Monthly Archives: November 2018

Back in My Day Too

It was ‘Juliet Naked’. I was sitting in the cinema, not too long ago, watching not too bad a film, co-incidentally in part about a bloke totally obsessed with music nostalgia, when ‘Sorry’ thumped out of the screen. Perhaps, from a UK film, you’d expect ‘Friday on My Mind’ if they had their hearts set on an Easybeats’ classic, not ‘Sorry’. But there it was – ‘Sorry’. I was, I must admit, surprised and strangely delighted by the more obscure choice. In a flash my mind was off the movie, picturing Stevie Wright in a grainy old film clip (check it out on YouTube), fronting his mates, belting it out for all he was worth. It was from a concert. Before or after they went off to London to seek fame and fortune? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. My synapses has it replete with screaming girls attempting to out yell the tune, as they could back in the day. Before the movie dragged me back into its grasp there I was, a callow teenager back in my home town, my life before me, watching those migrant long-hairs on an old black and white Astor, or was it a Healing?


Songs do that to you, Andrew Johnstone reports in his recent opinion piece for Lume magazine, a freebie to be picked up around town on a regular basis. I’m not into Spotify or Bluetooth or digital downloading – I’m an old fashioned, go out and buy the CD kind of fella. But I adore YouTube and as an appreciator of rock from the past or from the present, I think it’s the best thing since sliced cheese. Mostly I’m an old retro-fart I know, but I am not totally immersed in the product of yesteryear alone. I love the aforementioned platform as, in part, it assists me to make wonderful discoveries from today’s crop of talented performers. Two new finds I have made in 2018 have been Ryan Downey and Jack Rivers – although I had a little non-YouTube assistance with the latter.


But it’s the old stuff, unsurprisingly, that brings back memories of other times, other places. If I hear ‘Bombora’ or a Beach Boys ditty I go back to my years of sun-baking; of baking myself to a crisp, on some beach or other, when I was in my pomp – ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Sloop John B’, ‘Do It Again’, as well as, of course, ‘Good Vibrations’. But, as Andrew says, it’s all false nostalgia. I was never a member of the surfing set. I rarely did more on a beach, as far as water is concerned, than dip my big toe in. ‘Waterloo Sunset’ or ‘Margaritaville’ take me back to my travelling years, although in truth I largely hated London and never went near a Caribbean island – and I am never likely to now. Graeme Connor’s ‘A Little Further North’ gives me goosebumps every time it comes on my CD player as it is symbolic of a cherished dream that never occurred – not that I have any regrets these days. ‘Dive for Your Memory’ (the Go Betweens); Clapton’s classic Layla or the Mac’s ‘Rhiannon’ take me to thoughts of all the women I’ve loved, in various ways, down through the decades. And with ‘Wonderful Tonight’ up comes the beautiful lady I share my life with these days. And those songs are just the tip of the iceberg.


We are, us baby-boomers, a lucky generation to have so much to choose from. I was around when JO’K and Elvis reigned and today we have Lady GaGa and Johnstone’s Mumford and Son. How good is that!

Lume magazine’s website =

Nicole and the Sunshine State of Mind

Going up to Queensland, for me, over the decades, has always meant a lightening of the spirit. I was usually the stereotypical Mexican heading north to escape a southern states’ winter, whether it be that life-defining cruise up its eastern seaboard or the frequent trips I’ve made to the Gold/Sunshine Coasts. Our most recent excursion also included Brisbane to that pair of destinations. I’ve grown to like the capital city over the years, watching it transform from an over-sized country-fied hicksville to a modern, diverse metropolis. But even now, after many visits, I still don’t feel I really know it. It doesn’t grab at you and demand attention in the manner of big brassy Sydney. Nor does it seep into your system with a more subdued attractiveness like the country’s most liveable major city – but nonetheless Brissy is a fine place to visit.

One of my favourite areas to wander around in is Southbank with its twin art galleries, museum and library. A few trips ago I’d discovered the latter’s excellent bookshop and cafe. I loved partaking of a coffee and a treat there; sitting, with my newspaper or book, at the al fresco tables, reading, slurping, nibbling and watching the passing parade. And I certainly did that this time. But the State Library of Queensland also had a couple of exhibitions on that caught my eye, so I took the elevator up to one of the higher floors to view them. One showing was on a number of the state’s offshore islands, looking at their chequered history. The other, though, was the more engrossing. Entitled ‘Lifestyle: a Sunshine State of Mind’, it kept me occupied for quite a while.


