All posts by Steve Lovell

Islands – Peggy Frew

Recently my lovely lady started to watch ‘Yellowstone’ on Netflix. It had positive reviews and possessed a fine cast headed by Kevin Costner. What would be not to like? Leigh enjoyed the introductory movie-length first episode, but once she proceeded into the regular series, she found it too fractured – the timelines were all over the place, so much so she hadn’t much idea what was going on. I’m not sure she persevered with it.

It was like that for this reader with Peggy Frew’s ‘Islands’ – only I carried on till the end. Her earlier publications – ‘House of Sticks’ and ‘Hope Farm’ were exceptionally good but, as with Leigh and ‘Yellowstone’, despite the book’s positive reviews with the critics I consulted, I struggled.


That Ms Frew is not a fine practitioner was not the problem – her wordsmithery excels. What one reviewer described as her succeeding with ‘…an uncomfortable and disorientating narrative’, I found just such tough going. I struggled to get a handle on what was going on in this tale of a dysfunctional family unit coming to grips with the disappearance of one of its number.

The island of the title is Victoria’s Phillip Island; home of little penguins, glorious seascapes and a tourist destination of repute. It provided a holiday escape for the family in question, as it has for the forty-something author in her own life. She has stated she has been working on the manuscript for this book since her twenties.


Islands’ centres on two sisters, Junie and Anna, with the latter being the missing mystery figure. Did she simply run away or was there something more sinister involved? She was a wild child so all options were open. We approach the story from events occurring in all decades, it seems, since the sixties, but not presented in an exactly straightforward manner. One thing the novel does do, along with some very fine television I have been watching of late (‘A Confession’ being one example), is to convey the utter devastation a missing child can cause. Just awful, especially if no closure is gained.

The author’s FB page =

Electric Hotel – Dominic Smith

Vamp. What has the world done to deserve your European contempt and mockery? How we let you into this country is beyond a thinking man’s sense. You should go back to your homeland where they eat babies and drown in sexual vice.’

Sabine Montrose, you represent perhaps the greatest threat to civil society. In regards to your recent film ‘The Electric Hotel’ I am writing to tell you that Christian married women everywhere will mull your name alongside the devil’s, for it is in his company that you belong. An archangel seductress and a Vampyre ripped from Poe.’

So, if you think trolls are are a modern-day phenomenon, think again. They existed in the early decades of the C20th too. I suspect they’ve always existed, just in differing forms. Back then they spread their toxic vitriol via snail mail – the only difference being to our digital age that it therefore occurred at a more languid pace. The greats of the silver screen have always had their fan mail from the adoring multitudes, but the post was also a vehicle to communicate the bile of the haters. In ‘The Electric Hotel’, by Australian-American writer Dominic Smith, the fictional Marilyn Monroe of the era he set his tome in, Sabine Montrose, is, in part, forced to retire from making the earliest of movies by the strong criticism she received for her role in the book’s eponymous film. What also defeated her was the result of the stranglehold various trusts (read monopolies) had over various industries, despite the best efforts of Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson to curtail the damage they were doing. The villain of the piece here was Thomas Alva Edison. He controlled the early film industry with an iron fist. He was in no mood for compromise if an upstart indie tried to take a slither of his turf.


As a read ‘The Electric Hotel’ was full of interest but had the potential to be so much better. It deals with a fascinating time as the movie business starts to show signs of what it would become – ie today’s behemoth – in the eyes of the public. If a reader is interested in this era there is much to relish. As we know, at the moment archivists all over the world are struggling to restore the windows on a bygone world before reels of disintegrating footage in canisters, stored for a century or more, turn to mush. If the publication had of stuck to those exciting times, this would have been a more successful tale. When it leaves, as war approaches, it continues on and loses its sheen.

Claude Ballard, the central protagonist, paid his dues in Europe, working for the Lumiere Brothers at the birth of modern cinema. Later, in New York State, teaming up with producer Hal Bender, Australia stuntman Chip and the redoubtable Sabine, they set about making an early Gothic horror epic, seemingly unaware of the legal implications of trying to compete with Edison and his cronies. Claude is completely infatuated with the ageing but intensely mercurial Montrose. Earlier he had filmed her in the altogether taking a bath, as well as his own sister’s untimely death. Both shorts certainly caused the Edwardian Age to sit up and take notice of the new medium. One got the men folk very hot and bothered indeed.

As for what was, at the time, a forerunner to a full length feature, Edison scarpered the completed product well and truly, sending the careers of the filmmakers and the star into debt and personal nosedives from which they all struggled to recover. But the book opens and closes decades later with a more modern day film student seeking out the now elderly Ballard. He’s living in a seedy NYC hotel with his ancient completed film stored under his bed. It had only managed one public showing back in the day of the silent screen. The student resolves to make right the earlier travesty and present a restored copy to a modern audience.


There are pleasures to be had with Smith’s rendering of his fictional account, but as some reviewers have also stated, they come in fits and starts. It’s impact is distilled as it becomes yet another war story for much of its length. Its descriptions, though, of early film making, before health and safety concerns prevented caution being thrown to the wind, are enthralling. Stuntmen defied death even if disguised as women, dirigibles aflame fell from the skies and women with womanly desires had yet to be excised by the Hays Code. A beauty such as Sabine could cause a public meltdown the nature of which is hard to imagine in our flesh saturated world.

The author’s website =

The Square Bowl

Losing a child is beyond comprehension. It defies biology. It contradicts the natural order of history and genealogy. And it violates time. It derails common sense. It creates a huge, black, bottomless hole that swallows hope.’ Michael Robotham ‘Good Girl, Bad Girl’

I know it’s going. The doctors have told me as much. Yuko tells me, in the softest possible way, that she has to live with its going every single day. Is that what makes her so sad? I suspect it’s a part. I can only imagine that, like me, she is missing someone. Despite her lack of laughter, she’s no less loving. We’ve had a good life together these past fifteen years. If I went tomorrow, I’d be content. I know I’ll love her to the day I die, if only I can remember to.

