January Gems

The old year crossed into a new decade as I was glued to a destruction of a relationship. Devouring ‘Marriage Story’ in a couple of chunks on the small screen, the Netflix original has garnered four nominations (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress) in the current Academy Awards. It is interesting to note that movies made for the television platform have attracted 24 in all in a game-changing year. There’s no doubt that the performances of Adam Driver, Scarlett Johanssen and Laura Dern are exceptional as the couple at the core of the break-up spiral into the depths, assisted by the legal fraternity made up of Dern and a welcome cameo from Alan Alda. You feel compelled to stay with it to the last rites to see if the pair can claw something back out of the sorry mess. Driver’s character, a self absorbed stage-director, is totally career driven to the exclusion of his partner’s feelings. She, played by Johanssen, had to cope with his immaturity whilst trying to juggle a child and her own professional aspirations. The beauty of it being a generous two and a half hours-ish in duration is that you can spread it over as long a period as suits – and it is well worth the expenditure of time. Now ‘The Irishman’ and ‘The Two Popes’, also up for Oscars, are on my ‘to view’ list.

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Big screen wise Leigh and I had the pleasure of accompanying three grandchildren to ‘Dolittle’. I admit I enjoyed watching their faces, as they savoured the offering, more than the actual film itself. It wasn’t as bad as many critics have reported, but I found it hard to be attracted to Robert Downey’s performance and his relationship with the beasts, large and small, of the planet.

The most fun I’ve had at the cinema for quite a while came with ‘The Gentleman’. With a cast including Matthew McConaughey, ‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Charlie Hunnam, ‘Downton’s’ Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan and Hugh Grant, as we’ve rarely seen him before, the screen was full of London gangland mayhem and black, black humour. Guy Ritchie’s directing career has been patchy, but with this ensemble of class actors he’s on a winner.

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In contrast two movies that are the antithesis of the hectic pace of the above are ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (how I hate leaving out the ‘u’!). The pace could be almost glacial with both, but the rewards are worth your forbearance.

The first listed has been greeted rapturously by the critics and has picked up a handful of prestigious gongs on the film festival circuit. With this product most of the joys are delivered towards the end, so patience is a virtue. For most of its length we can be satisfied by appreciating the sheer beauty of what is on screen, with the land and seascapes, as well as the gorgeousness of the two French female leads. In fact, there’s barely a male to be had, only the ferrymen at the commencement and a few more just before the end credits roll. It’s set in the late C18th on a storm blasted island off the coast of Brittany. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on the isle to pretend to be a lady’s companion, but her hiring is really for the purpose to paint a portrait in secret. A noblewoman ensconced in a great gothic pile is at the bidding of her mother, determined to marry her off, something Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is none too happy about. The painting, of course, is necessary currency in the days of arranged marriages, pre-photography. The prospective Italian groom has to know what he is getting. Gradually, though, the truth is unmasked and a relationship, which becomes somewhat more than mere companionship, develops. It’s stunning, with added spice, perhaps for some, that the actress playing the initially frosty Héloïse ’s was once herself the partner of the opus’ director, Céline Sciamma.

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The slow boil continues with ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, but here the pleasures are littered evenly throughout. It is essentially a vehicle for Tom Hanks, although his nomination at the big award is for Best Supporting. Matthew Rhys capably takes the lead as a gun reporter asked to write a puff piece on a living national treasure, Fred Rogers. A singular host of children’s television, he was a real life figure who was an institution for decades. Said reporter refuses to believe that Rogers can be so perfect a figure and sets forth to discover the darker side to the man that must be there. He bites off more than he can chew as Rogers regularly turns the table on him – with the result that the puff piece becomes so much more. It was also great to see ‘This is Us’ actress Susan Kelechi Watson in a prominent role, supported by Chis Cooper, who is always a treat.

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The movie has had mixed reviews from ‘a tonic of a film’ to ‘not even Tom Hanks can save this mess’. Stay for the end credits, with the minute’s silence mid-length being a highlight. I liked it very, very much. When Hanks and Rhys appeared on Graham Norton recently they reported that the director, Marielle Heller, was constantly asking both to slow down the speed of their delivery on set. I thought TH, in particular, was quite mesmerising as he did this. The lengthy pause is a constant feature of his performance.

So I struck it lucky in January with four gems. What will February hold?

Trailer for ‘Marriage Story’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHi-a1n8t7M

Trailer for ‘The Gentlemen’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B0RpUGss2c

Trailer for ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-fQPTwma9o

Trailer for ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VLEPhfEN2M

The Body – Bill Bryson

Consider this the next time you are contemplating a deep, deep pash with your dearest one – ‘Passionate kissing alone, according to one study, results in the transfer of up to a billion bacteria from one mouth to another, along with about 0.7 milligrams of protein, 0.45 milligrams of salt, 0.7 micrograms of fat and 0.2 micrograms of miscellaneous organic compounds (ie, bits of food).’

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Bill Bryson was only getting started with ‘The Body’ when he thrust at us the above information. There’s much more hair-curling stuff to contend with as one reads on in the tome. In here, for instance, you will be illuminated on how the daily activities of double-decker bus conductors and drivers in London gave rise to the present urgings for each and every one of us to exercise daily. It is fascinating to think that our best guess is that, sometime between 1900 and 1912, a random patient with a random disease for the first time could visit a random doctor and have a fifty-fifty chance of profiting from that encounter. Nowadays, to be healthy, as one would expect, it helps if you are part of the population of the western world. You receive added benefits, of course, if you are wealthy. But even the rich, if they are born in the good ol’ US of A, can expect to have a much lower life expectancy that those of us residing any other developed country. The causes for this include the dire state of their health system, obesity, gun culture, accident rates, drug abuse and the list goes on. A sufferer of cystic fibrosis in Canada will, on average, live ten years longer than some poor soul, with the identical affliction. living south of its border with the US I wonder if Trump, with his ‘Make America Great Again’ has devoted any of his immense intellect to those facts. He’d probably label it under ‘fake news’ in any case.

In the pages of this book you will also meet the heroes, many unsung till Bryson came along, who paved the way for the great medical discoveries of history; get a taste of some of the excruciating surgical practises of the past (early mastectomies being particularly gruesome) and meet the charlatans who were believed by many, to the world’s detriment. One odious character was Barnard Davis who became obsessed with the so-called discipline of craniology. His collusion with George Augustus Robinson’s widow to plunder the graves of our island’s first peoples, to add to his skull collection, the globe’s biggest at the time, makes for hard reading.

Overall ‘The Body’ is quite the revelation. And it is, at times, not exactly comforting what we find out about its workings, especially as I am in possession of an increasingly ageing one. He doesn’t stint on what can take you away in the end either.

Bryson mostly places it all in lingo the layman can readily comprehend, with the turn of phrase he is noted for, topped by dollops of humour. He’s no spring chicken himself, Mr Bryson, but long may he have the ability to pursue his wide range of interests and to transport them into print for our enlightenment. With this publication he takes a lens to every facet of the human being in a thoroughly readable and forthright manner. He is a gem of a wordsmith.

