Saturday, 31 December 2011

Countdown to 2012

Family fireworks over Sydney Harbour at 9pm.


On Boxing Day we spent the late afternoon and evening at Sandgate where Ja and Cs are house sitting for friends. The house is an old 'Queenslander' and we enjoyed an impromptu dinner of fish, chips and salad on the front lawn looking over the view of the bay. The tide was well out as you can see by clicking on the photos.

Looking east
Looking south-east
Looking north-east
As sunset approached dozens of walkers and joggers and dog walkers took advantage of the cooling breeze  as they traversed the waterfront promenade.

On the promenade
We joined them for a leisurely stroll of our own as darkness set in. I'll post photos I took of some of the neighbouring 'Queenslanders' separately.

Thursday, 29 December 2011


Husbands is a web based mini 'mini-series'. The first series of eleven episodes (to date) lasts less than thirty five minutes in total. I think it is funny and clever and like all good comedy it contains within it's over the top surface a core of serious references.

The link takes you to all eleven episodes.

Following the crowd....

My new iPad

Yes, like so many others this Christmas I am now the owner of an iPad. Another novelty du jour to quickly tire of...or not.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Getting with the spirit

A Qantas Boeing 767 at Sydney Airport

Australia's airline Qantas, which uses the slogan 'the Spirit of Australia', has been in the wars a bit lately both industrially and in performance.

I travelled with Qantas to and from Brisbane over Christmas. Both flights were uneventful but actually getting onto the return flight yesterday had a touch of the Keystone Cops about it.

My flight was due to depart at 11.25am Brisbane time with the boarding listed for 11.05am at Gate 25. Typically I arrive at airports well before when I need to and yesterday morning was no exception. I was checked in and waiting in the club lounge by 9.30am. I listened to podcasts on my iPod oblivious to any announcements but kept my eye on the departure screens which continued to show my flight boarding at 11.05am.

At 11.00am, and without any change to the boarding time on the departure screens in the lounge, I decided I would proceed to Gate 25. I could see our aeroplane parked there and apparently being loaded with baggage etc for the flight but I was surprised to see that the departure display at the gate was showing boarding to commence at 11.35am. I found myself a seat near the gate but out of sight of the departure display. At 11.35am I moved back to the gate in anticipation of boarding only to find the display had changed to 12.15pm boarding.

I went for a walk, bought myself a drink and returned to Gate 25 around 11.50am taking a seat, this time in sight of the departure display. Boarding was still listed for 12.15pm. About ten minutes later I noticed the display had gone blank. The lounge was still full of passengers, the aeroplane appeared to have been loaded and I assumed it wouldn't be long before we were called for the flight.

At about 12.20pm came an announcement that there was a change for our flight which now would depart from Gate 17. A couple of hundred passengers moved en masse to the new gate about a ten minutes' walk away. At Gate 17 our flight was displayed to be boarding at 12.35pm. We all took a seat at the new gate. My ears were glued to my iPod again.

Around 12.30pm I noticed that most of my fellow passengers had suddenly formed a queue at the airline service desk. Most had boarding passes in hand but I hadn't heard the announcement so wasn't sure exactly what had happened. I also noticed that not all the passengers had joined the queue so I waited a while keeping an eye on what was going on. I started to get the uneasy feeling that boarding passes were being replaced and that I should be in that queue too but still noticed that not everyone had joined the queue. Moments later my feeling was confirmed when I heard what I imagine was a second announcement that passengers for my flight were required to be issued with new boarding passes.

Joining the queue I saw that the passengers ahead of me, once in receipt of their new passes, were returning to the seats at Gate 17. Meanwhile and with me still to receive a new pass the clock had passed 12.35pm but still no boarding had commenced.

At last it was my turn at the service desk. I received my new pass and then was informed that the plane parked at Gate 17 was of a different type from that we were originally to travel so all business class passengers had been transferred to another flight altogether. I would have to make my way to Gate 24 for 1.05pm boarding. My bag would be transferred to that flight, the service attendant assured me confidently.

