Thursday, 30 January 2014

Waiting for technician

Do you know 'Waiting for Godot'? It is the play where the two main characters spend the entire three hours waiting for this person Godot to arrive but he never does.

Waiting for Godot

That is how I feel sometimes when I have booked a technician's or service call. I booked a dishwasher service call this week. I inherited the dishwasher when I bought this apartment last year. I know the dishwasher works. I saw it work once. But I and my friends have been unable to make it work since.

The instructions are so simple. Close the door and select the wash program. Then it works. Except that it doesn't. There is some quirk to making this dishwasher work but I can't remember what it is. Hence the technician's service call.

Whenever I book a service call and I am told the call will be between X hours and Y hours on a certain day I start to go into a mild panic if the serviceperson hasn't called within, say, thirty minutes of X. 'What if the booking hasn't really been made' I start to worry. 'Will I sit here all the way through to Y and the serviceperson is not coming because the booking wasn't made' I think. 'What if the serviceperson would still have called notwithstanding the booking 'foul up' if only I had rung to check within thirty minutes of X' I ponder 'but that won't happen now because I didn't check quickly enough'. Sounds neurotic, no? A sort of George Costanza moment. Well, that's me.

Back to the dishwasher. Thirty minutes after X hours and there is no call. An hour after X hours and still no call. My mind is starting to go through the aforementioned mild panic. One hour and fifty-five minutes after X which is also one hour and five minutes before Y he telephones. He will be with me at Y plus one hour. Ten minutes later he telephones again, he will in fact be with me in twenty minutes.

And so it proves. Twenty minutes on and a young and very attractive young technician is at my door. An hour later my dishwasher is pulled from under the counter, on its side and half dismantled. The technician cannot work out the problem other than the timer is probably not working and would likely cost half the price of a new dishwasher to replace. My dishwasher is at least 18 years old and with only about two years of its average life left I'm not comfortable spending half the price of a new model to keep it going only for that period. He will report to his superiors that he can't repair the dishwasher.

The technician reassembles the dishwasher, puts it back in its place and almost for old time's sake he presses the program knob as a farewell gesture. To the astonishment of us both the dishwasher starts up!

Godot arrives after all!!!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Travelling North

(Sydney Theatre Company)

David Williamson's 1979 play 'Travelling North' is being restaged at the moment by the Sydney Theatre Company.

The play is about a 70s something male and his relatively new 50s something partner moving north to  a warmer climate to set up home in the Australian state of Queensland leaving behind their adult urban rat race daughters and their families.

In this staging Bryan Brown is a good selection for the cantankerous male although for much of the play he looks a little bit too fit to be in the middling, soon to be terminal, poor health of his character. Alison Whyte is excellent as the partner.

For the most part Williamson's play, still in its late 1960s early 1970s setting, stands up remarkably well forty years on although some political and social references may go over the heads of today's younger audience members. Nevertheless the humour remains throughout.

The staging is minimalist but effective and the performances all very strong. A good start for the Sydney Theatre Company's 2014 season.
★★★★

Monday, 27 January 2014

A weekend at the beach

When I was posted to Beijing, our Embassy had access to a beach house in the sea side resort of Beidaihe. It was all very basic by the standards we were accustomed to at home but the resort's history as playground reward for the Communist Party's favoured members was well known.

There were a few weeks in summer when the climate encouraged a visit. This involved a train trip from memory of about three hours each way so at best we got to make one or two weekend visits in a year. Once there the accommodation was not exactly glamorous.


I suspect the sleeping arrangements might be more up market nowadays than on this visit in 1981.


There was no surf but the beach was quite pleasant. Goodness knows what I was doing here. Perhaps trying to bury the photo?


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Now, what was I just saying....

....about 'now and then' photo opportunities?


Some scenes - Oz Day 2014

On Sydney Harbour, Australia Day 2014.

The annual ferry boat race makes its way down harbour.


Meanwhile a little further down harbour a sail boat race is a far more serene sight.


