Monday, 29 February 2016

At lunch

I've been remiss lately with my blogging and worse still with keeping up to date with the blogs of friends.

I can't exactly explain why. It feels like I've had fewer hours in the day available to me but that can't really be the reason. Days are still 24 hours in length aren't they? Then again my 'social' life has been more active than usual. Normally I'm not one to participate in many 'lunches' and yet I have participated in three in the past four days.

Bank of Melbourne's World's Longest Lunch
The first lunch was for the 'friends of friends' visiting from Italy. As befits both the guests of honour and the Italian/Greek hosts a marinara pasta was the feature dish.

Lunch number two was a delightful backyard barbecue reciprocating my New Years Eve gathering with barbecued lamb, barbecued chicken strips and a middle eastern chick pea salad the feature dishes.

Then lunch number three was a gathering of fellow travellers for the trip we are planning to Malta, Sicily and Rome in September. A gorgeous home made lasagna was the highlight.

My contribution to each lunch was store purchased cakes; a strawberry, apple and rhubarb cake at two lunches and a blueberry cheesecake at the third.

Friday, 26 February 2016

I've been compromised

My weekend is off to a bad start.

I came home to a message from my bank that my ATM card has been compromised and cancelled.

My card number and PIN were used five times today at a suburb 50kms from where I live. Person(s) unknown checked my balance, made two withdrawals and two other withdrawals were declined. I did not authorise the transactions, nor have I loaned out my card at any time, nor have I shared my PIN.

My guess is that the card was 'skimmed' when I was using it an ATM.

Following up this afternoon the bank has accepted a fraud was committed and I will be repaid the two unauthorised withdrawals.

Unfortunately I have to wait for a replacement card to be sent to me.

It is an awful feeling. At least this bank was quick to pick up the fraud unlike another bank a year ago who, until I raised the alarm, failed to notice literally dozens and dozens of unauthorised uses of my credit card within a couple of weeks amounting to around $3,000 of services in a city on the other side of the planet at a time when I was clearly home in Australia.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

BUPA pooper

BUPA your service sucks.

A few years back the British based international healthcare group BUPA took over the health insurance company I belonged to for all my adult life.

A couple of weeks ago BUPA wrote to me advising that it was time for my 24 month eye examination. It invited me to make an appointment either by phone or online. The online instructions appeared simple and clear;

  • Step 1 Visit
  • Step 2 Click the 'Book and Appointment' link and the follow the steps

I followed those steps precisely nominating my appointment time at the Bondi Junction Optical Shop - the very shop referred to in BUPA's letter to me - from a schedule on the online site of half hourly times which commenced from 9am on the date I selected.

Within seconds I received an email from BUPA Optical Bondi Junction thanking me for my appointment request and continuing as follows;

'The team at Bupa Optical Bondi Junction look forward to serving your eyecare needs and will be in touch via phone or email to confirm your appointment.'

Twelve days later, with no email or phone contact from BUPA, I called into the Bondi Junction shop to confirm my appointment. The staff member checked and told me they had no record of my request; notwithstanding the email confirmation.

How can this be? Well, this is what she told me.

  • The online booking system is not a 'live' site.
  • The shop does not receive the data entered online.
  • The times shown in the online site are not the actual times available for appointments but the hours the shop is open. (This comment makes no sense since the site lists half hourly slots.)
  • Although the shop opens at 9am (or perhaps it is 9.30, that was not clear to me) eye examinations are not available until 11am.
  • Earlier time slots for examinations are only available on Saturday hence are very popular and have to be booked far ahead.
  • Her final advice was to book examinations by contacting the shop directly, not online.

Why, BUPA, do you send letters out inviting online booking when the online system is not active?
Why, BUPA, do you refer members to an online site that has appointment slots that don't exist in reality?
Why, BUPA, do you send email acknowledgements of online appointment requests when those requests die in cyberspace unrecognised and unknown to your shops?
Why, BUPA, do you not have eye examination timeslots that your working members can attend outside of their working hours or that your members can attend with minimal disruption to their work arrangements?

