Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

On the Boyer Road

Taken on the Boyer Road, the sun was shining down on the silver foliage of the prominent tree and that is what initially caught my eye and caused me to stop the car. I tried the shot with several options on my camera, but I liked this one in retro mode the best.

Dear All Two

My first hint that someone like Nick Crews existed in the world came via a comment
piece in my broadsheet by UK novelist/columnist Christina Odone. She gave her take on this odious man’s major dummy spit, which has evidently caused a shit storm in the UK. In an email, he really let loose on his adult children, as may see from the attached link. It makes for cringeworthy reading as he vomits a barrage of torpedoes against the, according to him, rotten fruit of his loins. This retired captain of a nuclear submarine must have been hell to serve under if he treated his sailors in the same manner as his offspring. He has a poleaxed view of how family dynamics should work

The first point I would make is that this sorry excuse for a father has not the apparent nous to realise Generations X and Y are very different beasts to we baby-boomers. Their views as to the worthiness of loyalty, persistence and preparedness to make sacrifices may indeed be somewhat different to those stereotypically formed by us born of the immediate post-war years. I would argue that these succeeding generations are what they are because of the world we, you and I Mr Crews, created – a world of diminished returns. It has been argued that our generation, Mr C, is the one that has experienced our planet at its best for, from here on in, with global warming and the GFC, at least the Western World as we know it, is entering a period of decline. Life was sure simpler, speaking as a BBer, when we were in our pomp, Mr C. The digital age on top of the aforementioned has ramped up communal stress, weight levels, personal angst and nannystateism. It is little wonder that X and Y perceive it all a little differently than we about to enter our dotage, Mr C.

On a personal level and conversely to you Mr C, I am in awe of my two. My treasured daughter is a young woman a smidge past thirty. My adored son is not far off that life watershed mark. It would be foolhardy to say that they are both perfect in every way, just as I as a father no doubt have my faults, but they are pretty close. Within both an immense goodness resides. The way you have dissed out on your three, Mr C, simply makes my blood boil – you are quite execrable.

I love my two for many reasons, one being their resilience. Between them they have had health issues to come to terms with, together with disappointments in matters of the heart and vocationally. As for the latter, gone are the days, Mr C, when there was the safety net of a job for life as there was for you and I! As for the former, they are both with wonderful partners and, touch wood; it is within those relationships they’ll dance till the end of days. If not, though, it is not the end of the world. Maintaining good relations with one’s chosen one is perhaps not as easy as it once was as societal pressure becomes more and more challenging, but I know my two will not give up easily. They are chalk and cheese my daughter and son. She writes like an angel for her living and wears her passion for all forms of social justice on her sleeve. He possesses the hands of his grandfather and simply amazes his old man with what he can do with them. They have a commonality in, apart from opposite dimples, standing up for what they believe to be right, even if it costs. And, like me, they both collect. Recently this year I watched as my daughter gritted her teeth and used every last ounce of resolve to get through a difficult pregnancy. As a result of her toughness and stoicism, I now have the wondrous Tessa Tiger to place in my arms. It doesn’t get better than that, Mr C – but to give you your dues, you do seem to have feelings for your children’s children. My lad, I have no doubt, will be as great an uncle as he is a son.

Of course it is all a smidge easier for us living, as we do, in a temperate paradise at the southern fringe of the planet. Here the edge has been taken off the pace of life that afflicts those unfortunate and silly enough to live elsewhere.

Christmas is approaching and, although I know the days when we were all able to gather around that laden northern table are now gone, as I have become a southerner, we’ll be seeing each other, with the added icing of an imp giving the festive season even more lustre. I can’t wait, but I wonder what your Christmas will be like this year, Mr C?

Kate and Rich, this old fellow is so proud of you both.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A View from the Blue Room

The Girl in JBs

During my long, rewarding years in the classroom, each new cohort of cherubs *(1) I faced at year's commencement would receive a bagful of homilies on life from me, and the 'smile' one was part of the package – along with goofy dancing and yarns about this great land of ours. In this particular homily I'd tell my treasures that smiling wasn't done with the lips, it was done with the eyes. ‘Watch the eyes when someone smiles at you,' I'd exhort. ‘Anyone can upturn the lips and bare shining teeth, but unless something happens with the eyes it is not a real smile – it is only a perfunctory one, a PS.'
A dozen hands would shoot up and the chosen one would query, hoping their question would prove snakeworthy* (2), 'What's a perfunctory smile, Mr L?'
'Well George, a perfunctory smile is given when it is not from the heart of the person. They may give a PS if their jobs depend on it. How many girls here would like to be models? (A few hands would shoot up from the 'cool' set) Well ladies, to do that you will have to spend hours perfecting your PS, but the result will not be from the heart, but more because your job will depend on it. This supposedly helps to sell the product you're wearing. You do not see the models scowling in the KMart catalogue now, do you? Boys, how many of you want to be a used car salesmen? (No hands) Well, same thing, a smile will help you sell that rattly old Ford over there in the corner of your lot. Shop assistants have to do it all day, every day! You might also give a PS when you receive a gift you do not really want, or indeed give one to that relly who you don't exactly think the world of, when they arrive at Chrissy time, for instance.  You give them a welcoming PS just to appear friendly. In all these examples nothing at all is done from the heart, get it?' Numerous heads nod sagely.
'What do the eyes do in a real smile then, Mr L?'
'Well, as I said, the next time someone smiles at you look at their eyes and not the lips. In a real smile the corners of the eyes should crinkle up and the eyes themselves should be shining. Then you know it’s not a PS but a smile from the heart. It's an eye smile. Now kiddos, your homework for tonight…..’
Class in unison – 'No, Mr L. No!!!!!!!!!!!!!'
'Yes, yes my cherubs, yes. Now tonight I want you to stand in front of your bathroom mirror, and for fifteen minutes practise your very own eye smiling. Tomorrow, when you see me, I want you to give me your very best eye smile. The most exceptional one, the eye smile that comes most from the heart, will certainly be 'snakeworthy’.
And the following school day would be brightened by gorgeous eye smiles, putting a spring in my step and making me think I had the best job on the planet.

