Monthly Archives: April 2017

Life in a Fishbowl – Len Vlahos

Wasn’t sure about this one. It’s a novel where one of the main characters, Glio, is an anthromorphised (whatever that means) high grade glioblastoma (thus the name) multiforme. In layman’s terms, a brain tumor. He’s (?) feasting on Jackie’s dad’s memories, eradicating them as he goes. Nope, it didn’t seem my cup of tea at all reading the back cover blurb. But, as my Katie recommended it – and she’s usually correct when it comes to what I will and won’t like in YA, I gave it a go. In the end I didn’t find ‘Life in a Fishbowl’ either ‘acidly funny’ or ‘heart-breakingly sad’ as said blurb promised I would, but my beautiful writerly daughter was right again. I did enjoy it, was through it in no time (for me) and that’s a sign of a good read.

And I’d like to say that I am quite jealous of this tome’s author. It’s not for being an American (he’s from Colorado actually) these days. Certainly not, but Vlahos not only has won kudos as an up-and-coming wordsmith for late teens, he runs a bookstore to boot – these are the bits that turn me green! Perhaps that’ll be how I’ll come back.

Now a review of ‘Life in a Fishbowl’ would seemingly give a great platform to rail and fume against the dire state of our respective nation’s reliance on the reality genre for much commercial television network programing. It requires the viewing public to become hooked on the humiliation, misery, stupidity or simply the lack of decency in others. It’s cheap and can be nasty. But I’ve riffed on that theme more than enough in recent times. In this book an unscrupulous tele-exec, Ethan, is at the centre, turning Jared Stone (Jackie’s father) and his final cancer-ridden days into television fodder for the masses in the most reprehensible manner. Jared, his mind unable to work too far into the implications of his decision to cooperate, does it to give his loved ones future security. Said family members reluctantly sign on too – they soon wished they hadn’t. Feisty Jackie immediately proves herself more than a match for the odious Ethan – he, for a time, bathing in the glory of producing America’s top rating show. But we all know he is going to come a cropper. In causing this, Jackie’s assisted by a Russian nerdy whiz-kid who soon transforms her into a darling of social media.

One review I read reckoned Glio was the character in this that ‘...shines through most vividly’ as he provides the family’s back-story whilst chomping away on the memories Jared treasures the most. To me this device was so far beyond reality I found it mostly annoying, but not to the degree it detracted from an otherwise engaging tale. There’s much to recommend Vlahos’ effort here, not-the-least of which is that it gets us pondering on the dilemma of assisted death. This is an issue our nation is well behind the eight ball on compared to other more humane and compassionate societies. Books like ‘Life in a Fishbowl’ could help direct change.

The penny dropped for author Len V, struggling to write a novel for his own generation, when his wife asked why his obviously very worthy YA manuscript had a forty year old main protagonist. His re-drafting of it produced ‘The Scar Days’ and its follow-up ‘Scar Girl’. For his next publication, working on how Trump has divided the US, he’s re-inventing the Civil War, moving it to the near future where the coastal states battle it out against Middle America – the east and west littorals voted Hilary, the centre the Trumpster. Fingers crossed it doesn’t happen in reality as Donald seems intent in causing enough mayhem elsewhere in the world.

The author’s website –

Mr Salt Poses a Few Questions

Bernard has posed a few queries. A couple of them caused me to cast my mind back into the dim distant. And all because he reckoned he’d like to do a survey of centurions – no, not cricketers, but those who’ve reached a century of years. He has a series of probings he’d like to ask them. Reaching one’s hundredth birthday would be truly remarkable, but Salt states that one in a thousand of us do it. My physical health is okay, so I figure I am in with a chance. Maybe I’ll join the club – but would I want to? Well that’s another matter. But at this point in life, with thirty-five years to go, I’m already reckoning that my brain is turning to mush. Many, many memories are already lost to me – how many more will be gone after those three and a half decades? So, in case I do not get anywhere near it, I thought I’d respond to a few that he posed – the ones I’d mulled over in the days since his column appeared in the Australian’s weekend magazine insert. Maybe, if you also have the time to read this, you may also have the time to ponder on those questions as well – that is, if like me, you too have attained a goodly age. Or, on the other hand, maybe you may think that this silly old retired person has too many hours on his hands.

First Kiss? That’s clear as a bell in my synapses – even though it occurred an incredibly long time ago now, but then, it was my coming of age so to speak. I wish my mind was as clear about some of the other significant moments in my life. I had a youthful body once upon a time that had been thirsting for just that first kiss moment. Sandy, sweaty, salty – and it was totally, totally delicious. It set off all sorts of reactions. The local strand, two beach towels close together, a girl in a bikini wet from the sea. Bells and whistles. Fireworks.