Another ten minutes' walk back through the terminal and I was at Gate 24 where there seemed to be few passengers waiting for the flight. I was a little concerned but soon after 1.05pm the flight was called and I finally departed Brisbane two hours and ten minutes later than originally scheduled.

We landed at Sydney at 4.00pm Sydney time; an on time arrival for that flight but two hours later than I had been booked. My bag was on the flight. I don't know the reason why we didn't travel by the original flight but I assume that 'technical fault' figures in the mix somewhere.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Best intentions....

....and actual achievement are not always the same thing; not with me anyway.

My best intentions were to post daily whilst I was in Brisbane over Christmas but my actual achievement in the five days I spent there was one brief message of seasonal goodwill.

The fact is that I enjoyed a mix of leisure and activity with my Brisbane friends to the extent that setting aside time to sit by the computer to compose half way comprehensible messages slipped far from the forefront of my mind. Maybe next year?

Anyway I'm back home in Sydney now and will endeavour to click my brain into gear for the resumption of postings. Come to think of it getting onto the flight home today is worth a small post so that will appear tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Enjoy the season and all that jazz

Whether or not you are celebrating something at this time of year I send you and those who are dear to you my best wishes.

Happy days.

Friday, 23 December 2011


A quick message to record that I am in the Qantas club lounge at Sydney Airport waiting for my flight to Brisbane for a holiday weekend stay.

Boy do my fellow passengers pile up the 'free' food on offer in the lounge. I'll hold off until the flight and settle for the lunch to be served then.....maybe......maybe not.

The Adelaide Reds soccer team is also in the lounge presumably waiting for a flight to Adelaide following their match here last night against Sydney FC. How nice it is to have fit young men around. And they look very sexy, as well as seasonal, in their red polo shirts. Apart from several overweight officials who manage to look daggy in the same clothing.

Unless something dramatic and unexpected happens my next posting will be from the Vegas of the north.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Gross und Klein (Big and Small)

(Sydney Theatre Company)

A German play with an English language text comprising ten scenes that presents contemporary scenes with vague allusions to Alice in Wonderland.

The principal character linking all the scenes is Lotte (Cate Blanchett) a woman who is possibly experiencing a nervous breakdown, who is hearing voices and who is engaged on a journey of sorts in which she encounters all manner of exotic urban characters.

Blanchett absolutely dominates Gross und Klein not simply because her character is on stage for almost every second of the play but for her extraordinary performance with it's massive range physically, emotionally and vocally.

Simple staging and lighting combine to produce a surprisingly effective stage image. The thirteen 'supporting' performers all contribute strongly in their cameos and multiple roles but it is Blanchett's night.

A memorable performance.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Sugar, schweppes, whatever....

I've been reflecting on my post from last Thursday about the politician swearing on live television. Readers under the age of 40 would probably find the issue fairly tame and might wonder why anyone would even raise the issue.

We hear swearing on television and in movies all the time now. Four letter words abound in movies and we scarcely notice them. A current reality series on Australian television features plenty of swearing from the three sons featured, one of whom - aged 14 - has several times shouted out 'fuck' in his parents' hearing.

It wasn't always that way. There was a time when swearing, of the four letter word variety, was taboo on television and in English language movies. Indeed that was still the case when I had reached adulthood and was into my twenties.

I can recall the first time I saw an English language movie that contained a four letter word. So remarkable was this development that I still remember the cinema where I saw it and even where I was seated. That's how shocking and memorable was that the moment.

It was 1972 and I was aged 23. I was at Sydney's Mayfair Theatre, which later closed in 1980. I was seated on the left hand side of the Dress Circle.

Mayfair Theatre in the 1960s when it screened 'Cleopatra'
What was the film that contained that first swear word I heard on screen? Surprisingly it was a musical. A very good musical indeed.

