Teacher: One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching by Gabbie Stroud

It’s simple. For thirty-five plus years I loved teaching. I loved teaching kids.

And then ’…, under the guise of equity and excellence standardised NAPLAN testing and the My School website infiltrated classrooms around Australia. Infiltrated the profession I loved. Infiltrated the classroom my baby would one day attend.’ So wrote Gabby Stroud. In my case, though, it’s my beloved granddaughters. I live in hope it will soon be consigned to the dustbin, along with the many other previously misguided notions inflicted on our nation’s kids by the ‘experts’ and the dullards in the higher, rarefied echelons of Education Departments all over Australia. I live in hope of that happening before its damage gets to be inflicted on those precious, unique and tender minds so close to my heart.

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Now I could spend the rest of this review railing against other travesties such as National Curriculums, IWBs, A-E assessments, rubrics that came on-stream in the later years of my career, alongside my by now obvious abhorrence of NAPLAN. Instead, I’ll urge every interested parent and practitioner I can influence to simply read Ms Stroud’s ‘Teacher’. With a slow death NAPLAN killed off her career as far as a classroom teaching was concerned. Fortunately she has found success in other fields and has delivered this tome as a wake-up call. I suspect it will strike a chord with many front line educators in schools across our wide brown land. It’s well reported the frustration that exists with a system it has encouraged that focuses on student failure as opposed to strengths, on conformity rather than difference and which, in its wake, is destructive to the art of teaching.
After I finished the final page I reported to my beloved that I could write a book on Gabbie Stroud’s tale of her short-lived stint as a drillmaster when all she wanted to be was a teacher. My lovely lady’s response was ‘Why don’t you?’ Well, it would make me too angry to start with. And, besides, those who need to read her plea for common sense, those who put and keep NAPLAN in place, have not listened to date. We know those who impose their politically motivated, self-serving notions on the wonderful kids of our country will be deaf to any plea. That would take something they lack, something most out front of a classroom have in spades – empathy. As much as I look back with fondness I am far happier and less stressed as a retired person.

There are differences between the author and myself. An ocean cruise made me see the light. Apart from in my first year I never struggled as a teacher, but I largely operated in more benign times. I was, I realized on that Pacific sojourn, mentally on my way out and as the full negative impact of NAPLAN hadn’t really affected me, it was only a minor consideration in my decision. I really struggled after that cruise. I only lasted one more term. I didn’t want to be in the classroom anymore. It was time. I was done.

NAPLAN didn’t kill me off. There are other contrasts as well. I had no tickets on myself that I was inspirational in front of a cohort of students, but I was competent, in control and had a good knowledge base. I ran, generally speaking, a tight and comfortable ship. I lasted far longer than she did, although that’s in no way her fault – just luck and timing. Hers was an excruciating burn-out to resignation, the impositions from on high grinding her down. I did not have the significantly profound relationships with my students she claims she had, but the student/teacher relationship was at the core of my practice. Nothing, I would think, could be more central than that – but then, my confrontation with NAPLAN was not up close and personal. Like the best in her field Gabrielle Stroud possessed a soft soul encased by a brittle shell. And, as she states, to be a teacher who truly engages you need to possess a little crazy too. The best I worked with had that – or at least they put on a convincing act. They had the ability to keep the troops guessing, to produce the unexpected. The art of it should never be undersold as novices quickly discover. You either have it or you don’t. ‘Teacher’ is infused with the type of humanity so lacking in those pulling the strings in Canberra and to a lesser degree on this island. It makes me sad that it seems their view is that a teacher’s main role is to test and produce data on what they already are fully aware of. With NAPLAN in operation young esteem and self worth is crushed for many, with parent and teacher left to pick up the pieces. The role of a teacher as a nurturer is fundamentally impeded.

On a recent trip back to Burnie I had the need to visit a real estate office. At reception I vaguely recognised the beautiful face looking back at me as I requested time with the agent. She took me to his office and said to her boss, ‘I expect you to really look after this gentleman. He taught me. He was one of the good ones.’ Bugger profound relationships. ‘Good’ will do me just fine. If my career is defined by that, I’m chuffed.

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Ms Stroud writes with heart about some of the students, colleagues, places and schools she worked with and in. Please read this book.

Ms Stroud’s website = https://gabbiestroud.com/

Both Sides of the Channel

On the English side the pace was glacial, it truly was. Sometimes a ponderous gait is not a negative and ‘The Bookshop’ did have its pluses. Any movie featuring Bill Nighy is worth consideration and this film also demonstrates that nothing much changes with the world – that the you and me types will always be shat on from great heights as soon as we poke our heads above the ramparts. In the class wars, only the high and mighty win out. Hollywood, in fact all cinema, thrives in the little guy/gal overcoming this supposition, but that’s not reality, is it? Would it happen in this offering from Old Blighty?

