Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Blue Room's Pick of the Movies of 2015

Oscar agreed. It was without peer in the productions of 2014 and was seen by your scribe way back in January. Just as nothing matched it before its gong, nothing has come close since. The only disappointment was that its born again star didn’t get the accolades as well, so:-


1. Birdman – simply sublime.

2. Inherent Vice – Many critics disagreed and I freely admit I had little clue to what was going on in it – but what a trip, in both senses of the word, it took us on. And Joaquin Phoenix, together with his sideburns, was almost as mesmerising as Michael Keaton in the above.

3. 5 to 7 – A Frenchified frolic from Hollywood with delightful results. And Bérénice Marlohe? Yum.

4. Wild Tales – Murder and black, black mayhem from Argentina. I squirmed in my seat but was transfixed.

5. Mr Turner – No doubt it will be Timothy Spall’s signature role – one great artist portraying another.

6. Far From the Madding Crowd – Perhaps not quite with the same impact on the sensibilities as the Julie Christie 1967 vehicle, but Carey Mulligan shines playing off Belgium’s pride, Matthias Schoenaerts.

7. Gemma Bovary – Another classic, this time in a contemporary setting, with the beauteous Gemma Arterton dazzling French veteran Fabrice Luchini – and she dazzled me as well.

8. Last Cab to Darwin – At the recent AACTA Awards Michael Caton deservedly won best actor for his role in this, his second best on screen performance – to date.

9. St Vincent – Bill Murray. Nothing more to say.

10. Love and Mercy – A loopy Brian Wilson played by two actors. The story behind the music of the summers of my youth.

HMs – Ex-Machina, The Dressmaker, Infinity Polar Bear, The Imitation Game, Ricki and the Flash, Testament of Youth, The Theory of Everything, X + Y, Samba, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The Blue Room Best Television 2015

1. I’m excited. Ben Pobjie is excited – excited for those of us who, unlike him, have not seen the finale yet. It’s on tonight. I’ll be riveted. Leigh and I have binged watched the hard-drived previous episodes leading up to what we expect to be its, no doubt, explosive and perhaps somewhat weird conclusion. How weird? We can hardly wait to find out – but I’ll let Ben take over:-

Imagine how big a towel an actor would need to mop up their drool after being told they were up for a role in Fargo (SBS1, 9.30pm). There are many ways in which this show breathes the same air as the Coen Brothers oeuvre that spawned it, but perhaps the greatest one is its ability to write its characters ineradicably into your mind. Look at Ed Blumquist, the hapless butcher who in this season of Fargo has found his dreams of a peaceful life as husband, father and small-town butcher shattered by a combination of appalling luck and being married to Kirsten Dunst. Ed, an ordinary decent twit in well over his head, is played by Jesse Plemons, who rose to fame as Breaking Bad’s chillingly polite monster, Todd. Plemons plays pudgy, befuddled Ed with enough stupefied innocence mixed with burgeoning rat cunning to make even his terrifying portrayal of Todd take second place on his career highlights reel.
But in Fargo, damn near every character is as unforgettable and magnetic as the next. Season two’s moral centre is Lou Solverson, inhabited by Patrick Wilson with a stunning stillness, the quiet and incorruptible decency that bad guys underestimate, but is a relentless tide of justice that all the evils of the world can’t hold back. Fargo’s epic morality tale places Lou as the light on the horizon, the heroic gunslinger of a hundred westerns, come to clean up the town. But Fargo’s genius is the ability to make you cheer for bad guys as much as good, and as much as we love Lou, we might love Mike Milligan even more.
Bokeem Woodbine is the mob enforcer taking on the world with boundless confidence, effortless style, and a rarely shown but unmistakable sense of burning resentment, a desire to prove himself and stick it to the world.
Vengeful anger bubbles away beneath the surface of one of the coolest characters in the history of fiction. And then there’s Zahn McClarnon as the implacable angel of death, leaving a trail of corpses chasing his own revenge; and Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blumquist, the beautician seeking to be her best self amid a bloodbath. They all come together in Wednesday’s finale, the explosive release of Fargo’s unbearable tension. It’s Shakespearean, it’s biblical, it’s the Coens and Tarantino and John Ford crashing together to make something as good as TV can be. Plus … maybe aliens?

The first season was excellent, but the second has taken excellence to a whole new level. Nothing else on free-to-air tele came close to it this year – and there was some darn good viewing to be had, even if one had to search to find it at times. Commercial television continued to show its total disregard for its clientele with inconsistent programming and late starts. Worryingly, ABC and SBS also had a few issues with the former problem – and all those repeats everywhere! So Fargo, Season Two was the stand-out of the last twelve months, but let’s see what followed it in the Blue Room’s opinion.