Yes, it was 'Cabaret' and to make the moment even more shocking that first four letter utterance was delivered by a woman. Midway through the film Liza Minnelli, in her character as Sally Bowles, has just suffered another ruinous relationship. She flops back on her bed and exclaims 'shit!'. Just the one word. Tame nowadays but in those days shocking enough for there to be dead quiet in the cinema afterwards. Sitting in that darkened auditorium I felt my face redden and burn with embarrassment for several minutes. Of course I was familiar with the word in all male environments but never till that time in mixed company, never in open company and never uttered by a female.

I know my upbringing was somewhat sheltered but I believe my stunned reaction was pretty common then. How times have changed.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to track down a file containing Russia's nuclear missile launch details. Of course that doesn't sound too simple and you just know complications will set in anyway but who better to handle them than intrepid Tom Cruise and his lady du jour. Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol is slick and full of high tech supported derring-do.

It's a load of nonsense really but all done very effectively. The scenes atop and outside Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower in Dubai, are surprisingly effective and suspenseful and I have to concede the set ups are really imaginative at times.

Cruise may have lost whatever was left of his fresh youthful look and his face is really starting to show his age but there is no questioning his energy which never flags.

I lost most of my understanding of what was going on at about the 90 minute mark with another hour still to go but the ride was entertaining despite that.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary tribute to a photographer who was previously unknown to me. Cunningham, aged in his eighties, cycles everywhere in New York photographing people on the streets, at their parties and at play. He focuses on what they are wearing and he has an envied skill for identifying not so much what is the fashion of the day but what is the fashion of the days to come. None other than the legendarily  fearsome Anna Wintour - on whom The Devil Wears Prada was based - lavishes praise on Cunningham during the documentary.

It seems that everyone in New York knows who Cunningham is and nearly everyone in New York is happy to be the subject of his candid snaps. He leads a remarkably modest life and the documentary highlights a number of the distinctively individual people who are among his favourite photographic subjects including a very stylised Dandy and a former UN Diplomat whose wardrobe isn't just loud, it bellows.

Cunningham is a very private man. Whilst everyone in New York knows Bill no one in New York knows much about Bill.

A fascinating documentary.

Friday, 16 December 2011

I'm ready for my blue screen Mr De Mille

Blue screen

It took a team of workers about four days last week to construct the massive scaffolding that now covers the thirteen stories of the south western corner of my building. This is preparatory work for the replacement of external brickwork. You can see a small piece of orange plastic in the upper right. That is one of the locations from where bricks either fell loose or were removed some weeks back in other preparatory activity.

A full week passed by from the completion of the scaffold construction with no work evident (to me) of brick replacement in the subsequent days. Then today I returned home to find this blue screen erected on the outside of the scaffold.

This view of it is from my dining room, six floors up from the ground level, looking through my new but now very dusty dining room window. You can see the outside world through the window dust and blue screen. Standing outside the building, however, the blue screen appears far denser and not transparent.

What do you think the screen protects? The workers, when they do appear, from the sun? Loose items from falling to the ground below where people and cars are still active? Any other suggestions?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Minister 'effs' himself

Australia's Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, dropped the coyly described 'F bomb' live on television during a lunchtime address he gave this week to the National Press Club.

Stephen Conroy
Rather apt for a communications Minister, don't you think? Well a few of the Minister's political opponents, some no doubt from his own Party quite apart from those in the Opposition, as well as the usual small legion of  the 'holier than thou' set don't think so and they have got stuck into him for this lapse in good manners.

In the grand scheme of things his careless slip of the tongue is scarcely a hanging offence no matter how much the opponents might bleat. Yes, Minister Conroy should have exercised sufficient discipline not to 'F' in broad daylight on a rarely viewed program but if that proves to be his only mistake in a political career then he will have done rather well.

