The Spark

I drive with the windows down and we can hear the kids playing before we see them. I pass by the side of the school, the buildings flat and then tall, and the loose gravel crunches under the van’s tires. A whistle screams in the distance and I pull onto the sidewalk near the fields. Julie and I climb out.

She heads for the canteen at the front of the shed at the bottom of the slope. I slide the doors at the back of the van open and haul out the first of the boxes. The door slams shut and I carry my load down towards the fields. I pass by the canteen as Julie slips behind the counter. She sells soft drinks and hot food to the children too young to play.

The fields host two teams each. Forty-four children playing football to varying degrees of success. A ball goes wide past the net ahead of me and the goalkeeper dawdles out to fetch it. I nod at him as I pass by. Behind me, he collects the ball and throws it to number 14 to kick from the box. The ball goes straight out.

I rest the first of the boxes in the grass on the far left of the fields. The hill reaches up away behind me and I look up to the parking lot. A family passes the van and their youngest child wonders aloud if I can park there. I can’t hear him but I know the body language of children coming to understand the rules of belonging. His family tugs him along. A whistle from each field and the groan of a young captain.

 

I walk back up to the van, keeping an eye on the box near the fields, and begin to unload the smaller crates.

Julie stands by the side of the canteen as I walk past. “Someone was having a look over the big box,” she says, pointing. I look past her finger and see only the box surrounded by green. I notice the white lines of the pitch when a midfielder clears the ball from halfway. The linesman waves his yellow flag away from the box.

I look down between the two fields, to the two columns of various families lined up around an imaginary centre aisle. Children run up and down and around the aisle in the afternoon sun. I begin to feel the early summer sweat.  Julie turns back to the shed and slips through the side door. I hear her emerge into the canteen. “Can I help anyone?”

The fireworks business on the Southside is small and there are only a few of us. We work together quite often on the bigger events, on the stuff the State Government has to regulate, and last year’s New Year’s Eve took all of us. It’s been steady business since. I am told we ‘trended’ online. Thousands of clicks do not help me carry these boxes and Julie wants to keep the business in the family. “The two of us are enough,” she says. A boy runs past me as I rest the boxes for a moment. His Coke can shakes and his fizzes in his hand. The sharp blow of a whistle, then another. The match on the field closest to me ends and the goalkeepers at the tails of the teams shake hands.

I kneel and scoop the boxes up, balancing two on each arm against my chest, and carry them to the bigger box. A thin player from the losing team opens a can of Coke. It explodes down his jersey and his teammates laugh. Away amongst the family crowds, the young boy who passed me hides behind his mother.

I jog back to the unlocked van. The match on the right hand field plays on.

 

I hoist the bag for the detonators and wires over my shoulder and lock the van. The sun slips towards the horizon. Julie tells me I arrive too early but I professionally disagree. By the boxes, I zip the bag open, unspool the wires, and begin to slot detonators into rockets.

Tonight’s display is preprogrammed. I will find it familiar but to the families and friends of the South District Football Association it will be marvellous. Julie will scold me for being lazy. I will tell her the small rockets are never lazy and that I am always, always safe. She says the Durry brothers will find out.

I shift the empty boxes to the bottom of the hill, far away from the site of the fireworks. I spike the rockets into the ground in a simple pattern and catch myself entangled in wondering which teams I saw play. To what club did the tired goalkeeper and his aimless number eleven belong? I slide the last of the rockets into the earth and meander back to beside the boxes. A whistle from the right hand match. Two players shove another. The ball before the goal. I consider moving the van.

Julie pops out from the canteen and jogs down to the field. The linesman gives her the time and she hurries back to the shed. The canteen shutters slide closed but the side door stays open. A scrawny father carries the first tray of sausages. Not long after, a cheer. The ball in the back of the far net. A whistle. I smell sizzling. Julie hard at work.

I rest my switchbox on the grass beside the boxes, my work with the rockets complete, and I approach the canteen.

 

A whistle and a cheer. I turn and see eleven dancing players. Two substitutes and a coach rush onto the field as the other team slink off. Passionate mothers peek from the shed’s side door at their disappointed sons. An angry captain kicks the ball from midfield. It sails by the referee.

In the event of a firework emergency, the best choice is always to run. I heard the ball land but I did not see it. It must have hit the switchbox, flicking up a green toggle. I hear the whistle of the first rocket. The sizzling stops.

It shoots straight into the front goal of the left hand pitch and catches the net alight. Everyone meets in the carpark and the captain of the Rusthill Devils runs to me in tears and apologises. Most of the rockets crash into the fields, burning colourful spot fires. A big rocket slams into the side of the van and explodes cherry red. Everyone meets in the carpark and the captain of the Rusthill Devils runs to me in tears and apologises.

It happens in this business if you’re not careful, and the Durry brothers will call me to laugh.

 

Read Darkwater, Gift Horse or plan a perfect solo movie date. Send feedback here

5 Ways To Avoid Saying ‘Content’ When You Mean Literally Anything Else

Content has become a widespread term used by everyone who’s not really sure exactly what they’re going to be asked to make next. It’s pretty easy to find a lot of confidence in the vague umbrella of the term but, really, you can only make what you can make. Writing 50, 000 articles isn’t suddenly going to give you the skills to make video.

Step 1: Ask what?

