Here, There, and Everywhere…

January 30, 2009 at 8:23 am (Uncategorized)

I had a Nana day today, hence the late post. She’s doing all right, thanks to those miracle workers from Uniting Care, and she was in good spirits though there’s no short-term memory left to speak of. She’s got a month of respite care coming up soon in a Dementia-specific facility that’s very close to my sister’s place on the north coast, and I’m hoping so hard that it goes well and that she enjoys herself. I popped into her chemist on the way home to see that she’s been coming in to take her medications, and the assistant, who’s been a fantastic support, told me Nana’s come in three or four times a day some days, and that she sometimes turns up after 7 pm at night. I found myself explaining that Nana doesn’t know what day it is, let alone what time it is, and that she’d have no recollection of having been in earlier in the day. The assistant tells me these things in a way that suggests to me that she expects me to DO SOMETHING about it, but I can’t think what I could possibly do. So far she’s not doing anything potentially dangerous; she sticks to her routine and replays it. Over and over again. She has Alzheimer’s, so it’s to be expected. I also think it’s good for her to get out and about rather than sit in her lounge room staring at the wall and the pictures of animals whose names she can no longer recall. It’s better that she’s out in the world, I think, taking a bit of exercise and talking to people and completing her tiny series of tasks. What harm if it’s the third time that day? Having said that, I haven’t believed for a long time now that Nana’s in any state to continue living independently, as I’ve said before. I cannot help thinking she’d benefit far more from a controlled and structured environment. I guess we’ll find out when she goes for this month of respite. Oh pleeease let it go well….

In other news, Varuna’s Alumni Association had drinks in Balmain last night, so I was able to catch up with the other two Sydney-based Darklings as well as Peter Bishop, Charlotte Wood, and others, including lots of new faces. Llew bravely accompanied me – a risky proposition given all those conversations about first and third person, not to mention the on-going and heated debate about past and present tense… I think he did experience a couple of twinges of regret, but he’s a very good sport and a pretty sociable chap, so in the end (and who do you think was still standing at the bar then?!) a very good time was had by all. And it seems the extraordinary good fortune of our Darkling bond really is something of a unique situation. Don’t get me wrong, we tell ourselves we were a special group all the time, we constantly top ourselves up the way other people take Vitamin C with their breakfast juice, so it’s not like we needed the outside reassurance. No, we’re pretty sure we know precisely the size of the jackpot we won by landing on Varuna’s well-trammelled doorstep at the same time. Still, it was INTENSELY satisfying having it reconfirmed. I don’t mean I gloated, I hope I didn’t, but there was definitely part of me that felt gleeful all over again about the extent to which I scooped the pool simply by signing up for September. Oh, happy day. The other good news is that I have stuck to my moderation resolution for the month of January – hoorah! Not missing hangovers, not missing them one jot.

Anyway, I’ve been zigzagging across this very sunny and warm city nonstop for the past 24 hours, and I’m beat. Monday I’m going to have to tell you about John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces – I haven’t even finished it yet and it’s already become one of my all-time favourites. I love it. If you see a copy, grab it. It absolutely buries, finally and absolutely, that tired, tedious suggestion that humour in fiction is somehow “low-brow.” This novel is so smart, and so funny, and that combination makes for some damn fine reading.

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Banishing the Blank Page

January 29, 2009 at 4:20 am (Uncategorized)

I’m afraid I’ve only got time for a very speedy post today. You see, I’ve banished the blank page, and now I fear there is much, much work to do keeping it in exile. I decided after a couple of weeks of scribbles and cloudy thoughts that yesterday was the day: I was going to start. I’d been delaying making a start because I’ve become aware that my biggest weakness is plot. It’s just not the way my mind works. Or my imagination. Hard as I try to concoct a fully realised plot, the truth is I tend to think in terms of character, and if my first manuscript is anything to go by, what might happen to that character or set of characters in terms of a story or a plot comes along a good deal later, once I’ve already been writing about them for some time.  