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And in the end, at the end, it’s good to know that, ‘In 2011, an interesting milestone in human history was passed. For the first time more people, globally, died of non-communicable diseases like heart failure, stroke and diabetes than from all infectious diseases combines. We live in an age in which we are killed, more often than not, by lifestyle.’ – or is it? What’s that news I hear coming out of China?

More on Bill here = https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1017933/bill-bryson.html

Summer and it’s Personal

Summer isn’t meant to be like this

There should be blue skies, not red

Christmas dinners.

Not the call out to face an inferno

Carefree days

Not the dread of where nature is taking us, and

Where next it will rain its wrath down

I think of so many communities across the water

Devastation

The toll on life and lifestyle

The toll on wildlife and wild places

I look around my city

The forest clad hills

With fingers of bush pushing

Right into its heart

And I wonder and I fear

Please, never another 1967

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Images abound of the horror of it all

At the start of this mint new decade

But for me there’s one, from

Some time ago now

Its not a horizon of fire

Nor singed koalas and ‘roos

Or people holding loved ones close

On a beach or a jetty

As the apocalypse approaches

An injured kangaroo limps through burnt bushland in Cobargo

To me the image of this summer

Perhaps for all summers henceforth

You’ll recall it, no doubt

It’s a few years back now

A galoot of a Prime Minister to be

Entered our parliament cradling

In his palm

A single lump of coal

Said he with a smirk of glee

Lookee here and see. Right here, folks

With this black stuff you spy the future.’

Then and there he gave the middle finger to science

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Where is the spine of Fraser and his

Vietnamese refugees forever thankful

Where is the nous of Hawke

Saving the Franklin

Where is the eloquence of Keating

With the Redfern Oration

Of Howard facing down the gun lobby

In a bullet proof vest.

We’ve had Rudd flip-flopping

Abbott nay-saying and denying

Turnbull – well, whatever happened

To his spine and core beliefs

At least Julia had a go

And now the galoot is our leader

His time has come

A Christian without, to date

Any Christianity, at least

In any form I know it

It’s not coal he’s holding

In his clutches now

But the futures of my

Beautiful and extraordinary grandkids

Of all our beautiful and extraordinary

Grandchildren

Stand up.

Be a leader

Stay Christian if you must

But grow a spine, for pity’s sake

Scrublands – Chris Hammer

What do Gillian Flynn, Minette Walters, Patricia Cornwall and Chris Hammer all have in common. Some might even ask ‘Chris who?’. But the novice Australian ‘whodunnit’ writer joins that elite company by winning the UK’s Dagger Award last year for a debut crime novel. And, as tilts go, even I, a non officiendo of the genre, till recent times, can see it’s a mighty effort first up.

Prior to striking it big with the mega-selling ‘Scrublands’, Hammer was best known as a SBS journalist. He, in this capacity, reported on the Millennial Drought for the network, afterwards producing a well-received non-fiction tome, ‘The River’, on what he discovered. As is their wont, of course, those in power in Canberra ignored his warnings, as well as those of all the other doomsayers – so therefore we have our present day situation.

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Our continent’s barrenness and aridity has played out in much recent fiction, some outstanding, including Harper’s ‘The Dry’ and Winton’s superb ‘Shepherd’s Hut’. In my view Hammer has a way to go before he reaches their exalted levels, but if we are in the midst of a golden age of Aussie crime writing, then this fellow would seem to be well at its core.

Now what would cause a well-liked local priest to take a gun out and calmly open fire on his congregation as they made their way to worship at his church? He killed five before being fatally shot himself. On the first anniversary of that event that, not only rocked the small parched community of Riversend, but the whole nation, the Fairfax Press sends ace reporter, Martin Scarsdale, to write a piece on the lasting effects of the tragedy. In doing so he soon encounters anomalies in the original investigation’s take on what made a church official inflict such trauma on his flock. There are yet more deaths, including that of two German backpackers. Can they be linked to the priest – and just how many local women has God’s representative bedded? Of course, Scarsdale also has his own demons to work his way through, perhaps with the assistance of a comely cafe-keeper.

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It is a marvellously convoluted plot that Hammer has pieced together in his mind and placed on the pages before us. The only issue for this reader is that there’s not the wordsmithery to match. On the back cover blurb Hammer is described as ‘Winton-like’ and ‘reminiscent of Jane Harper’. I think that’s overstating it. For my money he’s still a way off that…but give him time. There’s potential, so we’ll see.

The author’s website = https://chrishammerauthor.com/ =

Blinded by the Boss

Forty Years ago I fell in love. Forty years ago, at some stage during 1980, I purchased ‘The River’. I was smitten then and I still am. The Boss, backed up by the full bombast of the E Street Band (Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt and the late Clarence the Big Man Clemons are amongst the august band’s alumni) on that double album, won me. Then came the more subdued solo release ‘Nebraska’, which I also played to death, in 1982. Of course, two years later, everybody’s synapses were filled with the ear-worm that was ‘Dancing in the Dark’. Sales of ‘Born in the USA’, now on the indestructible CD format, went through the roof. For me it was an okay release but, compared to ‘The River’ and its follow-up, it was second tier for the Boss.

With CDs not introduced into Oz until 1982, my original ‘The River’ was on vinyl. Prior to it I had been aware of Springsteen – may have even purchased a couple of his earlier breakout albums. But it was the sumptuous double with tunes like ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Independence Day’, ‘Point Blank’, ‘I Wanna Marry You’ and the eponymous title song that made me a fan for life.

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I can’t say I have all of Bruce’s output – just a goodly number are sitting in my rather jumbled CD shelving. I’ve been buying him since the 80s. ‘Human Touch’, ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ and ‘The Rising’ are also amongst my favourites. And stored away somewhere, I proudly possess his ‘Live/1975-85’ box-set on vinyl. Last year came ‘Western Stars’. Not everyone took to it – but I did. Under the influence of wife Patti Scialfa’s musical nous and as a tribute in part to the great Glen Campbell, he changed direction. The Boss moved away from the E Street sound and that of his other solo work to produce a collection of self-written songs that are full of lush, almost elegiac arrangements, also courtesy of Patti. It is a paean to the American West and in my view, it’s a beauty. But, in good news for the true believers, there is evidently another release chalked in for later this year with his signature backing band.

Yep, 2019 was a big year for our ageing hero who has reached the big 7-O, but obviously still going strong, as I hope to be approaching that milestone. At the commencement of last year he’d just finished an extended run of his one man show, ‘Springsteen on Broadway’. You can see what that was all about on Netflix. It’s a stage memoir of his life, with some acoustic songs thrown in, much like what Jimmy Barnes has done here in Oz. Well worth seeing. But, basically, last year was all about ‘Western Stars’ though, now with a cinematic documentary to accompany it. That ran in the multiplexes for only a short time, so hopefully it will also soon appear on a small screen platform.

