On Humour, or Turning the Weapon on Myself

January 28, 2010 at 2:49 am (Uncategorized)

Humour, if you’ll forgive the expression, is a very funny thing indeed. I’m reminded of this reading the comments on yesterday’s post, which reveal such interesting differences in response to the same material. I had another friend email me: ‘your post about the weekend away was fuckin’ hilarious,’ and just as I paused reading David’s comment here on the blog itself – and it’s always hugely gratifying when people I think are tremendously funny are amused by anything I do, and both these people crack me up – again I thought to myself, Was it? Funny (peculiar, rather than ha ha), I hadn’t thought so. And then neither Woo nor LL mentioned their funny bones being tickled by the post at all – their focus was on the topic of house guests, and reassuring me it probably wasn’t so dire as all that, and our friends probably haven’t added us to a black list of the world’s most crashingly boring people, because rowdy house guests can be an exhausting handful. Sincere and welcome responses to my genuine concern that Llew and I spent 48 hours being total pills.

There’s nothing unfunnier than discussing humour, it just kills the joke every time, but I am so interested in its changing fortunes and many permutations that I’m going to have, rather than make, a crack. This topic has been brewing for a little over a month, ever since Llew and I went along to the Sydney Opera House to see Barry Humphries perform with the divine Richard Tognetti’s Australian Chamber Orchestra. It’s the sort of thing I am usually guaranteed to post about the very next day, hot off the press and plastic seating, and yet I filed it away, not yet ready to unpack my shifting feelings about Barry Humphries’ brand of humour.

Whatever you know or think about Dame Edna and Sir Les, the two characters Humphries invented and made famous, make no mistake: Barry Humphries himself is an extremely erudite, gracious, witty man. A large part of me wishes he’d never left the stage to be replaced by his provocative alter-egos. And yet I was curious to get a gander; this was my first time, I’d never seen “them” live before, nor had I ever seen more than brief snippets of past performances, some of them Royal Command, so Humphries is no slouch. No slouch, but nor is he just out of the gates, so I wanted to make sure he was not someone I missed seeing live. He’s such a fascinating product of this country, one of few wildly successful exports who can return home and be enveloped in his country-folk’s undying, curiously uncritical love. A neat trick in itself, because usually we like stabbing our expatriate talent just as they’re stepping off the plane. Humphries has succeeded in dodging the ritual scalping even though he is a self-professed snob, which would normally automatically qualify him for the rack. All this piqued my curiosity.

Then there was the inspired pairing of Humphries with the ACO, which certainly drove our own ticket purchase. I’m intrigued by Richard Tognetti – the way that man simultaneously handles a violin (thanks to an astonishing anonymous donation to the ACO, Tognetti plays a $10 million Carrodus, an 18th century Italian violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri) while conducting his chamber orchestra really does leave the average audience member more than slightly aquiver. So it was an exciting, unusual prospect; the program was eclectic and, oftentimes, the atmosphere electric. Humphries and Tognetti, it transpired, are old friends, so there was a cosy intimacy to proceedings that made it feel like one was all but eavesdropping on a private jam session, and on what is clearly an on-going conversation between the two about their great shared love: music.

But something about the evening nagged, and six weeks later, I know it was the battering ram of Dame Edna and Sir Les’s humour. Dame Edna is sly, poison-tipped; a little mean, really, which I don’t find all that funny. There was a poor woman in the front row who landed in Dame Edna’s sights early, and although the first few off-the-cuff jibes got a lot of laughs, after a while I began to feel like I was morphing into one of the sniggering sidekicks egging on the school bully. It was uncomfortable, and I stopped laughing. In the end, Dame Edna was close to being outright cruel.

Sir Les preceded Dame Edna to the stage, so perhaps it’s not surprising Dame Edna’s section of the program left the deeper impression on me, as the evening closed with her. Oh, how I wanted Barry back – bring out the brains of the operation, for god’s sake! Anyway, Sir Les… what can I say? He is a one-man grotesquerie, shocking and bawdy and slovenly and lewd. Yes, like Dame Edna, he can be laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also a bit of a one trick pony, isn’t it, the drunk, lecherous old pervert who sprays the audience with one long sticky stream of profanity and spittle? So he’s wildly crass – big deal. You’ve heard one Sir Les routine, you have safely heard them all. I felt I was laughing at a single punch-line, and more: I spent the entire night feeling vaguely like the real butt of Humphries’ joke was me.

I’ll never forget it: years ago, Llew told me that my humour changed whenever I was around a certain friend, someone who incidentally turned out to be a real prick. At the time I didn’t really understand what Llew meant, but I absolutely do now. It was the same ‘moving target’ humour that Dame Edna employed in roasting the woman in the front row. Dame Edna didn’t turn her sharp tongue on herself, she aimed it elsewhere. Someone else was the especial object of her undisguised scorn, and this was always my ex-friend’s style. I’m sorry to say I was sometimes drawn into this same practice for the duration of that friendship, which is what Llew so astutely identified at the time. Today, my friends and I – including Llew – still poke fun at each other’s foibles and follies; I expect we always will. But this kind of banter is always built around affection, the exchange mutual, the arrows dipped in the same pot and traded in the same currency. Humour is a bloody battleground, in my opinion, so although I know I still fail sometimes, I do try now to always be on the look-out for those innocent civilians who accidentally wander into the line of fire. They don’t mean to be there, they didn’t volunteer for duty, and they’re not armed, so for me being funny has become much more about trying to let those people pass by, and trying to ensure that they’re not the ones getting shot. I find I talk to myself out there in the field, and there’s one phrase I know I have no choice but to keep repeating in my own ear for as long as I go on preparing rounds of ammo: take me. Take me.

