The Non-Gambler

It was such a pleasant Sunday afternoon this one just past. The sun was out, shimmering off the Derwent; a salve after days of mist and humidity. We’d dined well and extraordinarily cheaply at the bistro and I was happily ensconced by the panoramic windows, watching the boating activity on the briny, supping on some amber heaven and perusing the weekend papers. People all across the room, in singles or groups, were doing the same or similar. I noticed they were mostly of my own demographic, seemingly all quite content and at ease with the world, by the look of it, as I was. My lovely lady had left me for one of the other attractions of the venue. She was having a flutter at the pokies – something she really enjoyed. We do this every couple of months or so, my love and I. Now I’d certainly describe her as a responsible gambler, for she knows ‘when to hold ’em…when to fold ’em’ – so to speak. Many call her Lucky Leigh as she seems to win reasonably frequently on both the machines and Keno – not huge amounts, but she’s had some very tasty ones. As well she had a goodly return from the lotto a few years back, just enough to make proceeding into retirement less financially problematic. It was fair dues, given she’d spent years making a nurse’s salary stretch beyond belief. She’s a marvel money-wise. It’s one of the many reasons I admire her as well as love her.

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We’re going to the ‘No later on. Coming?’

Thanks, but no.’

In the end they gave up asking, my uni mates, at my residential college. Back then, in 1973 and after, for a while, Wrest Point was a happening place – the nation’s first casino. It gave the city of Hobart its first MONA effect. It was the place to be. International stars came to the showroom – why Jerry Lewis opened the whole shebang. The high rollers flew in and the locals came to gawk, dressed to the nines – well, most of them. Word had spread of the beauty and allure of the young ladies manning the gambling tables – one of these honeys later went on to marry a premier.

The lads from Hytten Hall would head down to Sandy Bay and the ‘No of an evening, after they’d completed their studies. They would be attired in a motley array of jackets that had seen better days. Most were bought from the local op shops for that specific purpose for a few bob. Ties were compulsory too to pass the doormen. They’d later regale me with their adventures – the glorious women that were there, or how much they’d had to drink. They couldn’t afford to gamble – but that didn’t stop one or two testing their luck. As I recall, the one-armed bandits were not a feature back then, but I could be wrong, never entering the place. Of course the mainland cities soon caught on, with each having its own equivalent these days – but I’ve never been as comfortable in those as I am at the local one in my dotage. They’re just not my scene. It is.

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As you have no doubt gathered by now I am not a gambler. I’ve never had a bet on the ponies in my life. I had a bit of a go on the pokies with Leigh once, but within ten minutes I’d had enough. I’m just not interested. But that’s not the point. When, at the last state election, Labor’s Bec White tried to lead us all into a pokies free existence, she ended up falling flat on her face at the polls. I could easily see the reason why, apart from the funds the vested interests sent the way of the Libs. She had great intentions after all the horror stories we’d heard, from the Northern Suburbs, of families wrecked through gambling addiction, but I was unsure whether what Bec was attempting could be the answer. Wouldn’t they just find another way to self-destruction?

So, no. I don’t get upset that my AFL team attracts the highest percentage of its profits from poker machines of all the clubs. Sure, something needs to be done about addressing the advertising for the activity that is associated with the game. Yep, I reckon that’s where the attention needs to be focused. I might be naive, but I reckon most are like my Leigh. They play the pokies sensibly, just loving the expectation that a little windfall might be in the next press of a button. They set themselves a limit and stick to it. It is a social occasion for many – some perhaps not having much else in their lives. My Leigh just loves having a chat with like minded punters in those rooms too. So what if all that is not to my taste. Why should all those that find it convivial and derive pleasure from it be denied? I may be accused of living in a bubble but there it is. Go Hawks 2020.

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James Morressey’s opinion piece = https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/hawthorn-must-end-addiction-to-poker-machines-now-20200203-p53x8e.html

Dear Sweet Pea – Julie Murphy

Once upon a time these girls would have never been A-listers in their milieu – the Dumplins, Pumpkins and Ramona Blues of this world. But, like Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy; dozens and dozens have shown to the now accepting public that an hour-glass figure or super-coolness doesn’t define beauty, talent or the ability to cut it big. These girls are forces of nature and despite the roadblocks, feisty, with the capability of summoning up the wherewithal to plough right on through. These three aforementioned inhabitants of American writer Julie Murphy’s books, all on the cusp of entering the adult orbit, have been huge hits in the US. One has even made it to the big screen and her tale can be viewed of Netflix. I’m talking about ‘Dumplin’. Here Ms Murphy now gives us a heroine for the younger set.