In my admiration of Sprinsteen and his music, I can safely say, I am no Sarfraz Mansoor. BS has certainly rocked my life, but it didn’t come to dominate it, unlike with super-fan Sarfraz. He was 16 in 1987, leading a quiet so-so existence; son of a migrant family in grimy Luton, United Kingdom. One day he came across another fellow Paki, who was wearing both headphones and a rapt expression. Said fellow was jiggin’ his noggin to the Boss. Now Mansoor had heard of Springsteen, but associated his music with white bread old farts. Dads trying to be hip and with it. What could he possibly have to say to a young Pakistani youth going to school in a hardscrabble industrial town? Quite a bit it turns out, with Amolak trying to convince him of that from the get go. His new mate loaned him a few tapes which he inserted into his music machine that evening after school. And would you believe – the first ditty he listened to was ‘The River’. It blew him away into some sort of parallel universe. He was soon even more fanatical than the tape’s owner. That chance meeting began a lifelong infatuation. The Jersey Shore is not so removed from Luton, UK, after all.

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Mansoor credits the Boss for expanding his horizons, dragging him out of his challenging environment into his present day life of journalism and broadcasting. His friendship with Amolak has endured with a now quite famous image of the two of them, taken in 1990, when the duo visited BS’s ‘My Hometown’, on the Asbury Park Boardwalk, New Jersey. So how did this photo of a pair of English Paki fans achieve a celebratory status?

In 2007 Sarfraz Mansoor released his memoir ‘Greetings from Bury Park’; Bury Park being a suburb of Luton. Sprinsteen officiandos will get the reference. And these days Sarfraz has more than one close buddy. Another is film director Gurinder Chadha, famous for ‘The Viceroy’s House’, ‘Bride and Prejudice’ and the iconic ‘Bend it Like Beckham’. She took SM to the London premier of a documentary, ‘The Promise’, made about the album ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’. Of course the great man just happened to be in attendance and as friends do, Gurinder introduced Sarfraz to him. By this stage the now well established Mansoor had been to over one hundred concerts of the New Jersey singer. It came out later that the Boss was actually starting to recognise him in his audience for he was always up near the front. He stood out with the big hair do he sported at the time. Once Ms Chadha mentioned his name to BS something totally unexpected happened. The performer’s eyes lit up and he said, ‘I’ve read your book and it’s amazing’. So the stage was set.

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Gurinder had always thought there was a film in her friend’s tale, but the difficulty of getting the rights to the singer’s musical catalogue would possibly be a bridge too far. And what would the movie version be without those songs that transformed a life? But, with the knowledge that the man was well aware of the written work of her pal, there was a bit of daylight. For a while she was sidetracked by other projects, but come Brexit and its possible curtailing of unlimited immigration to Britain, she began to feel the time may well be opportune. It could portray what it was like growing up in the UK during a period when life could also be pretty grim for a newcomer to the country if his/her skin colour was little dark. She started work on a screenplay. By 2017 the only issue that remained was the music. Mansoor managed to get an email personally to Bruce himself, bypassing his middle men and he found the Boss was quite okay with them using some of his songs. ‘Blinded by the Light’ came to our cinemas in 2019.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this coming of age, rite of passage saga up on the big screen. I suppose it helps being enamoured of the same music myself, but I suspect even a non-fan would be uplifted by this movie. And there, in the end credits, he or she would see that Jersey Shore snap of two bosom buddies celebrating the fact that they had made it to the Boss’ old stomping ground.

Apart from his fascination for the E Street’s major asset, Sarfraz always harboured a desire to actually live in the US, where he felt the grass would be greener and that the country would live up to its reputation for a place where anybody could make it. He was working towards that when the Twin Towers came down. After that, the UK, for all its issues, seemed the safer place to be. But he still visits the US regularly and there’s that lovely moment, featured in the movie, where a reference to the Boss smoothed his entry into the country at a time when any man of colour was regarded with some suspicion. The Boss opens doors.

From S Mansoor himself – ‘His songs reflected a working class experience that echoed mine. He sang about fathers and sons with an honesty and empathy that made me reflect on my relationship with my own father. He also articulated a generous version of American patriotism that suggested the US was an inclusive and welcoming place.’ It goes without saying that this image has been destroyed, in recent times, by you know who.

The world needs movies like ‘Blinded by the Light’ to counter the toxicity associated with Trump, Brexit and the rise, once again, of xenophobia. See it if you can. Love him or not, this ode to Springsteen is a ripper.

Trailer for ‘Blinded by the Light’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1YFA_J5JBU

Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

The court case where Maggie finally legally confronts her tormentor, Knodel, is the best/worst part of Lisa Taddeo’s ‘Three Women’. The subsequent playing out of the facts, supposedly involved, proceeds to be a riveting/appalling affair making for engrossing reading. The odds were stacked against the woman from the get-go but, in the spirit of #MeToo, she knew she had, for her own well-being, to give it a go. But he was a successful man with all the forces such a man can muster ranged against her. What chance did she have? Knodel, just confirmed as his state’s teacher of the year, is a slimy toe-rag of a man who grooms and stalks his not entirely unwilling, but acutely naive, student into intimate activities with him. In profile he is no Ailles or Weinstein, but the trial attracts some attention. Before ‘Three Women’ it was just a ripple. I suspect that’s different now. Knodel’s ducks were lined up expertly so Maggie was crushed. Has the book changed all that?

There are reminders in Maggie’s tale of the excellent ‘Unbelievable’ that appeared on our small screens during the course of 2019. This is also based on fact. Another teen is not taken seriously, is forced to recant her allegations and then is arrested for wasting police time. It takes two determined female police officers to finally give her some redemption. It was one of the best offerings of the year. With Taddeo, has Maggie finally garnered the same? It is interesting to go on-line to check out the images of Maggie and the odious Knodel, taken during the course of the trial, as well as to read the contemporary newspaper reports of the case.

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For many this title has been one of the books of the year. The women, real figures whom Taddeo, after having the notion to write the publication, chose, after an extensive search, for their honesty and openness. And the tome is nothing if not frank.

It’s quite compelling to peruse. Apart from Maggie there are also Lina and Sloane. The former was sexually assaulted in a horrid way while still at school, suffered through a loveless marriage and is trying to reconnect with an old boyfriend. Sloane, after suffering bulimia in her younger years, is now, with her partner, experimenting with threesomes.

Together their stories are shared with the reader as Taddeo attempts to get to the bottom of what makes her subjects tick and what spurs them on. They are all flawed, as are most of us. Life is not necessarily full of happy endings and at times the author allows us in on some intensely moving scenarios. At one stage Maggie tells her all too fragile parents how Knodel took away her youth. Her dad retreats to bis garage. ‘She found him crying under the rafters. She hates herself…He doesn’t say a word but opens his arms to his daughter and she runs into them. They are, after all, the best arms in the world. They cry together till he stops, and then she does.’ That got to me. Later we find life does indeed become too much for him. Maggie sings ‘Blackbird’ to him as he lies in his coffin.

