Monthly Archives: January 2014

'Consequences' – Penelope Lively


I blame Françoise, I really do – although I think I have already blamed her in part, along with  Brigitte and Claudine, once before on this blog (see = . Then it was for my attraction for all matters French – why I have even taken an intrigued interest in recent times as to which of Francois Hollande’s lovers is actually to be the first lady of the nation. It now seems the younger one has won out. This time around I am blaming Françoise for my devotion to a certain genre of writing that I struggle to give a name to. Let me explain. I have an attachment to books, written by female authors, in the main UK female authors, who concentrate on falling in and out of love, on affairs – that type of activity in their novels. Is there a genre appellation to cover what I read? Would ‘romance’ suffice? It would seem rather unmanly of me to read ‘romance,’ wouldn’t it? That word conjures up ‘Mills and Boon’ type stuff and I would hope what I read has a tad more literary merit, even if not quite in the ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ realm – but approaching that.

I cannot remember reading a complete oeuvre of a lady writer until I encountered Françoise during my uni days, over forty years ago now. I have no idea now what started me on those slim volumes you could pick up for less than a dollar back in those days of yore, but they were light, easily digestible – a salve to those weighty historical and political tomes of my enforced reading. I suppose there is a link to my yesteryear attraction to Ms Sagan and my love of French rom-coms today.

Once I was a bona fide contributor to the education of young people, with somewhat more cash in my pocket, I could branch out. I had been by now introduced to a new range of writers of the female persuasion who specialised in the travails of maintaining relationships in contemporary times. The coterie were headed by Andrea Newman, Margaret Drabble and Elizabeth Jane Howard – the recent passing of the latter saddening me. They produced works on the British middle to upper classes that I invariably found engrossing. Their mantle was passed on to the likes of Joanna Trollope, Caro Fraser, Amanda Brookfield, Angela Lambert, Sue Gee and Penelope Lively, amongst others. The term ‘aga saga’ was invented in the early 90s to describe the works of the first listed, but now loosely encompasses many more. It is defined as ‘being named for the AGA cooker, a type of stored-heat oven that came to be popular in medium to large country houses in the UK after its introduction in 1929. It refers primarily to fictional family sagas dealing with British middle-class country or village life.’ (Wikipedia) The latter author, Lively, it seems to me, has been around for ages and I have devoured most of her books. She is now eighty and still active.

Lively fits a great deal into ‘Consequences’. It appears a slimish volume but is three hundred pages or so in length – still, not much really to house the biographies of the three generations of women she crams in. Herein lies its only fault – this reader became so immersed in each protagonist’s journey that he didn’t enjoy leaving them to move on to the next. Still Lively adeptly segues from mother to daughter, commencing pre-war and finishing after the millennium had turned. There’s Laura, Molly and Ruth – all with great tales to tell over the novel’s eight parts. And, in the end, she brings it all deftly back to square one.

In my view Lively has always been a consummate wordsmith with her broad vocabulary embellishing her images with a sheen – be it life in a derelict rural cottage as the Blitz approaches, the vagaries of existence in a super-sized garret in the London of the 50s or in the adventures to be had touring a sun-blasted Crete in the search of the last resting place of a soldierly relative. Its all well-woven lovely, lovely stuff – about stuff that works out, about stuff that doesn’t – as is often the situation in real life. Like her other more recent offerings – ‘Passing On’, ‘Heatwave’, ‘Spider Web’ and ‘The Photograph’, I immensely enjoyed this saga published back in 2007. I intend catching up with her later offerings as well.


As a corollary to all this I once read everything a certain Mr Sparks wrote, even though my talented daughter kept telling me what he produced was total tosh. My beloved Kate will be amused to know that I now agree – that continuing to peruse him would be too unmanly – even for me!

Ms Lively’s website =


It didn’t take long, did it? Those following this blog know I’ve had my rant on this and my prediction has been proved prescient. It is, though, a subject close to my heart and I fear the worse, even if those greedy honchos at the top insist they’re just testing the water. Though it is enshrined in legislation, even though their organisation still makes massive profits with its other services, those Canadians (and, as it turns out, Kiwis) have started our lot thinking. Auspost has surveyed us – well some of us. How would we feel about paying $30pa for our mail delivery services? How would we feel about the postie coming, as in NZ, only thrice a week? As it turns out, in theory this punter wouldn’t be overly concerned about either as long as there are iron-clad assurances that this is where it would end. I doubt though that such assurances would be given such is, it seems, the notion that profit comes before all else. I fear it would be the thin edge of the wedge. And why is it that a mighty organisation cannot tolerate loss making in one sector of its operations, when its overall profit is gargantuan, in the name of a service to the community? All right, I know, the number of letters going through the system is decreasing, but the volume is still massive in anyone’s terms. I love writing letters, I love my philately – it means something to me. Not everything should be about profit excess! Will the greed of giant corporations ever be sated?