2. The Killing Season (ABC) – Rudd and Gillard battled it out for the historical high ground and by the end of this I knew who my money would be on – sorry Kevin07. The Libs promised government by adults in return for our vote but instead we got a buffoon. Neither of the previous two were that, at least. Sarah Ferguson’s stakes rose even higher due to her incisive reporting on this – I didn’t dare leave my chair.

3. Witnesses (SBS) – The French try their hand at Scandi-noir and the result is a most accomplished police procedural. Thierry Lhermitte and Marie Dompnier are compelling as the two investigators seeking to unravel what was behind the placing of disinterred bodies in suburban homes.

4. Wallander (SBS) – As magnificent as Sir Kenneth B was in the UK version, nothing – not even Branagh – is a match for Krister Henriksson in the Swedish original. SBS aired the third series this year – I must invest in the first two. Never has Kurt Wallander looked so shambolic and crusty as he battled crims and the vagaries of an ageing mind.

5. The Principal (SBS) – Alex Dimitriades was great in the lead, yet another flawed figure, trying to get a school on the skids back up and running. Tyler De Nawi, though, stole the show in his role as the most hard done by student under the sun.

6. Grantchester (ABC) – Pleasingly a second season of this comfy village police procedural has been commissioned. Terrific to see Robson Green back on our screens in a drama centred around a priest who cannot but help giving his assistance to solving crime, wanted or not.

7. The Secret River (ABC) – The book is unsurpassed, but this visual version, a long time coming, certainly did it justice.

8. Rachel Khoo’s Kictchen Notebook/ Gourmet Farmer Afloat (SBS) – tied in the obligatory foodie’s slot. These have to have a guernsey as so much of my tele watching is spent on those offerings with culinary formats.

9. Esio Trot (ABC) – Dustin Hoffman and Dame Judi delight in this take on the Roald Dahl classic.

10. Hipsters (SBS) – Hidden away on SBS2, this featured Samuel Johnson, at his quirky best, taking us into the badlands of bearded living in inner suburbia world-wide.

HMs – as always Downton Abbey and House Husbands, but also The Fall (S2), Broadchurch (S2), Toast of London (S1+2), Kitchen Cabinet, Tony Robinson’s World War One, Renovation Man, Mad as Hell, Glitch, Utopia, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, The Last Leg.

The Blue Room's Year in Music 2015

The Spin Doctor, Iain Shedden, is always worth a read in the Weekend Oz as in each issue he gives a run-down on the latest music goss that piques his interest. And as it’s almost a given, at this time of year, that he, along with many other print pundits, will produce a best of for the last twelve months. Iain, judging by the image that accompanies his column, looks as though he is not that far off my age – sorry Iain – and it seems from a long reading of him that our tastes are similar. So I give a great deal of credence to his lists. For 2015 they are three in number – best live performances, best local albums and the best from overseas.

Father John Misty recently gigged in Yarra City and Iain went along, was blown away so listed him No.1 in the first category. I liked him too back in the day when he was simply known as John Tillman and I possessed a CD of his under that moniker. So when ‘I Love You Honeybear’ came out to some critical acclaim earlier this year I purchased it. Shedden himself listed it as his second fav overseas album. But I was disappointed with it after I had a listen. Despite all of the positive fuss about it, its hardly rotated in my music machine since.

So its all rather subjective you see, these lists. But they’re fun to compile. And there was much in the product of 2015 I did adore so the below rankings took a deal of thought – especially as one arrived at the lower reaches and there was much excellence remaining. So, for what it’s worth:-


1. Charcoal Lane 25th Anniversary Edition – Archie Roach (and friends) . Those ‘friends’ are the reason I purchased this as I already had the original in my collection, now passed on to my Katie. I know she’ll treasure it. The package contains a second CD of other artists presenting their takes on the iconic tunes the album contained. These include some duets between the great man and his lovely partner, Ruby Hunter, now sadly deceased. Artists of the calibre of Paul Kelly, Courtney Barnett, Dan Sultan, Gurrumul and Marlon Williams are featured. And I even love what rappers, Radical Son and Urthboy, do with ‘No, No, No’. Fancy that!

2. Sermon on the Rocks/Home Recordings – Josh Ritter.  A signed copy of this came all the way from the US courtesy of my Josh-loving daughter and the whole shebang is a great vehicle for the diverse range of this singing troubadour. Belatedly his albums are now available in Oz.

