Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Charity runs amok

I had lunch today at a city Italian restaurant with four longstanding friends. In years gone past we were work colleagues and also a tennis and squash playing group. The lunch had been arranged prior to my mother's unexpected death and whilst I initially changed my mind about attending following her death I changed my mind. I'm glad that I did. It is better to get on with life than withdraw from society.

All of us have now reached the Senior Citizen's card age and only one is still in fulltime employment, the other four of us having retired from fulltime work. We spent a few pleasant, chatty hours gossiping about all and sundry issues but as has now become common for our age group we had plenty of personal health related issues to compare and discuss.

We are all meeting again this Saturday at the marriage of the third and youngest daughter of the remaining worker.

My relaxed mood was rudely shattered shortly after returning home. One of a number of charities that I donate to over the phone followed up an exchange I had with them several weeks ago. Over time I have become increasingly concerned by this particular charity's aggressive and intrusive techniques. It routinely attempted to get me to increase my previous donations by threefold and more and had taken to asking intrusive questions for 'security purposes'. I was also taken aback when I wrote to them on an earlier occasion to complain about their tactics to find the charity in question operated from a high level floor in an expensive waterfront tower. I wondered what proportion of donations went to cover their rental costs.

A 'supervisor' sought to explain the previous tactics and even said that the charity had changed its approach following complaints similar to mine but I'm still peeved and told him I would not be providing a donation again.

His call was bad timing. I was left upset for the intended beneficiaries of donations who I know are deserving of assistance. Now I'm trying to calm down in preparation for tomorrow's melanoma excision.

Monday, 29 March 2010


Thanks for all the messages following the death of my mother.

I was quite touched also by the number of calls from friends and associates, some of whom I had lost contact with for many years.

The funeral was today and my mother is now at peace.

I'm holding up well apart from sleepless nights over the weekend since Mum's death and am looking forward to a good night's sleep tonight (fingers crossed). Next stop, the wide excision surgery on Wednesday after which I hopefully can return to happier and more mundane missives related to my life and interests.

I'm also looking forward to catching up on my blog reading.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

My Mum

Yesterday at 5.40am the Nursing Home rang me to advise my mother's condition was of concern. She was struggling with her breathing and her blood pressure had fallen. When I arrived at the home shortly after I found my mother in bed, attached to an oxygen tank, apparently unconscious.

An ambulance was summoned and my mother's heart stopped on the journey to the hospital. The paramedics resuscitated her but on examination in Emergency it was clear that there was nothing that could be done beyond making her final moments comfortable.

I was by her bedside when my mother passed away at 10.55am. She was eighty-four years old.

My mother lived for me and her love for me was overwhelming. She was the best mother and my closest friend.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Sick, man!

Don't worry.

This blog is not turning into the diary of a sick man. But I will make occasional references to my condition.

The good news is that yesterday's follow-up at the Foundation was positive news. Yes, the excised section last week was Melanoma...and yes..I require another, larger, excision to ensure there are no traces of Melanoma in the surrounding areas but the treating Doctors are confident that they got it all and that there are no other problem areas...at present.

Mind you, those same Doctors were pretty sure the original excision was Basal Cell only and to their surprise were proven wrong but I prefer to maintain their positive view.

The second, wider, excision will be taken next Wednesday.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

And so it goes...

Unfortunately the pathology is back on my test and the biopsy opinion is Clark Level III Melanoma. This was not what I wanted to hear. Looks like a further excision is required. I'll know more tomorrow.

Monday, 22 March 2010


(Leeanna Walsman and Socratis Otto)

I wasn't thinking of the irony yesterday when I went to see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo that I was scheduled the next day to see the Sydney Theatre Company's current offering, 'Stockholm'.

This is a two hander in which a couple, Todd and Kali, are into all kinds of things Swedish and are about to embark on a visit to Stockholm. We see the couple in happy and combative mood, stepping out of character at times to comment on themselves or to display their demons and at other times engaging in slow song and dance movements to illustrate their relationship.

There is quite bit going on during the mere 70 minutes of this production. Interesting and something different.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)

The Swedish film of Stieg Larsson's best selling novel 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' omits most of the subplots in the book focussing almost exclusively on the search to solve the forty years' old mystery of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger and still runs nearly three hours without lagging. Clearly it would have needed a film twice that length to incorporate all the elements in the novel.