If you’re about to say you’ve produced some content for an integrated digital marketing campaign, why not pause for a second to actually think about how deliberately empty all of those words are?

Instead of: I produce content as part of an integrated digital marketing campaign targeting millennials.

Let’s try: I wrote an article designed to better inform people about nightlife options around Brisbane City.

Much better.

Step 2: Ask who?

If reengaging with your why isn’t effective, why not flashback to that Facebook friend of yours who called out content as a horrible word last year? Remember how you messaged him defending it? Remember how you felt a second ago as you did that then started writing this sentence?

If you can’t rally yourself behind why, rally yourself behind the infallible power of peer pressure and the social hierarchy. It’s not that you think you’re better than him. It’s just that you think you’re better than most people.

Try to emulate that feeling in others.

Step 3: Ask how?

Sourcing evergreen UGC for cross-platform promotion to drive visitation is technically an English sentence but what does it involve? Mostly, you need users. But how do you get them to give you their IP for free? Don’t answer this question – it’s technically theft but everyone’s sort of into it.

The better you can explain how you do your job, the better you’ll be able to do it. Those who can do teach people how to also do it when they get a chance. Those who can’t do teach full-time.

Step 4: Try to pretend it’s not in your job title.

4, 100 jobs in Australia. For content.

Seriously.

Full disclosure: I’m a Digital Content Producer and I do really like it but I’m acutely aware how barely real the job is. But is anything, other than a listicle format, really real?

Step 5: Remember that before content there was contentment

When words fail, remember that photos you upload to your Instagram Story count as pieces of content too. But from now on we’re going to call them photos, yea? It’s content if it’s sideways, overexposed and somehow your subject’s in shadow at the same time. If you’ve deliberately made it any particular way, it’s something else.

Writing, photography, videography, film, music. A post. A tweet. A Story. Use real words. Don’t hide. Remember – everything is personal branding. If the way to describe your work is vague, then so are you.

I write, community manage, and recirculate photos and videos from Instagram microinfluencers for Visit Brisbane. Much more clear. Kind of.

A Guide to Solo Movie Dates

There truly is a catharsis to watching a movie like they’re designed to be seen. RED isn’t making 8K cameras because your Galaxy S8 really, can, like, handle it, dude. Kick back in the dark (feet off the seats, seriously, unless you want to be the only one to enjoy them exactly once) and hold your own hand in the scary bits for a change.

Get there early

There’s a whole thing (a circlejerk, if we’re honest) about how trailers take too much time so, really, you should arrive fifteen minutes after the blah blah blah. This is code for not wanting to talk to the people you’re going with. Luckily, you’re taking yourself and the inner dialogue, if you’re like me, never stops.

Treat yourself

Shout yourself popcorn and lollies, and make sure you don’t go to a cinema that doesn’t serve alcohol. That rustle of the lolly bag means literally nothing to literally everyone in the theatre with you. If anyone says anything, they have to lynch the first person that drinks their fucking enormous Coke all the way down to the bottom and makes that horrible noise. It happens. Get over it.

Know what you’re in for

I can’t, in good, aspiring filmmaker conscience, recommend that you see bad movies. Only masochists believe in so-bad-it’s-good and the whole point of a solo date is so you can love yourself. Use Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, and a trusted review site (try Variety if you’re a conservative that still loves the deco of the Regent Theatre but totally understand why it had to be turned into a more commercially-sustainable venue, or the A.V. Club if you have a degree in, well, anything) to make sure you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t surprise yourself. Do that if you want. But why go to the trouble of leaving the house if you’re not gonna do your best to make sure you have a good time?

TURN OFF YOUR PHONE

NO, REALLY, AT LEAST PUT IT ON SILENT AND KILL THE BRIGHTNESS

This is as much for you as it is for everyone else in the cinema. There’s a reason ushers don’t really use flashlights to show you to seats anymore. Turns out dark rooms are super good at amplifying little bits of light that are exactly as bright as your fucking iPhone screen, Karla.

You’ve got until the second production company credit at the start of the movie to put it away. That’s the deal. Nothing actually important in the history of humanity has ever happened on Twitter, if it needs to be responded to you won’t see it on Instagram, and the soft vibrate of a phone call is enough of a reason to leave if you have to.

If you think it might be a real thing, you have one second. One. That’s an impressionable ad‘s worth of time and that stupid new comment on that stupid Facebook page you manage for literally no reason doesn’t require more from you than that.

Enjoy

This bit’s easy, provided you’ve done the rest.

No, seriously, relax. It’s a solo date. You’re here for you and no one else. Feel free to disagree with the otherwise great reviews. This is your chance to notice how the colour grade in most scenes is almost invisible but there’s that one shot… Soak it up for an hour-and-a-half. For two hours. Three.

Try to remember what a holiday feels like.

Fall asleep if you have to (or want to)

Just fucking do it. It’s happened to everyone. It’s not disrespectful. You need sleep more than Spielberg needs to know you saw every frame of his movie and there is no better excuse to (as per step four) shut off from social for a bit.

A $20 nap can be totally worth it sometimes. Cinemas are always beautifully air-conditioned, you’ll be sitting alone so no one will care (unless you snore, but you won’t because you’re polite), and you can even read about the plot, themes, that one continuity error that sir_generic_username on Reddit noticed and plans to put on his Hollywood-headed CV if you need the social cred more than the sleep.