3. Hollow Meadows – Richard Hawley . After an appealing aberration with his last collection, this former member of Pulp returns to what he does best. The Sheffielder is back in his croon groove and we’re all the better for that.

4. Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett. Partly raised under the benevolent gaze of kunanyi, this grungy Aussie songstress has taken the world by storm with her gritty, wittty vignettes of urban existence.

5. Beneath the Skin – Of Monsters and Men. The second issue from this Icelandic band even eclipses its acclaimed first – in this humble scribe’s opinion.

6. Carrie and Lowell – Sufjan Stevens. I’d largely forgotten about Sufjan after a purchasing a couple of his oeuvre a decade or so back. The reviews for this caused me to revisit him and I was not disappointed.

7. Faded Gloryville – Lindi Ortega. Last year Myf introduced me to Ray Lamontagne on 2JJ during my extended Briddy stay and this year it has been Ms Ortega. An Emmylou in the making. Thanks Myf.
8. The Travellin’ Kind – Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.  And speaking of the above, the first collaboration of these two won a Grammy. This follow up, I feel, has a much better song selection.

9. Terraplane – Steve Earl and the Dukes. The old Copperhead Road man shows he has lost none of his alt country chops in this rollicking collection.

10. Absent Fathers – Justin Townes Earle. Son of the above chides his old man for the obvious – but these songs also celebrate the emergence from a dark place.

HMs – Eternal Return – Sara Blasko, May Day – Mark Seymour and the Undertow, Nanna – Xavier Rudd, Sound and Colour – Alabama Shakes, Marlon Williams, Hank Jr Sings Hank Sr – Hank Williams Jr, Django and Jimmie – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Tracker – Mark Knopfler.
Discoveries – She and Him, Ryan Bingham

Iain Shedden’s lists =

The Blue Room's Year in Books 2015

So much fine reading on the selves of booksellers all around this city. As always the issue are the tomes sitting on my own shelves patiently, patiently. If one could only do without scribbling, fine film and television, the dailies, as well as the adventures to be had in Hobs. Therefore, some of the listings below have been published prior to the past twelve months, being from my backlog – a backlog seemingly ever increasing.

1. The Illuminations – Andrew O’Hagan. I’m not alone. Stephen Romei, the literary editor of the Oz, placed it at number one of his top international fiction reads for 2015, commenting that it was ‘…a contemporary story of family and war by the brilliant Scottish writer…’ I cannot do otherwise but agree with that b word. And to top it all off, it was based on the story of a ground breaking English/Canadian photographer who set a precedent for more of her gender to follow.


2. The Senator’s Wife – Sue Miller. I decided to read two of Ms Miller’s back catalogue that had been patient on my shelves for some time. Then I would purchase her latest. The former happened but as yet not the latter. But this work chronicling an episode in the marital wars and a most unusual love affair was a stand-out – particularly due to the generosity towards ageing of said wife.

3. The Short Long Book – Martin Flanagan. This was a garnering of yarns about a difficult to pin down character who is no doubt, given time, headed for national treasurehood. It’s by our country’s top sports writer – sorry Gideon Haigh.

4. Caleb’s Crossing – Geraldine Brooks. Set in pre-revolutionary US of A, this different take, based on real events, on the culture clash between the colonists and First Americans was riveting. Brooks makes history come alive and this is close to being a masterpiece of faction.

5. Holidays – William McInnes. Many books made me misty eyed during ’15, but only a smattering gave me a laugh. A great writer of larrikin humour is this fellow – and it also made me cry.

6. Stay With Me – Maureen McCarthy. At a time when domestic violence is never far away from the headlines and the remarkable Rosie Batty is Australian of the Year, this was a sobering, gritty and at times terrifying read. It brings it home, in fictional terms, as to just how dire it can all be.

7. When the Killing’s Done – TC Boyle. He’s the supreme exponent of wordsmithery and never fails to deliver. His new one awaits.

8. Hello Beautiful – Hannie Rayson. There were many more memoirs I wanted to read but this was the best of the few I did. Magda is being patient.

9. Mothers and Daughters – Kylie Ladd. Read two of hers this year and this was the better by a smidge.

10. New Boy – Nick Earls. If I was still teaching I’d request a class set of this. So much to ruminate on under the surface of this engaging read for tweens.