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Sweet Pea DiMarco is truly as sweet as a spring pea in a pod. She’s a lovely creation and she’s about to graduate from her country’s version of primary school, which terminates with Grade 7. The big school, though, holds some trepidation for her, especially as her final year in the lower grades has been tough. Not only has her bestie, Kiera, moved across to that cool set, but her parents have split. The former couple, though, give some of the best messages in the offering. Not only are they neighbours and their abodes almost identical to ease the possible trauma for their girl, they remain close. The mum seems to have had few issues about giving her spouse the room he needs to be his true self. Sweet Pea’s woes are somewhat assuaged by a friendship with one lovely boy, Oscar, struggling a tad in the gender stakes. As well, on the horizon, there’s a potential relationship, of some description, with a new kid on the block.

Sweet Pea also discovers she has an ability as an agony aunt as the result of an unlikely turn of events, finding the opportunity to put it to work in her community’s daily newspaper. Her advice is sensible when she’s not acting on revenge, but we do not find out her response to one plea for enlightenment– a young lady who does not want to spend a first night with her boyfriend as she is frightened she may fart in her sleep. How would a fella respond to that? Help!

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We fully suspect, from the get-go, that it’ll all work out for Sweet Pea – it’s the way these books work. And they’re nonetheless for that. Finding out how is the joy. Here the pages turn easily, there’s little to challenge the reader but more than enough to keep us interested so it’s a no-brainer to rip on through to the positive resolution. And this hoary old fella enjoyed it immensely. Thanks Kate.

The Author’s website = http://www.imjuliemurphy.com/

Damascus – Christos Tsiolkas

Life of Brian’ ‘Damascus’ most certainly isn’t, but Tsiolkas’ gritty, fleshy, reeking and violent take on the life and times of Saul/Paul and his acolytes kept the Python’s classic seeping back into my mind over and over as I read the author’s latest. It’s a departure for both of us, admittedly, but a welcome one. Unlike the movie, there’s little to laugh about with it. And I suppose, given where you are coming from, we may thank these early spreaders of the word, including Thomas and Timothy, for taking a faith out of the Holy Land, into the Roman Empire and its capital, giving our planet another religion.

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Early Christianity was such a fragile thing. The candle could have been so easily snuffed out by the old religion or under the weight of the Roman gods, but it prevailed. Mostly in the imagining by CT there’s an uneasy co-existence with the non-believers – but, of course, the early purveyors suffered great hardship, privation and on occasions, their beliefs cost them their lives. From the printed page you can almost smell the crowded, unwashed, fornicating, lice-infested bodies emanating from Tsiolkas’ prose in this quite remarkable feat of writing. With this author I can’t imagine anything rivalling that unnerving slice of Australian suburbia that is ‘The Slap’. ‘Barracuda’, for me, didn’t even come close, but I think ‘Damascus’ will truly signal him as being up there with the greats of OzLit.

For this stand out effort the Gospels are referred to, as well as other early Christian sources; fiction being added around the unknowns, to give a fetid picture of how it could possibly have really been. Some of his early references acknowledged Christ minus the crucifixion and resurrection, with that forming an aspect of the narrative. The doubts of these early followers are as fascinating as what they knew to be certain, particularly as time passes away from the actual New Testament events, given the Son of God fails to make another excursion back to Earth to visit and inspire.

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Real or false news, the notion of the goodness that Jesus of Nazareth has given us all is one of undeniable purity – but it’s a goodness we repeatedly trash with our collective actions. That shines up from the oft hellish world the author creates. But for this unbeliever (with the wordsmith himself admitting he is not sold either) I was drawn into fecund mire with all the multiple protagonists. We can only think of what might have been and recoil had it been otherwise.

