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

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Glover, Evandale

Two Gay Delights

The thought that, in a few weeks, there is the obscene likelihood that the hapless, hopeless, wooden wonder that is Tony Abbott will be our new Prime Minister is an outcome that fills me with something close to despair. More Howardian than Howard, this Catholic bully boy of negativity is just what our country doesn’t need as we warily tread deeper into the twenty-first century. There is so much that is detestable about his policies – his ‘turn back the boats’ dogma designed to appeal to the rednecks of Sydney’s west; his promise of a mega baby bonus to those already doing quite nicely thank you; his watering down of the mechanisms to alter a climate change he is yet to be convinced is a major threat to the planet. And then, to cap it off, there is his obdurate stance on gay marriage – despite the fact that his own sister is proudly reflecting the colours of the rainbow. At least Kevin has had a change of heart; I suspect responding to his savvy daughter’s pressure as much as to the majority views of the public. Of course Abbott’s entitled to his personal stance, but the sheer bastardry of the man in forbidding a conscience vote for his followers on the Liberal side of the chamber is inexcusable in this day and age. He knows fully two-thirds of the general population is for it. If only my own state’s jelly-livered upper chamber had had the courage to pass the recent bill from the more forward thinking House of Assembly legalising same sex marriage, we’d now be reaping the rewards in the same way as the Kiwis are across the water. Once upon a time Australia was at the forefront of this type of thing – now we drag our heels big time.

Ever since Sean Penn bravely portrayed Harvey Milk in that eponymous movie, even the Americans are now placing gaydom on the screen. More and more of their states have allowed their homosexual constituents their rights under the equality banner. In recent weeks I have had the pleasure of viewing two vastly different films, with gay couples at the core, emanating from that part of the globe. Despite being at opposite ends of the homosexual spectrum, the two couples featured in this duo of cinema delights adored each other – one pair for years, the other for a lifetime.

Michael Douglas, in ‘Behind the Candelabra’, displays the reason uber-director Steven Soderbergh waited patiently for the actor to recover from his close encounter with mortality, in the form of an unusually contracted throat cancer, to make this feature. Masterfully casting against type with both his main leads (Matt Damon plays the love interest), the director conjures the performance that I suspect the son of Kirk will be remembered for, even outranking his Gordon Gekko. Filmed with a Luhrmannesque flourish, if not quite the colour palette, this supposedly is Soderbergh’s last big screen effort before retirement. He has left us with a beauty. Douglas is Liberace, warts and all -including occasionally being minus wig. The man’s sequined high-camp presence is there filling the screen. Sadly this film also marks the end of the road for Marvin Hamlisch, who passed on last August. His piano score reflected all the vivacity of the larger than life pianist. Around the two compelling performances at its centre, there were also some fine turns from the supporting cast enhancing proceedings. In a blast from the past, Debbie Reynolds is delightful as Lee’s mother. Back in those days, of course, the thought of two men joining in holy matrimony was unthinkable. Liberace first wanted Scott Thorson as a lover, then as a doppelganger, then as a son. Finally, though, Scott is turned out into the wilderness as a drug sodden reject. The final scene between the two men was revelatory of the era when the scourge of AIDS was at the disease’s predatory peak.

The bonus in this terrific movie is the performance of Rob Lowe. He almost steals the show as the ultimate parody of a cosmetic surgeon – it’s a world away from his Sam Seaborn of ‘West Wing’ fame doings.

‘Cloudburst’ is a beast of a different nature, as well as of gender. Here the two protagonists were of a similar age – around Liberace’s. One’s apparel is bib ‘n’ brace and flannel shirt; the other’s, almost blind, is a matronly dowd. The former, stirringly played by a feisty Olympia Dukakis, has some tough choices when her partner for life (Brenda Fricker) is railroaded into a nursing home by a zealous daughter, being the only person completely unaware of the true nature of her mother’s relationship. Stella decides to break Dot out of her confinement and do a bolt to Canada, where gay marriage is legal. Of course nothing goes to plan, but with the aide of a very weird hitchhiker – Ryan Douchette – the old dames have some very interesting adventures en route. This film is certainly more conventionally tender-hearted than the biopic. As befits an indie, there’s none of the former’s outward glitz here. This is real life, complete with some blissful New England/Maritimes scenery.

The bonus here is the most in your face hilarious, full frontal male nudity encountered on the screen in quite some time. The point of it being there is uncertain, but it sure livens up the road trip.

These two movies were equally enjoyable for various reasons, but to my mind the best on the subject remains our own ‘The Sum of Us’, with a very young Russell Crowe as a gay son. The iconic Jack Thompson deftly plays his loving father. It is now somewhat dated, but still a joy to watch as I discovered when I inserted it into my DVD player a few weeks back. Given that this was made in 1994, it seems that Australia, once a world leader in social reform, is still only marginally closer, than back then, to granting equality to a significant sector of our society. With Abbott at the helm I fear we will remain as far away as ever. With this and our return to the fears once represented by the abhorrent White Australia Policy – what have we become?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Guide Falls

A Blue Room Book Review - Mucked Up - Danny Katz

It would be unfair to say that Danny Katz has ‘mucked up’ with this enticement to get reluctant boy readers to do just that – read. It will probably succeed in doing the trick for it has all the right ingredients – naughtiness and all the yukky stuff in the world. Still, as a sequel to the gloriously anarchic ‘S.C.U.M.’, it paled in comparison. That novel made me wish I was back in the classroom, reading aloud to my students of all the mayhem going on within and around the ‘Students’ Combined Underground Movement’. The zany character of Tom Zurbo-Goldblatt was wonderful. The book possessed some depth and some lessons could be had. It also contained the incredibly ‘super-spicy’ Miss Valderama. She reminded me of all the alluring young female teachers I was taught by way back when at high school, as well as more than a few with sex appeal – apologies Tony Abbott - I’ve actually taught with. Sadly, Miss V was only a passing mention in his sequel.

I mentioned in my review of ‘S.C.U.M.’ that those making up its numbers were immature for their age in terms of their behaviour and vocabulary. They were operating in a manner I would have expected of Grade 7s. At least in that tome there were counter-balances. None exist in ‘Mucked Up’. As a teacher there would be the occasional underdeveloped lad in a class of Year 9s, but generally they are a mile away from the Toms involved here. I suspect that it would be those that are just about ready to embark on their teenage years who would be most attracted to the antics these novels contain, so it would have made more sense to have the age of the protagonists reflecting that. The Tasmanian system has no Year11/12 top to its high schools, so perhaps that could explain something, but I would find it hard to imagine that island boys have it all over their mainland counterparts in the developmental stakes. No, I think more than likely Danny simply has it wrong.

Yes, this publication is a disappointment compared to its predecessor, but I’d still love to wave it around after completing my reading of ‘S.C.U.M.’ to a Grade 6 or 7 cohort – ‘Here you go my cherubs – seeing how much you enjoyed this novel by Mr Katz, rush off to the library and get your hands on this and see what happens to all his crazy crew.’

Despite my reservations here, I trust Danny does go on to write a third installment as Tom finally seems to be making some progress at last with Jurnell. Maybe he’ll come of age and gain the smarts to woo the fair maiden – any maybe the author will recapture some of the spirit and joy of his first effort when this occurs.

Saturday, 17 August 2013


A Blue Room Book Review - The Forgotten War - Henry Reynolds

It struck a chord when the reviewer of this book for Melbourne’s ‘The Age’ newspaper, Raymond Evans, cited that the main street of a Queensland provincial town was derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘plenty dead’, being close to a site of frontier violence where the First Australians came off second best. It reminded me of how incensed I was when I discovered, through reading James Boyce’s fine history ‘Van Diemen’s Land’, that the main street of another provincial town, one in which I had lived in and taught for a while, was named after an official of a large colonial agricultural concern. It was revealed that this fellow had callously murdered an Aboriginal woman on a Circular Head beach, but of course a subsequent investigation exonerated him of any wrong doing. At least there was an investigation! I now realise that perhaps the Sunshine State’s Bundaberg and my own island’s Wynyard would only be two of a number of many former frontier communities with similar provenances for the nomenclature of suburbs and streets.

In another unrelated column in the same former broadsheet, the always readable columnist Stephen Wright recounted the tale of the brief but vicious Eumeralla War in the lava lands of Victoria’s south-west. Here native clans, led by warriors with the anglicized names of Jupiter and Cocknose, put up stout resistance before being quickly wiped out by a force of the colony’s mounted police in 1844. Of course Tasmania’s own earlier Black War is well documented. This conflict and other factors decimated the original inhabitants. Along with the ‘convict stain’, our country’s frontier struggles have been neatly pushed under the carpet of our history for a very long time. The former now seems to be a badge of honour. The turmoil on the fringes of advancing white settlement, in contrast, although well recognised for much of this nation’s first century, disappeared from sight in the second. Reynolds has been largely instrumental in pulling this story of imperial war back into the nation’s consciousness, for all, in the third.

