Monthly Archives: March 2017

Ms Stradwick

Brazen hussies? Ladies of the night? Like the foxy women on a Duran Duran video clip they caught my eye on the stand and I pocketed a handful. The two feline apparitions in jade, with plunging necklines encrusted in bling, certainly drew me as I passed them, climbing the stairs to view some exhibitions at the Salamanca Arts Centre. They had attitude, this duo. Were they out to tempt a cashed up john or simply making themselves available for the main chance? They were patently creatures of the night, undoubtedly falling away into the shadows when a pale dawn approached. Or, at least, that’s how I imagined the situation portrayed to be when I returned back to my abode by the river, as I placed them with the other Avant cards I had gathered here, there and everywhere over time. Then, later on, as they were still staying with me, I extracted them and put them aside to check out their provenance the next time I ventured into the ether. And this is what I discovered.

It turns out their creator is one Jane Stradwick, a pencil and ink conjurer of most appealing images. This one, ‘Late Night Hotel’, is part of a series of hers put together to illustrate some short stories, collectively entitled ‘Girls on Film’, thus the reference to Simon Le Bon and his lads from the eighties. The artist is Aussie born, but raised in NZ, doing her training at Auckland’s Whitecliffe College of Art and Design. After vocational dalliances with costuming, hairdressing and make-up consultancy, she became a site planner for archaeological digs. This career took her to Thailand, Ireland and lands closer to home. Her illustrations of artifacts from this period of her life appear on her website and in various journals devoted to this calling.

The birth of a child in 2013 caused Jane, now a resident of Melbourne, to change direction and return to her first love, drawing. Since that time she has exhibited widely, mostly around Yarra City, but in the US as well. Of her work she opines that she attempts, ‘ extract the most beauty I can with every piece, and with coloured pencils you can layer the shades so there is a wonderful depth and opportunity to create a gorgeous colour palette.’

As for the image and others from the series that I was drawn to, she continues, ‘I have had a love affair with fashion magazines ever since discovering them as a kid in the 80s. They featured fiercely strong women, glamour, exotic locations and escape from my hometown in NZ. Strong geometric lines on one page; glaring desert sun location shots on the next. Anything was possible between those covers. Girls on Film is my homage to the memories of those pages and a celebration of the fashion of an era.’

Ms Stradwick is more than just ‘Ladies of the Night’ though, working across a variety of themes including, ‘...self-expression and identity, repetition and scale, historic fashion imagery and literary characters.’ On her website, if you care to visit as I did, there is much to please the senses from this forty-four year old, an artist who, in her own words, ‘...aims to be present in every experience and not to judge herself for whatever I feel.’ She is inspired by, ‘…people that (sic) are unafraid to be their truest selves.’

As she has showings frequently in a city I visit regularly I intend to be on the lookout for her with future sojourns. But for now, a ‘Late Night Hotel’ card has its place in my man cave.

The artist’s website =

Kate/Chrissy Willowdean/Julie

Two new gorgeous women have come into my orb – Kate, as portrayed by Chrissy; Willowdean, as conceived by Julie. What links them is the larger side of life. Kate/Chrissy, on the show that has taken America by storm, have rightly emerged as pinup queens for many battling so hard against societal perceptions and the odorous trolls of this world. Now that her series, already scheduled for another two seasons, has commenced in Oz, hopefully she will do the same here. Willowdean/Julie Murphy does the same for a younger and arguably, even more vulnerable demographic, in the wonderfully feel good ‘Dumplin’ – a YA novel recently optioned by Disney with Jennifer Aniston on board. So where Kate is a heroine of the small screen now, hopefully Ms Willodean Dickson soon will become a big screen super-heroine. These two provide one of the upsides of what life can be for those with weight problems and the issues that often come with it – health, both mental and physical; not to mention the difficulties in finding clothing in a popular culture obsessed with the smaller sizes. What’s terrific about ‘This is Us’ on the tele, as well as ‘Dumplin’, is that, whilst the negatives are not shirked, there is proposed the definite possibility of not only keeping one’s head above water, but of finding acceptance and real happiness too.

Chrissy Metz is a marvel. Already a successful talent agent, she yearned to be that person attending auditions, not facilitating them. The 36-year old wanna-be star had already taken on some roles, most notably in ‘My Name is Earl’ and ironically, being asked to don a fat suit for ‘American Horror Story Freak Show’. But with ‘This is Us’ she has really hit the big time.