The little East Anglian village of Hardborough, in 1959, seemed ripe for a bookshop. A semi-derelict building on the high street, known locally as simply the Old House, seemed the perfect location. As Florence (Emily Mortimer in a performance that requires little more than going through the motions) gets its development underway, it comes to the attention of the ville’s queen-pin, Violet. Playing her is American actress Patricia Clarkson and I was looking forward to seeing her in action again after her stealing the show in ‘The Party’. Here she’s the chief villain of the piece, but her role is muted and colourless in comparison. The lady of the manor once thought that the Old House would be perfect as an artistic hub, a drawcard for the town. But she’d done little about it. When Florence comes on the scene the notion is revitalised and Violet suddenly takes it on herself to try and thwart Florence at every step. At first the shop owner does okay selling books. She finds she has an ally in Mr Edmund Brundish (Nighy) who comes to her aid, initially, when she has to decide whether or not to stock the controversial ‘Lolita’. They come down soon the side of definitely, although her largish order seems a tad extreme for a place so small. But it wasn’t fault with the garnering of product to sell that threatens to do her in. Violet, when her machinations to ruin Florence have all been batted away, hits on the idea of backing someone to open up in opposition. Will this be the ploy that brings the uppity Florence to heel?

There’s a hint of romantic spark between the widow Florence and the reclusive Brundish. Will that ease the bookseller’s pain at the loss of her husband? This is real ‘Heartbeat’ territory in the village cast it throws up – but, unfortunately, without the whimsy. The big question is – will we have a ‘Heartbeat’ ending? Based on an award winning book by Penelope Fitzgerald, it takes an eternity to get there. When it came I found I didn’t really care.

Crossing to the French side, ‘Aurore’ is a different kettle of fish altogether. We’re almost immediately smitten by Agnes Jaoui in her eponymous role here. It will almost certainly be recalled as her signature outing. She’s no classic beauty, to be sure, but there is just something about Aurore. It helps, of course, that she’s French and we’re increasingly attracted to the bewitching woman as her platform gets its narrative underway. There’s a certain earthy sexiness about her; a mature woman and distinctively stunning. She’s battling to make ends meet, a boss who wants her to be even more sexy, a hubby divorcing her and hot flushes indicating ‘change-of-life’. Oh yes, she’s about to become a grandmother too and she’s not really sure she knows what to think about that.

I know I’m a sucker for anything French and romantic, but I adored this film. Just when Aurore’s life couldn’t get any more complicated along comes not one, but two men who vie, in various ways, for her attention. The fact that sparking the flame doesn’t come easy for all men is not shied away from in this movie either – a rarity in this industry that sees older men bedding younger damsels at the drop of a hat.

Writer and director Blandine Lenoir has created a fine feature keeping it real and believable in contrast to so much that is light, fluffy, sudsy and totally too good to be true in rom-com land. ‘Aurore’ has received critical plaudits around the world, largely due to the lead’s performance, although Pascale Arbillot, as her sidekick Mano, for many of her hit and miss adventures, deserves kudos as well. Now there’s a dame with front.

I could have stayed with ‘Aurore’, her family, mates and wannabe lovers for much longer. Seeing this must have you leaving the cinema ready to take on the world with renewed vigor. The Brits, even with Nighy, were left in her wake. Far too long-winded about the tale it had to tell. Sound familiar?

Trailer for ‘The Bookshop’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRPNUHOS6yE

Trailer for ‘Aurore’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4T9mgtEaPU

Pack Weavers

Watch him on YouTube. Maybe, if you’re my vintage, you’ll remember him, but the clips on the digital carrier of the player in his pomp are still eye-opening – as they would be to younger souls who never witnessed him play. Of course modern football, with its fast and furious gut running, is a very different kettle of fish to when he was up and about but, no matter your age, can you see the similarity? Can you see the magic he weaved? Do you reckon, like I do, that he also had that same special x-factor as the guy we said goodbye to this past week?

Dusty breaks up packs with pure strength, escaping them, ball in hand, with don’t argues. Selwood burrows in with head down cunning. But the Doc wove his way through and even if he didn’t have ball in hand, he was still in control of it. And that’s the case with Cyril.

