Not the Greatest Country in the World

It’s Australia Day. 26 January. And I am very proud of my nation.

But let’s get one thing straight – Australia is not the greatest country in the world. We like to pretend it is, because if we didn’t we’d be accused of being un-Australian.

I don’t know what ‘the greatest country in the world ‘ even means. Greatest at what? Every nation on Earth has something they can be good at, I guess. But greatest at everything? I doubt it. Greatest at inventing things that need inventing? Greatest at making war? Charitable enterprises? Football? Give me some parameters here so I can make some comparisons.

We pride ourselves on our ‘mateship’. Do we really? Who are our mates? Our real friends? The guy down the road who makes too much noise with his car on the weekends? Every other Australian? The myth of mateship supposedly engendered at Gallipoli in World War One is a farce today. We don’t stand up for all other Australians. And we never did. Just look at the Stolen Generation for an answer to that. Sure, maybe the conscripted soldiers who served in Vietnam looked out for each other, but the treatment they received from other Australians when they returned home was nothing short of repulsive. We didn’t treat those vets like our mates.

We are, as Donald Horne put it, a lucky country. But lucky is the wrong word. We are fortunate. We have wealth, freedom, resources, natural environment and determination. We have powerful friends (whose interest in us mainly stems from our geographical location). Australia is, in a very real sense, an Asian country. But it’s people aren’t.

We’ve made mistakes. The White Australia Policy was not something we should look back on with any pride, although it did serve its purpose at the time. We’ve done some things right, other things well, even contributed to the welfare of other nations. We have great inventors, scientists, artists, actors, writers, builders, engineers, doctors and so on. Just like every other country on Earth.

That doesn’t make us the greatest nation at all.

Australians on Australia day rightly celebrate our nation’s place in the world. But we have a problem: we are in love with an image. And we know image is so important these days – just look at all those selfies out there. That’s image.

The image that we worship is that of the Aussie larrikin, the ‘little Aussie bleeder’, the yobbo who acts like a moron because he is one, the fighter who keeps getting back up because he’s too dim to realise when he’s been beaten. And we do get beaten. We are in love the idea of our ‘convict past’. Although only a fraction of people in Australia today could actually link their family tree back to a convict past, we seem to have taken that on board as who we are. Criminals.

This idolisation of an image means that we have to live up to it. Which isn’t always a good thing.

Australia has an inferiority complex. We want to be as good as everyone else, and we don’t have faith in ourselves because we’re a bunch of yobbo convicts who don’t let anyone tell them what to do. And that’s holding us back.

There is no greatest nation on Earth, and there shouldn’t be. Every nation has a valid contribution to make, and should be encouraged to do so. Tall poppy syndrome here in Australia means as soon as someone achieves something, rises above the herd, we pull them down. We don’t like people getting above everyone else in our classless society. So we stifle those that set out to achieve greatness. Good on us.

We have to get over ourselves. So do a lot of other countries. Being proud of your nation is good – nationalism, in the sense that one nation is better than all the others, is bad. That started World War One. And World War Two for that matter.

Have a great Australia Day. Kill a fly for me (it wouldn’t be Australia Day without killing a few flies) and drink to your pride in our country’s achievements.

But don’t act like a prick. You’re better than that.

 

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

Hayley Roberts and the Birds

I’d like to introduce everyone to my friend, Hayley Roberts. She’s an artist who lives In Melbourne, Australia. I’ve known her for a few years and we were even work colleagues for a while. She’s pretty damn good both as a human being and as a ‘girl what draws stuff’ as she would put it.

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Hayley has just produced a small booklet called Birds Are Friends which is full of bird drawings and information about birds in Eastern Australia, since Hayley is something of a bird nut. As she explains in her introduction, she has always liked birds since she got a peach-faced love bird as a pet when she was 8.

Her effort is not only informative and imaginative, it’s also laugh out loud funny. Hayley not only gives us information about the birds she has selected but also writes hilarious anecdotes and observations about them, based on her own experiences living with and watching them.

Hayley is happy to mail anyone a copy of the booklet. All you need to do is contact her at hayley_m_roberts@hotmail.com and ask nicely!

Hayley is also doing some fan art and concept illustrations for my upcoming novel The Red King. I like her quirky style and her more abstract ideas when she can let go with whatever’s on her mind at the time.

Oh, and she likes unicorns. So she can’t be half bad.

Russell Proctor www.russellproctor.com

Things I Love About Brisbane

If you aren’t an Australian – and I know there are some of you out there – you may not have been to, or even have heard of, Brisbane. It’s the capital of Queensland. Other than that, some people know very little about it.

