May
31

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

May 31, 2013 - 9:05 am No Comments

Andrew Yancy is extremely pissed off by the bad manners of an absent neighbour who is building a three-story monstrosity on the land next door to his place.  This kitsch building is not only ugly and would require 24-hour air-conditioning and temperature control (very environmentally considerate), but is blocking his view of the sunset. The land Yancy and his neighbour are sharing was once the habitat of tiny deer  which used to come to feed at close of day. Fortunately Yancy has a few plans of his own which will discourage the poisonous aspirations of the greedy and rather stupid real estate adventurer. Meanwhile, a human arm has been snagged on the  line of a honeymooning geriatric tourist who is on a chartered fishing boat in Florida Keys. This decomposing horror ends up in Yancy’s esky, with his popsicles and soft drinks, and then later in his home freezer, with his popsicles and soft drinks. In an attempt to get his job back, ex-copper Yancy tries ingratiating himself with his ex-boss, who is worried that floating body parts might deter the tourists. Despite some plausible explanations for the severed arm from officialdom, Yancy doesn’t buy. He runs his own investigation, which cuts bureaucratic corners, annoys everyone in sight, and of course, observing the conventions of the crime fiction, solves the sordid little crime. This, while he is keeping body and soul together with work as a restaurant inspector which horrifies him almost as much as the construction work going on next door.

As is usual with Hiaasen’s oeuvre, his characters tend to the exotic—Florida and the Bahamas must be a magnet for such colourful people. There’s an ancient nymphomaniacal wheelchair-bound voodoo witch, several very nasty thugs, an ex-schoolteacher who has had an affair with one of her under-aged students and is wanted by the police in the state in which she committed her crime, a black greenie who is doing his utmost to prevent the development of yet another tourist resort on the land which was once his home, and the eponymous monkey, a failed thespian, kicked off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean for some very bad behaviour. Here I feel I must make the point that the females in this tale are much nicer than those in most of Hiaasen’s  other books. His femme fatales and even his minor female characters  are often  such bitches they spoil his stories, for, it’s necessary to understand, if not to empathise, with the main characters in a crime thriller. The problem with making all the ladies such evil pieces of work is that they can become two-dimensional, ultimately unbelievable; it also has the tendency to make the author look like something of a misogynist. In Bad Monkey the bad girls are believable. One can plot their moral decline and accept that that’s what happened. However, I’m not talking about the voodoo queen, here. She is such an eccentric, she seems to  be more a part of the lush, tropical setting of the book, than someone you have to get your mind around. And she’s funny. You’ve got to laugh about what happens to one of the thugs who comes into her thrall. And isn’t this part of the lure of the crime thriller. . . the sense of restoring order to a chaotic and often frightening world? The feeling that somehow good may still be able to triumph over evil, even though the media often leaves us with a distinct impression that it doesn’t? The voodoo queen seems more a force of nature, rather than being completely human, and therefore, quite neutral to the outcomes of our little lives.

Those who know Hiaasen’s work will know that humour is its hallmark.  He’s funny, very, very funny. There is a touch of out-of-control Raymond Chandler about his stuff. Chandler is ironic, Hiaasen is a belly laugh. However, the downside of  Bad Monkey is that you may think twice about eating in a restaurant again. So, if you haven’t already. . . learn to cook.

May
03

Morning Meanderings

May 3, 2013 - 9:42 am 2 Comments

They say that a walk along a beachfront is a kind of meditation. Well, I cannot clear my mind in the way I have been told I should when meditating, for it gets hijacked by many delights along the way. The thing about such a stroll is that it is never the same twice. Each time the tide goes out it creates a different landscape, like an artist at work in a vast, yet intimate, Japanese garden.

This morning, for instance, I was walking along Flinders Parade, “The Front,” which is the edge of  Sandgate, Brighton and Moreton Bay.  I saw a young ibis standing at the far end of a lone wall—part of an ancient swimming pool, perhaps, that has since mostly crumbled away and been reclaimed by the sea—with its wings outstretched. It stood there, motionless, for quite a long time, as long as it took me to walk way past it and then some. It was either drying its wings in the sun or merely enjoying the warmth of a day the weather bureau forecasts will reach 25 degrees. A pleasant temperature by most standards, including, apparently, those of the ibis.