As is often the case with me, it was a photograph of a woman that attracted my attention and intrigued. It seems the organisers of the displays who put together this showing had some need for notables to act as ambassadors to promote it to the punters in the wider community. Their images were worthily on display at the entrance, accompanied by their potted biographies. But one, to me, seemed to be out of kilter with the rest. I was drawn to find out more about the young lady pictured:-

The depths of my pain became the force of my liberation.’

Part of the thinking behind ‘Lifestyle’ was, not only a desire to bring to the attention of the viewers as to ‘…what Queensland is all about…’, but to be a showcase that ‘… acknowledges…(its) diversity and (be one) that challenged stereotypes.’ Nicole Gibson’s story certainly did that.

With her cap on backwards she grinned down at me cheekily, like a happy bogan. Delve a bit deeper and that happiness has been hard won. You see, this youthfully talented performer and artist is a survivor of the ravages on mind and body of that most insidious of conditions, anorexia nervosa.

Today she’s our youngest ever National Mental Health Commissioner. Also, on her CV, are a Young Australian of the Year nomination and a listing as one of our country’s 100 most influential women. She is, outwardly okay and successful, but she had a teenagerhood that no one should have had to endure.


After she left secondary school to enter training in the dramatic arts field, she found herself in such a competitive environment she couldn’t cope. Her new world struck her that it was one where image supplanted talent. As a result she caved in to the degree that she became the victim of ‘… focusing on losing weight (which) was a good avenue for me to at least focus my energies on something…’ Focus became obsession. Her frame of mind became more and more negative as she attempted to starve herself to perfection. Then, what she describes as a ‘…divine energy flow.’ was extracted her from the depths – and in 2011 she formed the Rogue and Rouge Foundation, aimed at breaking down the mental health stigma for young people. Through seminars and in schools she is spreading the word about how to move from the darkness out into the light. She figures if she can do it, others can too. Her not for profit organisation is there ‘…for the individual to decide the way in which they feel (their) recovery should look.’


I have the utmost admiration for young people who can, through force of will or ‘divine energy’ or any which way, bring themselves, with or without assistance, from the clutches of the black dog back to something resembling normality. Maybe I should have, but I had never heard of the remarkable force of nature that is Gibson. Her photograph radiates lustre and light, but it made me realise that, even if the Mangoland sunshine makes me feel all blissful and positive, for many Queenslanders, many Australians, it’s just not that simple.


Her Foundation =

Edna and Sam, My Hero

Look at the image of her amidst the magnolia blooms during her Vassar years. She was gorgeous. After her graduation, a friend remembers seeing her, flame-fired red hair flying, as she ran down a street in Greenwich village, ‘…flushed and laughing like a nymph.’ Another remembered nostalgically her lips shaped like a valentine. She turned heads. It was the 20s and the world was opening up for women; to young women like her prepared to take it on with their words; young women prepared to take it up to the menfolk with their vivacity and sexuality, often in unconventional fashion. Her love life certainly became a talking point.


Her talent was spotted early. A rich benefactor paid for her education and by 1923, at age 31, she was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Later came the Robert Frost medal for lifetime achievement. She was friends with all the literary giants of the era, refusing proposals from her male admirers until she met Eugen Boissevain, whom she married and cohabited with for 26 years, both taking lovers on the side. She managed to find time to regularly publish tomes of poetry and prose until her death in 1950 as a result of a fall down the stairs at her home. This was Stapleton. It went on to become a colony for artists and now it, together with its extensive gardens, is open to the general public.


The great Thomas Hardy once wrote that America had two great attractions – the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay. In 1928 she wrote the haunting elegy ‘Dirge Without Music’.

It was cheap in JBs and I purchased it because he headlined. I’d never heard of this 2017 film although the blurb suggested it was his finest performance. I doubt that, but nonetheless ‘Hero’ is a worthy vehicle for the talents of one of America’s finest. He’s recently resurfaced in a role playing Jackson Main’s (Bradley Cooper) much older brother Bobby in ‘A Star is Born’. His Netflix release, ‘The Ranch’, is also popular.