If you’re in Brisbane, try the brand new Elizabeth Picture Theatre where I saw Blade Runner 2049 (amazing) and will be seeing The Last Jedi (also amazing, already).

Darkwater

I am clumsy, but I am not patchwork.

They do not call me by what I was named because what I was named is not a good version of what I am, so they call me Raggedy. They call me Raggedy because I am clumsy and because I have been sewed on and I have been fixed and repaired and healed. I am Raggedy because I am clumsy and because I do not mind being clumsy.

What I am and what I do are different.

I like to look out over the Darkwater, from on top of the hills, sitting in the branches, watching as the current drags the river down, away, away, away from us. The houses burrow into the trees, curling up and away through the trunks and around the branches. They climb as high as the leaves.

The fairy lights float atop the Darkwater, not leaving with the current, but moving, swaying, crossing whenever they like, however they feel. Left, some go. Others go right. More still move up and down. Some dance across the river. There are a few, just a few, that do not move at all. They are all wonderful, and they all reflect off the surface of the Darkwater.

I have heard the stories about the other side of the Darkwater, and I believe them but I am not sure I want to go. They tell me it is not scary, that it is just another place, like this, but not here. That there are people and homes and lives. And I believe them, but here I am, on the West of the Darkwater.

I prefer the stories, I think, to the actual crossing. I am young and I am cautious and I believe them when they tell me the truth, but I do not yet want to leave this place.

Here, there is comfort. I know what I have here and I do not know what I won’t have over there, and so I worry about leaving.

From here, from this particular here, in this branch of this tree, I can see the long path to the Darkwater. It ducks under many bridges, and it stretches a long, long way, but I can see it.

It meanders almost to the horizon, the Darkwater pressing against the sky. There is, I know, a tiny stretch of green on the other side of the river that I can see in the day time. Now, with the sun down, I could not show you where it is, but I can point it out to you now so you can see for yourself in the morning.

This is what ‘believing’ is.

As I sit and wonder about exploring the Darkwater, I can hear the jingling of bells. They sound like golden rain. The wind blows through the branches and I begin the short climb down.

I throw one of my legs over the other side of the branch, and then the other, and I am facing the other direction. Above me, another branch. I hold it, stand, and shimmy my way back towards the trunk. Someone emerges from inside the tree, out onto my branch.

I know this someone, their round shape, the way the soft white light of the moon splatters on their body.

‘Raggedy,’ they say, looking at me as I shimmy, on my tip-toes and my tip-fingers, the bottom branch growing thicker and down and the top branch growing thinner and up. I am stretched as much as I can stretch and I can feel stitches on the back of my left leg pulling.

‘Raggedy,’ they say again, ‘you can just walk.’

I know I can just walk, but I do not like to and I do not want to fall.

‘I know,’ I tell them, and I continue until I cannot continue anymore. I had to stretch some more to be perfectly safe, to reach the part of the branch where we can both stand beside one another and have enough space. I have etched a small line into the wood where I am happy to stand alone.

They are standing on the wrong of that edge and I do not want to step around them. They want, I am sure, to step around me. They step slightly to my left, and then slightly to my right, while all I do is sway in the breeze.

‘Can I get past?’ They ask.

‘Yes,’ I say, but I do not move.

Gently, as hard as they’ll allow, they push me over to the right side of the branch a little, and I move where they want me to. My foot presses against a fold in the bark of the tree. This is where I will hold myself.

They do not push me any further. Instead, they step around, moving towards the end of the branch, towards the leaves. I turn as they do, watching as they make their way.

‘I like the Darkwater,’ I said. ‘I come up here to watch it.

They sit, paying more attention to themselves than to me, and they look out over the hills too. They are kicking their legs against the kick, swinging them back and forth and back and forth. I do not ever do this.

Then, after a minute:

‘I’m sorry?’ they say.

So I repeat.

‘I like the Darkwater. This is where I come to watch it.’

They nod, their legs stopping for a moment.

‘I like the breeze,’ they say. They look left, away from the tree.

I should leave, I know, but all I do is step away from the fold in the bark. I stand in the middle of the gentle path that many, many rough feet have left rubbed into the branch, and I look towards them, sitting quietly and patiently and they look, for a minute, like me.

‘Good night,’ I tell them after a while, and I turn quickly away, down the path, nearly tripping to the left, and I bump into the hole that leads into the trunk.

I do not see if they look back, but I think I will think, for a long time, about whether or not they did.

This piece was supposed to be published in issue five of Grouch Magazine but they didn’t contact me again. For more of my fiction: Gift Horse. The Sleep BankerLet me know if I should serialise an old novella. 

Gift Horse

Below is an old story, The Gift Horse, which was submitted to Voiceworks earlier this year. I was unsure what to do with it so decided to share it here. All 3000 words of it. No edits have been made since its rejection. 

The horse had brilliant teeth. It pranced obnoxiously about the stables, knowing it would get away with it and its tail flowed side to side, fluid as a wave.

It was, it had been said, the most impeccable horse to grace the local circuit. Obviously, horses with bigger profiles, bigger stories, and more money had been shown off around the regional and state circuits but, at the conveyor belts of certain independent grocers, it was this horse the cashiers discussed with the customers.