Then there was another first kiss – decades further on and just as magically life affirming. Not a beach this time but a kitchen. That kiss has taken me to a very contented place in life in my autumn years – the opposite end of the journey I guess. The effect was just as the same as that very first time, but so very much more came of it.

Wedding Night? Now I am assuming, perhaps naively, that Mr Salt isn’t interested in any of the between the sheets stuff – but it did get me thinking. In recent years I’ve attended a goodly few weddings and they’re invariably magical events, none more so when my dear Kate and Rich made the commitment to their wonderful partners. It was at such an event that my brother seemed taken aback when I commented that I had only the very haziest of memory of his wedding many, many years ago now. It remains the case too with my own, as well as those of my other siblings. Numerous mates have been similarly wedded over the decades and there’s nothing there of those either. It’s as if, from the seventies to the nineties, my memory banks were in lock-down mode. That being said, I cannot conceive of my son’s or daughter’s ever disappearing for as long as I remain. And I had a ball at those ceremonies of my nieces and nephews in the new millennium, as well as those of some of my teaching colleagues. But maybe these will fade too. It saddens me that I’ve lost so much that’s clearly worth recalling.

Caused the Most Pain? There’s a simple answer to that. Death. Not only of those I’ve deeply loved in a personal capacity but, these days, it’s also the demise of many heroes of my generation – especially those of the musical variety. I’m rendered tearful, speechless and in need of time to get my emotions back in order.

The Best Decade? Well, that’s easy Mr Salt. This one. And it’s for the opposite of above – birth. This sexagenarian is incredibly blessed to be able to be around to see his granddaughters come into the world. A couple of days ago I was in Bridport, my second favourite place in the whole world, peering into the stunning blue eyes of Olivia, only a couple of months old, giving her her bottle. She fixated herself on me, her jaws working away at the teat, unwaveringly regarding me as if trying to work out where exactly I fitted in her ever expanding orb. She will work it out soon enough. My adored Tessa Tiger tells me in so many ways that I am important to her world and I feel so chuffed. My lovely lady’s two lads are descending on us for a few days over the Easter period and it will be such fun having them fill the house by the river with their zest and many, many charms. My Leigh is at her happiest when she is with those two little men. I find myself regarding babies and toddlers when I am out and about in Hobs, smiling at them, making eye contact. Maybe I’ll even pass on an appreciative comment to a parent about his or her tiny cherub. So yes, my old body isn’t what it used to be and clearly my mental acumen has gone down a notch or two, but having these four aforementioned small people around in my dotage – well, I wouldn’t be dead for quids. And how I’d love to live on and on to see their worlds unfold.

Happiest in my Life? Reading the above surely it is obvious. It really has to be the here and now, doesn’t it? As well as the love of those I hold most dear, I have our spot by the river here, my man cave, time and a gorgeous city to frequent. There’s a cruise beckoning as well as other trips beyond hazily forming, a ton of good books, DVDs to peruse and not even the woes of the Hawks can take away the pleasure of another footy season up and running. Man, am I ever lucky.

There are other questions that Bernard S requires answers to – but those will have to wait for another day. And the point of the exercise has been, as if I need reminding, that for all the awfulness on this planet, it is mainly filled with good people and they give to me far more than I could ever repay.

Bernard Salt’s column =

Winter's coming and I'm up for it

SAD. I used to discuss it with a wise and lovely woman who was once my boss, but is now my beautiful friend. We came to the conclusion that I had it – seasonal affective disorder – not badly, just a small dose. She advised me what to do about it. Winter weighed me down. Winter ate into my joints and my summertime sunny self struggled to get out. I became flat in the classroom. When the sun was shining in through the windows I’d bounce around, engaging with wackiness and unpredictability. It was so much harder in the cloudy chillsome months to get myself up, in both senses of the word, for a day fronting my cherubs.

But then I cruised on up the coast of Mangoland, retired and moved south with, as a result, the SAD in my life dissipating. Where once I dreaded the turning of the leaves, the cranking up of another footy season and moving from white to red in my wines, they became something to take to with some relish. Now the air off the Great Southern Ocean, if brisker, seemed lighter than when the westerlies blew in on northern environs – and don’t even mention those from the direction of the Tasman. It’s as if the Bass Strait salted brine was gathered up, on the air currents, to make the air thicker, coarser – seemingly confining my world and hunkering me down. Down here there’s a more nuanced tone to the winter atmosphere – it’s discernibly colder, but more alluring to the senses in spite of that.