Like the book, the film is a ripping good yarn with the additional benefit for we antipodean temperate zone viewers of catching fascinating glimpses of a wintery Sweden.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Someone stitched me up

The world's first glimpse of my unflattering hairy chest and the stitches marking the removal of a mole which, subject to the pathology results, will prove hopefully to have been Basal Cell Carcinoma rather than Melanoma.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Hurt Locker

Two cinematic visits to Iraq in one week is probably two too many but each has been rewarding in it's own way.

This year's Academy Award winning Best Picture, 'The Hurt Locker', follows bomb technicians as they go about the business of diffusing bombs. Fifteen minutes into the film, the thought passed my mind 'is this all there is?' Are we just going to see them diffuse one bomb after another? Well yes, we are, as it turns out. There is no plot to speak of and almost nothing to link the scenes apart from a progressive countdown of the number of days remaining in the soldiers' tour of duty.

That doesn't sound promising, yet this film becomes enthralling the longer it goes. The work of the bomb technicians obviously is very dangerous. Regardless of the location there always seem to be eyes observing them from the balconies or adjacent landscape as though the soldiers were performing in some vast outdoor theatre. Inevitably one or other pair of eyes poses a danger...but which ones? It is an environment where a simple mobile phone becomes a threat. And then there are the locals, caught willingly or otherwise in a mire of war and futility.

The courageous yet flawed 'hero' has been done before but Jeremy Renner does it as well as anybody. So natural are the scenes and the performances of the entire cast that after a while it is as though you are an 'embedded' observer in the real thing.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A Single Man

A day in 1962. Colin Firth, Professor of English at a college in Los Angeles is grieving the loss of his gay lover some time earlier. A meticulous man, we see his preparations for the day and his encounters with students, a rent boy and his long time female friend Julianne Moore.

'A Single Man', directed by Fashion Designer, Tom Ford, is itself an exercise in design. Every sequence is highly choreographed. This is the sort of style over narrative that the French often bring to their films.

Colin Firth dominates in a performance that deservedly won him an Acadeny Award nomination.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Caution: this surgery may be injurious to your well-being

I visited the Skin and Cancer Foundation for a periodic skin cancer check and whilst waiting for my appointment was bemused by the various signs on display in the waiting room.

The signs were mostly presented as warnings rather than as requests or information notices so that for mine the general impression created was of a negative environment. I counted at least eight separate signs warning patients about:

- mobile phones
- payment on attendance
- appointment delays
- insufficient cancellation notification
- pathology bills

Under the heading Waiting Room Etiquette - echoes of teacher correcting wayward student - were separate signs that patients should ask staff for the location of toilets and maintain control of their children.

Yet another sign headed Zero Tolerance Policy warned that badly behaving patients would not be tolerated.

I think that they could do with some expert advice on making their signage (and in consequence their waiting room) more welcoming.

The one warning I didn't get was that my check up would uncover a mole 'of concern' which may be a Basal Cell Carcinoma (not such a problem) or a melanoma (potentially more serious). The offending mole was removed and sent to pathology for testing.

I return in two weeks for the results and for removal of the sutures.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Green Zone

In 2003, the Americans are in Iraq. If there is a coalition of the willing in there with them in 'Green Zone' then I missed any reference to them.

However American Army Chief Warrant Officer Matt Damon is there and as Damon is wont to do he is behaving heroically. Damon has led his team to a series of sites were they have been assured Weapons of Mass Destruction - or 'the WMD', as they always refer to them - are located. But no trace of 'the WMD' is ever found. Damon senses a rat and in true Hollywood fashion he goes after Iraqi General Mohammad Al Rawi - the Jack of Clubs in President George W Bush's pack of wanted Iraqis - who Damon believes can reveal the truth of 'the WMD', the pretext for the Americans' action in Iraq.

What makes the story interesting is that the principal game in town is not so much the battle between the Americans and the Iraqis but rather the battle within the American machine itself.

As is his style, Damon is courageous to the point of being foolhardy and is never deterred regardless of how stacked are the odds against him.

This is an action film on uppers. I cannot recall a film with more action in it. Actually there is a scarcely a moment's relief from the action from opening to closing credits. And, it is very skillfully laid on. I don't know how accurate it's portrayal is but the images of war, politics and life in Iraq and the Green Zone looked very convincing to me.