The product of the US networks has never formed a large part of my home viewing habits, at least in their free-to-air guise. Their generic shoot-em-ups and car chases simply bore me, as do the equally generic ideal types that have the major roles in them. I prefer the more realistic approach of the Brits and to a lesser extent, our own programme makers. So a new American series would be not at all on my radar, but alerted by a critic in the Age as to this being something different and of quality, Leigh and I decided to give it a burl. It’s carried by WIN and both my lovely lady and myself have been hooked on ‘This is Us’ from the get-go – and Kate is one of the many reasons why.

The actress herself, Chrissy Metz, claims to have been, once upon a time, a Kate, ‘…but now I am far removed from that.’ She was, unfortunately and predictably, bullied at school, suffering from panic attacks. Now divorced, she is dating one of the show’s crew, who was her escort during the recent awards season – including to the Golden Globe where Metz and the show both received nominations. She now finds herself in high demand for fashion shoots and whilst Chrissy M accepts who she is, her character Kate still has a way to go. During the show she looks to booking herself into a fat farm and undertaking gastric bypass surgery as solutions. Metz herself states, ‘I am on this journey to inspire people, and to encourage them. We are all deserving of happiness; so (playing Kate)…is much more than just acting…You’re changing lives and opening discussion.’

And she certainly does inspire, as does Willowdean. She, I guess, is somewhat Metz in reverse, accepting herself and her plus-sized body for most of her youthful years, until she came to the roadblock that can be boys. With the complications they bring she loses her perceived confidence and is no longer prepared to take on the world so feistily.

We’re not far into Murphy’s novel when the first of these lads enter her domain. Bo’s one of the school jocks and our Willowdean is so disbelieving at first that he could be attracted to her. She’s turned on by their ‘making out’, but completely shuts down when he tries a little fondling, deducing that her body must be a complete turn-off. It’s clearly not, but so conditioned is she to the fact that the opposite gender would only go for the school’s beautiful, slim types, she starts putting up barriers to his ardour. Somebody should whisper in her ear that there’s no rule of thumb to what young men – or men of any age for that matter – like. Curves and ampleness have just as much attraction to many. Then, to complicate matters, Bo soon has a rival for her affections. Two boys! What is going on?

Before these guys the loves of her life were Dolly Parton, whose advice she tries to live by; her recently deceased, obesity-afflicted auntie and her best mate, Ellen. But when the latter experiences sex for the first time and confides in her, Willowdean, who hasn’t opened up about her beaux, loses the plot in terms of the life she expected to continue living.

Her own mother, although clearly loving her, is nonetheless embarrassed about the daughter she calls Dumplin’. Mum’s a former winner of her small southern town’s Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant and now is running the show. When Willowdean signs up for it, with some other fellow hitherto outsiders from her school, her mother is in a bind. They have to confront their respective attitudes to each other.

It’s such a nice, nice, nice book. We know exactly how it is all going to pan out. But the fact there’s no surprises in store and that the ending is pure saccharine does not detract one iota. It is really the only way the novel can fufil what it set out to do when you think about it. To see Willowdean plough on, largely following Dolly’s advice to ‘Find out who you are and do it with purpose.’ is as inspirational a story as is Metz’s. ‘Dumplin’ is a terrific read for any age-group or gender – but especially for Murphy’s target audience.

Julie Murphy

As actress Ms Metz says in a ‘Harpers Bazaar’ interview recently, ‘There’s room for all of us now – no matter our sexuality, race, body size, gender or whatever else.’ You go girls.

‘This is Us’ on Rotten Tomatoes =

'A Common Loss' 'Hold' – Kirsten Tranter

‘When you are introverted and the person with the head in the book you are the observer.’

In my head I have a rough bucket list for the years I have remaining – mainly consisting of places I’d like to see, or experience, before I die. I know most of that list will never be realised and I can’t say I’m losing a great deal of sleep over that fact. If they happen, great. If not, well, so be it. But I can guarantee one sojourn that would never be even remotely figuring on my wish list and that would be to visit Las Vegas. Imagine – Crown Casino a hundred times over. That would be my notion of hell. From what I can discern it is, more or less, a plastic, artificial, hyperactive 24/7 abomination in a desert wasteland. Reading Kirsten Tranter’s ‘A Common Loss’ only reinforced that view.

I read this bi-continental author’s first tome, ‘Legacy’, long after it was first published, more than a decade ago – and I was mightily impressed. It centred on the death of a young Aussie lass in the US; presumably a victim of the September 11 attacks. For some back home that explanation wasn’t quite enough, resulting in a Sydneyite devoting herself to a bit of sleuthing around NYC to find what really happened.

Tranter’s world had also been affected by death before the scribing of that novel, losing two souls she was close to. And death also features prominently in the two follow-ups to her novice product, ‘A Common Loss’ and her latest, ‘Hold’.