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Heat, Holidays and Hazards

January 27, 2010 at 4:16 am (Uncategorized)

Four of our friends – two couples – bought a beach shack north of Sydney about six months ago, and Llew and I finally managed to elbow our way in the door last weekend. Talk about pushy – we were not to be deterred! Of course, we chose one of the hottest weekends of the year to get in the Welsh Dragon and drive in no-air-conditioning-discomfort for four hours straight from work on Friday. I had to reapply sunscreen in the car, and the sole conversation for the duration of the trip involved weather and body temperature updates along the lines of, “Oh my god, it’s so hot!”

Yep, we don’t miss a trick.

By the time we slid out of the car at Manning Pt, we were in a heat-induced state of supreme catatonia. The life of the party? No, sadly rather more like its undertakers, come to bear away all the fun. The torpor was extreme, and with apologies to our gracious hosts, we retired early, promising to perk up the next day.

Lies. If anything, we were even worse. Perhaps this is what actual relaxation does to you: saps your strength until it’s all you can do to drag the wine glass to your lips.  My friend who took off the whole of January? The one who wanted the glorious extended summer holiday of her youth? Sick, sick as a dog for the last ten days, so sick she ended up presenting at hospital with suspected pneumonia, for god’s sake. That’s the fat thanks she gets for giving her body a badly needed break; it just spun on its heel, swooned and shortly thereafter completely packed it in. How is she feeling now? Ripped off, and who can blame her? So I wonder if this is what happened to us: a rare weekend away, and some distance from the rat race, and a blanket of stars, and SPLAT. Squashed flat.

Anyway, I can’t imagine we’ll be invited back to Manning Pt – Llew and I were as bricks tied to the weekend’s feet. I was so hot and tired I couldn’t even talk – me, the unsinkable, unstoppable, turbo-powered motor mouth! I was rendered practically mute, and even the tale of my Sunday morning run-in with the new proprietor of the Manning Pt shop (bitch) failed to raise a laugh upon my return to the house – if this had been a comedy routine, I would have been booed from the stage, no doubt copping a piece of chewed gum in the back of the head as I fled. My form was that bad. It was truly that bad. My sole consolation is that Llew was no better. We were two wet firecrackers, suitable for nothing more than the bottom of the bin.

I do love a coastal/country town, though; in Manning Pt, there was no doubt we were somewhere in Australia. The light, the heat, the sky, the 4WDs, the corner store, the burnt coffee, the hot sand, pelicans, the inked-up locals and their sticky-fingered, ice-block-eating barefoot children, the barking dogs, the pristine bowling green of the local club, the hazardous unpatrolled surf beach, the live band echoing over the river from the pub on Saturday night, the persistent whine of lawn mowers as men in shorts and thongs tended their pride and glory, the fishing off splintered jetties, the gamblers plugging coins into poker machines in the middle of the afternoon, the milkshakes and deep-fried fish. Sure, Llew and I badly lacked form this weekend, but Manning Pt? It proved a real treat (thanks, guys!).

Oh, I also got behind the wheel to take on those country roads, clocking up around 80 kms of driving between Saturday and Sunday. I drove to Old Bar with my friend T doing the instructing Saturday afternoon, and that went off without a hitch: I drove to the shops, then I drove to the beach, then I drove around the neighbourhood, then I drove to the prawn and oyster shop, then I pulled over when we saw an antiques sale, then I drove home feeling extremely pleased with myself and very grateful to T for being such a good and calm teacher. Sunday on the way home I drove out to the freeway. All was going well until Llew told me to pull over so other cars could pass, and I misjudged the distance between a letterbox and the Welsh Dragon’s left flank. I clipped the mirror and left a little red paint behind on the letterbox. Something to remember us by. I also had to swerve to miss an oncoming car that drifted into our lane – that was quite frightening – but managed to do so without incident. After conquering the major roundabout at the entrance to the freeway – the last thing standing between me and the petrol station that was to be the changeover destination – I was more than ready to call it a day. But I’m learning!

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Six Characters in Search of a Microphone

January 21, 2010 at 7:33 am (Uncategorized)

As you know, I was feeling my age yesterday even before we got to the Seymour Centre last night, but by the time we staggered out of there at 11 o’clock, I was feeling positively grave-skimming. I doubt there are many things that could do a more efficient job of prodding me toward the dying of the light than those sound technicians managed last night. When you can’t hear the actors performing in a play, you may as well be dead. Or at least in bed, getting the beauty sleep I so desperately require.