Darrel Baldock’s glory years in the VFL were back in the sixties, but he was a star even before he crossed to Yarra City. I have a very early memory of my father pointing him out to me before he left and telling me what a champion he was. Tasmanians had champions back then, some even seeing no necessity to leave the island. But the Doc did and all we islanders know what happened when he donned a St Kilda guernsey. I only fully remember him when he came back to the North West to captain/coach Latrobe in the local comp, the NWFU. Back then Tasmanian footy was vibrant and watched by thousands, continuously producing those champions who found Melbourne fame. It was a far cry to the pitiful state of the local product today, thanks to the behemoth that is the AFL, the digital age and maladministration. By his return the champ had lost most of his magic and at times his focus wasn’t always on the ball, but he was still miles above any opponent placed on him.

I wrote recently how I’m drifting away from AFL as a viewer of copious hours of it on tele. Sure, we’ve still got Buddy and Eddie for a while longer, but the loss of Cyril doesn’t help. As Tim Boyle wrote in a tribute piece for the Age, ‘Now it will be harder to laugh at the footy.’ for the player was pure entertainment. He dazzled, leaving others at the height of their powers looking stupid in his wake. And boy, could he get up in the air for a hanger.

I loved the way Bob Murphy, who also penned a piece in homage, commented as a recent player that, when he had the ball against the Hawks and scanned the way forward, if he couldn’t see Rioli, he knew he was in trouble.

Today’s game needs the magic that Cyril can produce as so much of it, unlike in Baldock’s era, is waged in close. I have wondered how the Tasmanian would have coped with today’s style of play. Certainly he couldn’t have held down a key position as he did for the Saints, but I’ve no doubt he would have found a way. He, like Cyril, was a pack weaver. The Hawthorn player could transform a game with only a few stats against his name, as he did in one of the four grand finals he played in. On this day the crowd, crammed into the ‘G, was in no doubt who the judges should award the Norm Smith to for best afield. The chant went up and they had no choice. It could only be one man.

He’s struggled these last two seasons in body and mind, especially in the latter which has been in another place. I’m probably too old to see another pack weaver of his or the Doc’s quality in my lifetime, but their deeds will live on, thanks to the digital world. Many scribes are expecting that one day in the not too distant future Cyril will return, but in some ways that will be a tad sad too. As his body slows down guile will come to the forefront, replacing the dazzle and magic. It wouldn’t be the same. Let’s remember him as one who left us breathless – you wouldn’t want him coming back to the pack.

Bob Murphy’s article = https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/cyril-on-song-one-of-the-game-s-sweet-spots-20180704-p4zpf7.html

Timothy Boyle’s article = https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/cyril-rioli-the-conjurer-20180707-p4zq40.html

In the Garden of the Fugitives – Ceridwen Dovey

It took me a while to warm up to Ms Dovey’s creation, although I never doubted her aptitude to wend together, with able wordsmithery, the two dominant strands of her tale. It just took a time for me to become engrossed in it – right up to the final chapters in fact. For much of the reading of it I found the history involved in the archaeological dig around Vesuvius, an aspect of one of the threads, far more interesting than the interlocking saga of the two main protagonists.

Vita is a middle-aged academic living in, of all places, Mudgee. After a life rotating around Oz, RSA and the US, why choose this place to settle down? In the end it becomes clear. Her birthplace was South Africa, a country she returns to as a younger woman to pursue her art in a somewhat desultory way. I should imagine this nation these days isn’t an easy one to love. It would have perhaps not so been the case during the apartheid days, depending on what side of the equation one was on. She gives her returns to her home country her best shot and challenges its outside perceptions.

Her old mentor Royce is not a well man and it soon becomes evident that, what he had with Vita, was of a closer nature then purely to guide her in the ways of academia. After a long estrangement he reconnects with her in the old fashioned way – by letter. Initially the book is in the form of a reproduction of their missives to each other, but soon its alternating chapters morph into the story of, for a time, their shared lives. But Royce has something on his conscience – his unrequited infatuation with a fellow university class mate, Kitty. He later follows her to a scientific excavation in Pompeii – her special interest being the Roman gardens of the time. Despite Royce’s best efforts, Kitty falls in love with a most alluring fellow who is not the solid, devoted beau Royce feels he could be to her. So, in his correspondence with Vita, there’s a secret he just has to laden her with.

It all made for a very interesting piece of work but, despite the surety of Dovey’s construction, it was a slow burn for me, measured by the weeks it took me to get through it. It was not a novel I rushed back to each day.

The author’s website = http://www.ceridwendovey.com/

Reflections of Glenorchy, a Legacy

I hadn’t heard of Kate Spade at all. Anthony Bourdain I vaguely knew made television, the vaguely giving the clue I have never watched an episode of his work.

I remember well my first visit to Mona – the walk down the steps to the tennis court and across to the underground temple of sex and death. I was quite gobsmacked by it all and only outraged in minimal doses. It was and is fantastic.