The  Minister's bigger mistake to my mind was an apparent failure to take the heat out of the issue with an immediate and unequivocal admission of error and apology. All he had to do was say 'I was careless in my language, I didn't intend any offence and I apologise unreservedly to anyone I have offended'. All the wind would be taken from the sails of the whingers.

The former Queensland state Premier Peter Beattie was a master of the speedy admission of guilt plus apology strategy whenever he was caught out over a matter. In fact towards the end of his career these apologies were coming so regularly they were almost the only utterances we were hearing from him in the other states. So well did this strategy work for Beattie that he won a number of re-elections against predictions and was able to retire on his own terms rather than be bundled from office as was predicted would be his fate.

Getting back to Conroy, as recently as this morning the Sydney media has quoted his staff as saying the Minister did nothing wrong. The needless and rather silly fire keeps being stoked.

Most politicians never seem to learn.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A sportsman great, I do not make

It is often said that one characteristic of great sportspeople is their capacity to focus on the 'moment'. They do not dwell on the setbacks of the past. It is a trait I wish I possessed.

I learnt to play bridge about twenty years ago with a number of aims, one of which was to improve my concentration; to fine tune my focus. It has worked to a degree but by no means absolutely.

Playing bridge involves an etiquette similar to golf. All competitors should be polite and genteel and take setbacks as well as triumphs with equanimity. Privately you might wish to separate your opponent's head from their shoulders and at times you might wish to perpetrate something even worse to your own partner but on the surface all should be sportingly fair, full of grace, behaviour characterised by modesty and good humour. It's a tough standard few of us achieve without exception.

In last night's game we were matched in round 2 against two men who mostly are pleasant opponents. I'd never known either of them to be difficult with us. They could afford these high standards against us as they usually play very strongly at our table and get the better of us in play. Last night, however, we took the player in the West seat down in a slam contract he thought he should have made. Indeed he could have made his contract but the fact is that he didn't. That should have been the end of it but West, annoyed by his defeat, believed that my partner, in the South seat, had mislead him when he asked her to explain my card play. West expressed that opinion petulantly at the table. This is a breach of etiquette. If West believed that he had been unfairly disadvantaged by South's response to his question it was open to him to call the Director (a sort of manager cum adjudicator of play) and request a ruling.

West made no attempt to call the Director. I'm sure that was because he knew that no breach of rules or unfair play had occurred. My partner had answered West's question correctly but the fact that the card play on that hand forced me to depart from our usual playing agreement was just one of things that arise when playing bridge.

That's where I should have left the matter. I should not have taken the bait of his aggression. West was in the wrong and I should have stayed mute. But I didn't. I responded with a sharp retort that was only marginally less a breach of etiquette than West's petulance. Having lost my cool I then started to mull over the incident. This is my weakness. Well, it is one of my weaknesses. Now I had another two and half of hours of card play to negotiate and all the while my concentration was shot. I felt myself red in the face and no doubt my blood pressure had risen and all while I had to continue playing to the best of my ability as the other East/West pairs took their turn at our table.

In those circumstance my play usually falls away and we (South and I) end up with a low score for the night and an even lower position in the field. Late in the night, in the second last round, I made two errors of judgement that contributed directly to very low scores for two hands. For the rest, though, my score sheet indicated that we weren't doing too badly despite my mind being off with the pixies. Or should that be off with the demons?

It turns out that we finished second in the North/South field with 58.80%. This is a score which wins plenty of nights and is as high as we been placed in quite a while. We were pretty happy. What about the offending (offensive) West? He and his partner finished in the lower half of the East/West field with a percentage well below what they typically achieve. Justice was done in our minds.

Yet again I will urge myself to show restraint in future. But I'm only human. A sportsman great, I do not make. I know I'll take the bait again some time.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Never mind the length, feel the quality...

Who dreams up these things?.......