In ‘Hero’ he plays faded star Lee Hayden, a Western icon with a golden set of tonsils. His best days are well behind him and in any case, he really only had one significant role for which he is remembered. He gets by these days on weed and whisky. His drug dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), is his best friend. At the dealer’s place he runs into Charlotte (Laura Prepon of ‘Orange is the New Black’ fame), a much younger woman – thirty-something to his 70, an age gap he’s not at all at ease with. She chides him not to dictate who’s she has to fall for, so the unlikely couple become lovers. This is compounded by a cancer diagnosis and a tribute speech that goes viral, bringing the limelight back again. Meanwhile he thinks he finally discovers why Charlotte is bedding him. Eventually he is forced to come to terms with some monumental changes in his life and at the pointy end of the film, Charlotte sits him down and reads to him Millay’s ‘Dirge Without Music’. It is a poignant and moving moment. Sam’s Elliott’s face, as this happens, is mesmerising.


This actor is one of my movie heroes and Laura’s character is right in being so taken with his voice and moustache. The poem led me to Millay – another bright star who, unlike Lee, will never f-f-fade away.


Millay’s poem ‘Dirge Without Music’ =

Trailer for ‘Hero’ =

Dire, Appalling, Abhorrent

The three adjectives forming the title do not, by a long shot, go far enough. They cannot begin to describe the impact domestic violence is having on lives. Despite community outrage and the dollars being thrown at the problem, the reprehensible injuries and death of women and children seem to continue unabated. The statistics are horrifying – and this French film, ‘Custody’, shows that we are not alone in Australia with it – it’s a world-wide scourge.

The movie opens with a presentable mother and father putting their cases for and against extended visiting rights, to the dad, for their young eleven year old son. Initially it is difficult to decide between the two arguments, but one person obviously isn’t telling the truth. There is no common ground. She, Miriam (Léa Drucker), complains of his constant threats and the effect they are having on the boy, but ex-hubby, Antoine (Denis Ménochet), denies it all. Of course he loves Julien (Thomas Gioria) and wouldn’t dream of doing anything to hurt the lad.


The judge is hampered by lack of evidence but obviously errs on the side of caution, imposing limits on the access. With Antoine’s reaction we, though, are soon privy to the heart of the matter. Quite simply, the father soon emerges as a brute. The judge was right to be wary of him. He’s a self-centred prick and he cannot control his anger at the slight done to him by the law. He intends to circumnavigate it, regardless of the cost. Poor Julien is between a rock and a hard place. He detests being with his dad, but failing to abet the odious father, he knows, would have dire consequences, not only for himself, but also Miriam.


Writer/director Xavier Legrand has taken a sledgehammer approach to this offering and at times I found it almost impossible to watch the big screen. There’s no subtlety here – the father’s revenge is full on. He’s a violent bastard. It’s no spoiler alert to say we are spared a truly shattering ending – the tale is shattering enough. We know, though, that for all too many there is no escaping a wronged man’s wrath.

The film has won, deservedly, many gongs at festivals around the world. Kudos must go to the three main performers – Ménochet’s role must have been particularly demanding. All three are unflinching in their bravery so as to call even more attention to the plight of battered wives and kiddies.


What else comes out of this is admiration for those who (wo)man the phones as the calls of the often helpless victims come in. These are the wonderful people who have to keep their heads and offer advice as the world of the woman or child on the other end begins to come crashing down. Then there are the first responders, dashing off to the incident, never quite knowing what pieces they’ll have to pick up when the destination is reached. If they’re too late, it can be catastrophic.

Because Legrand doesn’t shy away in presenting this slice of wretchedness it’ll stick in my mind for a long, long time. It will also be on my list of the year’s best. There must be a way. There simply must.

Trailer for the movie =

Just Maybe Life’s Still a Beach

Life can’t always be a beach. But for the last week, at time of writing, it has been. Shortly I am about to take a beloved canine, sadly not my own, out onto a beautiful strand – and whatever the load is that I carry, in these times of retirement, will lift off my shoulders. Between two capes, Table and Rocky, in North West Tasmania, at this time of year, on a week day, it is likely to be almost deserted. I may meet a fellow dog walker, maybe a perambulator or two, but now, before summer arrives, I’ll have it mostly to myself.