The horse knew. It was lavished with attention and had worked out exactly how to arch its neck and flick its mane to make it blow in the breeze, to curve perfectly in the wind, to dazzle and stun the bystanders.

‘Hell,’ its owner said, ‘it barely even races anymore.’

It was true. It raced in smaller events against lesser horses but, officially, it was designed to be stimulus for the other horses.

‘Follow me,’ the horse would proclaim with every swish of its mane, ‘Follow me and you’ll succeed.’

The other horses, god bless, did try their absolute best to keep up, their legs pounding hard against the grass, beating desperately at the turf, trying to propel, propel, propel. Once, one of the other horses bent its own shoe in its fury. The nail came loose, bending in the middle, working its way out of the poor things foot. The animal finished the race.

Its owner – another local breeder who was also entranced by the horse – had grown up believing in fairytales about tortoises and hares. Horses are too clever, though, to be believing in such nonsense. No one has ever seen a tortoise defeat a hare in a running race. The horses knew there were no tortoises here.

 

It wasn’t until the second summer of the brilliant toothed horse’s reign that the local circuit chatter began to spread. It made the community newspaper, printed on the fourth page in one edition and on the third-from-last page in another. The first piece was general interest, a small block of paragraphs without a picture. The second was in the sports section, the first page anyone would see if they opened the newspaper from the back.

‘Good coverage,’ its owner said to a group of friends gathered around the newly framed cutouts in the decadent pool room in the shed behind the house. The owner poured everyone a drink from a needlessly large bottle suspended from the ceiling and admired the clippings for so long an entire game of billiards escaped him.

‘Worth every penny of grooming,’ the room agreed.

The first offer to buy the horse arrived from a man with whom the town was unfamiliar. He walked up to the property with a swagger and cigarette and he leaned on the fence as he looked out over the paddocks. The owner met him down at the fence cautiously and impolitely.

‘You’ve got yourself a mighty fine horse,’ the man said, eyeing it in the distance. It pranced because it knew it was being observed as part of a, so far, dollarless pitch. The man’s cigarette was lodged between his teeth as he spoke. ‘Mighty dangerous divots, too.’

‘The horses know where the divots are,’ the owner said. The truth was that the other horses had dug the divots to try and catch out the horse.

It had spent the post-season and the pre-season torturing the other horses with its obnoxious exuberance. They had come together in secret, as the horse danced about in the fields and collaborated on a plan to dig the divots. They would, they agreed, replace what had been a decidedly cold shoulder with physical injury. They knew the horse knew it was better than them, better loved, better fed, better held between races despite an observable and financially unsustainable lack of medallions.

They also knew the horse needed to be able to walk. All horses do. They are, by and large as a species, terrified of the inevitable stationery industry. Of course, the brilliant-toothed horse relished the attention. There was no such thing as bad press but, even when the news was negative, the clippings still made the pool room.

The owner shooed the hands-free smoker away quickly. The man walked with that same swagger back to a station wagon too large to fit into any conventional parking space and parked too far to have been anything but a statement.

‘Full of himself,’ the owner later said to a young journalist who was excited and intimidated to be covering the horse story. ‘Not what the horse needs.’

‘It needs a level head,’ the journalist suggested. ‘Someone that can understand it. Someone who can relate.’

‘Yes,’ the owner said, completely misunderstanding everything about character and horses.

 

The racing season began anew, the second season for the brilliant horse. Other owners, other trainers, other ranchers had started investing and breeding and training to compete specifically with that horse. They had started letting their own horses know to lose some races and to win others.

Spreadsheets were drawn in quiet meetings between trainers and investors. The local circuit began to swell with greed and frustration. The horse occupied front covers again, quickly, and everyone ate up the stories. The owner began to place bets against it.

The horses found the new, sustainable printing processes delicious. It reminded them of grass and they ate it freely and gladly. Some of the owners began buying many copies of the horse-featuring editions of the community newspaper and would bring them to shows, stuffed in the bottom of the trailers beneath the hay and the blankets.

The horses trampling on those newspapers felt less aggressive and more confident. They made fewer mistakes and forgave, in the spirit of competition, less mistakes.

This season, the horse competed less and showed off more.

It managed to find itself standing beside the podiums of the winners, catching the spray of wine bottles that the horses trampled. Its mane had only grown longer and now it hugged the bottom of its neck, perfectly slicing and tapering up to a point at the base of its skull.

It was infuriating to look it, that perfection of an animal. Watching it, so aware of its own attraction, was what drove the regional officers to the local circuit.

 

It was a time of growth for everybody. Talented, less attractive horses competed better, more valuably, in front of men with white, wide brimmed hats. Their pocketbooks were as thick as their bellies but they clearly knew their way around sports markets. It was the men above them that everyone wanted signing their cheques but the local circuit – and the town, generally – was not ready for those men.

That would take more time.

It was the horse that drew the attention of the regional board and they travelled down the mountains, away from the cities, and off the beaches towards the hinterland. The air here was cooler, fresher, cleaner than they were used to and money of them explained, in long car rides, that it was the air, surely, that gave life to this magnificent horse.

The small arenas of the local circuit became filled with people wanting to watch the horse. Its owner was given a marque and a special section of the spectator section all to himself. The barrier around it, wooden poles dug deep into the ground at stable but not sound angles, was painted as white as the horse’s perfect teeth.