I knew a friend of a friend from Sydney once who hated Brisbane. Sydney was better than Brisbane in every possible way, he said. It was livelier, had more entertainment, was faster, bigger, more interesting. He had definite opinions about this and expressed them to visiting Brisbaneites such as myself on a continual basis. I could hardly say anything in his presence without him disputing me as an ignorant Queenslander who really had to be pitied for not living in the greatest city on Earth (Sydney).
One day I asked him when he had been to Brisbane, since a lot of his information was out of date. “Oh,” he replied with a straight face, “I’ve never been there.”
He said it proudly, as if visiting Brisbane was like catching malaria.
He had all those opinions, based on no personal experience.
There was another man I knew, many years later, also from Sydney who hated not only Brisbane, but Queensland generally. Everything was better in New South Wales. One day we were standing in line waiting at a work-related barbeque (Australians are good at barbeques, and waiting in line for them is an art form). He was behind me in the queue drinking a particular brand of Queensland-brewed beer. He took a swig, made a face, and looked at me. “Even the beer is bad here,” he said. I made no reply, but he no doubt caught the look on my face and he shut up. I later commented to someone else that if he hated Queensland so much, why didn’t he go back home? Eventually he did, but he stole teaching materials belonging to other teachers and the school in doing so.
Now, I have nothing against Sydney or New South Wales. It was mere coincidence, I’m sure, that both of these Brisbane-knockers came from there. They are just the other side of the tick gate, after all.
(The tick gate is the wonderful border between Queensland and New South Wales that prevents Queensland nasties like ticks and fruit flies crossing over south. Like a gate is going to stop them doing that. It’s probably as effective at keeping out unwanted alien bugs as the US/Mexico border is at keeping out Mexicans.)
Anyway, I’m not wanting to maintain what Brisbane has over Sydney, or any other place for that matter. Brisbane is its own soul. May as well compare London and Lima, or San Francisco and Seoul. They both have people in them, that’s about it.
What I would like to do is list some of the things I like about Brisbane. I’ve lived a sizeable chunk of my life here, and there are some things, places, institutions and attitudes I’ve some to love. So here they are:
1) The Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.

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This is such a cool place it features in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’. You can lie back inside and see the night sky outside. It’s educational and awesome at the same time.
2) The way public transport passengers say “Thank you” to the bus driver or the ferry deckhand as they leave. That’s nice.

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3) The Brisbane River.

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We are known as The River City. I’ve written about the City Cat ferries before. They are a great way of seeing the place. But the river itself is also very scenic and immensely practical. It floods more often than is desirable, but the city is built on a river plain. It’s remarkably flat and, yes, a wide river flowing through a flat plain is going to flood with monotonous regularity. But the old Queensland-style house, up on stumps, is designed to deal with that. Pity they don’t make those anymore. And while on the subject:
4) The architecture.

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Queenslander-style houses. The Banana State’s contribution to house design. Brisbane is a mix of old and new. I know a lot of cities are, but here we have places like Spring Hill that resist the new to the death and give the old a lovely charm.
5) We beat New South Wales at football every damn time.

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Sorry, I had to slip that in. Queenslander!
6) Mount Coot-Tha.

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This is the highest point around this flat river plain. They put the TV transmission towers up there and they make a distinctive skyline. The mountain is also full of bush walks and waterfalls, etc. And besides, how many other cities have a mountain with such a weird name? Mount Coot-Tha. It’s actually pronounced ‘Mount Cootha’. You can tell who the tourists are.
7) The Story Bridge.

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Another Brisbane icon, also featured in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’ – look, why don’t you just buy a copy? The bridge’s distinctive shape is eye-catching.
8) Queen Street Mall.

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It’s not large, it’s not the best in the world, it’s not awe-inspiring. But it’s a great place to sit and watch the world go by. I frequently do. People watching can be a great pastime. Street entertainers also make things…well, entertaining.
9) Moreton Bay.

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Coochiemudlo Island in particular. We have had a holiday house there since the early 1970’s.

10) The weather.

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A few weeks ago, in the depths of what passes for winter up here, someone wrote to the local paper complaining about Brisbane people rugging up against the “chill”. There is a bit of a chill here in winter (which usually occurs on a Friday in July). He was from Canberra (which is REALLY cold) and thought we were a bunch of weaklings for dressing like it was cold and complaining about the temperature being below 20 Celsius. Well, you see, the temperature isn’t often below 20, so when it is it makes a real difference. Our weather is great. Warm, sunny (except when it rains, and then it really does rain. Remember that flood-prone river?) and a little hot in summer, but then that’s when all the southern people come to Brisbane for the Christmas holidays, so they mustn’t complain about that too much. But Brisbane’s weather is amazing no matter what it’s doing. Sunshine, storms, rain…it has it all.

