Boy Swallows Universe and Boggo Road Gaol

In June 2018, journalist Trent Dalton had his first novel released to cries of “next Australian classic!” Many of the initial reviews seemed to focus on the book cover. For this old cynic that immediately raised red flags……..

Boy Swallows Universe tells the story of Eli Bell, 8, and brother Augustus, 9, who has not spoken for several years following their mother’s escape from their father. Frankie, the boys mother, states that “the universe stole her boy’s words”.

The book also begins with a hook -“ Your end is a dead blue wren “ – which did nothing to alleviate my concerns. We then launch into the warm relationship between the boys and Arthur “Slim” Halliday, in real life a criminal known as “the Houdini of Boggo Road Gaol”. Eli is aware of Slim’s reputation and criminal history and questions how then this old gentleman can still be so kind and warm. Thus begins Eli’s search for what makes a “good man”…..

(For non Queenslanders Boggo Road Gaol sits on the fringe of Brisbane CBD. Most of the area has been redeveloped for yuppie high rise though the main block still stands and remained in use as a correctional facility till the late 80s and has an appalling history dating back to days of the penal colony. Last year I sat in the courtyard watching Shawshank Redemption surrounded by razor wire. It is a horrible place, an evil place, and the cells tell of unspeakable things. Even less than forty years ago the only bathroom facilities consisted of a bucket. That developers are chasing this property for bars, eateries and boutique accomodation is hilarious as the entire site has a truly God awful vibe.)

Back to the book.

Set in the outer suburbs of Brisbane in the early 1980’s the setting is familiar and nostalgic. Add Contrived to my list of disappointments.

Frankie is weaned off drugs by Lyle, her de facto, who is dealing drugs within the neighbourhood and mixing it with the Vietnamese drug Lords and includes the boys on these ventures. In an attempt to be a “good man” and to improve the lot of his partner and step sons he starts doing drug deals on the side which leads to his “disappearance” and Frankie’s incarceration.

Eli and Augustus are shipped off to their Dad, who they don’t know, who lives in a Housing Commission pocket in Bracken Ridge. Robert is an alcoholic who at one stage, in despair, drove his car into a lake with the boys in the back seat.

The boys grow up witnessing domestic violence, gang wars, racial conflict, drugs and murder, and Eli even breaks into Gaol on Christmas Day to see Frankie with the help of an ex-con and “good man”.

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Are you depressed yet?

Surprisingly, the mood is quietly optimistic with the boys watching over each other and navigating their awful world, and as they age we learn of their dreams. Augustus wants to paint and give back to the world, and Eli wants to be a crime writer. He certainly has the personal experience down pat

Of course, there is a girl involved who sees the good in Eli, and both lads survive and grow from their crummy existence.

After being stabbed by an enforcer in the employ of a Mr Big, who is actually much respected in the local community ( and involved with the step fathers “disappearance” – think jar and formildahyde – as well as the kidnaping of a young boy) Eli fades into his past and dreams of his friend, Slim.

Slim nods.

“Get going” he says “ you’re running outta time”.

“Do your time, hey Slim?”

He nods. “Before it does you”, he says.

Eli gains work at the local newspaper and Augustus wins a citizenship award. They are both on the way to becoming good men.

***************

Since finishing this book I’ve been interested enough to read further about the author. This is Dalton’s story. This is Dalton’s truth, which made the novel so much more fascinating. Slim Halliday was a family friend, Dalton grew up in a decidedly dysfunctional family, and he worked for the local paper.

Dalton says of his novel – It is essentially a way I have honestly tried to approach life: Just take it in. Don’t just write about one thing, take it all in. Take every last aspect, take all the dark, take all the light, take the whole universe in. That’s what the kid in the book is doing, just going for it. That can be dangerous, but I love when anyone does that, just owns it. That’s what helps us survive.”

A good coming-of-age read despite its unsettling content, and (sadly) very Australian.

The Notebook Makes Eating Chocolate Guilt Free.

