Monthly Archives: June 2014


There is much that is ugly, salacious and downright obscene on the Net and therefore, as a result, it often receives a negative rap. Casting all that aside, there is also much about it worth celebrating; many sites that are worth rhapsodising about – as I’m commencing to do. Such a place, in the ether, is the sublime Musetouch ( Here much of an exquisite nature can be found – such as sublime photographic mementoes of times long past. There are images of timeless beauty – the fashions, art and luxury items from the end of the Nineteenth Century and the opening decades of the next – as well as the more up to date, reflecting the values of the art/ists/isans of another era. An added attraction are bygone beauties captured for eternity, particularly those of the fin de siècle/Edwardian periods. It is a great source for enriching my own facebook page.

‘MUSETOUCH is a free magazine about visual arts. It has been
created by Maia Sylba out of love and passion for art with
the hope that people will be able to use the publication and
website as a platform to showcase their skills and gain recognition.’

So it was there that I discovered Cléo de Mérode. She had me in raptuous awe from the moment I first lay eyes on her as she stared back at me from the Musetouch timeline. Who was this beautiful young woman with her thick, flowing, pre-Raphaelite locks and visage of alabaster gorgeousness? The girl I had stumbled upon, thanks to the endless facility the internet provides for instant research, turned out to have much more of a story than merely being an unknown subject of a photographer’s camera. Living from 1875 till well into my lifetime (1966), Ms Cléopatra Diane de Mérode is now largely forgotten, but for a time there she was the most talked about woman in the world. It would be a big call to say that because of her our notion of celebrity was invented, but she sure gave it one sizeable kick in the butt. I wasn’t the only viewer to be entranced on first espying her!


I read of her provenance – and was truly amazed by it. As a result, during one of my bath-time ablutions, I tried to figure out who may be the equivalent to her today. Although not in her thrall as well, the name I came up with was Angelina Jolie. She is a woman who is celebrity because of her class and talent, as well as her looks – as opposed to those trashily tiresome, plastic Kardashians. But for a while there it looked as though our Cléo could have taken the latter route to fame. A nation became obsessed with her love-life and one scandal followed another. Interest in Jolie sells magazines by the squillions with, for our muse – well, she sold something else at around the same amount. For most of her pomp she remained the talk of the town – and that town was Paris. She is buried in Père Lachaise.

She first came to notice as a dancer of the classical, Opéra de Paris variety, before extending her repertoire until she could command the Folies Bergère stage as well. The city on the Seine was captivated. The ladies about ville would emulate how she wore her hair in her latest production – she was the trendsetter for the times. Fandom is no modern incarnation. But her fame went into the stratosphere when Alexandre Falguière sculpted and unveiled ‘The Dancer’, supposedly in her unclad image. It caused a shit storm, Both the creator and subject had to go into damage control, issuing denials in the local rags. Hot on the heels of that, these same presses started linking her to that ancient roué and pillager of the Congo, the sixty plus King of the Belgians, Leopold 11. She was just 22. This blew her now notoriety to fever pitch, even though it is now thought the wily old devil was using the dancing queen as a front for another affair – with a prostitute. It was not long before the great painters of the period came calling. Degas, Klee, Toulouse-Lautrec and especially Klimt, all of whom successfully pleaded with her to pose for their palettes. Nadar pointed his camera at her for stunning portraits.

And it was this latter art form, when superimposed on a card, that spread her fame even wider. For this was the golden era of the postcard. It is postulated that during the Belle Epoque de Mérode became the most photographed subject in the world. A new take on her, in the around six by four inch format, was a hot item in the news-stands and railway stations of the Continent. No images were more sort after, by discerning men and women, than postcards of Cléo.


They took a while to take flight as a means of communication, as well as for collectors to enthuse over, did postcards They had been around for a while – emerging from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to reach their peak at a world fair, the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in the French capital. Early ones were blank on both sides for writing, but then some canny illustrator or photographer had another idea and they took off. Of course there is a seedier side to the postcard story, but the dancer/celebrity refused to be tarnished with any further despoiling of her name. There was nothing tacky or titillating about her product – she maintained rigorous quality control and the masses adored her for that. She was the embodiment of the ethereal ideal of the modern woman at the time. A glance at any example is enough to convince that she was as pure as the driven snow, being her gender’s ultimate role model. She carried it off perfectly.