Sadly, I can see an Irish joke coming. Oh, and at the other end of the scale I'll save you the trouble of engorging the diagram. Get your visas for Hungary and France.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

'New Year's Eve'

Why oh why does Hollywood produce movies like 'New Year's Eve'? You know the type. Gather a cast of stars celebrities 'du jour' sufficient to fill a double-decker bus and match them up in supposedly humorous, heart warming and suspenseful vignettes. Garry Marshall did it in 'Valentine's Day' last year and tries it again here. Marshall even re-uses stars celebrities like Jessica BielHector Elizondo and Ashton Kutcher from the earlier movie, albeit as different characters.

The formula remains the same. Create a patchwork of occasionally intersecting stories that cover the gamut from A to Z or in this case from birth through regeneration to death and leave it to the stars celebrities to generate sparks to ignite the audience. The only problem is that most of them do not spark either individually or in their assigned pairs.

Kutcher and Lea Michele make for as dull a coupling as you could imagine whilst the pairing of Zac Efron and a glammed-down Michelle Pfeiffer does not work at all. Robert De Niro must have smiled all the way  to the bank for his scenes - all but one - filmed in a bed. They probably took no more than a day or two to complete. Sofia Vergara at least shows some signs of life whilst Jon Bon Jovi was the highlight for me but only because he fills his jeans so spectacularly well.

The film is not particularly humorous. It's 'heart-warming' moments left me feeling icky very much in the way I used to feel as a young man in the moments immediately after ejaculating over myself. The suspenseful moments are not particularly thrilling although one relationship is quite nicely concealed until the end 'reveal'.

It doesn't say much for the movie that it's best and only sustained moments of entertainment come at the closing credits which comprise bloopers and excised moments of cast playfulness. This film may well have departed Sydney screens by the time we reach it's titular event, only three weeks away.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

'No Man's Land'

(Sydney Theatre Company)

Two men share a drink and chat in a lavish library in the home of one of them. It appears they have met each other for the first time in a local pub that evening. But have they? As their conversation continues it seems they may have connected pasts. But have they? Their conversation suggests that one or both may be gay? Or are they? Maybe they are straight? Maybe they are bisexual?

The host has two younger male companions. Or are they carers? Are the younger men friendly or malevolent?

Harold Pinter's 'No Man's Land' was created as a star vehicle for the fine British actors John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson (both now deceased) so the play is packed with dense and showy dialogue. Two equivalent long serving senior actors of the Australian stage, Peter Carroll and John Gaden provide the flourishes in this production.

The STC's program notes indicate the play is about 'making stuff up and the slipperiness of memory'. That helps explain why I wasn't really sure just what I had seen as I departed the theatre. Mk was similarly perplexed. But it was an entertaining night watching two fine, experienced performers using their skills and wiles to the extract the most from the heady script. The two younger actors were pretty good too.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

'But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?'*

(*The balcony scene, Act 2 Scene 2, 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare)

My apartment building has resembled a construction zone for the past four months as workers undertake the massive task of replacing all the windows, frames and balcony doors. The contractor has blocked off a fair percentage of our beautiful grounds for their work area and uses a shipping container to house the new material. Each weekday morning at 7.30 they commence work in earnest and the sounds of drilling, hammering,  tugging and plundering fill the air. I know the latter two are not construction terms but that is what I imagine when I hear them at work. This project will continue into the new year before it is completed.

On the weekend a second contractor joined the fun delivering extraordinary quantities of scaffolding. This lot is for the replacement of bricks that cover the 13 storeys' tall building. The bricks that cover the building are cosmetic. The bricks do not hold the building together. They are designed to provide a more attractive 'skin' than the concrete or whatever it is they conceal that actually does that job. Unfortunately those bricks, now in place for 43 years, have started to fall out. Hence the replacement project.

Yesterday, Monday, whilst I was at the hospital the brick contractor constructed his scaffolding on the rear side of the building to the level of my dining room, six storeys up. The workers were gone from the site by the time I returned home.

