Monthly Archives: October 2013


Has ever an actress been more naked on screen than Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine?

Back in the early seventies, when your Blue Room scribe was a young lad about town, the cinema suddenly became a very interesting place if you were of a certain age, as I was. America had finally rolled away the Hayes Code and Ozploitation was beginning to peak. Breasts! Breasts could be seen on screens – both big and small (screens that is!). There were Abigail’s on ‘No96’ and a whole bevy of them, in the movie houses, chasing a young innocent called ‘Alvin Purple’ around Melbourne. The local ‘Star Theatre’ in my provincial town throbbed with excited young men, agog with displays of unfettered bosoms in those innocent years before before we lost our sense of wonder at all that.

When the aforementioned venue advertised something called ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Was Too Afraid to Ask’, we all thought we were in for another eyeful. It didn’t quite turn out that way – in fact I was quite underwhelmed by the whole experience – but it did serve to introduce me to Woody. Now the convolutions of his love life are almost as famous as his remarkable oeuvre of cinematic offerings, but to me, when on song, he is in a league of his own. Although my expectations of the introductory sample were not realised by that collection of skits – there was virtually nothing to titillate and were of a style of humour I just didn’t get. It was, nonetheless, a harbinger of the cause of much joy to me in the years ahead.


It wasn’t long before Woody hit his straps, as far as I was concerned. He caused my first love affair with a screen beauty – if teenage infatuations with Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Annette Funicello are discounted – and I’ll always thank Woody for giving the world ‘Annie Hall’. Everyone, it seems, male or female, fell in love with Annie. With her quirkiness, kooky sense of fashion – starting a trend no less – and affinity with lobsters – check it out on YouTube – she was my first ‘it’ girl. Along with ‘The Graduate’, ‘Annie Hall’ set me on a path of cinema going I still follow to this day. It was also most people’s first introduction to the director/star’s now well known Jewish shtick – his New York-centric neuroticism. Multiple Oscar winning ‘Annie Hall’ was also notionally semi-autobiographical – as one presumes many of his movies are.

As if Annie wasn’t enough, next along came the gorgeous ‘Manhattan’, Woody’s homage to the city he, in part, defines. That glorious opening collage of Big Apple images to the tune of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ are pure gold, as was his decision to film in lustrous black and white. As a bonus we get another dose of his main squeeze for a while – Ms Keaton – as well as the undeniable charms of Mariel Hemingway as Allen’s character’s exceedingly young mistress in the film. Two delights for the price of one. Keaton’s Mary woos Allen’s Isaac away from Hemingway’s Tracy. Meryl Streep also has one of her very early roles in this.


Keaton still has what it takes to woo on the screen too – even after all these years. Watch her in ‘Something’s Got to Give’ as she woos Jack Nicholson away from her screen daughter – she’s magic.
There’s a whole heap of wooing going on up on the screen whenever Keaton’s involved!

Woody has had his ups and downs – both in the quality of his product, as well as in his private life. In recent times I felt he had lost his mojo somewhat – that he wasn’t any longer living up to his earlier masterpieces. I cannot claim to have viewed every single movie of his these days – I tend to be guided by the reviews rather than going along and making up my own mind. A few years ago he enticed me back with another homage – this time to the City of Love. ‘Midnight in Paris’ was a fantasy/rom-com taking us back to the years when the French capital was the place to be for any artist or writer – the 1920s. Here a modern francophile, a delightful turn by Owen Wilson, is transported back to the era of his heroes – Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker et al. It was so whimsical – I adored it.

His latest release is superb, but is a beast of a different nature – different from all before it. In it he features a very uncovered Cate Blanchett. We are used to her glacial poise and alabaster skin in most of her starring vehicles, or so it seems to me. Allen transforms her into a shrew. She is just so emotionally raw in ‘Blue Jasmine’ – the film is lit in such a manner it makes our Cate appear visually scoured and her flawless beauty is, for once, well, flawed.. There is nothing hidden in the close-ups. Here Cate’s face seems to give away all Jasmine/Jeanette Francis’ secrets. Her skin is blotchily brightly hued with every line magnified – either that, or it’s very good make up. As befits her role as a borderline alcoholic a few sheep short in the top paddock, her eyes are perennially red-rimmed. She is emotionally naked for the world to see. She is the anti-heroine, aka Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison in ‘Homeland’, or Mireille Enos’ Sarah Lund in ‘The Killing’. Recoiling, as her world comes tumbling down, due to her husband’s (a smooth turn by Alec Baldwin) financial and romantic farragoes, Jasmine flees NYC for San Francisco to hole up with her much poorer sister till she gets back on her feet. Playing off Blanchett are a range of engaging performances, none more than Brit Sally Hawkins as her put upon sibling. The latter’s roughly hewn main squeeze is adeptly played by Bobby Cannavale, who Jasmine rightly pins as a yob, encouraging sis to move on to Louis CK’s character – who is perfect for her, apart from one minor issue. Hopefully Mr Oscar will recognise either Allen or Cate (or both) when he next appears. For the former, the movie is a late career marvel – it is stunning.

cate raw

Now many on-liners have given some major pondering to rank ordering Woody’s films. For what it’s worth is the Blue Room’s Top 10

1. Annie Hall 1977
2. Manhattan 1979
3. Blue Jasmine 2013
4.Midnight in Paris 2011
5. Husbands and Wives 1992
6. Hannah and Her Sisters 1986
7. Melinda and Melinda 2004
8. Vicki Christina Barcelona 2008
9. Zelig 1983
10. Crimes and Misdemeanours 1984

Woody Allen on Cate in ‘The Big Issue’ =

A Blue Room Book Review – The Quarry – Iain Banks


It’s out in the shed – in one of the plastic storage tubs. It would take a bit to find it as it is all a fair old jumble out there. We are renovating here by the river. I would have liked to have watched it again before before I commenced this pondering, caused by reading Scottish writer Banks’ latest and last novel. Yes, sadly he will beguile his fans with words no longer – he passed away in June this year. It’s a sobering thought – that he, being born in 1954, is a younger man than I. He knew he was going. The big C. He asked his partner, Adele Hartley, to marry him – to become his widow. She agreed. Banks has had an asteroid named after him. He wrote science fiction too.

