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

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Gold Coast Morning

Breasts, Wendy and Me

I miss Kate, I really do. She made me look forward to weekends. Kate Holden was part of my routine for those days. Her column, in the Age – was always frank, and very, very Melbourne. It was frequently copied and formed an 'inclusion' in my copious missives to mates here, there and everywhere; and were also placed in the pigeon holes of colleagues when I was a working man. I was enamoured of her so I devoured her self-excoriating books ('In My Skin', 'The Romantic') as well. I listened as she launched one of them in a city bookshop, and even had a few words with her afterwards. This only served to make me even more besotted. I hope she has more tomes of similar ilk in her. This Kate, you see, has also seen the seedier side of life, and emerged from that delving onto the depths not completely unscathed, with seemingly still a few demons to subdue. When she left the broadsheet to pursue other options, it was like a nano-death for me - the world wasn't quite the same, if only in a minuscule way. It was much the same after the sad demise of Peter Roebuck. Sure I still had de Brito, Katz, Wright and the irreplaceable Flanagan, but I missed a feminine view that didn't only appeal to 'the sisters'.
                                                                       Kate Holden

That's when I discovered Wendy. I am not sure how long she'd been a member of the Age coterie before I noticed her, but one day there she was, I read her and was hooked – but not quite in the same way as Kate. At least, not yet. Kate is incredibly beautiful, but she is all angles and that is reflected in her writing. Wendy is equally alluring, but in a rounder, softer way so her efforts have not so much of the edge. With her, on occasions, I am halfway through and I realise I'm not 'grabbed', so I move on – something that never happened with Ms Holden. Like Kate, Wendy has a book under her belt (The Boy's Club – a novel loosely based her year with the Nine Network) and the promise of another to come. Yes, Wendy is not quite Kate, but I find myself looking out for her by-line in much the same way as I do with the other aforementioned scribes. She helps make my weekend, on most occasions, when she is present in my paper – and I find I am not pining so much for Kate these days. I know, I'm a sad man!
                                                                      Wendy Squires

And this weekend Wendy Squires was on about breasts, a subject that put me on a mini-collision course with my beautiful DLP (Darling Loving Partner).

Firstly, let me state my position on breasts. I have nothing against the female ones, in fact, I am quite the opposite. I adore them – I could look at them bewitched for hours (perhaps I am not such a sad man after all!). They are marvellous - revealed, or tantalisingly hidden, or somewhere in between. I love the shape of them; their variety is constantly drawing my eye. They are part of the reason I love summer, beaches and, in days of yore, Playboy magazine. The only way that I cannot tolerate them is when they have been disfigured to appeal to the presumed male notion of perfection. It's the soft, cushiony natural state I prefer – those tampered ones to me are so not sexy. One of the joys of this sixty plus life is that women possess them and causes me to marvel, just a tad more, about how utterly remarkable the fairer gender are. In innumerable ways I've been next to heaven because of them, and I am not just on about breasts here!

Then that 'boob' Kochie had to stick his oar in, didn't he? I didn't exactly hear/read what he expounded verbatim on the topic; more’s the pity as it turned out. I am not a fan of breakfast television preferring the quietude of the early morning to read, write and ruminate. But whatever it was he said, he got the BFMs (Breast Feeding Mothers) all antsy and antagonised, didn't he – thus causing my collision with DLP. All I was doing, as we drove into the city that morning, was voicing my support for BFMs everywhere in their right to suckle their young in public. After all, it is a normal bodily function I foolishly, and needlessly, informed. Here I was, being such a liberated man of the world, always supporting those hampered going about their normal business by the nannystate brigade. Boy, did I get myself in a pickle!
'How do you feel when you are around, in close proximity, to someone breastfeeding in public?' my DLP quietly asked, knowing full well I have been so quite a bit this past twelve months. DLP knows her man oh so well. I was sprung. I had no where to go. I had to answer honestly. 'I do feel somewhat embarrassed,' I finally stammered, although in truth I do my best to carry on with my normal aplomb.
'Well that's all he's saying', DLP disarmingly went on. 'Like you, he is all for their right to feed babies in public. All he's doing is asking BFMs to use a bit of discretion, a bit of ‘class’, so those sensitive souls around, like you and he, do not have to blush. What's wrong with that?'
DLP had me there, and even more so when she asked, 'Do you urinate or fornicate in open places where you can be spotted?”

That was the killer, there was no way back from there.

It made me think though. Why is it I can look at a topless woman on a beach and I am full of the joys of life, and think how wonderful, delightful, anything but brazen; that she, young or old, is to be so at ease she feels she can expose what is so glorious about her body in public. And yet, if I espy an exposed nipple about to be placed in the mouth of a hungry baby, I come over all funny. I believe Kochie had something to pontificate on that matter too. So here I was, with no difference between me and that bright spark at all.

Which brings me back to Wendy. Her weekend column, about 'bozos and boobs', said it all in a nutshell, and what I find myself doing here is '...what a lot of men of a certain age might express.' if they were game enough to. Although, can I take her to task on the 'certain age' bit? Are younger men immune to any possible embarrassment caused by an inserting nipple? What Wendy goes on to say, though, is certainly correct, and downright worrisome. At some stage this year a known misogynist, the execrable Abbot, may well be our country’s leader. His very hazy take on abortion rights is something to get worked up about far more than this storm in an a-cup. Not only BFMs, but women in all walks of life will really have something to get steamed up about once he starts on with what women can or cannot do with their bodies. Hopefully we will not be unfortunate enough to have this neolith in a position of authority our beautiful women.