The Author’s Website = http://christostsiolkas.com.au/

January Gems

The old year crossed into a new decade as I was glued to a destruction of a relationship. Devouring ‘Marriage Story’ in a couple of chunks on the small screen, the Netflix original has garnered four nominations (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress) in the current Academy Awards. It is interesting to note that movies made for the television platform have attracted 24 in all in a game-changing year. There’s no doubt that the performances of Adam Driver, Scarlett Johanssen and Laura Dern are exceptional as the couple at the core of the break-up spiral into the depths, assisted by the legal fraternity made up of Dern and a welcome cameo from Alan Alda. You feel compelled to stay with it to the last rites to see if the pair can claw something back out of the sorry mess. Driver’s character, a self absorbed stage-director, is totally career driven to the exclusion of his partner’s feelings. She, played by Johanssen, had to cope with his immaturity whilst trying to juggle a child and her own professional aspirations. The beauty of it being a generous two and a half hours-ish in duration is that you can spread it over as long a period as suits – and it is well worth the expenditure of time. Now ‘The Irishman’ and ‘The Two Popes’, also up for Oscars, are on my ‘to view’ list.

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Big screen wise Leigh and I had the pleasure of accompanying three grandchildren to ‘Dolittle’. I admit I enjoyed watching their faces, as they savoured the offering, more than the actual film itself. It wasn’t as bad as many critics have reported, but I found it hard to be attracted to Robert Downey’s performance and his relationship with the beasts, large and small, of the planet.

The most fun I’ve had at the cinema for quite a while came with ‘The Gentleman’. With a cast including Matthew McConaughey, ‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Charlie Hunnam, ‘Downton’s’ Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan and Hugh Grant, as we’ve rarely seen him before, the screen was full of London gangland mayhem and black, black humour. Guy Ritchie’s directing career has been patchy, but with this ensemble of class actors he’s on a winner.

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In contrast two movies that are the antithesis of the hectic pace of the above are ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (how I hate leaving out the ‘u’!). The pace could be almost glacial with both, but the rewards are worth your forbearance.

The first listed has been greeted rapturously by the critics and has picked up a handful of prestigious gongs on the film festival circuit. With this product most of the joys are delivered towards the end, so patience is a virtue. For most of its length we can be satisfied by appreciating the sheer beauty of what is on screen, with the land and seascapes, as well as the gorgeousness of the two French female leads. In fact, there’s barely a male to be had, only the ferrymen at the commencement and a few more just before the end credits roll. It’s set in the late C18th on a storm blasted island off the coast of Brittany. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on the isle to pretend to be a lady’s companion, but her hiring is really for the purpose to paint a portrait in secret. A noblewoman ensconced in a great gothic pile is at the bidding of her mother, determined to marry her off, something Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is none too happy about. The painting, of course, is necessary currency in the days of arranged marriages, pre-photography. The prospective Italian groom has to know what he is getting. Gradually, though, the truth is unmasked and a relationship, which becomes somewhat more than mere companionship, develops. It’s stunning, with added spice, perhaps for some, that the actress playing the initially frosty Héloïse ’s was once herself the partner of the opus’ director, Céline Sciamma.

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The slow boil continues with ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, but here the pleasures are littered evenly throughout. It is essentially a vehicle for Tom Hanks, although his nomination at the big award is for Best Supporting. Matthew Rhys capably takes the lead as a gun reporter asked to write a puff piece on a living national treasure, Fred Rogers. A singular host of children’s television, he was a real life figure who was an institution for decades. Said reporter refuses to believe that Rogers can be so perfect a figure and sets forth to discover the darker side to the man that must be there. He bites off more than he can chew as Rogers regularly turns the table on him – with the result that the puff piece becomes so much more. It was also great to see ‘This is Us’ actress Susan Kelechi Watson in a prominent role, supported by Chis Cooper, who is always a treat.

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The movie has had mixed reviews from ‘a tonic of a film’ to ‘not even Tom Hanks can save this mess’. Stay for the end credits, with the minute’s silence mid-length being a highlight. I liked it very, very much. When Hanks and Rhys appeared on Graham Norton recently they reported that the director, Marielle Heller, was constantly asking both to slow down the speed of their delivery on set. I thought TH, in particular, was quite mesmerising as he did this. The lengthy pause is a constant feature of his performance.

So I struck it lucky in January with four gems. What will February hold?

Trailer for ‘Marriage Story’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHi-a1n8t7M

Trailer for ‘The Gentlemen’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B0RpUGss2c

Trailer for ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-fQPTwma9o

Trailer for ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VLEPhfEN2M

The Body – Bill Bryson

Consider this the next time you are contemplating a deep, deep pash with your dearest one – ‘Passionate kissing alone, according to one study, results in the transfer of up to a billion bacteria from one mouth to another, along with about 0.7 milligrams of protein, 0.45 milligrams of salt, 0.7 micrograms of fat and 0.2 micrograms of miscellaneous organic compounds (ie, bits of food).’