Contrast this serenity to another beach I visited a few weeks back – Australia’s most iconic. People had, that bright day, flocked to it for the annual arts project that is Sculpture by the Sea; because a prince and his missus were visiting and because a taste of summer was definitely in the air. For me it was an exhilarating experience. Acres of supine exposed flesh was on display – young and not so young ladies in barely anything at all. And there was a glorious track to walk along to Tamarama in search of photo opportunities. Perhaps, too, that was all tinged with a little sadness that my own basking days were over.


It’s beaches like the latter two that one of my heroes, Rennie Ellis, would parade up and down, capturing our country’s hot climate hedonism for posterity – and a fair few lovelies, unencumbered by bikini tops, as well. These days a man with a camera on a beach automatically causes suspicion, though mobile phone snapping barely raises an eyebrow. When I expose the former on the sand I’m very, very judicious.


Once upon a time the warmer weather in Tassie and trips to Mangoland had to include plenty of beach time. Looking back, it seems much of my childhood was spent on my home town’s sandy stretches or at friends’ shacks. That continued on into my teenage years – my first romantic kiss was on a sweaty day at Burnie’s West Beach. I ached to get to Surfers Paradise every couple of years – or Noosa; or Byron. And now I am discovering Sydney’s beaches.

But with age comes a change of focus. These days I wouldn’t swap all that heady relaxation and observation beside the briny in crowds of like-minded sun worshippers with my quiet walks with Sandy the Spoodle by Bass Strait in all its moods. There’s always a pause as we cross the little bridges over the creek; then usually more than one just to suck in the glory of the place and to relish that I am still around to savour it. Life’s not the beach it used to be, but I still can cherish blue skies and a sparkling sea. Now, though, for me beaches are for all seasons; ambling along them just bliss.

The article from Benjamin Law that inspired this piece =

Down Memoir Lane

A Simple Time – Peter FitzSimons Flesh Wounds – Richard Glover

My dear mother took a shine to one of Peter FitzSimon’s books, his take on the wreck of the Batavia. She offered to lend it, but I demurred due to the pile of ‘must reads’ I already had waiting for me on my shelves. One of those was, in fact, his memoir ‘A Simple Time’. I’d pick it up cheap a few years ago, somewhere or other. Since that day it had slipped further and further down the order as other I considered more worthy tomes superseded it. ‘Flesh Wounds’ is a more recent purchase, but it too had suffered a similar fate, although I knew it’s arrival back in 2015 was to great acclaim. It was about time I found out what all the fuss was about. So I decided to read both in succession.


My Mum was even more impressed with my news that FitzSimons’ wife was television stalwart Lisa Wilkinson. I also figured his latest, a retelling of the mutiny on the not so good ship Bounty might be an ideal Chrissy pressie for this amazing lady. Who knows, I might even get around to reading it myself. He’d never really been on my radar, Peter FS. Being from Rugbyland didn’t help. I knew he wrote columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and often commentated on the tele. To his credit, he is also a leader keeping the flame burning for us becoming a republic. And that, till ‘A Simpler Time’, was about all.

In truth this memoir doesn’t set the world on fire. It’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time, but his childhood is largely unremarkable – and probably all the better for that. It speaks of a time when kids and freedom was a synonym, not the opposite, for better or worse. He and his siblings roamed around, largely unfettered, from daylight to dusk, over his parent’s struggling acres.


PFS was one of six young ones in a time before television and certainly well before this era of tiny screen fascination. His mother had married down to a man she obviously loved to bits – her yearly stipend from her rich folks helping to keep the struggling orange orchard on Peats Ridge solvent. It also assisted in giving their children a jolly good education. In the book there are tales of bullying, first love, yearning for sporting success (which eventuates), country values as well as the city versus the bush. Later comes a journey to check out the family’s origins and a realisation that his dad, like so many at the time, had an unspoken of battle with depression. And Peter comes to appreciate, as in my case, how wonderful it was/is to have a remarkable mother to aide him through all his own troubles and tribulations. One tale that really hit the spot was how, in her later years, he came to have his photograph taken with her by a Walkley Award winning camerasnapper amongst the orange trees. The image is on view in this biography along with many others from the family album.

What a joy it is to read that, on her deathbed, when Helen was asked by one of Peter’s sisters what the best thing about her life had been, she replies, ‘Having sex with your father. Any more questions?’ Delightful.