I know there are far more good men out there than there are bad – far more highly professional and respectable male teachers than there are repulsive Knodels in this world. But gee, as a male, this was tough going at times.

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I hope all three of the main figures can sit easily, in hindsight, now that their most intimate natures have been made naked to the world. It is brave writing, but nothing compares to the courage of being one of the author’s trio. I trust the book and its success has finally crushed Knodel. It would be hard to imagine it could be otherwise after its revelations – but who knows in the land that gives us a leader such as Trump.

The author’s website = https://www.lisataddeo.com/

Balance

Bert Grimes is dead, finally. Should I use that word – finally. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to him. It is that, just by rights, he lived longer than he should have. Not that I begrudged him that – not one iota.

I hadn’t seen much of Bert since the copperheads and a mugger curtailed my daily ramble down the track at the end of Riverside Drive. My neighbour, the best of all possible neighbours, had kept me appraised of how he was getting on these last few years. Noel, good man that he is, would check on him a couple of times a week to ensure he was okay. Maybe I should of done so as well, but sometimes life just gets in the way. I knew various support groups kept him under observance as well – and delivered his groceries. I suspect they delivered a little more as well. Last week Noel came across for a coffee. He confirmed what I had already suspected – I’d seen a hearse go by and I’d figured who it might be. Old Bert had passed away. We both commented that, at 95, he had had a fine innings.

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Bert was out in his vegie patch most days I passed by his cottage, down near where the bitumen gave way to the track back in those years I did my perambulating. He’d have his old dog with him, for company, lying nearby. He’d call out a greeting to me, or give a hearty wave. One day, the ever present rollie in the corner of his mouth, he beckoned me over. ‘I hear word the Joe Blakes are about down further. You be careful along there young fella.’ I told him that, now I was in my sixties, it’d been a long time since anybody had called me a young fellow. He emitted a chuckle, as dry as the Aussie summer bush around us, as I headed off. After that I occasionally stopped for a bit of a yarn with Bert. One day we got onto the subject of the travails of ageing. ‘How ancient do you reckon I am, then, young fella?’ he inquired with a twinkle in his rheumy old eyes, relighting his fag. ‘Bout 75 or so Bert. Close enough?’

No where near,’ he chortled, obviously very pleased with himself. ‘I’m 89 years young,’ he roared. ‘Put that in your pipe and smoke it!’ I then asked the standard, ‘What do you put your longevity down to, Bert?’

Longevity. That’s a bloody good word, ain’t it? I’ve been asked this question a few times, young fella. I know it’s not these bloody ciggies, but I reckon I can point to three things. I worked in the bush all my adult life. Not much stress in chopping down trees, son. Then there was Marie. She was a good woman. Looked after me, like. Fed me up well and made sure I kept regular appointment’s with the doc. She’s long gone now, but when I get an ache or a pain I can still hear her nagging at me, ‘You get yourself to the medical centre, Bert, or you’ll have your rations cut.’ and off I’d go.’ He paused at that point, a bit of a faraway look in his eye.

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I bought him back to the matter at hand with, ‘And the third, Bert?’ He grinned and pointed across the way to where there were some brown bottles were assembled outside the back door. ‘I reckon it’s them. See them there tallies? One with me tea and one just before beddy-byes. Sleep like a baby. Yep, regular as clockwork. No more. No less.’

Bert was old school. They were all VBs. None of the new passion for craft ale for this wrinkled, rake-thin boy. The line up reminded me of the old days, as a kid, when most backyards of my experience had stacks of the same sort of bottles – Boags in my part of the world – waiting for the bottle-o to come and collect them, handing over a few bob for the family budget for the privilege. Recycling was alive and well back in the day when Bert was in his pomp. Back in the era when a hard eared thirst needed a thorough quenching after hours of hard yakka in Tassie’s forests.

It’s now ten, Stevie,’ came the call from the lounge room, from my lovely lady, as I was washing up in the kitchen. She was watching the news, but I knew what she was on about. I’d read it in the paper earlier that morning. The National Health and Medical Research Council, based on the latest information, as well as, would you believe, ‘mathematical modelling’, had arrived at the conclusion that, for health to continue to be fine and dandy, we all should restrict ourselves to ten standard drinks a week. Ten!! Previously they had generously prescribed fourteen standard drinky-poos.

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I have already made mention in a couple of scribings how the gentle influence of my beloved Leigh had lessened my alcohol intake to around that mark. I have become more disciplined with my drinking – three a night, four nights a week. I suspect my idea of standard might not necessarily agree with the Council’s, but, even so, I figured, I still had a little leeway up my sleeve. With that I was tickety-boo – felt comfortable. But now it’s been ordained it’s ten. Sheeesh!

I wonder what old Bert Grimes would have thought of that? Raised his middle finger to it with glee, I’ve no doubt. And I’ll take my cue from that. For me it’s about balancing quality of life with the recommendations of the health police. I’m sticking to the fourteen. I like a drink. I look forward to my four nights a week. I rarely go over my self-imposed limit and these days I feel better in mind and body for that. But cut back again….

Who knows? Had Bert abided by recommendations in his intake he might have lived another ten years and lasted till 105. 95 with his intake or 105 without? I know what Bert would have chosen. And at this moment, I’m with him.

Den’s Best Days

A few weeks after they returned from Queensland, Den and Jo Newman settled down to watch a Netflix movie recommended to her by a mate. It was called ‘Dumplin’ and Denny thought it was a reasonable night’s entertainment. It had a couple of familiar faces and Jo seemed to be into it. Being male, he didn’t make any connection. It was the story of a larger than life teen who decided to crash her mother’s organisation of the local beauty pageant. The central character was of fuller figure and Den thought she was stunning. He would, he supposed. The girl had also found love with a young lad who adored her for her curves, as well as her brain. The main character railed against those who reacted more to her weight than her. This included her mother. She lacked all subtlety in the treatment of her daughter. When the real life couple couple retired to their bedroom later on, Den did notice that his wife was unusually subdued. Once in bed she wrapped herself around him and whispered, ‘That film. That was our story, wasn’t it. I owe you so much my beautiful man.’ Den truly thought it was the other way around, but he let it go with a wry smile..

Denny was a Burnie boy. His father worked in the accounts department at the Associated Pulp and Paper Mills, the town’s largest employer, commonly known as the Pulp. His mother was a competent seamstress who operated from home. Their son was an only child. He was thin but always hungry, sort of nondescript – becoming even more so as he grew. He was overindulged by his mother in the eyes of the father, Jim. Jim also, deep down, loved both his wife and son to bits.

Denny was a loner through most of primary school. He was competent in writing, reading and basic maths, but showed little aptitude for anything else. He did, though, have a passion. Some might term it a fixation. Trucks. Every story he wrote was about trucks. Every drawing – trucks. His bedroom wall was covered in clippings of trucks. At school, come recess or lunch, he would hare around the playground pretending he was a truck, complete with the necessary sound effects of changing gears in a semi or dumpster. The other kids thought him odd and stayed clear. Today I suspect he would be diagnosed on the spectrum. It worried his teachers. It worried his parents.