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Bill Bryson was only getting started with ‘The Body’ when he thrust at us the above information. There’s much more hair-curling stuff to contend with as one reads on in the tome. In here, for instance, you will be illuminated on how the daily activities of double-decker bus conductors and drivers in London gave rise to the present urgings for each and every one of us to exercise daily. It is fascinating to think that our best guess is that, sometime between 1900 and 1912, a random patient with a random disease for the first time could visit a random doctor and have a fifty-fifty chance of profiting from that encounter. Nowadays, to be healthy, as one would expect, it helps if you are part of the population of the western world. You receive added benefits, of course, if you are wealthy. But even the rich, if they are born in the good ol’ US of A, can expect to have a much lower life expectancy that those of us residing any other developed country. The causes for this include the dire state of their health system, obesity, gun culture, accident rates, drug abuse and the list goes on. A sufferer of cystic fibrosis in Canada will, on average, live ten years longer than some poor soul, with the identical affliction. living south of its border with the US I wonder if Trump, with his ‘Make America Great Again’ has devoted any of his immense intellect to those facts. He’d probably label it under ‘fake news’ in any case.

In the pages of this book you will also meet the heroes, many unsung till Bryson came along, who paved the way for the great medical discoveries of history; get a taste of some of the excruciating surgical practises of the past (early mastectomies being particularly gruesome) and meet the charlatans who were believed by many, to the world’s detriment. One odious character was Barnard Davis who became obsessed with the so-called discipline of craniology. His collusion with George Augustus Robinson’s widow to plunder the graves of our island’s first peoples, to add to his skull collection, the globe’s biggest at the time, makes for hard reading.

Overall ‘The Body’ is quite the revelation. And it is, at times, not exactly comforting what we find out about its workings, especially as I am in possession of an increasingly ageing one. He doesn’t stint on what can take you away in the end either.

Bryson mostly places it all in lingo the layman can readily comprehend, with the turn of phrase he is noted for, topped by dollops of humour. He’s no spring chicken himself, Mr Bryson, but long may he have the ability to pursue his wide range of interests and to transport them into print for our enlightenment. With this publication he takes a lens to every facet of the human being in a thoroughly readable and forthright manner. He is a gem of a wordsmith.

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And in the end, at the end, it’s good to know that, ‘In 2011, an interesting milestone in human history was passed. For the first time more people, globally, died of non-communicable diseases like heart failure, stroke and diabetes than from all infectious diseases combines. We live in an age in which we are killed, more often than not, by lifestyle.’ – or is it? What’s that news I hear coming out of China?

More on Bill here = https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1017933/bill-bryson.html

Summer and it’s Personal

Summer isn’t meant to be like this

There should be blue skies, not red

Christmas dinners.

Not the call out to face an inferno

Carefree days

Not the dread of where nature is taking us, and

Where next it will rain its wrath down

I think of so many communities across the water

Devastation

The toll on life and lifestyle

The toll on wildlife and wild places

I look around my city

The forest clad hills

With fingers of bush pushing

Right into its heart

And I wonder and I fear

Please, never another 1967

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Images abound of the horror of it all

At the start of this mint new decade

But for me there’s one, from

Some time ago now

Its not a horizon of fire

Nor singed koalas and ‘roos

Or people holding loved ones close

On a beach or a jetty

As the apocalypse approaches

An injured kangaroo limps through burnt bushland in Cobargo

To me the image of this summer

Perhaps for all summers henceforth

You’ll recall it, no doubt

It’s a few years back now

A galoot of a Prime Minister to be

Entered our parliament cradling

In his palm

A single lump of coal

Said he with a smirk of glee

Lookee here and see. Right here, folks

With this black stuff you spy the future.’

Then and there he gave the middle finger to science

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Where is the spine of Fraser and his

Vietnamese refugees forever thankful

Where is the nous of Hawke

Saving the Franklin

Where is the eloquence of Keating

With the Redfern Oration

Of Howard facing down the gun lobby

In a bullet proof vest.