There are things I’ve left out, but this is just ten off the top of my head.

Remember, I’m not saying Brisbane is better than anywhere else. It isn’t. But these are just some things I like about it.

And if you want to complain, just go back home.

Russell Proctor – www.russellproctor.com

Lisa Works Hard for the Money

Let me tell you about Lisa.
Lisa isn’t her real name, by the way. It isn’t even her professional name. It’s just a name I chose for her, to protect her identity.
Lisa is a fun girl. She’s caring, forthright, independent, and hard-working. I love spending time with her. She makes me feel good and I get a genuine sense that she enjoys my company, too. If she doesn’t, she at least gives me the feeling that she does. Since I have been a professional actor in my time, I can usually tell when someone is acting. She doesn’t give me that impression, so if she is just pretending, that makes her a great actor, too.
Lisa is a prostitute.

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There are other names for her type of worker, but I won’t put them here. She doesn’t deserve it. Lisa prefers the term “sex worker”. She takes her job seriously, and doesn’t like the negative image some people have about her line of work.
Lisa works hard. She has to put up with all sorts of stupid people, demanding people, crazy people, obnoxious people, angry people, scared people…

“Lisa”, as I said, isn’t her name. That’s because Lisa is an amalgam of sex workers. She is representative of the vast majority of them. I never met a sex worker I didn’t like. I know there are some desperate girls out there, hooked on drugs or whatever, selling themselves because they have no other choice. But I haven’t met them.
And I can tell you why I haven’t. Because I live in a society (Australia) where brothels are legal and registered. There may be streetwalkers out there, but I haven’t seen them. I’ve seen them overseas, but have avoided them.
Most of the girls working in the brothels here are young, intelligent ladies earning a bit of extra cash. Ones I have met have been nurses, teachers, university students, housewives and mothers. They know what they are doing and have chosen to do it. Most of them have high sex drives (a benefit in their job) and genuinely enjoy their work. That must be hard, given some of the clients they must have met.
They have regular health check-ups and insist on safe sex always. So do I. That’s just logical.
I would hazard a guess that it’s the places where sex for sale is illegal, where their services are frowned upon, that have the problems usually associated with the sex industry.
So legalised prostitution is a good idea.
There are restrictions, of course. A girl (or guy) can work from home or a hotel room, as long as they work solo. One can see the sense behind that, but it does limit the services that can be provided, such as when a client wants more than one girl or guy at a time. Still, the situation is much better than in some countries.

And of course, the illegal sex trade, where workers are exploited and abused, is not good. But the prostitution laws are designed to discourage that sort of activity.
So, why the stigma? The usual objections, I guess, arise from people concerned about morals, family values, religious edicts and so forth. None of these are really convincing. There is some evidence to suggest that having a sexual outlet allows people to experiment with other partners in a safe, discreet way. Sure, a partner cheating on their spouse with a sex worker is still cheating, but that’s something for individual couples to sort out. The sex worker isn’t going to say anything, or expect the cheating spouse to get a divorce or give them gifts or hold them to blackmail.
Lisa deserves more praise than she gets. She works hard and fulfils a vital service. She won’t do it forever. She has other things to be getting on with. It’s just a job.
So cut her some slack. And pay her a visit. Or her, friend, Jim. He’s available too, ladies. Or guys.

– Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Walking the Riverwalk

Nothing to do on Good Friday, so I headed off to walk the length of Brisbane’s Riverwalk – one side of it at least. This is a pathway you can use to walk along the river (hence the name). It’s quite popular not only with walkers, but also cyclists, rollerbladers and so forth. It’s also a good way to see the city.

Since I live in Hamilton, that’s where I started, at one end of the walk, heading for Toowong, 11 kilometres away.

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The first park approached is Newstead Park, with historic Newstead House in it. This is the oldest surviving residence in Brisbane, dating from 1846, and occupied by Patrick Leslie at that time. Also here is the charmingly named Breakfast Creek. Apparently this is where early explorer John Oxley paused for…well, for breakfast. The story goes that a curious aboriginal stole his hat. I’m glad they didn’t name it Someone’s Pinched My Hat Creek. But it obviously made a deep impression on Oxley, who decided to memorialize the incident by naming the creek after his bacon and eggs.

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There are some lovely Poinciana trees in Newstead Park, along with a whole lot of other plants and flowers. People also spend a good deal of time here fishing. I wouldn’t be eating anything I caught out of the Brisbane River, though. Occasionally people even swim in the river, but they don’t usually do too well afterwards.

