4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

Great first book review, Cait. I look forward to reading more.

Reblogged from caitsclassics.wordpress.com.

Cait's classics

Forgive me. It’s not often I start a review with an ordinary description of the book’s plot – and as my first ever blog I had hoped to do something far more clever – but I feel it’s warranted in this case. Do you know those books where you have to keep notes as you go? Tolstoy comes to mind but I’m sure there are others (Note to self: must come back to those painful yet brilliant books in a later post). Well anyway, 4 3 2 1 is one of them and I feel a brief description is imperative if you’re to have any chance of following this.

4 3 2 1 tells the story of Archie Ferguson. We follow Ferguson’s life from birth to his early 20s. His first day of school, first girlfriend, his career aspirations, fears, partners, homes, jobs, thoughts. Everything. Only we follow it four different times. Every chapter comprises four sub-chapters that describe four different Fergusons…

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Christmas Rituals #1

”A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence. Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community.”

Each and every year the daughters and I watch the same three Christmas themed movies. Even when separated by distance we text to alert each other that we are watching. We may not be together, though we are together in spirit.

Which three movies do we watch?

Firstly, the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Die Hard, of course. If you have never seen Bruce Willis playing New York policeman, John McClane, fighting terrorists in a city multi-storey mid Christmas drinks, I don’t know where you’ve been. Confession: I have gone barefoot after long distance travel and scrunched my toes on the floor.

 For the Bing Crosby fan in the family, White Christmas, which also stars Danny  Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. No further explanation required as it includes THAT song.

Lastly, Joyeux Noel, based on a Christmas truce on the front line in December 2014, when the Crown Prince of Germany sent the lead singer of the German Opera to sing to the troops.

The unofficial truce begins when the Scots begin to sing festive songs, accompanied by bagpipes. The German begins to sing Silent Night and he is accompanied by a piper in the Scottish army, leading to the Germans, French and Scottish officers meeting in No Mans Land and agreeing on a cease fire for the evening.   

Doesn’t matter how many times I view this movie the Scottish accents are always a problem. And yes, the cat getting punished for treason is unsettling. A wee weep at Christmas is not a bad thing…..


It’s All About The Journey.

Home after a week pottering around the beautiful small townships of the New South Wales, South Coast Region. This trip, despite its short length, was a celebration of the end of one phase of my life and for the beginning of the next. The goal was to purge some sad memories and to create some that were new and fresh. It is amazing how quickly those goals were achieved.

This part of the world is a continuous coastline on one side of the highway, and soft green hills or rugged timberland on the other. It’s a part of the world where you don’t have to share a beach and there is a plethora of space to stop and think. Space where there is no white noise. Any plans for an overseas jaunt in coming months are seriously being overhauled.

My favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, who totally cracks me up said “ To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Road trips are the source of much fascinating information. After a quick feed at a pub in Nowra, I learnt that The Archer Tavern was named after the racehorse that won Australia’s first and second Melbourne Cups in 1861 and ‘62. Archer was a long distance specialist having walked the 600 miles from Nowra to Melbourne for the big race.

This was the basis of a truly dreadful mid eighties movie starring Our Nic before she met that bloke Cruise, and a young Brett Climo. Whatever happened to him, I wonder?

In Moruya, further south on the Moruya River, you can’t miss the recently closed Air Raid Tavern situated on the Highway. A wooden carving of The Airman stands proudly outside. Moruya ?Air Raids? The hallmarks of a failed education system in the 1970s were once again raising their ugly heads.

Three trawler men lost their lives during WW2 when a Japanese Midget submarine bombed them off the Moruya Coast, on their way up the East Coast. Who knew that? Some more unpalatable history, apparently.

So, of course I had to look at the Midget Sub on display, very much bruised and battered, at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Fascinating stuff.

For the penultimate in Trivia a celebration of another kind taking place further south near Narooma had themed food to match the quiz like game at hand, set up in tents in a back garden, with a soft summer breeze, the hum of cicadas, and a playlist of music from the last five decades.