Google her, click on the images and perhaps you’ll see why I was so taken by my initial glance and had to dig deeper. She was mesmerising and still should be. I wonder if her time will come again, like an Isadora Duncan or Sarah Bernhardt, or will she remain in relative obscurity. She deserves to be up there with them.


To see more of this remarkable woman =


His career was on the wane. Mentored into the big time by none other than the now ailing Glen Campbell, in the early to mid-nineties, on the coattails of Garth Brooks, he was one of Nashville’s big-hatted darlings. With a pure country George Strait-ish set of tonsils, he had a string of top ten hits, with album sales in the stratosphere – these were the good days for the music industry generally before the digital era took hold. As the decade moved on and turned the corner into the new millennium, his popularity waned as he lost his freshness and his appeal to the younger demographic on approaching forty. It would seem that his candle would flicker, then snuff out.

Then in 2001 the unthinkable occurred. Fortress America was breached by a coordinated terrorist attack on the symbols of the nation. The USA; the world would never be the same again. The nation grieved for all it lost, clinging to anything, or any words, that could give expression to the countless tears shed as a country came to terms with the certainty that they were no longer impregnable. The guitar picker, a good ol’ country boy at heart, who wore his heart on his sleeve, grieved too. One night, soon after the event, he awoke from his sleep and wrote down some words. He gave his country, that night, the song by which a nation could make sense of all. Alan Jackson gave the people a simple, plain spoken expression of pain and reaction. It helped to ensure that recovery was possible. The song was ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’.


His composition revived his career, although that would have been furtherest from his mind as he sang it to the land he loved at the 2001 Country Music Association Awards not long after September 11. His next album included it, both in studio and live version, soaring up the charts as a result – making up a sizeable proportion of the 80 million in record sales the artist has had globally to date. The collection of twelve songs is ‘Drive’.

I had liked Jackson well before that, adding each new album of his to my CD shelves as it came out. He, along with Clint Black, appealed to me more than Brooks ever did during the era of the big hats – before Billy Ray Cyrus became the new golden boy. Jackson seemed to offer a purer, less razz-ma-tazz, approach to his music in the true country way. It is a little ironic then that my favourite collection of his, ‘Like Red on a Rose’, has been derided as against the values of his hitherto oeuvre. But back to ‘Drive’.

Jackson has been married to the one woman since 1979. His Denise has had a New York Times best-selling book during that time – ‘It’s All About Him’ – about ‘Finding the Love of My Life’. In part it references her hubby’s 1998 indiscretion which saw the couple separate temporarily. They regrouped with the help of their faith. After all those years together it would seem she truly is his ‘Once in a Lifetime Love’ – the track on ‘Drive’ that is the point of this exercise.


Some people have it, some people don’t
Some people never will
Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’ve got it
Sometimes it’s perfectly clear

Well I know it’s out there I’ve seen it happen
I know the way it should feel
Cause there’s no mistakin’
That good kind of achin’
Of a once in a lifetime love

And those readers who know this old scribbler well will no doubt by now know where I’m heading with this. At the present time I’m amidst quite a large dose of ‘That good kind of achin‘. You see, it took me a while to find her, so now I can’t bear to be away from her for too long – after having spent many years of our relationship being a bi-coastal couple. The love of a son – and his dog – now sees me again at the opposite end of the island to our snug abode on the southern river. And as much as I have, during these six weeks of separation, come to adore the little seaside town of Bridport and its attractions, I am missing her terribly.

So if you think you’ve got it
If you feel it inside you
Don’t let it slip away
Cause you may not ever find what you never
Thought you’d have anyway
And if you’ve always had it and just realized it
You know how lucky you are
To wake up beside what some never find
A once in a lifetime love

Maybe the above words, scribed by Jackson, are a reference to what he almost let happen back in ’98 to cause him to almost ‘… let it slip away.’ Many of his ballads are patently about his lovely lady, the mother of his three daughters. I’d like to imagine, now that his career has again quietened and Nashville again having moved on to the young guns whose names mean little to me – and I suspect him – that in his dotage he has found the quietude, contentment and continued love with his Denise as I have with my Leigh.

