Monthly Archives: May 2016

Like Moths to the Flame of Ottoline

Did I actually ever read it? I can’t be certain that I did. If so, it was way back in the mists. I know I’ve watched several adaptations of it for the screen, big and small. There was the 1986 version with Sylvia Kristel – an interesting story herself – as the constantly disrobing focus, as well as a 1993 tele-series starring the late Joely Richardson that was also quite steamy. There is also a French version I may or may not have seen – my memory is so lacking these days – but given my passion for cinema from that country, it’s a fair bet I have.

But did DH Lawrence have an inspiration for what happened to Constance at Wragby Hall, or was it all fully from his imagination. There is good evidence that it was the former and her name, enough alone to invoke further investigation, was Ottoline. Why, we even know the name of the real life Mellors who enticed this upper crust damsel with his earthy charms. It was her very own gardener– Gilbert Spencer. And, what’s more, if we think of open marriage as having emerged from the fug of the swingin’ sixties, forget it. Our possible Lady Chatterley, Ottoline, was into it decades prior.

Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Morrell was born a Cavendish-Bentinck in 1873. She was related, in a convoluted fashion, to the Duke of Wellington and became a lady due to her half-brother’s inheritance of a dukedom.

lady otto morrell

Her first love affair was with an older man, doctor come writer Axel Munthe. He was besotted and proposed, but was summarily rejected as he was atheist, she possessing a fervent love of her god. She soon rebounded an accepted advances from MP Phillip Morrell – a man of similar views on art and politics. He was, though, a notorious chaser of skirt and perhaps even slightly deranged, in that charming British way. They wed in 1902. They had an ‘understanding’ that the bit about the marriage vows that concerned fidelity didn’t apply to them. His rakish ways ensured he had more that a few pregnancies to deal with and Ottoline helped out by caring for any little bastards that came along from his loins. They weren’t without affection for each other and a daughter, Julian, arrived – her twin brother sadly dying at birth. But it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Various notables shared her bed, the most long lasting being Bertrand Russell. Their passion for each other saw over two thousand letters being exchanged. Others included Augustus John, the gardener of course and for a bit of variety, Dora Carrington – Lady O features briefly in the eponymous film of Dora’s life. There was a longish list of lesser lights of both genders who may, or may not, have – all involved in the arts in one way or another – except the horticulturist, although he moonlighted as a mason as well.

Although not overly wealthy by the standards of the day, the couple, nonetheless, at their height, supported two significant properties – Carsington Manor outside Oxford and a London town-house in Bedford Square – where else but in the suburb of Bloomsbury. Like moths to a flame the infamous habitués of that locale gathered at both locations to enjoy the hospitality of the intriguing couple – for she was exotic and different, to say the least, was Ottoline. TS Elliott was a regular, as well as Graham Greene whilst a tyro. During the Great War, Lytton Strachey sheltered with them while he fought off – sorry about the pun – the powers to be who wanted him at the front. Siegfried Sassoon recovered from his wounds at Carsington and was encouraged to go AWOL. You see the Morrells were committed pacifists, becoming none too popular in certain quarters due to their stance.

Straightened financial times came for the bohemian duo after the war, causing them to consolidate with a single, smaller residence. But their circle continued to grow to include Yeats, LP Hartley, DH himself and Virginia Woolf. Both Morrells fell under the latter’s thrall and became infatuated, but there is no evidence the great Woolf succumbed to their advances. Ottoline’s fervour for her religion, at odds with most of her set; her eccentricity in dress (vaguely Elizabethan) and her haughty demeanour, some suggesting covering up crippling shyness, only added to her status. But she became blighted by ill-health, being diagnosed with cancer in 1928. As a result she lost a portion of her lower jaw. She was greatly mourned in 1938 when she passed away, losing her battle, thanks to an administration of an experimental drug to ease her pain which, well, certainly did so.