And I’ve wanted to write before I’ve also forgotten you. So friend, if you receive this, know you are still in my thoughts. Before they fade, this is a take on what has happened to me since I left the Coast. Mostly the memory of it is clear – it’s what happened yesterday I struggle with. Memories of Devonport, my years with Gloria and my time with you as my friend or colleague or both are still fresh. It’s to show you are not forgotten; what your friendship, companionship, collegiality meant to me back then. What it still means to me. Yoku will have found this amongst all the other documents stored in a place she knows well, along with the names and last known addresses. So this is to say thank you; it is to bring you up to speed whilst the speed hasn’t sped off. I hope it makes it through to you so you understand maybe a little and to inform you you have my gratitude.

It may be a surprise to you that, once upon a time, I attended university. It surprises me too. I bring this up now because of a girl. I’ve been thinking a great deal about her of late. She only frequented my life for a very short time, but I now wonder if she was a talis(wo)man of sorts. And it relates to Yuko.

Academia only lasted a year. Economics. It was bat-shit boring – but something must have rubbed off. It turned out that I was pretty good with money. I’m still worth a bit. I’ll have a tidy sum to pass on, even after all that’s happened. That gives me satisfaction. I’ll still be able to contribute to the financial well-being of the girls and through Yuko, to Dan. Who’s Dan? Well he’s Yuko’s lad – but he is very dear to me, great strapping fellow that he is. At the moment he’s overseas, doing something in finance I think. Is it London? I’m a bit vague on that. He’ll be coming home shortly – to see me I guess. To see me before I lose my marbles completely. And we’ll have the bowl ready. Always makes me laugh. That bowl. The square bowl.

Yes, I was a uni freshman. Must have been 1970. My one year of higher learning. The year I met Gloria. Arts student from Burnie. Destined to teach and be my the mother of my children – and what a fine fist she made of both till I stuffed it all up for her. Yep, you’ll recall when the shit hit the fan. She’ll never wholly forgive me. I don’t blame her. You will probably know about her these days much more than I do. You’ll be aware of how devastated she was when it all came out. Cost her so much. But in truth – and this may seem cruel to you – what happened, in the long run, was the best thing for me. I found my happiness – true happiness – later in life, but at least I found it. Happiness. I wasn’t within a bull’s roar before – thus the affair. And my girls are back talking to me. That is the icing on the cake. Deep down I think they understand – the girls. Maybe you will too.

But before Gloria there was her. It was so fleeting. Did I ever even know the name? If I did, it’s well and truly gone from my synapses now. But in recent times she’s come back to me. I haven’t thought of her for decades. That year at uni, she was in our tutorial group along with my mate as well. My mate? You’ll remember him. We were like two peas in a pod for years. He’s long gone now, sadly. I still miss him. I didn’t go down to the funeral – too scared to show my face, coward that I am. Anyway, I was infatuated by her; in lust with all those juices waiting to explode at that age. I couldn’t wait for each week’s tute to come around when I could cast my eye over her more intimately, instead of from a distance in the lecture theatre. She was Asian – so exotic for a Devonport lad. My bosom pal was obviously taken too. He was more brazen than I could ever be then. He tried to strike up a conversation with her a couple of times. One day he told me that, in that afternoon’s gathering, he was going to ask her out. He insisted I wasn’t to be there hanging around. Later he came back crestfallen. He didn’t say much and I didn’t pursue it. Soon Gloria came along for me and my life changed course. My pal soon had a girl too – but his union ended well before mine, but for entirely different reasons. Now, you may know my mate’s more recent story and the beautiful Thai woman he spent his last years with. As for me? Now I have Yuko. Who’d have thought? That Asian girl, of my younger years, has returned to me. It’s in in another totally different package, admittedly, as she was for my best friend. But this, to you, is about my Yuko – not Gloria, nor my affair. They say there is something about older white men and Oriental women. Worked for my mate; worked for me – in the end.

Yuko? We will get to her. Sorry I’m so long winded, but the proper telling, as I see it, is important. Patience.

I don’t hold grudges. Angus did step up big-time. Twice. You’d know he was my 2IC for years. Gone now too, of course. Only last year – and again I didn’t front. I sent a note of sympathy to Gloria. Yes, we still have some contact, usually issues to do with the girls and the grandchildren. Angus was the only one I confided in before I did the runner – he and my lawyer. And my former assistant was very good to Gloria after my departure – and maybe before. Who knows? He was her main comforter – and later the comforting turned into something else. Who’d have thought – Angus and Gloria. I had always known he had a soft spot for her, but I must admit their getting together blindsided me. Good on him though. He’s made her happy I hear. With him I knew the business would be in competent hands and when he bought me out, aided by Gloria’s (read my) money, he again stepped up, somewhat ironically, when I needed a buyer. But, by then, I didn’t care. I was in clover.

We’d lived frugally, all those decades, Gloria and I. There was no ostentation, despite our station. We weren’t the types. It was tough whilst the business was getting off the ground, but once it was established and we started buying out our competitors, we were well set up financially. So when I decided to do my flit, I ensured, with the lawyer, that Gloria and the girls were well taken care of. The business, under Angus, would look after itself. I told him it’d be for about six months, just to get my shit together; to get in a better head-space. But, in the back of my mind, I was thinking long term. What of April when I did my own take on Lord Lucan (although the only crime I committed was having a relationship with another man’s wife), you might ask. Well I gave her some compensation for all the shame I caused her too. She went back to hubby, good man that he was. You would know they no longer reside by the Mersey.

Queensland seemed as apt a place as any to disappear to. Money and sunshine were an attractive alternative to the way I was living then. I figured I had enough of one resource, Mangoland would provide the other. Base myself on the Gold Coast, to start with, then take it from there.

You see, I was 53 when April and I were busted – busted big-time; busted in the worst possible way. People turned against me – not you, of course, otherwise you wouldn’t be receiving this. But people did. The looks, the shunning – all by people who were supposedly mates. Even business dropped off for a while. I stuck it out for a time, living in that little flat above head office. No social life, with the usual easy dynamics I had with my work force altered for good. Many couldn’t bear to look me in the eye after it happened. For some that became a constant. The laughter in my life totally disappeared – and what is life without laughter? So when the new millennium was in its infancy I decided to escape.

But the Gold Coast wasn’t the place – that was soon apparent after only a month or so in. I was living in a cheap motel – frugal till the end. I knew it wasn’t just going to happen but, to be totally honest, I didn’t know where to start in this foreign environment without my network. I purchased a car and decided to explore possibilities in Northern NSW – the Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Lismore – nothing seemed right. Maybe north would work – Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach – I knew all the hot-spots. Again, nothing clicked. I dreaded the thought of reaching Port Douglas with still nothing and having to return home with my tail between my legs. But, well before that northern resort of the well heeled and sun starved, along came Yuko.