Now, whereas the above was delightful in patches, ‘Flesh Wounds’ is a treat from cover to cover. Fitzy’s upbringing was quite normal for the time, but poor Glover’s was all over the shop.


Wil Anderson has likened this contribution to the list of classic memoirs to the work of America’s great raconteur Seinfeld. I loved it so much I rushed out and purchased Glover’s latest publication ‘The Land Before Avocado’ and if time permits, I will delve into his back catalogue too. As with FitzSimons, this author hadn’t meant much to me as he is also Sydney-centric, but his name does now. The columnist/broadcaster can boast, without possible contradiction that, in any parlour game of ‘Who Has the Weirdest Parents’, he would win hands down. He’d clean up if any bets were laid. Nobody else at any table could claim they were the result of a virgin birth. Then there is the story of how his mother had such a close connection to English aristocracy – until, that is, it all came tumbling down. There’s his father’s alcoholism and his step-father’s nudism – a step-father who was once his English teacher! What horror there was when his mum did a flit with him. If these stories do not have you in fits of laughter they’ll, without doubt, have you cringing. Eventually Richard sets out to discover the reason for his parents dysfunctionalism. They were a bizarre lot.

richard glover

I am so thankful my upbringing far more resembled that portrayed in the first offering, but as a read Glover’s exceptional effort is sublime. I’ve always figured nothing could surpass Clive James’ ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ as a tale of an Australian childhood. Glover comes close. Just brilliant. And don’t get me started on the teddy-bears.

Peter FitzSimons’ website =

Richard Glover’s website =

The Art of Persuasion by Susan Midalia

Potential. This author reeks of potential. Susan Midalia has a fine way with words as she reverses the old trope of men of a certain age and their Peter Pan Syndrome. The author’s heroine is preying on an older guy, but he’s playing hard to get. He’s refusing to succumb to her youth and winsome charm, although her approaches, admittedly tentative, should make it all too obvious to discern what she is after. She wants him, boy does she want him – and for most of the duration the reader is unsure whether she will succeed or be thwarted.

A book by Jane Austin brings the couple together on a Perth train – thus the title. She’s made a commitment to herself to read the author’s lesser known works. Of course, in a crowd, Adam is easy for her to pick out as he too is perusing a tome rather than a hand-held device. They query each other on their chosen reading matter and away we go – except this is a slow-burner. He has baggage and Adam, contrary to popular expectation, feels the age difference should be respected. How long can he hold out? He is a staunch supporter of the Greens, so this gives the girl another portal into his world.


I did relish ‘The Art of Persuasion’. Hazel, being a failed teacher, was someone I could relate to as my chosen profession was never all beer and skittles either. Her tale emphasises the difficulties facing young teachers embarking on this testing vocation. But, as she eventually discovers, there are joys to be had within it as well – even if some of what occurs in her classroom stretches credulity. This is the author’s first novel and for my taste there is a bit too much riffing on various issues close to the hearts of true Greens. This concern, though, only marginally detracts from the essential loveliness of the product of Midalia’s efforts. This reader really wanted to put a bomb under Adam, telling him that he’ll regret, long term, rejecting what Hazel was trying to hand to him on a platter. We want to give his five year old son a cuddle as he is a lovely creation from the writer and we should feel a cheer coming on as our young lady finally, courageously makes some progress with the art of teaching. She begins to meet her students head on and finds that works.

Hazel, as well as the reluctant Adam, worm their way into our hearts and any author able to do that with their characters is one to watch for the future.

Another review of the novel =

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

It’s a what-if that lingers.

Imagine if, after a long flight due to a family recall to be by my father’s bedside as he was passing on, I entered his hospital room to find that the woman holding his hand was not my dear mother. Imagine it was, surprisingly, a person I had never met. Now imagine if that was only the tip of the iceberg. Continue imagining that, in the weeks that follow after this shock, I discovered that my dad had a secret life about which I had not the slightest notion. If that then leads to a conclusion being arrived at that the reason he is lying in bed facing death may not have been accidental – well then, oh dear!

Of course, apart from the hurried trip back to Oz, this never occurred, but that is the premise of Sydney-sider Michael Robotham’s fascinating new publication, ‘The Other Wife’.