Lady Ottoline Morrell by Adolf de Meyer ca. 1912

In death she left a legacy to us all. One of her rivals for the ardour of Russell, actress and writer Constance Malleson (her too devotee of the open marriage notion), based a novel around her life. Numerous others, including Huxley, Greene and Alan Bennett used her uniqueness to place a like woman in their works. Lawrence’s temptress, Hermoine Roddice, in ‘Women in Love’ he has acknowledged as being based on her, much to Ottoline’s distress at the time. So it seems a fair bet that her indiscretions with a man of the soil gave him the nub of an idea for another novel. She also had a fondness for photography. Google will take you to sites where you can view her portraits of the many celebrities of the day who graced her residences with their presence – fascinating. And in turn many artists placed her likeness on canvas – Augustus John among them. Cecil Beaton had his camera with him when he visited.

As was stated in an obituary of her, Ottoline had a ‘…great love for all things true and beautiful which she had more than anyone else…(and) no one can ever know the immeasurable good she did.’ Henry James describes her as ‘…some gorgeous heraldic creature – a Gryphon perhaps or a Dragon Volant.’ But let’s leave the last word to DH himself who wrote of Hermoine Roddice in ‘Women in Love’ – ‘Her long, pale face, that she carried lifted up, somewhat in the Rossetti fashion, seemed almost drugged, as if a strange mass of thoughts coiled in the darkness within her.’ That was Lady Ottoline – she was a one off.

The Lady’s photography =

The Last Train to Zona Verde – Paul Theroux

If you want to be taken into the heart of darkness, to perhaps the vilest country on the face of the planet, then Paul Theroux is your man. Why, in doing so we’ll even find the modern day Mr Kurtz waiting.

The question has to be asked as to why, at age 70, would anyone want to travel alone to somewhere he knew full well was a foul and foetid country? It would be beyond my comprehension. Surely, after eight travel books (as well as a goodly number number of novels), all, to varying degrees, successful, you would be putting your feet up to enjoy a well earned retirement. Many of us have been armchair travellers with him on his adventures to parts of the world it is increasingly unlikely that we ourselves will now ever undertake a visit to. But Theroux is not the type to break out the carpet slippers and port, so instead he heads to one of Africa’s hell-holes. As he writes at the commencement of this book, it wasn’t because he – ‘…was seeking something. I was not seeking anything. I was hurrying away from my routine and my responsibilities and my general disgust with fatuous talk, money talk, money stories, the donkey laughter at dinner parties…Most of all I wanted to go back to Africa to pick up where I’d left off.’


He’d done the other side of the continent for an earlier travelogue and pre-fame had actually survived a stint of teaching in Malawi. He has a certain fondness for the place – or at least for the place it once had been. Now it was time, he figured, to work his way up the other side – although, in the end, he knew when to call it quits and abort what he planned, due to Congolese unrest and extremist Muslin outrages. He’s not a complete fool. But before he did so, he saw the ‘lower depths’ of life in a godforsaken land that few visit of their own volition.

At least, though, he eased his way into it by visiting South Africa and Namibia first. Within his disembarkation country Cape Town was the stepping off point. He was interested to see what had happened to the squatter camps he had visited a decade or so back for another book – squatter camps these days being a blight around all cities in the RSA. He was pleasantly surprised that they seemed so much more liveable these days, a credit to the powers to be, outside aid and the resilience, as well as the ingenuity, of their people. It was only later he realised that, although the camps of his previous time in the Rainbow Nation were now quite reasonable, the problem had only extended outward. When he visited the fringes of cities he found a repetition of what had existed before as more and more South Africans gave up their hardscrabble rural existence for the promise of the big smoke. But, according to Theroux, for most, they had even less hope in these ramshackle, dirty urban eyesores. But, now, believe it or not, they have become part of the nation’s tourist industry – us Westerners are attracted to so called ‘poverty porn’. At least this provides a few souls with gainful employment, guiding bus loads of tourists to see how awfully the ‘other half’ exist. In a few isolated cases it has also had a beneficial effect via some guilt-ridden visitors sinking large sums of money into these places to improve conditions. Largely, though, once the gawkers are returned to their luxury accommodations, the squalor they’ve witnessed is quickly forgotten about as more hedonistic pleasures await. I wonder, this feasting on the misfortune of others, is it, well, ethical?