“Eh?” I leaned across and hissed to Llew in the opening minutes.

He shrugged.

A short time later, a sharp elbow landed in his ribs.

“What did she say?”

Llew didn’t know either.

“Did you catch that?”

A slow, bored shake of his head, and then this: “Do you think they’ll mind if I play a game on my phone?”

What were they saying? What was happening? When would somebody turn around? It was all a vast, infuriating mystery. I mean, I know Pirandello had a rich sense of the absurd, but I don’t think this production of Six Characters in Search of an Author actually intends the audience to miss whole chunks of the play. I looked up at the pitiable souls occupying the back row – what could they hear? Or were we the only ones going deaf, just the two of us, a peculiar coincidence of premature hearing loss while sitting in a darkened theatre? Or could there be a much larger problem at work? I leaned forward, I squinted (as if that would help – what was I thinking?), and finally I stared up into the sound booth and thought evil thoughts about the two people chatting away cheerfully inside. What the hell are you smiling about? I wanted to scream. Had packets of roasted nuts been allowed in the theatre, I most certainly would have started pegging them at the glass.

And speaking of feeling like a decrepit old hag, how about all the bright young things swanning around the foyer at intermission? I suppose they must have issued forth from Sydney University across the road and the surrounding suburbs of the shabby chic inner-west… but wherever they came from, they were uniformly dazzling. Watching them, I understood for the first time that they represent a time in my own life that is past. I can’t tell you how it shocked me, to see their abundant, stunning youth and realise with a jolt that I myself am no longer young, and never shall be again. I hope and expect to remain young at heart my life long, but it’s not the same as that magical age when you feel invincible and crucial and insatiable. And because I was digesting these unpleasant truths for the first time, their radiant exquisiteness utterly defeated me. Instead of celebrating their perfection and promise, I scowled in a corner, sullenly deconstructing a Cornetto ice-cream while watching Llew attempt and ultimately fail to scrape his jaw off the floor.

“Would you like to move so you can get a better look at that towering princess?” I asked.

“You’re the most beautiful girl in the room,” he deadpanned.

I won’t dignify it by calling it a lie.

Anyway, as the second act began, I quickly abandoned the idea of being able to hear it in its entirety – that clearly wasn’t going to happen – and contented myself with large snatches of dialogue and some great performances overall – particularly from Ian McDiarmid, who was sensational and managed to carry his voice most comprehensively. He dominated the entire production, really, and were it not for his brilliant contribution, I’d have left the Seymour Centre feeling really quite stung. I did a bit anyway. It wasn’t just the aural issue, although the acoustics were atrocious. And it wasn’t my belated understanding that I’m no longer 21 years old. No, that wasn’t it (and besides, I was a near train-wreck at 21, not a drop-dead gorgeous, achingly hip gazelle, so let’s stop with the nostalgic revisionism, shall we?). No, what really killed the mood was adding up the cost of the evening as against what I thought it was actually worth. As with Al Green last week, the tickets weren’t cheap. But the cab home? Well, that was a killer – I suggest you sit down. No, please. Sit.

Brace yourself.

Okay. Are you ready?

Sixty-three bucks. SIXTY THREE DOLLARS FOR A CAB HOME!!!!!!! And we barely stopped at any lights. The cab fares in this city are just out of control. And they’ve just gone up. And they add mysterious ‘service fees’ that aren’t GST, because it actually says ‘service fee plus GST’ on the receipt. And you can never get a cab when you want one. And when you finally limp into the only cab left available in the whole of New South Wales, well, then they never know where they’re going. I’ll give them this: they’ve turned it into an art form. In fact, that cab ride was about the same price as my theatre ticket. Maybe there’s something in that for next year’s festival…

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In Brief

January 20, 2010 at 7:54 am (Uncategorized)

I’m blogging on the run today, sitting in the foyer of Llew’s building waiting for him to finish interviewing someone for a job. Depending on the candidate’s performance, we’ll either have time enough for dinner before the play or will be throwing down packets of nuts before curtain. I’m a little bit irritated and largely without cause, which again makes me think I have more hormonal moodswings off the drugs than on – who knew? Anyway, I’m going to resort to point form in an effort to get this thing done.

* Moments ago there was a man sitting opposite me with a thick clutch of hundred dollar bills. Having just been to the ATM and caught sight of my bank balance, I can’t quite describe to you how much I wanted them. I was wondering how and when to attempt rolling him when his wife came along and rescued him not a moment too soon. He presented her with a pastry from his coat pocket and they left before I was able to identify whether said pastry was savoury or sweet. The coat pocket pastry thing was slightly off-putting, but maybe because he was holding a couple of thousand dollars in his other hand, his wife really didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she’d been looking forward to that pastry all day. Maybe she couldn’t wait to tuck right in – what’s a few pieces of pocket lint between friends?