Reynolds first came to my attention as one of the talking heads in the illuminating SBS series  ‘First Australians’ – and he does indeed have a very fine head for television. His manner and mode of speech carries with it a certain gravitas indicating one would be foolish to doubt his views. He was equally impressive in the launch of ‘Forgotten War’ at a Hobart bookshop recently.

Looking back, when we tally the figures provided by notoriously unreliable contemporary sources for the amount of death and mayhem caused in the frontier war, the approximate number of twenty to thirty thousand casualties make these times the equivalent of the Indian Wars of Wild West notoriety. It seems that Australia did not miss out on a conflict in which an imperial power, with superior armaments, defeated and subjugated an indigenous people. The question Reynolds ponders is whether or not the combatants of the time actually regarded what was happening as ‘war’. Reynolds leaves us with little doubt that, from the colonial administration down, they did. He enlists much historical notation to prove his point. This was no quick victory though. In many areas the locals did not put away their spears and waddies easily; organising opposition to the invaders that lasted right through till the 1930’s, only twenty years before I entered the world. That is a sobering thought. No state or territory was spared. There has been a ‘great Australian silence’ on the matter, but now the ‘whispering in our hearts’ has been frog marched out into the open. We finally have made a start on putting these matters to right, but I doubt that in my lifetime names such as Pemulwuy, Mosquito and Jandamarra will be as venerated as those of Monash, Morshead and Blamey.

Australia is an unusual country in that it takes as ‘its coming of age’ a military defeat on a far away foreign shore, as well as its national day being the moment the country was invaded, leading to another defeat; that of our native peoples. In my view, neither event is something we should be inordinately proud of – but if one is seared into our collective consciousness, it is only right and proper that so should the other. Henry Reynolds is doing his bit to ensure that happens.

Raymond Evans' review of 'The Forgotten War' =

Stephen Wright's column =

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Native Berries

Harris, Me and the Deutz

Me was a boy taken from his dysfunctional parents shortly after the last war and then farmed out by the authorities to whichever relative would have him. He travelled light – the barest minimum of clothing, a few comics and his treasures, precious ‘artistic’ postcards of native maidens. The latter provided him with a certain currency and some tingly feelings ‘down there’. Eventually all his close kin rejected him and the powers to be had to search further afield. He eventually found a loving home with some distant – in both senses of the word – rellies out in the backblocks. These were the poor but generous Larson family on their decrepit, but fully working farm.

Harris, the youngest of the Larson brood, ‘ached’ for those, as he put it, ‘dirty pictures’ for he enjoyed feeling ‘tingly’ too. He, with his great mate Me, had fantastical adventures with attack roosters, a ferocious lynx cat and a pair of Clydesdales made gun-shy as Harris attempted to emulate his hero, Gene Autry. Then there were those commie-jap pigs to be dealt with. Barefooted, with their sole apparel dirty dungarees, the duo ran wild around the environs of the farm, engaging in scatterbrained projects including just exactly how to replicate a Tarzan adventure as viewed in a comic in a barnyard, as well as what would happen if a washing machine engine was attached to a rusty old bike? Then there were ‘science experiments’ such as what would be the result of a stream of piddle, emanating from Harris, coming into contact with an electric fence? A seriously frizzled wozzle, that’s what! Every other adventure had a similarly disastrous, but hilarious, outcome.

I do miss it – reading ‘Harris and Me’ to my enthralled charges over the last decade or so of my time at the chalkface. The book also provided a severe test of my own self control, for, no matter how many times I read the thing to my assembled students as they followed in their own copies, at some stage or other I would inevitably crack up and have to put the book down to wipe away my tears. Seeing their aged teacher dissolving into paroxysms of laughter only added to the allure of the book for my delighted cohorts. They were the good times of teaching, reading ‘Harris and Me’ to the young people of Yolla School. With many being farm kids themselves, they related to the vicissitudes of life on the land.

Gary Paulsen, the Canadian author/adventurer responsible for these fine vignettes of the sort of life that town-bred children will never experience, was quite prolific – but I haven’t read any more of his oeuvre. Why would I? ‘Harris and Me’ was perfect for my purposes, along with Colin Bowles’ ‘Surfing with Mr Petrovic’ and Tim Winton’s ‘Lockie Leonard Scumbuster’. All three titles are boys’ own adventures and I adored reading them aloud. Teaching heterogeneous mixed gender classes, I was always aware of the problem that the main protagonists in the titles were males, for sadly, whereas girls would ‘put up’ with this, if it were the reverse, boys never would. I made sure that in the short stories I selected to present there were feisty young women at their core.

I cannot wait for my precious granddaughter to age just a tad more and be closer to me when her parents move back to Hobart. She’ll probably get heartily sick of her old Poppy wanting to read picture books to her. For him it’ll be one of the joys of life!

So what is the link between Paulsen’s raucous tome and Deutz buses? Well it was Melinda Tankard Reist’s column in a recent Sunday Age that started me ruminating. Written under the banner of ‘Porno Invasion is Distorting the Lives of the Young’, it reminded me of my introduction to the ‘joys’ of the flesh – or at least the imaginings thereof. Back in the day I had little idea of exactly what it was that I was imagining – today’s young males are unfortunately overtly confronted with it, even if their viewings are a false reality. In her article Reist quotes disturbing facts about how early large percentages of children are subjected to the distortions of a ‘pornified’ world with resulting equally disturbing implications. It is salutary reading in the extreme; a universe far away from my first now oh so innocent investigations, indulged in at a similar age, way back when. As with Harris and Me, following on from them in the early sixties, my first foray was via similar dusky maidens in the pages of National Geographic and other non-fictions from the more ‘primitive’ parts of our planet – the interior of Africa, Pacific islands, Australia’s Western Desert and the glories of a more innocent Bali. Until that Deutz bus entered my life, these were my only experiences of unclad females in pictorial, or any other form, in all their wondrous variations, till Playboy came into my orbit towards the end of my teenage years. For many fellow baby-boomers the tale would have been similar, methinks.

My lovely, long departed father, bless him, was a bus driver for the bulk of his working days. In 1948 he was sent north from his life in Hobart to inaugurate the Burnie/Launceston route for the government owned Green Coach Lines. A decade or so on and along came the Deutz. This was the leviathan of modern day charabancs, and I remembered its arrival in Burnie and how proud I was that it was my father at the wheel for its introduction to my provincial town. I was at the depot eagerly awaiting my first sighting, but its entrance at first assaulted my ears with a low roar as it negotiated the Marine Board Corner and proceeded along North Terrace. When it turned into the passenger drop off area there I was, transfixed. My old man bought the heaving bus to a standstill, switched off the engine to the appreciation of a small audience of onlookers and stepped out of the shining snub-nosed behemoth. All were palpably impressed by this new addition to the fleet with its radical design features and obviously increased carrying capacity, made possible by retractable seating down its aisle. I reckon health and safety would consider that a no-no today. This was indeed a bus like no other. It was the sheer epitome of power and the latest of technology. It was as if a bullet train had replaced the lumbering Tasman Limited on the island’s rail tracks. For my father, though, it turned out it was something of a beast to drive

And soon I was riding the beast too! In my immediate pre-teen years it was a less stringent time and I was my father’s off-sider on many a trip to Launceston. I would help with the loading and delivery of freight, carried in a caboose up back with the massive, throbbing engine. I would also manipulate the arm that opened and closed the door to allow passengers to alight. The Bass Highway back then was a much different animal to the sleek four-laned autobahn it is today. It was narrow and winding being with, for the first part of its journey, religious in following the coastal indentations of the sea until Ulverstone. After that it took inland, up hill and down dale until Devonport/Latrobe; followed by ‘the Forest’ through to Deloraine. Then came the least demanding sector, through to the steep tortuous decline into the city on the Tamar. By the end of it all my father was spent from heaving that bus around so many corners and the mental attention required to drive such a large object in such slim confines. He’d been up at six and still had the return journey that would not see him take to his bed till around eleven that night. As a result, he and his fellow drivers had a room upstairs in the Launceston coach headquarters to enable them to catch a few hours’ kip. And that’s where they were – the magazines that were a far softer entry into the world of feminine curves than what my equivalents have to contend with today.

