Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Under Milk Wood

(Sydney Theatre Company)

I'm a Philistine. I prefer plays that use prose language rather than poetry, blank verse or the like. That's why I approached this production of 'Under Milk Wood' with some trepidation which was not eased by Jack Thompson's opening monologue as First Narrator. Standing on a darkened, completely bare stage Thompson delivered the monologue beautifully but it contained language I simply did not understand.

I need not have worried. Once this 'play for voices' got underway the cast of ten provided a beautiful, funny and delightful presentation of the lives of the eccentric folk of the fictional Welsh town of Llareggub. There is not much that actually occurs in the play, yet there is plenty of activity.

I didn't expect to love it...but I did.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Vivid nights in Sydney

The annual Vivid Sydney festival is underway. Part of the Festival involves evening light displays beamed on Sydney CBD buildings including the sails of the Opera House.

Coming out of the Opera House after last night's performance of 'Under Milk Wood' - more on that separately - Cs and I took in some of the splendid displays around Circular Quay. Here are some snaps I took with my iPhone.

3D patterns across the sails
Woman floating over the sail
Woman diving down sail
Woman still doing her thing seen from a distance
Light boxes with the Harbour Bridge in background
3D display on Museum of Contemporary Art
Walkway at East Circular Quay
AMP Building and Marriott Hotel illuminated
There were thousands of people around the Quay on this Monday evening and they packed the outdoor cafes. Within ten minutes of Cs and I boarding our bus for home the heavens opened and the rain poured.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Woman in Black

It is early in the twentieth century and a solicitor, Daniel Radcliffe, is sent to a small village in the north east of England to sort out the papers for a deceased woman. The solicitor is on a final warning for lack of performance - we never learn the nature of this - and he is told that the local solicitor has been unhelpful in the matter. Radcliffe finds the members of the village are mostly unhelpful, mysterious and secretive. As he pursues his enquiries Radcliffe's character, himself a single father of a young boy, learns about a series of deaths involving local children.

I've been told that 'The Woman in Black' is taken not only from a novel but also from a long running stage play second only in the length of its run to Agatha Christie's legendary 'The Mousetrap'. I find the latter claim to be scarcely believable on the evidence of this slight and unconvincing film.

There are some fine images but despite the best efforts of the performers, the eerie soundtrack and the direction this presumably intended scary film remains resolutely unscary.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Hello there, Sweden!

I just heard on the news that Sweden has won this year's Eurovision song contest. James must be ecstatic.

Checking the results on the website I notice that elder statesman Englebert Humperdinck was no help to Britain's cause as that country finished second last.

As usual, I did not watch a second of it.

Rebel and Desire

James Dean and Marlon Brando

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Stockholm magic

This presentation in Stockholm is very clever.....

It would please James I imagine.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Then and now

I had planned to include a 'then' photo in this post from Andrew's blog but unfortunately I haven't been able to locate the relevant post from his site.

Let me go back a step. In my memory (and mind's eye) a few weeks (months?) back Andrew posted historic photographs of trams in Sydney one of which was taken near the corner of Queen Street and Ocean St, Woollahra. That intersection is quite near to where I live and at the time of Andrew's post I made a mental note to take a photograph from the same position for comparison.

As is my habit it has taken me weeks (months?) to follow through on my promise. Today was the day. I found myself at that intersection on my constitutional this afternoon, remembered that promise and took my photograph even though conditions for photography were not absolutely ideal with the afternoon sun in the snap.

Here is the 'now' photograph taken, I believe, from a similar position to that in Andrew's historic photo but of course minus the tram and tram lines which were removed in the 1960s.

Queen Street Woollahra, May 2012

So what has happened to the 'then' photo? Well I searched for it using Andrew's blog tags but obviously I can't read Andrew's mind as well as I imagined. I tried 'tram', 'transport', 'sydney', 'history', 'old' and even 'quiz' with no success. I even went back in his archives about 6 months but still no luck.

