Fab and Pre-Fab

My goodness, was it really fifty years ago that I espied them on that magazine cover? The foursome were cavorting in striped Edwardian neck-to-knee bathers – or that’s how I remember it. It was on the cover of an edition of TV Week. Did I notice then the deliberate misspelling of the name? Did I make a make a mental note to watch out for them on our black and white tele? It should have been to listen out for them on my transistor radio. Did I buy the mag to read up on them? I doubt it, for I was still at school and pocket money was limited. After all, it was the first time they registered with me. It didn’t matter, in any case, for soon the world would be awash with them and their catchy musical product. They headed a revolution; headed the British Invasion. The Fab Four.

What came first? Was it ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ back in 1966, or their eponymous television show? Again I cannot recall, but excuse the French, even them I recognised the show was crap. But I watched it anyway for, at any moment, they might break out into a mimed rendition of one of their hits. Mimed? The rumour was they could hardly hold a note, let alone play their instruments. We know now that was a furphy for, individually, they were, or became, talented musicians. It is true, initially, they were bought together artificially – manufactured if you like. Prefabricated. The Pre-Fab Four.

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Of course they weren’t a patch on the British stars, but had the advantage of being on our small screens once a week while the show ran (1966 -1968). And, as with the Liverpool quartet, their music has survived.

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Yesterday I went with my lovely lady to the cinema to relive the songs of the Beatles; the songs the planet was in thrall of when I was a mere slip of a lad. The film – you know the title – was a tad cheesy, the lead a bit too gormless to really believe in, its ‘wrinkle in time’ plot a clever notion of which more should have been made. In short, it lacked the substance to be a classic. Himesh Patel wasn’t anywhere near, well, Beatlesque. Lily James, the sort of love interest, was gorgeous on screen as always – but falling for him??? Give me a break. Ed Sheeren put in an appearance as himself. Would he be the superstar he is today without the Merseyside’s gift to the world? I wonder. But it was the music; the lyrics that are now embedded in our synapses that a premise of the planet rediscovering the Beatles all over again is possible. The result of Danny Boyle’s direction did not have the magic of ‘18s’ ‘A Star is Born’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. ‘Wild Rose’, this year, in my opinion, leaves it for dead and ‘Rocketman’ was superior too. But I am glad I was there with Leigh yesterday because, for all of its flaws, it still had some of the magic that John, Paul, George and Ringo created way back when.

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And of the Pre-Fab Four – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith – their legacy remains as well. After the band’s demise in 1971 Mike, who was my favourite, kicked on and had a few hits under his own steam. As with the Beatles, they have lost two members along the way, but Mickey and Mike are, as I write, touring Oz as the Monkees. Paul still sells out arenas these days with Ringo making occasional forays back to the drum kit. ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘Daydream Believer’ are classics, but the Beatles produced umpteen. Edgier bands followed in the Beatles’ wake – the Stones of course, the Who, Hollies and the list goes on. I loved the Kinks – still do.

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Watch any YouTube of McCartney playing his hits today. Look at his audience – old farts like yours truly down to the Millennials – all singing along with equal rapture to the tunes the will survive until the wrinkle in time for real comes along that puts an end to it all.

Trailer to Yesterday = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry9honCV3qc

Columnist Barry Divola on the Monkees = https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/i-m-too-busy-singing-to-put-anybody-down-a-monkees-fan-stands-his-ground-20190611-p51wft.html

Remembering Hushx3

Bare-chested; leering, sneering and smirking at the boppers in the front rows, he was Bon Scott-lite. He could strut with the best of them and out lived them all – Bon, Freddie, Hutchence – and is now a granddad. Unlike those three, though, his flame passed quickly and these days he has a quiet existence in regional Victoria, developing board games and believe it or not, for an old rocker, running an embroidery business.

For a time he and his band were a mainstay on ‘Countdown’, also achieving some late recognition this millennium with revival tours. Linked with that iconic show, they reminded rock lovers of my age what we all were doing at six o’clock of a Sunday eve back in the day.

I was a young teacher then. You could be sure that, at any school social, his two signature hits, both covers, could be, along with ‘Nutbush’ and ‘The Time Warp’, assured of getting every kid in the room up and gyrating. ‘Boney Maroney’ and ‘Glad All Over’ rocked out of ‘Countdown’ as well and he even compered the show once or twice. He and the lads were the gaudiest glam-rock crew on the screen, but sadly they were mostly gimmick, little substance. They, though, intrigued me as his two guitarists were both of Asian appearance. One, Les Gock, went on to have a successful career producing in the music industry, as well as working in advertising. If you follow the NRL, he wrote the Canberra Raiders team song.

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But it was Keith Lamb who, as the smarmy vocalist, was the focus of the band Hush. Like many of the stars of the local industry during its formative years, his family were ten pound Poms, arriving in Oz in 1970. By mid decade he was riding high in the charts and Hush had the honour of appearing on the first Countdown of the colour era – and they certainly dressed for the occasion. For a while they toured the country frenetically, playing to audiences of a few dozen in country halls to thousands in the big city venues. Grinding out a playlist of sure things, they fired up the punters, getting them on their feet like my North Western Tassie youngsters. I wonder if they ever came our way? And of course, for a taste of the action these local versions of Slade produced, you can find them in all their now faded glory on YouTube. It brings back memories.