Firstly there were copies of ‘Pix’ and ‘Australian Post’ with their relatively demure bikinied pin-ups of modern womanhood. Getting racier, there was also ‘Man’ allowing, for the first time, this callow youth to view bare-breasted Caucasian women. Exciting stuff, but not the ultimate; not the holy grail – in the pile of mags were also ‘art’ periodicals of German nudists. I studied that language at school so I knew their origin. Amazingly for that era, inside the covers one could see ‘everything’. Well almost everything – there was something about them that monumentally puzzled me. I just couldn’t figure them out. Although some of the poses were full frontal, where I had a vague idea that there should be something of a feminine genital nature ‘down below’, in that general area there was just a certain haziness, so I was unable to discern exactly what that ‘something’ was! Of course I later found out about air-brushing – and what a job that must have been for someone on the other side of the world - that air-brushing gig. But that’s the point – there was mystery. I was introduced to it all so gradually – a much softer, gentler intro than these poor kids of the current day. They are confronted with much pinkness, much grunting and so much demeaning of the fairer gender.

So, whilst my father gently snored, a whole new world of possibility was opening up for me. I couldn’t wait to have access to it in real life. I felt the same stirrings as Harris when he first spied Me’s postcards. They were good feelings – feelings I never felt guilty about. How would I have reacted confronted by aggressive pounding sex force fed from cyberspace, with its abhorrent misogyny towards the women participating? When we, back then, reached the age to actually engage in the act, I suspect most men had no real notion of what to expect from their partners; of how their chosen ones should perform. What notions must male youths of today have of their conjugal initiations? What acts would they expect their girl friends to perform? It does not bear thinking about.

Yes, I cannot wait to read aloud again. My beautiful, precious grandchild is quickly approaching the age when that will be possible for me – when she will nestle down on her Poppy’s lap, book in hand, relishing the places the old man will take her to. I also live in hope that, by the time our collective grandchildren reach the age of Harris and Me, a way has been found to regulate away the easy acquisition of porn from the naivety of tender minds so that expectations are realistic and full of tingliness. Their journey into the sexual world should be one of mutual discovery, imagination and, above all, partaken at a pace sedate and reverential.

Melinda Tankard Reist’s article =

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Burnie Port

Kanye West, Country Boys and a Walkin’, Talkin’ Angel

Now I knew practically nothing about Kanye West and that is the way it will remain after the few facts I discerned from googling. Wikipedia tells me he is a hip-hop artist, then goes on to inform that rap is a sub-genre. He is, by their account, very, very famous and sells by the bucket load. Then I realised I did know one thing - that he was the self-indulgent prat who leapt up on stage at the 2009 MTV Video Awards and dissed Taylor Swift for daring to win a gong ahead of his good mate Beyonce. No, I couldn’t imagine a more different musical world from those of his type (with their bling, musical misogyny, entourages, diva demands of promoters, strident emphasis as being deserving of ‘respect’ as well as, of course, super-inflated egos) and the two knockabout lads I saw on stage this last Friday eve. So it was to everyone’s surprise when ARIA announced a few weeks back that these two boys, from Grafton and Geelong, had the number one album in the country, ahead of Mr West’s latest. No, that couldn’t possibly be the case! Sure enough, the beancounters at ARIA did have it wrong, so the duo had to settle for second on the charts – no mean feat in itself. The two had paid their dues in spades so were thoroughly deserving and boy, can they put on a show!

Into the city they came. From the Coal Valley and the hardscrabble acres of the Southern Midlands the punters came. From the summer bushfire devastated communities of the Peninsula and the Upper Derwent Valley they came. Up from the valleys of my own provenance, down the Huon and Channel, they trooped. They were out for a good time; they were out to forget about life’s trials and tribulations for a while; the travails which are, ironically, largely the fodder for every classic country hymn. There was no conspicuous bling to be had with this lot; just blue jeans and simple attire for the sons and daughters of the farms and bush of this island. Their lined faces and furrowed necks told that, what they were about to listen to, they had been through. There were no airs and graces here, no Sandy Bay hipsters – these were the people of hard yakka; the people who loved their country music.

It was their album of country classics that was the surprise interloper of charts dominated by screeching, pelvis-thrusting, vacuous brats and one-hit wonder X-Factor winners – here today, gone tomorrow. These two have performed their way around this vast country of ours for years and are here to stay. Those of us gathered in a full room at Hobart’s casino were about to find out the reason for their ‘Great Country Songbook’s’ prominence on the best-seller list. These two don’t need digital technology to enhance their voices – they can belt out a tune, and when we weren’t stompin’, we were spellbound.

Of course they had something everlasting to work with, for these American and Aussie tunes they raised their voices to were songs the crowd had grown up with; had lived a life to – and they knew all the words too, every single one. In between the numbers our two leading men told yarns so grand of their own dalliances with country giants and stirred the shit out of each other with their humorous asides. Then they continued on, singing their hearts out to the tune of steel guitar and honky-tonk piano. No, there’d be a world of difference to a Kanye West stadium show, with flashing lights and gyrating bimbos, to this humble, simple affair of two laid-back fellows having a good time – and I know where I’d much rather be.

Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey that night evoked the memory of those treasured icons now departed – Freddy Fender (even singing in Spanish), the Silver Fox (Charlie Rich), the Man in Black, the incomparable Hank Williams and now we have recently lost the Possum (George Jones) too. Some are still with us – the Hag (Merle Haggard) is still rasping out ‘An Okie from Muskogee’ and Charlie Pride is about to tour out here again. Kristofferson’s voice is almost shot judging by his last album and Glen Campbell is doing the rounds one more time, before he succumbs to his terminal condition. As for Willie, well he just keeps on being Willie. Then Adam and Troy referenced Slim, with reverential renditions of a couple of timeless bush ballads. Despite their eminent or completed demises, the spirits of these legends lived on in that room last Friday eve, for the country diamonds they must have sung a million times, in their pomp and beyond, will never die - at least whilst troubadours like Cassar-Daley and Harvey are around, steeped in the lore of the genre.

There was a further spirit in the room, that of a father/grandfather who died too young but passed on the country music gene to his eldest and to his granddaughter. Yes, I was accompanied by my beautiful Katie to the affair – a daughter who for so long kept her own love of country a secret for most of her formative years for its perceived branding of uncoolness. She has now well and truly dispensed with that attitude. Her adoration of country music, as well as of a certain football team, is my pride and joy. She has been fully aware of Troy’s country chops for some time, but Adam was new to her. By performance end, though, she had another addition to her list of ‘crushes’ to rival Josh Ritter and Robbie (the Plonker) Williams. Adam won her over with his Waylonesque lower register coming in under Troy’s higher range, his sly wit and easy charm honed by a decade and more of gigs on the road. And he is pretty good looking to boot. It was only the second show of their tour supporting the album, and obviously Troy had not heard much of his friend’s comedic patter before, and I loved the way Troy’s face seemed to disappear, at frequent intervals, into his open mouthed guffaws in response. I had already met Adam in a far different guise back in my teaching days, with from that knowing the humanity he possesses as well. He is more than worthy of my Katie’s gushes.

When they chimed in together, creating perfect harmony on:-                             
There were seven Spanish angels at the altar of the sun
They were praying for the lovers in the valley of the guns
When the battle stopped and the smoke cleared
There was thunder from the throne
And seven Spanish angels took another angel home

I thought of my own precious mother who loves the Willie/Ray Charles’ standard and how I wished she could have been with me on my other side.

Will that gene Fred Lovell gave me be passed on down now to my own granddaughter? I know Katie and I will be doing our best to immerse her in such tunes as these to ensure that it happens. The Taylor Swifts and her ilk ensure it isn’t that uncool these days. Little Tessa had only arrived down from up north the day before, and I was able to view and hear first hand her newly minted aptitude for words and walks – and she entranced me just as much with her exploits as did Troy/Adam later. My Poppet is a darling little angel and if the first song she trills is a country one, I’ll have a smile as wide as heaven.

So, thank you Troy, Adam and Tessa for giving me a memorable few days. I sincerely hope that the hints given by the former two of a second volume of classics come to pass as well. In the last twelve months I have had the privilege of attending concerts by the sublime Emmylou and a spirited Kasey, but for my money these two country boys were the pick.