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Then it’s further along the Riverwalk , past the rather expensive-looking apartments in Teneriffe. This is an old warehouse section, and remains of docks and port facilities remain. There are still a lot of warehouses (wool mostly) along here but they have been converted into apartment blocks, retaining the outer facade and interior wooden beams etc. A mix of old and new that doesn’t always work, I have to say.

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Lourdes Hill College is a Catholic girls school in Hawthorne. I only put this here because I did my teaching Internship there back in 2001.

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Another bit of personal nostalgia. Here we are in New Farm Park, further along the walk. This is the rotunda I got married in. I’m not married anymore, but it was a great wedding. We had a string quartet and a swan made out of ice, which really wasn’t a great idea n the Brisbane heat, as it soon looked more like a lump of ice made out of ice.

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The walk continues through New Farm Park around a major bend in the river, heading to Merthyr Park.

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One of the City Cats (I’ve written about them previously – see my post “Cats and the City”. Here we are at Sydney Street near Kinellan Point.

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It is here that the Riverwalk stops for a bit and we have to take to the streets for a while. During the floods we’ve had in the last few years sections of the walk were washed away. Most famous of these incidents was a 300 metre section that broke off and was narrowly stopped from drifting out to sea under the Gateway Bridge by two quick-thinking men in a tugboat. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/environment/weather/riverwalk-becomes-300m-floating-missile-20110112-19nwp.html

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Just before the walk resumes, and above the place where the large section was washed away, we get a great glimpse of the city centre and the iconic Story Bridge. It was going to be called the Jubilee Bridge but when it was opened in 1940 it was named instead after John Douglas Story, a public servant who had pushed for the bridge’s construction. It is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia. Unfortunatley, it has been associated recently with two grisly murder-suicides and suicide barriers are being contructed.

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We also get a look back along Shafston reach of the River. Yes, we’ve come all that way since we left New Farm Park. On the left is New Farm, on the right bank is Kangaroo Point. Unless someone has a pet, there haven’t been any kangaroos there for a long time.

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Merton, soon to be Brisbane’s tallest building, arises beyond the Story Bridge. Actually, we have height restrictions for buildings here. There are some concerns about planes coming into the airport and having problems if the buildings are too tall. That doesn’t stop developers scraping the limit though.

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Then we pass under the bridge. The rumble of traffic overhead is quite loud.

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…and we emerge into the central Business District. The riverwalk continues to skirt the city at the water’s edge. Lots of retaurants. offices and shops along the way.

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People live here, too, in the towering apartment blocks. River-front views and handy to the city, but I can’t say that the lifestyle appeals to me much.

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Brisbane is not as large as other metropolises go (population just over 2 million), but it has a few buildings worthy of the name skyscraper. The skyline has certainly transformed since I’ve been around.

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Leaving the city behind, we continue on to skirt the Botanical Gardens at what is known, appropriately, as Gardens Point. we are heading now to the Queensland University of Technology, where I got my Masters in teaching.

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The tide was in during my walk, the water almost up to the footpath. Being tidal, and situated on a flood plain, the Brisbane River is prone to flooding quite easily. Even a moderate shower can produce flash floods in low-lying areas. It has a heavy silt content, too, and has to be dredged out for the shipping in the lower sections.

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There are some wonderful Moreton Bay Fig trees near the Queensland University of Technology.

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Being a public holiday, Southbank, opposite the city centre, was crowded. This was all warehouses and wharves until 1988, when it became the site of World Expo ’88. After the expo was over, the area was converted into a recreational park that has been the scene of a lot of entertainment. I performed five years in a row at entertaining crowds in the week leading up to Christmas. One year I headed the parade as a prophet – the next year I was relegated to one of the Wise Men (Mr Myrrh if I remember correctly). Our Mary that year had an accident when the donkey she was riding baulked at a pattern in the sidewalk tiles and both she and the baby Jesus (a doll) went off the front of the animal. Fortunately, she was able to catch him before he hit the concrete. Well done, Mary!

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Meanwhile, back on the north side of the river the walk continues under the Riverside Expressway. We are down on the river bank looking up at historic buildings: a contrast of old and new.

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The underworld: the cycling and walking path under the Expressway heading out to Toowong.

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This part of the river has five bridges in quick succession: The Victoria Bridge, the Kurilpa pedestrian bridge, the William Jolly Bridge, the Merivale Bridge (railway only) and the Go Between Bridge. Further downstream are the Goodwill Bridge (pedestrian) and the Story Bridge. Finally, just before the river mouth, the Gateway Bridge. Apart from that, we also have the Clem Jones Tunnel (affectionately known as the Clem) going under the river as well (under the Story Bridge). There are also ferries plying back and forth all day and long into the night.