Which is all well and good except when it fails to deliver a coherent plot that keeps the pages turning. I’ve been doing secondary reading on this issue, and both Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird and Stephen King in On Writing suggest that the characters will lead the author to the story and not really the other way around. Which did eventually happen with my own manuscript, but only very late in the piece, and even now it’s still touch and go, or if not touch and go then hardly a slam dunk. Put it this way: I know there’ll be another draft. And I think the main point of that draft will be polishing the links in the story so the whole chain gleams. 

I’d half hoped to change my modus operandi this time. I was hoping that if I just thought about it long and hard enough, a perfect story might present itself. But it hasn’t happened. I had several characters rattling around in my mind, and eventually one of them won out. I guess her voice was louder than the rest. Well, she did have some help. They’re more like a quartet. But then I did take a piece of Stephen King’s advice (and it won’t be the last – I first read On Writing in 2001, and rereading it now is excellent, it’s so useful and funny), which was to think in terms of situation. Characters in a particular situation that they must get out of or resolve. Lamott also asks a question I need to keep uppermost in my mind, and that I need to take back to my manuscript and check against it: what’s at stake? What does a character need to find, hold onto or defend? Good question. And that idea of first and foremost placing characters in a particular situation instantly made sense to me, whereas all this plot-the-path-ahead business really woollies my head. I think every writer needs to find whatever works for them, and certainly I seem to be, at this fledgling stage, someone who needs to hang out with my characters for quite a long time before they’ll even consider telling me where they would like to go. And then all I can do, it seems, is stand to one side and hope to help light their way. For now, it’s enough that I’ve banished the blank page, and with over 1,000 words yesterday, and another 2,000 today, you might say we’ve made our introductions.

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Eggs Deb Style

January 28, 2009 at 2:18 am (Uncategorized)

I really battled to write yesterday’s post, because I kept having to run to the toilet mid-sentence. Not really optimum writing conditions. And I think it was all because of a dodgy egg. I did the egg test (putting it in water to see if it floats or sinks, and if I understand the test correctly, it’s the floating eggs you’ve got to avoid), but I also spent the afternoon and night in a lot of discomfort, so perhaps the egg test isn’t fail-safe after all. It was either that or this fertility medication I started taking yesterday, Serophene. This is one of the joys of being a 36 year old woman who’s not produced offspring… everyone’s starting to get nervous about it, including me, so now I’m on the drugs. But I read the extensive list of possible side-effects in between dashes to the toilet bowl, and although one side effect ONLY VERY RARELY OCCASIONS DEATH (I love that, like rarity helps the poor patients who provided that statistic), the list says nothing about exploding bowels. So I’m left to deduce it was the egg (ironic, don’t you think, when you consider the medication I’m on). Which is a shame, because I fear it may have turned me off Eggs Deb Style, and I have been loving them ever since Deb showed me how they’re done. In fact, I’ve been meaning to share this lunchtime snack with the readers of this blog for some time, and, angry bottoms aside, today’s the day. 

It was the last full day of my week-long residency at Varuna that I came across one of the Darklings, Deb, making her lunch in the kitchen. She was filling a coffee cup with rocket. 

“What are you doing?” I asked. “What’s that?”

“Oh,” she said, “it’s just something I make sometimes. It’s my own bastardised version of something I made once from one of those Donna Hay books. It’s just really quick and tasty.”

In went a raw egg. 

“Show me,” I stamped my foot and pointed at her coffee cup. “I want one, too.”

Deb went to the fridge and leaned in, considering. Then she pulled out some parmesan, a little bit of cream…telling me all the while that you “can add anything you like. It’s great with mushrooms. Cherry tomatoes. Whatever you have to hand.”

This is true. Since that day, I have added all sorts of things to my Eggs Deb Style, and it all works a blazing treat. I’ve chopped up cubes of ham, I’ve replaced rocket with basil and/or coriander, I’ve added sour cream, or philadelphia cream cheese, fresh cherry tomatoes and semi-sundried tomatoes too. Pine nuts. Any sort of cheese crumbled or grated into your cup will do. The basic rule of thumb is using whatever you happen to have to hand, and it can be as simple or as complex as you like. But the main thrust of the instructions are as follows:

Spray oil or butter the inside of a coffee cup. 