In 1986 I delivered a Christmas baby. A round, brown baby that arrived like a freshly baked loaf of bread. Worst summer of my life, let me tell you. I continue to give her grief each and every December about the lack of bubbles in my life that year. I must confess that when the Doctor recommended an increase in my calcium intake I took to having a Tia Maria milkshake each and every day.

So my beautiful Capricorn daughter has a birthdate so close to Christmas that she never had a party with friends on the actual day – a situation which at 32 years of age she continues to hold against me.
( Never her father. Why is this so?)

Having a birthday so close to Christmas has created so many issues over the years. Most significantly it effected her relationships with Significant Others. Young men were always judged according to two criterias:

1. Does the young man in question buy separate Christmas and Birthday gifts ?

Several good looking prospects went by the wayside after gifting only one combined parcel to cover these two major Life events. It’s not that the daughter is materialistic. After all, she is the grand daughter of Depression raised folk (and a tight arsed mother).
“ Mo, it’s the principle”. Oddly, I kinda get that……..

2. Does the young man in question sit through the movie, The Notebook, with her, from beginning to end?

Well, that one definitely sorted the wheat from the chaff. Have you ever sat through The Notebook?

The Notebook was the first book written by Nicholas Sparkes in 1996 in a long list of easy-to-read romantic novels. It was adapted into a film in 2004, starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as the younger version of a married couple of 50 odd years, in James Garner and Gena Rowlands, following their love story from before WW2 till the onset of old age. And as Bette Davis once said, “ old age ain’t no place for sissies”.

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I’m not a real good gauge of chick flicks, with a preference for sword fights and bows and arrows. Nothing like a good scalping to make a girl happy really. However, The Notebook is a great movie for when you are in the mood for a little weep – we all have those moments, don’t we? – or when the need arises to eat a box of chocolates without any remorse.

It’s a movie with visual impact, with McAdams, Gosling, and love triangle John Marsden all looking damn fine. Some of the scenery is breathtakingly simple yet beautiful, especially the scenes on the lake.

The movie is a huge improvement on the book because of the photography and complementing soundtrack, although having recently reread the book I found it more layered than I remembered, with more glimpses of humour. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack too this weekend. It’s kinda spooky when you can identify the scene from the music alone, isn’t it?

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My Capricorn found her Keeper in a military boyo with seven tours of duty under his belt. If he survived The Notebook he can survive anything.

Recommendation : Box of tissues with a block of Dark Chocolate.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=I_U3Qk0tLWc

Cork Trees, Russell Crowe and WW1.

I’ve spent the last few days catching up on newspapers and changing hair colour.

An item that piqued my interest featured artist, Beverley Teske, who is creating an installation out of bottle tops to be staged at the local museum.

Teske is collecting 61,555 bottle caps with each bottle cap representing an Australian soldier who died in World War 1. To date, Ms Teske said she had collected about one-third of the number of caps required and asked interested people to drop their caps at the museum before and during the installation.

The exhibition will also feature three large paintings, with one entitled Under Clear Blue Skies they Came to Die also representing  the 61,555 soldiers with hand drawn crosses. Another painting also has 130,845 crosses representing all soldiers who died at Gallipoli.

Teske is quoted as saying, “The original piece was inspired when I saw Russell Crow in The Water Diviner. It really moved me that all these people died. I wanted to do something to acknowledge that”. World History via Russell Crowe. Don’t you just love that!

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Can’t help with bottle tops, though I do have a few corks hanging around.

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On my recent travels I visited a Cork Tree which was brought from England in a jam tin in 1861.

Known as the Wishing Tree in English folklore, it is said that the trees are surrounded with a strange power to bring good luck to those who observe certain rituals dating back to the time of the Great Plague of London 1665. At that time, people came from all parts of the country to walk around the tree three times and as they walked, to make a wish. Some came for better health, some for better fortune and others for a wife or husband. It was said that few were disappointed.

Fortune Favours those who see
More in me than just a tree
Look at my cork
And three times walk
Before my girth for all to see

I had visions of re-enacting mystical Druid rituals underneath the moon light. Unfortunately, the shade of this magnificent tree is also home to numerous Shetland ponies, and they are not one to share their environment.063107F6-045A-40CC-A59E-B79872758D68

Six Degrees of Separation in Tenterfield.