Much thanks must go to these good people, these Adventurers, who have convinced me to add “Watch Dr Who Christmas Special” to my Must Do List. An achievement considering never having watched a Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord Of The Rings movie  which I rate highly as Personal Bests, right up there with my No Tupperware Policy.

And I picked up a first Edition copy of Rudyard Kipling’s, Kim, for my Errol Flynn Collection from a second hand bookstore in a little country town that served the best coffee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said , “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” So true.

Against All Flags and Burrill Lake

I’ve previously shared the movies that helped mould the person I am today: Reap The Wild Wind with John Wayne being crushed by a giant squid accounting for my fear of seaweed ( and love of calamari), and Elizabeth And Essex with Errol Flynn and Bette Davis which was my excuse for decapitating my sister’s Barbie dolls.

A road trip through the haunts of my childhood on the New South Wales South Coast has stirred many memories; some good, some bad, but none ugly. Nothing is ugly once you hit the beautiful beaches and forests of this region, except perhaps for real estate prices.

Coming from a family that enjoyed fishing, swimming, and body boarding in these same waters I was reminded of successful nights of prawning and catching Blue Swimmer Crabs in Burrill Lake, just south of Ulladulla. The Father Bear would wade knee deep in water holding a Tilly Lamp, guiding everybody else who would have a net ready to scoop any crabs attracted by the light. No need for any bait. That was me. I always attracted crabs.(Get your minds out of the gutter please). Nips from crabs were plentiful though I never complained as nothing ever did beat a fresh crab sandwich with a spray of pepper.

Catching up with a friend and neighbour of fifty plus years standing over these past days we sat and watched Against All Flags, a 1952 movie starring Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara, which reminded me of the time where I confronted my military father and refused to be used to attract Blue Swimmers. It was the summer of rebellion. I was 8 and I had just seen this movie for the first time.

Onboard a 1700s merchant ship, determined British naval officer Lieutenant Brian Hawke (Flynn) bravely endures twenty lashes with the intent of using the wounds to help him go undercover on the pirate island of Libertania. Once there, however, Hawke is brought before the colony’s head pirates, the Captains of the Coast, and forced to prove himself in a fight to the death. As he endures the various trials of a pirate, he finds himself drawn to the beautiful buccaneer Spitfire (O’Hara) and torn between her and his mission to disarm the renegade settlement. Co-starring Anthony Quinn, it’s a Technicolor epic filled with buxom maidens, breathtaking swordplay and dazzling spectacle. From IMDB.

For the purpose of this story you need to know that when the pirates realise that Errol is a spy they inflict an awful punishment.  They tie him to a pole on the tide line and await these butt ugly crabs to come out of the water to scavenge for food. Errol as a main course – delicious!

Off set Errol was injecting oranges with vodka in defiance of the No Drinking Rule, and was seven years off his early demise. I think he still looked damn fine, and when the mogul princess in the movie kept asking for “more”, as in kisses, I knew just where her head was at. 

It was an absolute treasure to rewatch this movie all these years later in colour and with a wonderful friend. Cath, I never knew you were such a movie buff, particularly one with such an eye for bloopers. ( Watch for Spitfire’s beauty spot changing cheeks).

I still have a fear of live crabs though am partial to a good crab salad with mango.

The South Coast, Errol Flynn and good friends. What a great start to retirement.

Three Days Till Retirement and The Battle Of The Boobs.

Three days left till the end of my working days. The longest three days of my life.

An office full of women including two millennials, no air conditioning in a Brisbane heatwave and a definite shift of power within the organisation are creating issues. There is electricity in the air.

As an observer I am fascinated. But I don’t want to be there. I’m just a soldier – I do my work, head down, butt in the air, forever forging through enemy lines, commando style.

Two younger women jockeying for position. Both very attractive, personable and capable girls with ambition. Both narcissists. It’s a battle of the breast implants. I’ve been having visions of Gary Cooper with 36DD boobs squaring off in High Noon.