Troy and Adam sing a Slim classic =

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Table Cape Where The Soil is Good Enough to Put on a Plate and Eat

A Blue Room Book Review - The Lucy Family Alphabet – Judith Lucy

It is still possible to get a good topping-up of Adam Hills – his stand-up tours, ‘The Last Leg’ and his eponymous Wednesday night ABC show – but it is not the same. That night of the week, without ‘Spicks and Specks’ at its fulcrum, is now simply an anti-climax. Mr Hills, together with Alan ‘Walking Music Encyclopaedia’ Brough and the delicious Myf ‘I've seen Frank Woodley's privates, been naked under a desk with Pete Murray’ Warhurst had some of the best chemistry seen on the small screen. As great as RocKwiz is, featuring the combo of Julia Z, Brian N and Dougal (of the hairy armpits), it is no substitute for the trio who gave Hump Day its zing. We are reliably informed that there is a new series of the much missed and lamented Oz’s take on the UK pop-culture quiz show ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ coming, but without the golden three I suspect it will be a fizzer. Can you imagine ‘The Gruen’ without Wil Anderson, Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson, or ‘Would I Lie to You’ without Rob Brydon, David Mitchell and Lee Mack????

Along with its mainstays, ‘Spicks and Specks’ came with a regular rota of our brightest musical and comedic talent. High on the list of attractions was its showcasing of the best of the country’s female stand-ups - Cal Wilson, Fiona O’Loughlin, Julia Morris, Meshal Laurie, Denise Scott and the beauteous Kitty Flanagan. Their quick witted asides and often self-deprecating humour charmed us as we curled on our sofas in front of the box. Of course they were easier on the eye than their male counterparts, and matched them with their chops in the notoriously difficult art of making the punters laugh. The profession of standup is fiendishly hard to make it in, but these feisty, spunky ladies are willing to bare all with their monologues and one-liners – to put themselves out there with the constant danger of being knocked down and humiliated. They are simply fantastic – they make our world so much funnier, and therefore a much happier place to be in. It is therefore not surprising that these energetic women have had success in other areas such as radio, television acting and in print.

That being all said, I still cannot ‘take to’ Judith Lucy. I do not recall her ever being a regular on ‘Spicks and Specks’ – she may have made the odd appearance, but I suspect the acerbic nature of some of her humour would not be an ideal fit. Even in another Wednesday night feature, ‘The Agony of Life’, I found myself grateful she wasn’t my ‘aunt.’ There is just something about her that I find challenging to watch. Even as recently as last week, in her role as temporary presenter on ‘At The Movies’, I soon switched off – come back Margaret and David! It was the same with her ‘Spiritual Journey’, highly lauded by some – I just could not watch. To me there seems to be an air of desperation about her. The acidity with which she delivers some of her comedy, the physicality of her body language does not appeal – her frankness and her willingness to take me to places that as a male I do not want to go are negatives I cannot cope with. I know all this definitely says more about your scribe that it does about the lady in question, and I thought that would be it until I read an extract of this book in some magazine. I had to read more.

The lady can write. ‘The Lucy Family Alphabet’ is her warts and all memoir, with it in part probably explaining some of the underlying reasons I do find her so ‘confronting’. Her childhood was not a happy place and there is much pathos in this book as she battles to keep it all together with a mother and father who were not the most nurturing twosome to be born to. And there is the nub – it took her to age 25 to discover that she was in fact not born to them – she was adopted. This fact was discovered at one of the family’s truly awful Christmas dinners – on another occasion dad tried to murder son – and came from the lips of her sister-in-law. Everyone else knew, but not our Lucy. I couldn’t imagine what that would do to me. Despite not being his birth daughter, Judith still inherited some of her father’s problems with the bottle – and, just quietly, that is no wonder after all she went through. Her mother, although a beauty for much of her life, was nonetheless a hypochondriac of the first order. There is another mother, a ‘normal’ one, happily in Judith’s life now. Her dysfunctional parents formed the basis of her comedy for years until Ms Lucy had an epiphany when a fan reported to her that she must truly hate them. She recoiled at this – what she had always felt towards them, or so she thought, was love. The book makes this quite clear – it must have been a labour of love and for that I trust it was cathartic as well.

This book fits as a counter to such cosy, but nonetheless delightful, remembrances such as William McInnes’ ‘A Man’s Got to Have His Hobbies’. There is nothing delightful about ‘The Lucy Family Alphabet’. As I tucked up with it these past winter nights, under my doona, my reactions to her prose ranged from great guffaws, to gentler chortles to wiping away tears – the mark of being in a more than competent wordsmith’s hands. The alphabetical structure is novel and well handled. The narrative of her life is still seamless despite the limitations this choice would presumably cause – another tribute to her ability.

So, even if I could not bring myself to appreciate her visual efforts, I will readily read the product of whenever else she decides to open up in print again. She has my respect in spades. In future, when watching her on the small screen, I will regard her in a different light and try to be less threatened!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Floral Glory


Picture this: a quiet corner of France, near the Spanish border. The World War is drawing to a close; a war that has only touched lightly on these sun-dappled foothills of the Pyrenees. An artist of venerable years is sharing an al fresco peasant repast with his much, much younger model. She has just taken him to heaven, back in the cobwebby, dust-moted, ramshackle studio behind them. One suspects it has been many a year since he has physically experienced the body of a beautiful maiden. He knows it will be the last time she will grant him that pleasure too, for on the morrow she departs, with a reference letter from him to Matisse in Marseilles. Still he feels rejuvenated. For this man of sombre mood and few words, he is feeling understandably buoyant and loquacious.
‘You know,’ Marc Gros informs the girl, his singular lover, ‘there are only two proofs that god exists. One of them is woman. You see he created Eve – created her first solely to keep him company.’
‘And I suppose the other proof is man,’ the artist’s Eve speculated.
No, no, no! God would not be so idiotic to create a creature as stupid as man. No, Adam was the result of his union with Eve – this was the original sin,’ Gros pontificated as Merce took another bite of her apple.
‘If that is so, then what is the second proof that you speak of?’
The old sculptor took a small glass pitcher from his table, and poured a drop of oil onto his forefinger. He then pressed that finger to her lips. ‘That is,’ he responded.

To my mind, that is as fine a definition of the existence of an ultimate being as any. The other one I like is, ‘God is the sum total of all the good people who have ever existed,’ or words to that effect. In some of my scribblings I refer to god as ‘She in the Sky’. I enjoy that thought, in line with some of the ancients who subscribed to a Mother God. Methinks we need a softer, more compassionate god than the hard male one we have endured since the dawn of Western Civilisation. By clasping all of humanity to her breast the animosity between our tribes would diminish to zilch. She would hover protectively over us as climate change prepares to bring our planet to the brink. My daily life is largely godless, even if this heathen can reflect on the times he has been touched by the hand of god – but they are tales for another time! But as the camera intimately caresses the naked body of the artist’s model, in the same way as later in the movie she caressed his, my concurrence with the old man’s notion of a god is complete. Captured in the subdued, lustrous hues of black and white, ‘The Artist and the Model’ is part of the Spanish Film Festival currently touring the country. Even we here in Hobart received a few samples. Directed by Fernando Trueba, for a while I couldn’t see where this bucolic effort was heading – apart from it being a meditation on the beauty of youth and the ravages of age, as well as having something to say on the process by which flesh can made to be supple in marble.

Then the war does intervene, although never harshly. A German officer comes to visit, an old friend of Gros’ who, in a former life, was an exhibitor of his masterpieces. As they parted they embraced, for this too was a last time. Old age would catch up with one, the Russian front with the other. And the woodland sprite also has a secret or two!

Gros’ wife is played by Claudia Cardinale, who, as with Aida Folch’s portrayal of the muse does now, once made male hearts race with her own body. Hers is a lovely, restrained and touching performance as someone still totally enamoured of her man. She understands that ‘only doctors and artists are males permitted to see unclothed female bodies outside of wedlock.’ She recruited the seemingly homeless young girl for Gros accordingly.

Folch initially brings an earthiness to the part of the model, and she is rarely clothed throughout. Her ample hairiness differentiates those times from these, but she is coarse in manner as she is swarthy. Magically, as the film progresses and the artist warms to her, she becomes luminous, more womanly in the contemporary notion.

Jean Rochefort has been a bastion of the French film industry since the sixties. Now an octogenarian, he doesn’t need words to act. The single scene where his supine goddess reaches up to gently stoke his haggard old face is pure cinematic gold. From his eyes alone you know this is the final time such pleasure will be experienced. With his wife away and his model soon to be, now that the roads are safe, the viewer knows how the end will come. With age threatening to emasculate his skills, his preferred means of demise is inevitable.