Only 3 hours drive from Brisbane, Tenterfield in northern New South Wales, is located in a valley within the Great Dividing Range. It’s largely preserved architecture, natural attractions and rich farmland make it a worthwhile destination when needing to relax and recharge.

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Established in 1851 because of its position on the route between Sydney and Brisbane, politician Sir Henry Parkes, delivered a speech in Tenterfield in 1889 at the School of Arts Building which ultimately led to the Federation of Australia in 1901, and Parkes becoming known as the “Father of Federation”.

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On a visit to Tenterfield in early September to attend The Inaugural Peter Allen Festival I attended a performance of Allen’s music and story telling at this building. Preserved, yet modernised with a delightful Courtyard Cafe, entertainer Danny Elliot ensured that Peter Allen’s music stays alive.

Peter Allen was born in Tenterfield in 1944. A singer-songwriter, musician and entertainer, known for his flamboyant stage persona and lavish costumes, Allen’s songs were made popular by an array of recording artists including Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Manchester, and Christopher Cross (with the theme song from the movie, Arthur.)

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His Grandfather, George Woolnough, had been a long time Tenterfield resident and owner of the Tenterfield Saddlery on High Street for fifty two years. The front verandah became a meeting place where locals gathered to chat. Peter Allen perpetuated the memory of his grandfather in one of his best known songs “The Tenterfield Saddler”.

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The building was classified by the National Trust in 1972. The doors and woodwork are of red cedar and apart from the maintenance, the Saddlery is in its original condition.

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The first saddler in Tenterfield purchased this property in 1870 which was then sold and used as a bank four years later because the granite walls were over twenty inches thick. In 1895 it was sold for use as a private home, who then sold it on to the next saddler, before coming into Woolnough’s hands.

The solicitor who arranged these last three sales was Major J F Thomas who defended Harry (Breaker) Morant in South Africa during the Boer War. His part in this saga was depicted in the Australian movie, Breaker Morant, released in 1980 by actor, Jack Thompson.

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Thomas returned to his position as country solicitor after the conflict and authorised the first official publication of Tenterfield’s history.

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Just down the road, Harry Chauvel, the son of a grazier, was commissioned as an officer in the Upper Clarence Light Horse. He became a regular officer in 1896, and went to the United Kingdom as part of the Queensland contingent for the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. In 1899 he commanded one of two companies of Queensland Mounted Infantry that were Queensland’s initial contribution to the Boer War.

After the war, he was closely involved with the training of the Australian Light Horse, which later led to his leadership during World War 1 in numerous conflicts, including at Beersheba in October 1917, where his light horse captured the town and its vital water supply.

The 1987 released movie, The Light Horsemen, told the story of the taking of Beersheba, with Aussie Bill Kerr playing Sir Gen. Henry Chauvel.

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Chauvel’s nephew Charles Chauvel became a well-known film director, whose films included Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940), about the Battle of Beersheba, filmed on the sand hills of Kurnell, Sydney, and one of my own weekend stomping grounds. ( said sandhills no longer exist. Thank Progress).

Another of Tenterfield’s favourite sons was Oliver Woodward.

Captain Oliver Holmes Woodward CMG, MC & Two Bars, was a metallurgist, mine manager and soldier noted for his tunnelling activities at the Ypres Salient during the First World War.

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Woodward kept diaries of these activities which were later moulded into a book by historian and writer, Will Davies, which in turn became 2010 Australian War film, Beneath Hill 60. Actor Brendan Cowell portrayed Woodward , and if you’ve never seen the movie, put it on your Must Do List.