Eighty per cent of Tasmanians support voluntary euthanasia. Reflecting this, the leaders of our island’s governing parties introduced a bill to enable the right of islanders to choose their own timing of death when it all comes too much, for whatever reason. It didn’t succeed – the majority of our politicians reflected the minority view and voted it down. These throw-backs to the Dark Ages think they can play with people’s lives – thus subjecting their constituents to the possibility of ongoing excruciating pain, diminished self respect and anguish for their loved ones. It forces many to commit a crime. It is obscene that we can do the right thing for animals, but in this country, not for ourselves. I do not know the intimate details of Banks’ death, but cancer does not have a reputation for going softly on its hosts. Guy, though, is not going gently in ‘The Quarry’. His ‘friends’ have gathered, not to say their farewells, but to ensure no light is thrown on a misadventure from their college days, now that some have become ‘important’. The whole tome reminded me of a movie that profoundly affected me, a movie I’ve watched several times since without it losing its hold – the movie out in a tub.

For a decade or so I lived apart from my DLP (Darling Loving Partner). She grew restless of provincial life, understandably, moving to what has now become our idyll by the river. I stayed in my job up north till retirement. Much of the detritus of that life I have, with my son’s assistance, dispensed with. Those bits I find I cannot live without I have stored out in the shed – in much the same way as the baggage of Guy’s soon to be unfairly truncated life was stored in various outhouses around his fraying Pennine abode. All of it had to be ransacked to find the incriminating tape, as I would have had to do to find that DVD – and of course Sod’s Law would have applied, as it did in the book.

The ‘The Barbarian Invasions’, made in 2003, was a Canadian effort, winning a César in that year for the best movie in the French language. It is part of a trilogy – but I haven’t seen its partners. Directed by Denys Arcand and starring Rémy Girard as the main, eponymously- named character.. Again, it is a gathering of friends and family around the dying Rémy before he takes matters into his own hands – as our political representatives are forcing so many to do. I was a blathering wreck after the final scenes – I defy most not to be! The main man didn’t want to go, but he had none of the bitterness of Guy in ‘The Quarry’ – there wasn’t the railing against what the world had become; railing against the unfairness of it all; railing against the fact he now had to have someone to wipe his bottom! And that is what scares me – that one day I may have to depend on those around me, on the people I love, to do the unpleasant stuff that I can no longer manage. The right to choose one’s own timing should be down to choice. The ultimate embarrassments should not have to endured for no purpose apart from prolonging a life that no longer has meaning or worth. Hopefully, by the time I reach the end of my journey, those we entrust to make our society a better place will have stopped playing god! As with the French-Canadian gong-winner, there have been deaths a-plenty on the silver screen in 2013. Earlier this year I viewed a very hard death in the mesmerising, deeply moving and difficult to watch ‘Armour’. It gave me much fodder to ruminate on. There was a gentler, although no less heart wrenching, death in ‘Song for Marion’. The death of Bill Nighy’s character in the currently screening ‘About Time’ also left me in a mess – he so needed to tell his son how much he loved him before he departed. In some ways the best death was portrayed in ‘The Artist and the Model’, even if I could never be one to pull a trigger. There are deaths and then there are deaths. Where would film-makers and authors be without them?

I must admit, some of this particular book took a bit of getting through. It started promisingly, with this punter enjoying the device of autistic son as narrator. Banks’ offering came ‘alive’ at the end once the ‘sex’ tape had been located, sort of. The eighteen year old’s relationship with his father’s long-time friend Hol was tantalising and a treat – would they or wouldn’t they? The supposedly ‘soaring’ riffs of Guy and his former cronies did get to this reader the more the pages were turned. All of this crew were somewhat ‘The Slap’ – ish in their demeanour.

From my Googling of the link between this tale and the author’s diagnosis, as to when Banks actually knew of his own demise, was a tad confusing. Some sources suggest he was presented with the news after the book was in the hands of the publisher, others stated, in fact, it was a reaction to the discovery. The book’s blurb describes ‘The Quarry’ as ‘…among Iain’s greatest work.’ If that is the case, I doubt I will seek out his back catalogue. But, please, please dear reader, if you do embark on his swansong, under no circumstance try the party trick on page 193 at home. Yucky. Yucky in the extreme.

Iain Banks

Iain Banks’ web-site =

The Seventeenth Floor


He took it all in, savouring it for one more time as he sipped on a flute of Jansz champagne – a gentle tribute to the southern isle of his birth. The old man had returned to the hotel by river cat. He’d spent the last few hours at the Belgian Beer Bar, a constant in his many visits to Brisbane over the years, travelling up from Mangoland, his property near Bangalow. Mangoland was the place he’d called home for fifty or so years now. A good set up he’d had – well, still had – down there. It was a short hop, step and jump to Byron, where he still took off to every time he felt like a paddle through the shallowest of Pacific shallows. It was the same in the opposite direction to Lismore, the location of his chambers up until the day he retired. Of course Mangoland was at its best, its most splendid when she was around. But she’s long gone now, the old man reflected. She didn’t even see him to the end of his working life. Since then he’d employed a succession of locals to maintain the place. He’s willed it to the community to do what they want with it – there’s nobody to pass it on to. They couldn’t have kids – it wasn’t for want of trying. They just accepted it – got on with life – as you did in those days. Maybe these days science could have changed their fortunes in that regard, but really, all they needed, in truth, was each other. Then she went. Cancer. She, who for all her adulthood led a healthy vegan lifestyle – compared to him with his penchant for reds, whisky and craft ales. Life’s not fair sometimes.

Down below his eyrie, on the seventeenth floor, the summer’s day was dying. As he took another sip the old man thought back to her and how she changed what he thought would be his life’s course. He cherished those years with her, by far the best years. It hadn’t exactly been an arid desert since, but now it was time. He was eighty – and being eighty in 2031, the way the world was, it was time. He wasn’t ailing – there just didn’t seem any more point to it. He didn’t like what he was hearing these days. He used to be such a newspaper junkie, but now that all that had gone on-line, his news came from the radio. He had no time for the rubbish they served up on television, itself almost an anachronism. The world had changed so much. All the doom and gloom about the climate, the sea, the fast disappearing wildlife – he didn’t want to be around to watch it all go completely belly-up. Yes, it was time. Over on the bedside table the old man had placed a bottle of Glenfiddich and a certain something else as well.