‘The Artist and the Model’ is awash with charm and mellow quietude, but nonetheless still profound for that. It could easily lead those of us of a certain age to rue and regret now that the winter of our time is approaching. This viewer, though, will take Gros’ suggestion and happily ruminate on the pleasures of womanhood and olive oil instead.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Boat Harbour

A Burnie Tale

Part 1 – Ocean Beach

 Despite the cliché, it was the summer of ’69 when it happened. It really was. We were at Gardiner Point, south of the Arthur River. Nowadays this place goes by a different label – the ‘Edge of the World’, and there’s a plaque there saying so! It’s a sort of tourist attraction these days, but back then it was a fairly isolated spot. From the little viewing platform, if you stand facing the ocean, there is not the slightest land mass between you and Patagonia, and this area boasts the globe’s most untainted air. I have no idea what Paul was up to, but he had disappeared for a time – probably in the scrub behind us answering a call to nature. He was usually joined at the hip to her, but he gave us time – just enough time to have my life turned upside down.

We’d had an early pre-dawn start to get there and back in a single day. We were in Paul’s EJ Holden, better than my Fiat – with the suicide doors – for that sort of distance, so I was relegated to the back seat. She shared the front one with Paul – and back in those prior to compulsory seat-belt days it was of the bench variety. In truth I was a little pissed off and was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it. I was besotted with her, but whatever her relationship with Paul was; it was a seemingly ever increasing impediment to me advancing my cause. I didn’t know then what I was to discover not much further down the track. Whilst she and Paul rabbited on up front, as was the norm on such excursions, I had no enthusiasm to make a contribution. I was becoming drawn to the conclusion that my chances with her were zilch. I had a decision to make and it was weighing on my mind as the old EJ powered towards our destination. Having completed my matriculation, to continue on in education would mean a move down south – to Hobart. It was looking that she was not going to be a factor in that decision. A move to university would take me away from Raissa, her constant companion and Burnie. I wonder now how my life would have panned out if that briefest of situations at Gardiner Point had not occurred – had he not left her to me for those oh so significant moments. Thinking back, it may have been because Raissa had picked up on my state of mind, spurring her on to take some action – to also make her decision.

I had asked her on several occasions, since first laying eyes on her back in the early winter, when he was out of earshot, just what was her relationship with Paul? Was it more than just friendship? She always gave the same enigmatic and infuriating reply – that I didn’t need to worry about him. The hours I’d spent ruminating and dwelling on those words! Could they truly mean that she regarded me as something ‘more’ than my presumed competitor?

Paul all too soon emerged from the bush and rejoined us looking out to sea. What had transpired in the short time he was absent meant he was coming back to a young man still inwardly reeling and spinning from her few sweetly whispered words.

Burnie, back in ’69, had not yet devolved into the largely service centre it is now. It was very industrial, with the Pulp (paper products), Titan (paint pigments) and acid plant (god knows what) pouring out vile smoke into the atmosphere, as well as red gunk into a discoloured sea. It had plenty of work available for someone starting out, like myself, unlike current times. What it lacked was some sort of entertainment for those not into doing interminable ‘blockies, or gyrating at the disco above the betting shop. That is why I took to spending Friday nights at a non-denominational church fellowship group – I wasn’t then, or now, religious; it was just something to do. But as soon as I joined there quickly became another attraction. Whereas I was completing my Burnie education, Judy was still in B class – year 10. She was cute, bubbly and always smiling. But I felt she had a special twinkle in her eyes just for me. I expect I thought she was a tad young for me and we certainly weren’t an ‘item’, but there was enough happening to keep me coming along. She was the daughter of the pastor running the show, so I suspect she had no choice. During in the various activities and Bible studies we always seemed to find ourselves together; this gorgeous freckled-faced, curly haired brunette and I. Thoughts of her back in the early months of ’69 warmed my solitary nights and gave my life an extra spark.

Then one Friday eve there were two new faces at the gathering – Raissa and Paul. I knew of them both. Paul was in my same year at school. Raissa was, up until then, the nameless girl often at the counter of the Greek take away across the road from the church buildings she had recently entered for the first time. In those days, prior to golden arches and secret chook recipes, the chicko rolls, dim sims and fish ‘n’ chips from across the way were recognised as the best in town. The pastor assigned his daughter to take the new comers under her wing with the result they quickly came into my orbit. Paul and I had something in common through our attendance at Burnie High even if he, unlike me, moved in cooler circles. He was tanned, blonde and sporty – what the Yanks would term a ‘jock’. I was very surprised to find him gracing us with his presence. I found out later that he was attempting to date Raissa and, although hers were not stereotypically strict parents, this was all they would allow her to attend with a boy. As Raissa was unsure of Paul’s motives, it also gave her some ‘neutral’ territory where she could feel more comfortable.

They therefore became regulars and ‘adopted’ me – having me tagging along ‘protected’ her from Paul – but, again, I didn’t know that then. There was so much I didn’t know leading up to that summer of ’69.

Gradually we started to spend time together away from the church, and after another month or so we found the drive-in on the outskirts of town a more enjoyable way of whiling away the lead in to the weekend. Soon I had forgotten all about Judy, but she, as it turned out, was definitely not finished with me!

We soon had a routine as a threesome – Somerset drive-in, the footy at West Park of a Saturday arvo and usually, a Sunday drive. As the temperatures began to rise West Beach (despite the state of the water) also attracted our patronage. Less popular than Hilder Parade fronting the surf club further along the strand, it was still more populated than these days – the message has largely cut through now it seems. We would spread our towels on the sand, Raissa’s always in the middle with us two lads as outriders. Up until this stage I saw her as ‘belonging’ to Paul, but the first time I saw her in a bikini that spring it felt that the earth shifted beneath that towel. She looked incredible – a raven haired Ursula Andress emerging from the briny – and to think, we actually swam in all that pollution back in those innocent times. My muted pleasure in her company now turned to pure lust, and I re-evaluated very quick smart how I felt about matters pertaining to her. On the other hand Paul displayed no animosity to me and my constant attendance. He was always ‘up’ – he was that sort of guy – and in my sight never lay a finger on Raissa’s honey-hued anatomy. As a pair, and that’s how I thought of them, they were hard to read. So between this vibrant young woman and her bikini my tentative plans of a move down south were pushed to the background. Now, if only I could extract her away from Paul.

As summer approached and I said my goodbyes to school, I worked the ‘shut-down’ at the Pulp, cleaning machinery and sweeping floors. Raissa worked week days at the family business, but her folks were savvy enough to know that, as the Seventies approached, a young, vibrant seventeen year old woman-to-be such as their daughter needed her weekends. She remained free to accompany Paul and I about town and beyond.

It took her a few seconds to realise Paul’s absence – I in contrast was electrifyingly aware. She looked around and quickly took my hand. Up on tip-toes she stood and placed her lips close to my ear and breathily said the words that are now etched into my very being – ‘You know you are the one, don’t you? I am yours, if you’ll have me.’ With that she placed her hands on either side of my face and gave me the most delicate of pecks on my lips.

I had no time to respond before we heard the sounds of Paul forcing his way back through the scrub, so we quickly disengaged. To me it all seemed over in a flash. For me the trip back was almost insufferable as Raissa and her ‘constant companion’ shared that EJ Holden’s front pew, but I noticed that Paul was casting more glances than usual at a much more subdued Raissa. I was dropped off first, and I was beside myself calculating sufficient time for the girl I desired more that anything in the world to reach home, assuming there was no sidetracking involved en route. There wasn’t, and as soon as I responded to the question of ‘having her’ the joy on the other end of the line was palpable. She laughed in that deep throaty way I adored and stated, ‘I’m so pleased Jim.’ I couldn’t believe my luck.

Paul hung around us for a while, but he soon deduced that the dynamics had changed. If he was put out about it in any way he didn’t let on, but a month or so later he informed us that he would be the one heading off to Hobart, escaping Burnie. Of course, I soon discovered that leaving Burnie for Raissa was not negotiable, but I had no qualms about knowing that. It was in this town that my future would be mapped out.

My Raissa – my beautiful, beautiful Raissa. Short cropped silky black hair to run my fingers through; deep hazel eyes to drown in; sleek, spice-tinged olive skin to caress; voluptuous soft breasts to rest my head against forever and a day – she was to be my Burnie Greek angel for life – and so it turned out.

After Gardiner Point, naturally it all heated up somewhat. With us both living with our parents, it was difficult to find places to be alone. Our nights at the drive-in continued, remembering little of the B-grade movies involved. Now our summer drives in the little Fiat were more about espying secluded spots than the scenery. As the weeks rolled by we stopped short of ‘going all the way’. Her virginity was important to her. She wanted to be absolutely sure and I respected that. But what fun we had exploring each others bodies; discovering what we liked, what was a place too far. As the summer of ’69 became a new decade I settled into my new position as a cadet accountant at the Pulp. I knew my feelings for Raissa were as deep as Bass Strait was wide. I was positive she was ‘the one’ so I visited that well known jewellers in Wilson Street, Burnie’s main drag.