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Then we emerge back into the upper world and leave the city behind at last as we face the final few kilomtres of the walk, heading out to the suburbs.

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On the final stretch below Coronation Drive, which is on the right above and on the other side of the trees.

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My ride home, one of the City cats, 11 kilometres and 3 hours after setting out. A leisurely ride back to Hamilton, passing all the places I had just walked through.

So that’s it, my river walk, showing some of the highlights of Brisbane. It is a beautiful city, and the riverwalk is definitely a must for tourists.

What did I get out of it? A bit of nostalgia. Many of these places I grew up in or around. It was interesting to see the changes made. I’ll do it again someday – and there is always the other river bank to walk on, too.

Tattoos Blues

Well, Christmas and New Year’s are over, and if you live in Australia like I do that is a hot time – literally. It’s summer here, and while December wasn’t as warm as it usually is, January is looking like what we Aussies call a “scorcher”. This means, of course, that everyone heads to the beach and dresses in less clothing than usual, and that means that those people with tattoos have the opportunity to flaunt them.

It seems everyone under the age of twenty is getting a tattoo these days. It seems to be a trend for both guys and girls. I don’t have any problem with tattoos as such, but if young people are giving in to peer pressure to get them then that is a cause for concern, given that it is a permanent commitment. And I know that when I was a teenager I was interested in styles and things that are no longer to my taste. So the designs that a teenager gets whilst still maturing intellectually and physically may not be what they want in twenty years’ time.

One teenage girl I know announced proudly that she was getting a tattoo and I asked where. She said “On my neck.” Two stars, apparently. I warned her, being the grumpy old man I am, that some employers are not going to like people with tattoos on their neck, or anywhere else visible for that matter. She shrugged the suggestion off, stating that she could hide it under her hair. I haven’t seen the tattoo yet, but it gave me cause for concern.

Another girl I know got an Eye of Horus on her stomach. She proudly showed it to me and I, in my tactless way, asked what happens when she needed to have her appendix out. The scar would go right through the design. She stopped smiling and said she hadn’t thought of that. The next tattoo she got was on her foot.

But that’s a side-issue. Teens are getting tatts, if not always in the right places,and I guess until the trend wears off (unlike the tattoos themselves) there’s not much we can do to dissuade them. I personally think they are ugly, but that’s me. Each to their own.

But I was amused, and I guess a little saddened, by a tattoo I saw a few days ago when I was waiting to get on a ferry. There was a shirtless young man, about twenty or so, sporting a tattoo of the Southern Cross on his arm.

Now, the constellation of the Southern Cross, shown below, is very important to an Australian. It’s on our flag. Every Australian not only knows the Cross but can see it almost every night when we look up at the sky. It is the smallest constellation of them all, but is also one of the most recognisable and easily identified. And one of which we are justifiably proud.

The point about this guy’s tattoo, however, was that it was backwards, flipped left to right, thus:

 

This just doesn’t look right. The tilt of the horizontal arms is wrong and the fifth star is on the wrong side.

How did this happen? Did the tattooist get it wrong or just didn’t care about what way he drew the pattern? Did the guy getting the tattoo look at it in the mirror and it looked right that way? I admire his attempt to be patriotic but some people would regard this as an insult to our country. The Southern Cross is a cherished symbol of Australia. Perhaps he intended it to be this way. Perhaps he was making a protest.

I told a friend of mine – who has tattoos of bows on her legs – about this backwards Southern Cross and she said she had seen one on a guy’s chest without the fifth star. That star is important. Again, maybe he was making a point.

It matches a few other tattoo mistakes I have seen. Not counting just plain badly drawn ones, which are more common that might be imagined. One man had a crucifix on the back of his neck. When he held his head forwards you could see the whole design, but when he held it normally Jesus’ middle section was hidden, with just his head and feet showing. Again, maybe intentional, but also maybe he had his head forwards when the tattoo was being done and the mistake wasn’t realised until he stood normally.

I admire people’s choice to be individual. But perhaps getting tattoos as a result of peer pressure isn’t such a good idea. Especially skinny white guys with tribal tattoos.  They are really trying too hard to be cool, and just looking weird.

I don’t have a tattoo. I never want one. I have seen good ones, on both men and women. If someone wants to get one, as long as it is their choice and not just to fit in, then that is fine by me. But perhaps they should take more care in getting it right, and where they get it. Just saying.