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

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.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Blue Wren

A Blue Room Book Review - Louise Doughty – Whatever You Love

Sex. I think Louise Doughty has a problem with sex. Not in the real world I hasten to add. Judging from the author’s image presented in ‘Whatever You Love,’ she appears as an attractive woman of a certain age perfectly at ease with herself in her world – if you can judge anything from a photo. No, I am referring to her writing of it in this title. Otherwise she is a creditably gifted writer whom I first cottoned onto with ‘Crazy Paving’, her first published offering and one I enjoyed. ‘Dance with Me’ was less successful. She is not, for me, a must buy – although, I must admit, her new publication, ‘Apple Tree Yard’ is tempting me with its back cover blurb. She is one for me to pick up if to be found in a remainder bin – as was the case here - or cheap online.

Now about the sex. Fairly early in the piece we’re confronted with Doughty’s prose turning to something quite over heated when she comes to describe the heroine’s first sexual encounters with David. He’s somewhat of an ‘out there’ character who is destined to become her husband and father of her children. Up to this point her writing had been admirably restrained recounting a horrific happening that is the nub of the tome, but once sex is added it becomes, I would imagine, what is to found in something like ‘Fifty Shades…’. It seemed for a while I was reading another author entirely. Maybe it was a deliberate device, but it did not sit well. Hubby later trades Laura in for a younger model, a seriously deranged Chloe – and as for Chloe’s mother – just don’t go there. In truth, our heroine is behaving pretty oddly herself as well – but why wouldn’t she? She has just lost a daughter to a wayward driver, and takes to wandering about on cliff tops with a big knife – cliffs being symbolic of something in the book as there are some hairy moments spent on their edges. We discover Laura may or may not have been also responsible for Chloe’s final mysterious act.

Sex raises a much uglier head again in a totally improbable climax to this tale of sadness, loss and tough-love. I am not going to give the game away – this far-more-than- remainder-bin quality effort is probably available, at an inexpensive price, at a bookshop somewhere near you. Read it to see if you feel there is any logic to the despicable sexual act Laura imposes on her ‘victim’. But then, I am male, with thanks being to She up in the sky that my two beloved made it to adulthood – so what would I know?

If I seem somewhat flippantly dismissive of this book then I have created a wrong impression. I am not reflecting on the whole book, which is well within the bounds of believability; it’s just the ‘sexy’ bits let it down. The author effectively leads us along the ‘what will she do next’ journey in the way we just have to continue reading. We care enough to do that – always the sign of a skilled operator. There was no tossing aside of ‘Whatever You Love.’ She has also assembled a cast of credible, if flawed, persona to present obstacles to our heroine en route to discerning the answers she requires to attain a semblance of peace. You could do far worse for your money than outlay it for this finely honed thriller of sorts – maybe just fast forward the sex!

Loiuse Doughty's website =

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Busy Bee

A Blue Room Review - Zelda – Therese Anne Fowler

As a callow youth my reading was exclusively a diet of non-fiction. Tomes historical were pre-eminent, particularly those featuring the great deeds of war and exploration. Hardcover National Geographic omnibuses took me to exotic locales, and were especially exciting if bare breasted native maidens were involved. I had no time for fiction. For school purposes I waded through Dickens, Eliot and Austen and I found them alien, overly lengthy and turgidly dense. At least I did read them, unlike many of my classmates who purchased slim ‘study guides’, providing the stories in a nutshell and all the other gen they’d need on a title for exam purposes. Even though they ‘cheated’, their eventual results always seemed far better than mine.

Then in my final matriculation year I was introduced to Tess and Jay, and all of a sudden I had a mind shift. Fiction came alive. I found that once I commenced the two texts in which these protagonists figure prominently, I was transfixed – I was in another world, but one which I also wanted to inhabit. I desired to read on, rather than having to read on. As able as my English literature teacher was way back then, I didn’t need him to guide or explain – I now found I could do that for myself. Hardy and Fitzgerald’s characters were alive, were ‘real’ to me as opposed to the ‘dead on the page’ figures in the aforementioned. I hunted down the remaining oeuvres of these two authors with alacrity. I was now a fiction reader, and have remained thus.

