Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Blue Room’s Year in Books 2017

Retirement should have seen me ploughing through the library of books I purchased, in my last few years of teaching, to tide me through when I’d be time rich and too financially poor to be handing over any extra dosh on new releases, or so I’d assumed. I didn’t foresee that, as far as the latter was concerned, I would be comfortably placed, nor that Hobs and multiple televsion platforms would offer me a rich menu from which to choose alternate experience. So I am still roughly reading the same amount of books per year as in my teaching days, as well as coping with being frustrated that favourite authors continue to produce enticing titles – and rave reviews being handed to some new to me. I just can’t help myself. I keep on buying so said library remains in credit at roughly the same amount. I’m not sure whether that is a positive or a negative as far as time management is concerned. All I know is that I am more than happy with my lot in life – and reading great books just enhances it.

So these are the cream of what I picked up in the last twelve months and delighted in consuming:-

1. ‘The Music Shop’ – Rachel Joyce. A tale for all of us who find it hard to give up the way we’ve always done something to embrace new technology, only to discover the what used to be finds a way through in any case. This was just a whimsical delight from cover to cover – one of those lovely, lovely reads you hope will never end.

2. ‘The Reason You’re Alive’ – Matthew Quick. Who’d have thought a potty-mouthed Vietnam vet could be such a sweetheart underneath all his bluff, bluster and cussin’.

3. ‘Commonwealth’ – Ann Patchett. As with Quick and Joyce, I was new to Ms Patchett’s work, but her tale of familial dysfunction won me over. I’ll be a customer of hers in future, along with the above.

4. ‘Hold’ – Kirsten Tranter. There’s an unexpected death and the rebuilding of a life, with a little assistance from the surreal.

5. ‘Full Bore’ – William McInnes. Always terrific for a good hearty chortle and the former ‘SeaChange’ heartthrob duly delivers.

6. ‘The Dry’ – Jane Harper. Kudos for having your first book, as an Aussie author, optioned by a Hollywood studio. Whether it ends up on the screen or not, this outback police procedural is a dash good read.

7. ‘The Things We Promise’ – JC Burke. The scourge of AIDS is sweeping the globe and it gets up close and personal for Oz YA heroine Gemma.

8. ‘Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy. Hollywood has gotten hold of this novel too, but it’s already been cast. Another feisty teenage heroine, in Willowdean, has the odds stacked against her from the get-go. Can she overcome them? You bet she’ll have a darn good try.

9. ‘Goodwood’ – Holly Throsby. The songsmith demonstrates she’s perfectly adept with wordsmithery, as well, with this very fine coming of age tale.

10. ‘The Rules of Backyard Cricket’ – Jock Serong. You do not have to be a fan of leather on willow to enjoy this slice of Aussie life from Serong.

Hms to Joanna Trollope (Circle of Friends), Jock Serong (On the Java Ridge), Julie Murphy (Ramona Blue), Len Vlahos (Life in a Fishbowl), Roxane Gay (Hunger- a Memoir for My Body), Andrew Daddo (One Step), Laura Barnett (Greatest Hits), Michael Robotham (The Secrets She Keeps), Lee Battersby (Magrite) and TC Boyle (Terranauts)

The Blue Room’s Pick of the Movies of 2017

They bickered on amicably, the late night radio host and his regular guest – the film critic. They know each other well – they have been during this weekly encounter over the air waves for years. I know. I’ve been listening in. Just before Christmas they were discussing their respective top films of the year. When the radio guy cited his, his mate, the expert, claimed it was ineligible, being a nominee for the golden man for 2016. The host was outraged. Why, it hadn’t been released in Oz before this new year and that was when he had viewed it. The guest stuck to his guns, eventually forcing his mate, by asserting his expertise in the area, to make another selection. So, in my choice for my numero uno, I have failed to concede the point and you, dear reader, may take umbrage if you wish. So, with one of the first movies I viewed in 2017 atop, here are my favoured 10 for the last twelve months:-

1. ‘Manchester by the Sea’ (US) – the bleakest of films with the bleakest of men in the lead. But never, in my experience, has any lead been more deserving of an Oscar.

2. ‘A Country Doctor’ (France) – doing what the French do best – weaving their magic on all forms of love. Here I, like the lonely doctor, was smitten by the leading lady.

3. ‘A Man Called Ove’ (Sweden) – a Scandi-farce that tugs at the heartstrings.

4. ‘Rosalie Blum’ (France) – never has plain been so beautiful.

5. ‘The Big Sick’ (US) – cross-cultural love woven beautifully in a tender rom-com with depth and heart.

6. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ (UK) – an Old Blighty weepie and so what if it’s not all strictly true to history.

7. ‘Jasper Jones’ (Australia) – home-grown and doing justice to Craig Silvey’s remarkable novel.

8. ‘Perfect Strangers’ (Italy) – a tale of a dinner party gone horribly wrong. For heaven’s sake hang on to your mobiles.

9. ‘Franz’ (France) – Ozon in top form in this post-war melodrama featuring possibly the word’s most gorgeous man.

10. ‘Denial’ (UK/USA) – mix a riveting courtroom drama, a holocaust naysayer, Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson and we’re reminded what to never allow to happen again.

HMs – ‘Fences’, ‘ La La Land’, ‘My Cousin Rachel’

Turkey – ‘A Ghost Story’.

The Age critics top 10 films for 2017 – 1. ‘Moonlight’, 2. ‘Get Out’, 3. ‘Dunkirk’, 4. ‘Manchester by the Sea’, 5. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Lady Macbeth’, ‘Toni Erdmann’ (three-way tie), 8. ‘A Ghost Story’, 9. ‘Land of Mine’, 10. ‘Colossal’.

2017 – Twelve Months in the Year of Wonder Weeks

1. It was in the toilets at the State Cinema in Hobart that I came unstuck. I’d just watched ‘Manchester by the Sea’. Has Hollywood ever made a sadder film? Has there ever been a sadder or more riveting acting performance than Casey Affleck’s as the film’s Chandler, the stuffing knocked out of him by an event no right-minded human could recover from? Although I managed to hold it together pretty well during the course of the viewing of the sombre beyond sombre movie, I was still pretty fragile as I entered the loos – you see I was also waiting on news of another event occurring in our second city. Just as I was tidying myself up my mobile vibrated – a photo had come down out of the ether. It was of my son nursing a tiny human, just hours old. Our beloved Ollie. I melted into a sob, given the beauty of that image on top of the subject matter of that film.
Ten months on Olivia Joan Alwyn is still rattling the emotions. She is gorgeous, delightful and it’s all wrapped up in one sweet package. Always smiling, always animated; tended to dotingly by my Rich and his amazing wife, I am completely besotted. Not one now but two precious granddaughters – and with Leigh’s Brynner and Tobias, this old fella feels he has been completely blessed. And to cap the year off, Ollie has had my son’s workplace’s brand new giant barge named after her.

