Thursday, 17 December 2015

Michael Moorcock's Steampunk Trilogy

Written in the early 70's, before steampunk was a thing, these books are ripping yarns. It's Biggles meets Jules Verne, part H.G. Wells, part Arthur Conan Doyle.
Our hero, Oswald Bastable, a captain in colonial India in 1901, travels in time to three alternate 20th centuries. Our very pucker captain encounters towering airships, monorails, "hovergyros" and gleaming Utopian cities. We encounter new versions of Joseph Stalin, Enoch Powell, Harold Wilson and Ronald Reagan (as an obnoxious boy scout leader).
The narrative is sometimes bogged down by political science debate. The fun stuff is finding out what happens when Brits stay too long in the steamy colonies - copious gin and tonics, visits to opium dens, characters spouting: "now steady on, old chap".
The last quarter of "The Steel Tsar" (final in the series, published in 1980) is a bit ponderous, with the narrator trying to make sense of the 'multiverse'. Mrs Persson, one of the reappearing characters (a member of the "League" of "chrononauts") is the trilogy's most intriguing individual.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Young kids in restaurants. Parents, lift your game.

This is happening way too many times now. Noisy, indulged children in restaurants.
Don't get me wrong, I don't subscribe to the "Children should be seen and not heard"-school. Although after 3 courses, I was sorely tested.
Here's some observations from last night's dinner at a semi-posh restaurant:

  • I suppose we should have know there was trouble in store when both parents at two different tables asked their child (aged 3 - 5) where he/she wanted to sit. WTF. When we brought our young daughter to a similar restaurant, we chose the most out of the way table, end of discussion.
  • Why don't parents come armed with things for their kids to do (colouring books, i-pod, Nintendo DS, or even...the perennial smartphone)? Hence their sprogs resort to percussion routines with the cultery.
  • Letting their kids run around the place like it's a McDonalds playground. 
  • Indulgence. One mum walked up to the waiter's station and let her child proclaim, "I want grapes". Mum then asked whether the kitchen had a bowl of grapes. Here's an idea - come prepared, mum.
  • Every parent thinks their child is adorable and cute. News Flash: they're not.
  • Voice levels. You want your kid to speak quietly? Then do some modelling. Speak sotto voce to your child. Kids aren't stupid (or deaf). Unfortunately some parents love to speak in raised tones to their kids (meaning hello everybody, aren't I a cool/caring/wonderful parent, listen to me).
End of rant.
Comments welcome.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

What to do with those 80's hand-knitted jumpers ...


Back (ignore our pooch's shadow)
Remember all those colourful hand-knitted jumpers and cardigans in the 1980's (think U.S. born, now England's Kaffe Fassett and Australia's Jenny Kee).
Of course you are not going to wear them now, but you don't want to part with them either.  All the time and effort you put into knitting them still needs to be celebrated.

Solution : My crafty wife turned them into cushion covers.

Monday, 26 October 2015

How to make a backyard frog pond

I am no handyman nor gardener, but constructing a frog pond was dead easy. We heard frog croaking a few months later. 
  1. Dig a hole. Mine was about 30 cm deep (1 ft) with shallow spots. Ensure the site has some shade.
  2. Line with black PVC sheet (pond liner available at hardware stores).
  3. Trim with scissors but leave heaps (at least 60 cm) around the edges. 
  4. Arrange rocks around edge (to stabilise the pond as well as hide the plastic sheet).
  5. I put a log in the centre.
  6. Add water plants in pots to oxygenate the water (you don't need a water pump).
  7. Ensure plants and soil/mulch cover black plastic liner. Frogs like plants that trail into water and logs or rocks in the sun for butterflies, lizards, etc. Native plants will attract bird life too.
  8. Fill with tap water.

Our pond/bush garden is nearly 5 years old.

A balance of sun and shade is preferable.
This summer we noticed frog spawn.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Melbourne wildlife - critters in the 'burbs. Why bush gardens are the way to go.