Interestingly, despite being educated career women, their personal lives are train wrecks. Truly. One has been separated for twelve months and keeps crying poor. Lost everything, she moans. And is a Life Coach.

Do you know any Life Coaches? It may be a generalisation though it seems to me that all three Life Coaches with whom I am acquainted experienced multiple unhappy relationships. One has been divorced three times. Would you go to a thrice divorced Life Coach for advice, I have to ask?

The other just suffered a relationship breakdown. That’s ok. That’s Life. Happens to us all. Heartbreak helps mould us. In this case, she is prone to entanglements with drug dealers and dipsticks.

(LIFE LESSON 34 :  “ All that Glitters is not Gold”).

As for the millennials, the 21 year old openly admitted she didn’t like working with anyone over thirty five as they are “old people”. People, this is the direct result of not disciplining your recalcitrant children or teaching them respect. Lazy parenting.

( Note to Self : Impressive effort. You kept your mouth shut. Didn’t recognise you there for a moment. Book a Doctor’s appointment).

One of our ex staff members dropped in to say hello the other day bringing her fiancé. Charming fella – introduced himself, looked you in the eye, shook hands – a delightful man in his early 30s. Said millennial’s only comment was about his receding hairline. Guess what sweetie ? Doesn’t matter, you’ll find out soon enough…..

They tell me that my aura is in urgent need of a vacuum and my chakras require rebalancing. Easy fix. Jumping on an aeroplane and travelling 1000 klms south to where the “mountains meet the sea”, to a place that soothes the soul. Salt water, surf, sand and a Chardonnay or two is all this RETIRED girl needs to get back on an even keel.

Three more days. Suck it up, Buttercup.

NB.      Apologies for the vent. Apologies to any Life Coaches. Not really.

           

Sons of Scotland and Braveheart.

Looked what I found at a recent book sale. As the movie of the same name is one of those constants in my life this book screamed that it needed rehoming. $1. BARGAIN.

I was never a fan of Mad Max – ooops, Mad Mel – when he was young man. Blame my mother who instilled in my sister and I to “never trust a good looking man”, as well as to “always wear clean underwear in case you get hit by a bus”. Mel Gibson in middle age wore his wrinkles and crags well. I adored him in this one, The Patriot, and We Were Soldiers Once, in which he always played the tough guy, the strong guy with vulnerability, the bloke that could always do with a hug no matter how scary on the battlefield.

James Mackay has researched long and hard to discover the truth behind the legend of William Wallace, and openly admits to a lot of grey areas. This is not an easy read and I resorted to pen and paper to create a mud map to keep track of who was who in the zoo. Not surprising since the days of Wallace date back to the latter half of the 1200’s. In those days they shed Kings and Queens like Australia sheds Prime Ministers.

Who was William Wallace? Wallace was the medieval Scottish patriot who was spurred into revolt against the English when the love of his life was slaughtered. Leading his army into battles that become a war, his advance into England threatened King Edward I’s throne before he was captured and executed, but not before becoming a symbol for a free Scotland.

Much of Mackay’s research starts with the storytelling of Blind Harry, though not that much appears to be known about him either. Blind Harry (c. 1440 – 1492), was also known as Harry, Hary or Henry the Minstrel, and is the author of The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace, more commonly known as The Wallace. This was a lengthy poem recounting the life of William Wallace, written around 1477, 172 years after Wallace’s death. Historians have in more recent years deemed many of the battles mentioned as inaccurate.

Historians aren’t much fun, are they?

After wading through this book, Post It Notes inserted all over the place, I watched the Special addition Braveheart which includes Mel Gibson’s commentary from start to finish. Gibson was Director as well as the actor playing Wallace, and does not hesitate to discuss inaccurate historical references that were utilised for the benefit of cinematic retelling. With Gibson’s chat along with the storyline you look through different eyes and see so many different things within the movie. The use of mechanical horses, for instance, was fascinating as were the descendants of the Wallace Clan used as extras in battle scenes who required no embellishment by way of makeup.