For this Sydney raised writer, now a resident of California due to her marriage to an academic tenured there, the death of a mate again forms the fulcrum to her sophomore publication. Unlike ‘Legacy’, which moved back and forth across the Pacific, this one is set entirely in Trumpland; for the most part in the gambling capital of the planet. Four friends, tied to each other from way, way back, are continuing on with their tradition of having an annual blow-out in Sin City. This year, though, it is a little different – they used to be five. The gel that held them together, Dylan, is missing – recently killed in a traffic accident. This also bought back memories of another near death experience for them involving an automobile bingle avoiding a deer – one that also was not quite as it seems. As it turns out, it’s just one of the issues the group have had that needed Dylan’s ability as a fixer to sort out. All these secrets do come back to bite the foursome on the bum as mysterious envelopes start to arrive during the Vegas stay. Seems Dylan had a few secrets of his own too. For Elliott, our narrator, matters are complicated by his developing feelings for the only female to be invited along on any of their reunions. She diverts him from his mates and from sorting out the major conundrum that arises.

It’s a sign of a competent writer that Tranter can maintain a connection with the reader despite the latter being unable to form any affection for a single one of the participants involved. In this there is a whiff of ‘The Slap’ about it, but despite her formidable wordsmithery, she doesn’t quite pull if off as well as Tsiolkas managed. The novel also dips it’s lid to Tennyson’s ‘In Memorium’. It would be an overstatement to say that ‘A Common Loss’ is as arid as the desert surrounding the city it is set in – Tranter is too good a writer for that, but of her three offerings, this would reside at the bottom of the pile – a pile that I hope will much heighten, given time.

To my mind ‘Hold’ made for a better product with a more accessible selection of protagonists. Here she returns to Oz to tell the tale of former artist Shelley who, three years previously, had lost her soul mate, Conrad. He went surfing one day and didn’t return. Now she and her new partner have just taken possession of a Paddington pad, semi-detached, as our heroine tries to put her past behind her. She soon realises that, despite a new man, she is still grieving for the loss of her former lover. Then two mysteries enter her life. Firstly she becomes drawn to a guy who so resembles Conrad it is uncanny. Then, on opening a closet, she notices a door which, after some difficulty, she manages to open. She is soon stepping into a secret room. It is just the place to provide her with a refuge – and a comfortable location to have her way with Conrad’s doppelganger. It’s all very intriguing. And where do her neighbours fit into the picture as far as the room is concerned and just how real, in fact, is her mystery man? And then there’s her new partner’s daughter, a stroppy teen, to worry about developing a relationship with.

The author is the offspring of esteemed poet John Tranter and a literary agent mother. Kirsten grew up surrounded by her parent’s friendship group of artistic types. She was shy and as time went on, she became increasingly anxious in dealing with social contact. As an adult she has had sessions of therapy, but as the opening quote suggests, she has also developed acute powers of observation which she puts to excellent use with her writing. Tranter is now a fine practitioner of weaving the written word into engaging narratives. ‘Legacy’ quickly established her credentials. That her more recent oeuvre has not quite matched her first up effort does not matter a jot. I will stick with her.

The author’s website =

Kirsten Tranter, Author

Ordeal Wendy? Shopping's a Joy

I reckon you’ve got it all wrong. Go on-line to shop! What a travesty. How boring. And where was it, in her tale of woe, that Wendy was doing ‘real world’ shopping? It’s obviously Melbourne, as trams are mentioned – and if it was in one of those big generic malls like Chadstone or Highpoint, well perhaps that’s just what happens. Then too, it could also be a gender thing. And, as for trying stuff on – well I do admit I’ve never done that across in Yarra City.

But, yep, I personally do love shopping in Melbourne, Wendy. When over I do a bit of it in the CBD – shopping for my granddaughter in Myers children’s wear or moseying around the Emporium or in the little shops in Degraves Street, for instance. And in those I’ve never had an experience such as you have described, Ms Squires. Maybe it’s because I’m an old fella often shopping for little Tess – and hopefully soon for Olivia – that I always end up having chats to the lovely sales assistants behind the counters therein. They, in my experience, are always attentive, particularly if I have issues working out clothing sizes.

But mostly my shopping expeditions take me elsewhere. Once upon a time it would be mainly up on Smith or Brunswick Street. If I’m in Melbourne on a Saturday, I often wend my way to the Rose Street Market just off the latter. It’s a great destination for a browse and again, often a bit of conversation with a stallholder. Of a Sunday the same can be had at the Arts Centre Market, along St Kilda Road, just across Princess Bridge from Flinders Street Station.