But then again there are eye smiles and then there are eye smiles. Of course, over my four or so decades of teaching, I've met some pretty good eye smilers in some of my colleagues. Children intrinsically pick up on those teachers who are genuine by the warmth of their eye smiles. My beautiful library assistant of many years, Julie, had one of the best going, along with a magical laugh. As a result, students would flock to her, particularly those who came from a home where there wasn't much eye smiling going on. For much of my career I was responsible for teams that included younger teachers, and from that group I remember two of the best. There was the stunningly beautiful Jaime, with her eye smile giving light to every class of students she was gifted to. She would bring summer to the bleakest winter's day, but she saved especially heavenly eye-smiles for the day she married her handsome policeman. Then there was Holly, with a magnificent eye smile. At the time I knew her best she was searching for love, although how anyone could resist as soon as she flashed those shining, crinkly-cornered eyes is beyond me. I believe since those times she's found what she was searching for. Is it a coincidence that all three lovely ladies are Hawthorn supporters? I think not.

And there are some great eye smilers in the city of Hobart! Here are gifts galore for the taking, and from largely anonymous givers. I enjoy a walk. Often when out and about I will park a fair distance from my ultimate destination and perambulate towards it. As I do so, I have taken to randomly smiling at people as I pass them by – but I do not display great teeth baring ones. Those types could be construed as coming from weirdos at best, or deviants at worst. I subtly upturn the corners of the lips and give the slightest of nods. If I'm feeling particularly bold, perhaps I may add a jaunty 'G'day'. Occasionally, in return I’ll receive a wide-eyed glare, or be simply ignored. Usually, though, the gesture would be returned, for Hobartians are great smilers. I've tried the same on Melburnians, and found the majority there also give back in kind as well, particularly once outside the CBD. On odd occasions, in both cities, I may even receive a dinkum eye smile, and once or twice a beautiful woman has even stopped in her tracks for a chat. Either way, it makes me feel even jauntier for the remainder of the day.  Try it on, see for yourself!

My island’s capital has shops that are full of employees who are vocationally induced to give each customer a PS. Certainly not of that category is the wonderful Helene who, each week, assists me to produce a selection of photographic images of reasonable quality. Hailing from the same home town as I, her eye smile makes me feel special each time I enter her domain. A dark haired beauty of a waitress in a preferred watering hole has come to know my Thursday habits well so, as she hands me my usual pint of cider, we now exchange eye smiles. In Glenorchy there's the bustling blonde waitress who scampers around our favourite coffee abode giving a glorious eye smile to each patron as she proceeds, and across the road at the fruit and vegies another striking blonde talks to me of footy as she tallies and bags my wares, and yes, gives out an eye smile. Unfortunately she is a St Kilda follower. Some of the beautiful young things who work the Telecom store on the upper level of the Cat and Fiddle give genuine eye smiles as they add credit to my phone. There's the lovely lady at the local post office who remembers to ask about my gorgeous little granddaughter each time she serves me, and Kylie across the way at the bank can also light up my day. But the best eye smiler in the whole city resides at another of my cherished hangouts, JBs.

I often think the youngsters who grace this store have another of the 'world's best' jobs. Surrounded by music, they bounce around stocking shelves and assisting with inquiries about obscure bands or 'do you know where I can find the song that goes like............' It is a casual place where I feel at home to quietly peruse undisturbed. In the CD/DVD section hipster assistants cruise on by, as well as a few pierced Goth types.  Those in the games/computer sections are more nerdish and more conservatively attired. In all they are quite a varied lot. Judging from the raucous laughter often emanating from the back storeroom it is a happy place, and much joshing goes on around the aisles as they beaver away at their tasks. I suppose all jobs have a downside, but it’s only the door checkers who look in any way down at the mouth. It's usually smiles all round inside and it makes you feel good to be in there, but after I have made my selection I will start to wonder if she will be at the money counter. At the end of the usual queue I'll scan for her presence, and, if she is perchance gracing the serving area, I'll wonder if my number will come up. Will I be a chosen one? If that's the case she'll give the most vibrant of all eye smiles to welcome me to make payment, as she does every JB habitué. That’s my cue to comment on the glory of her smile and, in return for that, she'll repay me with another one of outstanding radiance. At that moment I know that this sleek, shiny, raven haired, olive skinned beauty is the best eye smiler in town.

Yes, I know, I've only written about the fairer gender. So what! It is the beauty of women that in part makes being alive so wondrous, and helps make my world go around. I believe an eye smile received each day from whatever source, expected or not (but especially from the latter), helps keep the doctor at bay. Long may I live to receive glorious, from the heart, eye smiles.


*1. My students have always been bemused by my collectively referring to them as 'cherubs', especially after one bright spark looked the word up in a dictionary. She found out it referred to 'little, pink, naked angels' and word soon spread!