And on that internet platform you’ll also find another Aussie legend from almost a decade before, fronting ‘Somebody’s Image’. Just look at him – so baby-faced compared to the grizzled bluesman that he is, today, in the third incarnation of Russell Morris’ career. In those early years the band was taken under their wings by modern times’ national treasures Brian Cadd and Molly Meldrum; Cadd, playing in prominent band ‘The Groop’ and Molly, working for ‘Go-Set’ magazine. The latter lauded them in his columns, enabling them to garner a recording contract. Mr Meldrum famously later produced ‘The Real Thing’ and other hits for Russell during his second coming. I remember his earlier outfit performing their solitary chart success on national tele. They peaked too late for ‘The Go Show’, so it must have been on that Saturday morning institution, Ross De Wylie’s ‘Uptight’.

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Now originally this piece was going to be solely about an earlier musical hero of mine who, like Hush and Somebody’s Image, only had the briefest instant of fame in the spotlight, this time in the US. Recently I connected his link to Mr Morris’s first hit. This guy’s name was Joe South and he wrote said song – it’s name, ‘Hush’.

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I had his Greatest Hits album, together with, I suspect, other releases by him. In reality he only had the one chart topper under his own steam, but maybe you’ll recall some of the other ditties he was responsible for, apart from ‘Hush’. Remember ‘Rose Garden’. It was a monster for Lynn Anderson. ‘Down in the Boondocks’ went global for Billy Joe Royal. Many, many, including Elvis, recorded ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’. Brook Benton charted with ‘Don’t it Want to Make You Want to Go Home’. The greats of the time all recorded Joe South songs – Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, James Taylor and dozens more. ‘Hush’ was also Deep Purple’s first charting song in America.

Now, cast your mind back to Tommy Roe’s single ‘Sheila’ if you can. It was South’s guitar you can hear on that, as well as on many of the tracks on His Bobness’ ‘Blonde on Blonde’. Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ album also showcased his plucking. South was some guitar picker and that is how he got his start in the music business – as a studio sideman. And his solo hit? ‘The Games People Play’. With that he was popular on the touring circuit for a while, but it didn’t last. He could write for others, but nothing else connected with the public for himself. He did have the voice – I loved it. So what happened? He had come close, so close with that Grammy-winning hit, and then he faded away.

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Turns out his brother Tommy’s suicide in 1971 hit him for six. Tommy was his constant companion and a member of his backing band. Joe became clinically depressed as a result, so he did what countless others did back in that era when the black dog came calling – turned to grog and pills. South started not turning up for gigs; many performances were shambolic. He was eventually spurned by promoters. For a while he escaped to Hawaii to try and bat away his woes. Eventually a good woman came into his life and got him going. He started writing songs again and made the occasional public appearance, but his time had passed. With his back catalogue and the royalties it produced he didn’t need to push himself. Joe passed in 2012, outliving his wife Jan by a decade or more. His only offspring, Craig, in turn recently produced a son, whom he named Joseph in memory. Nice touch.

I no longer have that Joe South vinyl album. Who knew those relics would make such a come back. The grooves on it would have been pretty worn out in any case. It was frequently on my turntable back in the 70s, but

Oh, the Games people play now

Every night and every day now

Never meaning what they say

Never saying what they mean

is as true today as it ever was. Hush.

Hush on Countdown = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izNjVAOnbdQ

Somebody’s image – ‘Hush’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HukWnEnigY

Joe South performing ‘The Games People Play’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WJmg9xCukM

Stamp

I found her as I was ambling around an Australian art site on one of my journeys into the ether. She has to be related, doesn’t she? Just hang on a sec while I check out her bio….Yep, she is.

I’ve come out to a few who know me well, but now it’s time to come out to everybody. Yes, I’m one of those throwbacks. I’m owning up to it. I’m a philatelist; a stamp collector. Many would find that sad and shake their heads in derision – that’s why I keep a low profile about it. But I relish my affliction. It’s been in my DNA ever since I was was old enough to first hold my mother’s precious album in my little hands. I was enthralled way back then in the fifties – and now still am. At times, especially in my uni years, I tried to disown it as I perceived it to be a totally uncool diversion, but I soon gave up. I realised I was hooked for life. I’m not sure about making it public but beautiful daughter, I think, has a bit of the bug too and I have great hopes for my granddaughter, the amazing Tessa Tiger. My lovely Leigh’s grandson, Brynner, seems fascinated too. I love buying stamps for them – as they are released from AusPost or from the knowledgeable, affable David at Hobart’s Coin and Stamp Place (110 Collins St).

It will mean much to have someone enthusiastic to pass all those folders of stamps on to.

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Now if someone ever asked me what my favourite ever single issue of a stamp was I’d have no hesitation in saying the ‘The Blue Dress’ release of 1990. For some years I used its depiction of a painting featuring a young lady on a beach as a teaching tool with my creative writing students. A large poster of it graced my teaching room. My inspiration for that came in 1991 when prominent author Libby Hathorn edited a collection of stories from some of our country’s leading YA writers – Brian Caswell, Gary Crew, Sophie Masson etc. She asked them to commit to print their take on the girl on the stamp. I used a couple of the stories to motivate my classes before asking them, ‘Who is she, do you think? Tell me about her. What’s her story?’