I am a late convert to this author, bought over by his previous tome, ‘The Secrets She Keeps’. Crime thrillers have never been my cup of tea until meeting Mr Robotham. His latest is his ninth featuring English psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. The significant feature of our hero is that, for the duration, Joe is battling ‘Mr Parkinson’ – a fact that has generated, for the writer, much kudos as a champion of research into a cure to this cruel disease.

Robotham isn’t an outstanding wordsmith, but his prose is competent enough to deliver us a narrative that keeps the pages turning over in a manner akin to watching a jolly good British police-procedural on the small screen. Now, if I were a younger man with more time on my side and less of a pile of must-reads on my shelves, I would avidly seek out the back-oeuvre of this fellow – he is most engaging.

the other

This London-set work presents a sleuth who is typically conflicted. Joe is forced to reappraise his long held view of his often distant, preoccupied father. It seems the old fellow had a host of reasons for his mind being on weightier matters other than his son. It’s a son who is still grieving for a wife and coping with single parenthood. There is, though, a glimmer of a new romance beckoning. Could this be the last in the Joe O’Loughlin series? The writer has hinted as much. I hope not, even if I haven’t been around Joe’s creator for the whole journey. His situation was left hanging in the final chapter and I’d like to be a visitor to his world again in the future.

The author’s website =

Fatherhood: Stories about being a dad by William McInnes

The author’s a RCNR and wants to form a support group. I reckon I’m a bit of a one too. I’m fairly okay with my own, but over the years I’ve had great issues with my beautiful lady’s. It’s the colours you see. She likes grey tones – and so it seems do most of the rest of the population. On occasions I’ve been sent to deposit or collect and that’s when the RCNR thing hits me. It has done so to the degree that I have at times found myself attempting to break-in and enter. So for a serial RCNRer like William McInnes and those as far along the spectrum as he is, it’s a terrific move that the wordsmith-come-actor is considering. I may join as an associate member.

As one may readily discern from his current work in ‘Rake’, the star of stage and screen is no longer the epitome of manliness that gave Laura Gibson the will to live again after the departure of Diver Dan in the iconic ‘SeaChange’. He’s still picking up roles, but is no longer leading man material. He’s the first to admit this, as he does several times in ‘Fatherhood: Stories About Being a Dad’. Maybe writing should become his main gig in light of that, although, in terms of memoirs, it is hard to imagine that there are many more guffaw inducing tales from his life remaining to tell. His first collection, ‘A Man’s Got to Have a Hobby’ (2005) was a cracker. ‘Holidays’ (2014), together with 2016’s ‘Full Bore’, were not far behind. In this one he tells many more, often self-deprecating, yarns, but there seems now much ‘boofheaded’ philosophising as filler.


McInnes never takes himself too seriously and regales us with delightful memories of teaching his kids to drive, their errors producing ‘the underhand of involuntary self-protection’. Then there’s the explaining as to how, at his stage of life, one goes about engaging in a sex scene with a comely actress for television. Perhaps it’s the one on display in the latest season of Cleaver Greene’s misadventures – not a pretty sight. He riffs on sunsets, the delicious taste of the much maligned mullet and the confusion that can come when he is repeatedly mistaken for fellow thesps Ben Mendelsohn and Noah Taylor by the punters. Once he was even mistaken for himself, a hilarious recollection. It reflects the downside of being both writer and actor. In the tome are also included the touching missives he wrote to both his offspring on the completion of their secondary education. He also recalls some more of the crazy characters he met during his formative years growing up in Queensland. Not the least of these was his own father, so prominently featured in previous publications. He writes on death and dying before informing us that going orienteering is perhaps not the best cover for having an affair.


No book of the non-fiction variety from this Aussie larrikin can be passed up by me, even if the laughs were not as forthcoming as previous efforts. Perhaps they are even more precious for that.But now, getting back to being a Recidivist Carpark Non-Rememberer, it is worth noting that Leigh and I are about to head, at time of writing, to the Gold Coast, scene of our worst case of echoing the proposed founding member’s exhortation of frustration, ‘Who designs these bloody carparks!’ Our story of a lost car in the vast expanse of the Pacific Fair parking facility will serve as my opening gambit to apply for membership. If that’s not enough, there’s the time I opened a door to a sedan and proceeded to sit in the passenger seat, only to discover there was a young lady aside me who, indeed, was not my Leigh. There are, added on, the countless times I’ve attempted to open the boots of vehicles that, on closer examination, were patently not hers. I think joining my fellow RCNR is a given.