We’d saved for and planned the Strahan weekend for some time, hoping the Fiat would make it along the hilly, winding Murchison okay. It did. I had booked a small cabin for the Saturday – it was to be the first whole night we’d have had together. To say that I was in a fug of ecstatic anticipation wouldn’t be overstating it. That afternoon, on a warm day, we cruised up to view the cool, in both senses of the word, reflections on the glorious Gordon, before we settled into our accommodation. We made ready for the evening ahead, supping on a bottle of champagne out on the deck to watch the sun go down. Raissa excused herself for a short time after that. I soon realised she’d also been doing some shopping, and re-emerged wearing something flowing and diaphanous in black, setting off her colouring and spellbinding cleavage to a tantalising tee. She bent over me and whispered, ‘I’m surer of this than I’ve ever been anything, Jim.’

By morning we had both passed another milestone in our lives together. I cannot say that it was perfect. That would come with more practice – but it was bliss. We drove out to Ocean Beach, that endless stretch of snowy white sand and the detritus of a wild ocean that stretched all the way to Patagonia. It was blowing an almost-gale so it was difficult to find a spot to carry out my intention. Eventually we discovered a sheltered cranny between two dunes. I sat down and gently motioned her onto my lap. I didn’t say a word, produced the little box, placing the ring on her finger. Nor did she utter a word in response, but cried a little before she stood. She tugged me upwards and hand-in-hand we walked back to the little Fiat with the suicide doors.

We were about to commence our Burnie journey through life for, on that day, we both knew. I, however, didn’t count on Judy.

Part 2 – The Leaving

Being Burnie, they came from all directions, or so I am told. One minute I am casually perambulating down Wilson Street, intent on shopping tasks – the next I am groggily coming to, face down on the pavement. I am being comforted and supported by a bevy of concerned fellow shoppers, and I can hear the siren-call of an approaching ambulance. Something had hit me a powerful blow – not from the outside, but from the inside – there was a fleeting notion of a huge kick in my chest as if something alien was in there, attempting to get out.

Tomorrow another ambulance will ferry me down to Hobart, to the Royal for an operation – and I am scared, scared shitless. I am so restless – sleep will just not come. The doctor has informed me that there are blockages in the arteries around the heart, and I am in dire need of stents. The op is too delicate for our base hospital here, so I have a journey to make. Whilst she informed me that the procedure is generally successful, there is some chance I will not survive the trauma to my already weakened vital organ. She informed me that, had I been a smoker, my chances of succumbing would have been much greater, so I am thankful for that.

I’ve now had twenty-four hours to get used to the idea after Dr Chung stabilized me for the trip. Raissa left me a couple of hours ago. I told her. I felt I had no alternative. I told her what had been weighing on my mind ever since I read that article in the Oz a few weeks ago. I suppose in one sense she took it better than I expected. After I confessed, she initially left the room for a while, but came back, wanting to know some ‘details’. I found it difficult to elaborate – I was still zonked out from my medications, so I bet some of what I related wouldn’t have made much sense. As well there were interruptions from the nursing staff checking on me. But what made it so, so onerous was the obvious. It is so damnably hard to tell the one who loves you the most something she doesn’t want to hear. Of course, it was no trifle; it had been going on for the best part of twenty years. I’d hidden it from her, but after that article I knew she had to know – I just didn’t expect it would have to be so soon. I wanted more time – but it seems time may be taken away from me due to my dicey prognosis. I went over it all for her, and now sleep will not come this last night I might ever spend in Burnie. Despite the confidence of my physician, this dread in my gut simply will not go away.

Raissa. All these years we’d stuck at it. It has been a good marriage by anyone’s measurement; a successful one – one of the few, it seems, these days. She is still a gorgeous looking woman – that has never been it. It was through no fault of hers that I did what I did. It was a bit like that Paul Kelly song – the irony being it was an album Raissa bought me not so long ago knowing of my love for his music.

After I had proposed, well sort of, all those years ago down on Ocean Beach, we waited till Raissa turned eighteen before we made our intentions general knowledge. We were so young, but we knew. Paul was amongst the first to congratulate us, attending the wedding as one of my groomsmen – that seemed only fitting. At first Raissa’s parents were taken aback, me not being of the faith and all that. But they weren’t typical Greek parents – they were pretty open, even when I took to staying overnight in her room. I couldn’t get enough of her in those days. I had nothing to measure it by – not so much the case now – but we seemed to fit together magically and it was fun – there was always that deep, throaty laugh of hers. My parents adored Raissa, so for them it was a no-brainer.

We married at the same church where we’d had our initial introduction. The same pastor did the deed. Possibly we would have preferred a less traditional affair, like young people these days, but back then we knew what the oldies expected, so we went along with that. She wasn’t there – I hadn’t thought to invite her. I’d see her now and again about the town. We’d wave or exchange a few pleasantries. Then Judy disappeared and I didn’t give her another thought.

After a Gold Coast honeymoon we settled back into Burnie life. With her parent’s help we bought a home in a new hill sub-division – where we still live. We raised a family – two lads and a daughter, the latter an afterthought. All are doing well, with Tania now finishing off her law degree. She wanted a gap year after her school, but that went on and on till she finally decided on her present course. She looks set, as she is engaged to a Hobart lawyer some years her senior. She’ll be waiting for Raissa and me at the other end tomorrow. At least, I hope Raissa will be with me. The boys – well men – are on the Mainland. Shane manages a reef resort in Queensland and Kyle is an engineer up on the Pilbarra. They have all done well – we are so proud of them all, but it is mainly for Tania that I wanted her mother told. Tania is special – you know – dads and daughters!

Between pregnancies Raissa continued to serve behind the counter at her parent’s shop. When they retired and sold up, she kept on in various retailing positions around the town, ending up managing a woman’s wear store. As for me, I moved up the greasy pole at the Pulp while it was going well, but once the hard times bit that ended. I hung on till the writing was on the wall, then I semi-retired, doing some freelancing around the town. Money was somewhat tight for a while, but we are quite comfortable now we are empty nesters.

Then all of a sudden I was in my forties – the danger years, at least according to my mate who had some theories about men of that vintage and what he called the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’. I initially heard him out and scoffed, but it came back to me after a while that perhaps there had to be something more to life than being an accountant in a provincial town - like the one I was spending the best years of my life in. Burnie wasn’t the most exciting place going.  I remember walking along the beachside boardwalk with the pooch, as was my way most mornings. The local council had worked hard in recent years to transform Burnie’s image and it was now a port of call for ocean liners – something unheard of back in the day. I paused above the spot where those three towels were laid out all those years ago. I thought of how incredibly alluring Raissa looked in that mouth watering bikini that summer of ’69. I remembered back to that number she wore on that night in Strahan. Before kids she would spend whole summer days without a stitch on in the privacy of our home and backyard, and was a frequent customer at the lingerie shop to buy the items she knew made me all hot and bothered. Where was all that magic these days? She had gone into herself – became more demure as she matured. She could still turn heads; she just didn’t seem to want to turn mine any more. Was that to be it – one woman? I didn’t know the song back then, but if I had it would have encapsulated perfectly my yearnings–

I just wanna sleep with someone new
Someone I never met
Knowing it's a foolish thing to do
And should've cause regret
There is no reason
To do our love wrong
When we're together
It's sweet and strong
It's where I belong
But I just wanna sleep with someone new
Who doesn't know my name
That comes and takes my hand out of the blue
Just like in a dream

Maybe ‘Peter Pan’ had visited me after all!

And it happened. I had been going on footy trips to Melbourne with mates for a while and enjoyed them, just as Raissa seemed to enjoy the breaks from me. They were pretty harmless – a couple of games, some bevies about the city and then gifts for loved ones back across the Strait.  As it happens, I was on such a mission that Saturday morning when it occurred. I had taken the 112 Tram up from the city to Brunswick Street where there was a certain perfumery Raissa loved to visit on the few occasions she’d come along on the trips, ones where partners were welcomed. After I’d made my purchase and returned to the pavement, I spotted her coming towards me. It had been years, but I still recognised her – same lovely face, same freckles across the nose. I stopped dead, but she walked right on by – well I guess I was minus the hair I had when I first knew her, as well as now having a bit of a paunch. I called out her name and she halted and turned. For a while she seemed confused, as if searching her memory. I shouted ‘Jim’ – and her eyes lit up and she came rushing back, throwing her arms around me in greeting. At first the conversation was somewhat stilted, but when I asked what she was up to in Melbourne we soon realised we were creating a bit of a blockage, so we retired to a nearby coffee shop. She had married well. Her husband she met on a church symposium to Yarra City soon after Raissa and I were wed. He’d done well in business and she lived a comfortable existence down the Mornington Peninsula; a large modern home, two privately educated sons. The way she was kitted out, she wasn’t short of dosh! She came up to the city on shopping excursions once every couple of months, sometimes staying for a few days in a city hotel. Of course I told her my provenance, and before I knew it I was going to be late to meet the guys for the big match at the ‘G. She could have let me go then, and that would have been it. But she asked what I was doing after the game as she was spending the night in the city. We agreed to meet up for a meal. I didn’t know it then, but I sure would a few hours later. The dye was cast.