Turns out writer Libby had more than just an inking about the girl in the picture. It was her own daughter, Lisa, posing for it. The fact that she was on a beach to do so was another selling point for me.

Of course back then I was keen to find out more about the creator of the delightful image. I discovered that the prominent artist of the piece at times hated his job. His love was working on figurative studies of ‘The Blue Dress’ kind, but to fund this he received commissions for portraits, becoming so competent he was even asked to paint the Queen. He turned in quite a beautiful and unusual completed product for this, easily found on-line. His sumptuous figures, mostly gorgeously robed but occasionally nude; sometimes in a home setting, sometimes in the great outdoors, are all quite luminous. His work is instantly recognisable. He was popular with art-lovers from almost the time he took up a brush and had a long career, culminating with his death in 2009.

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So when I encountered Sophie Dunlop in my wanderings, I did wonder if she was akin to the great Brian – but you already know the answer to that. She was one of his two daughters.

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Although Sophie cites her father as one of the great influences on her own artistic endeavours, the Adelaide dauber has chosen not to follow in his figurative footsteps. Still life is the road she travels, having achieved a great deal of success with it as you too may discern if you check her work out on her site. ‘It’s the beauty I see in fruit, the flowers of my local marketplace and in nature that inspire me. I am attracted to distant lands and the exotic. I relish the intricate details and the uniqueness of the subjects I paint.’ I was almost as drawn to her oeuvre as I am to her father’s.

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So finding her on-line drew me back to Brian Dunlop as well and that special stamp. I know fully well my darling daughter and the extraordinary Tessa will treasure my collections too when the time comes. It’s a part of me that I’ll be passing on.

Brian Dunlop’s website = http://www.briandunlop.com/

Sophie Dunlop’s website = https://www.sophiedunlop.com/

Coin and Stamp Place, Hobart = https://www.tazitiger.com/

Pigeon

It was your former friend’s older brother’s pigeon coops that did it for me, Mark Mordue. Bought back those hazy memories of an old mate, now lost to me in time. It seems to me the ‘sport’ of pigeon racing is from another era. It may still have its devotees, as a backyard hobby of sorts, but are they still sent to the skies to compete with other coops? If that’s the case it’s wide of my orb these days. But way back then I was introduced to this proud pal’s pigeon-house and its denizens. I cannot look back with any degree of confidence, but I suspect each bird had its name with any champion homers treated as feathered royalty. I probably held several of them and cooed my amazement at their feats. This was certainly pre-uni for me – the late Sixties, maybe in my matriculation years, maybe before even those. I know, during the two years post-Grade 10, I had other friends and my interest in girls had awoken. Leaving my regional area for the capital, to train to be a teacher, ended this particular relationship – that is for sure.

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We’ll call him Rob. It wasn’t his real name. He never went by his real name. He was somewhat older. Now much is lost, but he chose, for whatever reason, to hang out with myself and other younger guys. There were a group of us – a fellow from the housing commission flats down on North Terrace; perhaps my brother and some of his cobbers. It’s all so vague in my synapses. Despite his greater years, it didn’t seem Rob had any interest in the opposite gender. There was never a sign of any girlfriend at that stage. Maybe he was otherwise inclined, but there was never a hint of that either. Did he drive a car? Was that, in turn, our attraction to him? Of course, a mode of transport meant freedom to us who then relied on walking to get from A to B. But I have no memory of there being so. He definitely had a boat which he left on the sand at West Beach for much of the months of warmer weather. He’d row a number of us out to sea in it. No life jackets – and I could hardly swim a stroke. He took us so far out that the sunbathers back on shore were mere dots. On some days we’d fish from it and we also beach netted. On other days we’d take our rods down to the wharves; to Ocean Pier, readily accessible to us in those times. On the seaward side there was a narrow ledge, high above the briny, from which we’d dangle our hooks. Heaven help me if I fell in. Any catch we’d proudly take home for our mothers to cook – even dozy old cod. On occasion we’d toss out couta lines. What ever happened to couta? Like pigeons they don’t seem to figure, but then they were prized.

Tennis was another activity I engaged in with him. There were old bitumen courts behind the school where Burnie Makers now imposes itself. We were all reasonable players and took it quite seriously. It was fun.

Rob’s parents owned one of the town’s corner grocery stores. It’s long gone, as are all the others of my childhood – Redmans, the BP Roadhouse, the Terminus Cafe where my father alighted from driving a Green Coachliner down the highway from Launceston each evening, the West Beach Shop.

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After reading Mondue’s ‘One for the Boys’ I wondered what became of Rob. When I returned to my home town, to continue my career in education, there was no re-connection – not even an encounter similar to the columnist’s that I can bring to mind. And that would be strange given the relatively small size of the place and the long years I spent in the schools around the locality. But by then I was married and was eventually a father. I never hung around at the attractions of my growing up. Maybe he still did. Did Rob marry and produce offspring? Did he move on to the bright lights of a big city somewhere? And now, these days, is he even still with us? Questions I cannot answer, probably never will. In any case, I trust he’s had a good, fulfilling life.