I had my camera with me and I quickly became fascinated, even before I stepped in the door, snapping away furiously. Surrounding the ingress was a mirrored wall, reflecting the souls standing in front of it, but, more spectacularly, giving a reverse view of the houses of Glenorchy, founder David Walsh’s birthplace. He has given back to that bogan-burb in spades, as well as to the city beyond. I had never given that feature, though, much credit as to its thoughtfulness of positioning and its genesis. It is a very clever, well-done thing and had I really considered it, an art work in itself. The man behind it took his own life, at the age of 53, earlier this year.

You can read of some of his achievements in Gabriella Coslovich’s following article, including about his last installation, a symbolic land bridge connecting Victoria to this island.

His public works are spread out across the nation and he had gifted his attention to overseas countries as well, often combining a commission with teaching local wannabe sculptors and stone masons. Receiving his talent included Florida in the US, Zimbabwe and Cambodia. His thirty-plus years of artistic endeavour were soundly based on skills picked up from his Dad as a child. John, a builder, loved crafting wood, especially for marine craft. Matthew Harding underwent training for his artistic future in Canberra and lived there throughout his career. As well as wood and stone, he also fashioned stainless steel.

Harding is deserved to be wider known – as widely as some of his eye-catching, for better or worse, product. Coslovich reports he did struggle at times financially, but I’ve no idea as to why he took the courageous step to end it all. I know there are some who bleat their opinion that suicide is the coward’s way. Maybe doing that horrendous deed is a result of an unwillingness to confront whatever demons is bringing the victim undone, but even in despair, it still takes courage. And I can’t imagine a person taking that step, allowing for state of mind, not considering those left behind.

But yes, what of Matthew Harding’s children – Arabella (10), Lulu (9), Polly (6) and Hugo (4)?

Matthew Harding’s website = http://matthewharding.com.au/

Gabriella Coslovich’s article = https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/m31columnist-20180302-h0wxl8.html

Driftin’ Away and Blaming Rich

‘Don’t buy it Rich. Don’t buy it! Why would you want something that big???’ would have been my advice, except he never asked for it. Naturally he wouldn’t consult with me – why should he? But I’ll blame him any way. With that purchase of his and his lovely wife Shan’s, the dye was well and truly cast.

I am the direct opposite to you Monica Dux, the direct opposite. But it’s waning, dear me, it’s waning.

My beautiful Leigh is the love of my life and sharing an abode with her here by the river is pure bliss. She is many things to me, almost everything. But one aspect of life we do not share, to any degree, is a passion for the native game. She is not a footy person and I respect that, just as she respects my lack of enthusiasm when it comes to stage musicals, which I find, to quote Monica ‘….silly, nonsensical and boring’ (unless rock music is attached). I do admire, though, women with a passion for Aussie rules, like my dear friends Steph, with her devotion to Essendon and Laurel, the Cats.

I hasten to add that Leigh doesn’t actually hate the game – she’s just ambivalent to it. She’ll watch a bit of pre-game carry-on with me, or maybe enjoy a bit of the repartee on ‘Footy Classified’, but as for actually watching a game she’s not interested, just as I wouldn’t be sitting with her through ‘The Sound of Music’ or ‘Cats’ in any way, shape or form. Nor would I expect her to give up pole position in the lounge room so I can watch the footy in the main arena and send her off to watch ‘Big Bang Theory’ in another room. In the past it’s been my practice to do that – to take myself off to the small screen in the spare room. Once upon a time I was perfectly happy to do so, but not anymore. And so now I am worried, that in the digital age, I’m driftin’ away, bit by bit, driftin’ away. It seems I’m doing the same with AFL as I once did with cricket. If passion for a sport is measured by viewing hours – well, I’m almost gone.

There are reasons for it – and not one is to do with the state of the game, so bandied about in the media. I dispute the claim that the style of play these days makes it less of a visual attraction. With footy, you won’t hear me saying it was so much better back in the day

So the first reason for my slow drift away has already been alluded to. I just enjoy my lady’s company – simple as that. Watching a show together, tucked up in the lounge room, is just so pleasurable. We can discuss our shows, often including testing ourselves as to exactly who is that actor we know we know but just cannot place. Then there’s her delightful habit of disputing the way certain medical procedures are done and I’m blessed with her perceptiveness in finding holes in the story that I always miss, especially when it comes to continuity. And as I watch and engage with her, I am able, all the while, to sit in comfort on our new sofa with a device in my hand that keeps tabs on the scores, be it from the summer or winter game. Perhaps the sofa, too, is a cause of the issue in itself.