Perhaps what I remember as a blog post from Andrew was an email but thinking it through is giving me a headache. I give up!

UPDATE: Andrew confirms it was an email message and not his blog. So here is the 'then' photo (courtesy of Andrew);

Queens Street, Woollahra tram and tracks

Thursday, 24 May 2012

An 'inspiration'

Doctors' waiting rooms are well named. You spend a lot of time waiting in them.

I had to see my doctor today simply to renew my prescriptions. As usual I arrived ten minutes ahead of my appointment time. As usual my doctor was behind time. Thirty five minutes after the scheduled time, that is forty-five minutes after my arrival, I was called in. I requested the new prescriptions.

After a dash of flattery - 'you are looking very well' - came the report of previous tests.

Blood tests, a tick but I should spend a few minutes in the sun at midday because my Vitamin D reading is a little low. 
Blood pressure, a tick. Good readings 
Cholesterol, a tick. Medication is keeping it under control. 
Weight, a little up. Keep with the walking regime. 
Lung capacity, still poor. Keep using the puffers.

'How old are you now?' '63 next month'  'You are an inspiration'. End of consultation.

So. Who was flattering whom? He was flattering me. I didn't believe a word of it.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Confidential, Lyons, Venus

The last day of the Sydney Writers Festival 2012. I had three booked sessions and added two other 'walk up' sessions to the day.

First up was 'Sydney Confidential' in which journalists Fiona Harari and Geesche Jacobsen discussed their books respectively about the former Federal Court Judge who lied in court rather than pay a small traffic fine (Marcus Einfeld) and about the woman who embarked on a cruise, accepted drugs from strangers, and ended up dead (Diane Brimble). Both cases fascinated Sydney for years and it was interesting to revisit them.

Queueing for 'Sydney Confidential'

Then followed 'Joseph Lyons PM: Labor 'rat' or pure patriot?' Author Anne Henderson (spouse of Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute) discussed Lyons' life and career with former NSW Labor politician Rodney Cavalier. I must say I knew very little about Lyons and was surprised to learn amongst other things that he was one our longest serving Prime Ministers. From Henderson's comments it is clear that I am not alone in my ignorance.

Third up was 'iSpy'. When we 'Google', use the internet or make telephone calls every key stroke volunteers information about us to companies and Governments. Should we be worried, was the question in this session. The initial answer was 'no' but after hearing what youthful panellists Stilgherrian, Thomas Tudehope and Radio National's Marc Fennell had to say, I wasn't so sure.

The youthful 'iSpy' panel

My fourth session was 'Found in Translation: Film Adaptation'. This session was about the dangers and rewards of re-interpreting the classics on screen. Panellists were Craig Pearce ('Strictly Ballroom' and 'The Great Gatsby'), Jane Scott ('Shine' and 'Mao's Last Dancer') and Michael Petroni (the 'Narnia' series). The session was targeted at practitioners but as an interested observer I was fascinated by this inside examination of the thought processes in move making.

In the audience for 'Found in Translation'

My fifth and final session for the day, fittingly was the Festival's final official session, the 'Closing Address: Dava Sobel Regarding the Transit of Venus'. Ms Sobel delivered a presentation on the history of the observations of the Transit of Venus which is of relevance to contemporary Australia as Captain James Cook encountered the east coast of our land during his mission to observe the 1769 Transit. Ms Sobel's passion for the subject was infectious.

The presentation was also timely as the next Transit (there are only two in each century) will be on 6 June this year and will be visible in full from Sydney between 8.15am and 2.15pm. We shouldn't miss it, Ms Sobel advised, as the following Transit will not occur until 2117!

And so, that concluded Mt's and my participation in the 2012 Festival. It was a very enjoyable period. On our way to catch the bus home we passed Sydney's old  Customs House decoratively lit, perhaps in preparation for 'Vivid Sydney' which gets underway on Friday. Looks like it will be fun.

Customs House

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Homosexual, Private Lives, Western Sydney

No, the post heading is not some sort of cryptic 'who am I' clue but the titles of the three sessions I attended today at the Sydney Writers Festival 2012.