I see now there is much to celebrate as autumn hands over to the darker days. Salads and spritzers are retired and replaced with roasts, hearty stews and darker ales. There’s a wood fire when I am on house sitting duties at Bridport and around this seaside ville there’s nothing quite as bracing as a beach walk to make one feel alive. Back home, one day we might have the Bridgewater jerry embracing the city in its whispy Siberian fingers, with the next seeing the atmosphere crystal clear, exposing a heavy layering of snow on kunanyi. If there’s icing as well atop Dromedary, out the back, then I know it’s going to be a four layer day rather than three – and that’s fine too. There are snugs in pubs where I can savour craft cider and beer, as well as my favourite cafés for a caffeine hit.

For a time, not so long ago, it seemed Hobart only came alive for the summer, remaining a backwater the remaining three seasons. Now, with the advent of Dark Mofo, a heady mix has been added to the numerous warmer weather festivals. I don’t think I’d ever freeze my goolies at the soltice nuddy swim or parade around an art gallery starkers, but there’s plenty for the less adventurous too. So all year round we, these days, find the CBD, the docks and Salamanca alive with activity. And I am out and about, too, at the time when the puffer jacket is king. With my favourite beanie pulled down low, my Mack boots – too stingy for Blunnies – replacing my treasured crocs and four layers adorning upper body, I may not be fashionable, but I’m ready for action – at a sedate pace, mind you. These wintry days, with single digit temps and exhaling frostified breath, I’m as happy as whoever Larry was.

And now that I can afford it, there’s an excursion, around the time the winter sun signals the solstice, to look forward to. It’s across the Strait to annually take in some Yarra City offerings. Usually I’m keen for the NGV Winter Masterpiece. Can’t wait for this year’s – Van Gogh. There’s footy at the ‘G or Etihad and there’s just wandering the streets, taking in the hipsters and the rest of the cosmopolitan mix, forever pointing my camera at something of interest. It’s no wonder that this city is considered by experts to be the world’s most liveable – and I cannot but agree with Clare Boyd-Macrae’s declaration that her city is at it’s most comely in the winter months.

But I have my own theory on liveability. Sorry Ms CBM – sure Melbourne’s great in winter, but thanks to Hobs, I’m not SAD anymore.

Clare Boyd-Macrae’e column =–now-its-melbournes-time-to-shine-20170411-gvilma.html

City of Friends – Joanna Trollope

For 76 year old Ms Trollope it must be akin to an older woman hard at work with her knitting needles, constructing yet another sweater for one of her umpteen family members or friends to see him or her through another winter. It’s done with love, but she’s been doing it for so long, that old darling, now into her own autumn years, that it’s almost rote. But, such is her skill, no two sweaters are exactly the same – there’s enough to differentiate this one from the countless others. There’s no pattern book spread out in front of her, it’s all done in the mind and it is always genuinely welcomed by its new owner, as have all those that have come before it.

For this reader and fan, delving into this title, Joanna Trollope’s twentieth, is akin to enveloping oneself in that knitted sweater for the first time. The reader/wearer knows it was put together with immense affection for him/her and despite being of the same basic material, it is known it will be of immense comfort during the days that lie ahead until winter, or indeed the novel, is finished with. Trollope tomes are brim full of that comfort and are never a demanding read by any stretch – sorry, there’ll be a few puns en route here. There are always underlying issues to be mulled over, but nothing too taxing as her characters, give or take a few foibles here and there, are usually pleasant people to be with. Why, they could be me or you.

There’s not a wide variance, therefore, between Joanna T’s best and worst. ‘City of Friends’ would sit somewhere in the middle and yep, it is exceptionally snug and congenial. It is one that will welcome you back into its pages, keeping you happy and content as you make the journey from cover to cover.

The titular city is London. The friends are Stacey, a high flying exec with an equity firm; Gaby, an investment banker; Melissa, a management consultant and Beth, an author and expert on human relations in the business world. And it’s very much work that defines these ladies. But having known each other since they were trail blazers, entering the hitherto male domain of studying economics back in the day, they are starting to find that, just when life should be going swimmingly for them after all the hard yards, their forties are not exactly turning out to be all beer and skittles. One has to cope with a hubby receiving a promotion on the very day she’s given her marching orders. She is fired for requesting more flexible working conditions. Another of our ladies is about to encounter stormy seas in her relationship with her younger same sex partner. One, partner-less, has to cope with her son reuniting with his birth father. The fourth major protagonist has a crisis of conscience at the situation one of her mates finds herself in, the other being reliant on this pal to exit her from potential penury

As we have come to expect from this seller of over seven million copies of her books over the years, Trollope manages to weave it all together so seamlessly there’s not a stitch out of place. The world will change for several of the quartet as they spread their wings to embrace new directions, once various crises have been averted or even succumbed to at first, but then conquered.