This morning as I dressed for the hospital I heard the usual sounds of activity at 7.30 and looked down from my front window (the lounge room) to check that the window contractor had commenced work and I observed the familiar sight of their activity.

Thinking nothing of it I continued my preparations. Sitting bare torsoed I was putting on my shoes when I suddenly realised that the sounds of work were not coming from ground level at the front of the building but from the rear as construction of the scaffold for the brick work had resumed. I had completely forgotten about the new construction and there I was semi naked in full view of the scaffold workers.

Scaffold workers seen through my dining room window
Now there were times in my younger days when the thought of hefty tradesmen at my door with me semi naked and available would have set of all manner of sexual fantasies but I am older and sadly more conservative nowadays and my reaction was embarrassment followed by a speedy relocation out of their sight.

When I returned from my day at the hospital 7 hours later the smiling workers were still constructing their tower of Babel.

The growing Tower of Babel
I will be more prepared for my balcony scene tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Lunch and marriage...go together like a horse and carriage

The Council's Christmas Tree in Martin Place
Arriving by train at Martin Place yesterday for lunch with Da who is visiting from Canberra for the weekend to attend the Australian Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet I snapped this photograph of Sydney Council's Christmas Tree.

Behind me and intentionally out of camera range was a modest gathering arguing to 'maintain marriage'; ie anti same sex unions. Earlier I had heard on news bulletins pro same sex union protesters drowning out the speeches of this group but all was quiet as I passed by.

I guess that the pro same sex union gatherers would have moved on by then to nearby Hyde Park for their meeting.

I met Da in Pitt Street Mall and we walked over to the Strand Arcade for lunch and a long gossip. We sat at one of the tables in the long aisle of the arcade and from my seat I could see the opening to the Mall in the distance. Whilst we ate I first heard and then glimpsed the same sex union supporters walking by the arcade on their way to Darling Harbour where only minutes earlier the Australian Labor Party had voted to include same sex unions in party policy. I could tell, both from the noise and what I could glimpse in the distance, that there were many more people participating in the pro same sex union rally.

Da and I chatted on for a long while. My lunch of sourdough toasted BLT with chicken was delicious. I can recommend it. On the other hand, Da's choice of sour dough toast and vegemite looked...well...a little dry.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Full moon

It was a strange day at the hospital yesterday with all manner of off-centre people and situations. I won't go into details to protect privacy and (more personally) my position as a volunteer. Around 2.30pm as my work day was approaching it's end I turned to my paid colleague and commented 'it must be a full moon'. Knowing just what I meant, she agreed without hesitation.

And then James tweeted this. Yes, there was something in the air.

P.S. Just noticed that the link doesn't work so here is what James tweeted...

Is it a full moon, or does it just seem like one? :)

Friday, 2 December 2011

There's nothing to do...

Shouldn't really winge that there's nothing to do in Sydney today.

Among other things I could attend...

Eminem's Sydney concert with 55,000 others just a couple of kilometres from my home, or

Australian Labor's National Conference with a whole lot of ratbags, errr idealists, another couple of kilometres away, or

The ear splitting V8 Supercars yet another few kilometres away with it's 'high-octane days of non-stop entertainment combining a hair-raising street race with two nights of sensational concerts'.

I think I'll forego all three for a night at home on the sofa in front of the television whilst the week's laundry hums away in the background.Yes, it's an exciting life!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Summer...wherefore art thou?

Today is the first day of summer in Australia where we mark the change of seasons from the first day of the month. No namby-pamby waiting for mid-month solstices and equinoxes for us.

Unfortunately no-one told summer. The maximum in Sydney today was a rather cool 18c and was made to feel cooler by the wind chill factor.

Foolishly I met Kn for lunch in the city wearing shorts thinking it couldn't really feel that cold outdoors. It did. Luckily I brought a jumper which was sorely needed.