And that’s one of the aspects that delighted me about Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ – letters still exist in his version of the not so distant future. In fact Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly (bottler of a name), is employed to write heartfelt letters for a community no longer able/far too busy to express emotion on paper. In Jonze’s world people walk around conversing with hand held thingamajigs. Computer programmes have reached the stage where their ‘voices’ are no longer merely robotic – they have a ‘mind’ of their own and they have ‘feelings’ – perhaps two facilities the human race are starting to lose! In fact, the voice of the one possessed by Theo is downright sexy with the result our hero falls in love with ‘her’. Of course it would be quite easy for anyone to fall in love with any part of Scarlett Johansson orally playing ‘Samantha’. I spent periods of the movie with my eyes closed, just focusing on the two stars conversing – after all the camera was fixated on Phoenix’s face with little else going on. This is essentially a two hander with Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde ably taking on the minor roles, with the latter intriguing as Samantha’s surrogate attempting to have the real sex with Theo that Samantha is unable to carry out. It is Samatha’s voice directing proceedings. We do get a great deal of Joaquin in our faces and this film’s ending is enigmatic, but as a treatise on where the world is heading it provides some fodder for pondering. Where are we heading as far as social interaction is concerned? This movie will linger.


I do wonder about the world my generation leaves behind for my granddaughter’s. She is now a ‘big’ girl of almost twenty months and is starting to work out where she fits into the scheme of things, reaching out to the world around her with joy, wonder and acceptance. Already I am writing letters to her and I hope that, as she journeys through life, she knows the joy of, not only receiving mail, but also of sending out her happenings and thoughts through the post. Maybe she will also receive pleasure, as I do, in each new issue of stamps from Auspost, reflecting the innumerable variables of our great land. I wish that she’ll get the same positive feelings each time she places her tongue on the back of one of these mini works of art and affixes it to the corner of an envelope. And it is my great desire that I will be around for long enough to receive many letters from her to me.

But hooray and hooray. In Jonze’s opus books still exist!!!!

The movie’s website =

Cat as Star

I suppose there are a number of possible excuses for what he did! With a milky diffused moon-glow beaming in through the bedroom window, Leopold could have mistaken it for that other thing – couldn’t he? Watching the first sequence of the movie ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, it bought it all back to me in vibrant flashback.

Leopold is a fine, feisty feline who came to stay, along with endearing canine Oscar, when my son Richard moved in to share my Burnie abode in the long years I was parted from my DLP (Darling Loving Partner). Both pets came very quickly to find a place in this old fella’s heart and to this day I miss their constant presence in my life. I am expecting to be reunited with them when I go north to pet/house sit for Rich and partner Shan when they venture to the Northern Hemisphere for six weeks during our winter. The animals’ home now is a grand house in the picturesque coastal village of Bridport, up in the north-east of the island. The pair of pets lead a salubrious life there with new addition Memphis, an Alaskan malamute. Like them, I have now moved away, but for me it’s to the south to be with my beloved DLP.

As cats are prone to, Leopold soon worked out the most comfortable spots in his new Burnie residence to own as an area for lolling. Beds figured prominently. The rest of the time he was out and about the neighbourhood, tomming – even if he no longer possessed the necessary essentials. He’d often return home in disarray, with parts of his anatomy rearranged requiring expensive visits for veterinarian remedies. Sometimes, as part of his recovery, it was often necessary for Leopold to remain housebound – not to his liking. On such occasions it was important that the unhappy animal had a clear and unfettered pathway to his kitty-litter tray in the back laundry. It was during such a period of enforced confinement that the incident occurred.

One of the beds Leopold took a shine too was the queen-sized one that served as my home for the night. In these early days, pre-incident, Leopold would saunter in, lord of all he surveyed, to home in on a suitable cosy spot on the doona towards the bottom of my mattress. I had no objection to this – in fact I found it quite comforting to have the tabby animal quietly purring away somewhere around my feet. It became habit to have the retractable door to my room slightly ajar to allow for his nocturnal comings and goings. I was lulled into a false sense of acceptance of him as my night-time companion – what could possibly go wrong????