These days, though, my favourite area is Coventry/Claredon Streets around the South Melbourne Markets. SMM is the best of the traditional markets in town, I reckon. But those two streets also contain plenty of interesting and largely non-generic retailers as well. And gee, I’ve had some great exchanges with the shop-owners in that part of the world. There’s more of a languor about shopping there that isn’t present in the guts of town, or along the other strips. With the latest crossing I bought greeting cards, soap and some clothing for Tess at the Markets and at each place had chats. The lovely Suki McMasters beamed a glorious smile at me when I purchased cards at her outlet and then praised the quality of her designs. Another aspect of these markets that I love and makes me just a little envious of Melburnians is the astounding fresh fruit and vegies on display, not to mention the seafood, meat, small goods, beer, wine, pasta and so it goes on.

Across the road, on Coventry, as well as numerous wateringholes for coffee or something cold and refreshing, is perhaps the best chocolate shop (Bibelot) in the city, together with a great bookshop. And nearby is Paperpoint (259 Coventry), a cornucopia of all things paper. None of the ubiquitous Hallmark here. On one of the streets running off this South Melbourne strand is a shop specialising in, amongst other items, wooden ducks. At $5 and $10 a pop, depending on size, I had often wondered why they were so much cheaper there than the up to $50 price tags I’d seen elsewhere. I had the question answered this time around as it seems each duck has a slight imperfection. No matter, Tessa loves hers anyway. I proudly showed the proprietor of the delightful place a pic on my phone of said girl carrying her precious duck on a Hobart street and as you do, we started to chinwag. She was a lady of a certain age, but ageless in her beauty, with it turning out that, back in the day, she was a Qantas air-hostess. What’s more, she was regularly on the Fokker Friendships flying the Strait from Tullamarine to Wynyard. I possibly flew with her many a time.

Claredon Street has a Kikki K and my beautiful, writerly daughter always appreciates something from this chain in the way of ‘…award winning… stylish gifts, stationery and functional organising tools in Scandinavian designs.’ Their product is not available in Hobart yet. In my most recent sojourn, further down the street, in an alleyway, I found ‘Made in Japan’ (1-7 Wynyard Street). It was full of inexpensive oriental items and I had fun selecting something to take back with me as another gift for Tessa. The young (to me) man behind the counter had a very hipster countenance and spoke in barely a whisper. When he found out I was from Hobs he became quite animated. He wanted to chat about Mona – as so many do. He hadn’t been, but was desperate to and had many questions to ask of me. I wished I could have purchased more at his fine emporium, which also had a cafe and cooking school on its premises, but fragility and luggage restrictions prevented me. I’ll be back.

I am saddened one of may favourite columnists for the Age saw as her only option to take to shopping on-line. In the ether there’d be none of the tactility of handling the product you are trying to decide on – that being one of the delights of ‘real’ browsing rather than looking at an image of it. And of course, with on-line, where is the scope for engaging in chat – and maybe receiving a wondrous smile to be on your way with. To me, no item arriving ‘…in a box so gorgeous I will keep it, lined with tissue paper and a lovely card thanking me for my business…’ can replace that. No, Wendy Squires, it takes all the romance out of one of life pleasures.

The Wendy Squires column for Fairfax  =

Oscar Ruminations

Done and dusted for another year, with, of course, what they’ll be remembered for this time around being the cock up at the end. They got it wondrously wrong. But they, being the Oscars, did get it wondrously right in another regard. As Karl Quinn wrote in the Age, before the event, ‘In a year with many worthy contenders, hands down the most intriguing category…is best actor. It’s the easiest to call and potentially the most difficult.’

Like myself, Quinn was rooting or for Casey Affleck. His incredible turn in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ should have been a no-brainer. The two other front runners, Ryan Gosling (‘La La Land’) and Denzel Washington (‘Fences’), were both worthy, but really not in the same league. I can’t comment on the perceived also-rans, Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge’) and Vigo Mortensen (‘Captain Fantastic’), having not viewed either production.

The issue was the actor’s own troubled back story. The younger Affleck was accused of sexual harassment by two women who worked on his controversial movie ‘I’m Still Here’. He vehemently denied the accusations, but chose, for whatever reason, to settle out of court. The point is, of course, that he was never found guilty. Many, though, despite the precedents of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, felt this should have still disbarred him from consideration. It was noted that Brie Larson, a sexual assault survivor and advocate, pointedly did not clap in presenting him with the award (couldn’t the Academy have been a little more sensitive in their choice to pass over the gong or, conversely, did they need to be?)