He was kind to us younger boys. We felt entirely safe in his company. I never smoked, but I seem to think he may of done. I don’t remember any indulging in alcohol or, heaven forbid, drugs. All in all it seemed quite an innocent time without the distractions of today’s digital world. We were out and about, not stuck in front of screens, at least until ‘The Flintstones’ or ‘Bonanza’ came on in the evenings. But was that innocence just a veneer? It may have been for all I know. So long ago now – with so much in front of me. I’d forgotten about Rob until I read that column. I shouldn’t have.

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Mark Mordue’s column = https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/childhood-friendship-is-a-beautiful-thing-that-slips-away-20190514-p51n97.html

Preservation – Jack Serong

My impressive and lovely daughter-in-law manages the company that runs supplies to the Furneaux group of islands in Bass Strait from its base at Bridport on Tassie’s north-east coastline. The hardy and handy crew that ride the flat-bottomed boats to Lady Barron on Flinders Island, as well as a smattering of other locations in these capricious waters, know well that in the past many ships passing through did not make it to their destinations. The area is a shipwreck graveyard. One of the earliest of these was the ‘Sydney Cove’ out of Calcutta.

It’s objective was the eponymous colonial port and outpost, less than ten years old, with a population of only a few thousand souls. Most of those were there against their wills. Many of its inhabitants suffered from a great thirst. The purpose of this ship’s voyage was the business of slaking it. Their carrier had been renamed, back on the Hooghly, as a selling point, but unfortunately the accompanying merchant never had the opportunity to find out if this act was to his financial benefit. After the long voyage south into the Roaring Forties, from India, it was lost just north of Cape Portland on the little isle later to be named Preservation. This was at a time (1797) when the passage and open seas between Van Diemen’s Land and New Holland had yet to be fully mapped. For the survivors of the wreck the only chance of long lasting survival was to make contact with Sydney. A small party would have to find their way north, first by long boat and then by Shank’s pony, for 700 clicks. Their trek to seek assistance for their fellow seafarers back on Preservation Island is one monumental feat for those formative years of European occupation, but is still shrouded in mystery. There is so much we do not know. Why, for instance, did only three of the original party actually make it, found by fishermen crawling along a beach on the outskirts of civilisation as they knew it? Serong deftly adds fictional flesh to the bones that have eked down to us.

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The only remotely accurate historical account of their privations comes from the merchant, 27 year old entrepreneur William Clark. The other survivors to make it to Port Jackson were two seamen, one white and the other an Indian. Serong gives them identities. One is a chancer who has stolen an identity to evolve into Mr Figge. The other is a youthful Bengali servant to Clark, Srinivas.

Governor Hunter, under pressure from both London and the Rum Corps, needs to investigate the veracity of Clark’s tale before he sends off a rescue party to the south. He appoints Lieutenant Joshua Grayling to unravel the stories of the two men and the boy. He discovers enough inconsistencies to drive a truck through – if they had them in the olden days!

Jack Serong’s two previous tomes – ‘The Rules of Backyard Cricket’ and ‘On the Java Ridge’ – had both been winners in my book. The former lawyer does not let his fans down here.

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Through Grayling’s interrogations we get to know the interviewees, that is, if they are to be believed. This is especially the case with the two adults, but once the Lieutenant twigs that the servant can speak English, matters become a tad clearer. We also discover much about the officer himself, his ailing wife, who becomes more and more central to the story, as well as the very early days of our oldest white settlement. The original Australians also figure prominently. Pemulwuy is just outside the settlement’s boundaries, waging his rearguard action against the invaders, terrorising the new arrivals. But many of his people are drawn to the new arrivals. These Aboriginals are yet to be clothed and made ‘respectable’, but are ultimately ruined by the foreigners and their prudish religion. The trekkers, battling their way from Eastern Gippsland up to almost their goal, also had the first landholders to contend with. Largely the Gurnai Kurnai and Eora were benign, often proffering help that was sometimes accepted, sometimes not.

How far Serong’s story may be at variance to the actualities of the event we simply do not know. It is historically correct, though, that a sensation was caused by the trio’s arrival in the colony. This focused the minds of the movers and shakers of the time to send Flinders and his mate Bass off to map around the Furneaux Islands and to discover the Strait. It was then opened up to our first viable industry – for better or worse. Sealers and whaling ships were soon operating in those waters.

I await Serong’s next publication with much expectation.

More on the author here = https://www.textpublishing.com.au/authors/jockserong

Early Winter Trio

Going north for any length of time, as much as I relish my second homes up there, I do miss my life by the Derwent. One aspect of that is my cinematic haven, NoHo’s State Cinema. I love going there – and double that if there’s an offering that attracts the attention of my lovely lady as well. For two out of the three I viewed in June, that was the case. It’s always pleasurable to discuss what we’d witnessed over a coffee or on the drive back to Old Bridgewater. And I think, with those two, we agreed that the critics got it wrong.