He’d enjoyed the afternoon. He had been happy in the bar, working his way through a couple of Leffe Brunes for the road – another constant since the first time he travelled with her to the city as a married couple. For a change they had stayed down that end of town and they discovered the bar by accident. Of course, by then she knew. It took hold so quickly they never had the chance to return, but he did – every time he came up to do what he did in the years after her death. That is, until the time he was with Tasha. After her he knew it was ridiculous to continue. He had passed that other beer barn earlier in the day, hopping off another city cat. The memory of it made him smile, as it had many times in the years since. It was where he found Tash.

He’d had his bucket of mussels in a beery broth at the bar. ‘Christ,’ he’d thought. ‘Jesus would have been hard put to do any better than this!’ He didn’t need any company this day; with part of his mind on what he had to do; part of his mind thinking about Tasha, his wife and Mangoland. He was at ease though, content enough every now and again to watch the passing parade, enjoying one of his life’s pleasures.

Back at the hotel, as the heat dissipated from the city streets below, he ruminated on that trip all those years ago – the one that eventually would lead to this. It was the year of the Dismissal – he couldn’t forget that. 1975. The year hope was sucked from a nation for a decade, but not for the three young men who set out in that Kombi – the hippymobile they’d called it. They’d had fun painting it in the bright swirls of psychedelica. The truth was, that period was drawing to an end as the world reverted to default. The ‘Summer of Love’ was long over – it just took everything a little while to work its way to their island backwater. At any rate he, Murph and AJ were far from being hippies – they were just playing at it. They were no Age of Aquarius gypsies. The three of them had their law degrees in their back pockets as they headed to the north of the state, aiming to catch the ferry that would take them to the ‘big island’ and adventures. It was to be a year off – what would be called a gap year now, the old man mused. Then they would settle down, back in Tassie, close to family and complete their articles in some established law firm – ‘or that was the plan,’ the old man chuckled as he sipped his Jansz and looked out over the view he loved in this, his regular room, 173, on the seventeenth floor. By the window, the dusk was settling over the city as he looked down the Brisbane River towards the Story Bridge. The lights were coming on in the towers all around. He wondered what had become of Murph and AJ. He knew the latter had made it all the way up to Cairns, liked what he saw there and had realised quickly that Port Douglas had potential. He invested on the ground floor and made a killing, setting himself up for life. He’d lost touch with AJ decades ago, as with Murph who, as far as he knew, was still practising the law back in his home town on the island. Whenever he went back – which wasn’t very often, he was always going to look him up. He never did. He thought now of the great times they had as mates, on the first part of the trip, before he met her, as well as during his uni years. ‘Funny how it all turns out,’ he pondered.

His two cobbers were surfers – lawyering surfers. He wasn’t, but he loved their company, loved the beach and he’d plenty of books along for the trip. It caused a chortle as the old man raised his glass to his two great mates of days of yore.

They’d disembarked at Melbourne and headed for the Surf Coast – Bells Beach and all that. After their fill there, they went to the edge of the Nullabor, to the legendary surf spots there. It took them a couple of months. And along the way there were girls. AJ, with his shock of blonde hair and plenty of front, was in his element. He had no trouble picking up in those easy days. Occasionally he’d score with a girl himself who saw through AJ’s bullshit. Poor old Murf – he struggled in that regard. He was already balding and looked very ‘nerdish’, to use a modern term. Put him on a surfboard however, he’d surf the pants of AJ and anyone else who cared to take him on.

Once they’d exhausted the watery pleasures of Ceduna they took to the Barrier Highway, cutting across the middle of the continent, making for the Pacific, via Broken Hill and Dubbo. In the old Kombi it seemed to take forever, but they emerged on the eastern rim at Port Macquarie. They would ‘do’ Sydney and the southern beaches on the return journey. At that stage they had no notion that that would never happen. Murph and AJ surfed their way north – up through Nambucca, Coffs, Yamba, Evans Head and Ballina till they hit Byron.

Byron Bay then didn’t have the cachet it does today, the old fellow by the window recalled. It was all pretty raw – but already was becoming the mecca for alternatives and drop outs it would later develop into, before the latte set took over. AJ, as always, knew someone who knew someone who lived in a commune on the road to Nimbin. The three resolved to check that out before they crossed over into Queensland. The old man remembered that already he was starting to like the look of the country in this part of the world and wanted to stay longer in Byron Bay, but he was out-voted. They proceeded north, but detoured to check out the commune.

As it turned out it was going to be quite some time before he set eyes on the Gold Coast, for on that rough and ready commune on the side of a hill off the road to ‘hippy-central’, he found nirvana. And, as well, the love of his life.

It took a while to find the place, with the hippymobile again struggling to come to terms with the task it was set. They breached the crest of a hill on little more than a dirt track and there, below them, in a cleared gully, were some pretty basic buildings – three long ones radiating out from a smaller central one. All around was cleared ground lush with organised growth. In the vegie patches were a range of people hoeing away in various stages of undress – some, men, women and children – completely starkers. That was all a bit of a shock to the relatively sheltered lads from provincial Tasmania. As they drove up a couple of the residents sauntered over and AJ asked for his ‘friend’. He, it turned out, was one of the ‘founders’. He invited them to stay a while, pointed out the rules and directed them to one of the communal dorms where they could find a space to bed down, if they chose. Of course AJ was all for it, so they took up the offer.

The room was darker now. The old man lurched off his stool by the window and switched on the lights. There looked to be one more glass in the bottle of Jansz. He would make it last as he wandered along his memory. He knew he had to take it slowly. There was still the scotch beside his bed and he didn’t want to lose the plot completely – he needed to retain enough sobriety to do the deed, but not be too sober so as to have second thoughts. He returned to his spot by the window to watch darkness shroud the city; to continue working his way along the route his memory was taking him. His thoughts went back to where he’d left off; back to the commune and the girl.