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It was a relief to all when the disconcerting behaviour moderated in upper primary. Now he just retreated to the school library, reading over and over again all they possessed on his favourite topic. The start of secondary education again, for a while, saw him shunned. But, by Year 8, it had all changed. He seemed to be starting to make friends. Only trouble was, they were of the wrong kind. ‘Easily led,’ his teachers regularly reported. To his parents’ consternation he seemed, in his free time, to be running wild around the suburb of Montello in a gang of juvenile ruffians, led by older boys. It came to a head when a local policeman turned up on the front door with Den in tow. He’d shoplifted from the corner shop. He was grounded for a month to try and break the cycle, but before they could evaluate the results the family’s circumstances changed. Den’s father was offered a new job.

Only potential issue was it required a move. It was thought the cement works, situated in a small town up behind Burnie’s sister city further to the east, was too far to commute to on a daily basis. The plus of moving for them would be the opportunity to get Den away from his negative influences, an environment he was hardly thriving in. They opted for the country community of Sheffield, about a quarter of an hour from Jim’s new workplace. They hoped a different school would settle Den down. It worked. For the first time their son was happy and accepted at his school. The smaller classes, rural situation and emphasis on the practical, as much as the academic, suited him. He loved the school farm, especially working on the tractor and agricultural machinery. He’d found a niche he was comfortable with and one those around him could accept him in. The kids were far less judgemental here than their big town neighbours and he finally found some friends who wouldn’t lead him up the garden path. He was still on the shy side, but at least he was smiling more now – laughing even. By the time Grade 10 came around he seemed perfectly content. Why, he even escorted a young lady to the leavers’ dinner at the end of the year. Even though she was on the reserved side too, she scared the shit out of him nonetheless. But he did manage to ask her to dance and she accepted. A first step.

Post Grade 10 even Denny realised he was no candidate for college, so he enrolled at TAFE for any courses to do with mechanics and engines. Jim’s father arranged for lifts down to the coast with an older boy in the town doing similar units of practical expertise, Paul, as his son was still on his L-plates. He was similarly a quiet fellow and Jim thought he’d be a positive influence, which he was. Paul also took on the job of mentoring him out in the wide world. Den liked Paul. Through Paul he learnt to chat about stuff other than trucks – the footy and the local girls, for instance. Paul had a girlfriend of sorts and often boasted to Den about what they got up to. Mostly Den tried to change the subject. He could never imagine being with a girl. But in introducing Den and Paul, Jim had inadvertently caused the worst event of Den’s young life.

Den was still rapt in trucks. He now was building up a library of books about them and subscribed to magazines. He harboured a hope of one day being a long distance truck driver – perhaps on the big island to north. Maybe he’d even wrangle those road trains in the outback. A kid could dream, but one winter’s morning those aspirations were shattered.

It was August 10, 1987. There’d been warnings of black ice on the country roads of the North West, but Paul was too inexperienced as yet to fully learn to drive to conditions. He could not be called a hoon by any stretch, but he loved to speed down the straights leading into Lower Barrington. What he wasn’t ready for was the ice on one of the sharp bends leading into the tiny hamlet. Paul and Den flew into a paddock, landing to the deafening sound of crashing metal. Paul was unhurt. As soon as he realised the condition of Den, he stumbled back up to the road for assistance. While they waited, Paul cradling him whilst the few guys he’d flagged down tried to extricate him, Denny lapsed into unconsciousness. When he came to in hospital, Jim and his mum by his side, he gradually realised something wasn’t quite right with his body. It was his father who broke the news that he had lost his left leg below the knee.

Later Den would tell that, although he felt the most miserable he’d ever been in his life, that terrible event led to his best days. It’d be a long time till he’d be able to drive a car – long after he’d mastered a prosthetic attached to his knee and thigh. Driving anything bigger would probably be beyond him.

His mother and father thought that, with the hard recovery from the accident and all the physio he’d have to go through, their son may well drop his bundle. They were wrong. He quietly took to his rehab with a steely determination they hadn’t witnessed before in him. Although they loved him deeply they were both of the opinion resilience wasn’t one of his attributes. They now felt a new sensation regarding their boy – pride.

So, that’s Den’s worst day. How about those good ones that stemmed from the wreck of Paul’s automobile?

Den’s dad knew John Freeman. John had started small with a delivery truck servicing Devonport and the towns in the hills behind it. When Jim received one of his deliveries from the docks they would chat and came to know each other pretty well as acquaintances. Then, one day, his truck arrived at the Goliath Cement Works with an unfamiliar face behind the wheel. Jim assumed John was just having a day off, but talking to the new guy he was informed that Freeman had taken over a larger trucking firm and was going to be managing it – but that he would still have the contract for Jim’s workplace. So the two men kept in contact through orders and such like, often chewing the fat about how things were going in general over the blower. Can you see where this is heading?

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Den’s recovery, despite his fortitude, was a slow process. By the time he came of age at eighteen he had a fair handle on his artificial attachment and was getting around on foot reasonably well. He was bored, though, restricted to his books, the tele and his dog in a small town. Paul was now more serious about that girl and was visiting less and less. Jim could see his son losing his positivity if he continued to be in his situation for much longer. So he made the call he’d been pondering on for a while – a phone call leading to Den’s best days.

*****

When it all was made public Den didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Yes, he could understand that his boss had stuffed up and been silly in the way he’d been caught out. And yes it was embarrassing for him to be written about in the local paper, the Advocate. Jo had helped him to understand that the newspaper would be interested because his girlfriend was a public figure as the deputy mayor. Still, as far as he and Jo were concerned, John was their friend so it wouldn’t change anything. Only problem with that was that John himself changed. Even Den, who was getting less obtuse as he aged, could see the man wasn’t himself. He was shattered – not the joking happy person he’d been before. This perplexed Den, but Jo explained that he must feel humiliated. When he disappeared without a word of goodbye to either of them, Jo was distressed. Den, for a time, was simply numb.

*****

Sure,’ said John, ‘we’ll give him a go. We’ll put him on for a trial for a couple of weeks. If he’s okay he’ll be added to the payroll. I’ll link him up with Matt in the workshop if, as you say, he likes being under a bonnet.’ Jim was effusive with his thanks. John just laughed, ‘Anything to keep my customers onside. You guys up there in Railton have stuck by me so it’s a bit of payback.’ John even had a solution for getting his new potential employee to the worksite beside the Mersey in East Devonport. ‘Don’t worry about that. I’ll have a word to Jo in the office. She lives up your way. She’s a ripper. She’ll look after your lad well and truly.’ And she did.