Another reason is that we are in the midst of a golden age of television, or so we are repeatedly told. And I wouldn’t demur from that conclusion. So many platforms now that we have added Netflix and Stan; so many excellent series that these days movies on the small screen do not get a look in. Given the choice between watching the Gold Coast play Carlton or Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons taking on the world in Game of Thrones, it’s no contest for me. Which would you choose?

And the ads. OMG the ads. After every goal, every single one – and often there are two in succession shouting at you to buy wood-fired heaters or bargains at Hardly Normal. They drive me, especially when a team has a run on or it’s getting towards the end in a tight one, bananas. Just ruins the flow, detracts immensely from the spectacle. I know I could go ad free for a not expensive amount, but it’s hardly worth it given, yes, I’m inexorably driftin’ away.

Maybe, just maybe, a factor could be that I am totally sated. My cup has runneth over supporting the Hawks, they at least having given me one, if not more, premierships in all the decades of my life since the Sixties. What more could a follower ask of his/her team? The Doggies winning in ’16 and the Tigers last year, because they’re both such great stories, gave me perhaps as much, if not even more, pleasure than if Hawthorn had emerged victorious in the final dance again.

I’ll never, ever become Ms Dux in my attitude to the sport. I still relish reading about a Hawthorn victory in the Age and the opinions of its columnists on footy matters, especially now with Robert Murphy back in the fold. I could still hold my own in any conversation about the weekend’s results. But, increasingly, it’s becoming a smaller and smaller part of my life.

And lastly, I blame you Richard Lovell. That big screen television of yours and Shan’s, that I get all to myself when I’m house/Memphis sitting whilst you both are somewhere sunny, is a trap. And up at Bridport, last weekend, I watched a whole game for the first time this season – the Swans v West Coast – and I almost swooned with the ecstasy of it. It was a terrific contest – imagine how crabby I was the following Sunday when I fired it up to watch the Tigers/Geelong match up only to find, bless their hearts, it wasn’t on Southern Cross! Now going from that to the little screen in the spare room just doesn’t cut it. And whereas the giant screen is perfectly at home in your spacious abode, Rich, it would indeed look ridiculous in ours. What we have, for me, is just fine – but, at home, I’ll simply be driftin’ away.

Monica Dux’s column = https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/carn-the-phantom-why-its-time-for-musical-theatre-to-outscore-afl-20180518-h10822.html

Mothers Day with Joe

Joe played his first test against the touring English and visited their shores four times. In all he played thirty-one tests against our old cricketing foe. He captained his country in eighteen of those. It took Bradman to lead the Australian XI more times to that point. He, Joe, was a thick set man in the Boon tradition and also mightily powerful with the bat. He was courageous against speed in those unhelmeted times, could defend with stoicism and build an innings by slow aggregation. He figured in some mighty stands. But, when it called for it, he could swashbuckle his way to a ton in the blink of an eye. He once held the record for the fastest century against the Poms. He also took on the South Africans once they came into the test fold.

My lovely Leigh and I, for various reasons, did not travel north this year to celebrate Mothers Day with our wonderful Mums, but nonetheless we wanted to do something to mark the day, something a little different perhaps – something we normally wouldn’t do. In the lead up to it Leigh saw an ad, I readily agreed and she made a booking.

Joe was born at Glen Ormond in South Australia, the son of a well-to-do merchant. He attended the Prince Alfred College in that state’s capital, quickly demonstrating his prowess with the willow. He once set a schoolboy record, scoring 252 against a neighbouring educational institution. He also was proficient at the native game, playing footy at a high level. After his school years he moved on to an agricultural college, before managing one of the family’s wheat farms. Later he returned to Adelaide to marry and open a sports store on Rundle Street. His father, John, saw his business potential and started to groom him to take over the family firm and was not happy when his son was selected to play his sport at the highest level for South Australia. Over time his wife, Alice, gave him ten sons and five daughters so Joe was soon to have trouble balancing his life between representative cricket, family and business. Could he make a go of it in all three arenas? Only time would tell.

The journey on that most recent of Mothers Days was only a short one, just into the nearby suburb of Claremont. The location of our repast was to be an elegant mansion that was once, before the area became built up, the most dominant feature on the landscape for miles. Now it is largely hidden from view of the major thoroughfares. A chocolate factory is now the feature most commonly associated with Claremont, but once upon a time it was this house. A recent benefactor had lovingly bought the building back to life as in previous decades it had fallen into decrepitude. It is now open to the public for tours, high teas and special occasion functions such as ours.