For a while it was all quite strange and new, but a week in the he felt he was an old hand. The nudity surprised him at first, but once he realised no one gave a rats about how dressed or undressed you were, he quickly acclimatised to it. Many seemed so zonked on the weed that almost grew wild they barely knew what day it was – not that dates counted for much there. He knew he couldn’t go ‘all the way.’ AJ of course took to it like a duck out of water. The rules were simple. For your board and tucker – only vegetarian – you were expected to work in the vegie plots and help out building a new dorm. He laboured hard, enjoying the novelty of physical work for the first time. He quickly discovered an aptitude for tools and implements he never imagined he possessed. He was beginning to realise it would be very difficult to leave this paradise when the time came. He knew it had a few drawbacks – when it rained it really rained, that ‘free love’ was not his thing and that the food was bland with a sameness to it. The insects at night were a pain and there were the few that constantly whined about it all, but were usually too addled to have the wherewithal to pack up and vamoose. Then, after a couple of weeks, he started to notice her – and she, him – as it turned out.

Nora was quiet. Nora, by the commune’s standards, was demure – usually garbed in the ubiquitous cheesecloth of the day. Some of the girls flaunted their sexuality, their nudity; some were more subtle about it, but Nora was like him. Some of the girls had a reputation for sleeping around; some were more subtle about it, but Nora was like him. AJ had a different girl hanging off him every week it seemed. Meanwhile, Murph had taken to the habit of driving off in the Kombi after the daily chores were done – not returning till later in the night. He wouldn’t say where to. As for the old man back then – he was just content to watch it all unfold before his eyes. He knows now it was his reserve that drew Nora to him. She was in a bind as she hadn’t really bonded with the place, unlike he had. She was travelling around Oz with a number of companions who were right into the notion of the hippy lifestyle. She? Well she couldn’t wait to get away, but wasn’t game to do so on her own. She was a Kiwi – a Christchurch girl. She also hated the sexual antics of the place, the unbridled nudity and abhorred constantly fending off stoned cave-men trying to hit on her. In looks, she reminded him of a younger version of Junie Morosi – the woman who won a deputy prime-minister’s heart and helped destroy a government. She had the same hue of hair and skin, the same full lips and shining eyes – although she was far from as overt as that seductress. One night, after the home brews had been bought out, she sauntered over to him, sat down and told him her story – of how she was also taking a year off before getting on with her life back in NZ. She told him of her dislike of the commune, particularly the guys who always assumed that she would be eager for them to bed her. He still remembers her exact words, easily bringing them to mind by the window that night – ‘Maybe,’ she said, ‘if I hung around you they would lay off.’

He asked her if that was an invitation. ‘Maybe,’ she responded. ‘Let’s just see how it goes, see what happens.’ She then laughed, before continuing – ‘You wouldn’t mind, would you?’
He answered in the affirmative, saying he’d like that very much.

As time passed slowly at the commune he came to know her exceedingly quickly. It was soon accepted that they were in ‘partnership’ and she was left alone. Eventually they started sleeping together. He found out that, under that cheese cloth, there was much to like when she wrapped herself around him. Soon, he knew he was deeply in love with her and that she felt the same way.

It turned out that Murph, on the sly, had set himself up with a position in a legal firm in Lismore and he took his departure from both the Kombi van and the commune – although he’d only be just down the road. AJ was getting fidgety too – he’d run out of eligible women and wanted to get moving again. The old man remembered how it felt, way back then, that one life was over as he farewelled his blonde mate, but that another one was beginning. His life with his Nora.

A month or so after AJ’s departure, a shaky Murph paid him a visit. He had word that his father was critically ill and was returning to Tasmania for the foreseeable future. Would Nora and he be interested in taking over his flat in Lismore, as well as his friend his position at the chambers? As much as he enjoyed the commune, its limitations were starting to get to him and he knew that Nora was still desperate to move on – so in the end it was a no-brainer. Overlooking the river, he recalled that at that time he was prepared to put the happiness of his Kiwi love above anything else in his life; that being how it would remain for the rest of their days together. He was over pretend hippydom. Once that decision was made, he knew in his bones that he would never look back – as long as he had Nora.

By now darkness was shrouding the city, the champagne was gone and the whisky beckoned. He took some ice and poured himself a finger or two of the juice from the peat, settling himself on the bed to continue his reverie. He still had an hour or more before he’d do the other. He felt a little worse for wear, but was too het up to be sleepy. He knew he’d have to watch his intake – to really savour it as if there was no tomorrow. He gave a slight chuckle at his macabre little joke with himself.

park regis

The North Quay Park Regis opened by the river in Brisbane back in 1989. It was the year after what had been, to that stage, an overgrown country town, had became a city of the world with its bicentenary World Expo. The new hotel, being close to Roma Street, made it very convenient to take the train up from Lismore, walk the block there and use it as a base for their times in the big smoke. He began to enjoy the attractions of South Bank as they came on line, particularly the twin galleries. She shook their communal beginnings off with shopping, mainly to transform their Mangoland into her vision. Later on, after she was gone, the park lands behind the station became an attraction with their sub-tropical coolness away from the often oppressive heat of the city. And he never knew who he might meet in them. Their first stay at the Regis was not long after the opening. They were delighted with their room on the seventeenth floor – a spacious, airy apartment with stunning views down river and to the ever changing skyline. Each time they came to ‘town’ there seemed to be another tower, outdoing the last in height and architectural wizardry. The place was booming as they turned the corner into the nineties.

The old man’s business was thriving back then, which allowed him to purchase their spread on a few acres on the seaward side of Bangalow – handy to his chambers, in which he was now a full partner, as well as the beaches around Byron. He would always retain a passion for those. He made some percipient business decisions as Australia’s most easterly town also took off as the place to be in the nation’s consciousness – he wasn’t short of money. Life was very peachy. The older Nora became, the more she bloomed. With her diet and exercise regime, she was a picture of health, or so he thought. He was still as smitten by her as he was back in the days of cheesecloth. They planned to make it all formal and marry when their first child came along, but that never occurred so they decided to go on as they were – it, after all, seemed to work well. He never strayed, she was his delight and inspiration. Like Morosi before her, she retained her striking looks as the years went on. They travelled, indulging in collecting up and coming artists to place on the walls of Mangoland. Then, as the world prepared for a new millennium, came the diagnosis.