*****

People close to John knew something was out of kilter even before he was exposed – there was a vast change in his demeanour in the weeks leading up to it. It seemed he knew what was coming. And, even after the report referred to him as ‘a local businessman’, it was quickly figured out who that was. Many in the workplace changed their behaviour towards him, especially as the affair had occurred right under their noses. In the twelve months leading up to the shit hitting, April Pearson had been spending a fair amount of time around the office, on face value because she chaired a committee John was working on to improve the look of the town’s tired CBD. Jo, adept in such matters, claimed she, for one, thought something was going on and confided that to Den, but otherwise she kept her trap shut. It was the boss’ business. By now Den was in charge of maintenance but he was still fairly thick when something wasn’t staring him in the face, but he remembered a number of times he went to consult with John over something or other and she was in his office with him. For Den it was disconcerting, but he didn’t lose sleep over it.

*****

When Jim told his son John Freeman was giving him the chance of a job with his haulage firm Denny though he had died and gone to heaven. It was tempered a tad when his dad explained that a young lady would be picking him up each day and taking him down to the coast. That would give him something to think about certainly, but he was on cloud nine. He couldn’t stop smiling. The morning of his first day he was up with the chooks and out front half an hour before his transport was due to arrive.

*****

After the Advocate exposé, at home Jo and Denny talked it through. They recalled the days the previous week that John had been away on what patently hadn’t been a business trip. Instead, it transpired, he was holed up in a room in the Wrest Point tower while April attended her conference in the auditorium in the main complex. They were sprung when it also happened that staying in the tower was another Devonport alderman; in Hobart with his family for a short break. Said alderman wasn’t exactly enamoured of April, especially when certain rumours started to circulate. Imagine his surprise when he and his family, deciding on an early start to the day, encountered his colleague and the rumoured gentleman in question joining them in the lift. He cogitated on it for a few days and decided to confront the deputy mayor with the choice of resigning. If she refused he would raise his suspicions at the next council meeting under the label of misuse of ratepayers’ money. She chose the former. To the accuser, though, she didn’t seem contrite enough, so he leaked certain information to an Advocate reporter he was mates with. The couple knew their time was up when April was rung for comment. Jo expressed the view that she and John must be incredibly naive, or had a death wish, by staying at the most prominent locale in Hobart. Den didn’t quite get her drift but agreed nonetheless. He nodded his head when she remarked that, in a small place like Tassie, it was probably inevitable they’d be found out eventually, but why make it so easy for that to occur? It beggars belief, she went on, that he’d be shacked up in a place buzzing with people who knew her. And what was he thinking! One thing Den did know was that there was no way he’d ever be in that position. Even after all these years he was still madly in love with his Jo. Having a relationship with another woman just didn’t enter his head. But then, he wasn’t John Freeman.

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Jo, along with most people, liked April. She was bright and colourful, had worked long and hard for the local community and she lit up any room she was in with her vivacity. She could see why John would be so taken with her. In contrast, she couldn’t warm to John’s wife, Gloria. She, to him, seemed cold, if organised and efficient. She had a great reputation in her job as school principal for keeping staff and students in-line, but Jo also knew that she found it hard to have empathy. She rarely visited John at work and at the few company functions she attended she seemed bored and out of place. John also seemed diminished in her company. So, yes, John’s actions came as a shock, but she understood his motivation. He had been so good to her and nurturing in the workplace. It was the same with Den. No one was more delighted than John when he had informed him, all those years ago, that his employment was now permanent. And, of course, for Denny, that was another of his best days to add to his list. As a result of John’s misdemeanour, she did realise her world was about to change.

*****

Den had seen Jo about Sheffield. She was always with other people around the main street and he suspected she couldn’t be missed. He found her attractive from a distance – large, always laughing and wearing clothes he saw no other girls her age sporting. When he pointed her out to his mum she explained that young women with a fuller figure needed apparel that were designed to show their attributes in the best light. Den reckoned she looked a treat, but he could only dream of seeing the attributes of a girl like her. So, when she rolled up in her car that morning to take him to his first day’s work, he was taken aback, but he did feel a frisson of pleasure amidst all his nervousness.

Till this stage the only close contact he had had with a person of the opposite gender was the girl at his leavers’ dinner, more that a year now prior. His accident had set him back in this regard, although he did develop the hots for several of his nurses. But he was hardly in a position to act on those. He really had doubts whether he could even muster the courage to initiate a conversation with a young woman, let alone get to dating somebody. He knew something of sex from Paul – of course he did. If he was honest with himself, he still was unsure how one actually went about it – you know, the mechanics of the thing. But hopping into a car that frosty morning he had the feeling that something monumental in his life was about to occur. He only could hope that he didn’t stuff it up.

Jo, 23 to Den’s approaching 19, knew the guy opposite her by sight too. She could tell, though, by his stammered greeting, that he was perhaps going to be hard work going up and down the hills till they reached their destination, morning and evening. And he was zilch to look at – rake thin, hair already receding and a greasy, pimply looking complexion. But then, from the get-go, the way he looked at her was different. Guys didn’t look at her like that. They saw her weight before they saw anything else. She described herself as big, boisterous and best of all, buxom. The only relationships she’d had to date were with half-pissed guys at parties and fumbles behind the grandstand at country footy matches. She could never imagine any male truly falling in love with her. Little was she to know, as her compact car made its way down that rural road that day, she was embarking on a whole different journey to her life thus far.

Yep, initially he was hard work. She yakked her way from Sheffield to East Devonport and back again. But, even then, she found him comfortable to be with, just as Den himself found comfort with her voice and just looking at her as she drove. He surprised himself by also being comfortable in the workshops of Freeman Transport. Matt was a first rate mentor having guided lads, more useless than Den when they started, into productive workers. At least Den knew something about trucks to start with. Matt soon began to worry that Den, indeed, knew more than him. Knowing something was different to putting knowledge to practical use. This Newman boy was soon showing himself to being adept at that too. For a time he was almost painfully withdrawn. But he soon found common ground through a love of big boys’ toys. He was on his way. Like minds abounded at Freeman’s.

The weeks passed and Den was thawing with Jo. He was beginning to tell her a little about himself – and a bit more than just the superficial. He relayed to her the tough times he’d had with the bullies early on at school because of his oddness; his accident and the limitations of having to wear an artificial leg; his shattered dreams. In turn she discovered herself warming even more to him, to be hanging out for eight o’clock each working day when he was again in her company.

On one occasion he asked her, red in the face, if she had a boyfriend. She guffawed and without thinking retorted, ‘Who’d have me? Would you have me?’ She meant it as a joke, but the blush on Den’s face deepened. She’d hit a nerve. She sensed it and changed the subject. Boyfriends weren’t mentioned again.

Jo loved her work and she knew her work loved her. She skylarked with the drivers and mechanics, flirted in a spirited way and they returned it in spades – all harmless, mind. She knew the boundaries. So did they or the boss would be down on them like a ton of bricks. They knew she was a favourite. But none of them looked in the same way at her as Den did. She was even beginning to think that she could actually be loved in a deep and meaningful way. Of course Denny was completely smitten; a subject other than trucks being now to forefront of his mind.

After the embarrassment of the boyfriend question, Jo twigged that her male companion would never have the confidence to make any sort of move on her. It would be definitely up to her so, with his nineteenth birthday coming up, she developed a plan. Who’d have thought that after first impressions. And what better time to put it into place that his upcoming big occasion? She intended to make it his best day ever. But, before she outlaid on her germinating idea, she had to be sure.