Barking Owl (one of two) on our garage roof

Ringtail Possum drey (nest) over our driveway.
Another drey in our front garden, looking worse for wear.
We live in a suburb 18 km from the Melbourne CBD.
Native bush gardens front and back have several advantages:

  1. Saving water, we don't have to water our garden.
  2. No lawns to mow.
  3. Fast growing plants like eucalyptus, grevillea and protea provide privacy (screening potential knock-down and build, beware the McMansions).
  4. Shade in summer.
  5. Encouraging native wildlife.

Is it normal to sleep with your dog?

When he was a puppy, he slept in his basket under the kitchen table (with the door shut). The rot set in about two years ago when we let him sleep on the bed. Cut to 6 months ago (when the weather is getting colder) - he now nuzzles under the doona, resting his head on a pillow. He likes to play spoons with the wife.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

What do you do with a cracked fibreglass pool?

My dad's back yard pool was constructed in 1974. About 20 years ago came the wobbly/bouncy bottom. My daughter thought it was more fun than a bouncy castle.

Possible causes:
  1. Hydrostatic valve not checked?  
  2. A ruptured inlet pipe (fixed a year ago) was causing a massive water loss.

Two months ago, it popped like giant blister. The yawning crack is nearly 3 metres long (9 feet). You can see the concrete base through the crack. Miraculously, the water level doesn't seem to be going down. The water quality/colour is still great. When I visit, I vacuum/chlorinate it and swim as normal.
How long can this last?
The suspense is killing me.
Close up view

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

From the Video Vault: "Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter" (1974) Definitely a cult classic

This intriguing effort from Hammer sat on the shelf for 2 years. The main problem the audience had was probably the lack of usual Hammer horror stars : Lee, Cushing, Michael Gough, Ingrid Pitt. We do have two Hammer stalwarts, Shane Briant (playing poncy young Mr Durward) and sultry Caroline Munro (who acquits herself nicely as Kronos's roll-in-the-hay interest, Ms Munro has straw-encrusted hair in several shots).
The lead, German actor Horst Janson (with 70's boofy hairstyle), was huge in Europe but unknown in the U.K. Ian Hendry steals scenes in the middle of the film (there is an excellent Kill Bill-esque tavern samurai sword scene). 
Wanting something fresh and quirky, Hammer went with Brian Clemens (TV's "The Avengers", "Thriller") as writer/director. The film is produced by Clemens and Albert Finnell ("The Avengers"). Laurie Johnson ("The Avengers") scored the film.
There's the usual budget-saving "day-for-night" photography, some cheesy dialogue ("Mind you get back before dark, now!") and a loyal hunchback off-sider, Grost. Clemens is clearly having lots of fun. There were plans for this to be a series of films. A shame.
The plot involving a stranger who battles evil is more like a Western, then you add youth-draining vampires and the infamous Karnstein family to the mix.
There's a rather nasty extended scene (around the 50 minute mark) where Kronos and Co discover it is harder to kill a vampire than they expected. It reminded me a bit of the gristly farmhouse murder in Hitchcock's "Torn Curtain".

  •  Perhaps I was dozing, but why does our hero (when he's not boffing the buxom wench and sword fighting) wear a pillow case on his head?
  • What's the bit about the bendy crucifix (definitely a cinema first)?

Possible drinking game:
Take a shot every time you see Shane Briant "doing a teapot" (standing elbow bent, his left hand on his waist).

Not sure whether the last name in the closing credits is a pisstake or merely unfortunate:
"Whore - Penny Price"

PS  The YouTube version is 4 minutes shorter than the DVD version (91 mins).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

When good turns to evil. Charity bags polluting Melbourne's waterways. Rant No 2: The curse of bottled water.