Minutes later the ferry boat race is headed back up the harbour and passing the Pacific Pearl, one of two cruise ships anchored mid harbour for the day.


Australia Day inevitably throws up 'then and now' photo opportunities.


Oz Day

Skyworks in Perth

Today is Australia Day.

The date marks the arrival of the First Fleet from Britain in 1788 to establish a settlement at Sydney Cove in Britain's name and the raising of the Union flag by Governor Arthur Phillip.

Given that Aborigines had already occupied the land for upwards of 40,000 years the celebration remains a matter for contention however most of the 21st Century occupants of the country take the opportunity to celebrate their good fortune to be citizens here.

The country is not perfect by any means - is there a country in the world that is perfect? - some present day attitudes and Government policies leave something to be desired.

The bottom line is there is nowhere else I'd rather live than here.

So, happy Australia Day everyone.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Physio first

When we were cruising New Zealand before Christmas one of my fellow travellers, Ba, mentioned how she had received relief from some episodes of vertigo and imbalance when she visited a Physiotherapy Clinic local to both our residences.

I've been experiencing similar difficulties on a recurring basis for over four years ever since suffering some ear damage during a flight into Sydney following my 60th birthday. In that period the doctors treating me had the opinion that there was no particular treatment to clear me of the problems which would eventually clear themselves and that I should just be patient until that happened.

After returning from the cruise and with episodes of mild vertigo and imbalance continuing I decided to try the Clinic used by Ba.

I had my first consultation this week. I showed the Physiotherapist scans that were taken of my neck and spine from the Doctors' consultations. The Physiotherapist observed tightness in my neck and she carried out some manipulation to work on that condition. I can't describe what she did other than to post the following picture which looks a bit like what I felt she was doing to me.


Her fingers poked into my neck, at times applying considerable pressure and at other times appearing to do little more than supporting my head.

Afterwards I felt different. I felt a more alert and I was immediately encouraged that her work to loosen my neck could be helpful to address the episodes.

Then I made the mistake of Googling 'neck manipulation' and found references to a link between manipulation and occurrences of stroke. The occurrences, admittedly, are quite low and seemingly not much different from the rate of occurrences in the community generally. I really should avoid consulting Doctor Google.

Anyway, seventy-two hours after the Physio's initial treatment I continue to feel improvement in my condition. I shall be going back for my second treatment.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Her


Where does our relationship with technology begin and end? Where is our relationship with technology headed as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated? Where is our relationship with other humans headed when we (some of us, most of us?) are becoming increasingly dependent on our technology?

I don't know if these are the questions Spike Jonze is asking in his movie 'Her' but they are the sort of questions that occurred to me. In the film, set in the not too distant future, a lonely writer of letters for others too busy or no longer able to write their own personal letters, develops a relationship with his intuitive (anyone for an Apple Mac?) new operating system.

It seems a fanciful notion yet a notion not so unrealistic when one considers the extent to which we are becoming 'wedded to' our tablets, smart phones and digital players.

The world Jonze paints is a crowded yet a curiously lonely one. People speak but there is little noise. There are crowds of people yet most are non connecting individuals or as we soon realise they are individuals connecting with others sight unseen.

The writer (Joaquin Phoenix) has to perform many of his scenes with the disembodied voice of his operating system (Scarlett Johansson) which poses obvious acting challenges for both performers. The performances are mostly effective.

There are a few uncomfortable moments; some of the sex scenes felt somewhat unnerving to me, but here is a film with an original and contemporarily relevant idea.
★★★

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Hollywood has done very well out of CIA operative Jack Ryan. No matter which actor portrays him, no matter his age, no matter the setting, they keep churning out movies with this character and we keep on going to see them.

In 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' it is back to the future and we see how Ryan, portrayed this time by the startlingly blue eyed Chris Pine, was recruited into the CIA following a period of recuperation after an incident in Afghanistan. He is employed as an economic analyst looking for signs of economic terrorism and he discovers something awry with, you guessed it, investment accounts in Russia.

That's the catalyst for this latest Ryan adventure.