Why, BUPA, should I continue my membership with your organisation?

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Ritz

The New Theatre, Sydney

'The Ritz' is another thirty or so years old play; a farce in which a man finds refuge from a hit man in a steam bathhouse frequented by gay men. Hilarity of a sort ensues with confusion over identity and sexuality.

It is a bit of a creaky play very much set in the era it was written so that many references are meaningless unless you are of a certain age and have some familiarity with New York and its much loved identities.

The play has been programmed to coincide with Sydney's annual LGBT Mardi Gras.

Unsurprisingly the audience when we attended was very much gay men of a certain era; just like Cs and I!


Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Blind Giant is Dancing

Belvoir Street Theatre

'The Blind Giant is Dancing' is set in the 1980s and the protagonists are members of the left wing of the Australian Labor Party. (Overseas readers, think British Labour Party or, to a lesser extent, USA Democratic Party.) They are as much combatants against each other and against the other factions of their own party as they are combatants against the other political parties. Ruthless, devious and even corrupt in their battle to obtain and maintain power.

The play is about thirty years old and may well reflect some elements of the Labor Party today. I imagine it is a reasonable depiction of how those elements of the party operated in those days. Lovers of the political game may well enjoy this foray into party politics but I found it tedious and heavy going.

I can enjoy the evil of politics when it done with the sort of panache that, say, Kevin Spacey brings to House of Cards but no-one in this production is as deliciously seductive.

All the shouting at one another just left me with a headache.

One for the true believers.


Friday, 19 February 2016

The postman (used to) always knock twice

It may be a trick of my memory but I think that we used to have a twice daily postal service when I was a child. I think we also had a Saturday morning service but I'm less sure that is correct. All that was a long time ago.

For many decades now the service has been one delivery on weekdays. That still was a reasonable enough service especially for mail within metropolitan city areas of Australia where the delivery was pretty well within 24 hours.

Although I am not engaged in business nor an avid letter writer for the most part I have been receiving mail daily. Most of that mail was unsolicited; from my membership of social clubs, movie clubs,  travel companies I have used, my bank and credit card providers, charities I donated to, and the various bill issuers. The flow of mail continued notwithstanding that personal postal correspondence in this digital, internet age has fallen away sharply.

And then on 4 January this year, the cost of a regular stamp increased from seventy cents to one dollar.

One might think that the price increase would enable an improvement in service or the maintenance of an existing level of service. But, no, the promised service is actually diminished. Instead of the virtually guaranteed 24 hour turnaround previously this almost 50% price increase only guarantees delivery within six business days.

If you want speedier delivery then you have to pay 50% surcharge on top of the new regular price for delivery within four business days.

I guess what goes unstated is that daily (weekdays) postal delivery to residences is now cut; perhaps to twice or even just once a week.

That might explain why for the first time in as long as I can recall I did not receive a single item of mail this week.

How much longer will there be a Government operated postal service?

Thursday, 18 February 2016


Dalton Trumbo was one of ten screenwriters blacklisted from Hollywood in the 1950s following the infamous hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

'Trumbo' portrays how the writer was drawn into these events, how he worked in barely concealed secrecy to circumvent the blacklisting and how his family were affected by his behaviour and notoriety.

Bryan Cranston is especially impressive in the title role.

The film is an interesting re-creation of those times but sadly lacks a tension which would have lifted it above the average.


Tuesday, 16 February 2016

No bundle of joy

This week several Australian tennis players were 'bundled out' of tennis tournaments.

That sentence is a curiosity and periodically words to those effect generate a bemused discussion in this country. I am traversing old ground by entering the conversation, but here goes.

'Bundled out'. A strange expression which is used over and over by sports commentators but only, it seems, under certain conditions.

First, we only ever seem to hear it used in relation to tennis. No one ever said that Ian Thorpe was 'bundled out' of a swimming event nor that Jason Day was 'bundled out' of a golf tournament.