*2. For excellence I was in the habit of giving out sugar free candy snakes, especially when the excellence came from unexpected sources. The receiving of one by a student unused to plaudits would result in quite incredible eye smiles.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Sadness of the Lone Philatelist

.The notice arrived as an insert in the latest edition of the Ozpost freebie, 'The Stamp Bulletin'. It informed all that the Tasmanian Philately Society was holding an exhibition in my city's town hall. There would be commemorative postcards on sale and prizes to be won. I became very excited. I imagined, after fifty or so years of collecting, I'd go along and find like minds. In my thoughts I could picture it – my new found pals and I would discuss at length a mutual abhorrence for African countries seeking foreign exchange through issues of stamps not reflecting in any way their cultural identity, but with portrayals of Mickey Mouse instead. I would pontificate on my dislike of the annual production of Christmas Island Chinese New Year zodiac stamps, and so it would go on. Why there may even be enthusiasts there of tender years I could give tips to in light of my decades of romance with the humble stamp – maybe even some slightly geeky, but nonetheless alluringly youthful, female devotees who would hang off every utterance from my sage, venerable lips. And so I dreamt on in the lead up to the great event. That my DLP (Darling Loving Partner) looked at me askance with raised eyebrow, when I announced my intention of an afternoon's outing to that venue, failed to damper my ardour – I was pumped!

..Harking back, I vaguely remember when I first became aware of my oldest passion. In the mists of time, when I was unbelievably young, I remember my mother in the kitchen of my childhood home sharing with me a book of a very different type to what I was used to. In it were all sorts of images with perforated edges. Some had the same picture, but in different colours. It seemed the same attractive young lady was repeated in profile over and over again. I later discovered she was our not so long ago crowned queen, to whom we sang at the local movie house before the start of 'Hopalong Cassidy' or 'The Lone Ranger' in those pre-television days. I was immediately fascinated by this incredible book and I wanted more. Gradually my mother, always savvy in such matters, realised that, yes, I had it – the stamp collecting gene. Into my hands, for keeps, she placed this treasure trove of delight. Through it, and later on via albums of my own, I discovered the world that existed away from my small island in the southern seas. In its pages I found places with fantastical names – Fernando Poo, Fiume, Lundy and Danzig, for example. I knew of great events such as the '56 Melbourne Olympics, and Sputnik circling the planet, through commemorative issues. I discovered huge swathes of the earth was coloured the red of the British Empire, and an equal proportion the blue of the French, as colonial stamps in turn led me to atlases and Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia. There were pictures of the world's scenic spots in the days before mass tourism, reproductions of great art works and portraits of the rich and famous, including a nasty little man from Germany with a moustache. Why, there were even stamps of native women with bare breasts, of which I found more satisfactory images in the National Geographics housed in my primary school library.

Speaking of which, around the corner from said school, was the Opportunity Shop. Most of my mates would go there for second hand 'The Phantoms' or 'Donald Ducks', but I went for what was hinged to the back wall – a myriad of stamps. As an aside, an abiding memory from these pre-adolescent years was the smell of a newly opened packet of freshly minted, sticky stamp hinges. I can almost taste that aromatic .scent all these decades on.  Anyway, back to that wall and the pleasurable occasions I had making my selections – a shilling would probably allow for at least half a dozen or so carefully considered purchases, which were reverentially placed, by the eternally patient matron at the counter, into a second hand envelope, to be taken home and added to the collection. The local Coles Variety Store, in the main street of my North West Coast town, was also a haven. As perfumed shop assistants patrolled the counters and the sharply attired 'bodgies' of the town smoked outside whilst perusing the 'talent', I was happily engrossed in sorting through sets of stamps from the world over, held in the hobbies’ section, towards the rear of this Aladdin's Cave of a store, along with  Airfix model planes and supplies of balsa wood. Later on came the sublime joys of mail order. Firstly, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the Rocket Stamp Club, followed by the more sophisticated Seven Seas. I was beside myself when the monthly parcel arrived, taking delicious time over my choices, usually from the less expensive packages, and then sending off the leftovers by return post with parental cheque attached. At yearly intervals I would lug the current 'Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue' home. It was a heavy orange tome, a hot item in the town's library, with a long waiting list. I would proceed to painstakingly 'value' my collection. And from this bible I also discovered that every stamp had a background story, a provenance. And for many, what a tale it was!

Over subsequent years I have waxed and waned in my collecting, and these days restrict myself to Australian issues, with an occasional perusal of eBay as a treat. I've inherited albums from maiden aunts, but I've also developed other, equally expensive, passions. The love though has always remained, causing me to venture out on that Friday arvo a few weeks ago.

The upstairs room was crowded and stuffy, and after I recovered from an initial shock, yes, the displays were indeed interesting, when I could get at them. And the reason for my unwelcome surprise – was that, without doubt, I was the youngest person present. My prior fantasies flew out the window. All those around me were attached to walking sticks, zimmers or wheelchairs. There had seemed to be a frisson emanating from the beautiful old dames in the room when I came in – it was because a piece of eye candy had arrived, a young buck – and that was me!!!!!!!!!!!!! One darling elderly gentleman, a hundred if he was a day, tottered around after me, placing his hoary old head between myself and whatever it was that I was attempting to examine. He was constantly gesticulating at me with his cane, and then at the portable displays. He thought he was telling me something important about each one, but distressingly, no words were coming out. And it all smelt, dare I say it, of the certain mustiness of the passage of time – there was nary the scent of a stamp hinge to be had! I left before I had done it all justice, well before I intended. And I felt sad, just very sad.

.I feel there is a throughline between the tiny images of my stamp collecting past to my obsession with the photographic image today. Neither my beloved daughter nor son have the particular 'stamp gene' to carry it all on after my demise, but that’s fine.  They both adore collecting other items no less passionately than I, so they possess the mother gene. In that second storey room, full of those under the same spell as I, I figured out that something I adored has now only a very limited shelf life. I sense it will all die out with my generation, along with the composing of letters to souls in far away places, and more than conceivably, hand writing itself. In the future, if stamps continue to exist at all, they will probably somehow become, like everything else, digital. No longer will I be able to hinge them into the albums of my past, the albums of my mind. 