As soon as I spotted her in the Southbank restaurant I knew that it was more than a meal she had on her mind. That good Christian girl – at least when I knew her – was up for an evening with a bit more spice. The question – was I? She was dressed to make her intentions clear – something green, slinky and clingy. She was displaying a fair amount of cleavage to boot. I was taken aback, but once seated and with a few wines in me, there was no doubt I was into enjoying her company, and some flirting. The prices were astronomical at the eatery compared to what I was used to, but she informed me early on that it was her shout – to have what I wanted. As the night wore on, though, it became increasingly clear that it wasn’t only the fine food I wanted, and she made it perfectly clear to me she was of the same mind. She had me hooked – what could be the harm I thought.

Her room was at the Crown and was fit for a queen. I had accepted her invitation back for a nightcap, but as soon as we arrived she disappeared and yes, it was another cliché – she changed into something more comfortable. I suspect from the almost nothing that she was attired in that she always came to city prepared. The years had been kind to her and I was soon in her bed, soon divesting her of that something; soon knowing what it was like to sleep with another woman.

Footy trips became more frequent after that. I hasten to add though that Judy wasn’t involved in all of them, and sometimes Raissa came across too. I knew Judy had other lovers, and that we were nothing more than two people who enjoyed each other’s company with a bit of love making on the side. And so it went on. As time passed Judy and I met in Melbourne three of four times a year, both being scrupulously discrete with our arrangements. It seems she was well practiced in the art of a bit on the side. As time passed the gloss wore off the sex and it became less frequent. On some assignations it did not even occur. We were just content to enjoy all Melbourne had to offer. She still retained that vivaciousness that attracted me when she was a mere student, and it felt good having her on my arm out and about the city. The way she dressed; her attention to her appearance; her ability to be able to engage on most topics in conversation were attractive in the extreme She also made sure I was pampered on every level. I looked forward to those times we spent together, and it seemed to improve things with Raissa in some ways too – I was no longer ‘disappointed’. I could never stop loving my Raissa – only now that love had changed from what it was in those early years. Judy introduced me to the burlesque scene, which was just starting to take off back then in Melbourne, and that has become another pleasure that has remained. Judy occasionally ‘performed’ for me too. There is no way I’d go to a strip club, but burlesque appealed to me and it was something that Burnie definitely did not offer.

Then came that story in the Weekend Australian – the one of newly minted widows who, on sorting through their departed husbands’ goods and chattels, found evidence that their loving partners had secret lives, in the same way as I had. Now, despite all precautions, I couldn’t be one hundred per-cent positive that I had not slipped up in some way, or perhaps an acquaintance may have spotted my lover and I out and about over the Ditch. The tale of other cuckolded women, as reported in the newspaper, often had a profound affect on their well-being after their discoveries – most felt that part of their lives had been lived a lie. I couldn’t in all conscience let that happen to my beautiful Raissa – and now my demise was a distinct possibility. It had to be done.

After Raissa heard me out; after she had no more questions; after she had no more tears to shed; she stood up and left me. I knew how I had shocked her; I knew I had cut her to the quick – but I also knew I had finally done what was right. Of course, if the outcome of the operation was in my favour, I would never see Judy again, but would I also be in that boat with my precious Raissa too? In my foggy mind, thinking back over all this, the angels of sleep simply would not visit me.


‘Mr Frank, Mr Frank – you need to wake up. Wake up please, Mr Frank. We have to get you ready for the ambulance!’
From somewhere in the depths of the morass that was my brain I heard the words; then there came a gentle shake. My eyes slowly focused and I perceived a nurse standing over me, looking down.

Then I heard another voice. ‘Darling, don’t keep these people waiting.’ I looked around to my other side. There was my Raissa. She entwined her fingers in mine, and squeezed.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


Women With Allure

At around 7.40 every week night a certain frisson enters our cosy lounge room here by the river as we watch the ABC evening news. Will he be on, or will it be his wingman? If it is the latter there is just the slightest hint of a sigh from over yonder in my love’s armchair, for it just isn’t the same. Yes, my DLP (Darling Loving Partner) has a tiny ‘thing’ for Alan Kohler – his side kick, Phillip Lasker, is just not in the same league. If indeed it is Alan there’s no gushing from DLP, but I can usually expect a positive comment about this thinking woman’s crumpet – Tony Jones is just not in the race as far as DLP is concerned. It might be about the cut of his finely tailored suits, his enlightening explanation of the latest bear or bull market, his iconic graphs or, most significantly, his quirky bon mots. It almost makes a man want to purchase the latest from Saville Row or start drawing up cutesy graphs! Unlike your scribe, my DLP had no interest in lists and no interest in having favourite this or thats, but I know there is the merest of a hint of a weakness for Alan Kohler.

Now no other can light up my life like my beautiful DLP, and I worship her. Each and every day I thank my lucky stars she entered my world near enough to eighteen years ago; she being the major contributor to my contented state of mind in my dotage. In the real world she is my one and only, and since that fateful day, in a Burnie café, when I first laid eyes on her, I’ve never remotely countenanced anyone else for me. Who’d have this clapped out old chalkie in any case?

But that is the real world. If others of my gender are wired the same way as I, in the male mind there is another compartment – one that looks, appraises and if greatly impressed, may award the epithet – alluring. So following is my list of the alluring women of 2013 – seeing as how we are now half way through. I know that such a list is a moveable feast – the attraction of some ‘newbie’ will wax, that of a former mainstay will wane – as is the case with Bardot, Saradon and Rampling. This is a contemporary list so does not feature departed beauties such as Marilyn.

So from this, I hope discerning, male of sixty plus, is this year’s list:-

1.    Nigella - There’s no need to give a surname, and most who know me also are familiar with my longstanding infatuation with the ‘kitchen goddess’ A cliché I understand, but very little is more erotic to me than to watch her dip a crimson tipped finger into some melted chocolate and bring it to those luscious lips, with that knowing look in her eyes. Recent events could have seen me giving a certain elderly advertising tycoon a good slapping had I been in the vicinity of his misogyny – his sort of behaviour towards any woman is inexcusable, but of course, being Nigella, it made headlines around the world. I have to be honest and make the codicil that, had this list been put together twelve months ago, then this raven haired English rose may have been further down the ‘menu’. All that was changed with her latest offering, ‘Nigellissima’, replenishing her aura for me. To see her wander to her fridge for a naughty midnight snack in slinky black bed attire rekindled the fire. Some misled commentators suggest such exhibitions are nothing short of prurient food porn. To me she’s simply taken the culinary arts to a higher plane.

2.    Christina Hendricks – This sassy lady shares a fulsome hour-glass figure with Nigella, or even Marilyn, and all other leading ladies of  small screen American television are left in her wake. In another list, as I eagerly await a new series to come to these shores on DVD, I’ve stated that ‘Mad Men’ is the best television programme in recent memory, and undoubtedly it is the presence of the Don Draper character that makes it so. Christina’s Jane Holloway is not far behind in his wake. To see her walk that walk of hers into any smoke-filled room in her tight, curve-hugging attire would make any red-blooded, ‘swinging-sixties’ advertising executive sit up and take notice. In the show she is no pushover, no simpering submissive plaything. She rules her domain and she uses her charms to push ever onwards and upwards.

3.    Penny Wong – I am a political junkie. For me the highlight of any given television year is an election night. You can have the AFL Grand Final, the Boxing Day Test – I just can’t wait until September 14th, or whenever Rudd decides, now the ball is in his court. It really gets my juices going, just as does a good stoush on ‘Q and A’. I became quite animated when the normally ice cool Tania Plibersek lost it with the execrable Sophie Mirabella recently. I love some pollie being bought to heel by our No10, especially if their name is Tony Abbott. I am all for women in politics, the more the better, being delighted that Kevin13 has packed his cabinet with them. Many are taking on the fellas at their own game, and although I wasn’t hugely enamoured of Julia, to see her lay into the Mad Monk over his anachronistic gender politics, a flaying that went viral, sure made me sit up and take notice. For me, now that Natasha has departed the scene, the most alluring of the crop in Penny. She is considered in all she does. As well there are her exotic looks and her guts in being openly gay in the bear pit environment of national politics. That she is now Senate leader says it all bout our maturity as a country – almost as compelling as a new minister being sworn in on the Koran.