Life for a CIA operative may be incident filled but it also can be surprisingly easy. Computers rarely fail. Files can be downloaded with the speed of light no matter how complex or numerous they may be. And should you find yourself unexpectedly in need of, let's say, the blueprints for what lies beneath an entire block in New York City; these can be organised instantaneously.

Kenneth Branagh has directed this iteration of the franchise and perhaps unwisely has given himself the major role as Russian villain. I say unwisely because he has available, in a lesser role, a real life Russian in Mikhail Baryshnikov who would have made a perfectly charming villain with the advantage of being a native Russian speaker. Curiously Baryshnikov is mentioned nowhere in the credits as far as I can see. I hope he was paid!

This is not the best, nor the worst of this type of espionage thriller. Most of what transpires is fairly improbable and while the first half lacks suspense the second half generally makes up for it.
★★1/2

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

La Boheme

Opera Australia must be very grateful to Giacomo Puccini. Three Puccini operas; La Boheme, Madama Butterfy and Tosca regularly appear in the season and are guaranteed to be box office successes whilst a fourth opera, Turandot, is performed less often but also draws the conservative and less adventurous opera lovers like myself who enjoy the old war horse productions but who run a mile from obscure baroque or medieval or the like offerings.

More recently companies have tinkered with these standard operas with varying success. An Opera Australia production of Tosca several years back, based on an interpretation from the north of England, completely changed its settings and time thus greatly polarising audiences. I was both perplexed by the interpretation and yet enjoyed the production mostly because of the outstanding performances of the principal singers.

Famously Baz Lurhmann updated La Boheme for Opera Australia from its traditional end of 19th century setting (it premiered on 1 February 1896) to the Paris of the 1950s employing young and cinematically attractive singers. This refreshed the work and was mostly successful, being not too deviant from the beloved classical interpretation unlike the aforementioned Tosca which offended too many traditional punters. Lurhmann, later went a step further staging La Boheme on Broadway as though it were a musical and he employed three rotating ensemble casts to manage the workload of an eight times per week performance schedule.

And so this year La Boheme is back on the schedule.

La Boheme, Opera Australia
It is not quite a traditional production. The setting has moved from late 19th century to, my guess is, the mid 1930s. Acts 1 and 4 look pretty traditional except that the costumes are clearly neither 19th century nor 1950s. Otherwise there is nothing to suggest that we are anywhere but in a garret somewhere in Paris. Not that I noticed, anyway. The giveaway break from the traditional is Act 2 and to a lesser extent Act 3. Act 2, the jolly Cafe Momus Act, appears very much to be set in Berlin in the 1930s. There is a sprinkling of Nazi officers in what is a lecherous cafe and even the Hitler Youth make an appearance in the Act's climactic moments. There are numerous images redolent of the Berlin cafes of the era. Now this setting makes for some arresting images - and works on that level - but otherwise it seems to have little connection with where the plot lies.

Act 3 is sparse and snowbound - so in that regard appears traditional - but there are still a couple of Nazi references; albeit rather low key.

This production has one interval between Acts 2 and 3. The changes between the other Acts were handled by way of a transition without interval but with quite different levels of success at last Saturday's matinee. The transition between Acts 1 and 2, with set adjustments and all, was done with a blackout and the curtain remained raised. It was effected smoothly and quickly. A successful transition. The transition between Acts 3 and 4 was another matter. This time the curtain was lowered, a brief blackout followed and then the lights raised but a long delay ensued whilst the audience listened firstly to the noise of the set changing and then became restless and talkative. An unsuccessful transition I believe. The mood established until then had been broken. Perhaps it could have been better to dim the lights but leave the curtain raised enabling the audience to view the scene change. This method is used occasionally in stage dramas and seems to work OK.

For mine the success of an opera performance lies in the orchestra and the singers. If I'm moved by their work then those other curiosities I mentioned are of less concern to me.

In this instance work of the six principal singers and of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra was wonderful.