Late last year Jackson was again grieving with the passing of his good mate George Jones. He was asked to perform The Possum’s signature tune ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ at the old country warbler’s funeral. He did it simply, without fanfare – and from the heart, as always. He’ll never stop loving his Denise; I’ll never stop loving my Leigh-Leigh.

Once in a lifetime love
A love like we’ve all dreamed of
It may go disguised
Right before your eyes
A once in a lifetime love


Jackson at George Jones’ funeral

Alan Jackson website =

YouTube – Once in a Lifetime Love =

YouTube – Jackson at the 2001 CMA Awards =

YouTube – Jackson at George Jones’ Funeral =

Zak and Mia, Elise and Didier

For any family having a loved member afflicted by cancer is nightmare enough – having a young person battling their own body for survival, for those that love him/her; well that is beyond intolerable. It is one of the cruellest cuts life can impose. John Green’s ‘Fault in Our Stars’ is the fictional exposition of such heartbreak, winning hands down at the moment in top ten lists everywhere. In print form it has touched hearts all over the globe, with it now hitting the big screen as well. Critical reviews of the latter have been mixed, but I defy anyone to read the book and not be affected. But coming close to the above has been a tome and a movie I’ve cast my eyes on in recent weeks. So in order of perusal, let’s have a bo-peep at each offering.

Take a bit of ‘Once’, a smidgeon of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’, a dash of ‘I Walk the Line’, as well as a splash of ‘Blue Valentine’ and you sort of get the idea of the acclaimed Belgian indie I had the pleasure of watching from director Felix van Groeningen. Coming together over blue grass music is an unlikely pair. She’s into tattoos in a big way – he’s a beefy, hairy bear of a man; a musician in a band that’s pure Appalachian of the Flemish (Walloon?) variety. Their union produces a daughter, Maybelle; they raising her in pure alternative bucolic splendour. But it eventuates that all is not well with their cherished offspring just as she reaches school age. It is heartbreaking – can the relationship survive the impositions this revelation imposes on their tightness as a unit? They try to use the music to take away their pain. When the band launched into Townes van Zandt’s ‘If I Needed You’, well that just finished me off big time. I was reaching for my hankie to dry away the tears.


It is structurally a very clever movie. To view it requires having one’s wits about to keep track of the time shifts. Also the band’s climb to fame is very subtly done so as not to overshadow the devastating events of its main narrative. It was nominated for a best foreign movie Oscar at the most recent awards, understandably missing out to that Italian gem, an over-the-top classic, ‘The Great Beauty’. The more minimalist ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ is, though, a treat of a film even if, at its core, it is just so, so sad. For me it is one of the year’s best – there have been so many of those in 2014 and we are only half way through.


Although I initially viewed AJ Betts’ YA novel, ‘Zak and Mia’, as an inferior Aussie attempt to cash in on Green’s best seller, on reading it soon came out of the shadow of the American’s book. The latter grabbed me from the get go, although my enthusiasm had waned a tad by the end. With ‘Zac and Mia’ the reverse occurred. It perhaps won’t reach the stratospheric sales of its predecessor, but it certainly is no derivative clone. It is a magic book. By the time Mia reaches Zac’s family farm I was hooked and didn’t put it down till I finished it. The two characters – one a feisty party girl, estranged from her mother; the other a country lad with a mum doting on him. Both have cancer and meet whilst undergoing treatment. The last hundred pages I completed as the sun came up over Bridport, again wiping away my tears, this time with my bedsheets. Like the movie – just so, so sad.

zac and mia

The disease and Lady Gaga bring these two together, but they are strange bedfellows, if you’ll excuse the pun. She goes on the run, thinking if she gets as far away from WA as possible her problems will resolve themselves. He is more pragmatic, concerned about his longevity, trawling the net to discover his odds at any given point. They fall into ‘love’ almost without realising it, but their cancers also drive them apart. Can there be the happy ever-afters for our brave protagonists as Betts skilfully builds towards a conclusion?