4.    Miss Murphy – I was besotted with this newbie from the moment she appeared on ‘The Voice’, even before she opened her mouth. It was the way she carried herself and, as with Penny, it was her radiantly multicultural appearance. Then she opened her mouth and what a sound came out - the sublimely sultry, bluesy rich rasp of her songstering had me rapt. As well there was her soft purr with the spoken word. Her allure was complete. I suspect she may not be a stayer, depending on how her career from here on in pans out as a result of her recent exposure. After her, in my opinion, premature elimination, the show was hardly worth watching - no stuttering boy with golden tonsils could match Miss Murphy.

5.    Charlotte Gainsbourg – any offspring of Serge and Jane Birkin would possess so much latent talent in their genes it would be ridiculous – Charlotte G has delivered on hers in spades. She has lifted eyebrows around the world with her fearlessness as an actor and her trills as a chantreuse. In appearance she is the antithesis of Nos 1 and 2 with her almost androgynous figure – but if ever ‘so chic so French’ rings true, it does with this darling of European art house. She mesmerizes me any time she is on screen.

6.    Annabel Crabb – erudite as a television commentator, columnist, blogger – she is as well sassy of eye and smile as the presenter of ‘Kitchen Cabinet’. As my second favourite ‘kitchen goddess’, her retro fashion sense is just the glorious finishing touch.

7.    Marieke Hardy – always pushing at the envelope for her sisters, she sparkles on ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ and as coordinator of ‘Women of Letters’. She is a throwback to fifties glamour, and is cheeky enough to use her assets to reverse that iconic Ellis image of Derryn Hinch to get a point across.

8.    Sidse Babett Knudsen – Some terrific new shows have made an appearance on our tele screens this year – Lillyhammer (SBS), ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ (ABC), ‘Adam Hills The Last Leg’ (ABC), ‘The Time of Our Lives’ (ABC) – but the top of the crop would be the Danish political melodrama ‘Borgen’ (SBS). The show was most prescient in Demark as the country had its first female PM shortly after its first series was shown. The final episode here was aired as our own gender warrior bit the dust. Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, played by a feisty Knudsen, forms minority government and faces much vicissitude in holding it together for a term in office – in another parallel. What does it for me is the complete authority with which Christensen dismisses her male colleagues and opponents with a frosty tak (thanks), particularly if she is pissed off with them.

9.    Olivia Williams – never a huge star and rarely a leading lady, she is a mainstay of British cinema and television, most recently espied in ‘Case Sensitive’. This slim, non-classical brunette beauty oozes class and sexiness to me – and all those freckles are enough to give me goose bumps.

10.    Leigh Sales – After the last twelve or so months of this potent redhead flying solo at the helm of ‘7.30’, we might well ask why did we ever think Big Red would be irreplaceable?’ To see her shred Tony Abbott was television gold. As my DLP stated just the other evening as Leigh was putting the bumbling Joe Hockey through the wringer – ‘They must quake in their boots waiting to face her with something to hide!’ Her persistence at cutting through the fluff and spin to get the type of answer we all want from our leaders is incredibly alluring.

HMs – Paz Vega, Kate Holden, Jennifer Lawrence, Megan Washington, Sophie Marceau, Clare Bowditch .

Our world is so much more alive for these glorious women who shine, intrigue and cause minor earthquakes in our lives – and giving me yet another cause to indulge myself.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Burnie Beach

A Hunting and A Snooping

Speaking as an ex-chalky, teachers are just not sexy. We cannot compete on the small screen with policemen who always solve the crime, forensic experts who always solve the crime or seers who, yes, always solve the crime too – even if there’s a fair bit of detective work as well involved in the care of pupils. A few in any cohort are as cunning as any master criminal. When was there last a decent series on tele about my former profession? The most recent I can remember is the eponymously named ‘Teachers’, a fine Brit production, but that was a while ago now.

On the big screen we fare a little better, and it is possible, as your scribe enjoys doing, to come up with a ‘Top 10’ list, just - of best teaching movies:-

1.    Mr Hollands Opus
2.    To Sir With Love
3.    Goodbye Mr Chips (various incarnations)
4.    Hoosiers
5.    A Beautiful Mind
6.    School of Rock
7.    The Wonder Boys
8.    Dead Poets Society
9.    The History Boys
10.    Stand and Deliver

Not too many of the above, though, have produced heroes to get your juices flowing, although my DLP (Darling, Loving Partner) reminded me that Indiana Jones was a lecturer as well as an adventurer, if that counts? Last year I was looking forward to ‘Monsieur Lazhar’, but it was disappointingly unrealistic.

2013 is looking better. To date I have visited the cinema for two movies with central characters as teachers – one of which was quite excellent, but neither were ‘feel good’ in the same way as many of the listed.

Scandinavia is punching above its weight these days on both sized screens, in particular with Scand-noir crime procedurals – there’s that trilogy, ‘The Killing’, ‘The Bridge’, ‘Wallander’ and the glorious ‘Lillyhammer’. ‘Borgen’ is great political drama for television with ‘Kon Tiki’, ‘A Royal Affair’, ‘Headhunters’, ‘After the Wedding’ and the sublime ‘As It Is In Heaven’ some notable recent success stories from that neck of the pine forests in movies.

‘The Hunt’ carries on this trend. This Thomas Vinterberg directed feature is also very noirish and involves a purported crime. It showcases an extremely fine performance by ‘Mr Everywhere’ Mads Mikkelsen, as Lucas, an early childhood teacher accused of every teacher’s nightmare, interfering with a young student. This should be recommended viewing for any would be classroom operator, particularly any male contemplating the primary area. Males are sorely needed in these formative years, but society’s obsession with the lurking pedophile is killing off the supply of positive role models operating with the very young.

Lucas has had a rough time of it lately, but is finally getting his life back together when the unthinkable happens and he is falsely ‘sent to Coventry’ by a small village after a young student’s confused claim. Of course the girl is believed and there is no chance of ‘innocence until proven guilty’ with a presumed deviant. He attempts to stand his ground with disastrous results for him and many he comes in contact with. Gradually the pendulum swings and he is absolved, but is he? A hunt in the forest, thus the title, is a rite of passage in Lucas’ village – and all is not as it seems!
This movie features bravura acting from Mikkelsen, with a strong supporting cast. I particularly liked Alexandra Rapaport as his torn new found love. Seeing Lucas crash to the bottom of the abyss, and then with the aid of a couple of constant supporters, clawing his way back out of the darkness, makes for mesmerizing cinema going.

Less successful an experience to my mind was ‘In the House’, coming from the formidable Francois Ozon, whose previous directorial efforts – ‘5x2’, ‘The Swimming Pool’, ‘8 Women’ and ‘Under the Sand’ I have thoroughly enjoyed. This is not in the same league, despite its fine array of acting stalwarts. Jaded Germanine (Fabrice Luchini) just goes through the motions in his job as a French literature ‘professeur’, until he becomes obsessed with a student unusually actually displaying some talent with the written word. Young Claude (Ernst Umhauer) is a stalker, in turn obsessed with his ‘best friend’s’ family – particularly the mother, played by Emmanuelle Seigner. He snoops around this family’s home, catching glimpses of intimacy and hearing secrets. He writes up his adventures in the form of homework assignments for Germaine, who cannot get enough of them, being sucked in by such Shakespearian prose such as ‘I left my friend’s bedroom and on passing a closed door I immediately caught the singular aroma of middle class woman’. He takes to giving the young man extra tuition and even involves his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) in his absurd machinations. So, when the mother proves elusive to the young man, guess who becomes his next target? Lucas in ‘The Hunt’ comes out a saint compared to the devious Germaine, but unfortunately the film becomes too clever by half, so by the end of it the audience, or at least this part of it, has little notion as to what is reality and what is ‘fiction’.

Interestingly this movie was rated MA, as was ‘The Look of Love’ viewed earlier in the same week. Whereas there was a brief fairly chaste sex scene in ‘In the House’, the latter was jammed full of sex and copious nudity! That left me somewhat nonplussed. Perhaps the passionate kissing between Seigneur and the lad was the issue.

Thankfully my time at the chalkface was free of any of the issues that tainted the careers of both teachers in the two films – but they do display the darker side of the profession which is constantly and increasingly present. It would have taken one innocent slip up, or one former student out for revenge and/or monetary gain, with the result that there but for the grace of She up in the sky go I.