Never seen Braveheart? You been too busy playing with Unicorns? Add it to your Holiday Play List.

I continue to argue that this is the most romantic movie of all time, and the accompanying soundtrack is damn fine too.

ADD TO BUCKET LIST : William Wallace Monument at Stirling, Scotland.

Scrublands by Chris Hammer: Book Review

Author : Chris Hammer

Published 2018 ( softcover)

About the author:
Chris Hammer is a seasoned Australian journalist of thirty plus years experience specialising in International Affairs and Politics. His career obviously provided much fuel for this novel.

Twelve months after a mass murder in a rural Australian town journalist, Martin Scarsden, arrives in Riversend to report on any flow on effect that the local priest shooting five locals may have had on the community.

Riversend could be any isolated country town suffering the effects of drought, bushfires, and a dying economy. The only Hotel in town is now Closed for business, a sure sign that the town is on its last legs.

Scarsden, a damaged character, investigates further into the horrific event that occurred on the church steps and becomes involved with other developments. These tragedies bring hordes of journalists to the sleepy town sniffing out a story for the benefit of city people expecting news with their daily breakfast and dinner. I suspect that the author is every bit as cynical and jaded as Martin Scarsden and his description of the media throng is right on the money.

Riversend is a parade of odd characters with secrets. Have they escaped to the quiet of the country to hide secret lives or better enjoy their lives in secret?

This is another novel which casts the harsh Australian landscape as a character in itself. It is one of those rural towns we’ve all driven through. You know those towns you would rather drive right through than stop for a bathroom break ? We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Scrublands is a tightly wound page turner with lots of twists and turns and covers multiple themes. Once again I am fully aware why I never entertained being in the Police Force. I simply have no mystery solving skills.

Read this one in a single sitting too. Oops, don’t think the floors will ever get mopped again.

Tip :

Another one for under the Xmas tree. Make sure you put your name on the gift tag.

Australian Author Jon Cleary and The Sundowners.

Way back in 1969 when I was attending a little primary school in Sydney’s bushland in a suburb dominated by War Service Homes I found myself interested in reading books written for adult entertainment. Instead of “sugar and spice and all things nice” I was brought up on a diet of Robinson Caruso, Treasure Island, and all things Kipling. My favourite tale, The Last of the Mohicans, probably accounts in part for the the cowboy tent in my backyard which I shared with Edward, the cat.

So at ten years of age when I borrowed a book from the school library the teachers were a bit shocked by my selection. Before releasing it, the Librarian sent a note home to my parents asking for for parental permission because it contained “adult themes”.

The book that caused so much kerfuffle? A lovely tale about a family in the 1920’s that live a nomadic lifestyle travelling from one rural town to another around Australia, picking up work where ever they can, including sheep shearing with the wife doing her bit as the shearer’s cook. The Sundowners by Jon Cleary was later adapted into a movie starring Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov, filmed in Australia in 1960.

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At the 33rd Academy Awards, The Sundowners was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Deborah Kerr), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glynis Johns), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Although I haven’t seen this movie for thirty odd years it has stuck with me – I can still clearly see the book cover. Firstly, I was mad keen on Mitchum, and also because it was a story of simple folk, with a simple life, who took pleasure from simple things. There’s a Life Lesson in that……….

In hindsight it was probably my first recollection of  an onscreen Australia. Back in those days you couldn’t get more Dinky Di than Chips Rafferty and John Meillion, and both get a run in this one.

I’ve just read another of Jon Cleary’s novels, Degrees Of Connection, the last in a series of crime books based on the character, Scobie Malone. Never heard of Scobie Malone? Neither had I!

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Malone is a fictional Sydney homicide copper. The first book in the series was published in 1966, and Degrees Of Connection has Scobie promoted to Superintendent of Police, published in 2003, seven years before the author’s death.

