally keep my friend company in the art rooms at lunch time. She was working on her major project: a large, heavily textured canvas covered in dark blues and purples broken by angry shards of wire and cloth. I didn't really get it, so I assumed it was impressive. The art teacher had brought in a kettle so she could make tea during these lunchtime sessions, and I started to join in (which kid doesn't have a similar story of the savagery of peer pressure). Again, it was the yellow Liptons teabags, this time in disposable polystyrene cups (which I understand is how the Queen takes it). Black tea, no sugar, no milk. I was hooked.

I don't know at which point everyone else started drinking coffee. It's possible I was playing in the band for a children's musical that weekend, or perhaps everyone decided to make the switch at a very important party I wasn't invited to. Evidently there was some crucial moment during the last ten years that everyone decided to start drinking coffee except me.

Being a teatotaller (gold) has its advantages. From what I hear, a cup of coffee can set you back up to four gold discs which is enough to exchange for a box of one hundred teabags. Of course, you can spend a bit more on flavoured, loose-leaf tea, which I occassionally do. My preferred brand of teabag is Yorkshire, which sits at the high end of the supermarket tea range at five dollars a box. I alternate between this and loose leaf T2 (Melbourne Breakfast is a favourite). I skip the teapot and brew directly in my large 500ml mugs. Somedays I can drink two in a row, but I've also got a soft and gentle side.

The act of making coffee seems exceedingly wasteful. Crunching up a bunch of beans to a fine power, packing that down into some sort of puck and then briefly running water through it, only to throw out the powder immediately after. I'm looking forward to the next wave of coffee brewing which consists of merely waving the coffee dust near an open mug. Perhaps setting up the water on a date with the coffee dust, and seeing if they'll 'click'. It will surely be described in Times New Roman, dripping with irony. I do love the fact that a big machine is involved though. I think I'd like to have a big coffee machine installed in my apartment, but I'd want to rewire it to make chocolate chip cookies or something else more useful.

Ordering tea in a cafe is usually a disaster. I still take it "like a monk" (in more ways than one) – black with no sugar and no milk. Even so, the teapots usually arrive often broken, or filled with the too few (weak) or two many (bitter with tannin) leaves. Unfortunately the wildly absurd artistry attached to coffee has never translated to tea, so we have to make up for it with tea paraphernalia. Sometimes it pays off and the wait staff will bring you a tray full of miniature contraptions; a cup, a saucer, the teapot, a strainer, a second teapot of hot water to refill the first teapot, a cup for your strainer, and a little dolls' house-sized jug of milk. It's always nice when you have to pretend to apologise for taking up all the room at your table with a circus of tiny implements.

I've been drinking tea for ten years. As much as it pains me, I realise that if I'm going to still be drinking tea when I'm 88 (see: Angela Lansbury, my tea idol [1]), I'm going to need to see other drinks every now and then. I need to open up my relationship and explore the world of hot liquids out there. It's probably time I try to join the coffee club (not to be mistaken with The Coffee Club). The only problem is that I really have no idea what to ask for.

[1] My dream of creating a Murder, She Wrote themed tea bar (called "Cousin Grady") still burns brightly.

Using NAB Transact with WooCommerce

There's a new e-commerce Wordpress plugin on the scene, WooCommerce, and it's beautiful (inside and out). My first extension has just been approved and gone live in the WooCommerce Store: NAB Transact

NAB Transact with WooCommerce

After installing the extension like a normal Wordpress plugin, you can add your NAB Transact merchant details and process credit card payments directly through NAB. They accept Visa and Mastercard by default, and you can apply separately to have American Express, Diners Club and JCB approval attached to your account.

The extension integrates with the NAB Transact Direct Post mechanism meaning that the credit card details of customers don't touch your site (they're posted directly to NAB over an SSL encrypted connection). That means you get away with having to adhere to complex PCI compliance. You should, however, make sure you've got an SSL certificate on your site. It's not a technical requirement, but NAB will more than likely insist on it and it's just good business.

There's another extension in the works to integrate with the popular SecurePay service. It's complete but just awaiting approval. All going well it should be in next week's release.