As a married couple Jo and Den never had children. They never bothered to find out why. When she went off the pill and nothing happened she didn’t worry too much. She and her hubby just got on with life, happy with their togetherness. When questioned she just batted it away with the throw away line that Den was a big enough kid and she didn’t need any more. Besides, she secretly thought, the gene pool wasn’t a great one to pass on. If Den knew this he’d reckon she’d be majorly underselling herself, even if he had no tickets on himself in the looks department. He considered he’d well and truly hit the jackpot with his ravishing wife. And all he wanted was Jo. He was perfectly content – always had been since Jo entered his world, happy helping build a life together at the Don, a little community on the outskirts of Devonport.

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Whereas his wife loved partying and was totally, outwardly extroverted, he was happy just pottering away in his shed and tending to their garden. Under Jo’s wing his confidence in himself, though, did improve in social situations. With Matt’s tutelage he also became indispensable in the workshop and he knew that John appreciated the way he was constantly on call for breakdowns, night or day. The couple loved the open road so eventually the pair purchased a camper-van. After doing so they were constantly heading to the Mainland on the Spirit to explore their wide, brown land, as well as taking shorter trips within Tassie. They had no desire to venture out of Oz. Now and again they would upgrade their mobile accommodation, knowing that once retirement came around, they would spend the rest of their days grey-nomading. For years they planned the mother-of-all Queensland trips, their aim to caravan from the Gold Coast to the Tip. They were as excited about that as they had been about anything in their lives. Den was so looking forward to many more best days with his treasured wife.

So when John unexpectedly shot through their perfect world had its first major upheaval. After that work felt strange – it took them a while to adjust. Thinking about it, Jo realised that, in his mind, her boss hadn’t been really around for a while. Life under Angus, who took over, didn’t have the same sparkle. Sure, he was competent and knew the business backwards. But he was more an up tight kind of guy. There could be no stuffing around as there had been under John. He ran a tight ship, but not as happy a ship. Far more demanding than his predecessor, the trucking firm became a lean, streamlined organisation. Then one day the sign writers came in. The Freeman’s banner was removed, replaced by just Devonport Transport. Angus had bought out John. Around the same time something else changed. One morning, before the start of work, Angus called everyone together in the canteen. He thanked them for their support during the transition period. Then he dropped the bombshell. Taking a deep breath he announced that the new 2IC would be Gloria Freeman. He explained that she had provided most of the funds for the takeover and wanted to be hands-on as a result. That wasn’t what really floored the workforce, although it was totally unexpected given her previous invisibility around the place. What left them gobsmacked was that their new employer would also be marrying the woman. He added he was very happy to be announcing that. Jo later reflected that she had a good radar for what was going on behind the scenes in the company, but in all this she was completely blindsided. She had no notion what had been happening with he new boss and the wife of her old one. But, after the meeting, Jo duly marched up, gave Angus a hug and congratulated him on his good fortune.

By the time Den’s birthday rolled around, back in the day, Jo was all set. They had already been at Freeman’s together for well over six months. By now Den was driving down on his Ls with Jo beside him. He was a natural and would have no trouble getting his license, despite only having one complete leg to work with. When he achieved his Ps Jo took him out to celebrate after work at a pub. That meant wine for her but lemonade for him – as he would be driving her home under his own steam. They followed up with a counter meal before taking the trail up to Sheffield. Before Den left the car at his parent’s, Jo leaned across and kissed him on the cheek. Not satisfied with that, she then took his head in her hands, turned his head towards her and placed her lips on his. They way he enthusiastically responded she knew he was ready for her plans for his birthday.

After that initial kiss the two became inseparable – as they would remain from then on in. They started to have lunch together in the canteen instead of Den talking shop with the other grease-monkeys. She visited him at her parents; he was a constant at the dinner table of hers. Her mum was a sole parent, hubby having done a John Freeman years beforehand. She loved it that Jo had someone who obviously cared for her daughter as much as she did. And in the midst of all this had been Den’s very best day – or should I say night.

*****

The letter came as a surprise. Nobody had heard from John, to the best of their knowledge, for years. – and here, suddenly, was a missive to both of them. They read it – then reread it several times to let it all sink in.

Ultimately there was sadness, given his wife Yuko’s covering note informing them of John and her son’s passing. Jo, particularly, felt some pleasure that he had found happiness in his last years. She resolved that she would write back to Yuko. There was no return address, but with the information that the letter contained it was easy enough to track down.

*****

A birthday is usually a best day, but turning nineteen – well Den couldn’t image anything bettering what happened in the aftermath. Jo gave him the best present she possibly could. She was strictly no virgin but, by the same token, as she never felt love for any of the men who had bedded her to date, she felt she may as well have been. She couldn’t hardly remember a single name. Nothing in her own sexual history, therefore, was particularly earth-shattering, but she was going to damn well make sure that was about to change with, perhaps some would say, the unlikeliness of partners. True, Denny had come a long way in a short time, but, as yet, he was still very insecure in so many ways. Despite him making a start, he was still tentative around her, despite that first kiss, never initiating anything. She did all the heavy lifting, so to speak. Now she was determined that she was going to take their relationship to the next level and she also knew, with a woman’s intuition, that he wanted it as much as she was prepared to give it to him.

For Den’s part, he was totally oblivious to her plans. After a particularly heated session, up a forestry track in her car, he ventured forth that he was desperate that they make love together at some point in time. He said he’d like that very much, but with his usual reticence, he hastened to add that there was no rush. He knew he wouldn’t be her first and was still in the dark about the finer points of going about it. She said she would like it to happen too – but she wanted it to be special. Could he wait a little longer. Could he what? She told him, then and there, that she loved him and although he would not be her first, nobody else had been her lover. She wanted him to be that to her – therefore she could wait for the perfect occasion for their first time together. He was more than happy with that. He was ecstatic. He also knew there’d be nothing to fear with her. He’d be in safe hands.

After the birthday meal she shouted him at the restaurant over looking the Bluff Beach in Devonport they left for the car. She whispered to him that tomorrow morning he’d no longer be a virgin. He looked at her gobsmacked – then his face became awash with joy. She took him to the hotel she’d booked, the best their little city could muster. And she was correct in her prediction.

As the sun came up Den couldn’t wipe the smile from his mug as he watched her emerge from her slumber. They embraced, she reached down and they made love again. This time their warm bodies pressed together as if they had all the time in the world – which, of course, they did. ‘There,’ she said after they had finished, ‘I told the second time would be even better. You might not have been the first in there, but you’re the first to make me come, you beautiful man.’ And right then; right at that moment, Den knew what he had become – a man – and he hadn’t stuffed up. She took his head again in her hands, kissed him long and deep. ‘You are my first lover. I want you to be my only lover.’ Yep, truly, the best of all possible days.