* I’m going to arm you ladies out there with one of my last-minute secret weapons. But first some background: I wash my hair every day. When you’ve only got a hundred hairs on your head (rounding down, but still), you really can’t afford to go for the limp and greasy look. If I don’t wash my hair daily, I look like a drowned dead thing small boys might kick on the way past. So I wash. The upside of having such a thin head of hair is that it dries in, like, 30 seconds, so, with the exception of trips to the salon, I haven’t used a hairdryer since about 1992. There’s just no point. Anyway, it was H-O-T here today and the sun was set to Super Burn, so I reapplied sunscreen before I left home to catch my ferry. Unfortunately my scarce hairs copped a serve of it, and promptly gathered around my head to be given their last rites. Looking in the mirror in a rest room confirmed my worst fears: my hair looked unwashed. “Ugh,” I told my reflection. “Dirty hair. Greasy hair. Hateful hair. Grey hair. Yes, there is. There and there and there. And by the way, you’re ageing badly.”

This had the effect of somewhat souring my mood further. I was busily embarked on a fit of self-loathing – in front of the mirror, you see, all the better to berate myself – when the solution came to me: a quick wash ‘n’ dry. Now, this last minute emergency solution has saved me on a number of occasions over the years. I haven’t done it in YEARS as there’s been no need, but let me tell you, if you feel disgusting and grubby and have somewhere to be, nothing perks you up like an unscheduled wash ‘n’ dry. I left the rest room with a determined spring in my step, heading straight to Wynyard train station, where I used to get my hair cut as a rather tall and mysteriously urbane child. They also used to think I looked old for my age; I liked it much better then. En route, the bottom dropped out of my carry bag, spilling the contents all over the footpath in front of about a million commuters. A nice man handed me a shoe, which I promptly dropped on his toe. “I’m determined, I tell you,” I said. “Determined.” He laughed nervously and hurried away. I crammed everything into my laptop bag, changed shoes and continued to Wynyard, where I found several salons all doing a roaring trade. There’s nothing last minute about an extended wait, so I pressed on until I stumbled across a barber shop. There was one man getting a haircut in a chair, his barber, and two more besides. My eyes lit up.

“Would you boys be prepared to do a quick wash ‘n’ dry, or are you strictly for men only?”

They looked at each other, looked at me and shrugged.

“Why not?” said one.

“Beauty,” I replied.

So here I sit. I may smell like a man, but I look like an opening night ready woman. And thank Christ for that.

* A few last thoughts on things I’ve learned this round of IVF. This is an area in which there is no meaningful average, no so-called norm, and the only thing I would say to other women commencing IVF is this: save yourself the trouble of looking for a pattern. There isn’t one, and trying to figure one out will drive you mad in double time. We all compare data because that’s all we have, that’s the vocabulary of infertility treatment:

Number of eggs harvested: 13

Number of eggs fertilised: 7

Number of eggs transferred: 1

Number of eggs frozen: 1

Take home babies: nil

Another friend’s stats read something like this:

Number of eggs harvested: 25

Number of eggs fertilised: 12

Number of eggs transferred: 1

Number of eggs frozen: 8

Take home baby: 1

Everyone has wildly different results, we have nothing in common but the fact of IVF itself. Even that changes from woman to woman: the drugs, the dosages, the side effects. All of it. The lot, the whole thing. Ten attempts and no take home baby. Eight attempts and one take home baby. One attempt and no take home baby. One attempt and take home twins. Honestly? There is no point, in my opinion, looking at anyone else’s situation trying to discern something of my own. And I think there’s freedom in that, and instead of making me want to compulsively compare notes with other women, it makes me hopefully better able to focus on just trying to support them instead.

* Llew’s here, play starts in an hour across town, so it could well be cashews for dinner.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

January 18, 2010 at 7:33 am (Uncategorized)

There are distinct advantages to being a pragmatic optimist, the greatest of which is that I don’t tend to dwell on things I cannot change. I’ve grown more adept at this very thing because of my chosen career; when there’s so much rejection involved, reams and reams of it with not a single acceptance in sight, one does well not to linger.

So that’s the attitude I’m taking with the failed round of IVF. It failed. That was bad. And now we have no choice but to move on to the things we can do and the results that perhaps we can change. These opportunities all lie up ahead, somewhere in the reliably uncertain future, not sitting back there with last Friday, which I can’t edit and have over. It’s all very well in juvenile fiction, but in real life, it’s the last word in futile hanging on to all those Choose Your Own Adventure-type alternate endings when in fact you’ve already turned the page. I don’t like wasting my own time, nor anyone else’s, so I sort of packed up the pity picnic and left the crumbs for the ants.

My internal keel began reasserting its well-engineered will  sometime on Friday afternoon, when I decided I needed to accomplish just one positive thing to end the day bobbing upright. So after receiving the Darkling stamp of approval (and you know, I’d really quite like us to have an official wax seal…), I sent off that short story I began back in November or December. I’ve entered it into a short story competition – a folly, perhaps, especially given my track record, but oddly the mere act of dropping it in a postbox made me feel better. I guess because it shows I am determined to keep trying. In many ways this determination is out of my hands; I don’t consciously cultivate my appetite, it’s just there, part of my make-up. I am voracious in most things.