HMs – The Lake Shore – Sue Miller, Last Summer – Kylie Ladd, Funny Girl – Nick Hornby, Mr Mac and Me – Esther Freud, Be Near Me – Andrew O’Hagan, A Guide to Berlin – Gail Jones, Only in New York – Lily Brett.

2015 – Twelve Months in the Year of Wonder Weeks

1. Early spring. Glorious day. At Sheffield, under Roland. It was that mini-wonder Little Ford Man’s third birthday celebration at the Newling abode. It’s an abode forever on the march to the beat of renovation and improvement. Each time it’s visited, there’s a new project on the go – LFM’s parents are marvels and my, what they’ve achieved! And the little people were having a ball on this day – running themselves into the ground with the excitement of it all. For most of the day Tessa Tiger was in the thick of it. There was a lull and she took time out. She wandered across the lawn, lost in a reverie of imagination such that only a three year (and some) old can conjure up. I sauntered across to join her, she took my hand and guided me to the fence-line, pointing to her favourites of the very fetching, to her sensibilities, blooms to be found there. Then quietly, almost imperceptibly, came the song. I listened hard to hear what it was. Quietly, breathily she was singing the chorus to Josh Ritter’s paean to the banishment of winter, ‘Snow is Gone’ –
Hello blackbird, hello starling
Winter’s over, be my darling
It’s been a long time coming
But now the snow is gone –
she trilled. It was small picture – but perfect small picture. Not earth-shattering, but in my dotage, if I remember nothing else at all from all the magic moments that little girl has given me in 2015, I’d be completely content just recalling that single episode and dwelling on it. It would be enough. The perfect moment in the perfect place. Her small hand in mine. Just love.

sunshune girl

2. And then, not long after – the best of 2015’s big pictures. Suddenly he was gone – and now, if he’d only shut up and disappear completely. He was ridded by his own ilk – his own party. Even they eventually came to the conclusion most of us had figured out from the get-go of his unfortunate prime ministership. All the nonsense about Team Australia and captain’s calls, shirt-fronting and onion eating. the man was an embarrassment. Supposedly a man of faith, there was little that was Christian in many of his policies and those of his like-minded yesterday’s men – only men – he surrounded himself with. There was one divisive exception and she wasn’t even elected. He was an abomination, leading our country away from the welcoming decency that had once been our by-word for the decades after we banished White Australia. If Turnbull can prise himself away from his commitments to get the job, I have some hopes for him, although those yesterday’s men are still lingering there on his side of politics. But now, with some gifted women in cabinet, it all seems somehow softer – hopefully it will turn out to be a far cry from the mean-spirited reign of a man who should never have been let loose on our country.

3. It has been a tough twelve months for my beautiful lady since the tendon in her wrist snapped on Boxing Day last year. In discomfort always and often there’s a layer of pain as well on top to cope with. Despite medications and procedures culminating in an operation yet to prove successful, she continues to battle through, as positive and as good humoured – her hallmarks – as it is possible to be. I love her dearly – and now admire her even more, if that’s possible.

4. My home away from home these days seems to be Bridport. Although the missing of Leigh is palpable each moment, I’m content there in the sunny big house overlooking Anderson Bay, with its quietude and birdsong. It is so welcoming. I am only too happy to decamp anytime as Rich and his wonderful intended have adventures in the other hemisphere, on the big island or more locally. Oscar and Memphis fill my days with their unconditional canine devotion. Leopold controls my nights with his very conditional feline condescension. Such a fine place to be is Briddy – people who nod, smile and wish a good morning as I perambulate down the hill for my papers, the sparkling sea and a winter warmth emanating from the firebox. The only other place I could see myself permanently.

5. First came the three-peat and as we turn the corner into ’16, the aim’ll be a fourthorn. These are great days for the brown and gold – and with all that’s gone awry in the last twelve months in the world, at least we still have the salve that is sport to celebrate. I continue to avoid the stress my team playing confers, but there’s still the pride.

6. I have little truck with horse-racing or James Bond movies. That a female jockey can win the former and a fifty something woman, older than the hero, can play a love interest of 007 is something of significance, isn’t it?

7. I didn’t know him. Not really, I didn’t. I worked with him for years but I couldn’t get close to him. Closeness wasn’t for work colleagues. And now he’s gone. I’ll always thank him for what he did for my writerly and gorgeous daughter. Kate regards him as her best teacher, the one who had the greatest impact in steering her towards her calling. And he knew this, both from Kate and myself – and it chuffed him. I’m pleased about that. And another went this year whom I felt I really knew, although we never met. You see, he was a columnist for my favoured daily. He examined himself in print, brought us into his world and all the vicissitudes he was experiencing with a life that hadn’t gone perfectly. In the last months, before his leaving, I’d thought he’d lost his mojo as far as his weekly epistles were concerned. It was almost as if he was erecting a barrier between us, the reader and himself. The openness had gone. Then that last Sunday he was back on song, riffing away with his musings, telling something of the bliss of fatherhood, be it unshared with his former partner. Then, suddenly, Sam de Brito was no more. The Sunday Age isn’t the same.