At approximately 11th Avenue, I came across another pleasant surprise. Firstly, I saw an Australian flag atop a pole—which had also lost its context many years ago and is standing in the water. Now I am always wary of  flags. Certainly the Australian flag has some spectacular connotations for me: my adored grandfather, “Ba,” fought at Gallipoli in WWI, and my father in Tobruk and Greece and Kokoda in the Second World War. The flag denoting the presence of Australian soldiers in those wars has always been an honourable marker, regardless of the petty politics which may have put them there. They were fighting as representatives of a whole nation of people—us, we Australians. But unfortunately flags can be appropriated by all sorts of ratbags, and when someone starts waving a flag in my face, I am looking for the nearest exit. Look at the political parties which have usurped the Australian flag for their own tawdry uses. No doubt Mr Clive Palmer will be standing on many rostrums across the country with an Australian flag behind him. Yet he represents only a very small number of Australians, the excessively—even obscenely— wealthy, not you and I. So why should he have access to a flag which represents all of us?

These were the thoughts I had when I stared out over the water at the flag this morning. But then I looked at what was closer, right in front of me, in fact.

The sea wall along Flinders Parade has been reinforced with concrete blocks several times since I have been living in the area, because from time to time it cops a battering from the sea in flood. We’ve had a few floods in the last couple of years and currently there is a gap at approximately where 11th Avenue starts. Beneath this part of the missing wall, there is also a flight of small concrete stairs going down into the water when the tide is in, or to the sand and mud flats when it is out. A local artist who calls himself Sandgate Rick, has placed a small table and a blue canvas director’s chair by this gap after filling it in—though still allowing people access to the stairs—with sand and seashells. He has created a map of Australia, with seaweed, from memory, and has edged the sand and seashell construction with cone shells, all pointing their tips to the sea, like the fringe of a sea shawl. All around the map of Australia he has placed little cairns of smooth stones, indicating peace, and there is a single poppy on the installation as a reminder of ANZAC Day which we commemorated just over a week ago. On the table there is a scattering of tiny shells which hold the pages of a small notebook open. Two or three pens have been left there for people to write their comments. Of course I wrote something, but I have since also checked Rick’s Facebook page to see if he is associated with some razor-toting political group. Happily I couldn’t see any evidence of this, so the next time I take my morning walk along the seafront, I will add more, if it is still there. In the meantime, I would like to thank  Sandgate Rick for offering our community such charming ephemera which becomes part of the treasure we store in our minds, our reflections and the stories we tell to each other. Art begets art.

Apr
24

Kitty’s War

April 24, 2013 - 9:05 am No Comments
Kitty’s War

Janet Butler

UQP; Nonfiction/History; $32.95

Officers of the Great War believed that nurses were a nuisance on the battlefield, fearing  sexual liaisons between them and the men would undermine discipline. Refusing to acknowledge the enormous contributions to the war effort these women made, some ignored their presence, addressing any orders or comments to the (male) orderlies, which of course created discipline problems for the more highly qualified nursing staff. This happened in the early years of the war when nurses were considered “honorary officers”— not given actual rank. By 1916, the AIF, following the Canadian model, gave their nurses rank and allowed them to wear the insignia denoting it on their uniforms—though it never paid the women as much as any male of the same military status.

Janet Butler uncovers a fascinating history in Kitty’s War in which she is particularly preoccupied with society’s expectations for the “ministering angels” of WWI, and the nurses’ changing perceptions of their own roles, as observed in the diaries they kept. Kit McNaughton, from rural Victoria, was one of  very few women allowed to go to war on the SS Orsova in 1915. She cared for the Gallipoli wounded on Lemnos Island, then was sent to France for the casualties of the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, completing her service as Australia’s first plastic surgery nurse. Like those of many other Australian nurses, Kit’s story is one of heart-breaking sacrifice, discrimination, petty officialdom, and broken personal  health.