Now Afflect may well be the most unsavory actor, in real life, in the history of filmdom, but of course he has never been convicted of what Quinn refers to as ‘moral turpitude’. And his performance in the Kenneth Lonergan offering will last far longer in my mind than either Gosling’s soft shoe shuffling in ‘La La Land’ or Washington’s motor mouth effort for ‘Fences’. Rightly, the majority of the around 6200 voters in the Academy agreed and he took delivery of the gong.

I can’t say I was enamoured of ‘La La Land’. The bright opening traffic jam sequence was a show-stopper and it did gather some pace towards the end as it built to a musical climax – but the bulk of the film, apart from the short time John Legend was on screen, was quite plodding. To me Emma Stone, although serviceable, hardly lit up the screen.

We now know ‘Moonlight’ was crowned Best Film, but again, not having watched it, I am in not position to scribe on its ascendancy over all comers, or not – the same being the case with ‘Lion’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ too. ‘Arrival’ bored me to tears, so much so I was contemplating walking out long before it reached its dull conclusion. I do know many others had it, though, at the apex of their best movies for 2016. ‘Hell or High Water’, with Jeff Bridges in fine form, on the other hand, was a hoot from go to whoa. I adored it as a rollicking cinematic adventure of the best sort. ‘Fences’ was a very competent film but took some time to get going. But once DW’s character, as Pittsburgh garbageman TroyMaxson, had his tawdry secret out in the open, ‘Fences’ really picked up a head of steam.Viola Davis was sensational as his wife, as was Michelle William’s supporting role in ‘Manchester by the Sea’, both thoroughly deserving of an award. I suspect the former gained it as she had more screen time. ‘Fences’ also possibly suffered for its staginess – it was an adapted Broadway hit. ‘Hidden Figures’ was perhaps the most Hollywood ‘writ by numbers’ of the nominations I saw, but none the less enjoyable for that. Now that he is in his mature years, Kevin Costner is a far more interesting actor than when he was required to play the Great American Hero. And you can argue until you’re blue in the face about it, but I reckon its deviance so much from historical fact cost it. Still, it was a great yarn of when, despite its flaws. America was truly great.

Has there ever been a sadder movie than ‘Manchester by the Sea’? Has there ever been a sadder man than Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler? He carries a pain no man should be burdened with. During the course of the movie he tries to shake it, but just can’t get on top of it. For Lee it is always one step forward and two back. Once we are informed of the source of the problem we understand his retreat into himself; his hair-trigger rage and lashing out at the world; his desire to have others inflict physical pain on him. He fled his home to drown himself in the anonymity of the big city, but is recalled when family tragedy strikes. There he finds himself responsible for his nephew, a man-boy who seems to have his small world at his feet. He is not happy to be lumbered with this broken uncle. It’s a fine performance from Lucas Hedges as Patrick – also nominated for an Oscar. Together they eventually make some progress and if we watch carefully, we may fleetingly see a smile from Lee – just fleetingly, mind. Lee’s misery is infectious – it affects those around him on screen and we, the audience, off. How can it not? No man would cope with the weight he has to carry through life. ‘Manchester be the Sea’ is film-making at its finest – the flintiest heart would melt before it.

Her Name is Sally – Melbourne Vignettes – Summer '17

She stood out – boy, did she stand out on the Skybus that morning. I thought she could be a modelling goddess from Vogue magazine or something, the way that woman stood out. Sheathed in a figure hugging, dazzling ultra-short white dress, she was accessorised by a rich red lipstick and heels of the same hue. Later, I was to notice the sparkle in her eyes and fingernails alternately painted bright red and blue. She flicked her mane of shimmering brunette tresses as she elegantly stepped on board and entered into conversation with the driver. What a contrast she was to the dun-attired backpackers, excited Asians and dowdy pensioners like myself. The fact that she toted not a skerrick of baggage was the reason for our exuberant Brit driver’s interest in her as he reached out his hand to place more cases in the luggage bay, only to find she was lacking in that regard. She obviously offered a satisfactory explanation as he shrugged, smiled and waved her on to find a seat. The one she found was next to me.

I said g’day as she settled in, but she was soon transfixed by her mobile in one hand and the Skybus timetable in the other. As the journey continued on towards Southern Cross, seeing increasing concern on her face and hearing a great deal of displeased sighing, I eventually asked if there was a problem – if I could assist her in what was obviously perplexing her.