8. My enduring mother is still as kind and caring as ever. She gives so much with her generosity of spirit.

9. She up there beyond the silver lining is still looking out for Jimmy Bx2, Willie N, Archie R, John P, Neil Y and Eric C, amongst other aging luminaries. Hopefully She’ll continue to see them remain ‘forever young’ throughout 2016.

10. The kindest of men came visiting from across the Strait and spent some time gracing us with his presence. Brynner, aka LFM, came calling too and owned all he surveyed.

11. The State Cinema, JBs, Fullers, the smiling blonde princess developing my images at city Harvey Norman, a bright sparkly new Myer, the welcoming of Tiger at Nicolatte, the cheap cards at the Hobart Book Shop – all give me cause to bless my luck in living so close to this vibrant little city.

12. No journeys off the island this year, but plans are afoot for ’16. There were a few journeys to within, but all in all, considering I have a life with a woman I adore and with people I love around, close and not so close, it all gives lustre to my world. Being alive is such joy.

Is Less More? The Landing by Susan Johnson, The Girl with the Dogs by Anna Funder

It’s an adage as old as time, isn’t it – that sometimes less is more? Had I read the two books under review in reverse order I may not have completed the first and more substantial tome – and as it turned out that would have been somewhat of a pity.

I purchased and consumed Susan Johnson’s ‘The Landing’ on the basis of my enjoyment of her previous issue, ‘My Hundred Lovers’. Both her new novel and Funder’s short story/novella deal with mid-life crises, with the latter’s possessing a more sparse prose in the telling of her tale. Johnson’s is at variance with this and has been described in a review as Austenesque. In ‘The Landing’ she presents a range of characters who are either permanent residents of the eponymous location or frequent visitors to their weekenders there in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. All, it seems, are coming out the other side of their crises – some with new partners, some bereft, yearning for their old ones and some seeking new starts. In their introduction, by the writer, they are bookended by Jonathan Lott – a lawyer whose wife has deserted him for one of her own gender. She leaves him in a place alternating between bemusement and trauma. He retires to this place far from the busyness of Brissy to take stock and cast around for a woman from the hamlet who may offer some sort of succour. There are some more than willing. There’s disappointed-in-life, wannabe artist Penny and serial wife, the exotic blow-in Anna. Eventually one wins out, but he suspects there must be an alternate motive to just having him – and there is.


Penny’s story is the meat in the sandwich. Is all that remains for her an existence shared with her mother? Marie is a woman who fights valiantly to prevent the ravishes caused through the encroachments of time, but who is finally seeming to be defeated by them. Or is she?

Throughout this was not a book I looked forward to returning to and it wasn’t really until the final pages were approaching that I had, nonetheless, become quite intrigued by how it would all pan out for these people. I wanted their lives all tidied up before I left them – but that is not necessarily life and ‘The Landing’ reflects that. One couple emerges to begin a life together. Were they really the twosome the reader least expected to do so? The others are left hanging with no guarantee of happy-ever-afters. It won’t happen I suspect, but one almost wishes for another instalment – or at least the type of epilogue that afflicts some Hollywood offerings with a snapshot of character’s lives further down the track as the final credits roll.


Susan Johnson

Funder’s slight tome presents the same sort of conundrum for a woman of certain years not yet quite ready to let go of her past. This woman has made certain compromises to keep her marriage steady as she goes, but there’s an itch from her more youthful self that needs scratching. Purportedly based on a Chekhov short story, the tale sees Tess travelling from Oz to Paris to find if there’s still a spark between her and a figure from more carefree days. And if so, well, what then? Can she really, in her situation, finally recapture what may have been?


I guess, in answer to the opening query I posed in this piece, that, although Johnson’s wordsmithery approaches perfection in painting a picture of sun-kissed lives in idyllic sub-tropical environs failing to counter more hollow interiors, her novel didn’t fully engage this reader. That is, until it was almost over. With Funder’s, I could have taken a whole lot more.