It was the beginning of a long descent in debauchery from which previously regular people do not recover. This kind of descent takes a special kind of person, the right kind of level-headedness. Unfortunately, this is a rare possession.

Neither the horse nor the owner had this kind of level-headedness.

Horses, after all, are not famed for the level-headedness. They are famed, mostly, for the way that their heads arch enough to allow them to have eye sockets so they can see the racetracks. Humans, too, are known for having rounded heads and any good surveyor knows that anything circular cannot be level.

It was small town wisdom on the local circuit that it was impossible to predict a slope. ‘Level is best,’ they would always say, this town nestled against the mountains north of the city. At a precipice, it is hard to tell exactly how sloped it will become, exactly how far down it will go before coming back up. The town knew well that sometimes mountains look like they blend into each other.

 

The end of the second season of the horse was a catastrophe for almost everybody involved.

The horse was entered in one of the races, for the first time in months, and bookkeepers desperately scrambled to keep up with the demand. They had to keep making more and more books in which to record local bets – one of the gambling associations simply ran out of supply in the hinterland and almost single-handedly overworked the only local printing business. For the first time, money spent in the local circuit splashed outside of the local circuit.

It was, economically, a dream. The town’s treasurer oversaw the whole event and he had a fat, oily hand in every dollar spent on the day. If he could have found a way to charge the sun rates for the privilege of lighting the race, he would have.

Instead, he increased the excises on the businesses selling sunscreen and hats. The mayor, a quiet woman who presented an attractive front to a bizarre but not-yet-backwater town, stood beside him when required. The treasurer’s hands were most assuredly not in her back pocket and he would never be so stupid as to make that mistake.

She was a shrewd woman and knew how to best play the system of the men in white hats and grey suits. She sidled around about the owner of the horse for most of the day of the final race of the second season.

Local shops, meanwhile, were operating on skeleton crews of staff who did not care or teenagers who wanted to smoke on shift. The managers weren’t the type to enforce rules that no one would witness being broken. The town was not yet far enough ahead for security cameras but it was not far behind that work was, by default, lax. The footprints of corporations had been here, in the shape of familiar red logos and the whirr of endemic ice-cream freezers.

Everyone who cared was down at the racetrack, fighting off the beating sun in the most extravagant clothes they owned – or could find the day before. They were all trying to be just as beautiful as the horse. They should not have been. No one was.

 

Equally, no one was sure what to expect of the race. No one knew for sure what the conditions of victory were – how many laps, how long the race would go, how many horses had to be disqualified – but the owner had told the horse to take it slow.

‘Slow and steady,’ the owner said. ‘Please.’

The horse had whinnied and nodded and bared its teeth as wide as it could. The crowd was a sponge for its arrogance and the horse was a bigger, more absorbent sponge for the attention. More, it wanted. More and more and more.

It joined the other horses on the starting line. The animals were all checking themselves, blinkers removed, confidence in their training and their judgment uninhibited. Such were the tenets of the local circuit. Let the animals work, then believe.

The crowds were gathered as close to the boundary as possible when the woman in the jeans and flannel shirt stepped into the centre of the racetrack. The white lines, arbitrary lanes, curved around her in a long circle, looping endlessly. A local painter had been hired to mark the grass just for today. Normally, it was the work of the solitary groundsman the Treasurer had set aside for all the town’s groundwork.

But no one paid attention to the linework the moment the gun was fired.

The horses erupted from the gates. The first lap quickly became a test, each horse trying to see where they sat relative to their opponents. Mostly, they wanted to come second. But they are all speeding, as fast as they could to start the race. Fast enough to begin the frantic betting.

Bookkeepers circled the crowds. From above, the arena looked like a long wave that moved as fluidly as the horse did.

It sliced through the air like an Olympic swimmer through water, working hard, like the other horses. Harder, it thought. It was earning its place at the spearhead of the race, its hooves digging into the grass, shoes ripping at the dirt. Digging small holes.

Divots.

The other horses beat on and on too, keeping pace if not getting ahead. The gun had taken them by surprise. They had been trying to impress the crowd, trying to show that were also worth the attention. They had tried to compete with the impossible charm of the brilliant-toothed horse. They had failed, and they were losing.

 

It was on the second lap that the horse noticed how far ahead it was. It slowed a little, desiring but not needing the break. It needed to be seen. It needed the wind to carve and curl through its mane, for its tail to spring and bounce perfectly the way it had practiced in the divoted paddock. Then it noticed the new holes in the grass.

It stepped carefully, side to side, obviously showing off, even as the rest of the race began to catch up. The horse, its ego catching in the wind and holding it back like a parachute, was falling further and further from its lead. It had been raised to impress quickly and so it flourished in short races and short doses.

It also did not believe in the success of tortoises. By the third lap, the horse was barely ahead. The hooves beating against the grass had become increasingly desperate. The divots were growing, the white lines beaten into sod. The horse, like the others, fought harder and harder. But it was not accelerating.

The horse saw the encroaching divots and feared for its ankles despite its training. The crowd was silent, hands clutched around purses and phones and pocketbooks. It would not do to showlessly win a close race. So the horse changed its lane, breaking over the arbitrary white line into the space of another horse.