How festive, charity bags festoon the trees, Glen Waverley.
Scotchman's Creek, in Melbourne's south-east, after a heavy shower

Almost weekly you get a plastic charity bag in your letterbox (for your old clothes, shoes, homewares ready for later collection). All well and good, but the majority of the empty bags end up drifting into the gutters, into the stormwater and hence into the urban waterways. Melbourne's creeks and streams flow into the waterways like the Yarra River or straight into Port Phillip Bay.
The plastic mess is supplemented by plastics bottles and polystyrene (caused by morons overpacking or incorrectly filling home recycling bins).
Why people buy bottled water in the first place, is a mystery to me. Melbourne's drinking water is excellent (and free). But you see people with supermarket trolleys filled with cases of bottled water (it's Australia, not China, for crying out loud).
Well, there's my rant for today.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Scourge of the Suburbs: Knock down and Rebuild

Goodbye houses with character and a decent front and back garden in the suburbs. Hello McMansions.

In Australia the average family size in 1966 was 3.5 people, now it's around 2.4. How come houses are getting bigger? Now people MUST have at least 4 bedrooms, home theatre/rumpus room, study, an outdoor room (because there's only a pocket handkerchief sized backyard) and a butler's pantry/second kitchen for Christ sake. More to heat, cool, clean and maintain. What will these McMansions look like in 50 years' time? 
Us working class baby-boomers lived in the family 3 bedroom house - all crowded around the black and white telly in the lounge ("the good room").
Established trees are chopped down. With no space for an established garden, our suburbs are becoming soulless, no longer homes for native wildlife and hotter in summer. 
New owners are either time-poor (too busy paying off the mortgage to devote time to gardening) or have no desire to keep up a garden.

Friday, 21 August 2015

"Mr Robot" - the best new US TV show of 2015?

Not from HBO, Netflix or even FX or Showtime, but from USA Network. Who would have guessed it? This show grabs you from the start and then provides constant twists and turns. The viewer is never treated like an idiot.
A savvy script, moody NYC locales and a standout performance by Rami Malek (the pharaoh in the "Night at the Museum" films) as the dysfunctional super hacker, Elliot, make this engrossing television.
Some of Elliot's rants (to himself or his shrink) are priceless. Christian Slater (the go-to guy in 80's and 90's if you wanted a cool, smart alek, e.g. "Heathers" and "Pump up the Volume") still has it. Nice to see him in something substantial, rather than voiceovers.
Another intriguing character is badass/unhinged Tyrell Wellick. Swedish actor, Martin Wallström, would make a great Bond villain. He reminds me of a young Christopher Walken.
Some scenes knock your socks off. In Episode 9, for example there is a lovely transition of time sequence showing the Mr Robot computer shopfront from 1984 to present day (shades of the dress shop in the 1960 version of "The Time Machine"). I also liked Christian Slater telling a customer the benefits of a 400 MB hard drive.
Writer/director Sam Esmail can do no wrong.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Ikea : Saving the Planet??? Bottled water bullshit

Ikea Australia sent me an email this week telling me they were replacing free coffee/tea in their restaurants with 50% off bottled water, "better for you, better for the planet". What crap. Australian tap water is fine to drink (especially Melbourne water).
How irresponsible for a so-called environmentally-friendly multinational company to promote bottled water.
"Better for the planet"
.... better for landfills and clogged waterways? What a waste of money and resources.

Okay, Ikea, if you want to pull the free coffee, okay, but don't clothe it in fake 'green' credentials.
Melbourne Water catchment area, 5 km from Ikea Springvale

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Is "Ray Donovan" Season 3 better than "True Detective" Season 2?

Both set in L.A., both about crime and corruption.
But "Ray Donovan" has more heart and less pretence. The stunning aerial shot across the Hollywood sign, zooming down to Mickey in the motel pool, to the stains of "On the Good Ship Lollypop", was enough for me to confirm that Season 3 is going to maintain the standard of the rest of the series. David Hollander as the writer is certainly kicking goals. Episode 1 was a ripper.

P.S. That being said, the shootout scene at the end of "True Detective", Episode 4 was f**king amazing.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Why "Hannibal" deserved to be cancelled

One of network television's innovative, stylish and creative dramas in the first two seasons, Season 3 was a big disappointment. Beautifully shot and designed but it's no fun any more. No more devilish dinner parties and psycho-of-the-week.
Sure, Florence looks gorgeous and Gillian Anderson is very watchable as the ice-queen (like in "The Fall") but it's same-same after that.
Episode 2 dragged painfully. Will is becoming a bore. Lots of torrents of blood and the stag-critter is back (looking like some hybrid-beast from "The Thing").
Why do US series drag out over so many seasons (10-13 episodes each)? The Brits keep things short and sweet (6-8 episodes a series).