2. My lovely lady and I have lost two of the dearest of dear friends this year to unforgiving cancers. Both were larger than life, totally generous to their communities; both now so missed by those who loved them – and both avid Collingwood. Part of me will be willing Buckley’s men (and now women) on to glory in 2018 in their memory. And my son, gifted his Ollie earlier in the year, has grieved the loss of his constant companion down through not always easy years. Our Oscar, a dog of little intelligence, but whose love knew no bounds, went to doggie heaven in ’17.

3. For a few minutes rock legend Jimmy Barnes, the gruff Glasgow belter, met Tessa Tiger as she held out her copy of his ‘Och Aye the G’nu’ children’s book for him to sign. Tess had waited patiently, in a long line, for her turn to be in the presence of one of our certified national treasures and he was just so lovely with her, gently probing her about her reaction to the book. Knowing the joys of grandfatherhood himself, he smiled for our cameras with our own certified treasure by his side. The icing for me came later – a ticket to see his ‘Working Class Man’ show early in the new year, courtesy of Rich, Shan and Ollie.

4. If, in 2016, we lost an unimaginable array of celebrity to death, 2017 was the year of notable retirement – John Clark’s loss, though, was nonetheless keenly felt. George Gently has retired from our small screen, with some legends of the AFL hanging up their boots. I’ll miss Hodge conducting affairs from down back next year, but the General isn’t completely lost yet. But undoubtedly the person I will lament most of all will be Martin Flanagan, retiring from the Age to also sample the joys of being a grandfather in more depth. His columns, whether they be thoughtful pieces about the native game, humane scribings on the wider world or delicate renderings of his own family life – well, he is simply irreplaceable.

5. Footy gave us two great stories this year – a Tigers premiership and the introduction of AFLW. Clarkson went for youth mid-2017, turned it around and gave me hope for the mint new season. And, yay, the Ashes are back where they belong.

6. My beautiful writerly daughter, over the last twelve months. gave me the immense pleasure of reading several very impressive manuscripts. She’s up for a big award in a month or so – fingers crossed – and has four books slated for publication in ’18.

7. If ever I wished I had my camera in hand it was when staring down at a branch overhanging Sister’s Creek, near where it enters the sea, that sunny spring morning. Brilliantly perched on it was an azure kingfisher, sightings of which, I later discovered from the locals, were as rare as hens’ teeth. For a time the brightly-hued bird seemed to be resting, but then suddenly it dove into the tannin-laced water and reemerged, returning to its perch with a small fish frenetically wriggling in its beak. The avian was soon up and away, though, darting out of sight. Before that it was a magic moment on one of my extended venturings this year to the homelands of the North West Coast. The visits themselves were emotional roller coasters for all sorts of reasons, but there were immense positives to them as well. My dear mother, as a result of one of them, is now a resident of an aged-care facility where the well-being of its clientele is their utmost concern and she is content. After a life-time of looking after others, now there are lovely professionals doing the looking after of this precious person. On another visit I was entrusted the care of a new canine mate, Sandy the Spoodle and I enjoyed his company very much, as I am with Summer and Bronson as I write this at year’s end. Thank you to Kim and Ruth, Phil and Julie. And always it is a delight to reacquaint myself with Memphis and Leopold on my visits to Briddy. One trip also gave me the opportunity to spend a generous amount of time with my much loved sister – that was a blessing I hope can be repeated in ’18.

8. As I try to keep things positive, the least said at year’s end about Trump the better. But Paul McGeough ‘s reporting, for Fairfax, on the USA’s most odious president ever was, to say the least, illuminating.

9. Turnbull’s complete lack of spine continues to infuriate, but at least we had a joyful outcome from the staggeringly stupid same-sex marriage plebiscite. And for that my two unlikely political figures of the year are Warren Etsch, who fought for it for so long against the hard right dinosaurs of his party, as well as Dean Smith, the low-flying, unassuming conservative MP who drafted the legalising bill.

10. This year I finally signed off on one of my retirement bucket-list items by watching the final episode of the final season of ‘The West Wing’. What’s next? I thought it would have been ‘The Sopranos’, but it now may well be ‘Dexter’. Thanks Rich.

11. In all sorts of ways, mainly due to my excursions north, I’ve encountered former students from my teaching time. On Facebook, around hospital wards, in retail outlets – even in a doctor’s surgery and a real estate office – it’s been a joy to hear their stories and to see them turn out so marvellously.

12. My lovely lady and I went on a cruise to tropical destinations back in August. I adore doing stuff with her and I am eagerly looking forward to venturing back up to Mangoland in her company in the mint new year, She is the centre of my existence; her sage advice being of immense value during the last twelve months when, for the first time, I have felt, on occasions, genuinely old. But I know, with her by my side, living is always a joy.

The Blue Room’s Best Television 2017

According to the pundits we are in a golden age of television. Quality, quantity and multiple platforms make it so. Our personal viewing habits have been enhanced this year by the recent addition of Netflix and Stan to our own platforms. Already we have enjoyed ‘Riverdale’ (S1 and 2 – the Archie Comics for the digital age), ‘Stranger Things (S2 – I adore the kids), Billions (S2 – Wall Street machinations) and ‘Designated Survivor (S1 – ‘West Wing’ on steroids). SBS on Demand remains a cornucopia of delights – ‘Angelby’ and ‘Blue Eyes’ being engrossing shows viewed there.

There were still many old favouties we continued to savour on free-to-air, including ‘Cold Feet’ (7two), ‘800 Words’ (Seven), ‘Doctor Doctor (Nine), Offspring, Graham Norton (Ten), Michael Portillo’s train trips around the UK and US, ‘Vikings’ (SBS), ‘DCI Banks’, ‘Would I Lie To You’ (ABC) – the list goes on. Sadly we said goodbye to ‘George Gently’ (ABC) and ‘The Legacy’ (SBS) in ’17. The jury is still out on ‘Offspring’. The Doctor Blake Mysteries’ is, inexplicably, about to leave Auntie (the ABC’s constant quest to appeal to a younger demographic?) and cross on over to the dark side, but his Cornish medical colleague, ‘Doc Martin’, thankfully keeps rolling on. There was the terrific ‘Girl Asleep’ telemovie (ABC), as well as two excellent and moving episodes of ‘Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery’ (ABC), featuring Sam Neill and Colin Hay.

But there were standout shows, with these being the best to reach me the old fashioned way in the last twelve months:-

1. ‘The Young Pope’ (SBS) – it was a hard call for top possie, but this just pipped the following, possibly only because it was new to our screens. Jude Law was exceptional.

2. ‘Fargo’ (SBS) – just gets better and better. In Series 3 Ewan McGregor is terrific larking about relishing his double adventures in frosty Minnesota.

3. ‘This is Us’ (Ten) – sadly the struggling network cannot afford to renew this potential American classic with a heart of gold.

4. ‘The Handmaids Tale’ (SBS) – Elisabeth Moss has been touted as the first superstar of the television medium for the new century. What a CV – ‘The West Wing’, ‘Mad Men’, ‘Top of the Lake’ and now an out and out bleak masterpiece. Is this what the US will resemble post-Trump?

5. ‘Victoria’ (ABC) – Rufus Sewell steals the show as Lord Melbourne, but overall a biopic to relish.

6. ‘Unforgotten’ (ABC) – a police procedural with a stellar cast, including Nicola Walker, Sanjeev Bhuskar, Trevor Eve and Tom Courtney. More of it is coming. Let’s hope it’s here for the long haul.

7. ‘Simon Reeves Turkey’ (SBS) – he’s always compassionate, is this guy. In Turkey he demonstrates the humanity of the country which gives its refugees hope, so unlike our callous overlords who deprive them of even a glimmer.

8 ‘Back’ (ABC) – David Mitchell in rude form in the best new comedy of the year for my money. It’s coming back too.

9. ‘Spring Tide’ (SBS) – a pregnant lady’s tortured death on an isolated beach is the cue for more impressive Scandi-noir’

10. ‘Utopia’/’Rosehaven’ – just two words – Celia Pacquola

During 2017, with ‘The Crown’, we watched, on DVD, the most expensive television ever made, being wholly caught up in it. Season 2 is now showing on Netflix. Watch both if you can.


She did it in a rush. She was trembling, her fingers shaking as she undid various buttons and unhooked clips. Me? I was gobsmacked. Off came her clothes. All of them. She had barely followed me in the door of my hotel room and there she was, completely bare with arms spread wide. I’d hoped that something akin to what suddenly occurred may have happened down the track that night. For me there was no rush. She obviously noticed me looking at her like a stunned mullet. ‘Well,’ she ventured, ‘I am forty-two. This body has very much seen better days. Had I waited till later on, I might have lost my nerve and then where would I be? So, mister, here I am, warts and all. If you don’t like what you see, I’ll put them all back on and call a taxi for home. Just say the word.’

Stevie looked at me defiantly. After I didn’t utter anything – I was speechless – she came across to where I was, put her arms around me, pressed herself against me and whispered, ‘I will go, you know, if you don’t want me.’

She had her answer soon enough. I may have been initially taken aback. But at forty two she still looked pretty darn good to me that surprising evening, all those years ago, in 2004. She still does, where we are now, in 2017. But Stevie and me, well we go way, way back – back to the mists of time. I first laid eyes on her in 1977 – aeons ago. It was at school – Camberwell High in Melbourne, to be exact. That’s forty years ago now. My Stevie, gifted back to me by a chance meeting on a tram and a mutual love of a song. I hope you’ll enjoy our story.

Of course Stevie isn’t my love’s real name. She’d kill me if she discovered I was blogging this. Well that’s my intention anyway. We’ll see how it turns out. Perhaps, like her fear that auspicious night, I’ll lose my nerve. It’s our story and I know I have to be careful with it, but I want to write it down. I’m not getting any younger. If I lose my marbles one day, well, I’ll have it at my fingertips to remind me of my remarkable Stevie, the woman I am now blessed to live with; to share my life with. So here is how we came to be.

Let’s return to that wonderful reconnecting we engaged in back in ’04, to that night of surprises. After the concert we headed to Hardware Street for some late night tucker. Most of the restaurants were still going and we just ordered some mains and a wine in the first likely establishment we came to. At some stage I was going to pop the question – something to the effect about whether she’d like to share a cab with me back to Southbank, where my room was, in one of the high rises there. In fact, we had barely started when she broached the subject with me, ‘Just let me get this clear. You are expecting me to come back to your room after this, aren’t you?’
‘Well yes, the thought did occur to me.’
‘Thank heavens. I didn’t want to start eating all nervous about your intentions. Now I can relax and enjoy the meal. And just for your information, mister, yes I would love for you to invite me back for a coffee. The sooner the better.’

The disrobing on her part, once back there, was brave, I later thought. I know it must have taken some doing given how nervous she was, although she was a tad lubricated by a tasty wine at our repast earlier, as I was. I was due to fly back to Sydney the following day and Stevie spent it all with me – more about that anon – until I was due to leave for Tullamarine. I promised to return to her as soon as I could see my way clear. She replied that she wasn’t going anywhere and she had my details to keep in touch. I was back down the following weekend.

We’re excited, Stevie and I. They’ve just announced when the tickets go on sale They’re touring. It may well be their last hurrah with the line-up that once took the world by storm. For old time’s sake we’ve decided to go to Melbourne to see them – and stay in the same hotel as that night. I wonder if we can get the same room? And, even better, there will be none of this on-line nonsense to get said tickets. I have my connections. Boy do I have my connections. And to think, without those guys, who will again be up on stage in 2018, I may never have reconnected with Stevie.

That following weekend, the one back last decade, rushed as it was, sealed the deal. That chance meeting the previous year, towards the end of ’03, caused us to make a pact to see the band when they toured in the new year. And then, and then, ….no, lets start where the story begins before we get to that. As I said, Stevie and I first encountered each other in our high school days.

Back in ’77 I was 17, she 15. I played guitar, lead guitar. She had a voice, a very fine voice. And for a brief six months or so our paths crossed for the first time – they weren’t to do so, if I have my maths right, for another twenty-six years.

Mr Shaw was my music teacher. He started teaching me the guitar when he discovered my infatuation with Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. I took to it like a duck takes to water and for a while there it totally dominated my life. Every spare minute was given over to practice. Old Mr Shaw reckoned I was a natural, but a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears went into attaining that aptitude, let me tell you. The music teacher soon formed a band around my eventual prowess and we belted out covers for school socials and various student parties around Camberwell. By the time we were in Year 11 we were a fairly tight unit and making a little dosh around the local scene as well. Danny was on bass, Kev on rhythm with Charlie on drums. The latter doubled as our vocalist as he had the strongest set of pipes, but found keeping the beat going and screeching out the lyrics meant he sometimes got himself into a tangle, but generally it worked. He was fine when a song really rocked, but when something slower was called for he was pretty hopeless. Charlie was also making a bit of a name for himself around the traps for being wild. He was into booze and possibly drugs –I wasn’t into either, but as long as he turned up ready to play I didn’t care. He always did. Why am I telling you so much about Charlie? You’ll see soon enough. He, as it turned out, was the only one from the band who did make a bit of a name for himself musically down through the decades. He was regarded as being reliable and not too shabby behind the drum kit, being a go to man, for a while there, for people such as James Reyne, and Darryl Braithwaite whenever they went on tour. He still drums, off and on, around Melbourne these days even though he’s getting on a bit. Aren’t we all? To be fair, as well as with the utmost humility, I was the one most likely to make a real name for myself out of us group of Camberwell lads, but life took me in another direction.

When it became a hit, the song, so unlike what I usually gravitated towards, stuck – I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted to add it to the band’s repertoire, but patently none of us had the voice to do it justice. We knew, though, it was the perfect song when it came time for something slower, when those on the floor required a little body on body with their dance partners. In short, we needed a female voice. And Mr Shaw came up trumps with this too once he knew of my rapture with the tune. And the song has lasted down the decades to become it’s author’s signature show-stopper, whenever she tours solo or with the group. By now I suspect you are putting two and two together given dates, the name I’ve allocated to she who should not be named and other clues. Yes, of course, it’s ‘Rhiannon ‘.

And the girl the music teacher found for us – yep, she became my Stevie. But back then, well let’s just say it took more than a while in coming. And if I was born to play guitar, the Year 9 girl was born to sing. Stevie Nicks had a celestial quality that her namesake lacked, but my Stevie had a powerful voice for more ballady stuff and, it turned out, loved backing up Charlie with the rockier tunes. It was evident that she was a good fit for us, although initially she could only perform at school events, being somewhat younger than the rest of the band. Despite this, it was fair to say I was smitten not only with her voice, but also by the girl herself, from the get-go.

As hard as it might seem for you now who know me, back then I was a quiet, reserved chap who only really felt alive when on stage. I had a long standing battle with acne that took until well into my twenties to get on top of. And it took until the same stage of my life to have any sort of girlfriend at all. Despite my high profile in the place, I wasn’t amongst the cool set at Camberwell – unlike Charlie. And guess what? The younger version of Stevie wasn’t backward in making her feelings known for Charlie. She seemed to relish the fact he was a bit of a lad – and pretty soon they were an item, one of the school’s golden couples. The only time I got to spend with her alone was when, on occasions, we caught the same tram trundling down the hill into the centre of Camberwell. Occasionally I’d invite her to have a coffee with me and occasionally she’d accept, allowing me to buy her a milkshake. But all she ever wanted to talk about was Charlie. So really I stood no chance – even more so with what my parents had in store for me.

And the relationship between Charlie and Stevie stood the test of time, as later I was to discover. Turns out they eventually married, but again I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the months that I knew her, in my dreams and even in my waking hours, I plotted and plotted, trying to figure out how I could convince Stevie I was the better catch. But like me with her, she was completely gone over him – and in his own way, it was reciprocated, even if at times I thought he treated her badly.

As for the song, well ‘Rhiannon’ soon became our most requested number, thanks to Stevie making it her own. We’d often perform it several times a night. Sometimes, just sometimes, it sounded almost as good as when the Mac did it. Couples out on the dance floor would entwine their bodies around each other to the tune – the teachers present having a hard time keeping a lid on it all so they didn’t become too heated. It saddened me we couldn’t perform it when we attained an engagement outside of school. I do look back on those times fondly, despite my lack of success wooing Stevie. But, at the end of the year, came the bombshell. My dear Dad received a promotion in the public service. He was being transferred to Canberra and I would complete my schooling in that city. My future lay, not with music, or so I thought, but with a law degree at ANU. So my farewell to the band was at the Year 12 leavers dinner – a gig without Stevie. I was not to see any more of her for decades.

Yes, it is starting to drag out, our saga, isn’t it? Well, to cut a long story short, a chance meeting in a pub with Michael Gudsinski caused me to throw in my dreary job in a Canberra legal practice and join him at Mushroom. He wanted someone with legal expertise on his team, so I was back with music in a way. For a time I was based down in Melbourne. I was still single so I did ask around my few remaining contacts from those school days as to what became of Stevie. I discovered that she and Charlie were hitched with a child – so that’s as far as I took it. By this stage my love life had improved, but nothing long-term came of any of my relationships. Perhaps I chose the wrong type of women – usually they were as career obsessed as I was and none were prepared to put me above their ambitions. It was very early on that Michael G offered me a position in his Sydney office, with an improved salary, so I could enjoy the harbour city’s lifestyle – which I did so in spades. I admit a few years up there saw me succumb to what I had disdained with Charlie all those years ago, but by the time Stevie and I re-discovered each other I had sorted myself out and despite my advancing years, I was rather a good catch, if I say so myself. Still, I couldn’t get a relationship to stick. On the other hand, business-wise, eventually I was confident enough and had enough connections to strike out on my own. I became a booking agent too, concentrating on tours to regional centres by domestic acts. Occasionally I’d come across Charlie and he seemed more settled. When ever I inquired after Stevie the refrain was always ‘She’s fine.’ As it turns out – she wasn’t.

But still, with me there was a hole to fill. I had friends a-plenty and my social life was hectic. I wanted to slow down, but coming home to an empty apartment night after night was getting to me. Try as I might, mostly I existed on a fodder of one night stands as mostly the women I was attracted to were married and unavailable. Those that consented to some fun and games with me never displayed any intention of choosing me for the long term over their hubbies. I’d left my run too late to ever attain for myself a life partner, or so I figured.

Business often took me to Melbourne and on that fateful day in 2003, at a loose end, just for the hell of it, I decided to take the No.72 out to my old stomping ground around Camberwell and Canterbury Hill. I had in mind a wander around my former school just to see how the years had treated it – but I never made it. I wasn’t very far into the journey – my conveyance was just starting to slowly lurch along Swan Street – when I noticed a woman, who looked familiar, hop on board, loaded up with shopping. She was accompanied by a younger lass. Then it dawned on me – I soon became sure it was her. She sported almost the same blonde bob, was a little fuller in the face and, as would be natural, carried a little more weight (which suited her) – but I needed to be closer to really tell. The eyes – her doe-like brown eyes would be the giveaway. I manoeuvred myself along the tram to a closer proximity just as she turned to look back down towards me. Our eyes met, but she displayed no signs of recognition, but I knew. I knew – and I also knew I couldn’t leave it at that. There was a spare seat in front of where they were. I moved myself to it. Then I turned and faced her.