Some readers may find Butler’s  academic approach, with references to other researchers, irritating. However I did not find this too intrusive, and, unlike some works that evolve from universities, the writing style is accessible to all and the subject matter so engrossing, this book should have a wide readership. It would be a timely read for or around ANZAC day.

Apr
12

Minjerribah Magic

April 12, 2013 - 3:50 pm 5 Comments

On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, three Brighton Writers—Ruby Reid, Adele Moy and myself— drove to Cleveland  to take the Red Cat ferry to Minjerribah, also known as North Stradbroke Island. What followed was a delightful trip across Moreton Bay and very reasonably priced, seeing we were seated in great comfort on the viewing deck with its transparent walls which protected us from the rain while we enjoyed our elevenses—whatever they are—early lunch or late morning tea.

Arrived at Goompie, also known as Dunwich, we saw a queue of motor vehicles waiting to be transported by the Red Cat, and a black and white dog that seemed to be sussing the people in the cars moving off the ferry. It was a sweet little beast, came up and said hello to us and then went back to her job of checking the drivers and passengers in the cars that had just landed.

We followed the gentle curve of the hill from the ferry dock past a couple of shops and some residences of Goompie, into Rouse Street and then into Welsby looking for the museum, all the while marvelling at the lush green landscape and the serenity of the place.

The Museum is a low-set wooden building with a wide verandah in the front—rather like an impeccably-maintained old-fashioned Primary school. It has a thick carpet of lawn wrapped around it, a little shop where you can pick up various souvenirs, and the display rooms containing histories, artefacts and photographic evidence of the past. My kind of place. I was immediately arrested by the larger-than-life photographic portrait of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, that I remember seeing on the cover of one of her books. Oodgeroo is a woman many of us remember with great love and admiration. Perhaps it was Oodgeroo who had invited us to the island, this time, too.

Between 1990 and 1992, I was extremely privileged to be the President of the Queensland branch of the Society of Women Writers, a remarkable group of women who staged the Writers’ Weekend in 1992, at the Shorncliffe State School. It was the first Writers’ Weekend in Queensland and it was a huge success, apparently becoming the template for other Writers’ weekends to come, in Brisbane. Oodgeroo Noonuccal was our guest speaker and clearly our drawcard. We had something like 500 people turn up for our “Poetry in the Pub” session to hear her read her work and speak.

Twenty-one years later we are planning another Writers’ festival for August 31 in Sandgate and Shorncliffe, and who is auspicing and supporting us every step of the way? None other than our friends the Women Writers. So we’ve moved full circle. At the museum the first person I saw was a very beautiful young lady who told me her name was Elizabeth Engelbrecht (which, translated from the German, means ‘Bright Angel’) who happens to be Oodgeroo’s great-granddaughter.

Elizabeth invited us into a room which houses the Oodgeroo collection and offered us tea or coffee. I opted for water and was rewarded with the best-tasting H2O I think I’ve ever had. The conversation sparkled; about Straddie, about the museum, about writing festivals—among other things. Then we were joined by the curator of the museum, another Elizabeth—Elizabeth Gondwes—whose surname, from Zimbabwe, references the crocodile.

What passionate discussion flowed from this meeting! Elizabeth Gondwes spoke about her vision for her museum, about how it is a repository of story and ideas—ephemera—which is why music and dance and theatre and storytelling play an integral part. Which brings us back to the Writers’ festival. Writers are the sacred guardians of story, but what is a festival without music and dance? So far we are set to invite some extraordinary writers for our Indigenous panel on the afternoon of the 31st August, so why not a didjeridoo player and an Aboriginal Dance troupe from Minjerribah as well?

On the way home we had 45 minutes to wait for the next water taxi, so we ordered pumpkin cheese cake—which was delicious—and coffee at a cafe-cum-fruitshop and relaxed, enjoying the charms of the island. The water taxi was almost filled with workers from Sibelco, the sand-mining company, who had parked their cars on the mainland, but we were back on almost-dry land in a matter of 25 minutes. It was close to a perfect day.