Anna Funder

Susan Johnson’s website =

Anna Funder’s website =

BJ and the Scallop Pies

BJ came and stayed awhile. Initially he was a salve to my loneliness as I had missed my lovely lady too much in recent times. We made it a habit to go out and about each day, sampling Hobartian fare and buying up a modicum of its wares. We watched the cricket on the tele, delighted in the adventures of Matthew Evans and his manly mates as they circumnavigated Tassie on DVD and we chatted. With both having had longish lives we had stories to tell – and possibly retell as BJ has camped in the blue room on previous occasions, soothed by the river just across the way. And then Leigh returned to double the joy.

BJ is a monk. Previously, before the knowing of this kindliest of men, I saw such an existence as his quite exotic, foreign and somewhat ascetic. With the knowing of BJ; the tales he tells of it – well, my notions have changed. He passes his years wrapped in adventure and happiness. He possesses a bounteous love of his God and the characters that also inhabit his rich and rewarding life. Like myself, he is also in love with the trams of Melbourne and possesses a copious knowledge of their routes and destinations. He is also friends with my gorgeous daughter. And our little Tessa is besotted with him.

In turn, BJ is besotted with Tasmania’s culinary delight – the curried scallop pie. So together we two, sometimes three, amigos set out to find the best of the delicacy that our city, as well as its environs, has to offer. The quest took us far and wide.

According to the good monk, the not so humble pie has to have:-
1. Good pastry, flaky and golden.
2. A curry gravy that is smooth and not glutinous.
3. Tender scallops – nothing worse than over-cooked ones.

We started our search at the little Frenchified patisserie in Claremont’s Village Shopping Centre and concluded it at Franklin’s Petty Sessions Café. In between were offerings from the Bakery in Salamanca Square, the Magnolia Café in Moonah as well as from purportedly the home of the scallop pie, if somewhat incongruously, the Ross Bakery. At the latter, the sky was foreboding over the village, the wind icily chill for late spring so it was perhaps this pie that was the most welcome of those that were sampled – but was it the best? For a time there BJ thought it had won the day, but he had yet to taste that offered by the eatery on the Huon River. At Petty Sessions the proud waitress, who was a great spruiker for her establishment, beamed as my friend pronounced it was the superior treat – the best to be had to date. According to our peruser of fine pies the pastry top was superb, the curry as smooth as could be and the accompanying relish the perfect adornment. Just quietly, my warm duck salad went down a treat as well.


BJ claims that, when he attempts to describe the joys of the Tassie creation to his big island associates, he receives reactions ranging from a shaking of the head in bemusement to outright open-mouthed aghastment akin to one’s first reaction on hearing of the existence of Adelaide’s pie floater. And he has even rung a radio station to defend our little pie’s honour after a shock jock had dared to diss it to the world; to decry that it was such a travesty it must be urban myth. Yet word is spreading. Droves of mainlanders are seeking these crusty temptations out in the alleyways of Hobs and the surrounding byways.

But BJ’s time with us was not just centred, food wise, on the pie. The crumbed variety of the shellfish at the Crown Inn, Pontville also received his accolades as did the generous scallop kebabs at the Island Markets. Outside of the molluscs, with the ploughman’s lunch at the Coal River Farm, Cambridge Road our roving gourmand rediscovered the seductive runny thrills of our local brie. Above Granton, at Stefano Lubiana’s new osteria, our man tried a rustic lunch of smokily home-cured deli meats and fruit loaf – it was as delicious as it was engagingly arranged on the plate. We celebrated that evening with a bubbly from the establishment purchased at the cellar door – it was divine. Oh! And yours truly would like to mention a pie too – of the delicious wallaby variety to be had at New Norfolk’s Patchwork Café.


‘Why does he have to go home, Mummy? Why?’ asked the little one with trembling chin. Indeed why? Now a day later it feels that part of the furniture is missing. There’s a hole there that will take a time to fill. Whether it’s the berating of the Kiwis in their callousness for aiming at an injured bowlers broken foot, the praise heaped on the more humble fare offered by our abode’s two chief cooks, the pleasure taken by the many ‘likes’ he receives on FB for a culinary snap or his delight at the overly inquisitive nature of MONA’s resident duck, BJ, we are missing you. Your visitation was thoroughly enjoyed by all. And the lasagne and paella BJ? Heavenly.

Come February the little family, accompanied by a grey ageing grandfatherly figure, will journey to the city across the water and we will meet up again with Brother James. Your scribe is hoping for a few extra days of travel on some of those tram routes, yet to be investigated, in the knowledgeable one’s company. Brother Jim is my Leigh’s cousin and my valued friend. We know it’ll be another year or so till he visits our shores to continue his search for the holy grail of scallop pies. He will again bring to us so much love. And he brings with him the goodness of a true man of his calling.