Yuko. My lovely, lovely wild-thing. Yuko. She told me her background soon after our worlds collided. She was, despite her exotic looks, third generation Aussie. It showed as soon as she opened her mouth. Her looks, though, were decidedly Asian, but with a little extra thrown in. Was it that first night, when we talked forever, that she regaled me with her provenance? I can’t recall, but I do recall the gist of what she told me. Here it is in a nutshell. Her grandmother, also a Yuko (as was her mother), accompanied her husband to Australia when Broome was the pearling capital of the world. Her hubby sadly didn’t last long, a victim of the bends. The original Yuko then hooked up with a South Sea Islander, a restless soul whose forebears had been blackbirded to slave in the Queensland cane-fields. My Yuko’s grandfather, in the process of working his way around the country, was a big, burly, fuzzy-headed fellow. Yuko described him as a manly dynamo – thus Dan’s build and perhaps choice of sport, I presume. Dan’s a man now, but he was just 12 when he came into my orb as part of the package. The boy I never had. Yuko’s gift to me and quite a muscular lump, even then. And I loved him as if he was my own born and bred. The first Yuko finally settled here, on the outskirts of Rockhampton, after he, with the grandmother to be in tow, completed his circumnavigation. They had Yuko No.2 who grew up to marry Kev, a dinky-di white-bread Queenslander. Together they had a gorgeous coffee-coloured girl, again an only child, whom I have now lucked in with and adore.


Yep, Yuko’s a bit unique – part Australian, part islander from the South Pacific but, as she says, mostly defiantly Japanese. There’s other bits and pieces, but that’s her essence.

The day of our meeting I hadn’t lost hope, but I was a tad concerned. I was already well over the ambit of six months. Angus was pestering me for my intentions. I’ll still hadn’t found what I was looking for, so I wasn’t in overly good spirits that day. My aim had been to make it to Yeppoon and book into a motel. A puncture that morning had played havoc with my time frame and hadn’t improved my mood. It was getting later and later as I made my way through Rocky, but then, on the outskirts, I saw the neon and realised how hungry I was. The sign read Yuko’s Chinese Hideaway Restaurant – the ‘hideaway’ bit turned out to be Yuko’s hideously atrocious attempt at a pun – so, as there were still lights on, I pulled-in and stopped. Being around eight on a Monday night – a date that now is indelibly imprinted in my mind – there were only a couple of diners tucking in. Then I noticed the woman behind the counter. Tall, slim with an unkempt Afro sprouting out in all directions; she was full-lipped and flashing me a smile as wide as the big skies of Queensland. ‘You looking for a feed, fella? You’ve come to the right place. I’m packing up, but I can rustle you up something for sure.’

That’s what my memory tells me were her first words to me, but I wouldn’t trust my memory for anything these days. She bought me out a meal after fifteen or so minutes, together with a couple of beers, plonking herself down on the chair opposite. ‘I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.’

She laughed when she saw my stunned expression. ‘Your story, fella. Your story. You’ve seen a few years, no offence. And you’ve been through a bit, I betcha. I can tell it from your eyes. And you’re not from these parts either. I can tell from your skin. Go on. I’m waiting, fella.’

Now it was my turn to laugh – and I hadn’t laughed in a long time. But, after I met Yuko, I didn’t stop for many years, that is, until the sadness came. And that night I did. I told her mine and she told me hers, as I have already related. It is fair to say we connected. Then she invited me back to hers, a bungalow tucked away in the bush. We kicked on and one thing led to another. I won’t go into all that here – but it was marvellous. Just marvellous.

He turned around, his open mouth full of rice, chopsticks in his hand, his bowl of soy smothered rice – his regular breakfast as it turns out – crashing to the floor. He had had his back to me when I entered the tiny kitchen. He spun around, no doubt expecting his mother, startled like a rabbit in the headlights when he got me instead and dropped his brekky. I reached down to pick it up just as a flustered mum rushed in. ‘Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,’ she blurted out. ‘Don’t look at him like that, boy. He’s harmless. He’s already proved that. Dan, meet John. John, meet my lad Dan. Hope youse two will be mates. I reckon we’ll be seeing a bit more of him around here, boy.’

I looked down, blushing. I looked down at at that square shaped bowl, white with blue Japanese writing and rice still clinging to it. His breakfast bowl. That bowl. He took his repast from it every single morning without variation. It bought him luck for the day, he reckoned.


And now Hideo. Hideo – get it? Hideaway. See? Told you it was woeful. And, when I knew her a bit better, I told her so too. She now has a new sign up. Hideo was Dan’s father, her ex-hubby. He was pure Japanese. Not a gorgeous mix like his former wife. My lady was 21 and waitressing in Rockhampton and Hideo was character building when they encountered each other on the first occasion. Character building to make him a man and to give him a bit of experience of the world before he settled down into the family business back home. His people ran a profitable restaurant chain in Japan, but the attraction of returning to that couldn’t compete with Yuko for Hideo. Nor could the young lady his folk had earmarked for him, for, with the exotic Yuko, he certainly was receiving a whole slab of character building. Hideo was soon petitioning home to extend his stay and this was eventually and reluctantly granted. It was not long before he was imploring his home folk in the Land of the Rising Sun for their blessing to marry his Aussie beauty. That, though, was more problematic, considering that various promises had been made. So he went home to convince. Yuko feared that would be the last she saw of him, but he had built character, as well as bottle. He did indeed come back, announcing mission accomplished. He even managed to wheedle out of his doting parents a stipend to set up a business. Together they found a spot on the road to the coast and established Yuko’s Japanese Hideaway. The pair soon discovered that food from his homeland didn’t work in these parts, but when they switched to Chinese, the business took off.

By the time I appeared Hideo had long gone. Soon after Dan was born his father was recalled home. There’d been the passing of the patriarch. Hideo reckoned he’d be gone a few weeks. He never returned. He’s now married to the young lady he had been promised to prior to Yuko and he manages the family chain of eateries. He’s now quite wealthy with another family. When the move looked like being permanent it was naturally expected that Yuko would join him in Osaka. Yuko refused. She had visited the place – far too cold and uptight for her casual ways and warm blood. She felt her hubby’s birthplace was, well, hideous. See. I can do it too. Besides, with a new child, she didn’t want to uproot. No dutiful Japanese wife nonsense for her.