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Holloways Beach, Cairn's best kept secret

Paradise on a budget.
Just 11 km from Cairns CBD, $3.10 on a public bus (Translink, Route 120), you could be in the middle of nowhere, but this is 10 minutes from an international airport. Free electric barbecues line the foreshore with shelters, drinking water and seating. The bus stop (Oleander Street) is 2 minutes walk from the beach. Stinger (e.g. poisonous Box Jellyfish) nets are installed for bathers from Nov-April.

You cannot swim in central Cairns due to the tidal nature of the area. There is a huge artificial lagoon (free) on the foreshore, Cairns Esplanade.
Looking north
Looking south, toward Cairns

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

You can bodysurf in Far North Queensland!

Clifton Beach 24 km north of Cairns

Kewarra Beach, 20 km north of Cairns
Far North Queensland beaches usually have little or no waves (there's a big bloody Barrier Reef out there). But around June/July you get some nice waves on the Northern Beaches (Palm Cove, Clifton Beach, Kewarra Beach). No one is in the water, even though it's warm (around 26 degrees C). Why loll around a resort pool, listening to screaming kids?
Ignore the beach signs, the locals do. Stinger (e.g. Box Jellyfish) Season is roughly October to May. Stay clear of waterways near the mangroves (saltwater crocs).
It's so easy to get from Cairns to the Northern Beaches. The public Cairns bus (Translink) costs $5.50 one way. Comfortable, reliable and half-hour service during weekdays.

This sign greets you at the beach entrance (Pullman Sea Temple, Palm Cove, 26 km from Cairns)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

"Harbour" by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Lindqvist's 2008 novel is part nautical ghost story, part little-girl-lost, part love story, part wtf!
Water, water everywhere. Don't mess with the sea. Like is far from idyllic on the fictional island of Domaro.
It's nutty but a great read nonetheless.  Like Stephen King (who Lindqvist has been compared to), he writes perceptively about young teens (his debut novel was "Let the Right One In"). The author is at his best when he writes about teenagers and this time there are several key back stories involving kids. I prefer his biting "Little Star" to "Harbour".
It's a bit of a mishmash. You have elements of "The Birds", "The Wicker Man", some cursed village from a 60's Hammer movie, a Swedish Houdini and sci-fi (e.g. Spiritus, the water-controlling larva who lives in a matchbox and requires a daily gob of saliva from its owner).
The three main characters (the octogenarian lovebirds, Simon and Anna-Greta and their tortured grandson, Anders) are beautifully drawn. Best bits are the stories from the island's murky past, a ripping yarn about Simon the escapologist and flashbacks to Anders' 1980's teenage years with lots of musical references (from The Smiths to Frankie goes to Hollywood).

Friday, 15 May 2015

The best bits of "Penny Dreadful" Season 2

So pleased that the second series has maintained the standard of the first. Just as beautifully produced, acted and scripted. It's witty, gory, sexy and .... bonkers, of course.

Episode 2:
  • It's great to see Simon Russell Beale is back as campy Professor Lyle (love the hair), funny scene with him flirting with Ethan (Josh Hartnett). 
  • Any scene with Evelyn (Helen McCrory, Damian Lewis's partner, by the by) classifies as a "best bit". Nasty baby sacrifice scene (those creepy mannequins).
  • Dorian Gray's (Reeve Carney) encounter with the (well-endowed) ladyboy (my wife nearly dropped her cuppa).
  • Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) scenes with newly reanimated Brona (Billie Piper) and The Creature - tender, caring, perceptive (very different from Universal's version in the 30's and 40's).
Episode 3:

The entire episode. The back story of Vanessa on the moors was flawless. Three superb actors chewing up the scenery - the cursed Vanessa (Eva Green), the good witch, Joan Clayton (Patti LuPone - who coincidentally guest starred in another witch opus - "American Horror Story: Coven") and bad witch (Helen McCrory - culling cattle, flouncing around in shoulder pads and showing the lord of the manor who's boss).