First up Dennis Altman discussed his re-released book 'Homosexual' with Anton Enus of the SBS. Altman certainly has moved in celebrity circles judging from the name dropping at this session, a fact he cheerfully, almost gleefully, acknowledged. As a man of a similar age to myself, I guess, Altman's reminiscences about being gay in Australia in the 1960/70s was pretty familiar to me.

Then three female biographers discussed how far you can go in revealing private lives. Anne Sebba found herself almost disbelievingly in possession of letters from Wallace Simpson whilst Hilary McPhee had to fathom a way to bring Tim Burstall's diaries to the public and Susan Swingler struggled through the intimacy of her father's letters to her step-mother Elizabeth Jolley.

Finally, encouraging literary creativity in the culturally diverse youth of western Sydney taxed the minds of the youthful panel that was Mohammed Ahmad, Judith Ridge, Felicity Castagna and Oliver Phommavanh who generated easily the feistiest session I have attended so far at this year's festival.

A few photos from the day.

Taking a break in the Sydney Dance Company cafe

Seniors awaiting the start of Private Lives

Western youths

Passing you-know-what on the way home

Friday, 18 May 2012

Spooky Tweets

Mt and I had a grand day and evening at the Writers Festival.

It was a gorgeous morning as we pulled into Circular Quay railway station around 9.20am from where we strolled around to the Hickson Road festival venues which is where we are focussing most our attention. By my count there are at least twelve areas in the precinct staging festival events, mostly simultaneously. With events programmed at 60 and 90 minute intervals there is plenty to choose from. There are also events at other locations around greater Sydney and in the nearby Blue Mountains.

View from the Circular Quay railway platform as we disembarked the train

We called into the Sydney Dance Company cafe for morning tea before our first booked sessions and unexpectedly came across a live broadcast on Radio National's Book Program with Dame Stella Rimington, ex head of Britain's MI5. We stayed on for interviews with authors Roddy Doyle and Sebastian Barry.

Dame Stella Rimington on air

My first booked session was 'It Takes Balls' in which authors Chad Harbach and Malcolm Knox discussed the literary appeal of baseball and cricket. Knox told numerous humorous anecdotes from his past and to my delight Harbach mentioned several baseball situations which I recall hearing about in BBC World Service podcasts thus completing a circle of knowledge for me.

I spent the 'lunch break' sitting in on ABC 702 Local Radio's live broadcast from the festival. James Valentine was delivering his afternoon program and this was a real delight. It was casual, relaxed and totally entertaining. Next year I must set aside a day, or at least a good part of a day, just for this event.

James Valentine, in the distance wearing a red top

My afternoon booked session was 'Modified Tweet' in which broadcaster Mark Colvin and journalist and commentator Catherine Deveny discussed their prolific use of Twitter and its impact on language.

Later, we wandered around the Hickson Road venues soaking up atmosphere and autumn sun.

Crowds outside the Philharmonia venue
Queues on Pier 4 for events in Sydney Dance Company venues

We had two evening sessions booked, both scheduled for the Sydney Town Hall. The earlier session was 'Can't Be That Hard' a recent quote from our Prime Minister when she asked the media to stop printing 'crap'. The participants were journalists George Megalogenis, Peter Hartcher and Annabel Crabb, Malcom Turnbull MP and press whiz kid and Press Officer for ousted Prime Minister Rudd, Lachlan Harris.

Audience waiting for 'Cant Be That Hard'

The second session was 'You Must Have Something to Hide' about drawing the line between the public and private with ex MI5 head, Dame Stella Rimington, former CIA operative Glenn Carle, ex High Court Justice Michael Kirby, blogger Jeff Jarvis and journalist/investigator Heather Brooke.

Both sessions were stimulating.

Mt and I were pretty well exhausted when we boarded the train home at 10pm.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Privacy and dignity

Mt and I attended two sessions at the Writers Festival today.