Tasmanian Philatelic Society Website -

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Wendy James – The Mistake - a Book Review

Did the dingo do it? That has been the eternal question that has existed in the nation’s consciousness for the latter decades of my existence, ever since baby Azaria disappeared at the Rock back in 1980. Initially the nation was divided as to Lindy’s innocence or guilt, as her ‘story’ seemed plausible enough. Hubby Michael was as stoic as men are meant to be, but it was his wife’s hard po-facedness that swung the pendulum against her. Where were the tears? Surely she must break at some point! It was almost an affront that she held her head high, refusing to display the emotional ‘weaknesses’ besetting womenkind, let alone a mother having just lost a new born is such distressing circumstances. The media coverage became a jittery frenzy, and this, combined with some dodgy detective-ing from the NT authorities, sealed Mrs Chamberlain’s fate. Along with everyone else, I doubted her too back then, and the courts found her guilty of a decidedly non-maternal act. We know the rest of the story, but it carried on for decades. Even a few months ago, thirty plus years on, lawyers were still lawyering over it. Events, though, in other places have impacted on the dingo’s once benign reputation, and we are all now jolly careful around them.

There is no dingo in ‘The Mistake’, it being replaced by a deceased hospital matron. Nonetheless the canker of the Chamberlain case hangs heavy over this fine novel. Instead of Wolf Creekian Uluru, the tome is set in the verdant imaginary northern NSW city of Arding (Lismore perhaps?), where the Garrows are respected McMansion owning citizens. Husband Angus has a few secrets of his own, but it is his wife that possesses the one that will potentially tear the family unit asunder. It all revolves from a long hidden indiscretion of her late teenage years. Throughout the ensuing ordeal Jodie, at least outwardly, like Lindy, retains a strong public mien, but inwardly she’s at a loss as her world collapses around her. The shadow of those desert events hang heavily, and when the media latches on she, and those she loves, are in for a bumpy ride.

Portraying a family on the slide into an abyss, James does a masterful job. The interaction between the four family members, as well as their inner workings, is deftly handled. Particularly strong is the picture we receive of the stereotypically self-absorbed teen daughter Hannah, whose parallel antics place added strain on already fracturing relationships. The only jarring notes are provided by the newspaper reports James not so deftly inserts at vital stages of her narrative. Maybe it is because that this reader largely peruses the broadsheets, but they have the feel of being decidedly ‘unjournalistic’. The particularly vitriolic piece that finally causes Jodie to melt down is a case in point. It would be hard to imagine any editor allowing it to disgrace the pages of his/her newspaper. A question could also be posed as to why the logically practical idea of calling for national assistance for information about the ‘dingo’s’ practices hadn’t been thought of earlier in the piece - or why those affected by her didn’t come forward much sooner given the case was a national talking point?

To me, as reader, it is interesting to contemplate why Wendy James, as author, took her story along certain paths the way she did – and spoilers lurk in the following. The novel stands strong without the final twist at the end. This is sort of a half way house between Jodie’s version of events and the conclusion it seems the media is lusting for. Right up until the final pages the reader is comfortable that all bases are covered, but then comes the jolt. Also, why is it necessary that Angus has to revert to old practices and have an affair with the spiky hot shot barrister who arrives from the big smoke to defend his wife? No matter how dire the situation, it seems we menfolk just cannot but resort to default position and give in to the libido, can we? He gets his just desserts! I have no criticism of James in this, just intrigued is all!

This terrific author had not crossed my radar prior to this – maybe because of the covers that seem to intimate ‘women only may enter here’. But this is quality stuff as domestic thrillers go, and I have already investigated eBay for her back-catalogue. I’ll be bidding soon!

Wendy James' Website -

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Visit to the Kino – or - Why Don’t They Show the Man Bits?

One of the joys of retiring to Hobart, after years in the provinces, is my weekly visit to the State Cinema – boasting itself as the longest continuously running in the country. Here, in pleasant pop-corn/mega-slurpee free surrounds, I can while away an hour or two, lost in someone else’s imagination. As my lovely lady had been domiciled in the southern capital for sometime, I’d been a fairly frequent visitor in any case, but now, being a permanent resident, I no longer miss out on any indie/art house excellence due to the tyranny of distance.

This hasn’t always been the case. Once upon a time I was starved, and visits to Hobs required shelling out for accommodation, and so were infrequent. In many years the sixty minute flight across the Strait was more often undertaken than the three hours plus road odyssey to the south. And, of course, with my filmatic predilections, a trip to Melbourne would not be complete without a visit to art house heaven, the Kino Cinema at the Paris end of Collins Street.

On my recent trip, I was alone in the city on the Yarra with a few hours to kill, so I thought I may renew my acquaintance with this house of moving pictures. Late in the afternoon I retired to another favourite institution, James Squires on Russell, where I repasted on bangers and mash, whilst observing the final overs of the ‘Gabba test on a convenient screen. As the pub filled for the Friday evening rush, I was joined at my window nook by two ladies nursing pints of amber. I initially took them to be mother and daughter. One was older with a ruddy complexion; the other, a much younger vivacious redhead – both dressed rustically. After a while we started to chat and found common ground as teachers. The more senior, like me, was recently retired, whilst the other was a recently appointed AP at her Ballarat school. They were also art savvy, knowledgeable on the various galleries of regional Victoria. It gradually dawned that the affection the elder felt for the younger, and visa versa, was other than maternal; but the charm and openness of the couple left me buoyed for the oncoming night.