She’d felt a lump. It turned out to be aggressive. Soon, to their horror, they were told it would only be a matter of months. She went downhill quickly. One night, as he lay in bed with her, she took his hand and asked if he would do her the honour of becoming her widower. He didn’t hestiate. A small gathering was arranged the following week at Mangoland. They made commitments to each other – he was strong as he said the words to her, but now all these years on, tears flowed from the old prone man’s eyes as his synapses gave up the details of the most poignant event of his life. She was well enough for a brief ‘honeymoon’ in Brisbane. For once they eschewed the Regis and went for an even flasher venue on the other side of town, overlooking Eagle Street Pier. It was nearby they discovered the Belgian Beer Bar a short walk away – the first time be sampled Leffe, the first time he partook of the brothy mussels.

It wasn’t an easy death when it came – the more reason for what he was doing that night. Nora fought; she fought hard and had the best care his money could provide. Nothing could persuade the cancer not to follow the doctors’ prognosis – she hardly saw any of the new age that dawned on the planet back in 2000. He mourned; mourned as hard as she had fought to hang on. It knocked the stuffing out of him, but his friends and the Bangalow community rallied around, took him under their collective wing, seeing to it that he made it through to the other side. Slowly he realised he wasn’t going to lose the plot; slowly – ever so slowly Nora ebbed away and he began to see that he could move on. In which direction was the problem.

He knew he’d never find another Nora, but he also knew the answer lay with women. He couldn’t abide the thought of another woman sharing Mangoland with him back in those raw days – but on the other hand, he couldn’t conceive of his life without the opposite gender, in some shape or form, in it. By the time he turned his half century, a classic affair at Strop’s Byron pub, he knew he was ready for a new stage in his life. He enjoyed the do – for a while there he thought all enjoyment had been expunged from his being. He wanted spice back in his life; he wanted to feel the touch of a woman again. He knew the internet wasn’t for him. Mates tried to set him up, but he found it claustrophobic with them looking over his shoulder checking how he was going with Mary, Jane or Betty. No, he’d need another way. In the end he realised the answer was right under his nose. He would wait for it to happen, just as he did, inadvertently, all those years ago back at the commune, with Nora. He formulated a plan. When he confided to a close friend, he was informed it was sort of like ‘reverse stalking’, but he didn’t see it that way. He’d do it well away from Mangoland – being away would mean he could be free of those who may disapprove. He knew he’d never find another Nora – nor did he particularly want to – but he wanted some adventures. If not handsome, he was well groomed, retained most of his hair and was socially articulate. And, importantly he had money. On most occasions, it worked to a greater or lesser degree – and of all his attributes, the latter turned out to be the least important.

For his purposes the Regis was his base and he became even more of a regular, with the staff making sure he was granted, on most occasions, the pleasure of Room 173 – the room with the river view. By trial and error he found the best venues to go to – the places where they were.

The old man was taking the whisky slowly, not so much because he wanted to put off the other task, but as he was having a fine time working his way back through his adventures. The whisky also soon made him more emotional, but even the tears he’d shed reliving his final times with Nora were pleasurable in a way – there was no one who cared now if he didn’t wipe away the reflection on his manliness; on his stoicism. It was perhaps this that, in the end, led him to the finale to all his ‘adventures.’

He was winding down his business through the noughties. This allowed him the scope to spend as much time as he desired in Brissy. He’d stay a few days, a couple of weeks, even a month if that is what it took, at the Regis. He never made the advances – he’d sit by himself at one of his venues, sipping on a favourite tipple. If he noticed a woman of a certain age he liked the certain look of, he’d make sure she knew he was quietly ‘looking her over’. This was his method. On some nights he would receive no response. When he did, though, initially, it was magic. When a lady of a certain age did venture over to him it may have meant just a drink or a couple; maybe even a dinner. On enough occasions it meant coffee at hers or back in his room. Sometimes it lead to a night in a lady’s arms; sometimes more than one night. He never pressured for anything – if they were willing, so was he and the more he went on, the more spending the night became less and less important. He soon discovered what he was really interested in were their stories. They all had stories. In the end he was mainly collecting stories. He found, when he returned to Mangoland, he enjoyed writing them up in his special journal; embellishing, occasionally placing himself in them – but usually not. Some of his ladies of a certain age were determinedly single, some were just out to have a fling, some were lonely, some were married to the degree they couldn’t recall singledom, some were in stultifying relationships of pure monotony, some were content with life but gave him their stories none the less. In all, there weren’t a host of them, but there were more than a few. He thought of it as not diminishing Nora. In honesty, he never felt with any of them enough of a connection for him to take it to another level. If they were interested in prolonging, he was honest – with that usually being the end of it. Of course he was using them, but he was scrupulous about their feelings. They were savvy enough to know it was what it was. The very few who lasted for more than an assignation or two just wanted companionship, sometimes with added intimacy, in their lives. As it was ‘no strings attached’, he went along for the journey for a while. But then there was Tash. She was his last. After Tasha, he’d had his fill. He went back to Mangoland – to his books, to his writing, to continuing to ensure that Mangoland remained Nora’s legacy – and to his strolls on a Byron beach.

On these occasions, by the Pacific, he invariably thought of Tash, as he was doing now, peering over to his Glenfiddich, calculating that one more may finish the story. The smaller container, by the whisky, could wait a tad longer. Then he would complete his mission. He had only to think through Tasha and then his journey back would be complete. With the thoughts of Tash, Nora and the whisky in him, he knew he could do it. He poured himself another half glass. This time there was no ice – he was too wobbly, he knew, to make it to the icebox – but, even with one more – he would not be too far gone to do the deed.

It was in 2013 that he saw the movie, in an art house cinema, on one of his excursions to Brisbane. He knows the exact date as he keeps a record of all his films – rates them, as he does his books. He loved this movie of a very elderly man and a rustically gorgeous young woman – ‘The Artist and the Model’. Could he ever have an experience like that venerable, wearying of life painter did with his young muse? He couldn’t imagine how it would occur, but he knew that if it did, that would be it. With that his ‘reverse stalking’ would end. It would be enough. He was starting to feel, in any case, that an end was coming closer. It was vague at the time, but at sixty plus he was tiring of the hike up to Brisbane for his stories. He was starting to make them up himself in any case – he didn’t feel the need any more. That is why the gift of the Spanish girl’s youth and body to the venerated painter resonated so much for him. He didn’t know then that it would occur – it would occur with Tash.