Despite the massive strides women have made for their betterment last century and into this one, we all know it is still hardly a level playing field. No matter how well educated or successful, they still have to struggle, whereas the male of the species sails through. The sewing together of career, marriage and motherhood remains fraught and few manage to do it all without some personal cost to one at least of those areas of life. This is the plight that is at the nub of Trollope’s oeuvre. Given that, the males involved here are also mainly sympathetic beings, despite one in particular being a really silly drip. The only truly odious personage is female – a manipulator trying to drive one of our career girls out of her home.

Twice divorced Trollope has plainly had her own tangles in life, but we trust she can continue to ply us with these sweaters of novels as they are generally purlers. She has, for decades, been casting them off, these darn good yarns (I know, cringe-worthy puns she would never stoop to) for many years to come.

Ms Trollope’s website =

Loving 'Loving'

He was the unlikeliest of civil rights heroes. For a start he was white – a taciturn bullfrog of a man, with little education and few words. Long gone now at the hands of a drunk driver, Richard Loving was what many would consider to be white southern trash, hailing as he did from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Loving adored cars, rot-gut whiskey and his Mildred. Only problem was, Mildred was black. In fact, back in the fifties/sixties, Loving was more at home in the company of her fellow coloureds than he was with his own people. Colour just wasn’t an issue for Richard. His own family had a ramshackle property down the end of a tobacco road and when Mildred announced to him, in trepidation, that she was pregnant, he knew what he had to do. He wasn’t dissuaded that it was illegal in his home state – he resolved to marry her and build her a new home on some land he’d been saving up for. He’d wed her in Washington where it was within the law and bring her back to their new love nest. Simple – or so he thought.

And they chose an Aussie to play him. I’ve heard that the reason for the current popularity of our actors in Hollywood is that they come to town ready to roll due to their solid grounding in the home grown industry; that they’re not prima donnas; that they’re never fazed by what’s required of them and they do accents well. Joel Edgerton had worked with director Jeff Nichols previously, in ‘Midnight Special’, so the guy at the helm was well versed in his capabilities. Joel did not let him down, earning a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal. His co-star did ditto, but went one better in winning. Many felt the Aussie’s performance was up there with Casey Affleck’s in ‘Manchester by the Sea’. I’d beg to differ, but nonetheless it was darn good. His gorgeous Mildred was played by Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian born Irish actress.

Soon after the start of ‘Loving’ we know that Richard has miscalculated – being legally married elsewhere does not change the law locally. The couple are quickly arrested and sent to the clink. They discover that, to avoid a lengthy sentence, they must move back to DC, something that rankles Mildred in particular. She writes to the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, to plead the wrongness of their situation, setting in motion a process that leads all the way to the Supreme Court. And the rest is history.

It’s Mildred who is eventually the proactive one of the pair; Richard remaining a reluctant partner in the proceedings and refusing to participate in any of them. He also forbids his wife, against her wishes. All of it is left up to the lawyers. It’s during the course of this journey that their humble home, which they have returned to on the quiet, is visited by a photographer from ‘Life’ magazine. Played by ‘Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon, he bonds with the couple and the resulting spread in the magazine goes a long way to pricking the nation’s conscience on the issue. The actors re-enact the informal session – and as the end credits appear, we receive the original up on screen. Its impact is palpable.

Nichols doesn’t over-egg his story; he lets it unfold slowly with Mildred growing in stature along with her confidence. But nothing changes Richard. The scene when he’s overwhelmed by the enormity with what’s occurring with him at the centre is one of this nuanced movie’s highlights. The only drawback for this viewer is that, at times, the distinctive southern drawl is so pronounced sub-titles are almost required. With some of the characters I missed whole slabs of conversation.

It seems that, as they weren’t in the public view as the various court cases in their name took place, history, until this film, has largely forgotten about the Lovings. It’s sad that neither survived to see it reach the big screen, as at least one member from the women who made up the concurrent ‘Hidden Figures’ managed. ‘Loving’ is a tale of a simple love story having profound implications – of ordinary people, through their stubbornness and resilience, changing our world for the better.

Official Trailer =