Tucked into its corner of the Collins Street Plaza, I gravitated to the Kino where a bright young thing smilingly served me my ticket and through I went into its gloom. Probably it was going on for twenty years since my last visit, and its internal furnishings were showing their age, but I still felt ‘at home’. I had selected ‘The Sessions’ as my film of choice, as its starting time suited my framework for the evening, and because of the positive reviews it had garnered. Described in the literature as ‘brave’ film-making, it was soon apparent that this was the case. It is based on a real figure, Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes), a man trapped in his own quadriplegic body, encased in an iron lung for all bar four hours each day. His major concern was that he may die a virgin. Although capable of little unassisted movement, he nonetheless had the hots for several of his attractive female carers – often embarrassingly so. Of course, as soon as he enunciated his feelings, the barriers went up. He is then introduced to a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), who quickly points out to him that she is not a prostitute, although she charges, but a health worker who is not dependent on return visits. With the backing of his parish priest, a gentle, nuanced performance by William H Macy, six sessions are agreed to. For much of the remainder of the movie both major protagonists appear unclothed. One of the pleasures of this is Ms Hunt’s body. The nudity was neither gratuitous nor salacious, and it was refreshing to see the still well-toned, yet comfortably lived in, forty plus year old figure of the actress so openly and casually on display. Her scenes involving trying to divest her patient of his virginity were tastefully rendered, despite the obstacles his condition imposed. The audience is privy to every glorious aspect of Ms Hunt’s form, yet the vital part of the male remained hidden from view throughout. It’s not that I possess an overriding desire to see ‘man bits’, but I thought this was somewhat incongruous, almost unfair, given the point of the exercise was his willy, so to speak. And (spoiler alert) lose his virginity he does, and then goes on to have a ‘true’ relationship of his own accord, finding and wooing a lovely lady to share his sadly truncated life. Despite my minor, perhaps piddling, observation, the film, in my view, would have to be one of the year’s best – thoroughly deserving the rising clamour for its Oscar prospects.

Now the Kino isn’t the cornucopia of the Sate with its attendant café, book shop and rooftop cinema, but then Melburnians, unlike Hobartians, are well spoilt for choice in this regard. My visit bought back memories of a time when my own personal world was very different and, despite our estrangement, I’m hoping more frequent visits to this cinematic icon will be forthcoming. 

Website for 'The Sessions'

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Randa Abdel-Fattah – Noah’s Law - A Book Review

I had the pleasure of attending a book launch by this young lady in Hobart recently, and what an accomplished person she is! A leading light in her community, she is also an author in the young adult and new adult fiction areas, as well as a practicing lawyer. She spoke to a us in an exceedingly articulate manner about the background to her books – those she is best known for, including ‘Does My Head Look Big in This’, as well as her latest – ‘No Sex in the City’. The one under review here, ‘Noah’s Law’, rated nary a mention, and I now somewhat regret my entry point into her oeuvre as it is not what she is noted for – the condition of young Muslim women in contemporary Australian society. On the strength of the quality of writing in this, the odd one out in that the protagonist is male, I’ll be seeking out her other offerings.

Is it unreasonable of me to have reservations about bright teensters out detecting the detectives, out lawyering the lawyers? My daughter, a YA author herself, will probably shake her lovely head at this, and I realise I probably make this statement because I am an anachronistic old man in his dotage. That being said, ‘Noah’s Law’ is immensely enjoyable, even if it is what I describe as a ‘grower’ – it starts slowly, but then sneaks up on the reader so that, by the end, he/she is hooked by its intrigue. How will our heroes of tender years win out over the devilish adult evil doers? It’s a given they will, but seemingly up against the legal system, as well as the conspirators, the odds are decidedly stacked against them!

For this peruser, the novel is at its best in the courtroom scenes when the author uses her vocational expertise to take us through the various stages of prosecution and defence. Our hero is born of the silver spoon, possesses the necessary arrogance to get ahead, and even has romantic intentions seemingly above his station. The two main female characters are well drawn, and interesting foils to Noah’s tendency to self-indulge. They provide the balance to his pranks and, once he is ‘won over’, his schemes. They come at him, though, from diametrically opposite viewpoints. The over-riding theme throughout is ‘does the means justify the end’ with, of course, by the end, ‘right’ prevailing.

For an adult reader, there isn’t a problem with the ‘slow burn’ nature of the narrative as it builds. I just wonder, though, if the desired audience has the patience to hang-in there – or is that too demeaning of the age group? Also, would the denim dominated cover attract the demographic? I’m no judge of this after initially failing to stock the first Harry Potter in my school library because I felt the cover was too naff – so what would I know??? I suspect the dialogue between Noah and his best mate, let alone between the criminals, could have a bit more edge, but this is a seriously competent effort and has me looking forward to more.

Harking back to her launch, it was so saddening to hear this beautiful woman relate the trials and tribulations inflicted on her as a Muslim child by our country’s redneck brigade. As a nation that generally does multiculturalism well, if decidedly not our processing of asylum seekers, it still jolts that there are those in our society who achieve glee from overt prejudice. Although Hobs is getting there, I delight in visits to Melbourne where ‘I open my eyes and see the world’. As an Australian who therefore greatly appreciates the wonderful contribution that non-Anglos make to our culture, I wanted to apologise to her then and there. It all needs addressing, but how?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Melbourne Vignettes – Of Kindness, Karma and a Kosmic Cowboy

The point of the journey was Emmylou Harris – her one night stand at the Palais, St Kilda. She commenced as a solitary, spotlit figure on stage, and suddenly that ethereal voice powerfully filled the void with its purity. She was acapella at first, and then gradually the members of the Red Dirt Band wandered on and joined in, so that by tune’s climax a ‘beautiful noise’ engulfed the full house – twanging guitar, mandolin above, violin, slow snare and entwined voices in harmony. She is getting on, our Emmylou, but is still stunningly stately with her gloriously spun silver haired halo. It would be fair to say her once peerless higher registrar has deserted her, but in its stead comes quiet breathy trills, and her song choices were no less for that. Those of us venturing into our sixties have all lost bits of what we once possessed in more youthful times, and even an Emmylou Harris cannot hold back the years forever.