We’ve had Rudd flip-flopping

Abbott nay-saying and denying

Turnbull – well, whatever happened

To his spine and core beliefs

At least Julia had a go

And now the galoot is our leader

His time has come

A Christian without, to date

Any Christianity, at least

In any form I know it

It’s not coal he’s holding

In his clutches now

But the futures of my

Beautiful and extraordinary grandkids

Of all our beautiful and extraordinary

Grandchildren

Stand up.

Be a leader

Stay Christian if you must

But grow a spine, for pity’s sake

Scrublands – Chris Hammer

What do Gillian Flynn, Minette Walters, Patricia Cornwall and Chris Hammer all have in common. Some might even ask ‘Chris who?’. But the novice Australian ‘whodunnit’ writer joins that elite company by winning the UK’s Dagger Award last year for a debut crime novel. And, as tilts go, even I, a non officiendo of the genre, till recent times, can see it’s a mighty effort first up.

Prior to striking it big with the mega-selling ‘Scrublands’, Hammer was best known as a SBS journalist. He, in this capacity, reported on the Millennial Drought for the network, afterwards producing a well-received non-fiction tome, ‘The River’, on what he discovered. As is their wont, of course, those in power in Canberra ignored his warnings, as well as those of all the other doomsayers – so therefore we have our present day situation.

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Our continent’s barrenness and aridity has played out in much recent fiction, some outstanding, including Harper’s ‘The Dry’ and Winton’s superb ‘Shepherd’s Hut’. In my view Hammer has a way to go before he reaches their exalted levels, but if we are in the midst of a golden age of Aussie crime writing, then this fellow would seem to be well at its core.

Now what would cause a well-liked local priest to take a gun out and calmly open fire on his congregation as they made their way to worship at his church? He killed five before being fatally shot himself. On the first anniversary of that event that, not only rocked the small parched community of Riversend, but the whole nation, the Fairfax Press sends ace reporter, Martin Scarsdale, to write a piece on the lasting effects of the tragedy. In doing so he soon encounters anomalies in the original investigation’s take on what made a church official inflict such trauma on his flock. There are yet more deaths, including that of two German backpackers. Can they be linked to the priest – and just how many local women has God’s representative bedded? Of course, Scarsdale also has his own demons to work his way through, perhaps with the assistance of a comely cafe-keeper.

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It is a marvellously convoluted plot that Hammer has pieced together in his mind and placed on the pages before us. The only issue for this reader is that there’s not the wordsmithery to match. On the back cover blurb Hammer is described as ‘Winton-like’ and ‘reminiscent of Jane Harper’. I think that’s overstating it. For my money he’s still a way off that…but give him time. There’s potential, so we’ll see.

The author’s website = https://chrishammerauthor.com/ =

Blinded by the Boss

Forty Years ago I fell in love. Forty years ago, at some stage during 1980, I purchased ‘The River’. I was smitten then and I still am. The Boss, backed up by the full bombast of the E Street Band (Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt and the late Clarence the Big Man Clemons are amongst the august band’s alumni) on that double album, won me. Then came the more subdued solo release ‘Nebraska’, which I also played to death, in 1982. Of course, two years later, everybody’s synapses were filled with the ear-worm that was ‘Dancing in the Dark’. Sales of ‘Born in the USA’, now on the indestructible CD format, went through the roof. For me it was an okay release but, compared to ‘The River’ and its follow-up, it was second tier for the Boss.

With CDs not introduced into Oz until 1982, my original ‘The River’ was on vinyl. Prior to it I had been aware of Springsteen – may have even purchased a couple of his earlier breakout albums. But it was the sumptuous double with tunes like ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Independence Day’, ‘Point Blank’, ‘I Wanna Marry You’ and the eponymous title song that made me a fan for life.

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I can’t say I have all of Bruce’s output – just a goodly number are sitting in my rather jumbled CD shelving. I’ve been buying him since the 80s. ‘Human Touch’, ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ and ‘The Rising’ are also amongst my favourites. And stored away somewhere, I proudly possess his ‘Live/1975-85’ box-set on vinyl. Last year came ‘Western Stars’. Not everyone took to it – but I did. Under the influence of wife Patti Scialfa’s musical nous and as a tribute in part to the great Glen Campbell, he changed direction. The Boss moved away from the E Street sound and that of his other solo work to produce a collection of self-written songs that are full of lush, almost elegiac arrangements, also courtesy of Patti. It is a paean to the American West and in my view, it’s a beauty. But, in good news for the true believers, there is evidently another release chalked in for later this year with his signature backing band.