The previous night was an eye-opener. Den saw a woman’s naked body for the first time in the real world. And she was magnificent – her breasts, finally freed, were a feast for his eyes. She guided his fingers and mouth to all the right places for her and finally took him into a warm and wonderful place. It was so exciting he quickly imploded. ‘Was that all right?’ he asked. ‘No,’ she replied, ‘but I betcha tomorrow it will be though. And every time after that.’

They would go on to marry and happily work together in John Freeman’s enterprise. Much later on Jo became quite the correspondent to her former boss’ de facto, Yuko. When the time came to embark on their grand expedition up the Bruce Highway they had a week set aside to spend some time with Yuko.

And there, with another letter, Jo and Den became privy to something as beautiful as it was intimate. It was a love letter from their former beloved boss to the exotic woman who turned his life around. Yuko had seen something in her guests’ devotion to each other and felt compelled to share the letter with them. She gave a copy to the wife with permission to show it to her own beloved fella. And share it with him she did.

The Blue Room’s Best Television 2019

Putting together a simple list of the best ten television programmes for the year used to be a fairly simple matter. Now, with the explosion of platforms, – we added Amazon Prime in 2019 – it has become a more problematic. Once upon a time, for my retirement, I planned ploughing through a mountain of great books. Boy, has that taken a back seat to powering through the best the Golden Age of Television has to offer. And so far I still haven’t viewed the final season of GofT! And then there’s the issue of first run movies being shown on the small screen simultaneously as they’re released in the cinema. Where do they go? The venerable Stratton included three of them in his best new films of the last twelve months. The other thing that has tickled me in recent times is that my dear mother seemingly is now addicted to Mad Men, still to be bested as my favourite tele series of all time. In a perfect world I’d be re-watching it with her – but where is the time for that as quality new releases come streaming down seemingly almost daily. All that being stated, here goes my best for ‘19, along with those that almost made it.

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1. The Loudest Voice (Stan)– when brave women stood up against a despicable man, brilliantly portrayed by Russell Crow.

2. Patrick Melrose (ABC)the Cumberbatch has never been better and its Princess Margaret rocks.

3. A Confession (7Plus) – never has the law been an ass more than in this tale based on true events

4. The Crown (S3) Netflix – Margaret doesn’t rock quite as much but the quality continues with new headliners playing the royals.

5. Catch 22 (Stan) – the utter stupidity of war.

6. Mindhunter (Netflix) – you just can’t take your eyes off those serial killers.

7. Perfume (Netflix) – the best of several terrific German contenders – stylish and intriguing.

8. The Hunting (SBS)the standout in an excellent year for local product, with the added bonus of being set around, for better or worse, the teaching profession.

9. Five Bedrooms (10Play) – for me ably filled the void left by ‘Offspring’, ‘House Husbands’ and ‘800 Words’.

10. The Pier (SBS) – sultry and intelligent, the best of several Iberian offerings I watched this year.

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The Best of the Rest – Love on the Spectrum – ABC, Press – ABC, Total Control – ABC, The Roosevelts – an Intimate History – Netflix, State of the Union – ABC, Carnival Row – Prime, Mrs Wilson – ABC, Aberdeen – ABC, Killing Eve – ABC, The Cry – ABC, Endeavour – ABC, Grantchester – ABC, Monty Don’s French Gardens – Netflix, Australia in Colour – SBS, Billy Connolly’s Made in Scotland – 7Plus, Pagan Peak – SBS, Blood – SBS, Collingwood From the Inside Out – ABC, Nigel Slater’s Middle East – ABC, The Mediterranean with Simon Reeves – SBS, Hinterland – Netflix, Bad Move – Stan, Project Blue Book – SBS, The Spanish Princess – Stan, Diary of an Uber Driver – ABC, Utopia – ABC, Rosehaven – ABC, Unbelievable – Netflix, Tin Star – SBS, Years and Years – SBS, The Red Line – SBS, Outlander – Stan, Modern Love – Prime.

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Graeme Blundall’s Best Television for 2019 – The Crown, Succession, Unbelievable, Pennyworth, Mindhunter, Watchmen, Lorena, Russian Doll, Chernobyl, Years and Years, The Cry, Lambs of God, Total Control, What We Do in the Shadows, Undone.

NB – Sad to see ‘Poldark’ finish up.

The Blue Room’s Best Music 2019

Richard Hawley is a late bloomer. He was born into a working class Sheffield family in 1967, his childhood blighted by a cleft palate. With musical parents, he was soon learning the guitar and forming a high school band. After graduation he worked around the local music scene as a jobbing musician and became a member of Longpigs, who had some success in the ‘90s. His first taste of real stardom had to wait until the new millennium when he joined Pulp, fronted by Jarvis Cocker. For years beforehand Hawley had been quietly writing a catalogue of songs. Jarvis and other band members convinced him to play a few for them, were impressed and advised him to record them under his own steam. He built up a following with a few releases early in the noughties and some of the critics started to push his oeuvre. He had success with a tune entitled ‘Nights are Cold’ before the 2005 release of ‘Coles Corner’, the album that really set him on his way. It raised his profile nationwide in the UK and certainly caught my interest. Many regarded it as Britain’s album of the year with it being nominated for many gongs. Since that time, with each new collection of songs, he has retained his following and quality of product. ‘Truelove’s Gutter’ was industry magazine Mojo’s best album for ‘09. The music has kept coming this decade, decorated with his melodic baritone and lush arrangements. Many of his songs reference the city of his birth and his latest release, ‘Further’, tops my list for 2019.

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1. Further – Richard Hawley

2. Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen

3. CrushingJulia Jacklin

4. Three Chords of Truth – Van Morrison

5. Tides of a Teardrop – Mandolin Orange

6. Ruins – First Aid Kit

7. Can’t Make You Love Me – Geena Rose Bruce

8. All Mirrors – Angel Olsen

9. Wild Seeds – Seeker Lover Keeper

10. Fever Breaks – Josh Ritter

HMs – Years to Burn – Calexico/Iron and Wine, My Finest Work Yet – Andrew Bird, The Saint of Lost Causes – Justin Townes Earle, Part of the Light – Ray LaMontagne, Texas – Steve Earle, Fever Dream – Of Monsters and Men, Not Dark Yet – Allison Moorer/Shelby Lynne, Aviary Takes – Dan Sultan.

EG Entertainment Guide, the Age – Our Favourite 10 Albums of 2019 – Craig Mathieson

Nick Cave and the Bad SeedsGhosteen

Lana Del Rey Norman F—ing Rockwell

Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Brittany Howard – Jaime

Lizzo – Cuz I Love You

Julia Jacklin – Crushing

Sampa the Great – The Return

Tropical F— Storm – Braindrops

Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Wilco – Ode to Joy

HMs – Amyl and the Sniffers – Amyl and the Sniffers; FKA Twigs – Magdalene; Ariana Grande – Thank U, Next; Hot Chip – A Bath Full of Ecstasy; Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka; The National – I Am Easy to Find; Rustin Man – Drift Code; Sleater-Kinney – The Centre Won’t Hold; Solange – When I Get Home; Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride.