Monthly Archives: January 2018

Dark Days Indeed

There have been some memorable Churchills in recent times – Brendan Gleeson (‘Into the Storm’ 2000), Albert Finney (‘The Gathering Storm’ 2002), Timothy Spall (‘The King’s Speech’ 2010), John Lithgow (‘The Crown’ 2016) and Brian Cox (‘Churchill’ 2017). Now, on top of all those, we have ‘Darkest Hour’. It’s been acclaimed, particularly as its Churchill has just been nominated for an Oscar. When I queried my lovely lady whether or not she would accompany me to see it at the State she thought a while and then replied in the negative. She reckoned she was all Churchilled out. I still went, but do you know what? She had a point.

There’s no doubt Gary Oldman does a good job in the role. But, for some reason, I just couldn’t wholly believe him as the great man. Maybe that’s because, for large chunks of the movie, he resembled more British hangdog than the British Bulldog needed to beat Hitler. Throughout it all there was the picture in my mind, of the actor being interviewed on one of the British chat shows I’m addicted to, spruiking his role and speaking of the hours he had to spend each day in make-up being transformed into something that resembled the statesman. For my money it showed. He wasn’t a ‘natural’, unlike the aforementioned thesps.


There were other aspects of the show that irked as well. Did it really take a beautiful young woman (Lily James), from the typist pool, to inject some steel into his spine? Even in the fake reality of the big screen, it was obvious that his fictional adventure, unencumbered by any security, into the bowels of the London Underground to test the views, on appeasing Adolf H, from the great English unwashed seemed highly implausible.

But there were aspects I loved, especially the sepia slo-mos of the general public going about their daily business as the country descended into conflict. The supporting cast was a real who’s who and were terrific – Kirstin Scott Thomas (Clemmie), Ronald Pickup (Chamberlain), Stephen Dillance (Halifax), Samuel West (Eden) and particularly Ben Medelsohn as King George VI. The Aussie actor carried the wartime monarch off splendidly. And in Oldman’s voice, those Churchillian speeches still sent a shiver up the spine and bought a tear to the eye.

The movie is worth seeing, if you also don’t feel you are all Churchilled out – it’s just not as fine as it should have been

Trailer for the Movie =

In a Cafe, Sitting Down with John and Bernard

Yes, I like my space too. I am removed from my comfort zone if I’m seated, elbow to elbow, with strangers for a dining experience in the cafes and restaurants of my town, of any town. When I am not out and about with my lovely lady or pals, I play it safe, very safe. In company I tend to be a tad more adventurous, but on my tod it’s usually the franchise watering holes, such as Banjos or Hudsons, that see me. In these I know I’ll be able to peruse a book or newspaper in privacy, without the thumpa-thumpa music that afflicts some coffee shops – take note a certain establishment in NoHo. When I am alone I keep to myself and expect others to do the same. And I shudder at the thought of those hipster establishments with their communal tables and as uncomfortable as possible seating as a badge of honour. Hipster-lite is okay. I have no objection to bearded baristas with top-knots. I like a quiet cafe – but, it’s a different matter with restaurants. There a degree of noise is expected, but you shouldn’t have to shout to be heard should you wish to engage in conversation with your companions.

When you are restauranteering you have less control over the situation and I try to be flexible, not obviously displaying it if I am irked by the choice of the venue or the quality of the nosh. But, as with Bernard, I do my best to avoid close table dining. Being a naturally reticent person I find such cheek to jowelness with my fellow humans somewhat confronting. If they are well soused and in expansive moods it can become a nightmare. And if there’s music being constantly increased in volume to compete, as was the case in a recent experience in my home city, then it becomes purgatory.

But I have had a couple of close dining experiences I’d like to relate to you, dear reader, when I actually let my hair down in a claustrophobic situation. One occurred in Adelaide, the other in Yarra City

My lovely lady and I had had a good run of dining out experiences in the City of Churches on the Torrens. We got it into our heads that we must not leave this Earth without having a Jamie Oliver experience. Adelaide had one available – his Italian restaurant on King William Street. It’s described in the blurb we read as a ‘…relaxed venue with rustic menu and antipasto bar.’ but, since our attendance, it has had a fairly up and down history. When my son was in the city, not so long ago, he reported it was on the nose. I think I read recently that the great man has now taken over direct control of it as matters at the eatery bearing his name had become so dire.

Anyway, when we arrived – no bookings taken – it was anything but relaxed. It was jam packed. But, after a considerable wait, we were finally ushered to a small table against a wall. Another couple arrived shortly after us and were practically seated on top of we two against the wall as well. We were so in proximity it seemed not to be an auspicious start as we realised we couldn’t possibly get through the evening without some sort of communication with these folk. It turned out the pair, roughly the same vintage as ourselves, were marvellous company, my tongue was soon loosened and we were away. I remember, as you do in Adelaide, that we soon got on to the topic of footy and they were both passionate on the topic – the fellow being mad for the Crows, she a rusted on Port supporter. How did their union possibly survive? I recall the tucker was adequate there without being anything extraordinary, but the waiter allocated must be one of the most idiosyncratic I have had the pleasure of being served by. He went out of his way to describe the provenance of every morsel on every plate so by the time he’d finish any warmth our selections retained from the lengthy trip from the kitchen soon departed, but it didn’t matter. His quirkiness just added to the loveliness of the evening, no doubt being assisted by liberal lubrication. I do remember the toilets downstairs were a real eye-opener as well. And had it not been for the seating arrangements, I’m sure I would not have retained such fond memories our night.

On the other occasion, I was in Melbourne with my lovely and sorely missed mate, Neville H. He was always the best of company out and about and very voluble, especially if fortified by a few reds. Come time to dine I guided him up to Hardware Lane and told him it was his choice from the array of eateries that stretched down two blocks. We promenaded along, he perused the menu boards, listening intently to the various spruikers cajoling for custom. Soon we were almost at the end. Nev had peered into several possibilities, but had come away shaking his head. I naturally assumed he wasn’t satisfied by what he’d seen on the plates being consumed, either in terms of quality, quantity or both. I was getting a tad restive by the time he stopped at practically the last watering hole. I watched as he examined the menu board in the company of a particularly comely young lady who was talking into his ear. He nodded quite enthusiastically before peering through the doorway. He then turned to me smiling and beckoned me in. As we were being seated I asked what was it about the food that had finally given this establishment the green light. He laughed and told me it was nothing about the tucker – it was the attractiveness of the female waiting staff he was assessing. And as it turned out, they were extremely gorgeous. But they weren’t the only examples of feminine gorgeousness we were to experience on that eve.

Now I cannot recall the name of the brasserie. I know it was something quite funky as it was fitted out in an attempt to attract the younger set. It seemed to be doing that quite successfully. It had a good vibe about it, but when I tried to seek it out on a later excursion across Bass Strait, there was no evidence of it along the dining strip. The reason for that could be implicit in what happened to us next on that joyous night.

Once we were in place the waitress explained to us that, as the venue had only just opened, it was still getting its systems up to scratch and we were asked to be patient. We were provided with a generous complementary drink in recompense. What ensued was the most shambolic experience I’ve ever had, but that didn’t matter. We were all in the same boat, therein being the beauty of the evening. I was hard up against a young couple at the next minuscule table for two. Sort of semi-circled around the four of us was a bevy of young damsels, obviously well tanked and out to make a night of it. Now it was rare for any food order to come to any of us during the course of proceedings that resembled what, in fact, was ordered, so the whole group of us sort of swapped plates around till we had, in front of us, something we were happy with. When these continual errors were pointed out to the servers we were placated by yet another bottle of sparkly stuff by the management. And even though we were old enough to be the fathers of all those vivacious young things seated around us, Nev and I were the best of friends with them by the time we made our departure. We both possessed bloated tummies due to the offerings, liquid and solid, we had consumed. Several of the girls that eve also had ample cleavage on display which added to the event for us two old farts. It is one of my happiest memories of times spent with my best pal – and all because, Bernard, it was an ultra-close dining experience. It brings on a smile to this day

So you see, Bernard and John, yes, close dining can be a pain and is something for me to avoid – but, on occasions, it can also be the exact opposite. Now, Johnny L, would I have been offended by a guy wearing a ‘F***K Fashion’ t-shirt? I doubt it, but you make a point. And as for kids in restaurants/cafes with digital devices, Bernard S, well, think it through, man. What would they be like without those devices? As for listening in to the conversations at other tables, I must admit I’ve been guilty of that. In fact, I’ve sometimes found the basis for a scribbling emerge from what I’ve overheard.

I guess, though, when it’s all said and done, Mr Lethlean gives the best advice – if an eatery isn’t up to scratch on any item on one’s check list then, as Neville H did all those years ago on Hardware Street, move on.

Bernard Salt’s article =

John Leathlean’s article =

Cafe etiquette ain’t what it was – John Lethlean – December 9, 2017
The guy sits down opposite at the cafe where I’m quietly reading a (provided) newspaper, enjoying the music, sipping coffee. He has with him two kids, aged about three and four. One seems self-sufficient; the other is immediately set up with a smartphone (that will soon be in a puddle of chocolate milk) to watch a video. Without headphones.
I’ll leave the whole “children with video screens” subject to one side; my gentle morning – our gentle morning, because I’m not alone at this communal table – just became a multimedia cacophony: Father John Misty vs ABC Me. “Is that OK?” the dad asks us. I consider acquiescence, but decide a point needs to be made. “Not really,” I say. “It’s pretty much spoiling the atmosphere, don’t you think?”
At least he asks; it’s more than most. And turns down the volume. Cafe etiquette just ain’t what it was.
This is how I see it: about $4.50 buys a seat at the table for half an hour; it includes music I like, or can at least tolerate; internet connection; shelter; climate control; water; newspapers; and the difficult-to-value amenity of being around a group of fellow citizens – stimulus to some, distraction to others. Oh, and an excellent long macchiato. The cafe provides all this for a relatively modest sum.
And I reckon that we, in turn, have obligations under an unwritten code of cafe etiquette: to the staff; to our fellow users. Play nice.
I don’t want to sound like a grumpy retiree, but I think the obligation to actively engage in a social space is important. Playing video – by which I mean streamed entertainment, personal footage, FaceTime conversation, social media posts – on devices with the volume up is just the most front-of-mind breach of said code, and it’s certainly not confined to an age group or demographic. It’s amazing, I reckon, that anyone could think turning the volume up on their device to see the latest viral hit or grandkid splashing in the bath is kosher in a public space. But you find it everywhere these days. Ditto the conference call or speakerphone chat.
As users, we have an obligation to respect the cafe as a social space; making no noise is almost as bad as making too much. So don’t sit there with headphones in, tapping at a laptop – it’s not the office, and treating it as such for hours on end for the price of a single coffee only engenders ill-will. Greet the people next to you at that communal table with a smile and a hello. What goes around…
And dress acceptably. Seriously. I had to speak to management at a cafe once because a customer next to me was wearing a cap and a shirt with unbelievable profanities emblazoned on them. It was a family place. He was asked to leave; I don’t think he’d considered that the parents of children present might not want them asking, “What does ‘F**k Fashion’ mean, mummy?”
It all comes down to mutual respect, doesn’t it? And naturally, it cuts both ways. If your cafe isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, even if the coffee’s excellent, cut it loose. Move on.
Read something good, smile at the lady next to you and don’t pull the papers to pieces. Take your phone calls outside. And please, please share video with that little “button” in the screen’s corner. #cafeetiquette starts now.

Three Billboards

It’s a bastard, a total bastard is pancreatic cancer. It took my best mate last year – and it afflicted one of the leading characters in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’.

By February of ’17 I thought I had already pegged the best film for the last year in ‘Manchester by the Sea’. I had, as it turned out. Now, in this mint new one, I think the case may be the same even earlier. ‘Three Billboards…’ is superb – there’s no other word to describe it. It’s hard to imagine I’ll see a better movie in 2018.

Its central core of characters, in Mildred (Frances McDormand), Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), are all portrayed by wonderful performances by these quality actors. One would have thought that ‘Fargo’ would always remain as the actress’ signature role, but Ms McDormand raises the bar even higher here. Harrelson is her perfect foil and as for Sam Rockwell, well, he just steals the show as the southern redneck, of the worst kind, who, despite his dumb crassness and propensity for violence, wins our sympathy in any case.

Mildred has, in shades of that aforementioned movie, ‘Manchester by the Sea’, suffered the loss of a child in a horrendous fashion. With all her cussing and front, its glaringly obvious that, outwardly, she cannot forgive the local constabulary for failing to nab the person who perpetrated the obscene act on her daughter. As a protest, she rents three billboards on the outskirts of town to bring to the attention of one and all the inaction of Willoughby with the case. In reality, we soon discover, it’s herself she cannot forgive.

Be aware that both the f-bomb and the c-word feature prominently, quite fitting, I feel, given the black as black subject matter. There is also much humour involved – but it is also as dark as dark can be.

Peter Dinklage has a role as a love interest of sorts, with our own Abbie Cornish featuring as the Chief’s much younger wife. All the minor characters, as a matter of fact, are perfect adjuncts to the main guys. Set in a rusted on poverty stricken locale in contemporary US of A, as with the similarly rambunctious ‘Hell or High Water’, we get another inkling as to why Americans elected a buffoon to the White House.

The movie has already won a swag of Golden Globes, perhaps accounting for the fullness of the audience I viewed it with at the State. By rights it should also cash in at the Oscars. We’ll see.

Movie trailer =

To Be Sure

Two out of three ain’t bad. Le Parisien magazine describes this delightful bit of fluff as ‘Smart, touching and hilarious.’ The first two it certainly was, but as for the last – there was barely a chuckle at any point from those seated with me in the brand new viewing room at the State, part of this NoHo icon’s continuing upgrading. Yet being so strong in the ‘smart’ and ‘touching’ categories are enough to place ‘Just To Be Sure’ in the top bracket. It was an excellent treat with which to commence a new year in film watching. Hugely popular in its home country, French director Carine Tardieu delivers a product that gives out the warm and fuzzies in large doses.

And the question that could be asked is related to its leading man – is he the new Depardieu? François Damiens, recently so superb in ‘The Bélier Family’, again shines in this. Not attractive at first glance, he does possess that certain something, an X factor. Here he plays a lonely widower whose world is turned upside down when he discovers he has another father – and sets out to find him. Parallel to this a chain smoking, feisty family doctor comes into his life as a love interest. She also hungers for the human touch. Only trouble is, her genes are potentially much closer to his than would be comfortable. She’s played by the usually radiant on screen Cécile de France who glams down for this production

This is a comedy of coincidences and crossed purposes – and if that isn’t enough, Erwan (Damiens) is also about to become a grandfather. His daughter, though, refuses to divulge the name of the dad. Could it possibly be the dolt who assists our almost overwhelmed lead in his day job as a bomb disposal expert? This film doesn’t exactly go off with a bang, but it urges all of us to take our chances in life as it subtly infiltrates its way into our hearts.

It was one of the success stories from last year’s Cannes film festival and perhaps I’d be at fault if I didn’t mention that both the main leads are not French. Indeed, they are Belgian.

Trailer of ‘Just to be Sure’ =

Kitty and the Pav

Pork chops. For years I hated pork chops – or at least I thought I did. Then, recently, my brother announced he was doing pork chops on the Weber for me whilst I was staying with him and my sister-in-law at Sisters Beach – their place a little piece of heaven on this planet for me. Turns out the chops were a little bit of culinary heaven as well. But, I must admit, immediately after his announcement, I was a tad worried as I couldn’t really blurt out my up until then presumed abhorrence for what he was offering. But I knew I could put on a brave face and feign pleasure in the consumption. What Kim served up, though, was barbecued perfection.

So now, methinks, parsnips and walnuts are the only items of tucker I cannot truly abide. Pumpkin was a vegie I disdained for years too, like the pork chop, but now I love it. But there are some foods I think are totally overrated and if a choice is on offer they would take a back seat. One of these that I can’t particularly take too – sorry Kitty, sorry Australia – is pavlova.

I am not in any way akin to Ms Flanagan’s acquaintance who couldn’t keep quiet in mixed company about his similar opinion of pav. After all, it is a cherished national dish – and there are very few of those we can call our own. It’s up on a pedestal along with vegemite and chicko rolls. I am not overly fond of those either. With the pav I cannot see – or, should I say, taste – what all the fuss is about. I’ll consume it if it is served up, but, if there are alternatives on offer, I’ll bolt to them. To me the lauded pav is a bit like the strawberry, they are berry much the poor cousin when compared to blueberries and raspberries. I feel the pav will never match a cheesecake, a trifle or my dear mother’s sago plum pud. And sadly, pavlovas and strawberries seem to go together.

To me the confection that is a pavlova tastes little more than being of air and sugar – in other words, tasting of very little. Besides which, these days, sugar is the enemy. Our abode, to my sorrow, has been declared a Tim Tam-free zone. See there is a certain patriotism in me after all, tucker-wise. Super-market shopping takes much longer, these days, due to me checking out the very small print re sugar content. Brownies, Kitty, are also a no-go area for the same reason. As far as pork crackling and anchovies are concerned, I am ambivalent, but not totally opposed.