Chop up rocket or fresh herbs and loosely fill cup. 

Grate a small handful of parmesan or other cheese and add to cup.

Add a dollop of cream – I like reduced fat sour cream, but you could use cottage cheese or low-fat philly. 

Add any other ingredients you may fancy, including diced ham or salami, tomatoes fresh or semi-dried, chopped mushrooms, chopped zucchini, chopped capsicum, etc. But the recipe doesn’t require any of these to work. 

Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Crack an egg into the cup and mix all ingredients well, making sure the resulting mix is as evenly distributed as possible. 

Place in a microwave and cook for one minute. 

Remove from microwave and run and knife around the inside edge of the cup. 

Return to the microwave and cook for another minute (times may vary according to different microwaves, but it’s important the egg cooks properly in the middle). It is normal for the mix to rise like a souffle as it is cooking; it will deflate as soon as it stops. 

Turn the cup over onto a plate for serving your egg. Use the knife around the inside edge again if it sticks. Garnish with fresh herbs if you’re feeling so inclined. I actually think this dish looks very attractive on the plate – the cup being like a mould – and this is definitely something you could serve to other people for brunch or breakfast. Serve with hot buttered toast if desired. But either way, it’s a cracking lunch for one, especially if you’re a writer, at home alone, harried and hungry. Thanks, Deb! I love ’em! (ONLY VERY RARELY OCCASIONS DIARRHOEA…).

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Australia Day for Some, Invasion Day for Others

January 27, 2009 at 9:15 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday, January 26, was Australia Day. We had a very Aussie kind of day: woke up, went for a swim in the surf, had a late breakfast and a coffee in the courtyard, wandered down the beachfront to the village, stocked up on supplies for the afternoon, and beat our guests to the front door by about 45 seconds. While the barbie was heating up, the four of us (well, three, as T’s allergic) demolished a kilo of tiger prawns with my homemade cocktail sauce (actually I’ve a cheek calling it that when it’s a combo of mayo, tomato sauce, lemon juice and Worcestershire, s & p to taste) before heading over the road for another dip in the big blue. It was their puppy’s first trip to the beach, at the grand old age of 14 weeks, and he was very excited by what he found, especially when he spotted a fetching female of similar vintage. It was definitely love at first sight, and he did not appreciate our efforts to guide him in the opposite direction. Once we were home, the steaks and the onions went on the barbie, the beers were opened, the rolls were buttered and the condiments spread. Dessert? Lamingtons, of course. 

I’d say there were plenty of people right around Australia who enjoyed a day not dissimilar to ours, but the fact remains that not everyone finds something to celebrate in the date. Indeed, some members of the Indigenous community refer to January 26 as ‘Invasion Day,’ and Llew and I spent part of yesterday discussing the suggestion that the date of Australia Day should change, or that the current date should include a more formal acknowledgement of the other side of the January 26 story. In my admittedly unsolicited opinion, both of these options seem worthy of consideration. Unfortunately our Prime Minister does not agree. 

It’s no secret that I was one of many Australians who voted for Kevin07. I was hoping for a change of direction. I was hoping for some decency and transparency and some sense that the country’s leaders were engaged in building a better Australia, so that we might all better manage the on-going business of becoming better Australians and better global citizens. I had, in other words, some high hopes. But one of the things I believed was that the Labor Party would honour its election promise to apologise to members of the Stolen Generation (and I was heartened when it was Rudd’s first act of government at Parliament’s first sitting last year), and it would in general get on with the hard work of reconciling all Australians to the infamy of the past, that we may all live together as Australians of equal promise and obligation now and in the future. So I honestly expected a conversation about Australia Day to be part of that difficult but necessary job of our government – especially because it’s increasingly clear that Australia Day for some (a minor element, to be sure, but oh how they love the limelight) is tantamount to Racism Day, and nothing more than a call to abuse fellow Australians for the colour of their skin or their racial heritage or their religious beliefs. Charming. Is this the Australia Day ‘celebration’ the government has in mind, and is so attached to that it can’t even consider starting a conversation about what’s lacking, and what’s wrong, and what ails us? 