This the crowd interpreted as showing off and not desperation. They cheered. Enough to spur the horse on. Here, it would not need to swerve so much. Here, it could run straight, step longer over the damage. The horse behind it, the horse gritting its teeth and furious with an instinctual rage, flicked its own mane.

This horse caught the moment and felt the rush. The crowd watched as the competition came surprisingly alive, animals communicating wordlessly with speed, and this horse swapped into the empty, disfigured lane. But this horse had not been bullied by its peers. It had never confronted divots.

It collapsed instantly. Something invisibly but painfully wrong. It fell amongst ferocious hooves that struggled to stop in time and was, forever, still. The horse with the brilliant teeth and the glorious mane crossed the finish line first and in silence.

 

The crowd did nothing as trainers, owners, and vets rushed onto the track. A mass of horses, some fallen some standing, seethed and the crowd dissipated. Money was paid out quietly. The owner of the horse pocketed a large bundle of cash that he struggled to hide. The contract he signed had been one of many, this one written in the event of a disaster. He relinquished the brilliant horse and disappeared into the crowd, leaving the animal in the hands of the white-hat men.

The horse’s tail blew in the breeze.

 

The horse was never seen in the town again. Everyone assumed it was safe, was appreciated, was racing elsewhere somewhere far away from the hinterland. But the town flourished off the back of the owner’s poorly hidden money. He had nowhere to hide it. No one was unaware of its presence and it hung silently in the tense air.

Many of the other owners and trainers moved away and the local circuit fell in to disarray. The town’s groundskeeper refused to fix the track by himself and the Treasurer did not see fit to adjust the maintenance budget in line with the proceeds from the second race.

No one really wanted to. No one really wanted to profit off the disaster. But the money had been spent and the money continued to be circulated in the town. It was not a conscious benefit. The town grew, observably but not lavishly, even as the races moved forty minutes west. The Treasurer left the town with his wealth and moved into the city where he invested in non-renewable energy before quickly retiring on a dwindling trust.

The people thought of the two horses with reverence. They held onto fond memories of the brilliantly toothed horse on their bad days. A measure of beauty and self-belief that brought comfortable and enjoyable wealth. The other horse, the still horse, was memorialised as a statue in the centre of town, funded by the residents’ donations. Some larger than others.

They were all loathe to admit it, but their lives had been improved. They did not mean to profit off the tragedy but they were willing to accept the new lifestyle as a gift.

Thanks to Josh Nutting for reading it first, Grace McCarter for a strong edit, and Siobhan Daglish for letting me use her computer when I couldn’t sleep. Feel free to send corrections or feedback here.

The Sleep Banker

It took the man in the sandy-coloured suit no time at all to find the next name on his list.

Alvin Benchway, 32 years old. He lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building that had overlooked the River before the suburb was beaten down, then up, by overeager developers.

When the man in the sandy-coloured suit found him, Alvin was hunched over a computer screen in the dark, the white light illuminating his face and little else. Nothing on the screen was of substance. A thin connection to the web. Content for content’s sake.

The man in the sandy-coloured suit flicked on the light of the small home office. Alvin was slow to react, his eyes gaunt and his mouth agape even staring at a harsh nothing.

“Good evening,” the man in the sandy-coloured suit said. He looked about as Alvin turned, sluggish, as if having to use the weight of one shoulder to twist his body. The sandy-suit man lifted a stack of books off a chair at the back of the room so he could sit.

“Good evening,” Alvin replied.

“How are you, Alvin? Tired?”

“I guess.” Alvin faced the man, the light of the screen fading into the harsh yellow of the bulb in the ceiling.

“I’m here to tell you to get some sleep.”

“I’m fine.”

“It’s been days.”

Alvin’s tired eyes sank and his brow furrowed. “What’s it to you?”

“I lose sleep when you do.”

“How compassionate.”

The sandy-suit man knew better than to expect to catch the sleepless unaware. Their bloodshot eyes wide, bodies thin and weary, but their brains prepared. Inhibitions lowered. He just hoped this wouldn’t dissolve to violence again.

It’s easy to force the tired to sleep, true, but that rest is far less rejuvenating.

“My generosity is self-centred, I assure you,” the sandy-suit man replied, crossing his legs. “I hope you don’t mind me making myself welcome.”

“Only if you’re likely to leave soon.”

“What will you do once I’m gone?”

Alvin blinked. His eyelids seemed to catch for a moment, just too long, before springing back open. A small purple vein disappeared underneath his eyebrow.

“I will keep reading.”

“I always find it difficult to read when I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“You’d do well not to assume we’re the same kind of people.”

“You’d do well, Alvin, not to assume you’re the first I’ve talked off this kind of ledge.”

Alvin turned his head back to the laptop and shut the lid. The white extinguished. The yellow, harsh and burning. Alvin was certain he could hear the electricity humming through the copper. Like a tic. A relic of rest too long ago.

“Can I ask why you’re not sleeping?”

“I don’t feel particularly like wasting time.”

“Then I imagine this is frustrating.”

Alvin twisted his whole body, slowly, with a limbering shuffle of the feet, to face the sandy-suit man. As if he was afraid he would fall apart. As if his brain could keep him speaking at the expense of his fine motor skills. One or the other, not even at the same time.

“I would prefer you tell me why you’re here,” Alvin said, trying to spit it at the stranger in his office. Instead the words slipped out soft.