One of the author’s trademarks is an unusual first line in each Malone book. This one didn’t disappoint. “She’s had more facelifts than the Strand Arcade” said Clements.

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I enjoyed this book as an easy read and the trivia orientated information about Sydney suburbs was both familiar and nostalgic. It also made good use of Sydney’s tribalism which made me smile, as now an observer rather than a resident. “ Rooty Hill ? Where’s that? In the outback?”  (Sydneysiders will appreciate this, not so non locals. She’s a beautiful, exciting city but there exists invisible walls depending on your socio-economic standing and geographical situation. Not P C? Maybe, but dead right).

The character of Malone is more brain over brawn and I appreciated the sarcasm and wit over the vulgarity and profanities from some of our other home grown crime writers. I’m no prude, and can drop ‘em with the best of them, but how much can a koala bear?

The second Scobie Malone book in the series was adapted to movie back in 1975, with a young Australian, Jack Thompson, playing Malone. With the title Helga’s Web or alternatively Murder At The Opera House it was by all accounts a stinker.

The author was shown the film at a private screening and was not happy with the result. “When I saw Scobie nibbling on the fourth nipple I thoughtthat’s not my Scobie“. And I walked out”, Cleary said.

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I think I will give that one a miss.

Trivia :

The same shearing shed at Carriewerloo Station was later used in the South Australian Film Corporation film Sunday Too Far Away (1975).

And I reiterate: if you have any notion of visiting a shearing shed for Bucket List purposes, forget it. Putrid things.

Freddy Mercury or Col Porter?

When I told the daughter of my intention to see the movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, this week she said , “ Mo, you’de be better off getting Thai Takeaway, opening a bottle of wine, and listening to a CD.”

Always good advice.

Enjoyed the Villanova Players production of High Society instead.

When said daughter graduated from University with a couple of degrees, as well as dark rings under the eyes, we celebrated with a fine meal in the city and some Bubbles. As you do. Did I hand her a set a car keys or a pair of diamond earrings as a gift for four years of study?

Of course not! What kind of mother do you think I am! My eldest daughter and I located a movie poster for High Society and had it professionally framed. Looked schmiko too. Cait is a huge fan of both Bing and Cranky Frankie, and this movie also ignited her interest in the music of Satchmo.    (Louis Armstrong).

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High Society was released in 1956 with a simple storyline :” Jazz artist C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby) is still hung up on his ex-wife and neighbor, socialite Tracy Samantha Lord (Grace Kelly), however Tracy is engaged to another man (John Lund). Matters are complicated even further when a magazine reporter (Frank Sinatra), in town to cover Tracy’s wedding, also winds up falling for the beautiful bride-to-be. As Tracy tries to decide on the ideal husband, each suitor works hard to convince her he is the best choice.” – wikipeadia

Supported by great music and lyrics by Col Porter as well as some truly gorgeous gowns this movie was nominated for Academy Award for Best Story, Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written Musical, and Academy Award for Best Original Musical.

So you think Col Porter music is no longer relevant? Pop star, Robbie Williams, has been reintroducing these tunes to a new generation. And doing it so damn well too.

I took both my daughters to see Williams perform in 2006 at Suncorp Stadium. Suncorp is a sporting venue, affectionately known as The Cauldron, but its beauty is that regardless of where you sit you are right on top of the action. I took an out-of-towner there once and he was more interested in the sound from the roaring crowd than any on field action.

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So we’re way up high in the bleachers, almost touching the stars. Robbie’s on stage doing his thing, and my girls are moving with the music. The eldest loses herself completely. ( My fault. I did that hippie thing and placed head phones on my tummy whilst pregnant). Spent the night holding said child around the waist as I was so fearful she would take a tumble and we would lose her. Literally.

Here’s to another community theatre group bringing great entertainment to the locals, and a stage band putting life back into the music of Porter. The music is in the bones…

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Yep, Caitlin, good advice.