Monday, June 30, 2003

The travails of a Masters student
(Being a letter to a student under supervision, c. 1927)

My dear Charles,

I am gratified to hear of the progress of your researches and the general comfort of the late General Sedgwick’s country retreat. I trust it has provided a meditative setting for study, and that the various minor disturbances to your sojourn (both waking and hypnagogic) regarding the “grotesque and obscene silhouettes cast by the mill-pond’s curious tower at sunset” have not unnecessarily alarmed you.

Clearly, you have suffered setbacks. The early loss of notes and photographic plates during your stop in Morley Bay, must have come as a disappointment. As you’ve learned, however, the winter solstice rites observed in certain isolated New Hampshire fishing towns are not conducive to outsiders’ participation.

Overall, the Faculty is rather impressed with your persistence.

For my part, I am merely astonished at your survival. Most idle, independently wealthy young men with no particular interest (carnal or social) in the company of man, woman or beast we’ve sent into the hinterland of New England on research grants have lasted not three weeks.

Your archival researches at Sedgwick house into the curious disappearances at seven year intervals dating back to the Civil War is of a much higher than usual standard for first-year students. Your theories on Sedgwick’s blasphemous human experiments at the windowless mill-pond tower in the dark days before emancipation are rather better expressed than Dr Mansour managed in his 1919 paper on the subject. (He has, in fact, expressed envy of your prose style.) The oral histories taken from the degenerate old women of inbred backwaters and the cross-correlation of their ravings about The Masters Outside, and the Unliving Who Hunger To Feed On Human Souls, has been more than competent. Connecting that with the unholy pre-human god Yog Sothoth, and making the further connection with your (supposed) dreams of “inhuman, bestial wailing from throats that have never drawn living breath” at the mill-pond tower was inspired. (Mansour is threatening to quote from that letter extensively.)

Your success and comparative longevity has become, frankly, tedious.

Your complete undoing, however, was your discovery of the personal diaries of the last three Faculty students sent on research grants to Sedgwick’s. Forwarding them to us was an act of idiocy. Had you run, rather than trustingly awaited instruction, you might have outlived the night. Even as you read this, a few of the more depraved villagers will be preparing to sacrifice you to Yog Sothoth at moonrise.

The Ancient Master needs feeding, as you’ve noted, at seven-year intervals.

Most of the faculty is terribly sorry to waste a mind of your calibre on this exercise, but with the planets presently in alignment, there is not time to locate and despatch by express locomotive a less promising student in time to be fed into the Master’s strangely octopus-like, tentacle-encrusted beak.

Besides, your research and writings are unconscionably good. This is a competitive faculty, and I have not remained its chair for over 112 years by allowing every upstart pipsqueak who survives his first encounter with reanimate servants of the Hungry Masters a chance to return from his certain doom to feed my soul scrap by scrap to the Devouring Ones resident in Outer Darkness.

I’ve quite enough trouble keeping the daggers of that cretin Mansour from my back since he raised Servants of the First Lords in Darkness to general acclaim at last year’s staff Antichristmas party.

May the Eternal One enjoy you as a light morsel. Needless to say, your research grant is suspended herewith.

Yours in Cthullu,


Dean of Cryptoanthropology and Xenoic Studies
Faculty of New Haven University

A fictography* (with a nod to Hot Soup Girl)

All I ever wanted was to marry a nice girl, raise three kids, pilot experimental aircraft and bomb the hell out of the commies.

Not original ambitions, I’d admit, but it was the Eisenhower administration.

My own childhood’s kinda blurry. Dad, was mostly a pipe and newspaper. Mom was a towering hourglass: I’d trouble seeing past her skirts. Her face usually got blocked by her two-warhead-caps bust-line anyway. I guess that involved some pretty uncomfortable underwear, but all women sorta looked custom-moulded then. Just like all men arrived starched, pressed and pipe-smoking.

At military school I learned Dad was a psychologist and a biological determinist. Probably explains why he never spoke to me much. He invented a lie-detecting machine called the polygraph. It wasn’t a bomb, but it helped catch commie spies.