Both ‘Rocketman’ and ‘Tolkien’ received muted reviews, especially the latter. And in truth neither were top notch, so in that the experts were correct – but they were still a fine way to escape the winter chill for a couple of hours. The Elton biopic was not anywhere near last year’s ‘A Star is Born’, or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, as a production based around song. Most critics I read lauded the musical numbers, but panned the story-line in between. We, Leigh and I, disagreed. Certainly it went further in exposing the singer’s warts than the Queen vehicle did with Freddy’s. Taron Egerton, both vocally and visually, was a great match for the rock superstar. The problem, though, was it needed a performance to match Lady Gaga’s or Rami Malek’s sublime showings to send ‘Rocketman’ into the stratosphere. But, it was more than watchable.

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Scribe Paul Byrne describes ‘Tolkien’ as ‘…polite, plodding and unconvincing,…’ Having never read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (‘The Hobbit’ was enough of a struggle), with the only one of Jackson’s film adaptations of these great works I have viewed boring me to tears, I didn’t have the same grounding as my Leigh nor, I suspect, most of the rest of the audience. Perhaps that was to this film’s advantage for me. I thought the tale of the author’s early years and the effect of fellowship and the Great War on his life was reasonable enough. It was somewhat ‘writ by numbers’ and never reached the great heights needed to shout its virtues from the rooftops, but it was, well, pleasing. Nicholas Hoult is the renowned man and he is patently one child actor that will not disappear from our screens as he ages. The love interest and future wife, Edith Bratt, was played by Lily Collins well enough to make her father, Phil, proud. The film has been disowned by Tolkien’s heirs, perhaps taking their cues from the critics and its playing around with with the time frame of aspects of the story. You could do worse, though, than giving it some time when it emerges on DVD or a television platform.

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Sadly Leigh didn’t accompany me to see what for me was the pick of the bunch. And largely the critics concurred (four stars from Empire Magazine, 89% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s lead, Irish lass Jessie Buckley, has something of the aforementioned Lady Gaga about her. Already noted for some previous standout performances, ‘Beast’ for example, she has a powerful set of lungs on her and she co-wrote many of the songs for ‘Wild Rose’. Many are suggesting this is her breakout performance to a successful career.

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Before her prison term Rose-Lynn Harlen (Buckley) was a star on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. No, not the Nashville icon, although that is her dream, but a down at heel bar in Glasgow. One doesn’t normally associate country music (definitely not country and western – remember that!) with the UK, hence scope for furthering her career locally is limited. She has stars in her eyes but has three massive problems – zilch dosh, a criminal record and two kids. After her put upon mother (the always reliable and watchable Julie Walters) also proves to be a blockage to moving to the USofA, her prospects open up when she gains employment, as a cleaner, on the wealthier side of town working for Susannah (the always reliable and watchable Sophie Okonedo). She soon becomes the singing-hopeful’s mentor.

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I suppose, with this, it helps to love the genre of music it portrays, but even if you’re an opera buff it would be difficult not to fall into entrancement with the feisty, flawed Emmylou/Dolly/Loretta wannabe. There’s some classic country ditties, as well as some originals. The final song is a corker. ‘Wild Rose’ will be one of the year’s best for this humble scribbler.

Trailer for ‘Rocketman’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3vO8E2e6G0

Trailer for ‘Tolkien’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Girzu81oS8Q

Trailer for ‘Wild Rose’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_Ths6k7qXk

Man Proposes, God Disposes

Erebus’ – Michael Palin, ‘Painting in the Shadows’ – Katherine Kovacic

It wasn’t Edwin Landseer’s painting ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’, described by the author of ‘Erebus’ as ‘gruesome’, which aimed to tug at the heartstrings, that got me. The artist’s take on the iconic ship’s ill-fated final voyage shows the remnants of its crew’s final stand against death – a flag and assorted debris being torn apart by polar bears. This portrayal did the job for C19th England still coming to terms with the loss of Franklin’s expedition. But for me the more moving images in the tome came from an art form still in its infancy. They showed the top brass of the two vessels that tried to force their way from ocean to ocean via Canada’s North West Passage, ‘Erebus’ and ‘The Terror’. The daguerreotypes of Sir John, James Fitzjames, Francis Crozier and the other brave/foolhardy souls were so poignant to this viewer. They are actual; not confected by an artist aiming to please. At one stage in the book Palin examines each of these early photographs and tells the reader what it demonstrates about each of the doomed sitters.

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Of course the writer of ‘Erebus’ is best known for being a member of ‘Monty Python’. Some may even describe those other crews’ story, spending their final months trapped in the ice before seeking a way out, as Pythonesque in nature, if it all wasn’t so tragic. In the far Northern American wastes they were befuddled, failing to take the advice of the few native inhabitants they encountered, resulting in a nation in mourning. A determined woman, Franklin’s wife Jane, moved heaven and earth at first to find the men, then later to discover the whereabouts of their remains. She became a constant thorn in the government’s backside as they attempted to move on from the disaster.