Episode 4:
  • The opulent art direction - street carousels, the Gossima Parlour, the coven's skulls-encrusted walls.
  • Frankenstein's "bride" is resembling "Pygmalion". Liked the good doctor's "I'm good at stitching" line
  • The slow build-up to the attack of the nightcomers - the careful preparation of supper, cutting the butter cake, filling the urn.
Episode 5:
  • The tender scenes with Vanessa and The Creature reciting poetry and dancing.
  • The last 10 minutes was a bonk-fest, with something for everyone - gay gorn, grey porn (Sir Malcolm/Timothy Dalton), even Dr Frankenstein gets his leg over. Poor Prof Lyle misses out.
Episode 6:
  • The ballroom blood-shower scene (shades of "Carrie"). Stunning.
  • Special mention to the use of extras in the London street scenes. Season 2's budget must be considerably more than the first season.
Episode 7:
  • Vanessa telling Ethan in her deliciously croaky voice, "We are dangerous".
Episode 8:
  • Evelyn's line to the professor: "You taste like a fat, little man".
  • We finally get to see Dorian Gray's hidden picture, not as scary as the 1945 movie version, though.
  • The "Bride"/Brona's ball-busting "thee and me" monologue to the hapless Creature.
Episode 9:
  • There's a nifty fight scene in Vanessa's rural retreat about 5 minutes in.
  • Brona goes all Mike Tyson with Dorian in the ballroom.
Epiode 10 (season final)

  • The prof's line, "Never underestimate the power of a queen with lovely hair, dear."
  • Blood-soaked ballroon in Chez Gray, #2. The white gown/suits design was a masterstroke. "Shall we murder him?" crows Brona.
  • The nautical farewell to three characters. The Creature's Arctic voyage true to Shelley's novel.
  • Did the police inspector refer to Ethan as "Mr Talbot" (or am I too immersed in Universal's "The Wolfman"?)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The best street in Kuta-Legian?

Jalan Lebak Bene leading into Jalan Bene Sari (between Jalan Melasti and Poppies Lane 2) is full of cheap and cheerful bars, warungs, cafes, massage salons (starting at 45000 rupiah for full body 1 hour) and accommodation. It's narrow and full of colourful street art.
Recommended cheap eateries for Balinese food and cheap beer:
  • Warung Kampung (new kid on the block)  Off Jalan Melasti. Down first lane after Pullman Hotel (Gang Intan) well signposted. Limited but delicious Indonesian menu. Eat like a king. 4 dishes for under $10 Australia (including 15% tip) e.g. Nasi Goreng $A 1.80
  • Legian Snacks (Jalan Padma Utara, behind Padma Resort)
  • Gong Corner (near Kuta Town Houses) Best Gado Gado in town 12000 rupiah, goes down well with large Bali Hai beer 28000, Big American breakfast 30000 rupiah (A$3)
Best value massage: 
Green Beauty Salon, full body massage 1 hour 60 000 IDR - "Mardi" (she's the best masseuse, in my opinion) can be flexible with the price if business is slow. 
Location: off Jalan Lebak Bene (10 metres down Senen Lane, No 3). Nearest hotels: Pullman, Hotel Puri Tanah Lot, Senen Beach Inn.

Tip: Want the best (budget, not 5 star hotel) Balinese massage? Get an older woman or a guy - stronger and more proficient). At around 55 000 IDR an hour, this is too good to be true.

Does Bali have the best body surfing? How long can you travel? And a word about Bali dogs...

I have body surfed (over a 35 year period) the east and west coast of Australia, Mexico, South Africa but the waves in Kuta Beach, Bali, take some beating. Why else have tourists been flocking there since the 60's?

Legian Beach

On a good day you can travel 50 metres on a wave (sometimes one wave piggy-backs another for extra distance). You body surf until you:
(a) eat sand because you have reached the shallows;
(b) run out of breath;
(c) both.