She looked at me blankly. It was definitely her, but she turned back to her younger friend and continued conversing with her. Rude, I know, but I continued staring. She revolved around and asked, ‘Is there a problem?’ I just smiled and said, ‘I think we know each other.’ She looked at me – and then she smiled. ‘Bill. Well I never.’

It was stilted at first, partially due to another person being present as the tram rattled along. But I soon discovered that the younger one was her daughter – the daughter of Stevie and Charlie. Now it would have been magic if her name had of been Rhiannon. It wasn’t, but we’ll call her that.

All too soon we were at her stop and Stevie started to gather up her shopping gear. She said her farewells to Rhiannon who was obviously continuing on – I later discovered she lived further out along the line. Then she turned to me and asked ‘Are you coming? Have you time for a coffee?’ I didn’t need much convincing, I knew it was now or never. I was up like a flash following her off the No.72.

We found a cafe nearby and took a table. There was the question I was dying to ask so I got it out of the way early. No they weren’t. She and Charlie were no longer married; hadn’t been for a while. Seemed the drummer was on the road as often as he was home – and we all know about the temptations of that road. He had grown up a lot, she said, being off the booze and the drugs. But she came to suspect, after a while, that all wasn’t well with their relationship. He was restless. Then, by accident, she found out about a mysterious woman in Sydney and when push came to shove, he wanted to start anew with her. She grimaced as she told me that woman later moved south and it is all very amicable – but I sensed it wasn’t that simple. The next question – was there anyone else in her life? She shook her head to that, with a quizzical smile on her lips. We chatted away for an hour or more before she informed me that she should make a move. I asked if we could keep in touch. Then my insider knowledge kicked in. The Mac were coming early in the new year. Would she like to accompany me if I could arrange tickets. I thought they wouldn’t be a problem. I was owed a few favours. We agreed to meet in Melbourne on the day of the event.

Over the time I spent with her that day and subsequent emails and telephone calls I was able to fill in some of her back story. She obviously still lived in Camberwell, she hadn’t strayed far from her roots. Her singing, like my guitaring, had floundered, but she had her other charms so it seemed. She was outgoing, attractive and never left you wondering – as I was to find out. Soon, after leaving school, she realised she had a talent for selling. First she was in real estate, then she got into car dealership.. Back then she was floor manager for one of those fancy outlets for expensive European cars you see at the city end of Swan Street. She still saw a bit of Charlie in the interests of Rhiannon, but increasingly less so as their daughter formed a life of her own. He was contentedly married to his Sydney lady, semi-retired from the drum kit.

Fast forward to the following year and I jetted down to Melbourne the day before the concert and Stevie cooked a meal for me in her home that night. With a few reds imbibed it started to feel as if we were clicking. On entry she had pecked me on the cheek. On departure, the lips. That was progress, I thought.

It was a hybrid Mac we saw that next night. They were missing Christine McVie and it showed on a few songs. ‘Rhiannon’ featured quite early on and as the real Stevie’s ethereal voice rang out, my Stevie reached for my hand. She held it throughout the rest of the performance. In the back of the taxi from our Hardware Street meal to my hotel we again kissed, but this time she wasn’t so chaste. I had a feeling I was in for a lovely night. And then once in my room, with the skyline of the city shining in…well, you know what happened.

We kept the curtains open so her body was bathed in a diffused glow as we made love for the first time. We petted and caressed until it was time for her to guide me into another site that made me glow in turn. I felt I had found a place I wanted to be forever. I was soon to discover it was reciprocated. After check out time the following morning we taxied back to her place and spent most of the day in bed, getting to know each other intimately, until all too soon it was flight time. For the first time I thought I had someone in my arms who wouldn’t place me second to a career – and so it has turned out.

We commuted between the two cities for another twelve months or so until Stevie made the decision to move permanently up to Sydney. These days I’ve wound down the business and she’s no longer involved with flashy cars. We enjoy the lifestyle a city that never sleeps has to offer and Rhiannon is a frequent guest. And next year, in 2018, Stevie N will sing that song one more time in Oz, in Melbourne. We will feel, no doubt sitting there, that she’ll be singing it just for us.

Author’s note – the nub of this story came to me on a recent trip to Melbourne. On late night commercial radio the host asked his audience to ring in with any unusual tales about how they came to be with their partners. One guy told the story of how he and his wife had been friends at school, but drifted apart afterwards, wedded and raised children before each one’s marriage went sour. They reconnected on a tram taking them both into the city to see Fleetwood Mac. I took it from there.

A Long Weekend at Pat’s

On the Java Ridge – Jock Serong, The Reason You’re Alive – Matthew Quick

Going to Pat’s; being at my lovely Leigh’s mother’s place, has its fair share of pleasures. Apart from my hand-held device, I know I am going to have days largely free from the digital age. There is also only a single platform with which to engage with the television. And in this golden period of that format, that has its upside. Pat also knows how to tempt me with old-fashioned culinary delights such as sugar free rhubarb, stewed pears and trifle – so I know there’s always tasty fare awaiting. Often Pat and Leigh will head out on shopping expeditions, take in a movie or go visiting extended family, leaving me home alone. So all that, together with an accommodating guest room to retreat to, allows me ample opportunity to write and read without distraction. So the last time we visited, as well as putting to paper a story I’ve had floating around in my synapses for some time, I managed to read two rip-snorter novels in, for me, super quick time.

The lesser of the excellent pair was Jock Serong’s ‘On the Java Ridge’; a riveting and rollicking read, even if at the heart of the matter was our abysmal treatment of many poor souls who dare to attempt to improve life for themselves and family by seeking refuge on our shores Their misfortune is to come by sea.

Cassius Calvert is our Minister for Border Integrity. Initially he’s a carbon copy of the odious Dutton, seemingly without one jot of humanity in his heart. With an election coming up Calvert is introducing tough new measures to even further strengthen our security, which, by now, is largely in the hands of a secretive private concern. Of course that’s a sure vote winner if all goes according to plan. It doesn’t.

Meanwhile, out to sea, a collision of sorts is taking place. A state of the art bugi pinisi schooner – look them up, they’re amazing Indonesian vessels – is transporting a group of surfers to a dot in the ocean not far from Ashmore Reef. Heading that way too is the ‘Tukalar’, full of refugees, including a Hazara girl, Roya. With wild weather approaching, Isi Natoli, the skipper of the former boat, seeks shelter at a nearby coral atoll. The storm smashes Roya’s dodgy vessel into the coral outcrops surrounding the safe haven. Isi coordinates the rescue of the survivors, giving them what succor she can from the wealth of supplies in her stores. Luckily she has a doctor on board to assist with the injured.

