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.

William McInnes and local Trivia.

Attended a literary luncheon at my local, The Grand View Hotel, this week. The Grandy is the oldest licensed hotel in Qld, and has Brisbane’s best beer garden with sweeping views across Moreton Bay to Straddie ( North Stradbroke Island). She is a fine host and I have enjoyed many celebrations under the palm trees over the years : Graduations, Birthdays, and Engagement Parties.

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William McInnes is an Australian television and stage actor, although my personal experience of his thespian talents is limited to an ABC miniseries twenty years ago when he poured himself into a wetsuit. And poured himself so very well, may I add.

McInnes is also an author and writes a weekly column in the weekend paper. He gently touches on social commentary with a dash of whimsy and nostalgia.This weekends article was about undertaking trombone lessons at high school and only ever achieving sounds reminiscent of flatulence. Stupid but we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Born in Brisbane when she really was a country town McInnes speaks with a distinctive deep voice. When you read McInnes you can hear that voice. He tends to write about nothing in particular and includes memories of growing up by the bay, when times were totally different; when fishing off the Redcliffe Jetty with mates was a top afternoon, as was eating hot chips wrapped in newspaper. These were the days when you were thrilled to receive a watch or a pen with your name inscribed for your 18th birthday, and not a brand new car from Mum and Dad like today’s Muppets.

I read his first book over ten years ago, “A Mans Got To Have A Hobby”, which was literally, advice handed down by his father. Like how to master the handshake.Important stuff.

His latest book is based on a subject that is very close to his heart. Fatherhood is about family, about memories of his father and the memories he’s creating as a Dad himself, with his own son and daughter.

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The blurb says that this book “contains memories of hot summer days and cooling off under the sprinkler while Dad works in the garden with the radio tuned to the sports results; that time Dad tried to teach you to drive – and then got out of the car and kissed the ground; or taking your own kids on a family road trip.”

McInnes is a storyteller. He is genuine, modest, and I don’t think he is aware that his stories are so funny. Coming from salt of the earth, hardworking stock his family life has provided the basis for many of his stories. It’s the commonality that makes him so endearing.

This is a tale he shares of his dying mother, which I think sums McInnes’ upbringing in a nutshell.

I walked into the hospital one day to visit Mum and found a Sister of Mercy beside her. She leaned in to tell Mum her son was here. Mum asked, without opening her eyes, “Which one? The fat one or the stupid one?” The sister half-smiled and said, “I don’t know.” Then Mum opened one eye and looked at me and said, “The stupid one has gotten fat.”

I grew up in a household of similar ilk.

McInnes’ wife died when the kiddies were School age.

I was brought up by a Storyteller, a storyteller who flew Lancaster’s over Germany during WW2 yet suffered horrific nose bleeds every time he took me out for a driving lesson. A storyteller who listened to the races on the radio whilst gardening and who taught his daughters about equine bloodlines, how to fix a lawnmower, and who encouraged us to run under a sprinkler on those stinking hot summer days because people who had backyard pools were poseurs. I also lost a mother far too young and was shaped by my family.

I’m probably also the stupid one who has gotten fat.

Great afternoon, thanks Bill.

PS. Some trivia :

This waterway is where Angelina Jolie had the actor playing Louis Zamparini in Unbroken cast adrift in a raft until the Japs picked him up, where Johnny Depp filmed parts of Pirates of The Carribean number 2, and the second Narnia movie was filmed. But that’s another story…..

In Like Flynn- The Movie

I was always going to be conflicted about the movie In Like Flynn. Adapted from Errol Flynn’s 1937 ( first) novel, “Beam Ends”, the movie takes us from the goldfields of New Guinea in 1930, to the streets of Sydney and the Razor Gang in 1932, north to Townsville, and then further north to a return to New Guinea.

Here’s my Good, Bad and the Ugly, and not necessarily in that order

Firstly, the really, truly Ugly:

I had a signed copy of this book in my possession and inadvertently tossed it into the bin some thirty years ago. The things you do when you are young and stupid ( or more stupid ).I’ve been chasing this wretched book ever since.

Then there is the Bad:

What’s with David Wenham’s penchant for weird facial hair and creepy voices? Way back when, was there a female with a pulse anywhere across the nation who did not weep tears of blood when Diver Dan dumped Laura Gibson in Pearl Bay to dive the Galápagos Islands?

Wenham’s penchant for woeful mos and odd vocal noises started in Australia, though his presence in In Like Flynn as the Mayor/ Boxing Promoter/ Reverend screams dirty-old-man-in-raincoat. That’s the price you pay when you let a good woman down, David. Thank God Laura finally found happiness with that bloke that’s built like a brick outhouse.

If we were expected to believe Guy Pearce as Flynn (in Flynn) at five foot ten and a half then this chappie is way out in front. Thomas Cocquerel is a good looking lad – we know this as there are numerous scenes not requiring a shirt – and at a couple of inches over six foot with a chiselled chin, does a reasonable job. Don’t waste time with comparisons though : one is vanilla to Errol’s double malted, dark chocolate with a dash of Tia Maria.

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So to enjoy this film simply forget that this is supposed to be Errol Flynn before making it big in Hollywood. Instead, treat it as another of the Jewel of the Nile/ Indiana Jones Franchises. It will make the experience so much more palatable. Hang the brain at the door and just go with the adventure, or misadventure, and the crocodiles.

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Good :
Don’t you feel we’ve watched Isobel Lucas grow up in front of the cameras, from a pretty and pouty little thing, to an even prettier and poutier little thing, though she does a great job of being both flirty and feisty in this flick. Kills it as a redhead. Hasn’t put on an ounce of weight – just how does that work?

And another :

The scenery is beautiful and there is a definite 1930 vaudevillian feel.

Unfortunately, the sound quality is poor in parts, or is it that the soundtrack is simply too loud? The incorrect answer is that my hearing is poor. Well, it is, but everyone in the cinema was pressing forward to hear better too – all four of us.

First film reviews in within Australia state “ car crash compelling” and “so bad its nearly good”.

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And talking of that bloke built like a brick outhouse….. See you at lunch at The Grand View next week.

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Serendipity, Country Towns and Errol Flynn

I’m putting it down to another serendipitous moment in my life. There have been a few over the years.

Currently travelling around our beautiful Island State of Tasmania I deviated from the coast today, opting to travel through the midlands, past rural towns full of colonial history including convict settlements, bush rangers, and the decimation our Indigenous people. The midlands is also prime agricultural country and I have enjoyed mooing and baa-ing at the spring calves and lambs, and whatever noise baby alpacas make.

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This means that a Devonshire Tea in a country town was mandatory. Population less than 400 look what I found in a Cafe in a wee township with nothing but old buildings, history, and sheep in the pastures.

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Let’s just say I was a tad excited.

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Hobart, Tassie’s capital city, is the birth place of Flynn. When I return home I will share my finds….

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

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