Update: I now have a number of WooCommerce payment gateways available: * Pin Payments * Westpac Payway (API and NET) * Merchant Warrior * NAB Transact * SecurePay

They're Playing Our Song

They're Playing Our Song

Usually, at these sort of one-night-only theatrical events, I run into a surprising number of people I know. Due to very little advertising, there were no familiar faces to be seen at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne for what appeared to be the first performance of this new touring production of They’re Playing Our Song.

The show, which more-or-less recounts the relationship of real-life composer and lyricist team Marvin Hamlisch (in the show named “Vernon Gersch”) and Carole Bayer Sager (“Sonia Wolsk”) as they pen some pop songs in the 1970s. Husband and wife Scott Irwin and Danielle Barnes play the duo with great chemistry. Irwin is a tense but successfully witty, while Barnes has a manic energy (and even appearance) similar to Margot Kidder in Superman. With a short score (by the subjects themselves), the single-plotted book by Neil Simon takes primary focus, and it can be quite some time between songs. When the songs do occur, they’re wonderful, ranging from the disco title number to the pop ballads of ‘Falling’ and ‘I Still Believe In Love’. Irwin and Barnes far out-sing their original Broadway counterparts (Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz), and indeed the original Australian cast of 1980 (John Waters and Jacki Weaver). Barnes’ voice perfectly suits the style and her “I Still Believe In Love” is a highlight in the show. Irwin’s voice is probably too good for the character, though I certainly didn’t mind. Of the three cast recordings of They’re Playing Our Song I have, this is the one I wish I had. Although the show is scripted to include two small greek choruses (3 men and 3 women), this production does away with the additional actors and some of the dance music in the show.

Musical Director Robyn Womersley is the production’s sole musician beautifully accompanying on piano, often supported by a surprisingly effective 3-piece backing track. While backing tracks should only be the very last resort, it was clear that this production had compromised on many fronts to afford its existence; the music was not unfairly reduced. Only once did the backing tracks jar with the live accompaniment, though I would have loved to have heard the inclusion of some of the great string parts in the backing to add some colour to the ballads.

Being a lightweight touring production, the set had to accommodate the Athenaeum’s small stage and was a little cramped, particularly during the few moments of choreography. The costumes were highly evocative of the era, and Sonia’s dress in the opening scene got a terrific laugh. Slight over-amplification of the cast led to a few moments of distortion, and the entire sound level could easily have been taken down a notch with no damage to the legibility, though these were surely teething problems with a new production and unfamiliar venue.

HIT Productions’ They’re Playing Our Song is certainly not a grand production, though the quality of the performances makes this a worthy night out. I’d gladly accept lower production values in favour of more productions of material such as this with a terrific cast. I hope it finds a greater audience through its various New South Wales performances.

Full tour dates and booking details.

Recent Reads

The Music of James Bond

The Music of James Bond

by Jon Burlingame

Tracking film by film from Dr No through to Quantum of Solace (including the unofficial Bond films), the book tells the story of the scores and theme songs and the composers who wrote them. Each chapter contains two parts; how the score and song(s) came about, and a cue-by-cue music breakdown noting what’s available on the soundtrack, and how it differs from the film.

The book is not a musical study of the scores, but does mention some of the key changes over the films, including John Barry’s introduction of synthesizer in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Instead, the book focuses on the production issues and processes. It’s well researched with loads of primary sources quoted and referenced.

You wouldn’t have to be a music nerd to enjoy this, but you’d certainly need to have an interest in Bond films or film scores in general.

Check it out on Amazon – Hardcover (~$30) and Kindle (~$14).

Letters from Backstage

Letters from Backstage

by Michael Kostroff

The premise is similar to Jeffrey Denman’s A Year With The Producers; this is a showbiz diary of an actor firstly in a production of The Producers (this time the touring production), and then during a stint in Les Miserables. What’s so wonderful about this book is the insight into the touring life. Kostroff writes about his hotels, good and bad, the logistics of learning a new city and theatre each week. Kostroff writing is lively and full of “show business” so it never reads like a manual.

Kostroff is honest about the downtimes of touring, and maps his emotional state against the states of America throughout his travels. The book is filled with his philosophies and mantras as much as it is filled with anecdotes of mischievous actors misbehaving onstage.

This is one of the most honest and explicit backstage diaries I’ve read, and highly recommended to anyone interested in musical theatre or the stage actor’s life.

Take a look on Amazon – Paperback (~$15) and Kindle (~$3.50).

White Night Melbourne

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013

White Night Melbourne 2013