Yep, 2019 was a big year for our ageing hero who has reached the big 7-O, but obviously still going strong, as I hope to be approaching that milestone. At the commencement of last year he’d just finished an extended run of his one man show, ‘Springsteen on Broadway’. You can see what that was all about on Netflix. It’s a stage memoir of his life, with some acoustic songs thrown in, much like what Jimmy Barnes has done here in Oz. Well worth seeing. But, basically, last year was all about ‘Western Stars’ though, now with a cinematic documentary to accompany it. That ran in the multiplexes for only a short time, so hopefully it will also soon appear on a small screen platform.

In my admiration of Sprinsteen and his music, I can safely say, I am no Sarfraz Mansoor. BS has certainly rocked my life, but it didn’t come to dominate it, unlike with super-fan Sarfraz. He was 16 in 1987, leading a quiet so-so existence; son of a migrant family in grimy Luton, United Kingdom. One day he came across another fellow Paki, who was wearing both headphones and a rapt expression. Said fellow was jiggin’ his noggin to the Boss. Now Mansoor had heard of Springsteen, but associated his music with white bread old farts. Dads trying to be hip and with it. What could he possibly have to say to a young Pakistani youth going to school in a hardscrabble industrial town? Quite a bit it turns out, with Amolak trying to convince him of that from the get go. His new mate loaned him a few tapes which he inserted into his music machine that evening after school. And would you believe – the first ditty he listened to was ‘The River’. It blew him away into some sort of parallel universe. He was soon even more fanatical than the tape’s owner. That chance meeting began a lifelong infatuation. The Jersey Shore is not so removed from Luton, UK, after all.

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Mansoor credits the Boss for expanding his horizons, dragging him out of his challenging environment into his present day life of journalism and broadcasting. His friendship with Amolak has endured with a now quite famous image of the two of them, taken in 1990, when the duo visited BS’s ‘My Hometown’, on the Asbury Park Boardwalk, New Jersey. So how did this photo of a pair of English Paki fans achieve a celebratory status?

In 2007 Sarfraz Mansoor released his memoir ‘Greetings from Bury Park’; Bury Park being a suburb of Luton. Sprinsteen officiandos will get the reference. And these days Sarfraz has more than one close buddy. Another is film director Gurinder Chadha, famous for ‘The Viceroy’s House’, ‘Bride and Prejudice’ and the iconic ‘Bend it Like Beckham’. She took SM to the London premier of a documentary, ‘The Promise’, made about the album ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’. Of course the great man just happened to be in attendance and as friends do, Gurinder introduced Sarfraz to him. By this stage the now well established Mansoor had been to over one hundred concerts of the New Jersey singer. It came out later that the Boss was actually starting to recognise him in his audience for he was always up near the front. He stood out with the big hair do he sported at the time. Once Ms Chadha mentioned his name to BS something totally unexpected happened. The performer’s eyes lit up and he said, ‘I’ve read your book and it’s amazing’. So the stage was set.

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Gurinder had always thought there was a film in her friend’s tale, but the difficulty of getting the rights to the singer’s musical catalogue would possibly be a bridge too far. And what would the movie version be without those songs that transformed a life? But, with the knowledge that the man was well aware of the written work of her pal, there was a bit of daylight. For a while she was sidetracked by other projects, but come Brexit and its possible curtailing of unlimited immigration to Britain, she began to feel the time may well be opportune. It could portray what it was like growing up in the UK during a period when life could also be pretty grim for a newcomer to the country if his/her skin colour was little dark. She started work on a screenplay. By 2017 the only issue that remained was the music. Mansoor managed to get an email personally to Bruce himself, bypassing his middle men and he found the Boss was quite okay with them using some of his songs. ‘Blinded by the Light’ came to our cinemas in 2019.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this coming of age, rite of passage saga up on the big screen. I suppose it helps being enamoured of the same music myself, but I suspect even a non-fan would be uplifted by this movie. And there, in the end credits, he or she would see that Jersey Shore snap of two bosom buddies celebrating the fact that they had made it to the Boss’ old stomping ground.