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In all this there are, of course, links to my own island; this one not in the hard ice of the far north, but a stepping stone to that vast frozen mass further south. The same two stalwart boats used, under a different command, Hobart as a base for explorations to Antarctica. In those tough, small, confined wind-powered transports a feat was achieved, unimaginable to contemporary minds – so a later exploratory excursion in the Northern Hemisphere, with the ‘Erebus’ to the fore, was to be almost certain of success, wasn’t it? The other synchronicity is that greeting the ship’s earlier commander, James Clark Ross, received when he arrived in the Derwent, both going to and coming from his attempt to reach the South Magnetic Pole, was from none other than the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. Waiting for him were Franklin and his wife Jane. So the book contains impressions of my city from that time, as well as Palin’s own take on a burb that has come alive, thanks to the MONA effect. He was here to research this very readable tale of a boat built in the shadow of the Napoleonic War; a vessel that took its time to find its enduring place in history. It’s a history that doesn’t end till its rediscovery a mere five years ago.

After ‘Erebus’, I then turned to the next book from my pile of ‘to reads’, Katherine Kovacic’s ‘Painting in the Shadows’. Blow me down that a few chapters in I realised that the painting at this whodunnit’s core was none other than ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’. What are the odds? You wouldn’t read about it.

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Kovacic’s first foray into the field of crime fiction, with an art slant, came with ‘The Portrait of Molly Dean’, an examination of an historical murder on the fringes of the local 1930’s art scene. It received favourable reviews, as did this her sophomore effort. Having a penchant for going across to the big island to check out art galleries I thought ‘Painting in the Shadows’ could be something I’d take to.

The Landseer work has arrived in Melbourne with a bit of a rep for bringing bad luck. That takes hold as soon as the masterpiece is about to be hung, quickly followed by a death in the gallery, a loosely disguised NGV. Our heroine, Alex Clayton, with her sidekick/semi-love interest John Porter, think there may be more to a story that the local plod have put down to accidental poisoning. So off they go to do some amateur sleuthing, as you do. What could one then throw into the mix to add an extra bit of spice? What else than a suspected Whiteley forgery. It’s hardly an original thought, but our dynamic duo think they’re on to possibly quite the scandal.

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Really, I did struggle with this, although it is meant to be a light frothy page-turner. The snappy repartee between the two main protagonists just grated for me and although the although she knows her art, the writer’s desire to demonstrate that at every chance detracted from the flow, as did her constant opinions on every work name-dropped. I persevered till the end and as it approached, my interest perked, but it will not live long in my memory. I know there are others who disagree. Peter Craven, one of our nation’s best reviewers, describes ‘Painting in the Shadows’ as being akin to the works of Michael Innes, Peter Temple and Shane Maloney – so there you go. So, if those authors appeal then judge for yourself.

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I do like the randomness of an unexpected coincidence – the one painting featuring in two disparate yarns back to back. Crikey.

Michael Palin’s website = https://www.themichaelpalin.com/

Katherine Kovacic’s website = https://www.katherinekovacic.com/

North to Calypso Winds

For you may still be here tomorrow

But your dreams may not’

You age. Your dreams shrink. Some disappear, others morph into bucket lists which, in turn, shrink – and often not for achievement, but the realisation they were always going to be, well, unrealistic. That has happened to this ageing fellow – but it’s not a cause for angst or regret. For with a lovely, lovely lady in my life and grand-kids to adore, in a place I relish in all senses of the word, in any case, I am truly living the dream. But it is far from the dream that, last century, I envisaged for myself.

Once upon a time I held a desire to follow Graeme Connors ‘North’ to where Jimmy Buffett style calypso-style breezes blew all year around. Somewhere around Byron maybe, or perhaps the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Somewhere that was mono-seasonal; warm to hot for a full twelve months. Once I abhorred winter – became quite SAD about it. I really struggled through that middle term of teaching (there were three back then); struggled to remain glass half-full about life itself.

Is it solely a result of advancing years? Possibly, but with global warming – foreshores receding, icecaps melting and bushfires raging – I now reasonably look forward to the onset of winter in the same way as Alan Attwood. Here, on my island, it has gothic undertones, bought alive by Dark MoFo. And nothing surpasses the excellence of a majestic mountain, capped by snow, at a city’s edge.

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Tasmania is a more moderate, easier version of Amelia Lester’s US of A experiences. Four distinct seasons, without the extremes. Sisters Beach, one of my second homes, where I am scribing this, is a joyous location for me to be any season. Walking along its eponymous strand winter, spring, summer or fall – sorry, autumn – is about as good as it gets, whether rugged up in layers or stripped off in a tee, shorts and thongs. On one morning, during this recent stay, on the beach, I engaged with a couple from the big island who had only just made the tree/sea change to Sisters. They were still in semi-disbelief that they had discovered such a place – in awe of its beauty with a community living closer to nature than was their experience. They hailed from Katoomba, seemingly making the previous statement somewhat of an oxymoron. But they were tired of the tourist throngs that abounded in their previous neck of the woods in a place where the natural world had been adjusted for human enjoyment. And they wanted four seasons that were more marked, with more bite. Even though their mountains were cooler than the summer broiling of the city below them in its basin, there the seasonal change was more subtle. At Sisters there is seasonal change to make one feel truly alive. As the heavens opened and the rain teemed down this week, the chill wind from the west certainly gave them that. It’s a truly spectacular and special wonder, is Sisters. Who needs gentle calypso zephyrs?