Little do those struggling out in the ocean realise that this event has triggered a crisis for Calvert to handle. How his government does so is preposterous in the extreme – but then again, once upon a time our country’s present treatment of asylum seekers would have seemed totally at odds with any notion of ‘a fair go’ this nation prides itself on.

The tale is told from the points of view of the aforementioned protagonists, the only downer being the shocking and unexpected conclusion to the saga. But, I guess, sadly with it Serong makes his point. I loved this author’s previous title, ‘The Rules of Backyard Cricket’, but he has written a different beast here. I wonder what’s next for Jack? Whatever he tackles, I’ll be waiting with my hard-earned in hand.

As good a read as the Aussie author’s was, Matthew Quick’s ‘The Reason You’re Alive’ topped it – what an ace novel. It may well be my book of the year. That will take much ruminating, so we’ll see.

This writer’s claim to fame is that he penned the title which became that wonderful film ‘The Silver Lining’s Playbook’. Knowing how much I adored that, darling daughter gave me his latest title as a birthday gift. I was hooked right from page one through to its not so shocking nor unexpected ending. That being said, though, there were more than enough surprises en route – but, be warned, the language from the old fella, the main character – a true scene stealer – is rather fruity.

Yep, I became very enamoured of Vietnam vet David Grainger. He’s an ornery curmudgeon, initially resembling an American Alf Garnett for the digital age. He intensely hates Obama and any governmental interference in his life. Also, on his hit list, are Muslims, his son’s Dutch wife and the ‘gooks’ he fought against in the conflict. No doubt he would have loved Trump as much as he does his guns and the camouflage he chooses to wear in his daily life.

Yet Grainger is surprisingly an easy guy to fall in love with, just as long as you don’t have to live with him. Very early on his touching relationship with granddaughter Ella softens his tough facade. Despite being outwardly homophobic, racist and a misogynist, he has a special relationship with a gay man as well as a woman of Asian extraction. He fervently dislikes his son’s girly-man demeanour, but as we turn the pages, there comes a semblance of a bond. An accident and brain surgery has left ol’ Dave largely reliant on others – and there’s a wrong to be righted revolving around the mysterious Clayton Fire Bear. As well, his beloved wife’s demise weighs mightily on his mind, as does the destruction of her art work

Miramax has already optioned ‘The Reason You’re Alive’ for a proposed movie. Who could play our anti-hero? Jack Nicholson? Jeff Bridges? Bill Murray? Fingers crossed it makes it to the big screen, I’ll certainly be lining up. Not all went well for me on this latest trip to Pat’s, but with such addictive books to read and my lovely lady keeping a good eye on me, I was in the best of hands.

An interview with Jock Serong =

Matthew Quick’s website =

Taking All Things French With a Dose of Salt

As I was about to depart to a part of France I decided to get into the mood. No, it wasn’t to be, sadly and unlike Bernard Salt, the City of Love where I was headed to, nor was it to the Riviera, nor the Normandy Coast. No, not even Provence. But I was soon to be promenading around the streets of a French city, nonetheless.

As with BS, I’d also hopefully be people watching in that city as well – ideally from a sidewalk cafe as French speakers strutted by. But I differ from Mr Salt in that I am as far removed from being a follower of fashion as it is possible to get. But, with my gorgeous lady helping out, I intended to be at least spiffy for the occasion in an attempt to be worthy of being by her side as she accompanied me down the rues of said city. So, no, I wouldn’t be disporting in my crocs, as much as I might want to, for our day on French territory, with or without socks – it’s not unknown that I wear the footwear with the latter.

Now, in the weeks leading up to departure for my excursion to this foreign land, I went all francophone-ish, as was fitting. I partook of books and movies to, as I said, get in the groove. So let’s start with the former.

Elizabeth Baird’s memoir’ ‘A Lunch in Paris’, being as it is filled with enough recipes to make me salivate to the max, is a fine entree into the life of one of the world’s gastronomic capitals. Hopefully, I too would be dining on some decent French tucker soon enough, albeit on a fleeting visit.

Baird’s tome was also a love story – not so much about Parisian life (about which she is very candid) – but for a man, a soul mate. The American met him at an academic conference in London. Although her journey, as expressed in print, suffers a tad from the American thing of over-zealous self-examination, it remains a reasonably interesting read. Not engrossing, but there was enough to keep me turning the pages. And actually living in Paris, rather than merely visiting, isn’t all beer and skittles, as many another ex-pat has discovered. For, as Salt points out, there is much frustration to be had, whether it be from unsatisfactory plumbing, grumpy shop-keepers and the intolerance towards one’s inability with the language, matched by the pitfalls of attending soirees as your husband’s partner in the French capital. But there are joys too. There’s the freshness of the food from markets, a far cry from the tired vegies in her home supermarkets (and ours). There’s also the beauty of the place – not only around the touristy areas, but also in the lesser known arrondissements. And of-course, over-arching all the setbacks, there is the love for a fellow at the book’s core. ‘A Lunch in Paris’ does encourage one to visit, rather than perhaps permanently settle down there, whetting my appetite to do the former again.

And where would our view of the joie de vivre of the French way of life be if it wasn’t infused with affairs of the heart. Of course, there is their supposed penchant for the extra-marital kind and Tatiana de Rosnay presents numerous takes on these with the stories she gifts us in ‘A Paris Affair’. They are soufflé-light, fluffy vignettes, reminding me of those ‘Erotic Tales’ SBS used to show on Friday nights – naughty but invariably nice (if you’re inclined to go there, I notice they are available on SBS on Demand). Sometimes, in de Rosnay’s tales, those being cuckolded get their own back, sometimes they didn’t. It’s a book that only takes an hour or so to read and it was on special at one of my bookstores of choice so I picked it up. At full price it would be a road too far.

I love French movies – but the following three were from UK and US makers, partly or wholly set in that country.

‘Paris Can Wait’ featured a luminous Diane Lane, an actress who would seem grows even more stunning as she gracefully ages. Alec Baldwin, playing her character’s hubby, is present too, but sadly, for me, it’s little more than a cameo. He has to head off in his private jet, poor dear, to somewhere or other for a work meeting, leaving Anne (Lane), ailing from an ear infection. Her spouse places her in the care of his business partner Jacques (Arnard Viard). His task is to get her to Paris by road as she is unable to fly. Jacques hasn’t a great deal going for him in the looks department, but there’s enough Gallic charm there to unsettle Anne, who is feeling sidelined by her partner’s busy life as a mover and shaker. What should have been a fairly easy drive over a day or so takes forever. That’s because of Jacques’ love of dining at every exceptional restaurant en route, as well as introducing Anne to many other French delights, including the possibility of an affair. I was particularly intrigued by their visit to the Institut Lumière in Lyon, with its illuminating images of the very early days of film making. The journey sees the couple drawn to each other, but there is an uneasy feeling that Jacques isn’t quite whom he makes himself out to be. And if you hate inconclusive endings, then stay away from this title.