On a personal note, much thanks to Tenterfield for the country hospitality and continuing history lessons. To my fellow City Slickers, remember that our rural towns need some help right now, and that a steak at the pub, a coffee at the Cafe, and the purchase of home made jams and chutneys, helps to keep our country towns alive. The local paper is guesstimating that tourists input $300,000 into Tenterfield over the weekend.

https://www.tenterfieldstar.com.au/story/5634119/inaugural-peter-allen-festival-officially-opens-in-bruxner-park/?cs=2865

Road Trips and Trivia

I love road trips, stopping wherever and whenever it suits. And I love that there is so much history that can be gained from the little country towns that dot the landscape.

Clunes, in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, and with a population of less than 600 had me with Uncle Peter’s Secondhand Bookshop. The lush vegetation was gorgeous too.

Tabulam, with a population of less than 500, is the birthplace of Lt General Sir Henry Chauval of the Australian Light Horse. Not only is there a monument to the Light Horse Brigade in this fly spec of a spot but last November being the 100th anniversary of the Charge of Beersheba, there was a re-enactment. ( yeah, makes the mind boggle, doesn’t it?)

The township of Drake, a bustling centre in the gold rush of the 1870’s and 80’s, has a population of less than 130. The foot never touched the brake pedal when the Lunatic Motel was spotted.

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We’ve yet to investigate Tenterfield, our destination, though a few big things already appeal to my sense of trivia :

Major J F Thomas was born in Tenterfield.

Who?

Major Thomas was the country solicitor who defended Harry “Breaker” Morant ( and Peter Handcock ) during the Boer War in South Africa. If you’ve seen the Aussie flick, Breaker Morant, think the character played by Jack Thompson.

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A B Paterson, Australian poet and war correspondent, married a Tenterfield lass in April 1903. St Stephens Church, a tiny, wooden structure revisits this event annually in an attempt to keep Banjo’s poetry alive.

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around that the colt from Old Regret had got away
And had joined the wild bush horses, he was worth a thousand pounds, so all the cracks had gathered to the fray
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far had mustered at the homestead overnight
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are and the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight

It was a cold winters night in the Hill Top Farmhouse last night, though good news : we may have broken their drought.

Spring Updates.

1. 4,000 Poppy Seeds failed to germinate. My plans for a display of colour in the front yard for Remembrance Day in November have been thwarted. I’ve bought myself a scarf instead.

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2. The Little Community Library continues to gather support. The local blokes seem to be into swapping fishing and camping mags – unless it’s just the wives doing a little Spring Cleaning?

3. I’ve read three of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books in three days from the Library. Three is enough. Not putting my hand up for the movie/s. Tom Cruise ? Just so wrong….

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4. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra performed Music From The Movies locally. Highly recommended if you get a chance to see musicians at play. Music can be so very stirring.

5. Which reminds me……I was sprung, still in Phantom of the Opera mode, singing along happily to myself whilst awaiting my Smashed Avocado and coffee the other morning. The proprietor applauded my attempts at a rain dance. Talk about embarrassing.

6. My Bing Crosby loving daughter tells me that the recent theatrical production of Calamity Jane in the ACT was brilliant and that when you purchased tickets there was the option to select seats on stage at the bar. Be part of the performance. I so want to do this! I loved getting dressed in my Annie Oakley outfit when I was five. Please please please.

7. A new movie due for release next month. I’m feeling anxious.

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Apologies. In limbo land, in between being expected to contribute and achieve and not giving a rats. It’s an uncomfortable place, a strange place, an unfamiliar place.

Remember though – “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz”.

The

Book Week.

This week is Book Week.

Each year across Australia, the Children’s Book Council of Australia brings children and books together celebrating CBCA Book Week.

During this time schools, libraries, booksellers, authors, illustrators and children celebrate Australian children’s literature. The CBCA winners of Book of the Year are announced at this time.

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The highlight of the week for most of our Little People of Primary School age is the opportunity to dress up as their favourite book character and parade around the playground.

Many years ago I remember my sister and I creating outfits for Book Week in a little bush school on the outskirts of Sydney. Funds were short, though enthusiasm and ingenuity were in great supply. Wrapped in a sheet of silver cardboard my sibling created her own outfit at 8 or 9 years of age as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

Twenty odd years later my own daughters spent hours contemplating costumes for a parade of book characters in a little school on the outskirts of Adelaide. They were closeted in their bedrooms for hours with this task and I can still hear their laughter, and frustration, from the other end of the house.