Go where the surf schools go. These little waves are great for beginners and have maximum distance. Just watch you don't get too close when you body surf.
Legian is also good. I am writing this mid April, the end of the wet season. Seminyak body surfing okay but I can't go as far.

Tips (these might be obvious)
  • Wait until the wave is about to break.
  • Launch yourself by swimming strongly (freestyle) in front of the wave.
  • Streamline your body (hands one on top of the other, fingers together, feet overlapping together, tuck your head under your arms, suck your gut in if you have a bit of 'middle age spread').
  • Keep your head DOWN.
  • I don't use fins, that's cheatin'
  • Wear trunk style bathers, a zip is good for room key, etc. Speedos, second preference. Board shorts take too long to dry and can slow you down in the water.

A word about beach dogs
It is amazing the number of dogs on Bali beaches.  I didn't see so many last year. Legian has packs of stray dogs roaming from dawn 'til dusk. There are also a great dogs with owners (locals and ex pats), walking, playing with balls and paddling in the surf. Labradors are popular. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The cheap bastard's guide to cycling. Cycling on the cheap

Unlike the MAMILS (middle age men in lycra) who fly past me, I cycle on a shoestring.

  • Bike $50 (garage sale)
  • Backpack (freebie)
  • Helmet ($20)
  • Media player/e-reader ($19 at K-Mart). Stored in old pencil case, elegantly worn around my neck. I might look like a dick, but it's convenient.
  • Lights, front and rear ($8 K-Mart)
  • Clothing  Summer: shorts and tee shirt/ Winter: trackie dacks, in case of rain: plastic poncho (freebie from long past Teachers' Union Stop Work rally)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Things I liked about "Bates Motel" Season 3

  • Norma's mugging of the camera - extended reaction times/frozen expressions (usually after one of Norman's revelations/confessions).
  • Norman's facial expressions are getting creepier (Highmore is metamorphosing into Tony Perkins episode by episode).
  • It ALWAYS rains in White Pine Bay - adds to its gothic charm 
  • The nutty/evil hippy/psycho (Dylan's dad's neighbour in Episode 2)
  • It's much better (and funnier) than Season 2 (e.g. the wifi password at the motel is MOTHER)
  • The moody Bernard Herrmann-inspired musical score (particularly effective during Norman's interview with the sheriff in Episode 3).
  • Emma in her VW/ganja-mobile to the strains of The Specials' "A Message to you, Rudy".
  • Norman in another creepy bathroom scene (towards the end of Episode 3).
  • The family dynamics are deeper in this season (e.g. Norman's resentment/jealousy of Dylan in Episode 4).
  • The script writers have beefed up Olivia Cooke's character, Emma. She  is sexier and gutsier in Season 3. It's funny that both Cooke and Highmore are English.
  • Episode 5 was the strongest ep since early in Season 1. Norman sniffing mom's dress, Norma's rant about White Pine Bay about 2/3 into the episode. More please.
  • Norman being mom making French toast for Dylan in Episode 6 (the best eps so far seem to be written by series co-creator, Kerry Ehrin)
  • A tender scene with Dylan and Emma: "Sorry I got phlegm on the floor."
  • Episode 7: Norman's chat with the psychologist in the basement. Probably not a great idea to conclude the session by strangling the therapist.
  • The way Norman (Freddie Highmore) breathes heavier as he gets more unhinged.
  • The view from Dylan's shack, across the water to mist-shrouded mountains - reminiscent of New Zealand's "Top of the Lake".
  • The season finale was disappointing except for the inspired final few minutes: Bradley's murder, "Mother, what have you done!", the slowly submerging car (a nod to "Psycho" where Norman pushes Marion Crane's car into the swamp).