Australian of the Year, Professor Mick Dodson, is pro a conversation about the issues raised by January 26 – and there are issues past and present to be dealt with here – but Kevin Rudd, “respectfully,” is not. There’s an excellent piece on Crikey today about Rudd’s broken promise, and it is the second time in as many weeks that I’ve had a little chill come over me while reading statements made by Rudd. The same shudder that was so, so familiar to me during the long, dark Howard years, and that I thought I might finally be able to retire. That “Uh oh, what’s that you say?” mix of surprise and dismay, when you realise the man in charge doesn’t represent you or your beliefs after all. And that maybe he’s not a man of his word, or a man of action. That nagging voice that whispers that maybe he’s just a politician (and everyone knows a true politician’s sole priority is only ever the next election). Oh, okay, let’s not go too far here – I’m not wholesale jumping ship, I still hope Rudd’s got it in him – but there’s a disturbing dogmatism to his recent comments that is making those Chairman comparisons in the broadsheet cartoons a little too close to the bone (and I don’t mean the funny one).

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Bow Ties and Boxers

January 22, 2009 at 3:36 am (Uncategorized)

After over twelve years together, last week Llew and I discovered something else we have in common. It had never really come up before, but last Friday night circumstances revealed that neither one of us is a bench person. As in park bench. Maybe this is why I walked out of Forrest Gump. Gump was definitely a bench guy. He loved that bench. I, on the other hand, honestly could not tell you when I last sat on a park bench. You should see me sitting here, concentrating hard. Hmmm… when was I last sitting on a bench… Nope. I’ve got nothing for you. I’m drawing a total blank. And Llew – for those who doubt the existence of soul-mates – is not a bench person either. 

We discovered this because our determination to see Australia on the big screen meant that Friday night was really our last window. The session started at eight, and the movie was over three hours long. What were we going to do about dinner? I get the hungry crazies if there’s any kind of delay between one meal and the next, I really froth at the mouth and become a danger to myself and others, so there was no way I was going to be subdued by the promise of popcorn and Choc-Tops alone. That’s not dinner. That’s dessert. The cinema where the movie was still showing was in a total dead zone, and nothing was open except the supermarket. We didn’t have time to get back in the car, so we decided to get some stuff from their deli section and have an impromptu picnic in a very un-picnicky place. But at least there’d be food. In the end we did very well: a salad with spinach and ricotta ravioli, a “German-style” potato salad (as opposed to…?), half a roast chicken WITH stuffing, and a couple of fresh rolls from the bakery. But now what? All loaded up and nowhere to eat. 

In the same part of the complex as the supermarket, we found a perfectly serviceable indoor area filled with little bistro tables and chairs – everything was closed for the night, but it was fine. Beggars could not be choosers and we were on the clock. We made ourselves comfortable and ate our meal. Walking briskly back through the abandoned complex to reach the cinema on the other side, we passed through an open air courtyard, and I said to Llew, “This might have been a nice place to eat. Birds are singing, you’re under the night sky, the fountain’s trickling…” but he looked around, clocked the only seating in the courtyard, and shook his head. “I’m not really a bench kind of guy,” he said. 

I looked around then too. There were no tables and chairs in sight. 

“Oh my god, you’re right. I’ve never even articulated this before, but I don’t sit on benches either. And I certainly wouldn’t eat on one with my food resting on my knees. That always freaked me out on Sex and the City, actually. They were always wearing couture and high heels while they were hunched over their lunch sitting on park benches. It’s just not right.”

After exchanging the appropriate approvals – I knew I liked this guy for a reason! – from there it didn’t take long for our conversation to become:

“There are two types of people in the world. Park benchers, and non-park benchers.”

“What about the walking eaters?” I wanted to know. “I am not a walking eater, either.”*

“No,” agreed Llew. “Walking and eating at the same time is o-u-t.”

“I’m just never in that much of a hurry. I want to enjoy my food.”