Apart from his fascination for the E Street’s major asset, Sarfraz always harboured a desire to actually live in the US, where he felt the grass would be greener and that the country would live up to its reputation for a place where anybody could make it. He was working towards that when the Twin Towers came down. After that, the UK, for all its issues, seemed the safer place to be. But he still visits the US regularly and there’s that lovely moment, featured in the movie, where a reference to the Boss smoothed his entry into the country at a time when any man of colour was regarded with some suspicion. The Boss opens doors.

From S Mansoor himself – ‘His songs reflected a working class experience that echoed mine. He sang about fathers and sons with an honesty and empathy that made me reflect on my relationship with my own father. He also articulated a generous version of American patriotism that suggested the US was an inclusive and welcoming place.’ It goes without saying that this image has been destroyed, in recent times, by you know who.

The world needs movies like ‘Blinded by the Light’ to counter the toxicity associated with Trump, Brexit and the rise, once again, of xenophobia. See it if you can. Love him or not, this ode to Springsteen is a ripper.

Trailer for ‘Blinded by the Light’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1YFA_J5JBU

Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

The court case where Maggie finally legally confronts her tormentor, Knodel, is the best/worst part of Lisa Taddeo’s ‘Three Women’. The subsequent playing out of the facts, supposedly involved, proceeds to be a riveting/appalling affair making for engrossing reading. The odds were stacked against the woman from the get-go but, in the spirit of #MeToo, she knew she had, for her own well-being, to give it a go. But he was a successful man with all the forces such a man can muster ranged against her. What chance did she have? Knodel, just confirmed as his state’s teacher of the year, is a slimy toe-rag of a man who grooms and stalks his not entirely unwilling, but acutely naive, student into intimate activities with him. In profile he is no Ailles or Weinstein, but the trial attracts some attention. Before ‘Three Women’ it was just a ripple. I suspect that’s different now. Knodel’s ducks were lined up expertly so Maggie was crushed. Has the book changed all that?

There are reminders in Maggie’s tale of the excellent ‘Unbelievable’ that appeared on our small screens during the course of 2019. This is also based on fact. Another teen is not taken seriously, is forced to recant her allegations and then is arrested for wasting police time. It takes two determined female police officers to finally give her some redemption. It was one of the best offerings of the year. With Taddeo, has Maggie finally garnered the same? It is interesting to go on-line to check out the images of Maggie and the odious Knodel, taken during the course of the trial, as well as to read the contemporary newspaper reports of the case.

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For many this title has been one of the books of the year. The women, real figures whom Taddeo, after having the notion to write the publication, chose, after an extensive search, for their honesty and openness. And the tome is nothing if not frank.

It’s quite compelling to peruse. Apart from Maggie there are also Lina and Sloane. The former was sexually assaulted in a horrid way while still at school, suffered through a loveless marriage and is trying to reconnect with an old boyfriend. Sloane, after suffering bulimia in her younger years, is now, with her partner, experimenting with threesomes.

Together their stories are shared with the reader as Taddeo attempts to get to the bottom of what makes her subjects tick and what spurs them on. They are all flawed, as are most of us. Life is not necessarily full of happy endings and at times the author allows us in on some intensely moving scenarios. At one stage Maggie tells her all too fragile parents how Knodel took away her youth. Her dad retreats to bis garage. ‘She found him crying under the rafters. She hates herself…He doesn’t say a word but opens his arms to his daughter and she runs into them. They are, after all, the best arms in the world. They cry together till he stops, and then she does.’ That got to me. Later we find life does indeed become too much for him. Maggie sings ‘Blackbird’ to him as he lies in his coffin.

I know there are far more good men out there than there are bad – far more highly professional and respectable male teachers than there are repulsive Knodels in this world. But gee, as a male, this was tough going at times.

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I hope all three of the main figures can sit easily, in hindsight, now that their most intimate natures have been made naked to the world. It is brave writing, but nothing compares to the courage of being one of the author’s trio. I trust the book and its success has finally crushed Knodel. It would be hard to imagine it could be otherwise after its revelations – but who knows in the land that gives us a leader such as Trump.

The author’s website = https://www.lisataddeo.com/

Balance

Bert Grimes is dead, finally. Should I use that word – finally. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to him. It is that, just by rights, he lived longer than he should have. Not that I begrudged him that – not one iota.