And it didn’t take long for her to realise my move north was about to become permanent too. Yuko was 42 when we met so there was, I admit, a fair age difference. But it didn’t seem to be an issue for her. I wasn’t backward in coming forward with the extra inducement that I was reasonably well endowed in the finances department. I’m not silly enough to discount that as part of the attraction either. I was certainly smitten – and if money greased the path to true happiness, then so be it. But Yuko gave me, in spades, far more than my money’s worth back – believe you me. In spades she gave it.

And she gifted me a project too to make sure I was well busy in other aspects of life. Being in the business, I knew what truckers looked for so, given the location, Yuko was in perfect position to make far more than she was doing just with the Chinese. There was nothing like what I envisaged between Rockhampton and the booming coast. The signage now reads Yoku’s Chinese and Truck-Stop. By the end of the first decade of life with my mixed-race love we had put in bowsers, a separate takeaway/grocery mini-mart, clean as can be toilets and a children’s play area. Business is booming and we employ a dozen staff, casual and full-time. And it’s all there for Dan to inherit one day, if he so desires. And gee, I hope he does. I miss him like crazy. It certainly has been a while since we’ve heard from him. I know the last time we did he promised to soon come home for a visit but, hell, how long ago was that now? I know my brain doesn’t remember the recent stuff very well these days. He could have visited yesterday for all I know, but Yuko still has her sad look – so I guess not. Come on Dan. The square bowl is waiting.

Now being Taswegian, I knew nothing of rugby. Still struggle with it, but even at age twelve, when I first knew him, Dan was pencilled in as a future champion of the sport. And he freely canvassed the fact that one day he’d play in the World Cup. But not for Australia. With his dual citizenship, courtesy of his father, his ambition was to play for Japan. Hideo, to give him his due, flew in quite regularly to keep contact, with Dan reciprocating with visits over there as he was growing up. I got on okay with Hideo too but he was quite intense. He must have been such a contrast to laid back Yuko when they were a unit. It seems now Dan has chosen to reside neither here nor there as he makes his way in Britain. But there’s an ache there with him gone that even the occasional visits from the girls and their families cannot assuage. I miss him. I want him back so much – but he’s a grown man now. You have to let go, don’t you? I’m just frightened that when he does come I won’t recognise him.

jap rugby

I’m finishing at this point friend. I plan to write some more, but I’ll give it a rest. Hopefully I can keep on doing everyday tasks a while longer, but at my age and with this condition, one is always worried about what tomorrow will bring. Maybe the next tomorrow will be the day Dan comes back to us. I’ll know when it happens for no other reason that the light will be back on in my darling’s face. At least, I hope I will.

When John died Yuko duly sorted out his affairs and in doing so found two letters, one for her and the other with a list of his old Tassie mates. She made five copies and posted them off. One came to me. Clipped to it was a short piece photocopied from the local newspaper of her son’s death. It was a freak accident on the rugby field when he was eighteen. A jarring tackle followed by heart failure. Later on the letter John wrote to her came into my possession as well. How? She gave it to me.

When Amy Met Bryan

Dear Amy. You will be missed forever. All my love.’

She was a troubled rock star. And those troubles saw her join the greats of the 27 Club. Her woes beforehand are well documented and known to those who followed music in the noughties. A friend played me one of her albums back in the day – ‘Back to Black’ I think. It was obvious she was talented, but I didn’t rush out to buy it the next day.

He’s sold 75 million albums in a long career and I certainly shelled out for a couple of them. For me he was second tier – not up there in the stratosphere like Springsteen, Clapton or Morrison (Van), but down a notch with guys like Seger, Petty, Mellencamp and the Eagles. Nowadays, I suspect, to admit you’re a fan of his would be akin to saying you’re a Phil Collins devotee – but I’m old and have no qualms in saying I admire both of them. If others figure they’re naff, I don’t give a toss. And he’s still active in the music world despite now pushing beyond sixty. Why, he even played the AFL GF a few years back – and made a better fist of it than Meatloaf. But this is also one guy who has reinvented himself.


Initially this scribbling was never to be about his music but that reinvention when he entered into the world of a highly professional photographer. And it was that, rather than musical collegiality, that led to what could be considered an unlikely relationship. So unlikely it triggered my curiosity and spun this piece off into another direction.

From the eighties on Bryan Adams was huge musically, but behind the scenes he was working on another passion. His interest in camera-snapping predates his advancement to the top of the charts worldwide. He photographed everything around him as a teenager in the seventies – local scenery, the concerts he attended, even his girlfriend in the bath. At around the same time he was cracking it musically he was honing his skills in this other artistic field and as his star waned entertaining the masses in vast arenas, he realised that he was getting pretty adept with this other string to his bow. So much so that he would never have to rely on the millions he was making from the royalties for ‘The Summer of ‘69’ and his other classic ditties. Of course, his name would gain him access to celebrities willing to pose before his lens – Morrissey staring moodily at his camera in a Rome hotel suite, Dustin Hoffman relaxing on a Malibu beach, Jagger strutting or Pink and Kate Moss happily prepared to pose topless for him. Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire have all lined up to commission him for images. Converse, Guess Jeans, Hugo Boss, Jaguar have employed him on print media campaigns. He founded the on-line fashion mag Zoo and has received prestigious gongs for his output. He has published a number of glossy books of his product such as ‘Exposed’ and ‘American Women’. And, just in case you’re thinking he’s a one trick pony, there’s also his poignant take of the damage war does on the bodies and minds of soldiers with his tome on those injured due to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s titled ‘Wounded’.


There is nothing to suggest the musician/photographer’s connection with Amy Winehouse was anything more than friendship, with perhaps his perceived desire to see her live a better lifestyle thrown in. Adams had a taste for her music and obviously took a liking to her. He captured her unique beauty in several shoots from 2007 on, although it’s a bit of a mystery what drew them together and how close they actually were as mates. Although Adams has never married, he has had long term relationships and has kiddies with his current partner. He is also very reluctant to give too mach away about his connection to the departed singer. In 2008, peeved at being asked the question, he retorted, ‘I don’t even know, truthfully, how anyone knows I know her – other than the fact I photograph her. I don’t really talk about it. Because it’s her business. You know what I mean?’ Later on he had softened a tad. In another interview, when quizzed on the unlikeliness of it, he responded, ‘I think she trusted me. The photographs really show her having fun…I think I was closer to her than many people.’

