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

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Glover, Evandale

Two Gay Delights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Guide Falls

A Blue Room Book Review - Mucked Up - Danny Katz

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 17 August 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

Raymond Evans' review of 'The Forgotten War' =

Stephen Wright's column =

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Native Berries

Harris, Me and the Deutz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melinda Tankard Reist’s article =

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Burnie Port

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troy and Adam sing a Slim classic =

Sunday, 4 August 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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