“What about hanky carriers and non-hanky carriers?” Llew said. 

“That’s a good one! We’re non-hanky people! And then there’s the old favourite: coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers. It completely freaks me out that two of my closest friends don’t drink coffee. I don’t understand how I let that happen.”

Llew reeled back.

“I know about S, but who’s the other one?”

I shook my head sadly.

“T,” I said. “Never has, never will.”

“T doesn’t drink coffee?” Llew was incredulous. “Wow. I did not know that. Never? Really?”

I could see him thinking it through; it might subtly change things between them. He’s as suspicious of non-coffee drinkers as I am. 

We were inside the cinema queuing by this stage, which was a shame, because I think both of us could have happily continued this conversation all night. By the way, just so you know, we’re butter people. I don’t know what the hell margarine is, but I am not putting it in my mouth, and neither is Llew.

*Strolling home last night in the heat, we realised there was a very important exception to the walk and eat rule, and that’s ICE CREAM!! Surely the ice cream cone was invented to promote portability? We l-o-v-e ice cream, and we love taking a turn along the beach promenade with a couple of cones.

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Morning Has Broken

January 21, 2009 at 12:52 am (Uncategorized)

I beat my alarm this morning. It was set for 3:20 am, but I opened my eyes on the dot of 3 am. How on earth did my mind know it was time? I’m always amazed by the accuracy of these ahead-of-the-alarm mornings – sometimes the precision of it is such that I wonder if a silent corner of my mind started counting down the seconds as soon as I got into bed. What a powerful thing a mind is. I wish I could understand mine properly, and harness its full potential. I wonder what secrets and strengths it possesses, and how I might unlock them. I can’t bear knowing there are doors I’ll never open, insights I’ll never glean, but such it is with my very own mind,  the defining mystery of my life.

I crept out to the lounge room, careful not to wake Llew, and turned on the buttons he showed me earlier to use. Sure enough, TV coverage live from Washington sprang up on the opposite wall. Unfortunately he could only access the Australian commercial networks, so the commentary was disappointing, but I didn’t care. I was electrified, sitting there in the dark. The sweeping shots of the hardy crowd, rugged up against temperatures of -6 or worse, took my breath away. They stretched on as far as the eye and the camera could see. 

At 3:30 am, the door pushed to, and Llew stumbled in. After giving me strict instructions not to wake him, he’d set his own alarm for 3:25 am without telling me. It was even better sitting in the darkness together. I thought of Jenny and others sitting in their own lounge rooms, early morning in Australia, but also right around the world, and the sense of a sweet moment of solidarity in our shared global history was palpable. This isn’t a presidency only Americans want to see thrive; this isn’t an administration whose relevance lies only on its domestic shores. This is one for all of us. 

How I battle between fretting and hoping when I think of the days ahead for President Obama. I worry for his safety; I yearn for his success. Boy oh boy, has he got his work cut out for him. And can he do other than disappoint with the weight of such expectations upon him? The burden and responsibility of this extraordinary show of faith. He looked already aged as he made his way outside – I can’t imagine the thoughts that were his as he stepped out and greeted the reported 2 million Americans and visitors who flocked to share this hopeful occasion with this man and each other. It makes my hair stand on end all over again recalling it now. It must have been something to see from where Barack Obama stood. 

The reverend who gave the first benediction? To a non-believing Australian, he was totally over the top. Llew and I were intrigued but sort of put off by his shouty zeal. I much preferred the second reverend, who gave the benediction after President Obama was sworn in. Who will ever forget his unexpected vision of a future where “yeller will be meller, red will get ahead, and white will know what’s right.” Indeed!  

I did feel a bit sorry for the poetess, though. Poor thing – it seemed likely to me that she found the whole experience of addressing the crowd excruciating, for certainly the reading was so stilted I very nearly winced. I hadn’t expected a poetry reading – is that a usual part of proceedings? I wonder. It’s a lovely idea. Llew had misgivings about new music and new poetry being debuted at the inauguration – he thought they should have relied on time-honoured classics – but I wasn’t so sure. The whole thrust of Obama’s speech was looking to the future, and stepping up – walking toward the dawn instead of focusing on those many and often great days that are already done. In that context, these new pieces are symbolic of the national and international renewal Obama embodies for so many people.