Second, it seems you can only be 'bundled out' in the early rounds, say rounds 1 to 3, of a tennis tournament. No one ever said Lleyton Hewitt was 'bundled out' of the semi finals nor that Pat Rafter was 'bundled out' of the final. No, if you are going to be 'bundled out' it must be early in the tournament.

Third, to be 'bundled out' you generally have to be Australian. Neither Roger Federer nor Novak Djokovic, nor any other non-Australian ever seems to be 'bundled out'. They just lose or at worst are knocked out. As though they were boxers?

Fourth, you must always be 'bundled out'. Surely if you can be 'bundled out' then you should be able to be 'bundled in'. Yet no one ever said that Thanasi Kokkinakis or Nick Kyrgios were 'bundled into' the second round at Wimbledon.

So, if you can't be 'bundled in' then why do we say someone was 'bundled out'. Why not just say they were 'bundled'? The media could report that I was 'bundled' from the first round at Wimbledon. (I'm sure that I would be!)

It is all a bundle of 'tosh' really so I'll put an end to it with a photograph of non-Australian Rafael Nadal sadly 'bundled out' in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open.

(Source: AP)

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Secret River

(The Secret River)

This is an unusual situation in which the Sydney Theatre Company is staging a return season of a play just three years after its earlier staging. And for good reason. The first staging was lauded and booked out.

'The Secret River' is a theatrical adaptation of the book of the same name by Kate Grenville. It tells the story of an English convict who earns his freedom in the young penal colony of New South Wales and who takes his family to an isolated riverside location to set up a farm. The land he and his family occupies is already the traditional home of local indigenous families, a fact they fail to recognise, and their occupation leads to clashes of will and culture and ultimately tragedy.

This is a sensational re-creation of the early days of the colony. The play is performed in English and the local indigenous language. There are no computerised or engineered special effects, just good old fashioned supremely effective theatrical performance.

Brilliant theatre. Do not miss it.


Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Pride

(Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Just a couple of days after seeing 'Arcadia' which is set across two time periods I saw 'The Pride' which is also set across two time periods.

Staged, I guess, to coincide with Sydney's LGBT Mardi Gras festival, 'The Pride' is set in the England of 1958 and in current days. In 1958, homosexuality is criminal activity and deemed deviant behaviour. Two men struggle to deal with their sexuality. In the current day scenes two men quite comfortable with their sexuality and partners for some months struggle over issues of fidelity. In both eras, deception and self deception feature in their relationships.

Nicely acted in a simple setting.


Saturday, 13 February 2016


It was Cs who decided we would see 'Deadpool' and not having read or seen any material about the film I walked into the cinema without a clue as to the type of movie or what it might be about.

It was only seconds into the crazy opening credits that I realised 'Deadpool' is a spoof and the genre is action, superheroes.

Mixed amongst the plentiful violence and occasionally gruesome moments is quite a lot of wise cracking humour. A surprising amount of gay themed humour for a film whose main character otherwise appears to be heterosexual.

In brief, 'Deadpool' is about the creation of a new superhero. The film is laced with 1980s and other period hit songs.

A little uneven but often humorous.


Friday, 12 February 2016


(Sydney Theatre Company)

Tom Stoppard's 'Arcadia' is set in an English family country house in two eras, the early 19th century and the present day. In the 19th century a landscaper plans a dramatic redesign of the estate grounds whilst residents and guests there are involved in a series of flirtatious and sexual relationships. Those events become the topic of research and theorising in the present day.

In my experience Stoppard's plays challenge audiences with the intellectual rigour of their dialogue and academically related themes. 'Arcadia' fits this pattern.

The play works quite well with the switching of its eras although I found the scenes set in the earlier era to be superior. They seem to me to be funnier and faster paced whereas the present day scenes seem slow and less witty by comparison. Whether this is deliberate in the play's writing or a consequence of the production's direction, I do not know.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Lunar laughter

The Lunar New Year is being celebrated in Sydney with various installations around the CBD; some of them lighthearted in appearance. These three wise monkeys on the promenade at the Opera House amused me.