Nothing – would be the answer till that particular night with, as a result of incident, he never setting paw into my chamber again. In the week leading up to it Leopold was yet again in a period of convalescence, getting over one of his many confrontations with a similarly territorial local moggy. He was on medication, perhaps another reason for said incident.

On the night in question I awoke in the wee small hours to find my face, hair and surrounding pillow covered in moisture. Still half groggy, I looked heavenwards to see if a hole in the roof had mysteriously appeared as explanation. Even if it had, there was no rain about, so it soon became evident to me that that was not the answer – that and the piquant and tangy aroma that simultaneously was starting to afflict my nasal cavity. I had been peed on – I reeked of cat piss. I leapt into action to make my feelings clear to the offender. Leopold, an intelligent animal, no doubt only temporarily addled by medication and moonshine, soon realised that my head was not his usual ablutions tray and thought it would be in his best interests to find a quick hiding spot before his sleeping buddy awoke to find and act on his misfortune.

That morning, around four in the a.m., I had my earliest bath ever before a school day, fired up the washing machine and exchanged the linen on the transgressed bed. The cat still had not appeared, in fact I did not lay eyes on it until I returned home that evening from my teaching duties – by that stage I had calmed and no doubt ‘the incident’ had been erased from our puss’ mind.

On that night our mutually satisfying cohabitation ended, but as ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ began the slumbering folk singer front and centre of this offering was similarly cohabiting with a cat, this time a big orange mog. The animal stirred itself and began a slow progression up the bed towards the folkie’s cranium. My first reaction was, ‘Oh no! It’s not, is it???’

Thankfully no, our warbler had sensed something was afoot, shot awake and shot out of his bunk, carrying the maybe about to be offending animal away out of camera shot with him.

inside ld

The movie is the latest from the Coen Brothers. I have never been a massive fan of their oeuvre with the exception of the wonderful ‘Fargo’ and to a lesser extent, ‘The Big Lebowski’. In truth I cannot say I’ve seen much else, but the subject matter of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ attracted me. Although highly praised, I thought their previous attempt at a musical offering, ‘Oh Brother? Where Art Thou?’ was woeful. Most of their material is fairly dark. This one would have been fairly bleak too without the contribution of the big marmalade feline. The laughs that resonated around Cinema 3 at the State where I viewed this production were all as a result of the travails of the cat at the hands of the woebegone Davis. It seemed to be the litmus for the lousy luck that befell the guitar strumming singer of obscure ditties from the Appalachians and Ozarks.

Now the word ‘bleak’ doesn’t necessarily infer that the movie was a stinker. It was quite the reverse actually, with, once my flashback had passed, this viewer being able to sit back and happily enjoy the journey it took me on. It bought back my memories of a time, just as I was ‘switching on’ to music, when, for a brief moment, before it was blasted away by the advent of the Beatles and the Merseyside brigade, folk ruled the airwaves.

This was the early sixties we’re talking about. I found myself becoming lost in the periodness of that time in NYC that the movie produces – think a seedier version of what one gets in the first few series of ‘Mad Men’ or, if you prefer, the album covers of early Dylan. Filmed in browned-out tones in fuggy, smoke filled coffee houses or in streets with dirty snow lying about, it’s a blast from the past.

Our hero is hopeless, even if he has the voice of an angel. He’s a couch-surfing, perennially botting (fags and money) sad-sack lurching from one disaster to another – the death of his singing partner, getting his best mate’s missus pregnant, zilch record sales and only spasmodic bookings – you get the drift. It is difficult to feel any affinity for him. The narrative is bookended by the Greenwich Village set pieces and these are high points. A long period of travel to and from Chicago was less engaging with the movie losing its way – pun intended – somewhat. This is despite a gonzo John Goodman giving his all in more ways than one. In the Windy City he is offered a gig as part of a trio – presumably for either Peter or Paul supporting Mary Travers – and of course he rejects it as beneath his folkloric purity.

inside ld02

Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan make appearances as slightly more successful performers than Davis – and both can hold a tune. Of course we know that about Timberlake, but Mulligan was a revelation to me. Oscar Isaac was chosen for the main role because of his musical chops and he, despite his relative obscurity, in no way lets his directors down. His only other claim to fame is playing Jose Ramos-Horta in the Aussie flick ‘Balibo'(2009). As the hapless central figure, the actor inhabits the role loosely based on early Dylan contemporary, the largely unheralded Dave van Ronk. In the last scene at the coffee house there is a skinny, scrawny curly headed troubadour serenading an audience in a raspily distinctive voice – I wonder who that could have been??

Greenwich Village, Liverpool, Haight-Ashbury, Carnaby Street, Manchester, Seattle – these are place names that all invoke a special time in the progression of popular music in the latter half of the last century. The Coen film enhances our appreciation of the first listed and is worthy of its accolades – even if the cat has the best lines. The world is awash with ‘dog as star’ movies, with the Coens reportedly remarking on how numerous were both the cats and takes needed to get any desired result on the screen involving the feline. Perhaps, with their ‘we owe them a living’ ethos, it is little wonder that dogs, who take the opposite view, are far more prolific movie scene-stealers. But despite the obscenity Leopold perpetrated on my naked head that night, he will always be a star in my world.

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ website =



One year for Chrissy my DLP (Darling Loving Partner) decided she wanted an adventure – something away from the humdrum, something out of the ordinary as well as, dare I write it – something out of her comfort zone. Unfortunately she left it totally up to me as to what that would be. She won’t be doing that again and has kept a tight rein on me ever since. What I came up with left her pleading to be left on some wind-blasted rocks with the seals and shags, but that is a story for another day. Last year we decided for our mutual gift we would treat each other to a trip to the deep south – an excursion that resulted in skirmishes with nudists and kamikaze Japanese tourists – see and This year was a tad more subdued. In keeping with out recent renovations, we updated our kitchen appliances with cranberry red microwave, kettle and toaster. A much safer option. Of course DLP’s greatest gift to me is a daily occurrence – her continued love; her having me in her life. Not a day goes by when I do not tell her how much she means to me.


Towards the end of the past year, again as part and parcel of those aforementioned renovations, my DLP gave me another excellent gift. I have a brand new man-cave. I simply adore it. Ever since I’ve moved down south, two years ago now, I have had my own space – the front chamber across the way from the Blue Room and the sunny nook out back. Now the former master bedroom has been moved to the old cave, and visa versa. The original, due to our lack of room before mate Stefan produced for us our built-ins, means the new area is now my sanctuary with my stuff, much of it retrieved from storage out in the garage, around me. I have a bed to loll on and to take nanny-naps. I have a table to compose my scribblings on. I have shelves on which to place books and images of the one’s I love the most. I am not a man who is interested in sheds, so what could be better than this generous gift? Adorning its walls are some of my favourite possessions. Keeping her eye on proceedings is Fleur, my half-naked 1920’s beauty who has been with me for decades. There’s a wonderful painting by prestigious local artist John Lownds that DLP presented to me for a birthday a while ago now. His work doesn’t come cheap so I know that, on a restricted budget, buying it for me wouldn’t have been a straight forward decision – so I so treasure it. My friends have contributed – Carolyn with her own rendering of Tasmania’s iconic Dove Lake boat house and Claire’s presentation of the mighty Hawks team of ’11, autographed by every member. Although not the victorious side of ’13, they were on their way back then. Then there are two items from DLP’s own talented hands – a large crayon nude and a red-hued seascape. In my mint new room I have a limited licence, under supervision, to clutter – even to cover the pristine white built-ins with my photographic efforts and my granddaughter’s precious first drawings for her Poppy.


Another artist in my life has given me the gift of two of her paintings that adorn other walls in our little abode by the river. Pride of place in my sunny nook is Julia’s cityscape of my cherished little metropolis from the perspective of atop Mt Wellington. This was painted to thank me for teaching her three wonderful children. In truth I think this trio gave me back more than I could have possibly given them. The other, greeting visitors to our home, is my very, very special farewell gift from fronting classes over the course of twenty years at Yolla School. Of the Midlands in Julia’s unique style, it evokes all those trips I made between Hobs and Burnie during the years DLP and I were a bi-coastal couple. Thankfully those trips are taken less frequently today, it being usually with the gift of DLP’s presence as well.

Writing of art, another humbling gift came right at the end of ’13. Whereas I’ve taken to my scribblings in my retirement, brother Kim spends some of his time crafting ukuleles. What he produces are items of stunning beauty – expertly, fastidiously, time-consumingly and flawlessly fashioned from our island’s precious endemic timbers. These are works of utmost artistry as well as functioning musical instruments. I may never play it proficiently, but who knows? What I do know is that I can look at it till the end of my time and be reminded of his expertise; his symbolic heart-felt gesture to the familial ties that bind.