She rolled her eyes and explained her predicament to me. The tale of woe went that she had just deposited her hire car at Tullamarine and was now travelling back into the city to spend her last day in Australia. This explained her lack of suitcases as she had checked into her accommodation the previous evening. Now she had to arrange for her departure from the city, at four the next morning, to catch an early flight home. The problem involved her hotel being in South Yarra and she was trying to work out if Skybus’ courtesy pickup service operated in the wee small hours. I explained to her that, in any case, the service was only provided for CBD hotels and surely it would be simpler to catch a cab into Southern Cross or out to the airport. My suggestion bought on more eye-rolling before she proceeded to huff that taxis were far too expensive in this country to even consider that option. She felt she had no alternative but to come up with a plan B.

She spoke perfect English, but heavily accented so, as is my wont, I asked of her provenance. Turned out she was from Luxembourg, but home these days was Japan where she worked for a law firm. She was also studying political science, so therefore, or so she claimed, she was just a poor student. She smiled broadly when I stated that, not only had I studied politics when I went to uni way back when, but once upon a time had also visited her home country. She asked about Japan, but alas I had to say I had never been there, but I had heard it was expensive. She agreed, but added Tokyo was not as overpriced as Australia.

She had flown to our country on very short notice, on a deal too good to pass up. She had hired a car in Brisbane and driven the coastal route south. Sadly, she sighed, she had seen hardly anything she had hurriedly planned; yet again because everything was far too pricey. But, she said, our nature was fantastic and despite our expensiveness, she could not wait for a return visit. Of course I encouraged her to come to Tassie next time. I then asked what she planned to do on her last day here. She put her head back and laughed. ‘I plan to shop and shop and shop.’ She then sought my advice about where to go. I said South Yarra itself was meant to have some stylish shops and then there was the Mall. She did not look the type of girl who was into inner-suburban strip shopping. Nor was she dressed for Skybus. She looked a million dollars and would seemingly be more suited to limousine transportation to get around. When we rolled into Southern Cross we disembarked the bus together. I gave her directions as to where to go, shook her hand and was rewarded by a glorious parting smile that would last me through the day. But I did scratch my old noggin at her – a plan to shop till she dropped, but not enough funds for a taxi!!!
With the Luxembourg lady my summer trip to Yarra City was off to an interesting start and although I’d really much rather be going there as a couple with my lovely lady than on my tod, I nevertheless enjoy being out and about in the city to which the founding fathers once gave the name of Bearbrass.

My digs for the few days was again the Cosmopolitan, down on Carlisle Street, St Kilda. It is a welcoming place with a friendly staff, none more so than the vivacious blonde who greeted me that morning. Sadly her utterances, once she opened her mouth, didn’t match her lovely face as it was quickly evident she hailed from the Americas. How that accent can sometimes grate – as if we Aussies can talk. I’m always a little wary of asking the obvious question for fear of offending a Canadian, but I needn’t have worried for the lass was from Chicago. I soon discerned she had followed a man to Australia and was as in love with him as she was with our country. She adored Melbourne and we briefly discussed her aim to come to Tassie, as well as a show I had watched in recent times, set in the ‘Windy City’ – ‘The Boss’. Hearing that it starred one of her favourites, Kelsey Grammer, she was immediately interested. As she passed over the plastic to my room I received another winning smile to light up my visit.

What a contrast this gorgeous counter staff employee of the Continental was to the Yank I encountered on the No86 later in the trip. She was working her phone, she was largish and decidedly sweaty in the close confines of the tram on a warm day. She was loud, so loud, with her drawl capable of cutting glass. The tram carriage was left in no uncertain terms as to just how important a personage she was. She was obviously sorting out an IT issue at wherever she worked or consulted to, it being essential that the whole throng of those around her knew all about it as well. What she was saying, in between expletives, was indecipherable – some sort of computerese us lower life forms had no hope of comprehending. There was much looking to the heavens amongst my fellow passengers – but eventually we had the last laugh as our verbal torture was about to end. As the rattler rounded the corner into Spring Street she, all of a sudden, let out a screech ”I’m going in the wrong f****g direction.’ and proceeded to hurl herself up the tram, still working her digital device, no doubt to demand the driver stop at her earliest convenience. But I was not finished with the denizens from Trumpland.

On my final morning, a couple entered where I was pleasantly breakfasting, the Goodegg (303 Coventry St, South Melbourne, across the road from the Markets). I’d read about this establishment in an Age food review (it had rated highly) so I had decided to give it a burl. My bacon and egg in a bun was lovely – so much so I wished later I had tried something more adventurous. Next time. The male portion of the couple was stereotypically hipster, complete with sculpted beard and bun. The girl – obviously their spokesperson, as presumably such a mundane task as placing the order would be beneath hipster-guy – immediately established they too were from across the Pacific. They took the table next to mine. When our Kiwi barista bought over their coffees and egg-based brekkie delights he inquired where they were from. I was able to earwig in on an interesting conversation. It turns out they were from NYC and the reason they were in Oz was because of coffee. She reported they frequented the Aussie themed coffee houses of Brooklyn, the Village, Soho and so on, falling in love with our brews and therefore they decided to come to Melbourne. Now any hipster knows our nation’s second city is the coffee capital of the globe, right? The bearded one did open up when the subject of blends was raised. In the best tradition of his breed he was incredibly knowledgeable on the topic – and his enthusiasm for what we do with the humble brown bean here was quite engaging. So there you go. The media hype about our flat whites taking over the planet might have some veracity after all.