Then and Now, Coming Out in the US of A

White Houses – Amy Bloom Leah on the Offbeat – Becky Abertalli

Under our breasts and in our creases, we smelled like fresh baked bread in the mornings. We slept naked as babies, breasts and bellies rolling towards each other, our legs entwined like climbing roses. We used to say, we’re no beauties, because it was impossible to tell the truth. In bed we were beauties. We were goddesses. We were the little girls we’d never were: loved, saucy, delighted and delightful.’White Houses’- Amy Bloom

I just look at her. I just can’t believe I’m allowed to do this. I can just stare at her face without it being creepy. I want to memorise every inch of Abby – the shine of her cheekbones and the brightness of her eyes. There are tears in her lashes and her cheeks are sort of puffy. I don’t know how this girl can go from laughing to crying to kissing and back, and still come out of it looking like an actual moonbeam.’ ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ – Becky Abertalli

Such tenderness.

It goes without saying that it can’t be easy to come out and for centuries it had to be hidden. That’s still a necessity in many, many countries – but thankfully, here and America, despite Abbott and Trump, it has become a non-issue as far as the law is concerned. Not that it makes announcing it to friends and family any easier as a result.


Of course, in mid-C20th America, the setting for ‘White Houses’, the option wasn’t there for either gender, but I suspect the authorities were tougher on the males. Naturally, getting away with it was much easier if you were the wife of the President. As stated, the FLOTUS was not the beauty, in the classic sense, she was in her youth by the time of her liaison with the lover in this semi-factual tome. But then, nor was that lover – although the latter blamed that on the unflattering photography of the era. Not that attractiveness is in any way important, except in that perhaps plainness doesn’t conform to male fantasy. In any case hubby, POTUS, was in a semi-open relationship with his secretary and those in the know, including the media, turned a blind eye. Wouldn’t happen in this age of shock-jocks and gutter media. In that period the White House kept its secrets closely guarded, including FDR’s paralysis. Eleanor was a much admired figure, even loved, by the general public; noted for her good works and lack of airs. Compare that to today. The two led separate lives – maybe that’s still relevant – and Mrs Roosevelt’s close companion, during the years Bloom is writing about, was former journalist Lorena Hickok. Despite the crowded first lady’s schedule, the couple do find time to be intimate.

The pair are from entirely different backgrounds – possibly accounting for the mutual attraction. Hick’s early years were hardscrabble with an abusive father. She ran away to join the circus in her teens, losing her virginity to one of the ‘freaks’ on display at a time she was fast discovering she had a way with the written word. That leads to her career – a career that had to be curtailed when she became too close to a powerful woman.

The novel is told in a hard-boiled style from the lover’s perspective. Most characters are historical, but there are a few invented ones such as Parker Fiske. He loses his cabinet position due to his sexual proclivities, perhaps pointing to a few double standards.


This reasonably short novel is a compelling enough read, leading one to delve to deduce fact from fiction by sussing out other interpretations of the same tale.

Fast forward to the present and the YA book by Becky Albertalli (who found fame with ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’), ‘Leah and the Offbeat’. This story is as contemporary as can be. I suspect its target audience will rush to it as they obviously did to the first novel, heightened by the fact that Simon is also a character in this.


Leah is in her final year of high school, is a drummer in a band, is definitely not one of the in crowd and is potentially a talented artist, although the latter is kept well hidden. She is also coming to the conclusion that it is not only boys she is attracted to. In the heady weeks leading up to the prom Leah’s support group is fracturing over a racial comment by one of her cohort. It’s offended her to the core, although it was directed at another. Leah is outwardly feisty and opinionated, but inwardly torn between the lad who’s taken a fancy to her and Abby, the hot girl who is everything, it seems to her, she is not. As the group decide on their college options Abby and Leah are drawn together, especially once the former dumps her jerk boyfriend.


As a read for a sixty-something fella, this wasn’t usual fare, but it carried me along to the end well enough. But girls of a certain age, as well as a discerning lad or two, will love it, as evidenced by the gushing but wholeheartedly felt positive reviews on-line. And if it helps even one young person struggling with their sexuality – well then, despite being a cliché, it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

Amy Bloom’s official site =

Becky Abertalli’s official site =