Americans have no problem invoking their history, it’s a national pastime, and as much as it swells their chests with pride and patriotism, Obama’s right to suggest it’s not enough to keep gesturing to the greatness of one’s ancestors. Every age has to speak and act for itself, every age is responsible for its own contribution to history, and this is only the beginning of what remains to be done.

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Still Alive

January 20, 2009 at 2:42 am (Uncategorized)

The short list has been announced today for the Varuna HarperCollins Manuscript Development Awards 2009, and I am beyond delighted to say my manuscript is among the 18 chosen to advance to the final stage. Oh. My. God. Must try to remember to keep breathing…

From here, those 18 manuscripts are sent from Varuna to HarperCollins, and the final 5 will be announced early March. So… 13 manuscripts are going to be wiped from the board between now and then, and mine may well be among them, but no matter, because TODAY,  it’s still in with a chance, and making this short list is a huge reward in itself. It is progress. It is the highlight of my career, no question. I feel sick, and teary, but oh so very, very glad and grateful. 

I know I should be posting about Barack Obama’s inauguration as the next President of the United States today, but I hope you’ll forgive me if we discuss the highlights tomorrow. Right now I just want to walk around grinning at strangers. I’m going to get up at 3 am tomorrow to watch the live coverage (we don’t have a TV, but Llewie can somehow rig up an old VCR so that TV channels can run through the projector – most impressive and technical, and don’t ask me how it works), and greet the new dawn in more ways than one.

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The Critical Dilemma

January 19, 2009 at 1:35 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been thinking about the role of the critic recently. First because I sometimes review books for Who magazine, and am therefore a professional though occasional critic, and second because I love films, and have been totally at odds with the critics on two recent motion picture releases: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I’ve already blogged about, and Australia, which I finally saw on Friday night. The critics praised the first and largely damned the second, and I can’t emphasise enough how much I disagree with them on both counts. Which brings me to a reader’s recent and staunch defence of Susan Johnson’s Life in Seven Mistakes on DoctorDi. I imagine this was Sandra Hogan’s maiden and probably last visit to this blog, and I was really taken aback when I first read her  comment. Good heavens, I thought, this lady’s really angry with me. I felt a bit misunderstood: I wasn’t attempting to review Johnson’s novel in that post, I was actually talking about another book and mentioned Johnson’s by way of comparison. But I did review Life in Seven Mistakes for Who, and since this eventually all wound its way to the author’s own blog, I’ve been thinking and even worrying a little bit about the damage that reviewers can do. Especially after seeing Australia, but more about that in a moment. 

As one such reviewer, I’ve been going over and over my Johnson review, and was duly abashed by the certain knowledge that Susan Johnson herself ended up seeing my blog post, which wasn’t my review of her novel (her very successful novel, I might add – mine may well be the only review out there that wasn’t a verbal ovation). In the post, I said things that shat and irked me in Life in Seven Mistakes were deftly avoided by Charlotte Wood in The Children. First Sandra Hogan and then Susan Johnson understandably leapt on the unfortunate phrase ‘shat and irked’ – not exactly the usual parlance of the professional critic, let’s face it, and not what I would have said had I been in a professional forum. Still, I really was repeatedly, genuinely irritated reading Life in Seven Mistakes – I found the chief protagonist Elizabeth Barton stunted and infuriatingly passive. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and remind her that she was a grown woman, for god’s sake, not a child, and was therefore accountable for the condition of her own life. In my opinion, it was time to stop making everyone else responsible for her well being. By the end I’d completely lost my readerly empathy for the character, which was disastrous, and I worked hard to balance my review.