To start with his sporting passion won out for Joe, but the time away from family weighed heavily. Then his father pulled the mat right out from under him. John purchased a large property and informed his son he was to manage it. Joe retired from cricket and followed his old man’s orders. But his country needed him and he was soon back in whites, succumbing to pressure to take over the national side as captain. He tried to battle on in that role for a few more years, but age and weariness caught up with him. He was doing too much and had to slow down, seeing him give away the game at the highest level to return to his holdings and his ever growing family. Part of the trouble was where his father’s land was situated – almost in the middle of Tasmania, just outside Oatlands.

Claremont House was radiant in the dusk as we arrived. Entering, we were impressed by the capability of the restorers who had taken it back to something akin to how it must have looked in its heyday. On its originally prominent site it began life, around 1840, as a four-roomed Georgian home, gradually morphing into its present day form as a mansion in the Italianate style. The land it was established on was once owned by another iconic figure, one of the founders of Melbourne, John Pascoe Fawkner. He put it up for sale in 1826 for it to be purchased by another mover and shaker of those early days in the colony, Henry Bilton. He built the first structures on site, including the cottage, by 1840 transforming it into a substantial house of rendered brick. Fast forward to 1858 and Bilton had increased his land holdings around it to 350 acres. Being childless, on his death in 1889, the land was sub-divided and sold off. Parliamentarian Frank Bond became the new owner of the house itself, adding extra rooms to his Claremont edifice and constructing its tower. Twenty-one year old Kathleen Brook purchased the property in 1911and with her wealth it soon became a centre of the local social scene for the well-to-do.

Stuck in the middle of Tassie, Joe was far away from any substantial social scene, something Alice probably would have felt quite keenly. But being in that part of the world had some advantages for her husband. He found a new passion – politics, initially throwing himself into the various farming associations whose function it was to gain better deals for the man on the land. But Alice was hankering for a more urbane existence and it was her that saw an advertisement in the press for a substantial house to house a substantial family by the Derwent, not too far out of Hobart. It was also right on the road north to Stonehenge, their Midlands residence. Perfect. She quickly purchased it on Joe’s behalf and they moved in in 1920. And soon Joe started to set his sights on taking his political ambition one step further. He became the MLC for Cambridge in ’21 and served that electorate in the Legislative Council until 1941.

I wouldn’t rave about the tucker, but there was plenty of it, being a buffet – and it was palatable enough. But it was the plush surrounds, on that second Sunday in May, that really appealed. The food was being served in a large room dominated by an expansive billiard table. And on this was arranged all sorts of memorabilia that fascinated this diner, including from Joe’s tenure at the stately home. Amongst it was a plethora of photos from his time as a cricketer, including a snap of him arm in arm with the great WG, as well as one of the man he called his ‘white-haired boy’, Victor Trumper. I was so engaged I almost totally forgot about my stomach and the gorgeous date waiting for me back at our table. Also featured, from more recent times, was an image of the current owner with Dame Helen Mirren.

Along with politics the former cricketer was partial to automobiles, converting the coaching house to hold his collection of six expensive models. Sadly, though, time marches on and with his children grown up and largely dispersed, the place became too onerous for the ageing couple to manage. He sold it to the Red Cross in 1940 to be used as a convalescent home for the war wounded.

It was a delightful evening at Claremont House for Leigh and I, well worth the cost of the meal for all that history. My lady has vowed to return to partake of the tour and high tea and I would encourage any visitors to our fair city to do the same.

Joe Darling CBE saw his later years sadly mired in controversy as he dared to take on the might of the Forestry Department whose practices, back in the day, were every bit as dubious as they have been in a more recent era. He accused the minister and some officials of taking bribes and demanded a royal commission. The evidence he presented was so compelling that this was finally granted – something that did not earn him friends, but served to demonstrate the man himself hadn’t changed much from his days leading our nation on the cricketing fields of the world. He won out in the end, but did not live to see the outcome, passing on in 1946. He was the last surviving member of the soon to be federated nation’s touring party of 1896, dying only thirteen days later than fellow Tasmanian tourist of that team, mate and local parliamentarian CJ Eady. Joe is buried at Cornelian Bay. I wonder what the great man would have made of twenty/twenty, IPA and dare I say it, the current ball-tampering farce? I daresay he’d turn in his grave by the river.

Claremont House website = http://claremonthouse.com.au/

Pink, Jack and the Point of it All

It was in my early months of retirement and I was sitting next to him at an end of the year work function. He was a doctor at my lovely Leigh’s place of work; the practice where she plied her profession as a nurse. At a glance I’d say he was older than myself, but who knows? We chatted away haltingly, as you do with someone you don’t really know all that well, looking for common ground. I probed away with cricket, footy, travel and even the weather, but eventually what we had was the end of our working days. He was obviously thinking about pulling the plug, I was still feeling my way into it after doing so. Breaking free from the nine to five was strange at first, but by the time I was sitting next to Jack, I was starting to feel pretty good about it. And the notion was our starting point through which, as the evening proceeded, we began to get to know each other in a bit more depth.