Crossing into Namibia, the author is at first impressed with the tidiness of some of the townships there, such as Windhoek and Swakopmund, with their Germanic origins and still a noteworthy ex-pat population. And although here the tourist dollar seemingly trickles down a tad, he soon encounters the same ghastly camps, as in RSA, on their outskirts.

At one stage he was delighted to be taken to a bushman’s camp and at last he felt he was seeing the real Africa – the way it used to be before the atrocities of colonisation. There were bare-breasted maidens and he was taken out in the scrub hunting and gathering. After he left he was, for the first time on the trip, relatively content with the state of affairs. Unfortunately his guides took him back to the encampment unannounced and to his dismay he found the previously unencumbered inhabitants to be dressed in western cast-offs, the lads with their caps on backwards, listening to rap emanating from hand held digital devices. What he had witnessed was a show for gullible tourists – like him.

But if this was disillusionment, it was nothing to what he felt coming to Angola. I’ll let PT take it from here for a while – ‘The look of Angola was not just the ugly little town and the slum of shacks, but also the ruin of a brutalised landscape, of the stumps of deforestation and the fields littered with burnt out tanks, of rivers and streams that seemed poisoned – black and toxic. And not the slightest glimpse of any animal but a cow or a cringing dog. In most parts of the southern African bush you at least saw small antelopes or gazelles tittuping in the distance on slender legs. The impala was everywhere, and it was almost impossible to imagine a stretch of savanna without the movement of such creatures. And, wherever there were villages, there were always scavengers, hyenas or intrusive baboons.
But no wild animals existed in the whole of Angola. One effect of the decades long civil war here has been that the animals that had not been eaten by starving people had been blown up by old land mines. The extermination of wild game had been complete. Now and then cows in pastures were shredded by exploding mines, and so were children playing and people taking short cuts through fields.’


And it just goes on and on, the listing of Angola’s woes. It doesn’t appear so, but this nation is one of the continent’s wealthiest, with bountiful deposits of oil, gold and precious gems. But nothing, absolutely nothing, trickles down. All income from these riches lines the pockets of the small ruling elite class which uses goon squads to stamp out any opposition to their avarice. José Eduardo dos Santos rules his country with an iron fist, having done so since 1979. Wikipedia states ‘Dos Santos has been accused of leading one of the most corrupt regimes in Africa by ignoring the economic and social needs of Angola and focusing his efforts on amassing wealth for his family and silencing his opposition, while, nearly 70% of the population lives on less than $2 a day.‘ As head of a craven, abominable regime, he is the modern day Mr Kurtz – fundamentally evil. It’s not pretty reading.

Theroux realises that, although the concentration of wealth may not be so starkly centred on the self-serving few further north, he reasons to travel on in his mission would be pointless – he’d only depressingly encounter more of the same, so he pulls up stumps and retreats home.

Between the writing and publication of this tome, three friends he made on this excursion ended up meeting their end. One, an Australian, was killed by a beloved elephant he worked with; another was murdered for his relative wealth and the last, a worldly and realistic Angolan, died on a dive. Sums it all up actually.

In the end, for PT, there were only glimmers of hope emerging from his journey into darkness, but hope nonetheless. The Rainbow Nation has made great advances, even if there’s a way to go. Namibia has a thriving tourism industry to build something worthwhile around. As for Angola, there is potential if someone can get in there and distribute the squillions it earns from its resources in a more equable manner, but, for the foreseeable future, it will remain a basket case.