The monkeys are lit up at night making them look more and more like giant jelly babies.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


A mother and her young son are held captive in a small single 'Room'. The son knows nothing of the outside world other than what his mother has described and from what he observes from the 'magic' of a small flat screen television with poor reception. When they finally achieve their freedom they find themselves captives in a new sense.

I went to see this with some trepidation expecting grim visuals and plot. The first forty-five minutes or so are set fully within the claustrophobic atmosphere of their imprisonment but the film then soars when 'freedom' brings a whole set of other challenges.

Brie Larson is excellent as the mother but it is Jacob Tremblay who delivers the stellar performance as her son.


Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Belier Family (La Famille Belier)

'The Belier Family' lives in a semi rural area outside of Paris. The parents and son are deaf. Only the daughter is hearing and when she joins the school choir to be near a good looking schoolboy she discovers that she can sing well. The family is unaware of her singing talent.

This delightful journey of discovery for the daughter and her family is heartwarming and entertaining.


Friday, 5 February 2016

Qantas shame

I'm not in the habit of quoting commercial names in my post titles but have done so in this instance in the hope it may attract the company's attention and lead to some positive remedial action.

I am a life long traveller on our national carrier Qantas. I've remained loyal even in the face of criticism in recent years of its service, industrial relations practices, comparatively expensive fares and moves to off shore servicing of its fleet. I belong to its Frequent Flyer and Club Lounge groups paying handsomely for the dubious privileges that come with them.

I have more flights booked with Qantas in coming months.

Yesterday I received an email from Qantas notifying me that the details of one of these flights has been changed. The email asks me to ring on a priority number so that Qantas can explain these changes and confirm my new flight details. The email adds I can call at my earliest convenience 24 hours, 7 days a week.

I rang the priority number at 5.15pm yesterday and listened to recorded messages for one hour before giving up on the call. I can see that 5.15pm may be a busy time - business travellers and all that - so I decided I would try later.

I rang again at 9.30pm to be greeted by the message that the queue was 'more than one hour'. I gave up for the day.

This afternoon I tried ringing Qantas for a third time when I returned from work just after 3pm. Once again I was greeted with the message that the queue is 'more than one hour'. This is outrageous customer service. If this is the response on a priority line what service is being provided on a non-priority line?

As I key this post I have been in the queue for two hours and fifteen minutes! What makes the queueing even worse is that no indication is given whether you are moving forward in the queue. Maybe the call will never be answered. All you hear is the endless repetition of a loop of advertisements promoting the airline's service and products.

At the two hours and ten minutes mark I decided to use another phone to ring the general enquiry line for Frequent Flyer members and heard the message that the queue on that number was - you guessed it - more than one hour.

The call I was queued on was answered a short time later - an eventual wait of two hours and twenty minutes. The operator who handled the call was very polite and without prompting said they would welcome feedback. Reading between the lines (to mix metaphors) I think her comment was a silent plea to please report the unacceptable delays.

I am doing so here, publicly and will follow up with private correspondence.

Shame, Qantas, shame.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


'Spotlight' depicts the work done by a specialist team in the Boston Globe newspaper to research and report on what the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in their city knew about abuse of children by their clergy and how they dealt with what they knew.

The film does not sensationalise events, reporting what transpired in measured tones. The focus is not the abuse but questions of who knew and what was or was not done in the face of it.

A fine film.


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Sound of Music

Surely no one needs me to provide a precis of 'The Sound of Music'; one of the most famous of musical show of all time. The musical is on its third major Australian season since its original staging  here in 1961. That was the first and until last week only, time I had seen the musical live on stage.

My memories of the musical are mostly from numerous complete and partial viewings of the film version.

I can report that this current Australian staging meets all expectations. Wonderful if you love the musical and, I guess, sickly sweet if you abhor it.

I loved it. The children are excellent and comparative newcomer Amy Lehpamer is stellar as Maria.