But They were drawn to you like a moths to a flame

Nobody saw the tears in your silk n’lace

Or the scarred little kid behind your face

She’s an angel, but that’s all right’

Adams could not but help know of Amy’s demons – her battles with alcohol and drugs; her fractured personal life. ‘Amy wasn’t kind to herself,’ he’d later say. In 2007 he wrote ‘Flowers Gone Wild’, a song to purportedly warn her of where she could end up if she continued on without tempering her excesses. That same year he persuaded her to spend some Christmassy time with him in the West Indies sunshine at his digs on the island of Mustique. It was speculated that the invitation was extended as much to help her come clean as it was out of friendship.

bryan adams amy

I’d be sitting in a villa and hear what sounds like a bird flying by, then I’d look out the window and it’s Amy, singing in falsetto, just playing around.’ It seems she was happy there. Adams took her scuba driving and tried to teach her how to drive – thus the image of her peering out from the window of hs Jeep. ‘The concept of braking wasn’t something that Amy could quite grasp.’

In 2010 the photographer shot Amy W for a spread in Harper’s Bazaar. The Canadian songster, a vegan for years, tried to get her to eat some of his variety of tucker. ‘I need protein Bryan.’ was her answer and she sent out a minion to seek some out, asking him/her to bring back a cucumber, as well, to ‘…to hit Bryan with.’


An interviewer had also booked some time with her after she had completed her tasks for Adams. He observed her demeanour throughout and noted that she was very professional and confident to start with, but by the end, had become less obliging and just a tad fractious with the shoot. By the time she got to him she was ‘…distracted and vague. My most straight forward questions confuse her.’ When asked if she had any unfulfilled ambitions she airily responded, ‘Nope! If I died tomorrow I would be a happy girl.’ She didn’t last much longer.

At one stage in her career she informed NME Magazine that, ‘I’ve learned to appreciate simple things, like the beauty of nature. It’s taught me to face my fears…I’ve come to the realisation that life is short, so I want to make sure I live every minute of it.’

She passed, of alcoholic poisoning, in 2011. A posthumous album, ‘Amy Winehouse Lionness – Hidden Treasures’, was released later that year. It went straight to No.1. A Bryan Adams image of her graced the cover.

Dear Amy. You will be missed forever. All my love. RIP. Bryan Adams’

Bryam Adams Photography =

Good Girl, Bad Girl – Michael Robotham

It’s been hard yakka with some of the books I’ve chosen to read this calendar year. Dense, in some cases pompous prose – it’s been a struggle to find positives with some of them and only my stubbornness kept me going to their end. And that seemed to take forever as I never relished returning to plough on.

The new Michael Robotham was next on my list. He’s a favourite from recent times (‘The Secrets She Keeps’, ‘The Other Wife’) after I had persevered with favourites from times past. Would he let me down too with ‘Good Girl. Bad Girl’? Not on your Nelly. He grabs you in and holds you. There’s no frippery with his wordsmithery. He’d never be in line for the Booker. But, he tells a terrific yarn, in a no-nonsense style and there’s always twists and turns, as well as few red herrings thrown in for good measure.


Composing this, a fortnight after I turned the last page, for the life of me I can’t remember whodunnit – who murdered the young aspiring figure skater. I do remember it was a convoluted, but thoroughly enjoyable, process getting there – so it matters little. This didn’t quite reach the classiness of the two aforementioned titles, but there was immense pleasure in returning to it – so in contrast to many that went before. I was through it in very few sittings – or in my case, usually, lyings down. This turned out to be quite the salve for this reader who was starting to get just a touch jaded.

In her review for the ‘NY Journal of Books’, Charlotte Mendel describes Robotham’s tome as ‘…an impeccable thriller that encompasses murder, incest, drugs, abuse, sex – you name it, the book has it.’Good Girl, Bad Girl’ will uproot your preconceptions about the meaning of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and scatter them to the winds.’

That might be over-egging it somewhat. Sure the novel features all those human frailties, but they don’t dominate. It’s more about the relationship between forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven (and we’re promised that future books will feature him some more, as has one past publication) and troubled teen Evie Cormac. He comes across her whilst investigating the slaying of the young sportswoman.

Cyrus isn’t quite, yet, the compelling character the ‘The Other Wife’s’ Joe O’Loughlin, the clinical psychologist who has featured in a whole swag of his previous oeuvre, is. He’s obviously down pat – Cyrus perhaps needs a little polishing up. Ms Cormac, who can be both very good and very odious, has a special talent. She is able to ascertain whether one is fibbing or telling the truth – a portable human lie detector. It’d be a great skill for a poker player to have, wouldn’t it? Nonetheless, it hasn’t made her pathway to adulthood any the easier, but a bond or sorts develops between her and the psychologist, so much so that he convinces some very liberal judge to make her his ward. Silly move Cyrus. It’s inevitable that she becomes entangled in the investigation of the cruel cutting off of a talented young person’s life. Inevitably Haven soon has a range of suspects lined up, including some dodgy members of the figure skater’s own nearest and supposedly dearest. All very intriguing and compelling.


Now here’s the rub. Such is his excellence I’ve been tempted into Robotham’s back catalogue. As if there isn’t enough to read with new releases alone. It’s something that I promised myself, for common sense sake, that I’d never do, but MR has me well and truly in awe. At least I know I am certain of a great ride. I’ve gone back to his beginnings as a published author. There’s ten more. Oh dear!