So blessed ladies, this far from perfect male will defend till the end your right to naturally feed your little ones in full view of persons unknown to you. And, as long as you are not too overt, I will try and become a man not perturbed in the slightest of way by your actions. And, as my DLP so easily picked through my 'sucking up' to her with my verbal effort to prove my enlightenment, I promise to think through it all a little more in future before I take the high ground. Sorry Kochie!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Burnie Beach

Mad Manlove

Now I am ‘coming out.’ I have a serious crush – on a television character. It probably equals the one I’ve had for years on the domestic goddess, Nigella, the most gorgeous woman on tele. It’s a ‘Mad Men’ personage. Now those knowing me would possibly suspect the divinely proportioned Joan (Christina Hendricks), who nonetheless runs Ms Lawson a close second, but they would be wrong. No – dare I say it – it is a ‘man-crush’. I’m in man-love with Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Before you recoil in shock and horror, now that I’m out I can say that I’ve had them before, but not to the same degree I think. Bill Nighy in any movie comes to mind, and then there’s David Duchovny playing Hank Moody in the ‘Californication’ franchise. The first would have been Laura’s original love interest in ‘SeaChange’, David Wenham’s Diver Dan. Richard Roxburgh’s Cleaver Greene in ‘Rake’ is now knocking on the door too.

Of course, none of this is a physical addiction – it’s all cerebral. Are these the men I wish I could be? I really think not – the womanizing and the shambolicness put me off that line of thought. They get into diabolical pickles of the heart with immediate impact on those they love, and if you believe what you read, Duchovny is supposedly quite true to his character.  But I just adore watching these actors play their roles to perfection – they are just so magnetic to me on the screen. And now, for an even bigger revelation.

I’m beginning to think ‘Mad Men’ the best television series ever? I know, that is a huge call for a series still running – and I’ve checked – Series 6 is currently filming. I am somewhat aghast that I would be considering an American show – giving my general dissing of their usually dire efforts, involving all sorts of weaponry, and always bland but stunningly beautiful young women in the most unlikely of heroic roles. For me the best of British, with a few of the homegrown variety thrown in, have always been king of this particular patch.

The other factor in favour of ‘Mad Men’ is that, to date, it hasn’t run out of steam. In fact I would humbly put it out there that Series 5 is the most riveting so far. It had shocks – the suicide of a major character with another, the flawlessly flawed, feisty Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss), a true heroine of the glass shatterers, departing. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) becomes even more odious and, as one who has a soft spot for anything with a French accent, Megan Draper’s (Jessica Paré) addition has been the icing on the cake, toning down Don’s proclivity to marital waywardness. Wife No 1, the irritating Betty (January Jones) now, thankfully, has a less pronounced role. The flashbacks to Don’s backstory have also disappeared. For me they detracted from the delicious machinations in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Price. And of course there’s Roger, who matches Don in the dalliance stakes. Lucky bugger has even had one with Joan. Roger just keeps on being Roger, except when he’s freaking out on LSD. Then he becomes a very odd beast indeed.

This series, and those before it, mirror back on the ‘60s in the US of A. From the Camelot of the Kennedys to Vietnam and civil rights, from the evils of tobacco and demon drink to the constant misogyny towards womanhood, it hits the button. It is the smokified retro – just peek at the atrocious of-its-time art work on the walls - look of every scene and the attention to detail. Just as well all those fags the cast are sucking in are herbal. This detail is right down to the appropriateness – or otherwise - of every line of script. But standing head and shoulders above it all is my man-crush – Don. With his permanent five o’clock shadow, unshakable belief in his own abilities and trajectory, with just a soupcon of tenderness here and there towards his fellow man – or woman – just when you thought you had him pegged, he is simply delicious. Series 5 also finally hooked my DLP (Darling Loving Partner), a very discerning television critic – even if she has more tolerance of the US product than I. Sadly she is not one for lists, but I am enamoured in working them out. So here it comes – the call.


Now I have been watching television for nigh on fifty years. Can I do a top ten list of best television shows for over that time period. No, I think that is too hard an ask. If I restrict it to the last 25 years, since 1988, that makes the task more achievable – and it will give that other inveterate list maker in my life, my BTD (Beautiful Talented Daughter) something to ponder and produce as well. I hope she will, as I do anyone else who may by, whatever means, come across this piece.

This timeframe rules out timeless classics such as the ‘Honeymooners’ (1955-1956), ‘Bell Bird’ (1967–1977), ‘Fawlty Towers’ (1975–1979), ‘Dean Martin Show’ (1964–1975), ‘Countdown’ (1974-1987), ‘Red Skelton Show’ (1951-1971), ‘Howards Way’ (1985-1990), ‘Auf Wiedersehen  Pet’ (1983-1986), ‘Rock Follies’ (1976) and  ‘Brideshead Revisited’ (1981) just to list some personal favs.

So the list – not as easy as I thought it would be, but for purposes of discussion, here goes:-

1.       Mad Men (2007- )

2.       Cold Feet (1998-2003)

3.       SeaChange (1998-2000)

4.       Secret Life of Us (2001-2005)

5.       Californication (2007- )

6.       Alley McBeal (1997-2002)

7.       Spicks and Specks (2005-2011, 2013 - )

8.       The Royle Family (1998-2000)

9.       Prime Suspect (1991-2006)

10.   Black Books (2000-2004)


There are admittedly some great shows omitted – ‘Cracker’, ‘This Life’, ‘Silent Witness’ (the Sam Ryan years), ‘Men Behaving Badly’, ‘The Street’, ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Father Ted’. ‘Life on Mars’ was mesmeric but Series 2 let it down. There are some current series that I am thoroughly entranced by and they may get a guernsey once they have run their course. These include ‘Boardwalk Empire’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘True Blood’ (starting to run out of fresh ideas I think), ‘Weeds’, ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Offspring’ – but I have my doubts. What do you reckon BTD – and anyone else – are you game for the challenge???



Thursday, 24 January 2013

Blossom Time

The Eyes of the Tiger


That first night it snowed in Russell Square. The journey from Heathrow to our ‘olde worlde’, or so it seemed to this novice international traveller, hotel on one of London’s double decker red buses, was exciting in itself, despite the atrocious weather. Once in our accommodation our first action was to open the blinds to see snow falling, the second was to turn on the radio. From the latter came Dazza, belting out ‘Howzat’, then racing up the UK charts, reminding me of the sunshiny Oz summer we’d just left.

Once out and about I soon discovered that London in winter looked so dismally grey – the weather was grey, the buildings were grey and that greyness was reflected in the faces of the city’s inhabitants. The service in the shops and cafés was terrible; there was nary a smile to be had. It was just all so gloomy, the population looked beaten down – and Thatcher hadn’t yet arrived into the prime ministership. What I didn’t know at that stage, but found out later when we journeyed to the provinces, was that the rest of the UK was all sweetness and light; we were killed with welcoming kindnesses everywhere we went. Dear me, though, London was dire, and for a time I wondered what I was doing leaving the delights of a home summer for this downtrodden city of short days and sad visage.

It’s all so far back now I don’t remember much of the stay in England’s capital. I do recall sleeping through a West End musical performance so drugged up was I on jet lag. I was underwhelmed by the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, but loved seeing all the old documents and books such as the Magna Carta and Shakespeare’s First Folio. There were other bright spots too – the food hall at Harrods, the Turners at the Tate, the Beefeaters at the Tower. Once out of London I started to enjoy myself, and by Paris was determined that this would not be my last visit to Europe, and that next time I’d be there for much longer than the six weeks we then had at our disposal.

But there was an event in depressing London that I will never forget as long as I live.


Tigers. No, not that AFL team that always promise so much and then fall in a heap, big time. No – what I am on about is the real McCoy – well sort of in one case, as you will read. These stunning carnivores of the South Asian jungles have had their demise in the wild predicted for most of my adult life, but still they hang on. From the snows of the Amur to the steaming rainforests of Sumatra, these super-cats rule all creatures in their domain, bar one. You can have your lions, leopards, cheetahs etc, etc – none possess the majesty, the beauty, the fierceness or adaptability of this the most fear inducing of felines.

And then there’s Tessa – my gorgeous granddaughter. Her parents call her Tiger. And that name fits her best, even if it is probably sourced from a different sort of tiger than the ones featured here.
I was initially not convinced. It wasn’t on my list of wannasees. My DLP (Darling Loving Partner) was going to view it at her daughter’s urging. I then read a glowing review in the Age and changed my mind. Besides, I adore going to the movies with my beautiful DLP. The ‘Life of Pi’ is a terrific effort by Ang Lee – so skillfully realised onto the screen through the magic of CGI. I was very taken by the whole 127 minutes of it. The beauty of the piece is what most impressed – the gorgeously hued and choreographed opening credits, the meerkat island, the leaping blue whale. At times it was difficult picking up the dialogue with the Indian accents and background goings on, but DLP, ever astute, spotted the deliberate holes in the narrative, so central to understanding the conclusion, well before I did. Unlike me, though, she did not pick up where the drugged tiger was hidden, and it scared the bejesus out of her when it suddenly emerged. The ‘Life of Pi’ shines above the bulk of the Hollywood dross that is served up to us and, in my humble view, it should receive plaudits in this current award season. It is a film to savour and to return to.

And despite being CGI driven, the tiger (Richard Parker) was magnificent in its majesty, beauty, fierceness and adaptability – all adjectives worth repeating – even when half starved, near death. Despite all its privations on the lifeboat, and its dependence on the boy, it still walked into the saving forest without a backward glance – just like your everyday moggie would. If it had been a canine…………

The most breathtaking moment for me in the whole film came early when the boy, on the arrival of Richard at the family zoo, attempted to feed him a morsel of meat. He stares into the primal depths of the tiger’s eyes, and we are privy to what he saw. As the actor simulates the meeting of souls between boy and beast, I had a flashback to a day in London when I had my own encounter with – the eyes of the tiger.


I could be wrong, but I think this all occurred on our very last day in Europe. For some reason we felt it a fine idea to go to the Zoo during that freezing northern winter. Of course, at that time of year, it was a fairly desultory place and therefore almost deserted. Apart from my close call with the hereafter, the only other memory of the visit that has survived the ravages of time is just how bloody big an anaconda actually is! So wandering around, I came upon the tigers’ enclosure. I am not sure how many animals were present in it and, for reasons you will discover as you read on, I was soon in no condition to care. It is only one that counts. Its abode was in two parts – an outside area and an enclosed den. I presume, like lions, tigers have dens? Anyway, there was a viewing tunnel behind the den, which was, for some reason, raised up slightly. This caused the head of the lolling tiger I espied to be at exactly the same level as mine. Between it and the viewer – me – there was a pane of glass.

And that is when I had my brain fade. In a moment of madness, totally uncharacteristic of my normally reserved and timid demeanour, I decided it would be a fine idea to eyeball this impressive beast. I placed my fragile and, on that day, brainless skull also up against the glass, so I could peer directly into – yes, the eyes of the tiger. It was incredible, that nano-second when our pupils met – exhilarating, but chilling. As soon as I saw those pupils dilate, I knew I was in trouble. I realized this wasn’t the brightest move this unsophisticated Aussie bumpkin had ever made. Far from being benign about it all, the huge cat suddenly took umbrage, became affronted – perhaps he/she was responding to the call of the jungle and may have sensed potential dinner. The creature ferociously snarled, leapt to its feet, and loped back to the rear of its den. Then, to my complete horror, it charged – at me! It hit the glass with a resounding and mortifying WHUUUUUUUUUMP, seemingly, with full and not inconsiderable body weight.

I am eternally grateful that the powers to be at London Zoo had foretold that some day some idiot antipodean may, in a manner resembling my actions, infuriate their Bengali guests, and had made the intervening barrier between them and said idiot of a strength to withstand the best efforts of enraged massive furballs to get at their tormentors. It did its job, obviously.

And the effect on me? Well my synapses snapped into action and sent messages to my legs. Unfortunately they were quite confused and went something like this:-
                        Message One     Jump high in fright (useless in the situation).
                        Message Two   -  Backpedal (equally useless in the situation).
                        Message Three – Go weak at the knees (beyond useless in the situation)
All this overloading of my nervous system did was to cause me to freeze on the spot. Then my brain suddenly realised I was in no imminent danger of demise as the animal had bounced off the transparent wall. So my shell-shocked mind sent the instruction – ‘You have no need for all that adrenalin; go into recovery mode’. I started to shake like a leaf. It took me a while to regain my composure and go off in search of my travelling partner.

I know not if this event was witnessed and do not recall my wife being around – presumably she was somewhere else observing flamingoes, aardvarks, toucans or some such. But I’ll never forget the day I survived the tiger attack – and what is even more imprinted is that minute amount of time I peered into the depths of those eyes. So, if for that reason only, tigers go up to another dimension for me, on equal footing with eagles – but that’s another story.

Now Tessa, one day you may well read this tale of the foolishness of your Poppy S when he was a much younger man. Although that big striped beastie couldn’t shatter that glass barrier to get at him, I know that you, being of the tiger that you are, will never allow any barrier to stand in your way of getting where you want to be. Go Tiges !

Life of Pi Website =

Gold Coast Morning

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Blue Room Book Review - Delphine de Vigan – Underground Time

I’ll blame Claudine. It could have been one of two Francoise(s). The first, with a light fluffy voice, had hits all over the world. The second, with her slight, cheap (in price) novels of brevity, containing variations on affairs of the heart, enraptured me in my uni days. And of course there was Brigitte, the stuff of legend, a dream woman for the ages. But I’ll blame Claudine – it was her song that it did for me.

Claudine. Andy Williams’ wife. I had a guilty pleasure then, way back when. I liked Andy Williams. I could pass that off by saying that he discovered Jimmy Buffett, my sunny life companion, and signed him to his record label, but I’d be lying. I just simply liked him, naff as that and he sounds now. Williams also signed Claudine. If nothing else, he had a nose for talent. I suppose I must have read about the song. Surely I would not have purchased the album on the sole basis of whom she was married to. If ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and ‘Je T'aime, Moi Non Plus’ could not be played on the radio, I surely wouldn’t have heard it through that medium either. No, I reckon it was because of that song was causing a stir in the media.

After returning to my hall of residence with ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, the record containing the song, tucked under my wing, and after ensuring the song was all I’d hoped for, I invited some of my mates into my room to listen – guys into Cream, Hendrix, Zappa et al. They were a bit nonplussed being asked to endure a soft, breathy version of ‘Bread’s’ big hit, but I said to ‘Give it time’, and then those sultry breaths turned into something else. They looked at each other, at first wide eyed –‘Is this what I think it is?’ – and when they realised that, indeed it was, there was much in the way of knowing looks and smirking. After espying the damsel in question on the album cover, like me they’d probably had sweet dreams that night – a night way back when. 

 You too can check out the song, ‘Make It With You’, on YouTube.

Yes, Ms Longet’s (had Ms been invented back then?) accented trills and sighs had much to answer for, and they started me on a road to adoring everything French, especially those oh so chic women. These days it also manifests itself in that country’s sublime film output
In 1976 I ventured to Europe. London in winter was just plain glum, a depressing place I found – didn’t appreciate it much at all. But Paris, that was another matter. Despite wet footpaths and copious doggy-doo, I enjoyed every moment, and then once again when I revisited in ‘81. Paris simply sparkled both times. These days I relieve my pining for the ‘city of love’ through wonderful movies set there – ‘Midnight in Paris’ and ‘Paris/Manhattan’ are recent ones that come to mind. There is nothing, nothing to beat the French way when it comes to filming. The deftness of touch they have when they take on the fickleness of relationships between men and women is unsurpassed! 

And as the name would suggest, Delphine de Vigan is a French writer, and of some repute in her homeland. This is the first translation of her oeuvre that I’ve read. ‘Underground Time’ is, obviously, set in Paris, and it revolves around human dramas. Two unhappy souls are spinning around that city - one is a high flying executive, the other a low flying on-call doctor. Ms de Vigan examines their hearts minutely. Mathilde, a youngish widow, is being demeaned and increasingly passed over at work by her boss, the odious Jacques. His devious office place bullying is driving her to the edge, and she simply cannot understand why this should be, after years of amiable cooperation. Thibault, her unseen possible new suitor, has just extricated himself from a relationship with the withdrawn Lila, but nonetheless, he is carrying around Paris a broken heart as he does his rounds of the ill and lonely. 

The two are in dire need of a meaningful human connection on the single day most of the novel takes place – but will it be with each other? They almost collide mid-tome, but then veer away, leaving the reader to muse if it will ever happen. It does is all I’ll relate. We begin to suspect that two possible endings are in the offing – which one will it be? That it is neither is a tribute to the author’s skill. It is an ending that readers attuned to the Hollywood way will not appreciate though. De Vigan is far more subtle, far more French, than that. The author is of the ‘real world’ school. That is the way this story will stay with one long after others have dissipated into the mush.

Delphine de Vigan

I have my doubts now that I'll get back to Paris. Time marches on these days, unlike times of yore. I'd need to travel there in a modicum of comfort. Perhaps I'll win the big one and take a slow boat to Le Havre. A man can dream, as no doubt, way back then, I dreamed of Claudine. I'll blame her.

Hear that song =

Friday, 18 January 2013


The Poppet

The South of France 1971

She’d just received the news from Rome. She sat down with a sigh. She knew all was not well, but still – it still was such a shock. And she was shocked, to the pit of her stomach. How to tell him? She knew how worried Willem had been about her. Soon, when he returned from the studio, it’ll be up to her to break the news. She could go down the hill to where he was, but she felt it would keep till he returned as normal. That’d give her some time for reflection – time to think it through. She’d have to figure out the best way to do it - to ease the pain for a father who had now lost his daughter.

Talitha, her stepdaughter, had so much. Her early years had been tough in that abominable Japanese internment camp, and then the loss of her mother. She’d survived all that and then accepted her, Willem’s new wife, into her life without much fuss. But the wildness first became evident, as so often happens, in her teenage years. For Talitha it did not go away – and now this was the end result - how all that wildness would pan out! She recalled a famous scribe had once said of Talitha, ‘She was completely enchanting, but somehow a bit damaged by things that had happened early on in her life…She stayed very childlike, she remained a wounded child.’ True words she thought, true words.

Southern Land

The man had seen the photographs he’d come for. Not for the first time did he contemplate the gulf between those up on the wall and what he was capable of producing himself. His would only ever seem merely proficient, if that, he thought – but how he loved doing them. Up there, on display, was an artistry in another dimension to his pedestrian attempts, but he found pleasure and contentment wandering around this city – pointing, shooting and hoping.

He had much to be content about in recent times, not the least of which was the deepest of joys that he was now a grandfather to a precious mite of a girl. He was immensely proud that a story he wrote decades ago was, in part, the reason for her naming. Her parents also called her Tiger for the tenaciousness already evident in her tiny being, but he had started referring to her as the Poppet. At the time he didn’t quite know why, but it seemed to fit.

Lost in his thoughts, the man continued to meander aimlessly around the vast gallery, not really looking at anything all that much, once he had finished with the photographs. He was happy just ruminating. He’d seen most of it all before in any case. Then he entered a large room of early Twentieth Century work, and out of the corner of his eye, he spotted an orangey painting of a girl. He did not recall seeing this piece in earlier visits, so he wandered over for a closer inspection – and then he was drawn to her face.

It was a face, it seemed to him, not of her time so much as beyond her time. It was a face disdainful of the trivial, disdainful of fools. It wasn’t exactly arrogance, he supposed, just more of a certainty in her own personal trajectory. It wasn’t a classically beautiful face, but it was certainly striking. He thought that if glass ceilings were around back then, she’d be doing some shattering.

He looked down at the explanation card. He saw it was painted by Augustus John, an artist he knew of but didn’t really know. It was of the painter’s daughter, but it was her moniker that caused an intake of breath in the man – and his wondering began.

South of France 1971

‘Silly, silly, silly girl,’ she repeated to herself over and over again as she waited. ‘You always wanted to be the centre of attention. You couldn’t bear to be simply by yourself. You were one of the blessed ones, but that wasn’t enough. You couldn’t bear to miss out on anything, always had to be around all those vacuous rich and famous. You had danced with Nureyev, filmed with Vadim, were photographed by Lichfield for Vogue. You were so headstrong, so willful – you just would not listen. You craved the life extraordinary, and when you had it, you craved its darker side too. Then you went and married that damn Getty man. I blame him – stupid, stupid fool of a waste of space. All that money, all those houses, life a never ending party – and, so it seems, all those drugs. The telegram says heroin overdose – is there a crueler way for a father to lose a daughter?’

She reflected how very much Talitha was like her own father, even though there was no genetic through line. He didn’t want to be tied to a life ordinary either. Like the girl, he had talent, and like her, he made much out of it. Talitha had all that, and great beauty as well – and now this. Unlike her, despite his demons and excesses, her father knew enough to moderate when he needed to – and so he made something of himself, and is now venerated. She suspected Talitha would only be a small footnote in history, unlike her own painter father, who looms large. And now she herself was married to an artist. She was now starting to hope that Willem wasn’t too much longer. She didn’t want to put it off any longer. The telling of the thing was starting to weigh heavily.

Southern Island

The man had snapped a photograph of the painting and had taken it back to his island, an island even further south than the city. He didn’t really need to – it was indelibly imprinted as it had had such an impact. Once back at his idyll by the river, he took to the computer and started to search the ether to find out more about the girl in the orange painting. He soon discovered there was much about her connections, but little on her. He discovered an image – an image of a father helping a young girl, her, with a horse. He discovered another image, this one iconic, remembered by him from another time, of a glamorous young lady in occidental garb, captured by a famous photographer. The man looked at the dates and started to put it all together.

South of France 1971

As she waited she remembered her father, a man of huge addictions who dominated her, and all those in his orbit. Now and again, though, she was the centre of his world. Vivien was the one who inherited his artistic bent and made a name for herself, but she felt she was the ‘special’ one, the favoured one. She remembered how he never called her by her given names, always by the nick name. It had stuck, all through her days, to this point. Most now would have no idea it wasn’t her proper appellation. She recalled when he first asked her to pose. She felt so greatly honoured, until she realised how much playtime it would take away. She thought of the lifestyle they had – it was termed bohemian back then. For most of the time they lived in a gypsy caravan. Her father was fascinated by the Romanies. And then there was Paris -  children, Dad, Mum and the mistress, all in a garret, all together.

As a young woman she posed for him again, in a shimmering satin dress he purchased, especially for the sitting. She loved that dress – wore it over and over till it became threadbare. Her father often said that of all his paintings, that one of her - that was the one that best captured the essence of any of his subjects. She was proud of that. She strove to retain that ‘essence’ of her youth. She vaguely knew that the painting was now somewhere in the antipodes. The woman stood up and went over to her mantelpiece to take down an old framed sepia photograph. It pictured her, as a girl, with her artist father and a horse. It was too much – that and the girl. She wept.

Southern Island

The man was connecting the pieces of the story in his mind. He wasn’t so sure he could do it all justice. He was back on the computer, opening up an attachment sent to him from Melrose, up north. It was of his treasured Poppet. She was now six months old and very, very bonny. His Poppet was continuing to show tigerish attitudes. The attached image was of her being placed on a white stead by Laurel, her beautiful paternal grandmother. He now had yet another piece to factor in. He took to his bath. He did his best cogitating there. There he thought, or did he dream, of all the interconnections. In his mind there was something about the two Poppets. Was it a shared spirit, a shared determination to take on the world and give it a jolly good shake? His Poppet, and the Poppet the artist did his semblance of, in his mind, he didn’t quite know what it was, but there was and always would be, some kind of synchronicity. The painting over on that wall, in a gallery, in a city on a brown river, did that for him. He wondered if he could make it all stick on paper. Win or fail at that, at least now he knew the reason why.

South of France, 1971

Poppet Pol heard the garden gate close behind her man. She heard her husband take off his boots by the back door. She wiped her eyes and replaced the photograph. She turned and prepared to tell him the news no father wanted to hear.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


A Blue Room Book Review - John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle – Let It Snow

Christmas. I like Christmas – well, most aspects of it anyway. I like the giving. I know it’s over-commercialised as all get out, but I think – so what? I’m not into the religious aspect; I’m into the coming togetherness of it all. I ponder, ‘How lucky am I to have all these wonderful people around me – all this love in one room for those others who share my world?’ I enjoy sending cards, and receiving them, especially from those I hear from only at this time of year. I dislike the fact that it seems to start so early these days, and the music drives me spare. My hat goes off to all those sales persons subjected to those execrable tunes day after excruciating day – and it now all seems to start mid-November! There are a couple of exceptions, though, which I can bear to listen to over and over – the Pogues great anti-carol, Bill Nighy’s piss-take, and the one – the only one -  that does get me teary eyed  - Tim Minchin’s – especially after I’ve had a white wine or two in the sun. As for ‘Carols by Candlelight’ – just don’t go there! Cringeworthy dross!!!!

Being Tasmania, you can never guarantee the sunshine for the day itself, but when it happens, I do get all Tim Minchinish. I adore the stereotypical Aussie Yuletide – the glorious cold tucker finished off with Nanny or Laurel’s awesome trifles. Bliss on a stick!

In my memory, the Lane Street Christmases were best – whether it be first at 13, or later at 15. At these addresses the Lovell and Klein extended families would gather on the day itself, a day or two before, or both. Later the Gordon clan was added, and there were usually a few friends thrown into the mix. One memorable Christmas lunch Big Dave, from down the road, came along as well – uninvited. In his trademark bluey and stubby shorts, he was full of good cheer by eleven o’clock in the morning, and decided to do the rounds of the neighbourhood. He got to our place, felt our spread was the best he’d seen, so decided to plonk himself down to join us, much to the disgusted squawks from his affronted missus bellowing at him from her front door. I seem to remember a straw broom and a woodstack became involved in the mix too, but by that stage I’d had a few fizzy indulgences myself, and the memory is somewhat hazier.

Generally, I love just sitting back and watching it all unfold. It is unbridled joy seeing the faces of the little ones as they unwrap, there’s pleasure in tuning in and out of the ‘craic’ and,  of course, not having to worry so much about pacing the bevies.

Now though, I think Christmases are going to get a whole lot better. It’s because there’s two new special tiny imps involved – Tessa Tiger and Little Ford Man. The one just past was their first, and of course they were too young to get overly excited about it all, apart from the fascinating detritus of abundant wrapping paper. But as the world opens up to them, so will the attraction of this special time of year increase, and I for one can’t wait to see that all happen. Yes, I love Christmas.

But one day, and it will come far too quickly, Tessa and Brynner will be teenagers, and for a period of time there will be a window when family will be relegated in importance to mates, even during the festive season. It only lasts a while, but to all adults impinged it can be frustrating and unnerving. They do eventually come back to the fold, and it is during this period of estrangement that ‘Let It Snow’, with its three cleverly interlinked stories, takes place.

And snow it did during the course of the tales – a somewhat unknown phenomena in these parts at the festive stage of the year. Is it sacrilegious to state that I enjoyed the stories by the ladies, whom I’ve never previously encountered, to that of the normally god-like (when it comes to YA) John Green? His seemed to be the merely perfunctory, the more pedestrian – but Green, even at this level, is still better than many who claim kudos in the genre. Perhaps it was because his offering, bracketed by Johnson’s and Myracle’s (love that name), has a drippy lad as its protagonist, whereas the other two were blessed by beguiling lasses.

Gracetown is awash with teenage natives and blow-ins on the move, despite a Christmas Eve blizzard. We have the prerequisite falling in and out of love, lovelorn angst, and lovely happy ever-afters - after all the loose ends are resolved with the final congregation of characters in Myracle’s finale, ‘The Patron Saint of Pigs’. I liked the notion of a young lady’s parents being nabbed for creating a fracas in a sale for ultra-kitsch collectibles in the opening yarn; almost as much as I liked said young lady’s name – Jubilee. This event caused her train escape from Noah, another dodgy male, into the arms of Gracestonian Stuart, a far more worthy beau. There’s more to Johnson’s effort than this, but if I had to choose, this was the pick of the bunch. Green’s centerpiece focused, somewhat laboriously, on a short dash by some pals to rendezvous with a ‘voluptitude’ - I think I’ve just invented a new collective noun - of out of town cheerleaders at the local Waffle House. It is a dash beset by problems caused by climate and over-sexed college-types. The doofus main lad also couldn’t identify love when it was right under his nose, so to speak. Some beastie called a teacup pig – yes they do exist (I googled) – features in the final fable as our endearingly ditzy lead over-reacts to her own discretion and tosses away love, only to attempt to retrieve it, with a little help from her friends.

Ahhhhhh yes, it is all so satisfactorily such light fluff; soufflé thin on all literary bases, but in its ‘niceness’, its just so warm and comfy too. It’s just right for snuggling up under a doona on a frosty Christmas Eve – or for sitting on a porch, chilled wine in hand, waiting for your dad, Dowunder.

Tim Minchin's paen to Christmas  =

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Eureka Tower, Melbourne

The Old Man at the Pub

Image courtesy of

He’d had enough. He’d heard it all before – from the skiters, the gunnas, the wannabes and the neverwillbes. In fairness they were all good people – mostly they’d had a few too many, even at this time of day – but what else was there to do? He’d heard the stories over and over again this week from hell. They retold and retold of the narrow escapes as the fireballs descended on the town, the little town that was half no more. Tales of how a house was saved, of how a business was lost, of how the sea was the only place to go. He had to get away from the bar. Away from all the bullshit of what they would do when the insurance money came through, away from the woe of those who wouldn’t be getting anything. There were just too many stories – repeated over and over and over. As if the telling of the thing would make it all go away.

He found it no better out on the veranda – just as crowded. He went down and across the crowded lawn – a lawn full of tents from charities providing tucker and other essentials – full of, not do-gooders, but kind people doing good. He’d had enough of being done good to for a while. He saw that down by the fence it looked quieter, so the old man headed there. He placed his hoary, hard-bitten hands on the top rail and looked at the road out of town, the sole road to the blackened peninsula beyond. Another police convoy was passing, this one going back to ‘town’, back to Hobart. In it were tourists finally getting out, fancy hire cars being driven away from their strandings, trucks full of livestock being taken from the black to the green. After a while he’d seen enough of that too, so he lowered his head and closed his eyes.