I particularly single out Ji-Min Park whose Rodolfo was glorious and powerful of voice and also noteworthy were Natalie Aroyan (Mimi) and Giorgio Caoduro (Marcello); all three supported well by  Shane Lowrencev (Shaunard), Sharon Prero (Musetta) and Richard Anderson (Colline). The whole company, children and all, contributed to a memorable musical experience.

I've seen Mimi die plenty of times in Sydney and at Covent Garden as well as on film. Musically, this was as good and moving as any of them.
★★★★

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Saturday, 18 January 2014

My new fat blinds


My new blinds; just installed. They are black. From the outside, you cannot see in but from the inside you can still see out. They provide shade from the sun and some relief from the heat. And they cost a bomb.

Friday, 17 January 2014

August: Osage County


I saw the original Chicago Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of 'August: Osage County' when it was brought to Australia, cast and all, by the Sydney Theatre Company a few years back. It was one of the most entertaining nights I have spent in the theatre, the play being a powerful mix of drama, intrigue, surprise and comedy. An understandable winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Ever since I have waited eagerly for the film version especially since its impressive casting was announced pre-production.

The story is set in Osage County in Oklahoma one very hot August. A family has gathered on the news that its patriarch has disappeared and even before his death is discovered relationship wounds have opened and are festering.

This is a wonderful work for an ensemble and the film cast, by and large, let rip with outstanding performances. Meryl Streep is in top form, with a scenery chewing turn and whilst I enjoyed watching her my ongoing reservation about her acting remains. Technically Ms Streep is superb but what you get is always 'a performance'. You rarely feel as though Ms Streep is the character you are watching. On the other hand, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson and, especially, Margo Martindale are all wonderfully natural in their roles.

Nearly an hour has been cut from the stage production but what remains is still powerful.
★★★★

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Come cruising

The Rhapsody of the Seas followed by the Sun Princess entering Sydney Harbour last Sunday. This photo was taken at 5.30am.


Sun Princess was returning from a Pacific Islands cruise which was the voyage that followed the New Zealand cruise we took over Christmas.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Serene

A quick snap looking back to Akaroa Harbour from the bus trip we made from Akaroa to Christchurch on Christmas Day on our recent New Zealand cruise. (Click on photo to enlarge.)


Friday, 10 January 2014

If I were straight......

As a born and bred gay man for whom females make treasured friends but nothing more in the below the waist department I would have great difficulty in nominating some (any?) as a person I could fall in love with....if I were straight.

OK, as a pre-teenager there was...


....Donna Reed but that really was a puppy love. We watched her weekly family comedy series on television and I imagined her as my mother or even in a gay fantasy imagined myself as her. Well, as her character, that is. Of course I never disclosed those thoughts to anyone. I was a naive child but not that naive.

Then as a teenager I possessed non-feeling feelings for...


...Shirley MacLaine. I suspect I had an intuition that this pixie of a woman was gay friendly and in a reprise of my 'love' for Donna Reed I think I wished I was MacLaine.

And then I grew up. Sort of.

I no longer wished I was a woman, or rather no longer wished I was some woman's character that attracted my fancy as the type of spirit I wished to be. If that makes sense.

But now? Oh, if I were straight I think I might actually fall in love with...


...Robin Wright. Former wife of Sean Penn. Whether it be in House of Cards or the recent French/Aussie film Adoration whenever Wright is on screen I almost, yes almost, feel some manner of stirring in my gay loins. Not many females have done that for me. Actually I can't think of any others. Maybe it is the blonde, mannish hairstyle, but there is definitely, almost, something there.....if I were straight.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Beware the 'bergs



I renewed my membership at Bondi Icebergs Club today. As clubs go it is a great one to impress your guests or visitors. Not because of its facilities or services which, frankly as clubs go, are quite modest. No, it is the location right alongside Bondi Beach with that fantastic view up the beach and out to the sea that makes a visit here for the uninitiated such a memorable experience. Provided it is not too crowded that is, because it doesn't take too many people to crowd this small establishment. I have had to abandon a visit to the club with guests previously when unable to find anywhere that we could sit to enjoy drinks, let alone our intended meal.