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The tree outside the window of my man-cave by the river is my barometer of seasonal change. Right now, down there in my southern city, the leaves will have fallen and it would be in its naked phase ready for the cold months. Winter is almost on us – the winter I once detested but now welcome. Stews, soups, roasts. The cosiness of Leigh and myself as the nights lengthen, in front of the tele with our shows from multiple platforms. Going into Hobart, with a bracing wind blowing and kunanyi towering snow-flecked above is a treat. I wouldn’t be anywhere else for quids and quids. And just when there’s a hint of ‘I’m over this weather’, on that tree outside my window little green buds begin to appear.

Look at me

I am old

But I am happy’

Amelia Lesters opinion column = https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/why-season-s-greetings-aren-t-for-everyone-20190415-p51ecw.html

Alan Attwood’s opinion column = https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/a-seasonal-query-how-great-is-winter-20190527-p51rqo.html

The Perfect Irish Colleen

She was gorgeous in red, was Main Kelly. At fourteen she was described by her image capturer as ‘…the perfect Irish colleen.’

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Normally I would not cite one of the world’s richest men, in any era, as one of my heroes, but an Alsatian jew has become that. Albert Kahn, born in 1860, was a young man when he moved to Paris after the Germans took over the Alsace, France’s punishment for losing the Franco-Prussian War. Starting off as a lowly banking clerk, he worked his way up the finance ladder, largely because of his willingness to take audacious risks with his hard-earned; this being mostly to do with South African diamonds. But there was more to the man than lust for dough. He gave back. He was an art lover – mates with Rodin. He was also prepared to put his riches into philanthropic interests. In 1893 he acquired a large parcel of land in Boulagne-Billancourt, on the outskirts of Paris, using it to landscape magnificent gardens where he attempted to create harmony between the plants of different biomes. He entertained the greats of his era there, from royalty down. He maintained a special interest in all matters Japanese, intent on further opening up that then exotic nation to Western trade and ideas; whilst taking a few of their notions as well.

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Kahn first became fascinated with photography through his chauffeur, Alfred Dutertre, whom he paid to train in it. On a trip to Japan he observed his minion gaining expertise and was captivated. When the Autochrome process, invented by the Lumière brothers, came along in 1903, giving the world quality colour images, he started to formulate another audacious plan. He would use it, together with the brothers’ other great contribution in cinematography, to create another take on harmony. Why not use both to record the differing cultures of the world for the purposes of education to create greater understanding, particularly as Kahn feared many ways if life would soon disappear in his modern world? That would be something worthwhile to finance, would it not? He would canvas the entire planet, between 1909 and 1931, sending out his representatives to the four corners. At the end he managed to amass 72,000 Autochrome plates and 183,000 metres of moving film. It remains a one off – a truly remarkable record of human activity during early last century; the pictures all in stunning, even by today’s standards, colour.

For a very long time the archive languished in storage, but in 1986 came a systematic ordering of it and it is now on display, for one and all to view, in a new museum, established in the grounds of his famous gardens.

Australia in Colour’ was showing on SBS when I came across ‘Edwardians in Colour’ while meandering around YouTube. Thinking it would be similar, I clicked on it and was taken into the world of Kahn, discovering, in the first episode, Miss Kelly as well, or to give her her moniker in the old language, Main Ne Tuathail. I doubt that there’s the remotest possibility the two ever met, but he certainly would have espied the glorious Autochrome plate of her. The woman who bought them together was remarkable in herself – and remarkable for her time. She was Marguerite Mespoulet – the only photographer of her gender Kahn employed on his mission to to harmonise and create understanding across the cultures. Kahn was right about her subject’s lifestyle – Main’s was almost gone.

Mespoulet had been an early recipient of the banker’s travelling scholarship, taking the opportunity to also visit the Land of the Rising Sun. She received a portion of his generosity due to her brilliance as a student at the Sorbonne. Her discipline? Celtic Studies. Once she mastered the Autochrome process, she was a cinch to be employed as a travelling photographer, despite her sex. The Ireland of 1913 would be her destination. She was intrigued to find whatever traces of the ancient ways that still lingered there.

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When MM and her travelling companion, Madeline Mignon, arrived in the spring the place was in dire straits under British rule. It suffered from economic depression, outbreaks of disease such as typhus and a rising republican movement that would soon explode into the Easter Rebellion. Plus, for the camera-lugger and her pal, the weather was appalling.

But the lady was made of tough stuff. Contemporaries describe her as of ‘… strong of presence and personality.’ She soon picked up on a whisper that here remained in Galway a small village, the Claddagh; a collection of a couple of hundred small thatched cottages, in disrepair, on the outskirts of the county’s major town. Mespoulet wrote in her travel journal that the place reminded her of villages in that other Celtic outlier, Brittany. Claddagh’s citizenry lived in filth, scratching a living from the sea. The husbands went out in boats, the women did everything else and were the mainstays of the community. Ringworm was rife in the children. But under grey skies Marguerite M enticed some photographs from the populace, using bribery and cunning to convince them to sit still long enough for the process to take effect. The images currently enchant our generation and will those in the future. Without doubt the standout one is of Main, bedecked in her red cloak, the signature clothing item of her fast disappearing way of existence.