There were other meetings with overseas guests to our country – the Italian couple from Lucca who had just spent six months living at Margaret River WA before driving across the Nullarbor to Adelaide and Yarra City, for instance. They were soon to head back to Tuscany. They reckoned that the next trip would encompass Queensland and Tassie. They had loved us – they badly wanted to come back for more. There was an ebullient Canadian from Winnipeg whom I discovered at the Luna Park tram stop, wearing a Tassie t-shirt. I engaged him in conversation and found out he was a frequent visitor. He’d loved his time on our island on a previous sojourn and reckoned Mona was the best art gallery he’d seen anywhere, period. Then, on the No96, I sat next to a UK couple who were soon chatting to me about Brexit, Trump and our immigration policy. This Sussex pair, about my age, couldn’t believe that a big, wide nation such as ours would send a few thousand poor souls, fleeing oppression, to off shore islands to have to indefinitely survive mental and physical issues without hope. I could but only agree with them.

‘Clever bugger, isn’t he,’ I quipped to the guy standing next to me, similarly gobsmacked, staring at the beauteous array of art work afore us in a garishly marvellous display at the NGV. David Hockney’s phantasmagorically alluring digital presentations took one’s breath away. It was hand on heart, one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen in all my time of going across the Strait to view showings in art galleries around the country, staring at visual marvels created by the human mind directing the human hand. So if you are in Melbourne’s orb before this brilliant extravaganza closes, do attempt to see it.

I also attended the Viktor and Rolf flight of fancy at the same establishment. This pair of fashion designers produce supposedly wearable artwork, many pieces of which would be impossible to disport anywhere but on a catwalk they’re so unwieldy. I did particularly like the dolls attired in their fabric masterpieces. Interesting was the protest art of Los Angeles’ Sister Cora and various Australian practitioners of poster work, to make a point, at the Ian Potter. I always enjoy my tram ride to the top end of Swanston to visit this gallery at the Uni of Melbourne. Back towards the city centre, at the State Library of Victoria, was a retrospective look back over the forty years of Triple R, Melbourne’s community radio station and the nursery for many of today’s popular culture icons. Good stuff it was too.
And that’s an appropriate segue to my next yarn, which I presume to be entirely true. I’ll let you be the judge. However, if inappropriate language does offend, it may be better to skip this and move on to the next vignette. Now this occurred, not on Triple R, but Triple M. My usual place on the dial, to accompany me through the wee small hours, is ABC Local – but try as I might I could not locate it across the water, that is, Melbourne’s version thereof. MMM’s music was less intrusive than most other stations I tried in frustration and more to the point, so were its ads. The overnight slot was called the ‘Nightshift’ and featured Mark and his sidekick Jess as the hosts, they being my pre-dawn companions for the three nights of my stay.

I woke the first night to a segment that must have been about ‘the sacrifices we make for love’, with callers recounting tales of their own experience or of those they knew. This one, the one that caused me to guffaw repeatedly under the Continental’s doona, was from a bloke that swore black and blue he wasn’t telling porkies – and it went something like this. And you have been warned.