Whist the reader cannot be unaffected by all this dire reality Theroux feeds us about the overall situation in this part of Africa, as, with all his books, it always remains interesting. The author is more curmudgeonly these days as one would expect, especially given his destination. His latest, ‘Deep South’, based around travelling the back roads of that part of his own nation, is his tenth travel book and awaits on my shelves. Maybe that one will be less doom and gloom.

There will come a time when his meanderings around the world will cease, given he’s now 75. Pity, he’s taken me on some great rides as I have reclined in my armchair or snuggled under the doona.

Author’s website =

Big Picture Man

Fintan Magee. Now there’s a name the rolls off the tongue in a Huckleberry Finn kind of way. But it wasn’t his appellation that attracted me, but a painting of Fintan’s that appeared in my newspaper of choice, the Age. He was spruiking an exhibition of his work at a gallery in Collingwood, the theme of which was related to the Queensland floods of 2011. Entitled ‘The Rebuild’, it featured a blue-shirted figure, ankle deep in water, carrying a faggot of wood. In the accompanying puff piece, penned by Philippa Hawker, the artist talked of the inspiration for it as the evacuation of the family home in Brisbane, desperate to beat those flood-waters as they inexorably rose. The painting was in a semi-realistic style that I am attracted too, so I clipped out the piece, placing it in my blogging folder for future reference.

fintan magee01

Eventually I came back to Fintan and took to the ether to see what else he had to offer. Out there in cyberspace I discovered work that quite frankly kind of gobsmacked me. Hawker’s article did talk of his passion for street art, but I found what he produced was on a scale I did not expect – it was magical and eye-opening. So much so that this lad from Lismore has gained a reputation as the Banksy of Oz. In an interview on-line he laughed at the comparison, stating the only factor he had in common with the enigmatic master was that they both used walls as their canvas. Their styles couldn’t be more different.

fintan magee01

Fintan studied fine arts in Brissy before he migrated to Sydney – the reason for doing so was that the city on the harbour had more available wall space on its streets and its authorities were less conservative about the art that went on them. He commenced using his art to beautify their urban landscape with his impressive imprint.

He comes right out and says he is impressed with painting big, despite the fact he has diversified into other genres as well. Here in Australia we followed in the wake of Europe and US in latching on to the concept of harnessing street art to rejuvenate the living spaces of city dwellers. And Fintan M was one of the first here to do so. The result is that his big ticket artistic abilities are now gracing buildings in many parts of the country, as well as overseas. He’s set on conquering the world with it.


Shaun Tan has never been my cup of tea, but Magee stated he has been majorly influenced by the author/illustrator. They both, according to the artist, follow the same notion of their product being used to ‘…make an alternate world that runs parallel to our urban reality, something that you can escape to.’ Magee does it on buildings, Tan on the smaller space of a page in a picture book.

fintan magee05

In recent times Fintan has been invited to produce murals in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Moscow and the Tunisian island of Djerba. This year sees him in Rome holding an exhibition of his smaller offerings, plus decorating a couple of the Eternal City’s walls.

Asked what attracts him to such projects, Fintan replies, ‘I like the scale, I like working in public, I like making art that’s integrated into public spaces and part of people’s everyday lives.’ It’s impossible not to agree that he has been successful in that goal.


Fintan’s website =

Little Town, Big Hearts

Today my son married.

Sitting here in his town; just sitting in reflective quietude with the juice of the peat in hand, I know that what had just occurred had made for the best of days.

There were doubts it would be thus at day’s dawning. This little place, fastened on the western shore of Anderson Bay, was holding its collective breath for all knew of the couple’s plan. It was an audacious plan – but the rain was then tumbling down in scuds. All comprehended if it continued to do so the plan would have to be scuttled, to use an apt nautical term; the desire to create an occasion, that would linger long in the mind’s eye, would be undeniably somewhat spoilt, but certainly not irredeemably tarnished. How could it be?