A Fine Fandango

Faith passed in 1956, age 46. She had recently moved to Chicago in another fruitless attempt to find some work. She lifted the window of her hotel room and attempted to jump out. Her room-mate, store clerk Ruth Bishop, made a desperate lunge and managed to grab a handful of some skirt, but couldn’t hang on. Faith fell two storeys onto the roof of a lower building. Ruth raised the alarm and when rescuers reached Faith she was still breathing, but later died in hospital. As an act of charity the American Guild of Variety Artists paid for the burial of penniless Faith Bacon.

Sally passed in 1979, age 67. Only a few years previous she was still vamping it up, playing Madison Square Garden in 1972. She spent her last days in a comfortable hospital bed in sunny California, although, as with Faith, she too was in debt. Sammy Davis Jr forked out the ten thousand dollars required for a flash funeral. He did it out of respect for Sally Rand.

Burlesque has its roots in the literature of past centuries, classical music, the music halls and pantomimes of the UK as well as the freedoms allowed for during the Jazz Age. After this, the fun police almost managed to snuff it out during the more censorious decades that followed. At its best burlesque is an art form, at it’s worst just a sleazy excuse for tawdry striptease – without the tease – aiming at the raincoat brigade. But during its golden age Faith Bacon and Sally Rank ranked high amongst its brightest lights. And they both claimed to have invented it. At one stage Faith took Sally to court to settle the issue once and for all.

At the pinnacle of her fame Faith was billed as America’s most beautiful dancer. She gained her start, though, in a faraway place – gay Paree. In fact it was a meeting with Maurice Chevalier that initiated her on the path to, sadly, only brief success. Amongst other roles in his revue she used bubbles and flowers to hide her apparent nakedness from the audience. In the late twenties she returned to the States and started performing there. She was obliged to conform with the increasing restrictiveness on what state of dress – or lack of it – one could appear on stage in. She also started to include Broadway productions in her activities, quickly rising to the lead in many of them. Some of these were under the guidance of prominent venue owner Karl Carroll and between them they came up with a novel routine to get around the obscenity laws. It was this that took her on to gigs with the prestigious Ziegfeld Follies and to strut her new moves at Chicago’s World Fair in 1933. And it was at this event she first encountered Sally.

faith bacon01

Faith B

Ms Rand, born Hattie Beck in Missouri, became a chorus girl in Kansas City at the tender age of 13. She caught the eye of that burb’s leading theatre critic, Goodman Ace (great name that), so her stocks rose considerably enabling her to make her way to Hollywood via Ringling Brothers Circus. Once in LA she took to touring in summer stock productions alongside a very young Humphrey Bogart. She quickly rose up the ladder, acting in silent movies under the auspices of Cecil B DeMille. And when the talkies came along, any time a certain dance was needed, she was the go-to girl. She was also invited to take her version of the by now famous routine, with an astonishing resemblance to Bacon’s, to the Chicago World Fair.

By now I figure most reading will have worked out that their oh so similar teasing dance was perhaps, along with the one requiring seven veils, the most common and long-lasting of routines associated with burlesque – the fan dance.

Faith’s career headed rapidly in a downward spiral after ’33. Fame went to her head and she started to make preposterous demands of those prepared to employ her – the number of which became fewer and fewer as time went on. Also, she developed a fondness of suing whenever there was any perceived reason. In 1936, whilst on stage. she fell through a glass drum upon which she was strutting her stuff, suffering cuts that somewhat disfigured her thighs. She demanded the then astronomical sum of a hundred grand in her law suit. She settled, though, out of court for a measly five and immediately squandered it on diamonds.

faith bacon03

Faith B

Meanwhile Sally went from strength to strength after the World Fair. Her notoriety spread, partly due to the publicity she garnered when she performed her version of the fan dance whilst riding down one of the Windy City’s main thoroughfares on a horse. Fortunately there was only a gentle breeze blowing that day. ‘Bolero’, a precursor of the Bo Derek vehicle, carried her exotic dancing to millions via the silver screen. She was body painted by Max Factor to promote his new range of make-up and she purchased her very own music hall in San Francisco. Her stage-work became even more risqué, providing all sorts of great fodder for the tabloids of the day. There were encounters with the ever present and aforementioned fun police, although judges, for whatever reason, could never seem to find anything lewd at all in what she did in her shows. She was still raising eyebrows into her dotage, giving audiences what they wanted, a taste of a golden age, in various revival shows around the country.