The crime author’s website – =

Some Dads

Despite its success in the US, ‘This Life’ never caught on in Oz. One of our free-to-air commercial networks thought they must have been on a winner, given its three Emmys (to date) and scores of nominations, so they screened it. But it didn’t gel with the local audience and was soon moved from prime time to the nether regions of the subsidiary channels, seemingly only shown when they needed a filler. Leigh and I became attached to the series early in the piece and managed to watch most of two seasons before it disappeared completely. There are now four seasons of it, with a fifth to follow, so it is good news that Amazon Prime has picked it up. As to whether my lovely lady and I will hop back on, given the plethora of quality tele to be had on various platforms, remains to be seen, but it is a very worthy and entertaining series.

this is

As to what it’s all about, Ian Cuthberson describes it adequately in his short column which follows. In it he also compares Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack Pearson as a father to his own. The Jack character is one of the major attractions of the show, with Milo V winning a coveted Emmy for leading male actor for such is the impact the role has had in home territory. This is remarkable given he is dead for large chunks of the show. The early adoption of Randall as the black triplet is a tad hard to swallow but, gee, the series is a great depiction of family dynamics – specifically American family dynamics. That was, perhaps, its problem for Australian audiences. But if you have Prime, you could do worse.

jack pearson

Cuthbertson’s father’s attitude to his child(ren?) is miles away from Jack’s. It’s more akin to Sam Neill’s old man. He was very much ‘old school’ too – all matters of parenting, excepting perhaps disciplining, left up to the wife. I had the pleasure of my own dear mother’s company during a recent stay at Sisters Beach so, looking for a show she may be interested in that was new to her, I introduced her to ‘Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery’. Now into its seventh season – I’m looking forward to Bill Bryson this week – we went back into ABCiView and found Sam. I’d already seen it before, but I know Nan is a fan of the NZ actor. It was just as poignant second time around. Sam gets quite emotional recounting his father’s aloofness. He is whimsical as he acts out some of the defining scenes of his encounters with his dad – encounters being a word chosen carefully. His father could never bring himself to use the ‘l’ word – and it was only after the death of the man who could show no affection that Sam realises how deep his father’s love was. His trip down memory lane is Episode 1 from Season 5. If you haven’t seen it already, take your own trip into iView before it disappears.

julia z

And then, for a complete contrast, we come to David Melrose. The Cumberbatch, as the titular Patrick (‘Patrick Melrose’, ABCiView) steals the show with a BAFTA-worthy performance, but almost as excellent was Hugo Weaving as Patrick’s chilling pa. Initially he is absolutely odious and dissolute. If you can survive the opening episode – and do try for you’ll be richly rewarded – we discover that he’s even worse. He’s depraved. Poor young Patrick didn’t stand a chance, considering his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is emotionally all over the shop as well. For me, ‘Patrick Melrose’ is one of the year’s best. I relished the dinner party from hell, starring an out of control Princess Margaret.


No father, not even Jack, is perfect – but David doesn’t even give lip service to fatherhood. Most of us menfolk will have a go at being the best we can possibly be. Heaven knows I adored my two – still do. I also delight, now, in sitting back and watching my son and son-in-law give a red hot go at being the best fathers they can possibly be too.

Ian Cuthbertson on Jack Pearson =

For This Is Us =

For Julia Zemeiro Home Delivery Sam Neill =

For Patrick Melrose =

The Carer – Deborah Moggach

There was a time when I consumed all UK writer Deborah Moggach could produce – lapped her up back last century, I did. But, for some reason I stopped – stopped before her mega-hits ‘Tulip Fever’ and ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. Then, when I saw her latest severely discounted at K-Mart recently I snapped it up, forking out just a few bucks for. I’d been burnt before going back to favoured authors from past decades, but with the price of ‘The Carer’ it didn’t really matter if it was rubbish. I was also hoping that it would provide some lighter fare after the few heavier tomes that I’d been reading of late; ones that proved, ultimately, somewhat disappointing.

And yes, the novel certainly did that. As a bonus, it also wasn’t half bad. In fact I relished getting back to it and had it read in a few sittings. She hadn’t lost the touch that so appealed to me way back when.


The narrative is interestingly structured, but at its core are two tetchy siblings, Phoebe and Robert. They’re approaching sixty, living lives not totally to their satisfaction. Their widowed father is now demanding more of their attention – something they give, but with some reluctance. At 85 Dad’s starting to cease being capable of looking after himself, so they employ a live-in carer, Mandy. She quickly makes herself indispensable, becoming his companion and giving the old fellow a modicum of happiness. Initially the brother and sister are thankful; it eases the pressure. When they discover, though, that James has revisited his will, suspicions start to arise – and we start to think we know where this is going. After all, we hear all the time of oldies being duped out of the wealth, by unscrupulous minders, that would otherwise have gone to family.

Moggach has other ideas though. We’re introduced to the first of several surprises as we start to become privy to some back stories later in the tale. Apart from one, they are hardly shocking, just unexpected. With the exception the author perhaps over-eggs it all a tad; it being the only quibble I have with ‘The Carer’.


In all it’s a lovely, lovely read as the author quietly illuminates problems associated with ageing sons and daughters coping with one or more parents living in challenging circumstances. She doesn’t shy away from the nitty-gritty involved with this, but delivers with warmth and humour. Ms Moggach has won me back.

The author’s website =

She was only Nineteen

Her name was Jane Gordon. I like Gordons – they’re some of the best people I know and there’s no reason to think she wasn’t amongst them either back then. It was the name that drew my eye to her out of those listed. She was from County Cork. She had stolen a pair of scissors – supposedly. She was only nineteen.


I’ve lived in ignorance of this story of my island for all these years. Others haven’t. A book has been written about it, several artists have constructed works in commemoration of it – but they have passed me by. Imagine what the repercussions would be if an event of its nature occurred today on our shores. Two hundred and forty one souls perished, of which 157 were women and 55 were children. It was that figure that shocked – all those women and kids. The horror of it. And it is also sobering to think that, in terms of loss of life due to a maritime catastrophe, this has not been the worst one in our history. It occurred ten years later, tellingly in the same area. I was aware of the sad story of the barque Cataraqui.

The bare bones of this story came to me via my friend Steph, a traveller to places near and far. From her adventures I usually receive generous mementos in the mail. A recent excursion had been to a near place – King Island. Among the material that arrived, in my resulting package, was a pamphlet entitled ‘The Wrecks of King Island’. In it I read something of the Cataraqui, but also of the one that was news to me – the floundering of the Neva. All those poor women and children! I took to the ether to find out, as much that source would allow me, as to exactly what happened to the vessel; to try in fill in those bare bones of the pamphlet.