After reading Ms Coslovich’s column, I returned to my own private phobia of the colour. Of course, these days, if I had a grandson, using ‘too girly’, if he had of picked out ‘…the glittery pink journal’, would not have passed my lips, but would I have still discouraged him from buying it? I suspect he would find out soon enough in any case. But I wonder if it would have been the same way back when my own cherished son was a little tacker? It’s so long ago now, but maybe. I know I’ve an illogical aversion to the hue and the male gender. I’d happily buy pink for my equally cherished granddaughters. Unlike, though, the sartorially elegant Michael Portillo, with his pink jackets and strides adorning his person as he gads about the English countryside on his trains, I could never wear it. I’ve even fallen short of buying a book by a favourite author because it was too pink for me to take to the counter, let alone to be seen out in public reading it. There are some advantages in e-books.

He asked me how I put in my time; how did I fill up the days? I replied that, so far, my post-teaching days had been full and rewarding – and that wasn’t just idle chat. That was decidedly the case. I explained I could now see every movie I aspired to, read every book that tempted me (that may have been just a little fib I was to discover), catch up on all the old tele series I was forced to miss during term time and go on to wholly enjoy what we now know as the golden age of the small screen. And I confided to him that I wrote. Jack took an interest in that, asking what I put pen to paper about. ‘Whatever comes into my head,’ I responded. I told him about my blog, the Blue Room, my digitally savvy daughter had set up for me. He told me he was totally ignorant of blogs, so I gave him some more detail about how they operated.

I like Gabriella C’s short piece ‘Handle Messages with Kid Gloves’. I liked her yarn about the two men, the contrast between the guy learning Spanish and the one disappointing his son over the pink diary. I guess, if anything, with my scribing, I fancy myself as a columnist like Gabriella – or a Bernard Salt, Martin Flanagan, Tony Wright or Wendy Squires, just to name a few of my favourites. That is, writing for a wide public consumption. But I know, particularly at my age, that’ll never be the case. But does that matter? In no way is it a burning ambition.

Then Jack asked the inevitable question – the one I knew he would ask. ‘Well, what’s the point if nobody reads it?’ I could add,’What’s the point if few ‘like’ my Facebook or ‘heart’ my Instagram posts?’ I counted the medico’s query with words akin to that first father’s out with his lad – ‘And not everything need(s) to have a purpose; you could do something for the pure enjoyment’. Just as he did with his foreign language lessons; just as I do with my writing. Like the comparison with the truck driver, I know I’ll never be a writer. But it is important to me that I can write. That few respond to my blogs or anything I place out into the ether is of little concern to me. It’s the process of doing so that gives me the utmost pleasure. Isn’t that enough?

My Leigh now works elsewhere, in another medical practice, although I still go to her previous place of employment as my own terrific doctor still hangs his shingle there. I hadn’t seen Jack around the place in quite a while, but last week I had reason to again visit and there he was. He breezed through whilst I was waiting for my consultation, gave me a cheery wave and greeting before continuing on his way. Perhaps he was now part-time; perhaps he’d decided retirement wasn’t for him, that he wasn’t ready. It doesn’t matter. He’ll know when the time’s right. Back in ’11 I knew it was and have never regretted the decision, even if some might feel what I do with it might be indeed pointless. I love my life today and that’s good enough for me.

Ms Coslovich’s column – https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/m19columnist-20180509-h0zv6x.html

Two Days – Two State Visits

For a while, nothing. Then, all of a sudden, there was a plethora of enticing new movies airing at the State – in my eyes of course. So obviously my usual routine of a movie a week would have to be upped. I triaged these releases according to the amount of staying power they would have at the venue. ‘Chappaquiddick’ had the least number of screenings per day, so it was my obvious first choice.

This is an offering for my generation. When I was chatting to my beautiful savvy daughter about it, the strange word meant little to her. She’d vaguely heard of the small island off the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard, that playground for the rich and famous, but had little notion of it’s significance for the career of the scion of the most notable American political family of the latter half of last century. On it an event occurred, on the same day that man first walked on the moon, that would similarly reverberate down through the decades. And questions remain unanswered. Was he or wasn’t he in a relationship with Mary Jo Kopechne? How hard did he try to save her? Just why did it take him so long to contact authorities? Mary Jo (Kate Mara) was a promising campaign operative still grieving the loss of Teddy Kennedy’s big brother Bobby. As a result of her losing her life that night, when Edward Kennedy drove off the bridge, plunging into a creek on the island, his quest to follow a brother into the White House was over. He served the nation well the following decades, but he could never make up for that deed.