Apr
01

Good Friday

April 1, 2013 - 6:58 pm 2 Comments

As a school kid I always anticipated that the classroom writing exercise when we started a new term or semester would be “What I Did During the School Holidays.” And it usually was. ThoughI found the topic boring because practically every Primary or English teacher set it, I usually found something fresh to say because I liked to write—even if my holiday had been a dreary stretch of imprisonment at home that interrupted the far more pleasant time I spent at school. Most of the other students, however, greeted the task with groans of horror and despair. Subsequently, when I became a teacher myself, I made sure that I did not ask my students to recount their holiday activities, unless they volunteered to do so. However, something a member of my family has said about my writing personal essays,  has prompted this description of my Good Friday.

Because it was Easter I started the day listening to some liturgical music—Bach’s Mass in B Minor and his St Matthew Passion are always winners—while I made some curtains for a storage room under my house that I want to reclaim as a living space, maybe even an office. Then I picked some Bird’s Eye chillies growing in my garden, did some weeding, and planted pumpkin seeds—even though I am not sure if this is the season to do that. There is obviously some symbolism here, burying pumpkin seeds on Good Friday in the hope of a resurrection of the lush yellow fruit encased in its obdurately tough skin, and I am a sucker for symbolism, hence the liturgical music. After this I showered, dressed in some going-out clothes, and drove for lunch to Bardon, where my elder daughter has been living for about the last four years.

Now forgive me if I seem to brag, but Rachel is a very talented wordsmith. She has won the Queensland Young Writer Award not once, but twice, and was one of four finalists in the Queensland Premier’s Prize for an Emerging Writer a couple of years ago. Lately she has been creating art books—not just writing and illustrating them, but printing, formatting and physically producing them herself. She presented me with a copy of her latest, Long Yellow, which, no doubt you will see in the fullness of time yourselves, a symbolist tale which is both charming and haunting. Then she produced lunch, a Scandinavian feast of Gravlax. This dish, Gravlax, was a complete surprise to me, even though I can claim Danish ancestry from my maternal grandmother. It is raw salmon, marinated for three days,  coated with a thick green sauce made of dill, mustard, white wine vinegar and honey, laid on dark rye bread. The bright orange of the salmon with the rich green sauce  against the grainy brown background,  looked as good as it tasted.

My daughter explained that the Danes would catch their salmon and bury it in the sand above the high tide mark for three days before they ate it. What an impeccable Easter dish, I thought. Here is the symbolism of the exquisite corpse, buried for three days, and then religiously eaten.  “On the third day He rose from the dead. . .” Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the taking of the eucharist the  Christians’ symbolic act of eating their god?

After lunch our hostess introduced her housemate Richard and I to a wordplay she had discovered in The Surrealists’ Book of Games. Three or five people can play this game—ideally five—but we managed by doubling up two of the roles. The first player has to write on the top of a page the Definite or an Indefinite article (“The,” “A,” or “An”) plus an adjective (a word which describes a noun.) This word is then hidden in a fold of the page so that the other players cannot see it. The next player writes a noun (or naming word) and then also folds it under a paper pleat to conceal it. The third player produces a verb ( a “doing”, “being,” or “having” word) and hides it, the fourth, another article and an adjective, and the fifth, another noun. The next player unfolds the paper and reads all  the words.

Some strange—even surreal—sentences emerge, sometimes funny, sometimes so lyrical as to be considered as the starting—or ending—point of a poem. It is an exercise we could try at our next Writers’ meeting on April 9. I’m sure it will inspire us to produce something engaging.

Sitting on the front verandah overlooking Richard’s manicured lawn which was framed by his unpruned tangle of a garden, put me in mind of enchanted woodlands as dusk began its tenuous embrace of everything, and houses up the gully somnolently blinked on their lights. It was time for me to go home to Brighton, and, feeling more than the  little melancholy  one often experiences at the end of a magical Autumn day in Brisbane, I took my leave from my lovely daughter and her gentle friend, Richard.