The ‘Bulldog’ was central. It was intended that later this day the sturdy snub-nosed barge would carry its first substantial cargo, a human one, on arguably its most important journey. For on board there would be a bridal arch at the prow and a beautiful bride aft, waiting for her moment. With a red carpet stretched down its main (and only) deck and weighed down tables for succulent seafood treats, convivial signs had been strategically placed to urge all to ‘Eat, drink and be married’. If the rain moderated, that would doubtless occur around the main event. What would be celebrated was the culmination of two separate journeys, not always calm sailing, coming together in the ether at first. Then my son moved to the little town to commence building a relationship and a vocational life. The place he now calls home has become a sort of second abode for this relaxed old fella as our couple caught the travel bug. They saw me only to happy to attend to their two beloved canines, not to mention one defiantly independent cat. To me the little town is a place the sun always seems to shine. Would it also shine on their day of days – this day?


The tides had been figured out long before and the decision on the date was fixed accordingly. The vessel, named in memory of a treasured workmate, taken well before his time, had been sweated on by my son with a posse of other workmates for long hours to make her ship-shape for the day. As this day in question proceeded, the scuds diminished in frequency and power. Then, just before the appointed hour, out came the sun. The blue-hulled barge looked splendid as family and friends gathered dockside, ready for her departure. As the Bulldog escaped the confines of the river, fine samples of local product from the briny were served from the tiny galley and a piper took his place, playing Hebridean airs. Our vessel faced into the swells of the open sea, turned and headed along the coast to a sheltered spot abutting the old pier. It laid anchor, the drawbridge forward was lowered and my son took his place, to wait, against background of sunlight dazzling off Anderson Bay.

Back aft the bridal party assembled. At their head, for the procession down the red carpet, a little girl made ready for her role. At times, in the lead up, she had felt overwhelmed by the awesomeness of her responsibility. Who would hold her hand? Where were Mummy and Daddy if there was a problem. But, one thing was for sure, in a gown sewn with love, she looked exquisite. The appointed time came. Hands were offered to help her on her way to spread rose petals afore her Auntie Shan and her gorgeous bridesmaids. Although her small valkyrian heart was beating so loud, she knew exactly what was required. She garnered together all the courage an almost four year old could muster, politely refused the hands and strode out amongst all those people she did not know. She did her task to perfection as her Poppy became misty eyed with pride and love.


My son took a deep breath, turned and faced his bride as she approached. He flushed a little as he noted the beauty of this woman to whom he would attach his future, as she would to him.

Two venerable grandparents, one from each side, watched the procession and taking of vows, also with swelled hearts. They had seen many a wedding during their long years, but none surely so unique and so carefully executed as this. Out in the element that helped sustain the little town, the Bulldog gently rocked as a mint new married couple made their way back along the carpet to begin their mingling and to receive the congratulations that were their due.


The Bulldog, successfully discharging its duty, raised anchor and sailed back to port, being gazed on by townspeople who lined the shore. Proceedings continued at the home of this family who have taken in my son, valued him for his many attributes, but at the same time ensuring he was firmly grounded in the culture of their calling and of the town. It is an amazing family he is now son-in-law, brother-in-law and husband to. My son made a speech – and he made a fine fist of that too. Looking on, his Dad couldn’t possibly be happier for him. So happy, in fact, that after some libation, his father took to the dance floor later this evening with his oldest mate and did some very fine moves and sprightly gyrations as the band pounded out a hip version of ‘Ring of Fire’.

just married

Sipping now on my Glenfiddich, I can reflect how perfect this day has been. At the festivities this evening I was seated with aforementioned mate on one side, the woman I adore on the other, with my daughter and that brave little flower-girl opposite. Now I am content with the wonder of it all. I know that She up there beyond the silver lining will smile on this union, as Bulldog will do likewise from his spot in the constellations. Best of all, I have a daughter-in-law to cherish.

Yes, today my son married.