In the 1830s most Irish were living a hardscrabble life, to say the least, even in that era before the potato famines; the Great Hunger commencing in 1845. I have no idea how tough it would have been for Jane Gordon, but it was very dire for many parents. So dire that they concocted crimes themselves for their children to be charged with once they reached an age where, in normal circumstances, it could be reasonably assumed they could stand on their own two feet. There was no future for young people in Ireland, so parents dobbed them into the authorities for crimes they may have or may not have committed. Get it right and they would be transported, to a potentially better future, for seven or fourteen years. Why, they’d all heard tales of felons shipped off to New South Wales, or some such place, who’d received their pardons and went on to make fortunes. It did happen, of course, in rare cases, but anything was better than the desperation of life on the Emerald Isle. Imagine that. Imagine that Jane’s parents presented her to the local authorities in their county with a purloined pair of scissors, a crime for which she could reasonably expect to escape the death penalty. The wretched girl, in reality or otherwise, had to be taught a lesson – or at least that would be their excuse. Perhaps, in their own misery, they welcomed the chance of some hope of betterment for Jane. Perhaps they only aspired to one less mouth to feed. Surely, though, there was the possibility of some escape from the existence that would befall her if she remained. If she became an enforced part of the Irish diaspora, who knew? In reality, unfortunately, they signed her death warrant.

On board the Neva, as it sailed from the Cobh of Cork, under the sure hands of Captain Peck and a crew of twenty-six, would be a range of women. A few would have committed despicable crimes and have escaped the hangman’s noose by a hairsbreadth for a variety of reasons. Others would be there as they had stolen from a toff, or from their masters, items to onsell, so as to put food on the table. Many were prostitutes. Also afloat would be their children as well, mostly babes in arms or wee toddlers. There were also a few free ladies, sailing to join their felon husbands in and around Sydney Town, the destination of the boat. I wonder, on the eighth day of the new year of 1835, if many truly waved farewell to Ireland with bountiful hope in their hearts. Did Jane?


The Neva

In the wash up of the events that were to follow, in the wake of the calamity that occurred in fifth month of the ship’s voyage, an inquest was held in Launceston into what happened. Captain Peck was exonerated of all blame and he returned to England. In most accounts he is paraded as a hero, bravely attempting to save as many as possible – but there is also one that portrays him as a coward, only concerned with his own survival.

Some say that he, as well as those other crew members who survived, attempted to cover up the true goings-on on board the Neva on that fateful date, 13.05.1835, to protect their own skins. Most accounts state all was as it should be as the vessel, unawares, approached its doom. Some, though, give a version that revolves around the same excesses of grog and debauchery that occurred on many ‘floating brothels’ at the time. Why should the Neva be any different? Was there a party, of sorts, going on, distracting the crew from navigating through some of the world’s most treacherous waters?

There has also been conjecture in the past as to which of the reefs, off the island, the Neva floundered on. Was it the Navarine or the Harbingers; the latter being the latest thinking. The foul weather; the women, most likely already addled by breaking into the grog store, as well as the distance from shore, made survival for the convicted on board most unlikely. This notion was enhanced when several of the life boats, under the control of the captain, swamped immediately on launching. Imagine the scenes of horror on deck, before it disintegrated, as those trapped by the swirling sea, took stock and realised their fate. Perhaps it was lucky that many were so exceedingly inebriated before their bodies were flung into the maelstrom, as has been recorded. Consider, for a moment, the pitiful wailing of the children. Many of the survivors, those few who did make it to shore, died due to exposure, during that first night in the thin bush of that part of King Island. Seven skeletons have been found since the wreck; ninety-five bodies, washed up, were buried in shallow graves. Eventually the fourteen souls remaining – eight men and six women (not including Jane Gordon), under the leadership of Peck, set about making the next night and the ones to follow more conducive for enduring the ordeal that they all knew was coming. They constructed a tent of sorts, fortified by a keg of rum washed up on the beach. Scouting parties were dispatched regularly to seek habitation. After a fortnight’s subsistence on salt pork their luck turned.

neva wreck

Two survivors of another wreck further south, the Tartar, were encountered. They led the Neva’s victims to the hut of sealer John Scott and his native wives. They were fed on wallaby meat and soon felt sustained enough to join Scott and his kangaroo dogs in hunting and a spot of fishing. Eventually a small boat, searching for the Tartar, came across them and Peck sailed off to raise the alarm and seek rescue. He returned and began the process of getting them all back to Launceston. This was not aided by some being away hunting, requiring another trip. One woman, Rose Hyland, terrified of the sea, claimed she would not board and raised a pistol to emphasise her determination to be left to the comforts of the barren coast. She was overpowered, so off they sailed to their futures.

Fast forward to Catherine Stringer, a Hobart psychiatrist. On a trip to the island at the western entrance to Bass Strait, she, too, came across the tale of the Neva. The loss of all those women affected her deeply. Catherine was particularly stung when she counted that twenty-eight of her namesakes had perished; 28 Catherines. One, Catherine Brooks, was only six years old. She resolved to make the woeful historical event wider known.

On several excursions back to King Island she started to collect seaweed from the beaches where those, whom the sea had given up up 175 years ago, were found. Transporting her gatherings home she converted the algae into a thin paper. From this product she cut the makings of 42 dresses. One, her gown for Catherine Reilly, a little baby, stunning in its simple beauty, can be viewed on-line. They were framed and exhibited at the Moonah Arts Centre back in 2016. She succeeded in alerting this true story to the attention of many.


Tasmania’s is, these days, a tranquil place, but in the past it has been shattered by terrible events – the genocide of the first islanders during the Frontier Wars, the incarcerations on Sarah Island, Port Arthur, bushfires – to name just a few. Surely the wreck of the Neva should be held up as another and not lost to the past. I’ll remember it now – and continue to think on Jane Gordon. She was only nineteen.

The Irish Times Looks Back at the Story of the Neva =

ABC News item on Catherine Stringer’s exhibition =

Douglas’ Big Books

Douglas Kennedy – ‘The Moment’, ‘The Great Wide Open’

Before Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins there was Douglas Kennedy, the original maestro of of ‘family noir’. For the past two decades Kennedy has been entertaining readers with barrelling novels in which a parent, sibling or spouse is often the devil in disguise.’ (Christian House ‘The Guardian’)

As I scribe this the first steps are being taken to impeach Trump. Towards the end of Kennedy’s ‘The Great Wide Open’ our heroine, Alice Burns, by now building a glittering career in NYC publishing, encounters the 1980’s version of the Great Buffoon. ‘I’m a writer too,’ Trump told Peter, then shifted his gaze toward me, looking me up and down, rating me on his Babe Meter (which I took to be a compliment). ‘In fact I’m writing a book that’s gonna make a ton of money – because everyone’s gonna want to read how I’ve made a ton of money. You should offer me a contract on the spot.’ At the end of the conversation that follows he boasts ‘I’m gonna be president one day.’ Let’s just see how long he lasts in that position now. We can only hope.