I hadn’t seen much of Bert since the copperheads and a mugger curtailed my daily ramble down the track at the end of Riverside Drive. My neighbour, the best of all possible neighbours, had kept me appraised of how he was getting on these last few years. Noel, good man that he is, would check on him a couple of times a week to ensure he was okay. Maybe I should of done so as well, but sometimes life just gets in the way. I knew various support groups kept him under observance as well – and delivered his groceries. I suspect they delivered a little more as well. Last week Noel came across for a coffee. He confirmed what I had already suspected – I’d seen a hearse go by and I’d figured who it might be. Old Bert had passed away. We both commented that, at 95, he had had a fine innings.

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Bert was out in his vegie patch most days I passed by his cottage, down near where the bitumen gave way to the track back in those years I did my perambulating. He’d have his old dog with him, for company, lying nearby. He’d call out a greeting to me, or give a hearty wave. One day, the ever present rollie in the corner of his mouth, he beckoned me over. ‘I hear word the Joe Blakes are about down further. You be careful along there young fella.’ I told him that, now I was in my sixties, it’d been a long time since anybody had called me a young fellow. He emitted a chuckle, as dry as the Aussie summer bush around us, as I headed off. After that I occasionally stopped for a bit of a yarn with Bert. One day we got onto the subject of the travails of ageing. ‘How ancient do you reckon I am, then, young fella?’ he inquired with a twinkle in his rheumy old eyes, relighting his fag. ‘Bout 75 or so Bert. Close enough?’

No where near,’ he chortled, obviously very pleased with himself. ‘I’m 89 years young,’ he roared. ‘Put that in your pipe and smoke it!’ I then asked the standard, ‘What do you put your longevity down to, Bert?’

Longevity. That’s a bloody good word, ain’t it? I’ve been asked this question a few times, young fella. I know it’s not these bloody ciggies, but I reckon I can point to three things. I worked in the bush all my adult life. Not much stress in chopping down trees, son. Then there was Marie. She was a good woman. Looked after me, like. Fed me up well and made sure I kept regular appointment’s with the doc. She’s long gone now, but when I get an ache or a pain I can still hear her nagging at me, ‘You get yourself to the medical centre, Bert, or you’ll have your rations cut.’ and off I’d go.’ He paused at that point, a bit of a faraway look in his eye.

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I bought him back to the matter at hand with, ‘And the third, Bert?’ He grinned and pointed across the way to where there were some brown bottles were assembled outside the back door. ‘I reckon it’s them. See them there tallies? One with me tea and one just before beddy-byes. Sleep like a baby. Yep, regular as clockwork. No more. No less.’

Bert was old school. They were all VBs. None of the new passion for craft ale for this wrinkled, rake-thin boy. The line up reminded me of the old days, as a kid, when most backyards of my experience had stacks of the same sort of bottles – Boags in my part of the world – waiting for the bottle-o to come and collect them, handing over a few bob for the family budget for the privilege. Recycling was alive and well back in the day when Bert was in his pomp. Back in the era when a hard eared thirst needed a thorough quenching after hours of hard yakka in Tassie’s forests.

It’s now ten, Stevie,’ came the call from the lounge room, from my lovely lady, as I was washing up in the kitchen. She was watching the news, but I knew what she was on about. I’d read it in the paper earlier that morning. The National Health and Medical Research Council, based on the latest information, as well as, would you believe, ‘mathematical modelling’, had arrived at the conclusion that, for health to continue to be fine and dandy, we all should restrict ourselves to ten standard drinks a week. Ten!! Previously they had generously prescribed fourteen standard drinky-poos.

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I have already made mention in a couple of scribings how the gentle influence of my beloved Leigh had lessened my alcohol intake to around that mark. I have become more disciplined with my drinking – three a night, four nights a week. I suspect my idea of standard might not necessarily agree with the Council’s, but, even so, I figured, I still had a little leeway up my sleeve. With that I was tickety-boo – felt comfortable. But now it’s been ordained it’s ten. Sheeesh!

I wonder what old Bert Grimes would have thought of that? Raised his middle finger to it with glee, I’ve no doubt. And I’ll take my cue from that. For me it’s about balancing quality of life with the recommendations of the health police. I’m sticking to the fourteen. I like a drink. I look forward to my four nights a week. I rarely go over my self-imposed limit and these days I feel better in mind and body for that. But cut back again….

Who knows? Had Bert abided by recommendations in his intake he might have lived another ten years and lasted till 105. 95 with his intake or 105 without? I know what Bert would have chosen. And at this moment, I’m with him.