One spent the next day at school as Angelina Ballerina, whilst the youngest one dressed as a golfer. Following on from my previous, Bagger Vance, some things just don’t change…….

There will be playground parades across the nation this week, and I have no doubt there will be a plethora of Harry Potters, Cats In The Hat, and Alice in Wonderlands.I hope the kiddies have heaps of fun!

I adore children’s books and relish the opportunity to gift them to Little People whenever the opportunity arises. Some of these books have “stayed” with me for years.

Do you have a favourite Children’s Book?

Note : The CBCA is advocating that really Little People between the ages of 0 to 5 years be read 3000 books in that period to encourage a love of words, stories and reading. Book readings can be repeated, and books in good supply are available from Libraries. In my area we have a Mobile Bus that travels to parklands on a weekly basis, and of course, you can visit any Community Library.

Bagger Vance and the Hunter Valley.

My youngest daughter, the one that collects Bing Crosby dolls, has always enjoyed golf, both as a participant and spectator. Indeed, the downside to living in Australia is that watching any of the truely great sporting events of the world, such as golf at St Andrews or Augusta, means having to set an alarm to set yourself up in front of the box in the wee hours of the morning. In winter. I’ve generally crawled out from under the covers to keep the daughter company and fed.

The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life is a 1995 American novel by Steven Pressfield that was adapted into the 2000 film The Legend of Bagger Vance. It is one of our favourite movies, and one where the movie is an improved version of the novel.

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I watched this again last night after a relaxed day in the Hunter Valley enjoying the sunshine and local Seafood Festival. The Hunter, despite suffering from both drought and bushfires, is a prime wine producing area and so a local chardy joined us on the mystical journey with Bagger Vance.

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Mystical? Think Field Of Dreams without the ghostly baseball players. Without corn fields. Sadly, without the delish Ray Liotta.

According to Dr Google , “ Steven Pressfield (author) has acknowledged, Bagger Vance, and the story of his legend, are based on the Hindu epic and scriptural poem, the Bhagavad-Gita. In the epic, Bhagavan is the “Supreme Personality” who helps his follower, Arjuna, understand much about war and about life.

Don’t let that put you off!

The story of Bagger Vance, under played for the first time in his life by a personable Will Smith, is told through Harley, whilst dying of a heart attack as an elderly gent whilst playing golf.

He recounts his childhood memories of a golf exhibition between golfing legends, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones during the Great Depression, devised to stop the local Golf Club from bankruptcy. To heighten interest, a local golf hero, Rannulph Junuh, is enticed by his ex girlfriend and beneficiary of the Golf Club, to compete in the tournament.

A couple of issues here :

• What’s with this Rannulph? Is there no D in the American alphabet?
• Rannulph is a shell of his former self, following his experiences in World War 1, having been awarded the Medal of Honour. The horrors he has endured made Rannulph give up his girl, give up on life, lose his swing, and develop an inclination to over indulge in whiskey

Bagger Vance, philosopher extraordinaire, arrives on the scene to caddy for Rannulph, played by a young Matt Damon.

I always felt a mans grip on his club is just like a mans grip on his world

I like Damon. Unlike some of his contemporaries he hasn’t hardened with age. It’s not just the regular moisturising routine; he seems a genuinely nice fella. Recently in my neck of the woods with one of those Hemsworth lads Damon was spotted on several occassions with the fam on the beach. Anyone who throws chips to the seagulls has to be a good bloke, hey…

Back to the game of golf…..

it’s a game that can’t be won, only played, so i play on, i play for the moments yet to come, looking for my place in the field.

With Bagger’s encouragement Rannulph finds his “authentic swing” and an odd game where you hit a ball with a stick becomes surprisingly exciting. And Rannulph even gets the girl in Charlize Theron.

The movie ends years later when Harley, after sharing his memories, walks over to the corn fields to be met by Bagger Vance.