The author did her time in a hospital ward treating sufferers of the big C, so she knows what she’s on about. As the novel rolls on we get the impact of the events on the two very divergent mothers involved, as well as meeting Zac’s inspiring aunt, with her own story of survival. It is all rounded off beautifully by the author in a way that reaches deep into the reader’s humanity.

aj betts

AJ Betts

Thank you darling daughter for recommending such a gem, one she considered was odds on for a CBC award, had the publisher remembered to list it. Thank you also to all those savvy film critics who enticed me to the State Cinema for that superior Belgian weepie.

Trailer for ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ =

AJ Betts’ website =

An American in Oz – Sara James

Would you credit this? ‘Mystifyingly a Red-bellied Black slithered its way up to our front door like a demented Avon lady and repeatedly beat its head against one of the glass panes…a deadly snake knocked on our front door.’

I’d believe it. Growing up I listened to tales my father told, as well as many from his mates, of Joe Blakes – so I’d believe it. My father and those of his ilk, back in their pomp, were bush-comfortable and saw plenty – and they wouldn’t tell porkies, or exaggerate, would they? Besides I once saw a copperhead do something pretty amazing – put the wind up me completely as far as those reptiles were concerned.

But Sara James, the Yank of ‘An American in Oz’, is a different kettle of fish. She’s a big city lass. Even if she, as correspondent for the US’s NBC Network, had been to some of the world’s most deadly war zones, nothing equipped her for the deadlies that exist on our island continent, nor the terror in the bush that Victoria’s Black Saturday fires engendered.

Country Living: Author Sara James

I first became aware of Sara James when she was profiled by ‘Australian Story’ in August last year. She fascinated me. Coming to terms with life in a new land would have been less arduous for her had she chosen one of our large littoral cities to swap the Big Apple for, but she and hubby opted for a tree-change up in the hills behind Yarra City. Soon she realised she was out of her depth. Her Aussie bush savvy partner was often away – and even he was flummoxed by the potential for disaster that that Saturday of gale driven inferno produced. Soon, though, she gathered around her a coterie of local friends and neighbours, together with the nearby parents of Andrew Butcher, the man from Down Under she fell in love with, so our Australian Yank learned to cope with the vicissitudes of the bush. It is fascinating reading Sara’s take on matters Oz, comparing it to life in her homeland – and she’s also seen a bit in her time. She witnessed conflicts in the Sudan and Somalia, was witness to terror declaring war on America, became mates with the Irwins before she arrived and of course, fell head over heels for her own suited Crocodile Dundee from Muckleford – a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ Victorian bush hamlet.

Added to all this, her second daughter was born with what the diagnosing doctor callously termed ‘a bad brain’. The cruelty of that moment was saved, as always, by a nurse – ‘I’ve looked at your little girl and she has bright eyes. Don’t give up.’ Nurses know, you know – and she didn’t – give up, our feisty heroine.

So part of the book informs on a different sort of journey – to put a name to what caused little Jacqueline’s mystery ailment. Finally, after many ups and downs, success comes. It turns out it is something called KCNQ2 – and they invent a delightful mnemonic to remember it by.

Sara gives us her opinion on the current inhumane refugee policy which she believes is ‘…way out of proportion to number of people begging for entry.’ Of course, it’s a given that she cannot fathom cricket, despite her hubby’s best efforts in educating her, nor can she make sense of Melbourne’s notorious hook turns. For a respected Emmy Award winning reporter her prose is nothing to write home about, but this reader was soon engrossed enough in her yarns for this to be of little consequence. The pages turned seamlessly and I was always pleased to get back to it after a break. Occasionally there’s a little ‘how wonderful am Iitis’, but that is a very minor irritation in a worthy tome. As an outsider’s view it is an ‘everyman’ effort, being none the less compelling for that. And if you’re raising a toddler who’s creating mayhem with the ‘terrible twos’ or ‘troublesome threes’, reading this would put it all into perspective.

Good on you Sara for your resilience in our country. Good on you for not being afraid to criticise your new land, as well as your old. And just good on you for your candour all round.

Sara James’ website =

Newspaper article on James’ life in Oz =

Belle and the Way It Was

Look at her in the 1779 Zoffany portrait – exotically turbaned and emerging cheekily from behind her cousin. The placement of the latter’s hand on hers indicates that the two, at least in Elizabeth Lindsay’s eyes, are equal. Quite astonishing when you think about it. She was no maidservant. If that was the case the white young lady’s hand wouldn’t have been within a bull’s roar of hers. In the past, had she appeared in a work of art of this nature, that is what she would have had to have been, or worse – a slave. For in Britain at this time slavery was at its zenith and fortunes were to made off the backs of the chained black man – and woman.


Slowly, though, society was becoming more liberal as the Age of Enlightenment took hold. Despite an upbringing surrounded by luxury, she was still up against it. She was illegitimate, a coffee coloured ‘mulatto’ and she was a woman – misogyny was rampant, stifling most attempts for the fairer sex to be their own person. Being, more or less, a chattel of a man was the go – an aspect the Amma Asante directed movie, ‘Belle’, well captures. But Dido’s real story is remarkable – and it has come to movie houses to such critical comments as ‘Elegant’ (Variety) and ‘Extraordinary’ (UK Guardian). Largely the praise is not overblown, just as long as you do not believe all the facts about her portrayed up there on the silver screen. Her tale actually needed no embellishment – but those associated with the movie have done plenty, playing very loosely with the ‘based on a true story’ facts.

Dido Elizabeth Belle certainly existed in the records, as well as in that astounding portrait. She was born the daughter of an admiral – one Sir John Lindsay to be exact. Her mother, quelle horreur, was a West Indian slave. The exact details of her conception are not known, only guessed at. Her upbringing was entrusted to a relative – but a very eminent one. He was no less than William Murray, First Earl of Mansfield and the Chief Justice of England. He treated her well and largely protected her from the trolls of the era – and there were plenty of those. Murray (skilfully played by Tom Wilkinson) was largely a man of his age, but had a stiff enough backbone to know what was right, even if it wasn’t socially acceptable. So, surrounded by wealth and all she could reasonably wish for as a child (then woman), Dido was still banished from the family table when guests were present. After her protector’s demise she was well-endowed financially and married a Frenchman – not the son (Sam Reid) of the local preacher, as presented in the movie.

It is historical fact that Murray’s high court decision over a case concerning a runaway slave – The Somersett Verdict – was the first step in the emancipation of the Negro from bondage in Britain. This journey’s culmination is also on the big screen in the fine ‘Amazing Grace’. Whether Dido played a role in his decision is unclear, although she certainly was employed by him as a clerk – also very forward for the time. In the movie she certainly has a defining role – although the nature of the case is entirely different – for dramatic effect I assume. On screen it involves the shocking mass drowning of slaves for insurance purposes.


In the lead role Gugu Mbatha-Raw’ is, well, ‘elegant’ when she has to be, but hardly ‘extraordinary’. Emily Watson as Mrs Murray can act in such roles, as given here, in her sleep. It is the troubled, protective Murray as poignantly portrayed by one of the Brit’s finest that is the stand-out. It is a story with a happy ending and is well worth a bo-peep. The flick did put me in mind of my island’s own troubled past. A similar situation to Dido’s tale occurred in our early years – the ending of which was sadly not happy at all. The story concerns the ‘adoption’ of Mathinna, a young Tasmanian Aboriginal girl, by John Franklin, an early governor, together with his redoubtable wife, Jane. I guess the major difference here was the lack of ‘blood’, and it showed. This story has been bought to life in Richard Flanagan’s awesome novel ‘Wanting’.

We have largely left the misogyny of the past behind us, although in less civilised places Pakistan, the Sudan and India, horrible stories of it have emerged just in the past week alone. No, here though, there is no place for the ill treatment of women in our Western society. We have risen above all that, haven’t we? Well, maybe not as Wendy Squires elucidates:-

Trailer for the Movie =