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"Bates Motel" Season 3, Episode 1, "A death in the family", review

After the disappointing, all-over-the-shop second season, I vowed not to watch another season of "Bates Motel". The producers (also wrote the first episode of Season 3) have stated they wanted more focus on "Psycho" and less on the town's business this time around.
I was pleasantly surprised, although Dylan is still a sad sack (perhaps because it never stops raining in Oregon, well, British Columbia actually).
Norma's weird reaction to hearing of her mum's death; a Stephen King-like cafeteria scene; Norman's first shower scene and the intriguing final scene with Norman nonchalantly getting out of the escort's Porsche.
The two leads make this show a cut above the usual cable-fodder. Highmore's creepy, quizzical smile is worth 43 minutes of your time.
I think the producers may have given the show a much needed shot in the arm.

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Babadook - a horror gem from Australia

Life is not a bowl of cherries for Amelia (Essie Davis from "The Slap" and "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries").
Apart from the fact she is living in Adelaide, she pines for her dead husband, lives in a dilapidated house (that looks like it was decorated by Morticia Addams), has a disturbed six year old, has to contend with a snobby sister, and by day she works in a dementia care facility.
She lives in a dreamlike state, obsessed with her late partner, her weird child and her quest for sleep. Dreams turn to nightmares when she 'finds' the picture storybook, "The Babadook". This cheery little read would make Edward Gorey blanch. Think German expressionism meets Salem Lot's Kurt Barlow. This is the pop-up book you read at your peril.
Knockout performance from Essie Davis, clever art direction (those greys and drab blues dominate Amelia's house), fun collection of old movie clips during Amelia's sleep-deprived TV time (e.g. Bava's "Black Sabbath", film noir "The Strange Case of Martha Ives"), polished direction by Jennifer Kent, its economic length (under 90 minutes).
The final 15 minutes, while effective, resorts to some horror cliches/special effects. Oskar's baddie-busting gadgets were a bit "Home Alone".

Questions (contains spoilers)
Amelia was a writer years earlier (so did she write the book?). Why all the blank pages at the back of the book? Perhaps she should have written a happy ending to solve her problem.
Her husband's memories were kept in the cellar, as was the Babadook.
Why worms? Perhaps cockroaches, they certainly were more plentiful.
Amelia was deranged and still is (but containable, like our black cloaked friend)
The son became more normal as Amelia became more screwy.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

How to survive White Night Feb 21-22, 2015 Melbourne, Australia

Forum Theatre, Alice in Wonderland theme

  1. Take public transport (the trains run all night).
  2. Avoid the crush, arrive late (we took the 3 a.m. train so we had several hours of sleep beforehand and took the 5:30 train home, for a sunrise snooze). The crowds had died down considerably.
  3. Take the dog (he got his morning walk a bit earlier than usual)
  4. Take a water bottle.
  5. Cycle in, if you live inner city. Bike racks everywhere.

    Flinders Street Station 5 a.m. - less crowds

    Hamer Hall meets "Mars Attacks!"

    State Library 4 a.m.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Caring for an elderly parent - tips and advice

This is purely my thoughts and experiences. I'm no expert. Of course, each aged person has different needs and abilities.

My dad is 91 years, lives alone (semi-independently, is that a word?) at home. He must always use a walker (4 wheeled rollator), he has a heart condition and poor peripheral vision. I visit him daily (in the middle of the day for several hours). I prepare lunch and light dinner (Meals on Wheels was tried and later abandoned), clean house/maintenance/laundry, set out medication and chat with him.