On Ashgrove Avenue there was a road block. Police were stopping the traffic and breathalising drivers. Slowing to a stop, I was reluctant to turn down my radio because a particularly fine tenor was singing  songs set to A.E. Housman’s poems, but I did reduce the volume enough to hear the policeman’s instructions as he handed me the plastic tube I was to breathe into. He seemed a very young man who looked  tired and rather wary, prompting me to wonder at his treatment at the hands of my fellow drivers. Do motorists give such boys and girls in blue a hard time for carrying out this important service to the community?

I asked the young copper how his Easter was panning out and he rewarded me with a very nice smile. It was another Easter gift I can count as treasure this Good Friday, with the delightfully allusive game played with a couple of my favourite people—at least one of whom loves the English language as much as I do—and the sumptuous, symbolist feast.

Feb
26

Brighton Writers

February 26, 2013 - 1:03 pm 9 Comments

Hello everyone, I hope you are enjoying the Haiku experience. There are plenty of examples on the internet for your perusal. From the wonderful Wikipedia comes the following information about this short Japanese poetic form.

Haiku is typically characterised by kiru, or “cutting,” often represented by the juxtaposition of 2 images or ideas, with a kireji, or “cutting word” between them. Wikipedia describes the the kireji as “a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colours the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.”

Apparently the Western notion of the traditional Haiku form consisting of 17 syllables is not quite accurate. It consists of 17 on or morae, in three phrases of 5,7,5. Any one of these phrases may end with the kireji. To grasp the idea of this, it is best to read a lot of haiku—both in the traditional form as well as in the more modern, which are freer, and where everyday objects or occurrences are favoured images. The Japanese write their haiku in a single line whereas in English they usually appear in 3 lines, to parallel the 3 phrases.

Basho, Issa and Buson are considered masters of the traditional form. Here are a few examples.

Lightning flash— what I thought were faces are plumes of pampas grass.    BASHO

Everything I touch with tenderness, alas, pricks like a bramble.     ISSA

Light of the moon moves west, flowers’ shadows creep eastward.      BUSON

The crow has flown away: swaying in the evening sun, a leafless tree.      SOSEKI

Notice the uses of the present tense to express these images and ideas. When I came across the following haiku online which has no attribution so I have no way of knowing who wrote it, I felt it was not quite right, though the imagery is pleasing enough.

A cricket disturbed

The sleeping child; on the porch

A man smoked and smiled.

I think it should be written in the present tense to gain more immediacy.  “A cricket disturbs

The sleeping child; on the porch

A man smokes and smiles.”

Not sure if I like the capitalisation at the beginning of each line, either. What do you think?

On other matters. I was fascinated by the Tropfest of small, independent films. Apparently there was an audience of like-minded people in Sydney’s Domain—some 80,000 of them! Did anyone else see it on television? Maybe we should, as a group, write a short film of no more than 10 minutes’ duration and then interest a young filmmaker in the idea of making it. Lilian Harrington is joining the group. She has directed plays in Sandgate and Strathpine and appeared in some short films. She may be able to offer some advice about this project if anyone wants to take it up. Just seeing a couple of shooting scripts would be very useful.

The Sandgate Festival seems to be becoming a reality. More about that when I see you at our next meeting.

Take care of yourselves, my friends. See you in a fortnight

CJ

Jan
18

2013 Music by the Sea Festival at Sandgate

January 18, 2013 - 10:52 am 2 Comments

Music by the Sea Festival 2013 at Sandgate.

There has been something of a transformation in Sandgate from the sleepy little Brisbane bayside suburb with the summer breezes, to that of an entirely thrilling venue for music of international standard.