Her repertoire, on this night, was largely taken from her more recent offerings on CD, and was well received, but when she launched into ‘Hickory Wind’, the knowledgeable crowd lit up. And, perchance, if you closed your eyes, as I did, you could indeed picture a more youthful vision of her up there, and could fully imagine, joining in on the song, her mentor, the original ‘cosmic cowboy’ himself. As their two voices came together on the chorus, his ragged against hers of timeless shimmer, his nudie suit would glitter, her long black tresses would gently sway.

Every couple of songs Emmylou would pause to tell a story behind an offering, and she also informed us how happy she was that Obama was back. This was the cue to launch into the ‘Ballad of Emmet Till’, the young man who gave his life to kick start the civil rights movement that later took Martin Luther King ‘to the mountain top’. My night was made when she closed with a Van Zandt classic. Over the years she has paid her dues to both Gram and Townes in spades – she’s kept their respective candles burning so they now have reached the legendary status their demons prevented them from attaining in their lifetimes. I’ll treasure my memories of this night.

Yes the concert was all I’d hoped for, but the poor old Palais has seen better days – hard seats, packed in like sardines. Steeped in Melbourne’s cultural history, what a pity it is that, as yet, this grand old dame hasn’t warranted a makeover.

Now, being a bumpkin from Tassie, I was unused to, and unprepared for, the ways of Melbourne’s ‘beautiful people’. Being a naïve hickster, I assumed that when it is advertised that a concert commences at eight pm, then you are in your seats by that time. Not so it seems, at least for the gilded ones! The earnest young man who was the support act witnessed a constant stream of late comers throughout his half hour of fame.  There was also a noisy distraction coming from behind me, spoiling my appreciation of his not without merit performance. It took me a while to figure out its source, but – you guessed it – the beautiful people. For them the start of the concert simply means start of drinking time so, at my rear, from the foyer bar, came the racket of the golden ones loudly plying their mates with yarns and boastings. And even by the time the intermission bells ceased ringing, the vast room seemed only three quarters full. Emmylou came out, commenced singing and gradually those with the charmed existence, probably garnered from daddy’s hard earned fortune, decided to languidly saunter in. Up until that stage, with the three seats afore me empty, I had had a terrific view of the stage – that is until Ms Bobblehead and her two male companions plonked themselves down. To my left the two empty spaces were filled by fulsome blonde matrons, who, to give them credit, did utter apologies for climbing over the top of me to get at their seats. By now Emmylou was into her second song, and it wasn’t until well into her third of the set that the audience seemed to settle, and finally the stream of tardy entrants became a trickle, and then ceased. But all was not well in my neck of the woods. Ms Bobblehead, so named because of the ponytail perched high on her skull, and positioned immediately in front of me, had, by this time, decided Emmylou wasn’t worth her undivided attention, and so it was time to give the remainder of it to her love interest. She snuggled down into her man, planting kisses on, and actually suckling, any exposed flesh she could get her lips to, that is, in between whispering (Loudly! Audibly!) sweet endearments into his ear, and sharing with him the latest twitterings from her mobile. As you would expect, we had all been firmly instructed to shut these down, but rules like that do not apply to the blessed ones. Now all this carry on had not only unsettled me, but also the pungently scented duo to my left. What is good for the goose…. and so out came their mobiles. I could not believe it as they were soon into cooing mode, presumably over images of adored grandchildren. They pointed and poked at their apparatus; loudly, gleefully comparing notes. This was too much, so I spat it, and told them curtly to shut up. They took umbrage at this and argued back at me that I was spoiling their night, but again, credit where credit is due, discussions ceased, even if phones were regularly consulted and displayed. Not long after that, it happened! One of Ms BH’s male companions, the non-preferred one, departed. Whether Emmylou was also not to his liking, whether he had been called away to perform emergency surgery to save a child’s life, or whether he had also spat it through being, like myself, thoroughly pissed off at Ms BH’s carry-on, I had no idea. But go he did – terminally. And praise be to the gods above, Ms Bobblehead moved one seat to the left, followed by her fella – to be immediately in front of my other tormentors. They soon also packed up and left – Ms BH obviously finished off what I had started – the ruination of their lovely evening of catch-up.


To me hundred dollar tickets are not the mere trifle it may be to these people, but happily from that point on I more than had my money’s worth from Emmylou’s well honed performance, losing myself in her voice.