The Great Wide Open’ is a big canvas, big enough for Trump even. Approaching some 600 pages it sure took some reading. Big doesn’t make for better, but it doesn’t necessarily make for bad either.

Before I tackled this opus, as a prelude I made my way through the author’s 2011 effort, ‘The Moment’. It had been sitting on my shelves for a while. In truth this was better written, albeit a less ambitious product. Instead of family noir here we have a writer receiving a blast from the past in the form of a package arriving at his remote Maine hideaway. This takes Thomas Nesbitt back to his days in Cold War Berlin where, as a journalist, he was attempting to get a handle on life over on the other side of the Wall. Aiding him in this is his mysterious translator Petra, a refugee from the East with a shocking past, trying to rebuild her life in the West. But is she all she seems as Thomas quickly becomes smitten? Soon he’s headlong into the world of the Stasi on one side and his own spooks on the other. Kennedy handles the convoluted events that follow with aplomb, although he’s no Le Carré.


Was DK attempting to write ‘…nothing less than a fictional overview of our times; a statement of what it means to be American in the postwar world’? Alice’s brother, Peter, after his first taste of literary success, offers these pretentious words – they are as bombastic as most of the language in this, well, I guess, sloppy novel from Kennedy. ‘The Great Wide Open’ is a far cry from the tomes that first bought him notice earlier in his career; books I thoroughly enjoyed.

There’s no doubt that this could have been so much better and as it was, I had no problem ploughing through it. I always wanted to see what came next. It remains a readable yarn. But it’s almost wrecked with his breathless, ‘Days of Our Lives’, overheated prose. He’s certainly no TC Boyle in his command of language – he works too hard to impress with his linguistic wordsmithery. The story can speak for itself with a less frenetic, fraught approach. It’s as if he’s trying to win gold at the linguistic Olympics.


Ms Burns takes us, initially, to the coast of Connecticut and her college days, highlighted by homophobia and the disappearance of one of her bosom buddies. That’s followed by some time in Dublin, dodging IRA bombs, not entirely successfully. Meanwhile, her father and two brothers have become involved in the business in Chile, on either side of Augusto Pinochet’s regime, after the coup. Alice, fleeing the trauma of Ireland, spends some time in a backwater teaching. Of course she is fabulous at that – so empowering of her students. Then she falls into publishing in the ‘Greed is Good’ era. Inevitably she’s a godsend with that too. In between there’s several lovers and estrangements with family members, each of whom seem to have a love/hate relationship with the other. There’s always much, much angst. ‘Days of Our Lives’ indeed.


Hopefully the Great American Novel is now out of Douglas’ system and he is in a place where he can go back to a smaller scale, recapturing the tone of earlier successes such as ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, ‘The Job’ and ‘The Big Picture’, Far, far worthier places to commence for a reader than either of these titles.

More about Douglas Kennedy =


It seemed, perhaps, just home-spun common sense; maybe even a tad facile and simplistic. Not me at all. Then I spotted something and had a closer examination.

My beautiful daughter gives me books. Birthdays, Fathers Day, Christmas she gives me books. She loves books, as do I. I love her for it. Sometimes, just occasionally, with them I don’t see it, but by now I should know better. She sees something of me in each and every one but just once in a blue moon she gifts me a tome that I would normally just pass on by without a second glance. Ninety-nine per-cent from her are recognisably spot on, but with ‘Heart Talk’, well, it took me a while to get it.


As for its author, Cleo Wade, I’d never heard of her. It seems, though, that in the US she’s huge. She’s an influencer, an Oprah for the next generation. As the blurb goes, ‘With ‘Heart Talk’ she’s poured her spirituality and poetically infused wisdom into an accessible book you don’t want to be without.’ She’s mates with Katy Perry, Reese Witherspoon and numerous other notables; features too in all the best magazines. She promotes herself and her message around the country and is also an artist. She had her start on Instagram.

A few nights ago, waiting for my lovely lady to get ready to go out for the evening, I started to flip through her book again. For a time nothing I landed on changed my impression that it was rather naive psycho-babble. That sort of advice that may be helpful to some. Good luck to Ms Wade for hitting on something that obviously resonated for many; a sort of, I thought, manual on female self-empowerment. But could it change the world for someone struggling with issues of their place in society and self worth? As an old fellow, who is quite contently ambivalent about himself – neither self-loving nor self-loathing – at first nothing connected. And then I read –



don’t tomorrow your life away

It stopped me in my tracks. I read other bits and pieces in the book more carefully then, but I kept coming back to those words. I thought about them all the way to our destination that twilight. Maybe don’t tomorrow your life away. I’m still thinking about it.


do you think

Mother Nature


that any of her

beautiful flowers

grow in an array

of shades and sizes?

or that one grows

in this direction

and one grows

in that direction?


she puts all of them in her

magnificent garden

so they may

be together






Of course in this country we’d substitute root for another word, but isn’t this a lovely way of putting it so it sticks?


and then I realized

that to be more alive

I had to be

less afraid


I did it

I lost my


and gained

my whole life

I realised (s not z) that, yep, I did that way back in my first year of teaching when I was drowning – drew that line and stepped over it and I was away to a vocation that gave me forty years of pleasure and reward. I also did it again one Saturday morning when I set out to meet a woman who was to become my life’s companion and love. By losing my fear I gained so much. Good advice Cleo.



Hmmmmm. I thought about that one for a while too. For me that’d be better rephased – Surround yourself with people who are magic. That’d be it for me. That’s what I’ve done – and I’m so blessed because of it.

There’s probably more in the words of Cleo Wade than I’ve sussed out so far – more diamonds in the dust to be had. But that’ll do for the time being. So, after all, it was more than a worthwhile gift. I found stuff that applied, stuff to cogitate on where perhaps I expected paucity. As always, thank you Katie.

Cleo Wade’s website =