“I’m here to help you to sleep,” the sandy-suit man replied. “I can’t make you get some shut-eye but I am persistent enough that I have quite a high strike-rate.”

“Who sent you?”

“I sent myself. Consider this a public service, though I’ve never collected the tax I probably deserve.”

“I wouldn’t pay you for this.”

“I don’t tend to find people when they’re in a state to honour an invoice.”

Alvin shut one eye, then the other. The sandy-suit man considered this reluctance.

“If it helps,” the sandy-suit man said, “I’m from the bank.”

He had found this effective in the past. Vague and evocative at the same time, somehow. The weight of money. He wished sometimes he could join the world and absolve himself of responsibility by simply not shutting his eyes for too long. So simple an escape.

Instead, he was here, with Alvin. The latest in a list of names he was certain – truly certain – would never end.

“I’ve never known a banker to wear those colours,” Alvin replied. “Do I owe a debt I don’t know about?”

“You do. Weariness can make you do quite the silly thing. You might not even remember signing for it.”

Alvin’s eyes drooped and he snapped eye contact. His gaze fixed on the shadow of the still-open door. He looked, as if against his will, at the darkness of the hallway. He could walk, without light, straight to his bedroom. Collapse into the unmade mess. Done better than perfect. Asleep, maybe, better than awake when just for its own sake.

“I don’t remember signing for anything,” Alvin confessed. He winced. Reluctance, again, this time to concede information. Inhibitions down. Honesties up.

“Of course you don’t. You’ve put yourself in a quite a state. It’s my job to get you out of it.”

“For no money?”

“For, again, my own restfulness.”

“When was the last time you slept?”

“I don’t have to be good at the sport to be a good coach, Alvin.” The sandy-suit man smiled. “Besides, we’re playing different games. I would suggest a partner. You’ll sleep better together.”

“Not the first time.”

“Not the first time, sure, but afterwards. An investment, Alvin.”

“I’m in no rush to… to settle down,” Alvin said. His head sagged. His eyes unable to rise. His shoulders sliding forward.

“Careful, Alvin. You’ll wake in a most unpleasant place, with blood from the nose and light much harsher than this, if you fall over. This floor is heavy.”

“Your footsteps light.”

“Your mind slipping.”

“This does not make me more sane.”

“Not sanity, Alvin. Sleep.”

“When I’m… ready.” Alvin yawned, his mouth drawing wide, his shoulders pulling back, for a moment, before he sank again. Further down now. A slouch. His spine bearing his weight. An exhaustion unhealthy for the mind and the body.

“I’lll also need you to eat, Alvin. To sleep and to eat. For your own sake, and half for mine.” The sandy-suit man yawned too. The semblance of empathy. A reliable trick. A hallmark of study after study, proof after proof. Alvin rested a hand against his own chair, tested his own weight on his feet.

The sandy-suit man uncrossed his legs, sat forward.

“I can’t get you there, Alvin. You’ll have to do it yourself. But you’re not far away. Just down the corridor. On the left. In the back right corner, where you can’t be seen from the door.”

“How do you – ”

“I’m sure you glean intimate details through your work. I’d even suggest we’ve met before.”

“Before?”

Alvin’s hand slipped and he with it.

The sandman slipped from his own chair, in one moment present and in another gone, beneath Alvin, then about, then all around. Alvin awoke in his own bed with the midday sun crashing through.

Read The Rivertree Song here, and let me know if this piece has any spelling errors here

What to get your Mum for her birthday…

… when you’ll be away because you prioritise questionably.

Step one: Use your Dad to soften the blow. Ask him how mad/disappointed she’ll be if you’re out of town. Make sure you name drop a girl they like. As much as he’ll respond with his own unstated disappointment, it will help ease the pain. He will laugh, then be helpful.

Step two:  Set a time and date. In the long run, it’s less important that you commit to the time than it is the date. Your Mum will just appreciate the effort and the attention. She tried to keep you alive, despite your most sincere efforts, for your whole life. It’s only fair.

Step three: Sleep in. When your alarm goes off at 6.30 on a Sunday, smash snooze until well past sunrise. You’ll roll out of bed and tell her, by text message, that you’ll be late because you’re so wonderfully domestic. Washing, dishes, vacuuming are perfect excuses here. Everyone appreciates a good clean.

Step four: Buy a good present on the way. Being late is only an issue if they already don’t respect you. Even if this is the case, make sure you arrive with a good gift. This will help assuage the never-mentioned emotional pain of watching your child make grand plans that are easily deflatable.

Step five: Walk the dog. Present your mother with the gift – after the staff in the store have struggled to find it. This is the sign of a thoughtful present. Find a spare change of clothes in the house somewhere – a sibling’s room if you have to – and take the dog out for a run in the midday Sunday sun.

Step six: Watch helplessly as the dog struggles to socialise with another floof that looks just like her.

Step seven: Eat lunch without complaining. This is helpful when both parents are busy and stressed and have to – have to – fulfil generic white tastes. Fish and chips is fine, I guess, by the beach. Less fine at the dinner table, with your brother making a call to reclaim the fish for which he was overcharged.

Step eight: Watch helplessly as you struggle to socialise with your Mum’s longtime friends. This is a trying period and some relationships have already crumbled but she really is doing your best. For a long time, you thought they were standoffish people, almost hostile.