Now, on the other hand, I strongly considered editing the post. After experiencing the wrath of Sandra Hogan (I don’t doubt Johnson’s delighted to have Sandra in her corner!), I was embarrassed by my language, and I didn’t want Susan Johnson reading it, but then I thought, well, the truth is, I really was shat off. I was irked. And if I can’t admit that on my own blog, where can I admit it? And anyway, it was too late – it was out there, they both read it, and I stand by it. But don’t think I’m not sorry to have felt that way reading a book so many people love, and that Johnson worked so hard to produce. I don’t read books I’m reviewing looking to be annoyed or alienated. I pick up every single text with a sense of profound hope and anticipation, because books are precious to me, utterly precious. Books are holy to me. I never have any desire to write a negative review, and I take no pleasure from those occasions when my response is lukewarm or worse. I just try to be honest – as a reader. I love reading, I’m an involved, attentive reader, and I want to love every single book I read. It’s just not always possible, and sometimes I miss a boat that’s packed to the rafters with revelling readers. We’re all different, so it’s bound to happen, but the question of how much reviewers sway opinion is one that bothers me always (I worry about restaurants going under, I fret about first-time authors never seeing a second chance, I gnaw my nails at people bravely putting themselves out there only to be slammed and bloodied against the wall), and I take my responsibility as an occasional reviewer very seriously indeed, though I contribute to a magazine that is not serious at all. So. That’s all I can tell you.

Oh, except that I loved Australia. I can’t understand the critical response to this movie – so I completely get why Sandra Hogan can’t understand my response to a novel she obviously loved, and why she was so fired up about it. I feel the same way about Australia. And like Sandra Hogan, I’m not alone: there was a spontaneous burst of audience applause at the end of the Friday night screening I saw. I can’t remember the last time I was in a cinema and people clapped at the end. It was typical Luhrmann in the sense of melodrama and pageantry, and it was, as always, utterly gorgeous and made me want to drop everything and run off to Arnhem Land, but it was also very funny and loving, and, it seemed to me, wonderfully and deliberately Australian. No colonising Brits strutting about sticking Union Jacks in the red earth (Kidman’s character is an English aristocrat, but aside from using this to great comic effect – why is Kidman’s comedic ability so widely denied? – there’s scarcely a Pom in sight), no Yanks charging in to save the day – just some very recognisable Australian types. And I’d love to know what Indigenous Australians think of it, too, because more than anything, I came away feeling the whole film was a gesture of friendship, and that’s an incredibly hopeful thing. To hell with the critics (and that includes me).

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It’s a Sick Bird…It’s a Falling Plane…No, it’s…Super Sully!

January 16, 2009 at 6:44 am (Uncategorized)

Now there’s a breaking news headline you don’t see every day:

US PLANE CRASHES INTO NY RIVER, ALL SAFE

Great, isn’t it? I think it’s maybe flown straight into my all-time Top Five. And it wasn’t like it was a seaplane or a little twin engine Cessna, in which case you just might be able to get yourself and the pilot out your own tin-can side door. No, this was an Airbus. A proper plane, full of people. 155 people, no less. And it didn’t actually crash into the Hudson, either; no, technically speaking, this plane landed on the Hudson. As the college caretaker said when he came across my room’s beer fridge one day, as we hid in the loft with our fists stuffed in our mouths to stop the giggling, “If that don’t beat all.”

I’ve always thought this particular part of the pre-flight safety demonstration was suspect at best and outright deceitful on any other reading. “Sure,” I always think to myself (I’ve even put this in a short story), “this will really save the day when we fall from the sky and land on the water. Because that’s what always happens. You hear about it all the time. Sure you do. And that’s when those inflatable slippery dips will really come in handy, like giant yellow floaties.”

I always take the time to roll my eyes at the – what are we supposed to call them now? I’m going to get it wrong. May I please just say ‘stewardess’ and ask that no one judge me too harshly for it? Thank you – I roll my eyes at the stewardess during this part of the demonstration, just to let them know that I know it’s a big load of guff. There ain’t no plane landing on no water, no way, no how. Ain’t gonna happen. 

Until today. What are they calling the pilot? Super Sully, I think it is, and that is okay by me. It is certainly pretty super. 