sally rand01

Sally R

But back in 1938 the luckless Faith had had enough of Sally usurping her right to claim the fan dance as her own. This time Ms Bacon hit on the sum of $370000 in terms of damage Rand had inflicted on her career because of her obviously erroneous claims as to the provenance of the dance. She wanted a judge to forbid Sally performing it whilst the whole matter was sorted. The latter was quick to counter in court that neither of them invented the routine – why,it was as old as the ages. Cleopatra was the first known exponent, performing it to entice a Roman notable or two. It was all quite ludicrous and the official presiding saw it that way too, throwing it out. Bacon continued to perform it sporadically after losing her claim, but yet another failed attempt at taking legal proceedings against a revue manager marked the end. This time she alleged that a promoter had attached tacks to the boards of a stage where she was about to dance in bare feet. By the fifties she was a sad figure begging around stage doors, a bag lady in fact. Her unfortunate end was close.

So be it due to Faith Bacon, Sally Rand or, indeed, Cleopatra, burlesque was thus given a Pandora’s Box of possibilities to build variations on. These have sustained the art form through the hard times into a new era, in recent years, of prominence. Many simply crave taste above crass.

sally rand02

Sally R

Both Sally and Faith can be viewed teasing with their interpretations on YouTube. We’ll never know the true inventor, but we can still enjoy the results.

Faith performing routine =

Sally performing routine =


She must be some exquisite woman, must Cheryl Hodges. I can only surmise that, I don’t actually know the veracity of that for a fact as I’ve never met the lady. But what she produces is exquisite and I figure that a person of in-exquisiteness could never create product of such sublime beauty. Therefore Cheryl Hodges is exquisite to my mind.

Somebody else who is undeniably exquisite is my wondrous granddaughter Tessa Tiger Gordon. One of her favourite hanging out places is Basket and Green, up Elizabeth Street. It’s a delightful café and provides an array of playthings for the little folk. Tiges is very attached to the Mr Potato Head set to be found there, as well as an old telephone on which she can place calls to the important people in her world.

Another attraction here, apart from seeing Tess so engaged with conjuring up fun as only a three-year old can, is its Avant postcard rack. Particularly to my interest, from its free samplings, are those portraying the artistic endeavours by up and coming practitioners of artistic pursuits from the four corners of the land. On my last visit I gathered a couple of handfuls for closer inspection later. Once back in my abode by the river I discovered one depicting a collection of plant parts and a single insect. It was entitled ‘Australian Native Collection 2015’ and it was an offering from Ms Hodges. I am now ruing the fact I didn’t garner more of her exquisite image. In my amblings around the city I checked out all known locations of said card racks, but there was nary an extra one to be found. Undoubtedly they’d been snapped up by others with an eye for botanical (and zoological) beauty.


From childhood this artist has always enjoyed drawing during her growing up on the outskirts of Canberra. The earliest examples she can recall were her renderings of the characters from ‘The Muppets’ television show. Her love affair with this medium has now evolved into a full-time career. She enjoyed her art classes at school and moved into exploring calligraphy. photography, ceramics and painting – the latter using both oils and watercolours. After school she pursued a career in finance, but marriage and the delights of two young ones in the house saw her revitalise her art.


Around the turn of the millennium it was her then boyfriend who turned her on to botanical art. She had found her calling. The fellow was obviously a keeper for doing this so she wedded him. She has now included depictions of insects in her repertoire, but her mainstay are her gorgeous images featuring Australian native plants. She gathers specimens from the bush and finds it is necessary to always photograph them as many will wilt before she has had time to fully do them justice. She also uses her talent to educate on the many species that, unless action is taken, may not be around for much longer. She exhibits regularly and her works on paper and vellum are attractive to collectors, as well as galleries. Commissions continue to keep her busy.

Her process is quite demanding, consisting of the layering on of watercolours with tiny brushes and then filling in detail with dry-brush. Some more complex tasks can take a month or more to complete.


Although my knowledge of the flora of this great land is lamentably abysmal, I can certainly appreciate its beauty when presented to me in the exquisite manner that Cheryl Hodges is able to muster. I urge you to check into her website or Facebook page. I am sure you will be as charmed by her talent as I have been. She offers a range of product for sale, including cards. Perhaps you may like to take advantage of that, as well, to attain a piece of this exquisite woman’s work.


Artist’s website =

Artist’s FB page =

cheryl hodges