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Good little movie, great company, a lovely weekend, and wonderful memories. Always only too happy to support our local (Grape) farmers.

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A Couple of Recently Released Aussie Books…

Between 1947 and 1971, more than 320,000 migrants passed through Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray River in rural Victoria making it Australia’s largest post-war migrant centre. It’s estimated that one in twenty Australians has links to Bonegilla.

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The novel, The Last Of The Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman, commences with four young teenagers forming a friendship and sharing their lives within this Camp; a Greek, Hungarian, Italian and the daughter of the Australian Camp Director. It starts strongly by highlighting the difficulties experienced by each these families upon their arrival in a new country: language barriers, segregation, cramped living conditions, limited employment opportunities, and a mix of cultural beliefs. Despite these differences these lasses remain friends as their families move forward into Australian society and remain in contact for the next fifty years.

Although these families are assimilating they also retain their own cultural identities and customs – arranged marriages, working in the family business, dating from your own ethnicity.

This could have been a really good and educational book but it deteriorated midway to just another soap opera episode with flings left, right and centre.

I have fond memories of northern Italian neighbours snatching the bread rusks off my teething babies and giving them chunks of salami to suck on instead. Greasy and full of garlic but it certainly stopped the grizzling.(umm, I probably shouldn’t mention that said babes had their first taste of Lumbrusco on their first birthday. Hands up those for the Mediterranean diet!)

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Well Done, Those Men: Memoirs of a Vietnam Veteran by Barry Heard is a difficult read, made more so as it was written as part of his journey to recovery from PTSD. It’s rawness made me flinch.

This memoir covers several versions of Barry: the naive and young country boy, smart arse Barry at boot camp, Barry the soldier of Vietnam, and the Barry who returned home a different man.

This is another one that had me asking why did we not learn anything about this conflict in High School history classes. You know, I don’t even have any memories of discussions about Vietnam around the dinner table.

I would not recommend this book as a fun read, but by God I think it a wonderful reminder of the strength of the wives, sweethearts, and family members who support these old blokes.

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Lastly, Liz Byrski’s A Month of Sundays is about four women from an online book club, who meet up and holiday together for four weeks to talk books and memories (with an illness thrown in for good measure).

Byrski is a journalist and writer who gears her books to an audience of women over the age of fifty and/or retired.

I’m just letting it be known now that if the highlight of my life becomes a weekly yoga class, as in this book, I’de be popping a cyanide pill.

Louis de Bernieres and Nicholas Cage.

My youngest daughter and I share an interest in the author, Louis de Bernières. Born in 1954 he is a British novelist most famous for his fourth novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book in 1994 and in the same year was shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year.

In 2001 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was turned into a film in which Nicholas Cage played an Italian soldier who is part of the occupying force on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Second World War. He falls in love with Greek lass, portrayed by Penelope Cruz, and blah, blah, blah.

I enjoyed the book. The movie would have been better 1) without Cage, 2) without Cage hamming it up with his woeful Italian accent and 3) Repeat 1.

( I’ve just spent twenty minutes on hands and knees searching for both the DVD and the book in the She-Shack. It appears, once again, those little birdies who flew the coop did not leave empty handed. Cait : I still have Windtalkers. Please come and get Cage out of my house, and be quick about it please.)

De Bernieres’ other fun book, Red Dog, was inspired by a statue of a dog he saw during a visit to the Pilbara region of Western Australia and was adapted as a film of the same name in Australia in 2011. This is a great little movie with an even better soundtrack, full of top rock tunes. Highly recommended if you are looking for motivation to mop floors.

So, where am I going with this?

Well, I lashed out today. Stumbled across a DVD I’ve been keeping an eye out for twelve months having read In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton
Here– about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

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With a full belly and satisfactorily hydrated I don’t think I have the intestinal fortitude to watch Nicholas Cage tonight. Maybe even ever again. He is just so hard going, and reminds me of my first child, Bonnie, the Bassett Hound.

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Sorry, Nick. Some other time. Just not strong enough for Men Of Courage tonight…..