He’d grown up in the little town. He’d gone to the little school that was no more. That broke his heart, that did, seeing it flattened. His own three had gone there too. He liked the town, didn’t want to move. All he knew and wanted was here. He’d gone away once. A long time ago he was forced to go to an Asian war, but came back here knowing he’d never fight another one. He worked with his own dad on a fishing boat, and when he passed away he’d crewed on another. But the industry was dying, and after he married he’d wanted more stability, so he went to work in the new sawmill – also no more. The wood felt better in his hands than fish ever did. He’d stayed there until he was simply too old to do his fair share. He didn’t have to be told when that was.

Beryl was a fine woman, a comfortable woman, and she gave him two beaut boys and a lassie. They’re all up in the city now, doing well. When Beryl was taken too young, he gave up the old weather-board house in the little town, and moved around the corner to a shack at Boomer Bay . He was content enough there – he had the sea out front and the bush at his back. He’d his old dog, a couple of cats, chooks and his lucky rod. He had a simple existence. A bit of fishing, the tele, the daily paper and a Cascade or two to wash it all down with. Every Friday eve he’d wander around to the pub, watch the footy with his mates and have a yarn. The lads and his girl took turns in coming down most weekends, little imps in tow. He liked that. They bought down supplies – spoilt him truth be known. He’d open an ale or two and they’d chew the fat. Yeah, it wasn’t too bad, the life he’d had.

Then last Friday the fires came. The shack was gone, but he’d hightailed it to the pub before it all got too bad, his dog with him. Gawd knows where the cats and chooks were now. He’d gone back once to look, but knew he couldn’t go back again. A mate was putting him up. He knew his kids were worried, but they couldn’t get to him till the road reopened. He knew he’d be welcome to live out his days with any of them up in town, but he wasn’t a city person. He knew he’d do his level best to work it so he could stay in his little town – even after all this. He had shed a good few tears, quietly, over the last week. He was shedding a couple now. He knew sooner or later a mate would spot him, give him a little time, then come over, place a hand on his shoulder and draw him back into the fold of his little town.


The call came through when the worst of the fires were diminished, if still threatening, down on the Peninsula. Was I up for going down there in one of the police convoys and bringing out one of the company’s hire cars for her? I said I was. The following morning saw me at the recreation ground of the town nearest to the fires, a town rallying so hard in support of those hard hit further on down the road. Places such as Copping, Connelly’s Marsh, Murdunna and especially Dunalley were doing it hard. Huge transport trucks were lined up at the oval, full of livestock feed. There were utes, their trays full of anything that would help – bales of hay, fencing posts, wire, roofing iron. There were semis loaded with generators to provide temporary power. Another had the portable Centrelink office, reserved for disasters, ferried across from the mainland. And there were mini-buses like ours, full of an eclectic mix of odds and sods going down to bring the cars back. By now most of the tourists belonging to them had been ferried back to Hobs by a flotilla of tourist ferries, pressed into evacuation mode.

Eventually the police car led us out, past the roadblocks and on to the black. And the black soon came, and stayed, for k after k. The bus quietened; a few took photographs. I thought of taking my camera, but did I really want images of all that destruction, of all those dreams sent to fiery oblivion? There were still charred sheep in the paddocks. I didn’t dare ponder too long on the precious native fauna.

A few started to tell stories in the hush. The woman next to me had sold her house in the bush, just outside the little town we now approached. Just six weeks ago a NSW couple, wanting a tree-change, had purchased it on-line. They hadn’t even seen it, and now never would. The woman told us all her possessions had been stored at her mother-in-law’s place, also on the large bush block. She and her family had lost all they owned. She had been up in the city while it all happened, and once they found out city people had rallied around. She couldn’t believe their kindness. Kindness after kindness, mostly from people she didn’t know. Unlike many of her friends on the Peninsula, she and her kids would want for nothing. Her mother-in-law had been badly affected. On seeing the ruin of her life, she was refusing to leave her own bit of paradise. The police, SES had all been wonderful to her – she couldn’t praise them enough.

Down the hill we went, into Dunalley itself. We saw the school, just a lone fireplace, with chimney, still standing - a lonely sentinel. The police station was just a mass of blackened corrugated iron. We saw a postie delivering perhaps the first mail in a week. What would she be thinking as half her addresses now didn’t exist? Across the canal and up to the town’s hotel we journeyed. Someone told that, as they came to the little town, the fireys, who would be sorely tested that fateful day, were ordered to go straight to the pub, not try and save anything else on the way. The pub was where the people were. Save the pub they were instructed, and save it they did. Since then the people had kept coming back to the pub, day after day - for many there was nowhere else.

It was a sobering trip, but eventually we left the worst of the blackness, once we crossed the Neck. We made our way through Taranna, only marginally affected, and on to Port Arthur, the hub of the Peninsula’s tourist trade. Usually bustling at this time of year, today it was eerily sombre. We found our cars. I jumped at the offer of a little ‘snot-box’ to drive back, and it turned out to be my style. It was small and manoeuvrable, so easy to negotiate along the constricted roadway. I was lucky to join straight onto a convoy heading back to Sorell, and was soon approaching Dunalley again. As I passed the hotel I only had a moment to look, and I saw him. He was leaning on the pub’s front fence, away from the rest of the milling lunch time throng on the front lawn. His head was lowered and I couldn’t discern his face. His long, white unkempt hair was blowing in the wind, a similarly long beard pressed against his chest. He was in grubby blue overalls and he was slumped, defeated looking. I needed no camera to imprint that image.


The old man raised his head and saw a mate wandering towards him. He gave a wave, wiped his eyes. He knew it would be okay. He knew, with the help of mates and family, he’d have enough spirit left to pick up the pieces. That was the bush way, the little town’s way, the Tasmanian way.  