It’d be a dull old world if all tastes were exactly the same, but with some food I also wonder, well, how he/she could possibly not like that? I guess our individual collections of taste buds are all arranged differently. I once loved placing whole bunches of coriander in my stir fries. My buds would pulsate in ecstasy at the result. Unfortunately my lovely lady cannot abide my enthusiasm for this pungent herb. Everything with a bit of subtlety is her motto. So these days, with my Asian cookery, I substitute other flavours for it for fear of getting carried away. And I thought nobody could dislike the luxuriously delicious unctuousness of the avocado. Recently I gave my beloved mother her first sample of this fruit of the gods, now smashed worldwide, only to see her precious face screw up and I could tell she was doing level best not to spit it out. Safe to say she will not become added to its legions of fans. To her the magnificent av is what the walnut is to me.

Now don’t tell anybody Ms Flanagan, but, just quietly, I tend to agree with you on your other topic. More and more these days I prefer winter beaches to their summer mode when I now, in my dotage, escape to a strand nearby or far away. It’s all swings and roundabouts, swings and roundabouts in this life of ours.

The Kitty Flanagan opinion piece in question =

The Blue Room’s Year in Music 2017

In 2017 I purchased 22 new release albums on CD – I’m still old school you see. None disappointed, but the ten I’ve listed, mostly not meant to be in any particular order, were the stand outs for me. I’ve placed Pete Murray at the top of the list though. His laid-back summery super-cool sounds never cease to remind me of my favourite season of the year

Pete Murray – ‘Comancho’

Laura Marling – ‘Semper Femina’

The Waifs – ‘Ironbark’

London Grammar – ‘Truth is a Beautiful Thing’

Colin Hay – ‘Fierce Mercy’
Mick Thomas – ‘These are the Songs’
Various – ‘Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon’
Josh Ritter – ‘Gathering’
Holly Throsby – ‘After a Time’
XX – ‘I See You’

Two Taking a Different Path

‘The Secrets She Keeps’ Michael Robotham ‘Magrit’ – Lee Battersby

I’ve eschewed crime, whodunits, mysteries, sci-fi, dystopian, fantasy for years now – not because I have anything against them, but more from worry that I’d get hooked, when I’m already hooked on so much. But when two writers, usually plying their trade in those areas, veered a little into my territory, I gave them a go.

I’d read a review of Michael Robotham’s ‘The Secrets She Keeps’ citing this was a break from his normal output, that being related to the solving of crime. He was lauded as one of the best in that genre going around. With this offering I thought I’d be safely spreading my horizons without being reeled in. I’m not so sure, after it, that that’s the case. Am I entering dangerous territory?

Now, although the book eventually makes it into crime territory, we know who’s going to commit it almost from the commencement. This is not a blow by blow account of coppers, or similar sleuthing heroes, getting to the bottom of it and making the perpetrator pay. No, they are largely in the background until the back end of the story, ramping up as the conclusion nears.

Instead Robotham gives us a close examination of two pregnant ladies whose paths cross – one is wracked with guilt, one is wracked by envy. It doesn’t take long to figure out who is also a tad whacky. And its reasonably clear, early on, where all this will lead us. What’s not so discernible is if there will be a solving or happy ever afters for either of the duo – particularly as, it could be argued, there is no true guilty party.

As the two women career towards the inevitable and then go their separate ways, the dastardly deed being successfully pulled off, we are reminded of another unsolved real life British mystery of the same ilk – then perhaps, as well, the excellent first season of ‘The Missing’ (am hoping there will be a series 3).

There are no real surprises with the narrative, but it was, nevertheless, a page turner as Meg and Agatha, in alternating chapters, played out their tale as the British press feasted on it. I enjoyed ‘The Secrets She Keeps’ very much – but what happens now when Robotham reverts to the usual and presents a new release?

As with the above author, Lee Battersby, a Western Australian wordsmith noted for his sci-fi and fantasy, turns away from his normal fare. He centres this delightful effort in a cemetery which almost becomes a character in its own right. This is a strange and compelling short read – and quite moving. Whole lives are being led within the inner-city confines of the burial ground – but not lives as we know them. The eponymous, ten year old Magrit has found this out. She’s not quite sure what she is, but with her fantastical friend, Master Puppet, she scavenges out an existence of sorts. Then a low-flying avian drops a bundle on an overhanging roof and marked changes occur to how she sees the world.

This is a beautifully wrought tale, its exquisite presentation assisted by the contributions of artist Amy Daoud. It’s a mini-gem of a marvel, aimed at children, but it certainly had this old codger spellbound. ‘Magrit’ is a title that will linger in the synapses.

Michael Robotham’s website –

Lee Battersby’s website –