So as with other disappointments in my life, the sad, sick, hopeless feeling just started breaking away, rather like a weak plaster-cast, sometime Friday night. I spent the evening with Llew and three of our great friends, and as the evening progressed and the laughter warmed my blood, I began to see that behind the crumbling clay lay my sterner stuff, intact and fighting for air. I was very glad to see it, and I spent the remainder of the weekend shaking off the dust and tearing at the suffocating prison of obsessing about things that cannot be.

Now I feel free to begin again. I can’t know the outcome, but that shan’t dissuade the attempt. After all, trying is half the fun.

Thanks everyone for all your kind thoughts and collective wisdom – you are quite a team!

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That’s a Negative, Ghost Rider…

January 15, 2010 at 12:35 am (Uncategorized)

The good news is that I’ve been feeling really happy, calm and sane right throughout this first round of IVF. The bad news is that it didn’t help. Or perhaps it did help, but we still don’t have the result we were hoping for. Things started looking dicey just after I wrote yesterday’s post, when an innocent trip to the bathroom changed everything. I knew instantly the signs were very bad. Now, I never saw myself as the weeping-on-the-toilet-bowl kind of girl, but you find out all sorts of surprising things as time goes on. I let myself cry. Then I called Llew, and when I opened my mouth to leave a message, discovered I couldn’t speak without dissolving into choking tears, the sort that constrict your breathing and make you feel like you’re going to be sick. Next I called the nurses at IVF Australia. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how one looks at it, this too went straight through to voicemail, and I left a long, strangled message for whichever hapless nurse had the misfortune to receive it. I think I probably ruined more than my own day yesterday, diligently dispensing this piece of bad news about town like DeLillo’s slow-moving airborne toxic event.

I called Llew again; this time he answered, and I had the awful task of beginning to snuff out his hopes too. I couldn’t and can’t stop apologising. Being sorry and being at fault are two different things, but it’s true I can’t help feeling somehow to blame. This is natural, so I’m told, and I can confirm that among the range of feelings lurks the unpleasant sting of guilt. I feel responsible even though I know – and I do know – this is not my fault. And yet the sense of failure and of owning that failure is acute.

But it’s early days, and I’m not going to try to reign in irrational feelings. I’m giving myself permission to move through them all, everything my heart throws at me, at whatever pace I see fit. I have no desire to pretend things are any better or worse than they are: this is where I find myself. And at present I am waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for IVF Australia to call and confirm from this morning’s blood test what I already know. I know because my body has given me incontrovertible evidence, and plenty of it. For this first round of IVF, there is no hope left.

Trying to stop what had already started, yesterday I retreated to the bedroom, crawling under a blanket armed with my billowing self-pity, a cup of tea, a pen, my IVF diary and Wolf Hall. Cookies were introduced into the mix a short time later. I calmed down, pulled myself together, and waited it out. Llew came home and, sad and anxious himself, spent the night taking excellent care of me. We went into the clinic together this morning, and we’ll go back together, and we will try again. Together.

Better luck next time, or the time after that, or the time after that, or the time after that. Onwards. Round two, here we come!

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve also just been notified that my DoctorDi submission wasn’t accepted into an anthology of Australian blog writing. 2010 may be a handsome new year, but some weeks still stink.

And… I’ve had the call. I think my email to the Darklings just now sums up my thoughts:

You know, I thought a positive result would be surreal; instead, this is, knowing it’s no good, that this round is over and aside from a big financial hole we have nothing to show for it. I think the strangeness reveals to me how much I had hoped it would work, because I keep having to catch up to these new facts, and I find them, for a long sombre second, bewildering.

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False Notes and Happy Highlights

January 13, 2010 at 11:46 pm (Uncategorized)

I bounced home from the tennis last night all primed to post about my very first experience court-side, then received some distressing news from a friend that just completely flattened me. Today’s grey skies and rain, replacing yesterday’s storming heat, now seem entirely appropriate – it’s all a bit bleak, really. But in an effort to try to drag some cheer back into proceedings, I’ll tell you about the Al Green concert on Tuesday night.

It’s a funny thing about “living legends” – all they really have to do is turn up. Apparently the audience is just so incredibly delighted to catch an “iconic performer” before they pop their clogs that they don’t really care whether the show goes on or not. There he is! He’s alive! And I’ve seen him! I might’ve missed Elvis, and I really should’ve gotten along to the Rolling Stones last time they were in town, but gee whiz, at least I caught the Reverend Al Green before the Good Lord sells out his final gig! That’s a relief! You should have seen the audience – blissed out beyond belief as though we were indeed at an evangelical sermon in Memphis and not the Sydney State Theatre at all.