As a footnote, if anyone ever asks you where Mohammad Al Rawi is...be afraid...very afraid. In this film no-one ever survives that question!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

'In the shopping malls, conform or be cast out'*

(* 'Subdivisions' by Rush)
(Photo: Brad Hunter, Northern District Times)

Following my regular Saturday morning calls on my mother and aunt at the nursing home I decided to take a look at the nearby unimaginatively named Top Ryde City Shopping Centre where Stage One (of three) has recently opened whilst the remainder of the project has still to be completed.

There are two shopping levels open and whatever lies above them, as can just be seen in the photo, is blocked off whilst construction continues. It was lunch time and orange vested building workers wearing hard hats mingled amongst the shoppers and gawkers like myself. There were plenty of beefy looking male builders but also quite a number of scantily dressed females also wearing orange vests and hard hats. I'm not certain what their construction role would be but I pondered that their near naked appearance could at the least be a major distraction and safety hazard.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for the complex lists plenty of safety issues that have dogged the project. The centre does not appear to be a good neighbour. I doubt I will want to visit the centre when all three stages are operational. The traffic lights at the adjacent intersection obviously have had their timing reset and were noticeably slower to change than when I have previously driven through. The street entrance to the parking stations is very narrow, only one lane in each direction, and will clearly develop into a bottleneck.

Basically, the complex looks far too big for the site and surrounds. And of course, it looks just like every other shopping centre in Sydney and contains all the same outlets. Why is this centre necessary when two huge centres just like it are only kilometres away to the east at Macquarie and to the west at Rhodes?

Saturday, 13 March 2010

My One and Only

It is 1953 and Renee Zellweger after finding her band leader husband Kevin Bacon bedding another woman embarks on a trip across the United States in search of a new husband and financial stability accompanied by sons Logan Lerman (a Zac Ephron lookalike) and Mark Rendall.

'My One and Only' apparently is based on the teen years of actor George Hamilton and the Zellweger character is based on Hamilton's mother. Given the eccentricities on display, I imagine there is a degree of embellishment to the actual events. Zellweger's character is a curious cross between Auntie Mame and Blanche Du Bois. The events are seen from Lerman's (Hamilton's) perspective and he (Lerman) provides the narration. Lerman does a nice turn of teenage innocence combined with wisdom beyond his years.

The film is essentially a drama although there are plenty of humorous and ironic moments to lighten the mood. I was particularly taken with one delicious moment when Communist hating military man Chris Noth tells the family if the Communists takeover they can expect to find every American shopping street contains the same stores. Owners of today's mega shopping malls take note!

For mine, the most impressive aspect of the film is how well it conveys the style and images of the 1950s.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Queen and I

(Queen Mary 2 on an earlier visit to Sydney)

I don't why I did it. After all I have previously seen it come and go. But I did it again. And I did it late. Too late.

The Queen Mary 2 was in town earlier this week and was due to depart at midnight on Monday. I played bridge Monday night and was home shortly after 11pm so thought I might just watch it's departure from my ringside view looking down on the harbour.

Pretty well to the minute I observed QM2 start to pull back from it's berth, then slowly...ever so slowly...do a ninety degrees turn in the harbour to face east for it's departure. After what seemed liked several minutes in this new position, QM2 then commenced it's progress up harbour and towards the Heads. By the time it reached the turn through the Heads it was 1am and I should well and truely have been asleep by then.

But I wasn't and it was going to be a long time still until sleep arrived. The night was very warm (still 26c - 79f) at that time. I did not sleep well nor did I fare well at work the next day at the hospital. I won't be staying up late to watch cruise ship departures on warm 'school' nights in future.
(Sydney Harbour and Heads)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tram and taxi smash

For Andrew.
Trams and their operation were blamed for many accidents in Sydney’s narrow streets. In this case, traffic in Pitt Street was held up when a taxi pulled out from the curb and was struck by one of Sydney’s notorious ‘toast rack’ trams. Pedestrians have added to the confusion, creating a bottleneck. In 1921 regulations were passed which required motorists to signal their intention to stop or turn, but hand signals were not always given or seen.

Photograph by Sam Hood taken 25 June 1937 (State Library of NSW)

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

'If it ain't one thing it's another'*

(*If It Ain't One Thing It's Another by Randy Travis)
It was the cistern that wouldn't work and took three visits to repair. And the window openers that jammed and had to be replaced. And what about the shower screen that caved in and had to be fixed. And the string that operates the curtains that snapped.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a serviced hotel.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Separation City

The marriages of four couples in New Zealand are facing various levels of strain in this unheralded contemporary comedy drama.