‘The Great Gatsby’ is Fitzgerald’s shining masterpiece, never hugely popular within his lifetime, but exploding in sales during and after World War Two. Lately it has revisited the best seller lists for an obvious reason. To me this slim jewel of a book is the measure of all I read, its attributes rarely breached. I am in its thrall till this day.

It has filmed several times over the years, most notably in 1974 with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the leading roles, but that effort never quite captured the spirit of the print version. Perhaps that couldn’t happen until someone like Baz Luhrmann came along with his penchant for over the top voluptuousness and gaudacity. The parties; the two parties – one redolent with the vivacity of the age, the other foretelling impending doom as Jay’s dreams are about to implode, were the film’s centerpieces and I adored how the director went all out. He had the temerity to bring this iconic American work to antipodean shores to make and adulterate it with Australian thespians. Critics have nitpicked and sniveled about the result – that it’s not true to the book and so on – but the punters have responded in droves. In the post GFC world we’re looking for the glamour of times unfettered by economic woes, just as they were post Jazz Age.

One must therefore admire the timing of Ms Fowler in presenting ‘Zelda’ at the height of Gatsby-mania. A southern belle is attracted to a man in uniform – although the Great War ended before F Scott saw service – snares him, and them begins a roller coaster journey through life until their respective sad demises. The great author, as presented here, bore no resemblance to his best known creation. Fitzgerald threw himself into the hedonistic shenanigans of the Roaring Twenties, and for a time he and Zelda were the darlings of the dissolute times. Although they decamped from the Big Apple to Paris and the Riviera, they were party animals and their excesses continued unabated. Their marriage tumbled into an alcohol sodden morass, to such a degree that Zelda feared for her sanity, with Scott repeatedly having her institutionalised.

All the major events of Mrs Fitzgerald’s life are ticked off here, with some imagining between. There is her affair, Scott’s womanising - and then there was Hemingway. Ernest, at least in the novel, was the constant thorn in Zelda’s pathway to some semblance of marital bliss with her husband. What was it between these two? Was it ‘bromance’ or a step beyond? Fitzgerald had, Fowler reports, a great fear of being branded a ‘fairy’, and the literary duo did take ‘manly’ holidays together. Perhaps it could have been simply revenge on Ernest’s part. He tried to ‘have’ Zelda up against an alley way wall – in this publication’s telling of it – but was rebuffed with Zelda making some unkind remarks on his male bits. That was enough to get a fella’s dander up! Did he go on to ‘take’ Scott instead? Of course, as Hemingway’s literary star rose and Fitzgerald’s waned, so the latter’s behaviours became excessive in response, and Zelda suffered the brunt of his topple into an unhinged place.

As I completed this largely entertaining read, I also joined into the spirit by adding ‘Hemingway and Gellhorn’ to Luhrmann’s opus. Of course this is set at a later time, but director Kaufman’s portrayal of ‘Papa’ in this television movie is remarkably similar to our author’s. Clive Owen is done up to look uncannily like contemporary images of the creator of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, although some critics have carped about his performance in the role. For me it was Nicole Kidman who did not ring true – she just appeared to me so unsuitable for and uncomfortable in the role of hard living, hard drinking, hard lovin’ war correspondent Gellhorn trying to match it with Hem.

The misogyny of the time, and that of Fitzgerald in particular, meant that Zelda never realised her potential as a writer, although she did attain some success at the time placing further pressure on the couple’s relationship due to her hubby’s unhappiness at potentially being beaten at his own game. In truth, this part biography is engaging, but not an overly flattering presentation of any of the significant real life figures. It is a tale of inflated egos. For all that, as well as all his failings and unadulterated dumbness, F Scott did give us Gatsby – a fairy floss of perfection that was the ‘green light’ that transported this reader away from boyhood preoccupations to search the fictional world for an equivalent. Mostly my fare pales in comparison – just as Robert and Mia are no match for Leonardo and Carey!

Therese Anne Fowler's website =