Nothing though, was further from his thoughts nearly ten tears later as he dined that night – a night now indelibly etched in his mind. It was at a German beer bar near Eagle Pier on a balmy late spring eve. At first he paid scant attention to the person taking his order and serving his first course. He was engrossed in a book and trying to shut out the racket of a crowd preparing for a big Friday night. As she bought his dinner to him, the first thing he picked up on was her accent – Eastern European, he thought. As she took away his plate he noticed the tightness of her uniform. Unlike the other girls who wore theirs loosely, hers was stunningly tight – her black micro-mini barely covering her petite posterior. A short while later she came bouncing back with his dessert. From a distance she gave him a smile as wide as the Great Australian Bight, seemingly directed at nobody else but him. Her eyes seemed fixed on him, only him. They seemed to him to be shining with mischief. Was she playing with his mind? Then he noticed her breasts. They were small, but barely contained in her lowly buttoned, stretched white shirt. He felt some stirrings that had, by and large, gone missing of late. ‘Bugger the book,’ he thought. ‘I am enjoying this immensely.’

When she came to see if he required a coffee, or any more of the bar’s services, he took the bit between his teeth. He remembers the conversation as if it occurred yesterday.
‘Your accent, young lady. I can’t place it. Where do you hale from?’
‘I’m Bulgarian sir. Have you ever met a Bulgarian before?’
‘I can’t say that I have. I’m Tasmanian. Have you, in turn, ever met someone from my island before?’
She laughed, obviously enjoying herself. ‘No, I have not. Certainly not before you, sir. You are exotic, just like me.’
‘What brings you to this country, my young friend?
‘Tash. My name is Tasha. A man, of course. What else? My boyfriend, he is an Aussie.’
‘Well thank you very much for looking after me so marvellously. I must compliment you on your smile. It lit up the evening for me.’ He reached into his pocket and drew out his wallet, giving her a generous tip. ‘Here, this is for you, just you. Don’t go sharing it. And here, here is my card. I collect stories and I’d like to hear yours sometime. Maybe we could meet for a coffee. I am harmless, but if you are concerned – bring your boyfriend – do. The card has my mobile number if you feel so inclined. Listening to your story would make this old man very happy.’
With that she said goodbye, giving him another killer smile as her parting gift, disappearing back to the kitchen – but she had taken his card.

Nothing happened. He didn’t forget her, just dismissed that he’d see her again. The summer was over when he did. She said she ‘refound’ the card – and yes, if he’d still like to – they could meet in a few days. She gave him a date, he gave her the place – Jimmy’s on the Mall. Everyone knew Jimmy’s. On the day in question, he trained north and was waiting for her, half believing she wouldn’t turn up. She did, right on time; minus boyfriend. Naturally he inquired.
‘He’s up on the Reef. Research. What you say – for his thesis. He’s away for a few weeks. I was feeling bored – so I remembered you, went looking for the card – and here I am.’
She was dressed more conservatively that day, he noticed. Even so, in her simple black cotton dress – she still stirred him.

The bottle was now a third gone. If he wasn’t careful, he knew, the room would start to spin and then he’d be cactus. Still, one more wouldn’t hurt – surely. That’d give him time to relive that afternoon, with what came after. He still finds it hard to believe – his own ‘artists model’!

To his shame, he cried that day. Just as he had during this vigil earlier, when the whiskey got to him. There was no whisky that day. He felt exposed at Jimmy’s – an old fart with a beautiful young golden haired Aphrodite. He suggested they go across the way – to his favourite coffee place in the foyer of the old Regent Theatre. And it was there she related her story for him.

She told of a hardscrabble upbringing in the outskirts of the capital, Sofia. Post-communist Bulgaria had more freedoms, but for most life was still pretty bleak. The young always had eyes open for a way out – to the West. She saw her chance whilst waitressing at a cafe in the ‘old town’ of her city. That was how he initially saw him when she caught his eye, had a brief chat and arranged to go out nightclubbing with the handsome tourist after she knocked off. It was not the first time she’d done that – but on this occasion it was different – she liked him. He was an Australian back-backer, spending his summer hols doing the continent on the cheap. Bulgaria was very cheap. In the end, with her cajoling, he stayed as his party moved on down into Greece. He was besotted. All she had to do was reel him in. It wasn’t long before she realised that there was a fringe benefit with him. She was in love too. Eventually he had to return home – but they kept in touch – skype, emails, social network – that sort of thing. Eventually she’d had enough saved, with a little assistance from his parents, for her to visit. They lived with his folks, which was becoming more and more intrusive, she commented, but she expected that once his final uni year was over, he would ask her to marry. She was hoping that this would occur – she really had no doubts that it would. Looking back, the old man wonders if it did. She told him that afternoon how much she adored Australia – its space, the beaches, the freedom, the sunshine. Did she get to stay and continue to enjoy that as well?

Then, she wanted his story – and he told it. When he came to the bit abut the passing of Nora, he broke down. She leant forward and took his hand, stroking it till he recovered. When he did so, he looked to his watch and realised that he’d spent more than three hours with her. He told her he would escort her to the station, to work, to a taxi – whatever she required. To his pleasure he was informed that it was her day off. If he wanted, they could share a meal together. He took her to the restaurant under the Regis – it was quiet there. She told him of her dreams, he of his travels with Nora. He invited her up to his room on the seventeenth floor for coffee.
‘No, not coffee – champagne, maybe?’
There was a bottle shop across the road and as luck had it, they had a cold Jansz.
‘This tastes of my island,’ he told her as they rode the elevator up to 173.
He guided her across to the window, from where she could admire the view, as he uncorked the bottle and poured drinks. He went over, sat down on a stool beside her and toasted, ‘Here’s to us. My past. Your future.’
The old man remembered they talked of movies, music and she talked of her Samuel. More than once he offered to take her to the trains, but no, no – she had plenty of time.


There was a lull in the conversation, eventually broken by, ‘Would you like to see me?’
At first he thought she was arranging another meeting. Then she turned her back to him and pointed to her zip. He then understood. He whispered that nothing would give him greater happiness. He slipped her out of her black dress.

She spent the night with him. They didn’t make love. She wouldn’t permit that, but she allowed him to drink in her body, to caress as she did for him – till she no longer needed to. Then she placed her head on his love-starved chest and slept. He forced himself to stay awake, determined to milk this time with her for all it was worth. She arose early in the morning. He felt a kiss on his cheek. He knew she was gone.