The brainchild of Mr Zoli Mauritz, Music by the Sea started some years ago and has gathered  momentum by the  extraordinary talent it has consistently presented over the years, to become an important  place on the musical map for seriously good—even great—music. Sunday, 13th January was an example.The final item on the program was a selection of the contemporary work of Elena Kats-Chernin, who has garnered worldwide recognition and respect for her compositions. The composer herself appeared on the stage of the Sandgate Townhall with one of the world’s finest pianists, Tamara Anna Cislowska. Not only was this ensuing musical feast mindblowing, it was very enthusiastically received by the audience, many of whom had savoured something of Kats-Chernin’s music last September, at that time played by the redoubtable Acacia Quartet. Before the composer appeared on stage, the excitement in Sandgate’s recently refurbished, airconditioned hall was palpable,and after it, Sandgate seemed that little bit more sophisticated for having hosted such a remarkable event.

One of the unique charms of the Sandgate venue is the fact that unlike concerts presented by the big-city theatre organisers like QPAC, the audience and the artists mingle. In one of the breaks between performances, I was chatting to a rather beautiful young Hungarian woman about how the Kodaly method is taught in some (but sadly not all) Australian schools from Grade One. She apologised for her poor English. I hastened to tell her that her English is not at all poor, but in fact beautifully enunciated and quite charming. She said she had only been learning English for a year and apologised again. Then, an hour or so later, this same young woman, apppeared on stage, transformed into the glamorous Judit Molnar, looking a little like a mermaid in her long golden dress, to sing some liede of Franz Schubert. Her voice is pure, beautifully modulated and powerful. Her highest notes are as good as the best I’ve heard, and rather better than most. Her Ave Maria allowed us to soar to Heaven with her. You’ll have to ask Zoli for her to come back to Sandgate to appear in another of his concerts if you were one of the unfortunates who missed out on hearing her this weekend, or even if, like me, you’ve possibly become addicted to the proposition of hearing her again. Look her up on her website (Judit Molnar soprano) and hear her sing Lehar’s “Velia, the Witch of the Woods,” and tell me that she isn’t magnificent.
Read on…

Jan
16

The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

January 16, 2013 - 9:30 pm No Comments
The Butterfly Cabinet
Bernie McGill
Publisher: Headline Review
The charm intrinsic to collecting butterflies and pinning them to a display board eludes me.
It seems to be the chief delight—with riding her barely-tamed horse, Caesar—of Harriet Ormond. Certainly dead butterflies are easier to view and appreciate for their miraculous colourings, but the essential spirit of butterfly, or “flutterby” as I remember calling each little enchantment  as a child, is vanished, never to be reclaimed. Read on…
May
31

New translation of “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir.

May 31, 2012 - 7:08 pm No Comments

The new translation of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.

Translators: Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier.

Simone de Beauvoir published her wonderful book, The Second Sex, in 1949. It was translated into English some four years later, by H.M. Parshley, but his American publisher, Alfred Knopf, insisted that as much as 20% of the original text be deleted from it.

As a very young woman I struggled with this translation in the 1970s, unaware that so much of the original text was missing. So it was with much excitement late last year that I learned there was a much better translation than this first one, now available through the London publisher, Vintage Books.

Meeting the translators at the University of Queensland in November 2011, was a treat, too. They were charming and funny and wise; two Americans living in Paris who took three years to restore de Beauvoir’s  masterpiece to what she had originally said, but in English. Read on…

May
31

A Dissection of Murder” by Felicity Young

May 31, 2012 - 3:03 pm No Comments

A Dissection of Murder by Felicity Young

Publisher: HarperCollins

Felicity Young has written a gorgeous historical crime fiction in A Dissection of Murder, foregrounding the real Suffragette march for the Women’s Vote in November 1910, where the London police behaved so brutally towards the marchers, that three women were killed and many more seriously injured. It has been suggested, though not proven, that Winston Churchill gave the order to the police to behave in the appalling way they did. They not only killed and maimed, but also sexually assaulted many of the women.

That Churchill hated the Suffragettes is a strong possibility. History records that just the year before, on November 14, 1909,  the Suffragette, Therese Gurnett, smote Churchill around the head (which was mostly protected by his hat) with a dog whip, as he alighted from a train in Bristol. Gurnett was arrested and gaoled. Her whip was apparently given to Mrs Churchill as a souvenir. Read on…