It was all a bit curious. We started well, Green nothing if not an old school showman who knows how to make an entrance – and he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his healing hand – but soon I at least felt the show devolved into a strange farce of fawning adulation from the women in the audience, who came in all directions mincing, dancing, swooning and even puckering, gathering in a heap at the foot of the stage like a spectacular pile up at the base of a hill, and a kind of wind-up toy, fits-and-starts display from Green. In truth he gave out more roses than notes, hardly really singing at all, seeming to prefer turning the mike to the audience – yeah, c’mon, you know the words! – or introducing band members, or gesturing to the back-up singers, his three daughters and a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Snoop Dogg, to do the work instead. He would regularly take a big breath and lean into the mike, and I would hold mine and sit forward in my chair, waiting and listening for a voice that mostly never came. I lost count of the number of occasions he opened his mouth and nothing actually came out. Instead he’d cover the conspicuous absence of singing by busting another move and yet again shimmying across to retrieve still more roses from a Magic Pudding-style secret rose compartment, hidden somewhere behind the keyboardist, and the crowd would go wild. At one point in the endless dispensing of these long-stemmed red crowd-pleasers, Al left the stage and didn’t even bother to take the microphone at all. No need, you see.

I think it was when he began the extensive tribute medley that I decided the evening was really odd. Leaving aside that Snoop Dogg regularly left his singing post to quick-change and join another man on stage as back-up dancers now, darting and turning behind Al in a routine pulled wholesale from those manic flashing squares in video arcades, there was something depressing about the tribute medley, a few bars apiece of R & B chart-toppers not his own. No one else seemed to notice or care, and I bet I am one of only a few people who’d do anything other than rave about the show. But for me it just seemed to ring with false notes, as when Al exhorted the audience not to worry about the financial downturn or rising petrol prices. He’d been sent, he said, by the One who will reward true believers, and he’d been sent to tell those people they will… they will…. well, they will somehow find a way to afford it. Wow. Thanks, Al. No, really. Thanks a heap. But at $115 bucks for the cheapest seats in the house, it looks like he at least has found the answer. You know, I’m sure Al can fill ‘er up whenever he likes, and he didn’t hesitate to burn off the stage after a very brief 45 minutes of legend maintenance, ignoring the crowd’s stomping feet, clapping hands and throaty cries for more. My favourite part of the evening? By a long mile, the support act, a toe-tapping, smooth-sounding soulful Sydney trio by the name of the Ray Mann Three. They were excellent.

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Love the Beast, Love the Doco

January 12, 2010 at 3:40 am (Uncategorized)

Doing this meme I’m lifting from David at Quotidian Vicissitudes feels like a little bit of a cheat now, because I had intended today’s post to be about film; we’ve seen some good examples recently, and I’d like to discuss some of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed these particular works, and the ways in which I’ve found them thought-provoking. It’ll have to wait until later in the week, though as time, that sly trickster, is determined to keep giving me the slip.

So, to the meme…. the first line from the first post for each month of 2009…

January 5 2009: Here we are – already 2009 is five days old.

[Yawn…]

February 3 2009: Sorry about the absence of a post yesterday.

[Oh for god’s sake! So lame. February 5 was so much better. It begins: So I guess we’ve established that Nana doesn’t like big butts (and cannot lie)… that’s more like it!]

March 3 2009: Oops, that should have been-

[We interrupt this tedious retrospection with the following announcement: I’m not enjoying this. Let’s stop.]

By partially completing this exercise, I’ve made the unpleasant discovery that my opening lines are beyond banal – it’s a miracle anyone’s ever bothered to read on. Shudder. I must do better. I’m almost curious – almost, but not quite – to see if this train wreck of crashing dullness continues right throughout the year. I told you 2009 was no good. Or maybe I didn’t tell you, but I’ve had my suspicions. After the fact, it’s been tempting to conclude the past year was just a flat 365 days of nothing. I didn’t realise I’d developed something of an aversion to 2009 until it ended, and then I registered how very glad I was to see the back of it. And these woeful opening lines do little to restore the past year to my good opinion… nope, there’s nothing there I need.

So let’s start talking about film after all (that’s what I get for trying to cheat…). I’ll start with the documentary we saw last night, Love the Beast. Ostensibly about Australian actor/comedian Eric Bana’s long love affair with his car (an unlikely premise to entice yours truly, you might think), it’s really much more insightful and touching than would be obvious to the uninitiated. Bana directed the film, and he appears alongside his ‘beast’ as well as a full complement of significant others: his laconic childhood friends; his gorgeous parents; his young family; other petrol heads and race-car drivers; Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson; compulsive car collector Jay Leno; and a surprisingly subtle and astute Dr Phil.

The combination makes for riveting viewing. There are some genuinely hilarious and equally moving moments, and real tension when Bana and his navigator (not to mention loyal-mate-for-all-eternity), Tony, head back down to Tasmania for a second tilt at the Targa, an ill-fated 5-day racing bender named for the Sicilian original. The Targa is not for the faint-hearted, but at the same time, it sets the scene for a small ‘slice of life’ doco that’s very warm and frank, brimming with affection about the things people hold dear.