The movie was directed by Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis Ford and mother of Sofia), who is eighty years young. Although it’s possibly ageist to say so, the film is a bit of a throwback to another age.

And perhaps the same could be said, regarding the ending, for ‘Madame’. I know many in the audience I was with uttered surprise when it suddenly concluded without anything tied up. It was enjoyable enough up until that point, a romp in French surrounds, but it didn’t set the world on fire for me. Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette play a not overly pleasant wealthy couple taken to throwing up-market dinner parties in their lavish Parisian apartment. When numbers are uneven for one such soirée, the Spanish maid (Rossy de Palma) is roped in to fill the void. Of course, it would be inevitable that one of the wealthy male guests would fall for her. But this is no Cinderella tale as it is all to much for Ms Collette’s character, another Anne, who conspires to torpedo the relationship. She herself is attracted to a younger man and disports herself naked in a pool in an unsuccessful attempt to win him over. Why this terrific actress would agree to a gratuitous nude scene is anyone’s guess, despite her disrobing being nonetheless pleasing to the eye. It was, though, completely unnecessary. The movie never gels, is cut off abruptly, but at least de Palma’s performance as the gawky, out of her depth object of desire, is one to savour.

Lastly we have ‘The Time of Their Lives’, a movie pointed straight as a die towards us – the members of the older set. It stars Pauline and Joan Collins, both making making no attempt to hide the ravages of time on their exterior selves, if not the interior. But this is a writ by numbers caper, a sort of ‘Thelma and Louise’ for the aged. Joan plays a faded star; Pauline a put upon housewife. They come together unrealistically through a set of coincidences; then, by devious and unlikely ways, take the ferry to France. There they encounter the mysterious Alberto (Franco Nero) who, it seems, loves being nude for the world to see, including us, full frontally. Whatever possessed Franco N, just as whatever possessed Toni C above? Anyway, he falls for the outwardly plainer Priscilla (Pauline) even if, again, there is much attempted thwarting from Helen (Joan). It is good to see all three of these venerable actors back on the screen, but there’s not much else to recommend this movie – at least it had an ending that came together though. And now, I was ready for the real thing.

But really, the Paris of the South Seas was a bit of a fizzer. The time I had there on shore excursion from the good ship ‘Carnival Spirit’ had to be curtailed, so I had only the merest of glimpses – and what I saw didn’t overly impress. But fellow passengers came back with glowing accounts of their day. A previous stop over in nearby Port Vila had been, much, much more to my liking, even if the French influence was significantly less. It was mainly one of driving helter-skelter on the wrong side of the road. Vanuatu was once administered by both France and the UK. I’d go back there at the drop of a hat.

Maybe one day I’ll relive the times I had in France last century – but as the years pass that seems more and more unlikely. Still, in the digital age, we can do so much now vicariously. I, wistfully, will have to be satisfied with that.

Bernard Salt’s article –

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green

When you spend time with J Green you are in the company of YA royalty. Since the movie of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ appeared his fame has been stratospheric. Of his tomes, ‘Looking for Alaska’ is my fav and whilst ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ isn’t quite up there, for me, with the two already mentioned, it is still a very fine piece of writing in anybody’s language, seeing him flying well above the pack. Is it a bleaker effort than what he has served up earlier? I think so, with this being backed up by a few reviews I perused online. Jennifer Senior, writing for the New York Times agrees that this title is ‘…far darker, not so much because of its subject matter – though that’s dark too – but because of how he chooses to write about it.’ There was much more a lightness of touch to his other offerings, especially ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, despite it’s grim possibilities – youths afflicted by cancer. This isn’t the case here, with what one would normally assume to be a milder affliction, anxiety, at its core. In reality, though, as in the book, milder is completely the incorrect term to use. Perhaps this work is a reflection of the darker place JG himself has been in recent times due to his own battles with OCD. Perhaps it’s because this one is personal.

Reading the cover blurb, though, for this novel, you could think it was likely to be trite in nature – two teens pursuing a reward for information regarding the disappearance of millionnaire, Russell Pickett. As Aza and her fearless mate Daisy attempt to track down the dodgy tycoon, their relationship is sorely tested – and Aza manages to fall for the fugitive’s son, Davis. But love, what’s that? Aza is not quite sure, not aided by the fact actually kissing her guy is, in itself, fraught with danger. You see pashing enables the transfer of saliva. Swimming around in that viscous liquid are zillions of micro-nasties – horrible things that give Aza the heebie-jeebies. She’s suffers from anxiety attacks They are nothing to be flippant about. The issue is very real and disgusting for her. To cleanse her system she drinks hand sanitiser. Aza knows this is a dangerous solution, but nonetheless she is compelled to do it. She is a captive of her compulsions. At times, Aza feels, she cannot even control her own thoughts. And by the time we reach this stage of the novel the finding of a high flying white collar crim is only a relatively minor thread. That is eventually solved tidily enough.

But Aza’s problems are not, on the other hand, to be remedied in the usual Hollywood fashion. The ending most readers will expect to play out simply doesn’t, a fact that didn’t go down well with some reviewers. But, for my money, it fits the nature of the lessons John Green is trying to pass on – that they may, in themselves, be the ones he has found hard to adhere to in his own experience. With this offering we are perhaps closer to Mr Green the man than John Green the novelist.

The author’s website =

The Father/Daughter Thing

‘The Soldiers Curse’ ‘The Unmourned’ – Meg and Tom Keneally

Monsarrat is a ‘special’ when we first meet him. He’s a convict who, because of a much required talent, is bestowed upon with special privileges denied his cohorts in chains. Monsarrat possesses a thorough knowledge of legal matters, due to his UK background; has a way with words and a fine copperplate hand – in the days when that counted for something. In Port Macquarie he has aspirations, but before he gets ahead of himself there are those who make sure he never forgets his all too lowly station in life – even if, perhaps, they would be lost in that life without him. But, all in all, his existence there isn’t too bad. There’s Mrs Mulrooney, the camp commandant’s cook, who’s a good mate; as well as there being, somewhere up ahead, the possibility of a ticket-of-leave, but only if he can continue to keep his nose clean. ‘The Soldier’s Curse’ is supposedly the first of twelve planned novels revolving on Monsarrat’s adventures sleuthing around in early Oz. It’s set in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. And the combination of esteemed writer Tom Keneally and his daughter Meg are, with this initial one, off to a ripper start.