He in turn was savvy enough to realise it for what it was. If she did it because she felt sorry for him – he could live with that. He never sought her out again. And she was the last. He was now sated with what life had given him.

It was the moment. His story was done. He found the pre-written note; placing it beside the bottle. He felt sorry for whoever would find him in the morning, but knew this way was not as traumatic as other ways. He reached out for the pills.

They found him in the morning – two Filippino maids. They summoned management who in turn called the police and a doctor – the latter confirming death. The policeman took the pills from his grasp. The bottle had not been opened.

A Blue Room Book Review – The Australian Game – edited by Ross Fitzgerald and Ken Spillman


I can come clean now, I think, after all these years. After all, it’s been four and a half decades. My father was wrong – ‘Dad, the umpire had it right.’

In days of yore when weekends were not saturated with wall to wall AFL – no bad thing I might add – I, in my callow youth and with my great mate, Neville H Milne, followed the local footy. We travelled the length of the North West Coast in my trusty Fiat, with the suicide doors, so we could cheer on our team, the mighty Burnie Tigers, in good years and bad. Back then winters were pluvial in nature – remember when Yogga Young played the game in his raincoat? – but we were undaunted in our allegiance. I think I started barracking for them largely because my father, Fred, was a supporter of the town’s other side, the Cooee Bulldogs. I loved and admired my dad, but by this point of difference I could step aside from his shadow. When it came to the AFL – back then the VFL – we agreed. Originally we both chivvied on the Saints – St Kilda – it being the home of many Tasmanian champions. On espying an image in the local rag of a scrawny New Norfolk lad about to try his luck across the Strait in the big smoke, my father commented, ‘He’ll never make it over there. He’ll come back with his tail between his legs!’ I disagreed. I had perhaps a better handle on the prospective Hawthorn recruit. I had been following the progress of the mayhem the youth created for the backlines of opposing teams down south, as well as the bags of majors he was kicking each Saturday arvo. When I pointed this out Fred, who prided himself on his ability to spot a future Baldock or Stewart, again made disparaging remarks. It was then we parted company. From that point on my love affair with the brown and gold commenced. The lad in question was the freakish Peter Hudson, who went on to be a legend in the game. Fred Lovell was wrong about him, with my old man being very, very wrong about something else as well.

Nowadays the local footy scene is a mere shell of its former self compared to back in the days when Milney and I were traipsing along the Coast. The island can still produce champions, but in the modern era they are plucked away to Melbourne, whilst still in their teens, by the draft. Back in our time they served an apprenticeship locally before the big boys came calling. In the twilight of their careers ex-Coasters, who made it across the waves, often came back, invariably playing in their original colours. From Smithton to Latrobe, in the necklace of towns facing Bass Strait, there played out a roster for the Union, as the provincial comp was known. Ours was roughly equal in standard to the two other leagues, centred on Launceston and Hobart respectively. Of course it was huge to win the grand final in the Union competition, but the real bragging rights were with a coastal team that could beat the winners of the other two associations for the state premiership.

In 1967, my final year of secondary school, the culminating game for that title was to be between the Wynyard Cats and the North Hobart Demons. These were both led by playing coaches and the known enforcers for their sides – Johnny Coughlan of Wynyard and John Devine for the red and blue. These were the days of single umpires; video reviews were a long way in the future. The hated southerners were playing away at Burnie’s blustery, mud ridden West Park. There was no pampering of players during the Sixties with the flawless playing surfaces of today.

Even though my father and I did not share the same team, we were united when it came to the state-wide final. We were behind the locals as they took on the powerhouse from the south. Never was parochialism more prevalent than when a Hobart team came to our neck of the woods. Down south was where the big money was; down south was where all the rules were made – obviously in their favour – and down south they drank that inferior ale, Cascade. Despite the home ground advantage, all knew it would be tough to knock off North Hobart, with their ‘never-say-die’ reputation. To the crowd’s delight the smaller, but pacier, sons of the soil from the spud farms around the Inglis River had a handy lead at half time, due to a dominant second quarter. In the third stanza the big city boys hit their straps, kicking with the wind, taking a narrow lead. The last quarter saw the potato-diggers sprint away again, but with the wind dropping and the Cats tiring, the South hit back. With a few minutes to go the lead had been whittled to a point when the courageous little Wynyard rover, Doola King, was felled behind play, a cowardly act right in front of the grandstand. The crowd went ballistic. With moments left the ball squirted out of the centre and was kicked down-field onto the barrel-like chest of North Hobart full-forward Dickie Collins, about thirty metres out, directly in front. He took the mark just as the siren sounded, a feeble noise amongst the din made by an incensed, over-excited crowd. It took the umpire a few seconds to realise the game had ended, but he adjudged Collins had taken the grab before that point. At this stage a stunned lull came over the throng in the grandstand. It all came too much for Fred.

Now I have inherited a few salient genes from my dear old dad. One of them is my inability to cope with the tension of a close game, especially if it involves my beloved Hawks. This has reached what my mates consider to be ludicrous proportions these days. I go into stress mode, I pace floors and cannot bring myself to watch. The three grand finals the brown and gold have been involved with in recent times have been excruciating for me and I did anything I could to take my mind off the first two until the final siren. The Hawks are now premiers for 2013, but I ensured I would be immune this time from the actual match itself by arranging to be up in the air for its duration. What a treat it was to watch the game in full a few days later in the knowledge that they had won. Back in 1967, though, I was made of slightly sterner stuff than my father.

In the midst of the lull, as the umpire arranged for Dickie to take his kick, my father stood up and started to wildly gesticulate his arms around. It took a nano-second for me to realise what was going on, but suddenly he was yelling, exhorting those in the grandstand to ‘Get out on the ground! Get on the ground! That mark was after the siren! Get on the ground! Stop him! Stop him kicking the ball!’ With that he charged down off the bleachers, arms still going akimbo, with, to my surprise, a few hotheads following. Gradually the few became dozens, then a horde – and by then I thought I had better go down too to prevent my father getting himself into more mischief, possibly amounting to trouble. By the time I arrived on the muddy green sward of West Park, hundreds, possibly thousands had made a similar decision. By the stage I arrived there was no way any kick could be taken. Dickie was surrounded by a multitude – he’d had the forethought, though, to tuck the ball up under his guernsey.