Thursday, 10 January 2013

From the Front Door - Winter

A Blue Room Book Review - Sophie Cunnigham – Melbourne

I was mentally in quite an agonised state. It was the early 70’s and for the first time I was venturing off my island to visit a place, to that point, I’d only seen on television, read about and listened to from afar on the radio. I was a late developer in terms of travel – everyone else I knew had made their rite of passage to destinations across the Strait, and beyond, to broaden their horizons, some never to return to my island. For various reasons, till my mid-twenties, I had remained adhered to Tasmania. But now, here I was, just after takeoff, staring out of the aeroplane – a stuttering old prop-driven Fokker – with ever widening eyes and increasing dread. Perched over the left wing, to my consternation something I assumed would be completely static and melded to the fuselage, appeared to be gyrating around of its own volition, seemingly, to me, completely out of unison with the movement of the rest of the airborne vehicle. The wing was obviously loose! At this rate it would soon fall off! Is there an emergency button I should press? Should I bring it to the attention of one of the seemingly unperturbed hostesses so she could inform the pilot that he would have to make a sudden descent to safety, presumably on King Island? Or maybe that is what a wing is supposed to do. It didn’t seem logical to me, but then again, the thought went through my fevered mind that I was notoriously lousy at physics – so I decided to remain stum and closed my eyes to it all, hoping this nightmare of impending disaster would go away. Gradually, as the journey continued, I opened my eyes and realised that nobody else seemed to be in the lather I was, so I started to relax. After an hour or so of bumping up and down on the air currents, my hand, vice-like, gripping an arm rest, I landed at Tullamarine to commence my first ‘overseas’ adventure. I cannot say at any point I enjoyed that bumpity flight, or any of the flying I have done since. But I realised it was a means to an end I could endure, and the city of Melbourne soon became a frequent terminal destination.

Apart form the episode with the apparently fault-free wing, I remember zilch of that first visit to Australia’s early capital city, but I was obviously hooked. The city has a hold on me. Living as we did on the coastline of my island with closest proximity to that metropolis, we, on the North West Coast, were far more fixated on Melbourne than we were Hobart-centric in those days of yore. The first television we watched, from 1957 through till 1962, when a station began operating out of Launceston, came in flickers from Melbourne over Bass Strait. In winter it was virtually impossible to pick up, but summer produced a more reliable signal. We were affixed to Happy Hammond’s ‘The Happy Show’; the drama of the courtroom in ‘Consider Your Verdict’; ‘In Melbourne Tonight’, featuring Australian television’s first superstar, Graham Kennedy; variety show ‘Sunnyside Up’, hosted by race-caller Bill Collins; and an early music show for teenagers, ‘The Go Show’. All these programmes were Melbourne productions, indelibly imprinted on my juvenile mind. The Greater 3UZ was my radio station of choice, again emanating out of that city on the Yarra; the deep voiced Stan ‘the Man’ Rolfe my favourite DJ. Our island’s best footy talent left the island to try their luck in the Melbourne based VFL, and we could read of their exploits in the Melbourne ‘Sun’, delivered to the Coast daily.

There is much I love about Melbourne. Early on I was besotted by the hugeness of its CBD, the ‘skyscrapers’ and shopping joys of Myer, David Jones and later, Daimaru. As I became worldlier, it was the alleyways and galleries that appealed to me more, together with the aerial ballet going on at the MCG and, in more recent times, Etihad. I started to fan out, discovering the delights of Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Richmond, South Melbourne and bayside St Kilda. The trams were a constant, providing a means of transport I prefer to any other, trains included. In the noughties I took to travelling across to the various Winter Masterpieces, and I have fallen in love with many watering holes dotted around the place. The multiculturalism of the inner suburbs is a great asset, and these days just poking around Melbourne’s nooks and crannies, with my camera at ready, is the best of pleasures.

As a place to live, I couldn’t imagine leaving my idyll by the river on the rurban fringe of Hobart. To start with, Sophie Cunningham doesn’t make Melbourne that attractive an alternative either, with her tales of that city’s criminal history. She has spent the best part of her life there, is a writer of quality as her splendid ‘Geography’ attests, and so is eminently placed to give a personalised view of her home town on Port Phillip Bay. She resides with her partner, Virginia, only a short distance away from the inner suburb of her upbringing. Our Sophie is Melbourne through and through. Her take at first seemed to me to be somewhat too personal in that we were learning more about her than the city. But as we passed through her seasonal reflections and expanded out from her local haunts, the personal intensity loosened and we started to gain a vibrant picture of this constantly expanding, constantly changing, multicultural, cultured, bookish, coffee stimulated, tribal and street-artified urban sprawl.

The book is not entirely hagiographic. The warts are there too as the aforementioned criminal ‘underbelly’ is prominent, and of course there is the weather. No treatise on this city would be complete without reference to its worship of our nation’s two greatest sporting events – the Boxing Day Test and footy Grand Final. Forgetting horses going around in circles, it is the gladiatorial AFL that most captures her pen. Sadly Sophie is a Geelong supporter, and her dismissal of the magnificent Hawks’ 2008 victory of the underdog against her team, in just one sentence, is the only real travesty in the tome. Her team has been in its pomp over the last few years so she should be one happy feline.

As is proper, Cunningham takes great effort on linking it all back to the pre-Bearbrass days of the First Australians, before the 1835 treaty and all that. Her use of contemporary literary extracts enhances her salient points, and some of the great yarns of the city. These included Barak’s walk, the ‘Angry Penguins’, the Builders Labourers Federation’s green bans that saved some of the city’s heritage, and the story of travel publishers Lonely Planet. These are a few of many related that come to mind.

Cunningham’s book is ultimately more homage than otherwise, and hit the spot for this reader. I have two trips there already planned for 2013 – I can’t get enough. My latest sojourn flitting across the water was last spring. I was only staying a few days so, travelling light, I had only one set of clothes. I should have known better. On the first day I shivered as icy rain bearing gales came in from the south, on the last I sweltered as the north wind became a harbinger of the summer to come. The city’s climate is noted for its fickleness and, to me, the cool months suit it best. Sydney is imbued with a summery sheen to match its razzle dazzle as the face of the nation, but for all that Melbourne is Australia’s soul. Two immeasurably wonderful songs always seem to me the essence of Melbourne – Paul Kelly’s ‘Leaps and Bounds’ and Archie Roach’s ‘Charcoal Lane’. Sydney songs are froth and bubble, Melbourne’s have place.

Sophie Cunningham's web-site =