Jason Clarke is quite convincing as the presidential hopeful and we have fine performances from Ed Helms and Bruce Dern in their roles, particularly the latter as father Joe. John Curran’s re-imaging is absorbing enough, but he gets it very wrong in one sequence. When the Democratic Party’s big guns gather to spin Kennedy out of his mess, the overly choreographed reactions to each of Teddy’s revelations, seemingly played for laughs, were so out of kilter as to be jarring. That lost it points for this viewer. After the Dallas assassination and Robert’s murder, Chappaquiddick marked the final death knell of Camelot continuing for the USA. What the big brothers promised, little bro threw away finally and forever.

And there’s a touch of ‘ Chappaquiddick’ in ‘Tully’ to which I accompanied my lovely lady the following day – as well as a hint of ‘The Shape of Water’. There’s a vast difference between the world of America’s political elite and that of Marlo (Charlize Theron) and her family. She, at movie’s start, has one on the way, but is already struggling with an autistic son and a put upon daughter. Hubby, a loving but somewhat disengaged character, is submerged by his work and tiredness. Marlo doesn’t get a break with her son struggling at school and her lack of energy. She can’t even manage to put decent food on the table. She’s definitely in need of a circuit breaker and along it comes, once a newborn is released from the womb. Her rich brother provides her with a night nanny (MacKenzie Davis) – something I didn’t know existed and who are evidently life-savers for well-to-do US mums. The nanny takes control of the situation as Marlo starts to get her life back.

This is an excellent offering, a tribute to writer Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman and their lead actress in a role low on glamour but high on spunk.

As the relationship between Marlo and her night help, Tully, develops, an uneasy feeling emerges that something isn’t quite right. But when the saga takes a very unexpected turn, it still comes as a shock. What were the clues along the way? This is what Leigh and I chatted about as we drove home in the aftermath.

Theron is marvellous and I enjoyed Ron Livingston as the dad Drew. This is billed as a comedy and there is some dark humour, but it’s much, much more than that. See it if you can.

There are more movies to get to at the State in the weeks ahead before I go north. I’ve my fingers crossed I can manage to see them all. I am back there today.

Trailer for ‘Chappaquiddick’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG-c8DtOm9g

Trailer for ‘Tully’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRtBP07gIHY

Extinctions – Josephine Wilson

Worthy. That’s the best description of Wilson’s novel. It was a worthy winner of last year’s Miles Franklin. It will never be looked back on as a great winner, but there’s no doubt of the author’s worthiness in turning a collection of words worth our while perusing. This tome, unlike many other winners of the prestigious award, had not been purchased but passed on to me. The words my writerly daughter used were, ‘You’ll enjoy this.’ She knows. I did.

There is a worthy trend in British film making at the moment, with many of their great thesps getting on in years, to produce for us in the older demographic. Usually they are fairly mushy, but nonetheless enjoyable for that. They are tales about falling in love again when that was felt something for earlier decades. Cite the ‘Marigold Hotel’ duo and the more recent ‘Hampstead’. There’s numerous others. Also, some ponder on the meaning of love itself at our age. ‘Extinctions’, the novel, constantly reminded me of, not an English speaking movie, but the Swedish gem, ‘A Man Called Ove’. A curmudgeon is softened by a female influence.

And Fred, in ‘Extinctions’, has Jan for this – maybe. A tragic event has bought them together, even though they’re next door neighbours. Fred’s life has been marked by misfortune – the passing of his wife; the accident causing his son to be in high-dependency care. As a result Fred has retreated to a retirement village, pulling his past behind him to wait out his own extinction. He is going to stew in his own juices, but Jan attempts to jolt him into action, to get him into gear. It is, without giving anything away, a transformed Fred we have at novel’s end – but transformed in a positive way?

Frank’s previous work was high in academia, in the field of concrete no less. Oh dear, we might all sigh, but there’s more to cement than meets the eye. Design fascinates the old fellow and in the past he has collected significant examples, some of which he cannot bear to part with as he downsizes. He drags them into his gated community.

Jan also has a tale to tell about her life. She can see what Fred could be and doesn’t give him an inch. His daughter has a back story as well. She’s affected by her origins and has temporarily escaped to England.

No, there’s little lovey-doveyness to be had here like those Brit cinema offerings. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t light – and perhaps, just perhaps, a few second chances as well.