As with Kim, my own son has inherited the same of the hands on capabilities of my father. I know our dad would have been in awe of my ukulele and thoroughly approving of the gift of DVD shelving my son produced for me a few years back. Watching him construct these I saw father Fred’s ability to problem solve on the run. I know this has been a valued asset to Rich in his various workplaces. And wouldn’t my father be gobsmacked to see where he is working now, maintaining the huge barges that service the Furneaux Islands out of Bridport – as gobsmacked as I was on the tour he gave me a month or so back.

Over recent months there is perhaps the most treasured gift of all given to me by my BTD – Beautiful Talented Daughter. That is the gift of being able to accompany braveheart Tessa Tiger Gordon, my granddaughter, on some of her adventurings. It is just pure, pure magic. Being Poppy to her – well it just doesn’t get any better. All these gifts gives my life so much meaning. I am truly, truly a fortunate man.

A Blue Room Book Review – Sarah Thornhill – Kate Grenville


Whereas Henry Reynolds and James Boyce are in the process of putting the meat on the bones of the factual storyline for the Frontier Wars of this country, it is novelist Kate Grenville who attends to the fictional counterpart. The conflict’s earliest incarnation, the Hawkesbury/Nepean Wars, formed the background to her first book in her trilogy, ‘The Secret River’. ‘Sarah Thornhill’ is the third instalment. Presumably the ‘goings on’ referred to in this, the tome under review, was the Bathurst War. Grenville’s latest publication pales somewhat in comparison with the remarkable ‘The Secret River’, as well as being less satisfactory than ‘The Lieutenant’ – the second volume. How could it be otherwise? ‘The Secret River was quite ground-breaking as Grenville thrust the issue to the fore of something that we in Oz, for a hundred years, preferred to sweep under the carpet. There have been some failed attempts to turn her opus into a film, but more successful has been an adaptation for a stage production. Funding for a television mini-series was announced last year, to be made for the ABC. I’ll eagerly await that. ‘The Lieutenant’ was a thought-provoking embellishment of a verifiable relationship between a young British officer and a First Australian girl.

‘Sarah Thornhill’ adds another layer to the black versus white trajectory of the early days of European settlement; that being how those first born of mixed parentage fit into the narrative. To some degree these inter-racial offspring were the result of the initial tolerance, from both parties, that existed for a brief period after the arrival of the invaders. Overwhelmingly, though, it was caused by the forced sexual activity white men, deemed as right, expected from the ‘native’ women. This was our nation’s American Deep South travesty as reflected through ‘Roots’, ‘Mandingo’, ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ et al.

William, the ‘hero’ of ‘The Secret River’ has, by the time Sarah emerges from childhood, remarried to the loving but domineering Ma, finely tuned to the social mores of her day. Those tainted with the stain, including the senior Thornhill, as befits their past, could be somewhat more inclusive – to a point. William is haunted by his actions in the first of the printed threesome, set on the Hawkesbury, during the first genesis of the conflicts after white occupation. He is reasonably considerate of Jack Langland, a pioneer in the early cross-Tasman trade and the forging of links with the New Zealand tribes, despite his parentage – that is, until Sarah, blossoming into womanhood, decides he’s the one for her. Ma comes down like a ton of bricks, with Pa thinking it is best not to rock the boat where his wife is concerned. During this period the family suffers double tragedies. With Sarah forcibly convinced to realise that Jack is a non-starter, she turns her attention to what is ‘correct’, settling for second best. All through Grenville’s pages are mutterings of dark happenings beyond the ranges where the governmental ‘line in the sand’ is drawn. Beyond this whites are forbidden to penetrate. Naturally hat that notion was unable to be policed, as Boyce in ‘1835’ so ably draws our attention to. Settlers were hungry for land, the First Australians desperate to repel their inexorable advance, so our own version of the Indian Wars of the Old West soon ensue. As Tim Flannery recently inquired, why are not the Aboriginal resistance leaders held in as high esteem as their First American counterparts?

That ‘Sarah Thornhill’ does not measure up to its two predecessors in no way tarnishes Grenville as her usual skill is present in putting together a sustainable, easily devoured page-turner. It brings to life a once neglected period when a few isolated coastal communities began to spread their wings and contemplate excursion into the interior. The only major quibble I have is a truncated denouement, a seemingly cursory winding up which could, in turn, signal there is more to be told of the Thornhills. As a title ‘Sadie Daunt’ has a good ring to it Kate!!!!!!. I, with no doubt many others, would hope that the journey into our now distant, in white bread Aussie terms, past continues on.


Kate Grenville’s website =

Tim Flannery speaks out =