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Fahrenheit, Festivals and Fear

January 11, 2010 at 2:23 am (Uncategorized)

Merry Monday, friends. After a blistering couple of Sydney summer days – we had four swims in the surf on Saturday –  it’s come over all overcast today, and a spot of rain wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome as even the hardy frangipani trees are looking a trifle parched. Recently we’ve been having the scorched earth weather of endless summer holidays of childhood, those glorious six weeks that used to stretch toward a near eternity. A friend of mine, S, has elected to take the month of January off work in an effort to recapture something of those halcyon days. She’s not taking off overseas, she’s not packing the calendar full of weekends away and nights out, she’s simply staying in Sydney and enjoying being home. It’s something many of us rarely do, take a holiday without going anywhere, but personally I can really see the appeal. I think it’s an inspired idea. Llew gets ants in his pants and can’t sit still for more than an hour even armed with a newspaper or magazine, but, thoroughly exhausted, even he loved his short break between Christmas and New Year because he got to relax at home for a change. He rarely pauses long enough to do that, and he seemed genuinely surprised to discover just how lovely it is. I’m very pleased that now he knows, because we’re so extremely fortunate to live where we do, and we ought to make the most of it.

Aside from the long days of perfect weather, it’s a great month to be in Sydney because the annual Sydney Festival is now officially underway. Our own festival season kicks off tomorrow night, when Llew and I are heading to see Al Green live at that grand old dame, the divine State Theatre. We also bought tickets in advance to see Pirandello’s absurdist masterpiece Six Characters in Search of an Author, which I adored studying at university but have never seen produced, and I’m hoping to get along to a few more things on the cheap, thanks to the Tix For Next to Nix initiative, through which a limited number of cheap seats ($25 a head) are sold to festival events daily. Yes, the festival program annually turns me into an insatiable grunting glutton. I even forced Llew to join me in camping out for Lou Reed tickets a couple of years ago, so determined was I to sniff out those elusive truffles – two tickety boos – but I can tell you right now I won’t be doing that again. No bloody fear. Still, Llew works very close to the booth’s Martin Place location, so I’m hoping he’ll be able to spontaneously score us tickets to a couple of other events. I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes.

In other news, I had my first two driving lessons over the weekend. Better yet, I asked for them. Llew took me up to Manly Dam and I burned around there accelerating and hovering, accelerating and hovering, and  trying to develop some kind of working relationship with the steering wheel. The Welsh Dragon is automatic, thank god, and after always thinking I’d learn manual when finally learning to drive, I now think PANTS TO THAT. Why bother when our own car is automatic? Perhaps once I have a couple of years’ experience under my belt I’ll learn to drive a manual, but for now I think it’s sufficiently challenging just acquiring the basic skill set needed to become a safe and competent driver. What finally galvanised my resolve after 37 years of near total indifference? The prospect of being a mother who can’t drive. Although we are a disparate and mostly estranged group, traditionally the women in my family don’t drive, and the truth is, it’s a hassle. It creates irksome dependencies, unfairly inconveniencing others, it requires additional logistical planning, and, at a certain point, it incurs a great deal of additional expenditure both fiscal and temporal. Getting about independently has never been my problem – in addition to being a mad walker and a happy cyclist, I read on public transport and relish the opportunity to observe my fellows – but imagining myself with a child in tow brought this deficiency of mine into unpleasantly sharp relief. I should know how to drive. It’s that simple. And so learn to drive I shall.

Times have changed since all my friends learned to drive. I didn’t learn then because I couldn’t. I was out of home at 15, and living with a friend’s family by 16. I couldn’t learn on a family vehicle the way the majority of people do because I was not with my family. I was still 16 when I got my scholarship to Pearson College in Canada, and I couldn’t learn there either. The college vans weren’t insured for learner drivers, only qualified ones. It was downhill from there. My interest waned as my fear grew.

Anyway, the point is my friends all had licences at 16 years of age after just three months on L plates; now I have to complete 150 hours of lessons. I don’t really mind, because I have no desire to be driving by myself until I am well qualified to do so – I am mercifully past that urgent desire of youth to speed off alone – but it does mean a big commitment of time and effort not just on my own part but on Llew’s. And pity the poor parents of multiple teenagers – how on earth do they manage this requirement?? I can’t imagine, I really can’t, how you’d go about teaching four eager teenagers to drive when each one requires 150 hours of tuition. What a nightmare! Anyway, we are 2.5 hours down – only 147.5 hours to go! Wish me luck! I daresay it’ll provoke several posts on the topic, so stay tuned.

MS #2 word count: 36, 490.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve just been for a lunchtime walk – I’m not running at the moment even though Dr P said I could… I just don’t want to jinx anything – and along the beachfront witnessed lovely signs of children enjoying a summer they’ll probably never forget either: three entrepreneurial young sprites set up around table and chairs selling homemade Anzac and chocolate chip cookies; a little boy out learning to ride a bike with his mum, an RTA-issue ‘P plate’ endearingly fixed between the handlebars; another diminutive trio posing for photos, bronzed arms casually slung one about the other, white teeth flashing; everywhere these sun-kissed, happy faces… I returned to the cookie stall with my wallet just now and picked up two of each variety; mine I’ve already scoffed, and it will require a concerted effort of will to leave Llew’s cookies alone. At a mere fifty cents a pop, they’re a delicious bargain, and I do so enjoy supporting a local business venture…

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And…She Floats!