Gradually the mood settled as the over-heated disciples of the game stood their ground to see what would happen. The umpires were in consultation with the constabulary, deciding to clear a pathway through the thong so the bemused full-forward could take his kick. I was still looking for my father, who must have woken up to what was afoot. I heard a voice rise up above the murmurs of the assembled, ‘The goalposts! The goalposts! Bring down the goalposts! Stop him having his kick! Bring down the goalposts!’ I could now place where my father was. The king of the hotheads stood and watched as his acolytes did exactly what he demanded of them. They came crashing down, one just missing me by millimetres. Soon the officials decided the exercise was pointless and called off the game. As for the goalposts, they reportedly ended up on a train headed for Hobart.


Sadly, my father is no longer with us and I do need to put the record right:-
‘Dear old Dad – you were wrong. I knew that back then just as I know now. Dickie Collins took that grab on the siren, not after. He was entitled to take his kick. He deserved to take his place in history for kicking the winning goal – a place you denied him. But then, my beloved father – without you this saga; this fabulous story that has been dined out on for decades on our footy mad island, would not have occurred. Your input saw this one game become a great yarn!’

Yes, I know – every islander my age or thereabouts would no doubt claim to have been at West Park that infamous day. Every one of them will tell you they know the true story. But this, I believe, beyond a shadow of doubt – it was Freddy Lovell alone who instigated the riot on that windswept oval that day!

So, Martin Flanagan, you now know the truth; you know who caused the goalposts to be moved – uprooted indeed – and it was not ‘some intemperate behaviour’ by your mate, poet Pete Hay. In my view, Flanagan is the best football writer going around in any code – but he is just one of many notable contributors to ‘The Australian Game’. In ‘Tomorrow We Are Playing Away’ Martin F writes lovingly of Aussie rules in this state during its glory years. Why, we even once beat the Vics at their own game. No account of the sport in Tasmania would be complete, though, without a mention of Queenstown’s famous gravel field of play. That duly occurs in Paul Daffey’s sublime piece, ‘Home and Away’.

The book is indeed an update of a collection that first saw the light of day twenty-five years ago. Fresh contributions have been added, but many classic yarns remain. Geoffrey Blainey, for instance, recalls the smell of eucalyptus and the bevy of gladstone bags that once marked Geelong’s games at its former oval, Corio. One of my best mates is an Essendon tragic. No, not Neville H Milne – he lamentably is a devoted and deluded follower of Collingwood. Steph would love the Peter Corris piece ‘Barracking for the Bombers’ where he pontificates on the ridiculousness of grid iron and the twin marvels of Coleman and Hird. Let us just hope that the latter’s reputation is not too sullied by that club’s annus horribilis. Dinny O’Hearn, on the tribal nature of the game, is a delight. The potted history of the Sherrin is wonderfully and wistfully bought to life by Vin Maskell. Along with Bill Cannon, we were all in awe of and pretended to be Darrel Baldock once upon a time. He recounts a rollicking time as ‘The One-gamer’. I adored reading Max Piggot’s ‘Swansong’ – a homage to the Bloods and ‘Up There Cazaly’. As well, it is a lament for how it has all changed now in the modern era.

These are my favourites amidst a plethora of quality writing from quality wordsmiths, but each will has his/her own. The tome is a must for all lovers of the world’s best sporting attraction; for all those hopelessly bewitched by the game, as Fred was and I shall forever be.

A Blue Room Book Review – How It Feels – Brendan Cowell


A ‘Sunday Telegraph reviewer reckons (Brendan) ‘Cowell looks destined to be one of Australia’s finest novelists’. I wonder what book of this author he/she was reading to make that assertion. I sincerely hope it wasn’t this one!

Now I like Cowell – still best known, I think, for his acting. I have loved him in such television and cinematic features as ‘Love My Way’, ‘I Love You Too’ and ‘Save Your Legs’. Listening to him being interviewed by Ellen Fanning for ‘The Observer Effect’, he comes across as your typical laconic, knockabout Aussie in the Bryan Brown mould. He was engaging and it seemed he had been a bit of a lad in his day. Maybe he still was. As well as act, there is no doubt he can write. ‘How It Feels’ has a reasonable enough story line, with occasionally the actor making this reader sit up and take notice with an original turn of phrase, or clever metaphor. But this punter did not enjoy having to wade through all the f-bombs and c-missiles to find them. I doubt if I’ve read a book with so many ‘fucks’ per page.

The main protagonist is simply obnoxious – no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He ‘outslaps’ the guys in ‘The Slap’. The ‘hero’ is drug-addled, vodka-sodden prima donna who none-the-less seems to attract the ladies, of course treating them abominably. He has a tome-long thing for Courtney and this seemed the major thrust – excuse the pun – of the book – would he ever get to ‘screw’ her. I won’t let the cat out of the bag for any other unfortunate soul who perseveres through till the end. When he loses his best mate to suicide his grief is typically ‘look at me’ over the top. He takes it out on his other mates for years – more fool them for sticking by him. He ‘talks’ to Stuart in heaven to discover that all the ‘chicks’ in his section of what’s behind St Peter’s Gate are ‘…blonde with big tits.’ This is the level Cowell sinks to. The only redeeming feature of Neil Cronk is that he adores my island’s Mersey Valley vintage cheese.

And the sex – oh dear the sex! It is foul. Simply foul, unedifying writing. Cowell’s purple prose drains most of it of any degree of sensitivity or mutual affection – it is just a bonk-fest, and a turgid one at that. It’s like watching the bright pink stuff on-line – revolting.

Yet I read this drivel to the end. Perhaps being up in Mangoland at the time fried my brain. I ploughed on to see if there was any redemption at the end. There was – but what a cop-out cliched one he came up with.

Please stick to your acting Mr Cowell. I found your novel, sir, in a remainder bin for a few dollars. It deserved to be there in spades. If you, dear reader, do the same – don’t dare believe the back cover guff when it spouts ‘…a blazing comet of a book.’ For me it was more like being in a repugnant foul Dickensian black hole. Ignore it and walk on by!

John Stanton