The first titled 'MYOB' related to privacy issues. Have we surrendered our privacy to Google and social media sites was one question asked of author and journalist Heather Brooke whose investigations reported on WikiLeaks founder Julian AssangeBrooke's arguments were thought provoking and she provided an entertaining and eye opening anecdote detailing an exchange of emails between herself and Assange.

Waiting for MYOB in Pier 2/3
The other session was simply titled Michael Kirby. The former High Court Justice discussed growing up gay in 1950s Australia and gave his views about fairness and equality in today's society. The session, as I expected, was well received by a large and sympathetic audience.

Filing into the Sydney Theatre for Michael Kirby

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Walk on by

I've missed posting for a few days mostly because I've been tied up with a number of issues including assisting a mate who is recovering from a hospital procedure and preparing for a house guest arriving this evening with whom I'll be attending sessions of the Sydney Writers Festival 2012 for the remainder of the week.

I'll aim to resume regular posting now.

In the meantime I made an attempt at some more serious exercise, at least in the form of walking, starting last Sunday. I did a circuit of Centennial Park which took me the best part of an hour by proceeding at a steady pace.

Families pushing prams overtook me

I have to admit the 'walk' included a ten minute wait in the queue at the kiosk to purchase a fizzy drink and a lamington. I know, I know; that's not serious enough but I couldn't resist. However I will endeavour to stick at it. Listening to podcasts as I walk certainly helps.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

King of Devil's Island

(Norwegian with English sub-titles)

Said to be based on a true story, the setting is a boy's home on the Norwegian island of Bastoy in 1915. Two new inmates are delivered to this desolate island and it is immediately clear one of them is not cowered by what awaits him.

For the next two hours 'King of Devil's Island' delivers child brutality in a wintery setting under the supposedly compassionate, if firm, guidance of the Church. This and variations of it seems to me a familiar and recurring theme in Scandinavian movies.

For most of its length the movie feels a bit off the mark for me however the final fifteen minutes or so are easily the best and most impressive scenes. The acting is impressive but I have one minor quibble that the leading 'boy', Benjamin Helstad, does a good job but looks too old for his role.

The locations are suitably grim and chilling and I assumed would be typical of remote areas of Norway so I was somewhat surprised to learn afterwards that the film was made in Estonia.

Friday, 11 May 2012

60 minutes....

I don't venture into the CBD during business hours all that much since I retired from paid employment and now when I do I find the crowds that I used to feel a part of somewhat amusing.

Arriving at the CBD's busiest railway station, Town Hall, at the morning peak yesterday morning I was a bit taken aback at the sight of fifty or so people milling around a hole in the wall coffee shop on the station concourse.

Sharp eyed readers might notice the floor stickers advertising 'Sixty Minutes of free Coffee'. There were plenty of takers, many more than evident from my photograph. I suspect the 'sixty minutes' might have referred to the wait they faced to collect their ordered coffees as much as to the period of the promotion.

I wonder if the harried looking staff behind the counter were silently cursing whoever dreamt up the idea.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Is my hair cut too short?

...some of my friends think so...

Me, after my latest zero cut today

What's the fuss, it grows back anyway.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Wish You Were Here

'Wish You Were Here' opens with two Australian couples - a husband and wife, the wife's sister and the sister's boyfriend - on holiday in Cambodia. When the married couple return to Australia the sister stays on in Cambodia because her boyfriend has gone missing. It is soon clear that the husband knows something about the matter but the mystery of the boyfriend's disappearance remains. When the sister returns to Australia with her boyfriend still missing information behind the mystery slowly emerges. The eventual explanation is well concealed until the final scenes.

This is a quality film. It is well acted, taut throughout and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Lady

'The Lady' is a biographical film of the Burmese democratic political leader Aung San Suu Kyi. I think that the film presumes a degree of knowledge that I must admit I didn't possess but it is an interesting presentation nonetheless.