It's quite a nice film, some silly moments aside, with a few good laughs and witty observations along the way. The film makes good use of New Zealand's magnificent scenery and I suspect Wellington has rarely looked as attractive as captured here. We get some glimpses of Berlin as a bonus.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Enmore Theatre

The Enmore Theatre in the 1920s...
and today, about 85 years later...
...still presenting live entertainment, albeit of a different type.

Friday, 5 March 2010


(Radek Jonak and Sam Haft ... forbidden lovers. Photo: Heidrun Lohr)

Germany's Third Reich rounded up gay men amongst the social and religious groups it sought to eradicate. 'Bent' tells the story of three of them, Max, Rudy and Horst. It is the first time I have seen this play which was written more than thirty years ago and I found it a bit of a mixed work.

Act 1 focuses on partners Max and Rudy in Berlin and the growing oppression of gays by the authorities and then to a forest near Cologne from where the pair is hoping to escape to Amsterdam. This Act did not excite me greatly, the characters being little more than stereotypes. I don't whether that was the fault of the play or this production.

Act 2 is set in Dachau Concentration Camp where Max is bribing his way to hoped for preferential treatment in the company of his emerging lover, Horst (the two characters in the photo). This Act is the stronger and more moving of the two.

The simple staging in the small confines of Belvoir Street's Downstairs Theatre is typical of its productions. I thought the actors portraying Max and Horst did a good job in Act 2 and stood out from the ensemble.

Apropos nothing other than to relate my latest near miss with fame, Cate Blanchett brushed past me last night with her husband Andrew Upton on their way to the Upstairs Theatre to see the highly regarded 'That Face'. Blanchett is as charismatic in passing as she is on stage and in film.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Sydney Town Hall

From the Powerhouse Photographic Archive.

This image comes from the Don Harkness archive which provides a complete visual record of the career of the pioneer in the Australian automotive and aeronautical industry, Don Harkness. Harkness, born in Leichhardt NSW in 1898 was a record breaking racing driver. The Powerhouse database states:

‘Harkness developed an interest in motor racing and in 1924 he imported an Overland chassis which he modified extensively. In this car (christened “Whitey”) Harkness won about 50 events at the Penrith and Maroubra tracks and at Gerringong’s Seven Mile Beach during 1925.’

This particular image shows an Overland car being driven down the steps of the Sydney Town Hall during the mid 1920s.

Photo by Milton Kent.

A front view of the Sydney Town Hall perhaps around the turn of the 20th Century?
A contemporary view of the Sydney Town Hall.
And finally an image of Philadelphia's City Hall on which the Sydney Town Hall was modelled.
Photos/images from http://www.sydneyarchitecture.com/.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


Kings Cinema Bondi Beach in the 1930s. As a child a saw a number of films here including a British hit 'Carve Her Name With Pride' about a wartime woman hero. There is no longer a cinema at Bondi Beach.

Monday, 1 March 2010

'The life I lead is the life of a dog'*

(* Dog's Life by Kottonmouth Kings)
I am not an animal person. I've got nothing against animals or pets but I have lived most of my life in apartments and have never been in the position of owning or being responsible for an animal. I admire them from afar but have never felt love for any particular animal.

Friends Ae and Hn, owners respectively of golden retrievers Ta and Ke, are currently cruising down the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam and I have assumed minor responsibility for their care during this time. This amounts to feeding and walking them every second day. Ta is a grand old lady at 14 years who takes things casually and is of no threat to a novice like me. Ke, on the other hand, is 9 months old and frisky beyond belief. She happily jumps all over me or rather comes close to bowling me over as she stands on her hind legs and mauls me with her paws almost reaching my shoulders.

Ke was to have spent this period in a kennel but was diagnosed with Kennel Cough so the plans for professional doggy-sitting went out the window.

Anyway, if I say so myself, we (major carer and I) have done a good job of doggy-sitting and I'm sort of warming to both the dogs but still I can't imagine being up to owning one myself. Ke is more than a handful spending lots of time digging up Ae's back garden and artfully scattering fronds all over her front hallway. Here she is admiring her handiwork.