Step nine: Realise they’re not. Accept their relationship to your parents. Be kind and inquisitive but don’t take it personally when they don’t overshare. I want my life in writing. I guess they don’t.

Step ten: Tell her you love her as you leave. It’s true and only your ego has stopped you from doing it until now. If you can’t leave because you’re still at home, move out. This will solve 85% of your relationship issues with your parents. Bills get between people.

Step eleven: Answer her phone call a few hours later after you meet a friend to discuss his engagement parties. You didn’t go the first time but you have to go the second time. You still don’t understand why he’s having two parties, but he’s not paying for them. He was mad. Still is. Doesn’t make you feel bad for it though.

Step twelve: Tell your Mum you love when you hang up. She will be concerned for you, describe some of your choices as ‘dumb shit’ and mean it and you will struggle to disagree.

By now, the sun will have set and her birthday grown a day closer. You hope, next weekend, she will enjoy Veuve with a strawberry but you bought the rosé because it came in a fancier box so that may be too sweet. You hope she thinks of you.

Find Mum’s State campaign here to fully understand what an SEQ power family is. Read what I did for Father’s Day here.

How To Save High Quality Instagram UGC

Do you run UGC campaigns and find yourself using software that’s now two years obsolete because it still saves down in 640 x 640? (Sorry, Iconosquare)

Now you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

I’ve also found – anecdotally and without peer review because no one else in the office will try it but come on – that you’ll get better engagement. Whether this is because Instagram weights higher resolutions more strongly or because users are just more willing to engage with higher quality images is uncertain.

For a super recent case study, check out this Visit Brisbane post vs this Queensland post.

  1. Find a sweet image. This bit’s easy.
  2. Make sure you have permissions. Visit Brisbane uses a specially-created hashtag to assume permission but you might have to reach out to photographers and influencers and ask/pay.Step1.png
  3. Right click > view page source. On a Windows, CTRL + U is also a shortcut for this. Step2.png
  4. SCARY CODE. Step3.png
  5. Just kidding, it’s not that scary. Besides, we’re only after one line. Search (CTRL/CMD+F) for og:image and you’ll find a URL just to the right. Bingo. Highlight that.Step4.png
  6. Copy then paste that URL into the address bar. There’s no image here because you know how to do that. Hit enter. You’ll see the below image, because I understand the power of images in SEO. Step5.png
  7. Bam. The og:image. Step6.png
  8. Save down, stick in appropriate folders, follow your clearly arbitrary filing system that’s been there longer than you have. Personally, I think Downloads folders should be the biggest folders on any computer.
  9. (Be better organised than me)
  10. Go forth and kill it on social 🙏🏻

Just note that these .jpegs aren’t editable in Photoshop. You’ll have an issue parsing the data, so if you want to make edits maybe splash some cash. Pay it forward yo.

You can follow Visit Brisbane here, me here, and go and harass Adelaide here. Original photo credit to ethanrohloffaerial.

A Case Study in Reverse Advertising

Life With Zest.pngNot An Ad, a Schweppes reverse ad.

Read the brief document here. We did end up shooting in Roma Street Parklands, for which we should have had a permit, but the guy who fell asleep in the sun was a way bigger priority for the security guard. Sam Bowden filled in for Corey Kropp, who couldn’t make the shoot because he was looking for a new job.

Find the campaign spend report on Google Sheets here. (Long live the cloud)
NotAnAd.png

The most disappointing part of the whole campaign is that the bottle of lemonade featured so bravely in the thumbnail, after hours of shaking and tossing and upsetting, was still schweppervescent.

I Left My Phone in an Uber… I think

LOST:
1 x iPhone 7
1 x ability to meaningfully connect in the twenty-first century

I had enough battery to call the Uber and clamber in. The rest, as much of it as I can remember, is a shirking of responsibility that I decided to dredge from the bottom of six Break Waters and a Chardonnay whose label I cannot recall – deliberately.

I have scraped across the poorly laid wooden floor with a coathanger to double, triple check the dark space underneath the couch that I cannot see without the flashlight of a phone I cannot find. Uber Support must be incredibly helpful if you can pass the two-factor authentication with, you guessed it, a code sent via SMS.

Today, Dad and I got a long lunch – over coffee, not alcohol, for a change (for me, at least).  He asked if I’d passcode protected it. If I’d at least locked it with a thumbprint. I live, I told him, with the kind of youthful optimism that means I’m not afraid of losing my phone.

I don’t feel I should have been afraid. I have been in this situation before, I think. Filled with smoke and not substance for so long there are moments I know I am not experiencing for the first time. I just cannot remember what happened then, like I cannot piece together what is happening now, and I am unsure how to proceed.

Confidently, like always, I suppose. One foot in front of the other. Just without a soundtrack, without branded earphones to drape over my neck, without a camera to Story the world around me. Beautifully mundane. The train sliding away into the sunrise.

I can still do my job. I can still communicate. Just less effectively. Less quickly. I am less mobile. Less capable. The loss of a long limb into the internet. I am not afraid. I am just anxious. Filled now with grey smoke, not green.

If you happen to find a flat iPhone in the back of Ammar’s car, I would be grateful for its return. I know I have missed alarms and messages. Wake up calls I am reluctant to answer.