The film is as much an exploration of Suu's family as it is a political expose. In fact I didn't think the film scratched much below the surface in telling how Suu pursued her political interests. There must be so much more that could have been told. Late in the movie, when Suu is talking to her husband, she refers to her temper and lack of patience, two characteristics notably absent in the film's portrayal of her.

Predictably the film presents a very sympathetic portrait of 'the Lady'. Michelle Yeoh does a fine job in the title role reflecting the dignified public face of Suu's character in her performance.

Saturday, 5 May 2012


The Sulman Prize for subject, genre or mural painting is awarded in conjunction with the Archibald Prize.

I had good reasons to think of Andrew whilst viewing the work in this category as there were two items related to trams.

One was Luke Barker's oil painting 'Once Upon a Time' set in the old Glebe tram sheds in Sydney.

'Once Upon a Time' by Luke Barker

The other was Beppie Hedditch's 'Past Melbourne Icon Remembers' featuring 'trammie' Kevin Tierney.

'Past Melbourne Icon Remembers by Beppie Hellditch

The notes for this work state

My subject is Kevin Tierney. He used to work as a conductor and driver on the Melbourne trams. He belongs to a group of ‘trammies’ as they call themselves who love trams and are trying to bring back the conductors on the Melbourne trams. I know some of the group as I used to work as a counsellor for the tram employees some years ago.
I met Kevin about two years ago at the screening of a film about trams. He had his green uniform on and I asked if I could paint him. He’s one of a kind. He’s a very funny man and he has a wonderful collection of tram memorabilia.

As an uniformed 'trammie' myself I loved both works. I wonder if Andrew knows Kevin?


Today, one of the major banks arranged free entry for its cardholders into the Archibald Prize 2012. I took advantage of the offer this morning before meeting up with My for a movie. I walked through the Domain to the Art Gallery.

The Domain, quiet on a Saturday morning

NSW Art Gallery just before opening time

The waiting crowd was as interesting as some of the artwork.

Enjoying the sun whilst waiting for entry

By opening time several hundred people were queued for entry and once inside it took me twenty minutes before I was able to collect my ticket.

The queue for tickets, deeper than this photo suggests

Viewing art is a tiring activity for some.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

The title says it all. 'The Five-Year Engagement' is about a couple who become engaged and whose engagement extends to five years because of a series of unplanned occurrences. As romantic comedies go this probably seemed a good idea but it all comes across a bit muddled.

Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are individually likeable but made for an unconvincing couple in the early scenes. Some of the situations that cause the engagement to be extended are repetitive blunting the humour. Other situations are tangental suggesting to me that someone thought they were humorous and included them regardless of their relevance.

Australia's Jackie Weaver does well in a supporting role. Segel seems to be quite an exhibitionist. Having shown us his crown jewels in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall', he now gives us a good peek at his backside. I wonder what Segel will reveal next?

At just over two hours in length, 'The Five-Year Engagement' has its moments but overstays it welcome not by five years but by about half an hour.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Fire down below

New South Head Road, Edgecliff
Smoke and gas from an electrical sub-station two blocks from my home disrupted traffic and electricity supplies to 2,200 homes and businesses this afternoon. Four sets of traffic lights were also out of action.

I heard the news on the car radio as I departed the nursing home and hoped all would be clear by the time I reached the location. Traffic congestion as I emerged from the Cross City Tunnel indicated clearly that the emergency was not yet over.

Luckily as I crawled the three hundred or so metres from the tunnel exit and reached a makeshift detour around Rushcutters Bay Park, the police reopened one lane heading in my direction and I got through without diversion.

I didn't yet know it as I took this photograph but the substation in question was where the firemen, dressed in yellow, are congregated at the left of the picture. Apparently two workers were sent to hospital with effects from an explosion.

Twenty minutes later and this section of road would be even more chaotic with the Mother's pick up run at the exclusive girl's school Ascham just ahead. They illegally block one lane every school day afternoon for about thirty minutes from 3pm. I'm glad I beat that today.

The best news for me was that my building turned out not to be one of the 2,200 that had their electricity cut off.