Now I’ve never been a huge fan of the senior writer. I’ve read a few of his output over the decades, but a new release from him is never a must-have. But I had perused some good notices for ‘The Soldier’s Curse’ and with the early years of our founding always fascinating, I decided, when the cheaper paperback version appeared, to give it a burl. I knew, once I started, that I was onto something a little different for me, but it was also something that was going to keep me thoroughly engrossed for the duration. I was soon out buying ‘The Unmourned’, not the least interested in waiting for a cheaper edition further down the track. I am now eagerly awaiting the third in the series. But back to the first.

There were very few women amongst the 1500 free and not so free souls at the Port Macquarie settlement during Monsarrat’s time, but of course the most prominent was the wife of the man in charge, our hero’s ultimate boss. But the seemingly virtuous and beauteous young woman is ailing – and there’s more to her mysterious illness than meets the eye. Of course the good (seemingly) and privileged felon and Mrs M are soon on the case, especially after her demise. Perhaps, they discover, she wasn’t so lily-white after all, but why do her in? There are soon a number of suspects with, of course, eventually our dynamic duo sniffing out the real culprit. As a whodunnit, it’s about as far away from airport fare as one could get. The two investigators are also far from daringly heroic and the pace is leisurely, making it all the more to savour. The suspects take some sifting through. Best of all though, this tome and its follow up bring to life what life must have been akin to in early colonial times for all levels of society. We have vicious floggings and violent stabbings in eye sockets as well as sadistic officers. These are countered by a fair share of do-gooders. The system, at its lower level, still provided a modicum of hope that there was a chance to better oneself in a way that wasn’t possible back home in England. There is more of the same in ‘The Unmourned’ with, as a reward for his efforts up on the northern coast, Monsarrat, along with his sidekick, returning to Sydney. Now the focus switches to the plight of female convicts. Just who was responsible for the aforementioned skewering of notoriously evil overseer Robert Church at the Paramatta Female Factory? It all points to Grace O’Leary, a sparky rabble-rouser who, with her guile, has emerged as a leader of sorts amongst those in an olden days ‘Orange is the New Black’ situation. The authorities want her to swing as soon as possible, but they don’t count on a feisty, dogged pair having other ideas.

The Keneallys, in their interviews, have suggested their lead character is based on one James Tucker who, like Monsarrat, was a cut above the average transportee. After successfully applying for his ticket he wrote ‘Ralph Rashleigh’ in the 1840s, giving a fictionalised account of convict ordeals.

I’m excited that the makers of ‘The Doctor Blake Mysteries’ are keen to work their magic on the product of the father/daughter act for the small screen. I am also excited that, at the end of ‘The Unmourned’, Monsarrat is informed that he is again being moved on. Where to, you might ask. Why to our very own once upon a time not so fair island.

Interview with Meg and Tom K about the Series –

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

Music is about silence…Music comes out of silence and at the end goes back into it. It’s a journey…And of course the silence at the beginning of the piece is always different from the silence at the end.’

Clapton, up on stage bathed in a lone spotlight; in the darkness behind are massed an array of musicians and backing singers. Clapton knows the power of silence, or, in this case, a pause. He evokes it on a CD of a performance I have. At a live concert silence is impossible, but a pause is a powerful tool with which to manipulate an audience. He strums the first couple of notes from the riff. The crowd have been waiting for it, expectantly. They know the ropes. Clapton then stops. He doesn’t continue. He stands stock-still. The noise within the silence starts to reach fever pitch. Chants break out. The single word is exhorted out in unison – anything to get his pluckin’ hand picking the notes again, but still the guitar-slinger is unmoved. By the time he reaches back into the riff and all the lights come on, the pregnant pause has almost hurt. Then, finally, Old Slowhand launches it. ‘Layla’. In the crowd the relief is almost orgasmic. ‘Layla’ is up and running, the throng beside themselves with joyousness. The classic from Derek and the Dominos, that timeless ode to a beautiful lady who, back in the once upon a time, seemed unattainable, is the most perfect tune in the musical cannon of the man referred to and known as God. Perhaps it is the most perfect rock/pop song ever written. But it’s that pause that gets me every time I listen to the track. It sums up all the pleasure music has given me over all these umpteen years.

And another sheer joy, musically associated – specifically the realm of vinyl – is Rachel Joyce’s ‘The Music Shop’. If it is not my best read of ’17, it’s pretty close to it.

Frank. Big, shambolic Frank runs a music retail outlet at a time, in the eighties, when the CD is first making inroads into the market. It was small and shiny and it was about to thrust vinyl into the dustbin of history – or at least that was the theory. We all know what happened there. Frank refuses to have anything to do with the new-fangled discs, despite pressure from the music reps to get him to change his ways. How could he? He is a true believer – one of many as it has since turned out. He feels nothing can convey the intimate soul of recorded music like vinyl. Nor will he sell cassette tapes for the same reason. Frank is a loner with a love of people – just as long as they do not get too close. Mostly these are his customers. He catalogues his vinyl according to feeling, not alphabetically or by genre. Thus Sibelius can be next to Aretha next to the Duke and so on. And he can magically bring together people with musical tastes they had no idea they possessed. He knows just the track for any given moment. Music can solve all the problems of the world.

Frank also loves the other shop owners on dead-ended, down-at-heel Unity Street. With these Joyce has created some truly lovely characters such as presumably defrocked Father Anthony with his religious iconography business and the Williams Brothers, undertakers who have been noted holding hands. There’s a baker and a florist and unbeknown to Frank, a tattooist who loves him. And then there’s Kit; totally, totally useless Kit – the assistant Frank employs because nobody else will. All is cosy. Frank is set in his ways, has a modicum of peace of mind and does without the real love between man and woman. Then along comes an elegant dame in a green dress. She peers in the shop’s window and promptly faints – and Frank’s world is turned upside down. He has been fortunate enough to find himself on Unity Street. But can he cope with what Ilse Briuchmann brings to the table?

Frank’s wobbly relationship with the planet has its roots in his upbringing. His single parent mother, a bohemian type, knew little about giving love, but a great deal about pontificating on the topic of music. She interferes when Frank starts to put together a life for himself, doing irreparable damage to his state of mind. But she taught him well for what became his lifelong passion, The book is laced with trivia, some of it heartbreaking, about the movers and shakers who gave us all the gift of their talent, from classical composers to rock gods. And it was mostly fresh news to me.

I suppose, if I was picky, the only discordant note (clever) was the Hollywood style grand finale, a tad out of kilter with the tone of the rest of the tale. No matter, this is a beautiful read putting me in mind of ‘Rosie’s Project’. It’s full of whimsy in a saga where confusion and cross-purposes drive the narrative. I just simply loved Frank, the poor bugger.

The author’s FB page =