And as for kindness – that was all around for me in Melbourne. There was the barista at Southern Cross Station’s Degassi Bakery where I breakfasted. I observed him find what turned out to be a ticket for VicRail. After ensuring that it did not belong to any of his current patrons, off he set, at peak hour, to source its owner. Sure enough, a voice over paged that person. He didn’t have to do that - would the beautiful people have done so? I doubt it, but our kind barista was later rewarded by the flushed owner of said ticket returning to offer profuse thanks – and again, that person did not have to do that either. I’ll return to this little café on future trips. There’s the kindness of a friend, knowing I was alone in the big city, who invited me to breakfast with her family and pals at another café in Hardware Lane. It was somewhat more trendy than the aforementioned, but on a busy morning, with a line of punters awaiting seating, a beautiful young waitress ensured we would not miss out, despite our inconvenient configuration of eight persons. There was the Smith Street hipster who helped a clearly discombobulated elderly Greek woman cross a busy intersection, and the lovely owner of Sankofa Fair Trade, in Gertrude Street, who, remarkably remembering me from a previous visit months ago, took time out for a chat. The No 1 tram down Sturt Street was foreign territory to me and I was assisted by another of Melbourne’s youthful beauties to my art gallery destination. On the No 96 to Emmylou a sweet Muslim girl give up her seat for me with a divine smile, and even technology seemed to be kind as well. I easily came to grips with the new, to me, bedeviled Myki card. But the best kindness of all was having my wonderful son and gorgeous partner giving up their Saturday afternoon together, on a flying visit to the big smoke, to also keep me company in a Brunswick Street cider house. And with all my walking around pointing my camera, there were happy faces galore, especially on the little ones espying the Myers’ Christmas window displays down in the Mall.

The icing was spotting Shane Warne in his canary yellow Superleggera sports car. At the time I had no idea what the name for the monstrosity he was driving could be – to me it looked like an inverted flying saucer – but I’ve researched cyberspace! And yes, he too was smiling as he powered out of Acland Street. And finally – yes Jenni, the black rice pudding at Hardware Societie is to die for! I will be back there as well – and to Melbourne many more times as well I hope, despite the quirks of its ‘beautiful people’. The normal ones more than make up for those posers.

See YouTube of Emmylou/Gram singing 'Hickory Wind'

Monday, 12 November 2012

Jack Sheffield – Dear Teacher - Book Review

This book is twee. Being twee is not necessarily a negative. There is awesome twee – UK television has thrived on it for aeons, and of course the printed word either inspired these excellent twee shows, or spun off them. The book under review is from a sub-genre, village twee. Let’s think about some classic Brit shows, based on village life, and the iconic characters that are indelibly linked to these timeless series. We’ve had village vet (‘All Creatures Great and Small’), village priest (‘Ballykissangel’), village plod (‘Heartbeat’, ‘Hamish Macbeth’), and village doctor (‘Dr Findlay’s Casebook’, ‘Doc Martin’). We’ll never forget Heartbeat’s Greengrass, nor BallyK’s Assumpta.  Weren’t we shocked when she died? Thinking back on her gave me a case of the ‘whatever happened tos’ so, checking on Wikipedia, Dervla Kirwan is still around and in work, currently starring in ‘Blackout’ on SBS. It seemed back when BallyK was on air that, like the priest, every red blooded non-bogan Aussie male, including this one, had the hots for Assunpta. Of course, a show’s tweeness is ratcheted up if a very cute doggie appears – cite Hamish’s Scottie, and we should ponder where would Sunday nights on the ABC be without the twee genre?

To the best of my knowledge no English show of classic village twee has centred around a teacher. Jack Sheffield obviously felt there was an opening in the market and in he strode, pen in hand.
I’d vaguely heard of his series of tomes focused on the principal of a small north of England hamlet school, so when one came up cheap on eBay, I went for it.

Now there is twee and then there is twee, and this book more than borders on the latter. I thought that it would appeal to me more than it did being as Jack, the main character, and I were similar vocationally – but its bad tweeness made it a struggle. The only reason I persevered was to discover which of the two deliciously delectable sisters, Beth or Laura, our hero would end up with. Reaching the end, had I not been a mile high above Bass Strait, I would have chucked the book across a room in disgust. Of course it ended in a cliffhanger, didn’t it, for our author had a sequel (‘Village Teacher’) to sell, didn’t he? I won’t be hunting it down. Oh deary me, in the novel the Yorkshire stereotypes were out in full force, mangling the language to the point of utter exhaustion as Sheffield ramped up his charm assault. Likewise, the expected student howlers were so predictable and forced it drove me to distraction – but I gritted my teeth and plodded on. And what a ‘puddin’ Jack was – totally gormless when it came to his two lovelies. Made you feel why would they bother, unless he was exceptional in areas the book didn’t go into.

Of course Australia has not been without its own example of village twee, the standout being, without doubt, the glorious ‘Sea Change’. In this we had David Wenham’s Diver Dan and William McInnes’ Max Conners, as love interests for Sigrid Thornton’s Laura, and gormless men they weren’t. They were manly men to induce lust, but of course with a sensitive side that needed mothering as well. Half the thinking female population of Oz fell in love with Diver, the other half Max. Some of them even took off from city life to find their own Pearl Bay manly man, along the East Coast, while such places still existed, and thus created a social phenomenon – such is the potential power of village twee.

Done well, good village twee is priceless, but this hackneyed effort, with its constant cultural referencing, just gave this reader the irrits.

And as for village twee made in heaven, how about we get Diver Dan and Assumpta together? Now wouldn’t that be something!

