Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Search me

So, how are you finding Public Address these days? No really, how are you finding it? Every now and then I have a squiz at the website statistics, which if they were a beauty contest would have a lipstick-smeared and teary-eyed Russell wearing the tiara and the sash, and Chad standing eagerly at his elbow ready to take over the crown should anything prevent Russell from fulfilling his duties. The rest of us are lined up behind them, sucking in our guts and beaming for the cameras. But it's not a beauty contest; it's about reaching readers and hopefully, touching them. In a nice way.

Who are we touching? Some of you we hear from via the handy feedback button on each page, but the website statistics give a rough picture of the other thousands of mystery readers out there. They don't tell us your names or addresses, but they do tell us how many of you stay for less than thirty seconds (a few) and how many linger longer (more than a few). They tell us that more of you read during the week than on the weekends, and more during the day than at night (any correlation with the working week is pure coincidence, and you only read us during tea breaks, of course). Most of you are New Zealanders, or at least your internet service providers are. But there are a fair number of Australians, North Americans and Brits, and a surprising number checking in from Singapore. You do a jolly good job of circulating at our virtual cocktail party, too: most of you make a beeline for Russell -- the hussy! er, I mean, the life and soul of the party -- but you're not too shy to come and chat with me and Debra by the punch bowl, or the lads out on the patio.

So, how exactly are you finding Public Address? The statistics also tell us how some of you get here, by listing both the pages you bounced on over from and, more interestingly, the most common search strings that persuaded a search engine -- usually the less intelligent ones -- to cough up Public Address. This is a mixed bag, of course, because sometimes you're not really looking for us. For everyone who just typed one of our names and "Public Address" into google, we get several who were looking for something completely different. Quite often something completely pervy.

It's a universal phenomenon, sex and the single search engine. A couple of years ago, when my partner and I put Bill Manhire's excellent choose-your-own adventure The Brain of Katherine Mansfield on the web, we noticed that a lot of people who found their way there were looking for information on Katherine Mansfield. If you've checked out the site, you'll know that's not what it's about. But the most lost -- or hopeful -- searcher of them all was the person who typed in "pictures mans bottoms" and found our site at the very top of Yahoo's list (Yahoo must have fixed their algorithm, because sadly that search string doesn't lead straight to us any more). I wonder if they ever did find pictures mans bottoms, or if instead they developed an interest in hypertext fiction on the strength of that chance encounter. Who were they? I pictured an gaggle of eight-year-olds giggling around a momentarily unattended computer; Richard always thought it might perhaps be an elderly Albanian nun who had just figured out how to use a search engine to track down something she'd always wondered about and never managed to find in the public library.

So yes, of those of you who are finding Public Address by happy accident through a search engine, quite a few are basically eight-year-olds and Albanian nuns looking for pictures mans bottoms. But you know we aim to please, even if we can't help with your specific enquiry. An impressive number of people wanted to know what Prince William looked like in his birthday loincloth, a subject I, er, touched on in passing a few weeks ago. I want to know too, so if you come across any pictures, let me know. I think I might have scored a surprise hit with those who were on the lookout for "bulging crotches" and indeed "big bulging crotches," although whoever wanted to know about going "bottomless in public" must have gone away empty-handed.

As did, I suspect, the poor fellow who just wanted to know "how can u enlarge your penis from stuff just around the house." He should probably get in touch with the several enquirers who were interested in "how to make a strawberry cheesecake," as I bet they have some useful kitchen implements to hand. At the very least they might want some help with the stirring, and, word to the wise: a layer of cheesecake mix will add at least half an inch. Whoever wanted "gay mexican cowboys," meet "mission impossible ring tone," dude, and the many people who demanded to know the "pros and cons of prostitution" might want to visit, or perhaps steer clear of, "four floors whores Singapore."

[And nothing to do with search terms, but before I change the subject: I rather enjoyed this fine article on women breaking the perspex ceiling in the sex industry].

It's not just sex and drugs and a fair bit of rock'n'roll that you're after -- there are also straightforward requests for information, including (of all things) public addresses. The people who were hunting for "michael jackson's address so we can write a letter to him" and "peter jackson's address" and especially "classified email addresses of the most richest in europe 2003 guest book" are, alas, dreaming. But hopefully Damian can help the chap who wrote "i want to become a cracker," and a lot of the yoga-related hits probably find what they're looking for from Debra. Chad has many fans, although perhaps the fellow looking for a "muse penis" is not in the end much of a reader. Rob no doubt takes care of the several woebegotten searchers whose dryers just won't heat. Strangely, there are more than a few.

As well as the bulging crotches, I get most of the baby and New York hits, which is no surprise. I'm always happy to help with the "latest on modern parenting," in a laissez faire sort of way, and I wish I could help out the person who wanted a "definition of shoplifting in new york" for the next time Busytot swipes something on the way out of the supermarket. But I sure hope whoever typed "public nuclear shelter ny" doesn't know something the rest of us don't.

I would love to meet whoever was interested in "naenae, history of" since I grew up there. What I can tell you is that according to a fascinating article I read some time ago (in the New Zealand Journal of History, I think), Naenae was something of a model town for state housing, and moreover its shopping centre was designed by a European architect who modelled it after the Piazza San Marco in Venice -- a comparison that I must say had never previously occurred to me. Ah Naenae. We lived at the very top of Seddon St, up near the bush, but my Nana lived in a state house down near the railway right up until she died (ten years ago last month), so I have very fond feelings about those little brick houses on Sladden St. They look and feel like home.

On that note, back to the packing. I hope to blog from Auckland (I hear they even have this internet thing in New Zealand these days) in between catching up with family and friends. Thanks for the travel tips, especially Hana who suggested balloons, and Brian who warned me about the choco-centric kids' meals on Air NZ that had his son thrashing around for hours in a sugar frenzy. I will make it my personal duty to intercept and dispose of anything the least bit chocolatey from Busytot's tray. I think I'm up to the challenge.

Now that I think of it, I should have been suspicious when the agent on the phone, when asked what was in a toddler meal, said happily: "Ooh, just lots of Things Kids Like!" Hold the deep-fried Moro bars and the McMadcow burgers, thanks. We'll make sure to bring some boring sensible snacks to keep the sugar-fuelled air-rage at bay. I wish we could afford to do like the movie star, who, according to friends of friends who shared a flight with her and her kid, handed out DVD players and champagne to everyone in first class to apologise in advance for the screaming child under her arm. More tips always appreciated, and if any business out there wants to sponsor DVD players and champers for the entire cattle-class cabin in return for an effusive mention in this column, I'm all ears. You know how to find me: just click that feedback button at the top right corner of the page, or, if you're feeling lucky, head to your favourite search engine and type "big bulging crotch" or "Prince William birthday loincloth" or even "dazzlingly large bosoms"... you never know what you'll find.