As you see from my card I am a social member. That is distinct from an alternative membership that requires you to swim in the club's pool many times through winter, an activity that gave the club it's name and fame. I'm not fit enough, nor active enough, nor motivated enough to endure that burden. However, I very much enjoy my meals sitting on the balcony overlooking those members as they plough their way up and down the sea filled pool shown in this year's membership card.

For those of you possessing hefty wallets there is always the separate Icebergs Dining Room and Bar located above the club. It is very fancy indeed - from reputation, not personal knowledge - and is frequented by many international celebrity visitors to the country.

I'll stick with the Club.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Lleyton

Lleyton Hewitt has been around in professional tennis for a long time yet I was surprised to realise he is the same age as Roger Federer; indeed Hewitt is six months older.

Federer has always seemed mature and well behaved although I have seen a documentary about him which showed he was very turbulent as a junior player. It is difficult to imagine nowadays.

Hewitt, on the other hand, who burst on the scene at a young age, for a longtime seemed to be poorly behaved and sadly a bit boorish at times. He appeared to reflect his youth.

Hewitt's determination as a player and his pride in doing his best for his country have never been in question and he has certainly outperformed a number of his contemporary compatriots who appeared more naturally gifted but seemingly have wasted their talents.

We've heard far less about Hewitt's behaviour in recent years which suggests that with age, experience, marriage and fatherhood he has matured and settled down. His slight build has always put him at a disadvantage against the very powerful top players but Hewitt has always punched above his weight. Repeated injuries have impeded him against those players.

In the past of couple of years I have thought that it might be time for Hewitt to call it a day but he has battled on and yesterday he won his first tournament in many a year and against his great nemesis Federer no less.

The look in Hewitt's eyes at the moment of victory indicates his delight and perhaps surprise at the achievement at this stage of his career.


The Australian Open 2014 commences next Monday. Hewitt will be there giving his all, as usual. Perhaps luck will favour him in the draw and we can yet again admire his never say die spirit deep into the second week.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Philomena


A cynical journalist reluctantly assists an elderly Irishwoman to track down the 50 years old son forcibly taken from her in a single mothers' home when the boy was just three. The search takes them to the United States and a few surprises.

'Philomena' is based on real events. I've heard the stories that have emerged from these horror homes and the treatment of the single mothers by the Nuns who ran the establishments like prisons is distressing. This film balances the distress of the treatment with considerable humour.

Judi Dench is as on song as ever as the mother who never forgot.

★★★★

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Gilded Cage (La Cage Doree)


Anyone who is a first or second generation member of an immigrant family will most likely have an affinity for 'The Gilded Cage'; the story of a Portuguese family in France. A family death leads to an inheritance that requires their return to Portugal but other family members, friends and associates all have an interest in preventing their departure.

This is a gentle, delightful comedy of cultures, manners and family behaviour. There are some lovely images and humorous set pieces mostly set around food and the eating thereof.

★★★1/2

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Getting lucky

SKIP THIS POST IF YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN THE SEX LIVES OF PROMISCUOUS GAY MEN

Fireworks in Sydney NYE 2014

Andrew's post about the celebration of New Years Eve in simpler times reminded me of a succession of New Years I enjoyed in the late 1970s and the 1980s. The days when sex was not just a daily preoccupation but an essential daily activity. And there was no day - or should I say early morning - better for a memorable encounter than NYE.

You see it is a little discussed fact that there is no day of the year when cute tipsy straight young men are more amenable to a one off encounter - even if it is a gay one - than early morning New Years Day especially if their overnight expectation of scoring with a favoured lady failed to eventuate.

In those days of high sexual activity for me, a frolic in the bushes with a desperately horny good looking young straight man was a delightful way to celebrate the new year. I stress that no rape, coercion or other pressure was involved. These were straight men keen to bring, shall I say, a climax to their NYE celebrations with anyone, even another man.

Those were the days.