Already the Galway City Council was starting to provide these people with better housing, complete with running water rather than their traditional well, but having little notion how this would destabilise community. It did make for a healthier populace, but soon the language started to die on the ground and the red cloaks evaporated.

The two MMs spent three weeks in the Claddagh with the people as they went about their lives. They then moved on, leaving Main and their other subjects to their futures. A descendant in the documentary describes Main, fully grown, as a happy woman who bought joy to all around her.

When her photographer and partner returned to France they bought with them just a relatively small number of plates compared to other Kahn operatives, but what treasures they were. Included in their number was a rare photographic record of the use of coracles, also about to be replaced by more manoeuvrable craft. Then there was the memorable image of a fringe weaver. Her art was soon to go as well. In her journal MM described how this gaunt woman struggled to make ends meet whilst raising her seven children. We don’t know we’re alive.

FT5S Mother of seven making fringes for knitted shawelscoracles

But what of Mespoulet and Kahn? Soon after her Irish expedition the former moved to North America and embarked on an academic career as a professor of French literature. She returned to France frequently and lived to the ripe old age of 85.

The Great Depression, sadly, ruined Kahn. He ceased funding his passion in 1931 and died penniless. But what a legacy! And you can meet him, Mespoulet and Main by clicking onto YouTube’s ‘Edwardians in Colour’, Episode 1. She was/is beautiful, Main. Her like will never be seen again in Western Europe and she is very much worth a look for all lovers of stunning images from the past. Just mesmerising.

‘Edwardians in Colour’, Episode One = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpijOSSlZCI

Wedding Glasses

Nailed it Shane. Yep, I’m one of them – one of the ‘Three Days Off in the Week’ mob. And I’m probably about to bore you too. But Shane, at least I can say I never, ever, even long ago, exited’…a club at 4am with blurred face and champagned hair…’

Dear lady columnist, I could have boasted I’d never been drunk this century. But now, dear me! Not any more. I happened to be alone, apart from Sandy the Spoodle, doing a little house sitting at my brother/sister-in-law’s Sisters Beach abode. It had been a tough week – such a tough week for a variety of reasons.

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Now last century, those days of yore and cask, I’ll admit, I was a fairly uninhibited drinker. Rarely inebriated, but certainly gently buzzed and after all, my good doctor did preach two glasses of red with every evening meal and who was I to go against medical advice. Then, after tea, I had to lubricate my way through endless hours of lesson prep and mind-numbing marking. I, of course, rarely stopped at two. But then, I knew when I’d had enough well before the gentle buzz approached chain-saw level. Then a beautiful lady entered my life and sweetly eased me down a further notch or two. I loved her to bits – still do – and became a three nights completely off man.

Whisky, beer, wine of any colour – I adore the stuff. But now I’m regimented – my quota and no more. Discipline is my mantra in the 2000s – that is, until…. I blame you, Rich and Shan. I do!

That time, on a Sisters Beach couch, as dusk turned into night over the hills, the big screen tele was showing the footy. A few wines to accompany that, that’d be the go to wind down after a somewhat fraught period of time. My dear brother had left a tempting white in the fridge and in his sideboard I found a reminder of one of the happiest events in my life, the wedding of my Rich to his Shan. There, amidst numerous other flutes and steins, were the shapely etched goblets the bride and groom gifted their attendees at that glorious Bridport occasion as a memento of their enduring love. Note I said goblets. Note also that, of an evening, my usual amount is two glasses of wine and a stubbie of beer. Well folks, I didn’t make it to the beer. My brain should have informed me that a goblet would hold much more liquid than one specifically designed for wine, but my brain wasn’t in the finest of fettle at the end of that week. To top it off the AFL game that night was riveting, although I was alert enough to know that I felt somewhat unsteady as I made my way to the fridge, at half time, to top up. I put that down to rising up from my supine position on said settee too quickly. Never dawned on me I was already half-cut – about to become fully-cut.

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By the time the three-quarter interval came around, I am totally ashamed to say, I was drunk; thoroughly inebriated; totally rat-arsed. The television was swimming before my eyes. Time for bed. The only question was how to get there as I was wholly legless and befuddled. I have no recollection at all now of how I managed that feat – but the next morning I awoke in it. I suspect some serious cross-country crawling was involved.

But, dear reader, the realisation that I was completely crapulated – yes it is a word – by booze was/is a horrible feeling. Horrible. When I lifted the offending bottle for inspection the next day I found only the merest finger of liquid in the bottom. There was, surprisingly, no symptoms of a hang-over. But, nonetheless, it is an experience I am in no hurry to repeat. These days I take my alcohol in moderation and I didn’t need a hang-over to remind me of how crook I was when it hazily dawned on me that I had over-indulged.

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But it’s a salve blaming the wedding glasses.

Shane Watson’s column = https://www.watoday.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/alcobore-or-woke-abstainer-what-kind-of-drinker-are-you-20190419-p51fn8.html?ref=rss