Caller: ‘Well I reckon this female friend of mine made the greatest sacrifice for love that you’ll ever hear about.’
Host Mark: ‘And that was?’
‘Well, she took her hubby’s name.’
‘That’s no different to many brides, is it? Women still take their partner’s name.’
‘Not if you have a name like his, you don’t’
‘Oh come on. It couldn’t be that bad. What was it?’
‘Well you’d better give a language warning before I say it.’
‘You already have. Come on, our listeners are a broad-minded lot.’
‘They had better be. You sure you are ready for this?’
‘Yep. Let’s have it.’
‘His name was Softakok.’
Silence – then, ‘You can’t be serious. What – it can’t be. Come on – you’re joking. Spell it’
‘It’s spelt as it sounds. S O F T A…..’
More silence – then, ‘That can’t be right – Jess… Jess – please stop laughing, Jess!’
‘I’ll swear again that it is.’
‘Are they still together, the Softakoks?’
‘They are.’
‘Jess! Jess! Please stop it. Stop laughing and help me out here. And tell me (laughter) tell me (uncontrollable laughter……. then) Tell me, are there any Softakok offspring?’ (More hysterical laughter, before…)
‘There are, three.’
Another breakout of uproarious hooting from the hosts. Even when Mark thought he had it together again he was struggling to get the next question out, asking, between splutters, as to where the caller was ringing from.
‘The Newcastle area’
‘And tell me. Are there … Jess, for the last time, please stop laughing. Are there, to your knowledge, a long line of…. Jess, get it under control…. a long line of Softakoks in the Newcastle region?”
‘Not to my knowledge, no sir – no more Softakoks to my knowledge.’
‘Jess, Jess….take over please. Jess. Jess…… I’ve lost it….. Jess…’
There’s silence on the radio for a period before Mark comes back on, seemingly on top of his mirth.
‘Oh dear. Oh dear. Jess, you were absolutely no help to me there. Well there you have it listeners. Quite a tale – and I can relate to those poor kids. Mine have had enough trouble at school too with their surname, poor darlings.’

My radio companion from the Nightshift was Mark Bona. I wonder if his wife also made the ultimate sacrifice to take his name?
I am blessed to have three gorgeous nieces – Jacqui, Emma and Peta – and I love having contact with all three, as their vivacity lights up my life, along with that of my own beautiful, writerly daughter. Going over the Strait often pleasantly means meeting up with Peta, who is lucky enough to reside in St Kilda, a short walk from the Continental. It’s another reason I like staying there. We have taken to meeting at Soul Sister (73 Acland), which serves ‘…global vegan and vegetarian food in an airy space with exposed brick walls and rattan light shades.’ – or so says my mobile phone descriptor. I might add that the tucker there is delicious.

Peta has many strings to her bow but these days teaches dance – her involvement in that industry in earlier times having taken her around the world. She had just recently returned from her honeymoon in Vietnam, so we had much to talk about. Somehow the subject of Heide came up – a site I’ve longed to visit as the story of John and Sunday Reed has intrigued me for decades. However the notion of using first a train and then a bus to get there by public transport has always put me off. Dear Peta took to her hand held device and after a bit of tapping, exclaimed, ‘That’s easy! I’ll take you there.’ Turns out hubby Troy’s family lives in that neck of the woods, so she knows the area quite well. Something more to look forward to on a future excursion across the Strait. As I said, I am blessed to have Peta in my life.

Peta also recommended the local night market, held each Thursday evening, in St Kilda, through the summer. I took her advice. There was a goodly array of stalls selling a mixture of clothing and art, but the highlight was the array of food vans. It took me a while to choose, but eventually my taste buds took me to one selling marinated lamb salads. Again, delicious.
Her name is Sally. She comes from Seoul. Sally, of course, has a Korean name which she also gave me but, at my age, unless I write something like that down, it readily escapes my mind. Sally is a waitress at Toscani’s (107 Acland) and I like the lasagna there. I hang out for lasagna and have yet to discover a restaurant in Hobs where I can partake of a tasty, well cooked one – although I perhaps haven’t overly stretched myself to find one. The supermarket variety seems runny and tasteless compared to what Toscani’s and several other Melbourne establishments dish up.

It was around seven when I walked in and Sally had already laboured through a long day, fronting up at eight that morning for the breakfast crowd – and she had several hours still to go. But, even so late in her day, she still had a smile for me as she welcomed me in. Gee, I hope they are paying her a reasonable rate for the hours she puts in. I’d met Sally before on last year’s winter trip, being her only customer that chilsome evening – so we had quite a chat then. She was a little busier this latest night, but she reckoned that, overall, the crowds were less than the previous summer. People just weren’t coming in the same numbers to St Kilda these days, she felt. I quipped that it was because they were all heading to Hobart instead. I knew that some of the other inner city strips were struggling and thought it would be a pity if Acland Street and surrounds went that way as well.

I recalled from the last occasion that Sally had an ambition to save and return home to start up an eatery in her homeland, so we discussed that for a while – she is certainly working her butt off to attain her goal. Sally loves Australia, particularly Melbourne, she relates, as it is so relaxed and friendly compared to other places in her experience. She says she feels so free here. She regaled me with a recent trip she had made to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island – on the latter she saw penguins for the first time and she enthused that they were just the cutest things.

Sally is just lovely – she made my night. I do hope our country will continue to always be so positive an experience for the Sally’s of this world. There is much scoffing about Melbourne being ranked as our planet’s most liveable city, but listening to Sally rave about the place, as the sun set over St Kilda, I might well believe it.