Of all the unlikely scenarios. But how wonderful that all those people are safe and well. I love a happy ending, and I bet Super Sully’s family is as proud as punch of their boy today. 

[this is about half the size of the original post, which was lost thanks to an infuriating day of computer glitches.]

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Missing the Point Again, Still, and Always

January 15, 2009 at 6:04 am (Uncategorized)

Don’t you love a summer storm? It’s been another perfect day here, we’re finally having a killer summer, until about an hour ago, anyway, when I heard the rumble of fast-approaching thunder and sprinted outside to get the washing off the line just as fat drips the size of my palm started landing on the sizzling bricks all around me. Down it came. Then it stopped. Then it started again. And stopped. Started. Stopped. Right now there’s still thunder crackling away at fairly voluble levels, but it feels like the sun is straining to break clear of the cloud. It all happened so quickly – that’s one of the things I love about a summer storm. People were dashing down the street looking for shelter seconds after laying out their towels on the sand. You’ve got to love nature’s sense of humour. 

One thing I don’t find amusing is the $11,000 fine for ‘supplying’ underage drinkers. My friend T had free tickets to see ‘Marley and Me’ last night, so off we went (it was better than I expected it to be, but admittedly my expectations were low. One thing: couldn’t they have tried just a little harder to match the physiognomy of the different canines cast as Marley? One dog’s legs were about three times the length of another’s – it gets distracting!), and during the trailers, they played an ad about what constituted illegal supply. It included parents pouring a glass of wine for teenage children around the dinner table. It included a coach rewarding a group of sixteen or seventeen year old players with a beer after the final whistle. It included a supervised birthday party in the privacy of someone’s own home. And the fine for teaching your children about responsible drinking is $11,000. It’s supplying alcohol to underage drinkers, and is therefore illegal. Have you ever heard anything more short-sighted in your life?

The reality of teenage life for many if not most young Australians is this: the constant emphasis on alcohol’s prohibition means only that they drink away from the home wherever and whenever possible, and then they drink as much as they can, before finally going home to pretend they haven’t been drinking at all. If you don’t know when you’ll next be able to sneak away and have a blessed drink, chances are you’ll have another one, and another, while you still can. “This might be it until the next party,” they think. “Better load up now.” I know this because I was a teenager. Admittedly I bought my own grog – I practically looked 30 when I was 12 – so the only person in danger of being fined $11,000 for supply was whoever was behind the counter at the bottle shop, but the sense of having to make it count certainly prevailed. This was our big chance, our big night on the West Coast Coolers or Blue Nun or whatever the hell that cheap white wine was called, and we weren’t about to let a night on the piss pass us by. 

Cue the family scene in the ad. You know, adults actually sitting down to eat with their grown children, and taking the time to educate them about moderate drinking by inviting them to share a glass with their meal. Okay, putting aside that this is some TOTAL FANTASY, and must have been cut from some other, more civilised way of life in some other, more civilised country (eat with each other? What? At the table? And do what? Talk?! Come on!), it does sum up everything government and health organisations seem to miss about teenage binge drinking in this great soused land of the incurable inebriate we call Australia. How can they not see that threatening parents with an $11,000 fine – for doing nothing more than showing their teenage kids how alcohol can be enjoyed in a responsible fashion – is tantamount to encouraging those same kids to go hide out with their mates at the bottom oval getting smaaaaashed? It’s so fucking stupid. Do they really think it will deter the teenagers from seeking and procuring alcohol? Surely they can’t possibly believe that. And do they not look at the many generations of us who binge drank our way through our teens and see they’re missing the point? Look at countries like Spain and France and Italy where wine at table is unremarkable and consumed in moderation from a relatively young age. I have always thought these countries far less likely to have a teen population with a massive binge drinking problem like Australia’s. Australia is stupidly prohibitive in its approach to everything, as though it’s ever been shown to work telling the people no. Yeah. Because historically people have responded so well to prohibition and indeed Prohibition. No one drank at all back then when it was outlawed. Oh no, of course not. Everyone turned into dry-as-dust law abiders instead, just because the government said no. Sure, law makers. Whatever you say.

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