January 6, 2010 at 6:30 am (Uncategorized)

Now, where were we? Ah yes, Tails and her maiden voyage. At first it seemed unlikely we’d be able to get our girl on the water over the Christmas/New Year break – we were clearly not the only ones with this idea, and all the boat workshops that do things like fit engines and rig up steering were pretty much booked solid. Not to mention that Tails hadn’t been registered since 2007. But we were both enthusiastic, persistent and in luck: there was a second-hand engine that caught our eye and a shop with an opening to fit it, so we once again flipped a coin (you’d think we were mad gamblers, but on the contrary, these two tosses represent the sum total of our wagers for 2009) to determine whether or not we should proceed or cut our losses and put Tails back on Ebay. Tails clearly got wind (arf arf) of this gamble and apparently decided she wanted to stay put, because when the coin came down, it was in her favour. Secretly, we were just as pleased.

Llew comes from a sailing people. He, his father and brother are all mad sailors, his mother, sister  and sister-in-law quietly accomplished ones.  Real sailors, the type who get about on a yacht without turning the engine on. They speak the language and walk the rubber-soled walk. I’m the odd one out, being someone who loves going sailing, but can neither actually sail nor convincingly conjure any desire to learn. No, I just like being on the boat, theirs and anyone else’s, and I earn my keep by preparing lunch and refreshing drinks. Just please don’t throw me a rope and order me to urgently winch something because we’re tacking or coming about. And under no circumstances ever suggest I take the wheel. That’s a bad idea for everyone involved, and Llew’s dad has finally, albeit very reluctantly accepted the limitations of my interest, perhaps because I never get seasick, I stay out of everyone’s way, and I do really, really love being out there. Anyway, the point is, Tails is a modest little speedboat, which I didn’t think would even count as a boat to staunch sailors. And yet what I thought was going to be Llew’s New Project became a Jenkins Family Project the second my father- and brother-in-law sniffed the salty air and realised there was a new addition to the family. They didn’t care she wasn’t a sailboat. They just wanted in. Stat.

To say they responded well to the news would be like saying SWAT teams politely come to the door and knock, in that getting Tails in the water immediately became the core Jenkins Men mission, and they were taking no prisoners. I wisely stood aside and let the ambush begin. So many things are simply much bigger than me, and father-son-brotherly bonding over boats is clearly one of them. As to the maiden voyage, sorry fellas, but there was no way I was missing that, so I basically let them do all the work and then turned up just in time for the feature presentation: an attempted crossing of Sydney Heads. No one could accuse us of lacking ambition.

After Llew, his father, brother, and the Panamaniac got Tails off the trailer and into the water at Little Man Town beach (there’s a ramp there for the express purpose), they tooled around for a little while to make sure it wasn’t about to sink like a stone, then said goodbye to Llew’s dad and came around the cove to Man Town wharf to collect me. I was standing there with my IVF chill pack filled with beer – who knew that thing would make such an excellent little portable esky?! – which caused Llew no end of confusion when they first turned up. And I must say, my first glimpse of Tails racing toward me is not something I’ll forget in a hurry, especially because at first I refused to believe it could possibly be her. She looked so fine! Like a real boat! But then she drew nearer and there was no longer any doubt: there she was.

The boys expertly pulled alongside the wharf where the water taxis come in, and I passed them the beer before neatly dropping off the side and onto the boat. They’d furnished her with milk crates and lifejackets, and as I took my seat beside the Cheshire Puss skipper, I was taken by surprise a second time by the comfort this combination afforded. Though over time we plan to spruce up Tails as finances permit, really, one doesn’t need more. And just like that, we were off.

It was a good day to test the old girl, because it was choppy, there was quite a messy swell, and there was a lot of traffic on the water. I quickly congratulated myself on my choice of attire (swimmers and a sarong) because there was much ritual drenching in the crossing; the poor Panamaniac was saturated in the back. And once Llew figured out how to avoid smacking headfirst into the wake of other, much larger craft, we mainly sought out bumps for fun.

We knew our maiden destination before we even bought her: Sydney Fish Markets, about 9 or 10 nautical miles from Man Town and one of our favourite foodie spots in Sydney. For years we’ve driven to the markets, fought for a park and then dangled our feet off the wharf, eating our lunch and sorely envying all those who just cruised in instead. Boats even get free berthing, like a message from the universe that this is the only way to travel. En route to the markets, we passed close to the nudist beach at Watson’s Bay (very popular among older homosexuals), Shark Island, Fort Denison, Kirribilli House, the Opera House, went directly underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge (in our own boat! Nothing beats it!), cruised past the Sydney Theatre Company and the gorgeous, historic precinct of the Rocks area around Millers Pt (for me practically a spiritual place which of course developers are determined to destroy), alongside Balmain and then finally under the Anzac Bridge, a very fine specimen, around and into the markets, where we snared the perfect berth at the wharf.

As you can imagine, we were feeling pretty damn pleased with ourselves by this stage, not to mention madly in love with Tails, and there was a long photographic session that’ll eventually attest to that (a film camera, so bear with me). Then we hit the markets for supplies for the freezer back home and of course a late lunch for the crew, compliments of the skipper and his first mate: oysters, prawns and beer, no longer enviously dangling our feet, but sitting aboard our very own little boat. Happy days indeed.

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