Tips/Time savers

  • Get a lightweight, fold-up wheelchair for car trips.
  • Get a simple to operate microwave, prepare meals in advance, stored in fridge or freezer.
  • Keep everything in the same place daily (e.g. milk on easily accessible shelf, cereals in easy-to- use storage containers). Breakfast and light dinner are the meal my dad prepares independently.
  • Medication placed in same spot each day. I have written in large block letters on his place mat: "PILLS AFTER BREAKFAST". Nighttime pills in container on bedside table (with similar sign). Note, I abandoned the 7 day pill box dispenser after continued confusion over days and spillages.
  • Clock (get a large display digital wall clock that has the days of the week), centrally located.
  • Chair (a motorised tip-up model is essential)
  • Bed (waterproof mattress protector, hand grip bar that is anchored under mattress to aid getting in and out of bed)
  • Clothes I have a simple clothes rack with appropriate clothes laid out near dad's commode chair. Underwear ('pre-loaded' with adhesive incontinence pads) is stacked up on a stool next to chair. 
  • Commode chair (a Godsend) Next to bed. I abandoned the wee-bottle - too many accidents. I have a large sign on seat; SIT DOWN (nighttime No 1's more piss landed on the floor than in the bowl). Commode chair doubles as a sturdy chair for dressing during the day.
  • Lighting Motion sensor portable lights (set for after dark) are inexpensive and essential
  • Disposable absorbent pads that fit into underpants (trunks style is the best). Before I leave for the day, I check dad has a new one on.
  • Heating and Cooling A split-system ticks all the boxes for my dad's needs.
  • Ramp (temporary or permanent - I went with the latter)
  • Modified bathroom (rails, no step shower)
  • Photo Albums Memories are powerful and often more entertaining than watching TV by yourself. Dad's long term memory > his short term memory.
  • Phone My daily routine is I phone dad at 8:00 a.m. to remind him/check he has taken his pills and he rings me at 5 p.m. (TV news time for him). Get a cordless as well as fixed phone. 
  • Keysafe Install a key box with combination lock outside the house for quick entrance/emergencies. 
  • List I have a list by the front door that I mentally check off before I leave for the day (e.g. Pills on nightstand, breakfast pills, new underpants, meal in fridge, empty commode, etc.).
Side Benefits
I cycle the 8 km to my dad's house. Who needs a gym?
My hours away each day gives my spouse some breathing space. I reckon our relationship is better because of it.
Interaction with another person is good for my dad's mental health.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Secret of Splitting Wood

To maximise the force of the axe hitting wood, before impact, yell out the name of your ex-boss, or one of your duplicitous work colleagues (gory visualisation optional). This pile of split wood is testament to the effectiveness of the method.
NB Split wood from the edge, not the core, if the wood is too hefty.

Friday, 9 January 2015

"Count Arthur Strong" Series 2 and 3, BBC

If it wasn't that Graham Linehan was involved, I would never have started watching Series 1. It is 'an acquired taste'.
Rory Kinnear is a wonderfully versatile actor (I saw him last as Frankenstein's creature in "Penny Dreadful"). He has his dad's comic timing (Roy Kinnear). The cafe owner, Bulent, is a trick.
There are some fun malaprops (e.g. Arthur's "racist" book in Episode 1) and linking "Carry On Cruising" with "Captain Phillips" made me smile, but not enough to sustain a half hour comedy. Perhaps Episode 2 will win me over. What is Michael writing?
Episode 2 was much stronger, cleverly structured with a particularly funny flashback involving street urchins from "Oliver", 60's mods and "The Great Escape".
Episode 3 (Arthur dabbles in local politics "We're Listening") tried to stretch 29 minutes with one joke.
The series final, Episode 7, "Fame at last", had a sweet ending but the jokes again were drawn out and predictable.
The studio audience laughing uproariously at anything vaguely funny was grating. There must have been booze laid on before the taping.
Update Series 3
I just gave the first episode of Series 3 a try and was pleasantly surprised - mad make-up, spooky ventriloquist dummies, "grandpa drinking" and Michael dancing to Soft Cell.
Episode 2 - Kevin Klein underpants, "that Brian Cox feeling" and Don Arthur Corleone made me laugh a lot. Beautifully structured episode with a great final gag.
Episode 3 sees Arthur transformed from farting murder-mystery corpse into crack detective, thanks to Martin Clunes and a double decker bus.
Episode 4 was more surreal than usual - an assault course for babies, Barry Norman's pickled onions, a WW1 soup cannon and Archimedes's bathtime urethra moment.
When was the last time someone mentioned "The Onedin Line"? Episode 5 is full of nostalgic references - Clannad, The Beatles on the rooftop, Paul Newman in "The Hustler" - topped off with a guest appearance by "John Shuttleworth" (Graham Fellows).
P.S. Never share a bed with Arthur.
In "Safari Park" (Episode 7, season finale) we have the classic fire in the car/lions outside dilemma. Ann Summers lingerie saves the day.