Danny, Willie and the Rock Snob

‘Steve, I’m told you’ve quite a sizable music collection. You’ll do this little job for us, won’t you? But mind, none of that rock ‘n’ roll stuff – no Beatles or Rolling Stones. You got that! We can’t have the ‘ankle biters’ off their trolley before they get to class! Now, next item people’

So there you have it. For a couple of years now I’d been trying to make a positive impression on the BOSS since our synchronized appointment to our rural school. It was the early nineties, he was very out of date with his popular music but, nonetheless, you dare not ‘go agin’ what the BOSS asked of you. Despite my generally positive teaching and my willingness to take on extra responsibilities, I still felt I had not fundamentally ‘cracked’ it with him. Maybe this was my chance to impress. He was a good man, a big man, a formidable leader and I decidedly knew that it was paramount I entered his ‘good books’ if I wanted to get on, for I loved the school and its student cohort. And now, in his wisdom, the BOSS had decided to do away with the screeching siren that defined the end of break time. Music was now used in most schools – the theory being the kids started walking at the commencement of the music, and were settled in class by the end of the five minutes or so of the march in tunes. The BOSS had done much to turn the fortunes of the school around, and he was determined our bucolic little affair was seen to be as progressive as the big schools down on the coast. This musical innovation was, he felt, part of this. Of course, being a ‘Kinder to Grade 10’, in our district high, as it was misnamed, the BOSS was determined to be inclusive of all sections, and he knew the early childhood teachers disliked their clientele being in the least ‘sparky’. In this regard the ‘devils’ music in his mind was akin to red cordial! But in that one sentence he had dismissed the possibility of ninety percent of my CDs being used. But still, I couldn’t let this opportunity to go by, so I painstakingly set to it to put some innocuous selections onto tape, ensuring it was as ‘ballady’ as possible to appeal to his taste.

This memory of long ago came surging around my synapses again after recent perusal of a Danny Katz column in my favourite broadsheet. When this fellow is ‘on song’ (pun intended) he does tickle my funny bones, but here he caused reflection as well. In this particular scribbling Katz railed against ‘dinner party rock snobs’, after he failed to defend his appreciation of James Blunt at a gathering he had latterly attended.

I’ve always considered my music tastes fairly catholic. Back in my uni days, when the ‘cool’ people were groovin’ to Cream, Hendrix and Zappa, my predilection ranged from Andy Williams through to Creedence via the Bee Gees (pre-disco). At our hall of residence we were a broad church, and I never felt a lesser being because I did not worship at the altar of Clapton – that came later! Gradually my tastes refined. My brother introduced me to the ilk of John Prine and Eric Anderson, and a whole new musical world opened up. Jimmy Buffett became my sunny life companion, and then there was my dear old Dad. Being a son of the soil, from the verdant Huon Valley to be exact, he passed on to me the country music gene, and I grew up on a diet of Slim Dusty and Marty Robbins’ ‘Gunfighter Ballads’. Later came his regard for the ‘Man in Black, and in his last years he adored Willie Nelson. Myself, I was more of a Waylon and a Kris man, but by the time my compilation tape was being passed over to the office staff for its first airing under the new ‘coming in’ regime, I had a few Willies in my CD library.

Willie was a rebel – he stuck his finger up at Nashville and the ‘big hatters’ whom he felt were defiling the purity of the brand, and he loved the ‘weed’. True believers know the country music gene is not a fallacy, and I am proud to say my father’s has now reached my daughter as she embraces my love of the alt guys and gals, even if she ventures into big hat territory. That she is also inclined to listen to heavy metal and the Spice Girls is a foible of hers that I adore.

But back to another time and another place, my tape seemed to go down well – there were no complaints about it not exactly being cutting edge or particularly ‘now’ – and I had ensured it was devoid of ‘bounce’ and naughty innuendo. All was rosy in my world until……….

She was large in body and large in her opinions. Pug nosed and pugnacious, she was a frequent visitor to our school and therefore our staffroom, and I got on all right with her as I respected the work she did with some of our at risk cherubs. It was the end of morning recess, we were all packing up as the music had started, and Willie was warbling away to the troops. I cannot remember the particular song – of course something like ‘On the Road Again’, although applicable, would not be seen as appropriate as it was too ‘happy-clappy-skippy’ for the little ones. More likely then it would have been a track from ‘Stardust’, his album of covers from the Great American Songbook.

I was about to leave the room when from over in the corner came, ‘WHAT IS THIS SHIT! WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND LISTENS TO WILLIE NELSON THESE DAYS?’ I ceased my departure, opened my mouth, but the words were too stunned to come out – so, head down, I went; wondering what had hit me. Of course I had been stirred about it all before, but this was different from the gentle ribbing of good mates. She bellowed each syllable with such vehemence, and each word seemed enveloped in hate. Even if I was not uber-cool by not, like her presumably, bowing down to all offerings from Waits, Cave and Radiohead, I was nonplussed at both her reaction and my shock. And after a while it hit me. It was the first time in my life that I had felt bruised and diminished for my musical affinities. Why I was so affected, I later figured, could be because Willie formed a songline between my father, now sadly departed and much missed, and I – in the same way that it now extends between my gorgeous daughter and her grandfather. And, of course, I hadn’t defended Willie!!!

A few weeks later the BOSS passed me in the corridor, patted me on the back and remarked,’ Good job with the music sir!’ I should have felt a frisson of pleasure that I’d pleased him, but my moment had already been ruined. My ‘taste’ had been publicly vilified, and though I realised it was illogical, it hurt. After that point I steered clear of my unknowing persecutor, and later she parted ways with the school. Nobody else said a word about the incident, and, until Danny’s musings, the memory of it had left my consciousness.

Yes I can understand people not liking country music, just in the same way I privately abhor rap and doofer doofer. It is within me to gently chide others about their taste – lord knows I’ve received plenty of that in my time. And in the end Danny and I now have an extra bond. So much so that I propose we form a militant body and call it ARSE – Abominable Rock Snob Eradication. We’ll protect the rights of the uncool to listen to Willie Nelson and James Blunt anytime, any place! Danny and I, we’ll stand up to the rock snobs of the world anywhere, but particularly at dinner parties and in school staffrooms! We will empower lovers of country music and bland Brit pop!

Now Danny, about Barry Manilow……….