I guess I was a determinist too. I never surprised easy. Not even when I survived that test-flight crash-landing on an uncharted island.

It was a bit unusual to find a Hellenic civilisation 50 miles off the South West coast of the USA like that. Especially one that had spent 5,000 isolated from the outside world - and men. The whole place was swarming with female warriors. Greek gods visited sometimes, but only to make trouble, I reckon.

Still, it took me a while to realise I was not in Cuba. (I really didn’t know much about commies.)

The island was OK, but I didn’t fit in. What with being from the twentieth century, not worshipping incestuous gods and being male and all. So they decided to send me back with an ambassador for peace to “Man’s World” (not sure they realised we had women too, or maybe they was just thinking of President Eisenhower’s cabinet).

The best person for Peace Ambassador was gonna be a warrior, so they had a contest to pick one. They didn’t fight too bad for girls, even if their technology was all spears and shields and magic lassoes. (I thought cowboys invent lassoes, but it musta been ancient Greeks.)

The Queen’s daughter, Diana, won.

I never did think on how the Queen got herself a daughter. Or how they got along without men all that time. We didn’t have revisionist scholarship then, it was the 50s.

So, they looked at the bits of my plane and built the Princess an invisible jet. President Eisenhower should have got his hands on some Amazons instead of them left-over Nazi scientists. These gals went from chariots to stealth aircraft in an afternoon! They coulda blown up commies real good.

So, the Princess flew me back. She sure knew how to sell her message in Man’s World - what with the Stars and Stripes style one-piece bathing suit and her tall read boots and all.

After the air force psychologist - who looked a lot like my Dad - was through with me, I got assigned a desk job. Grown men shouldn’t believe in Amazons. Or lady aircraft engineers. Just determinism.

Still, working in the General’s office was fine. He got a new airforce secretary too, pretty girl with glasses. She always gave her name military-style: “Princess, Diana”. Miss Princess always seemed to have eyes for me. But I only had eyes for the Ambassador: swooping from the skies to lasso bad guys.

The rest of my airforce career was a mite strange. I got kidnapped lots. I was killed at least once. A robot-double of me married Miss Princess a couple of times, and I think I was only a clone of myself for a while. I saw the Ambassador plenty though, what with all the rescuing.

One morning I woke up and I was twenty again, and it was the Reagan administration. It was pretty crazy how the whole time-line had just rearranged itself without most folks noticing. I thought of calling my Dad - but he’d just say, “Son, it’s in your genes”. (He started talking to me after Watergate. He took that hard.) Still, I had a whole new chance to fly experimental aircraft and bomb the hell out of commies. I wound up on that dang island again, and got flown out by the Princess again. No invisible jet though - she could fly magically. I missed the jet - but they said the idea was too “phallic” and “sixties”.

I didn’t argue, not while being carried by an Amazon in a patriotic swimsuit.

Things worked out different this time round. It took another three Presidents, and the Princess Ambassador needed a business suit and a PhD in international relations, but now US foreign policy seems ready for an Amazon Warrior Ambassador for Peace.

There may be no more commies, but it’s good to see that World Peace by Armed Force can be a job for a good woman, even a princess.

I sure do miss that lasso, though.

*A fictional character’s autobiography
(more about polygraphs and dad)

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Literary legislation

In all the fuss about the Senate granting new powers to our security intelligence apparatus to hold detain people incommunicado for a week's worth of fireside chats with a retired judge, an important development in our legal landscape has gone unreported.

The Financial Services Reform Amendment Bill was introduced into Parliament this week. It contained the following at Item 14 of the Schedule of amendments to the Corporations Act 2001:

14 Subsection 766C(7)

Omit "not to be", substitute "to be, or not to be,".

The Bill has been referred to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee. Probably to consider issues of intertextuality and cliche.

And another thing: lost in translation

A story such as this is enough to afright the sternest future globe trotter who posses only a limited grasp of the languages he'll need en route (in my case, Italian).

Check it out; in particular, the comments just left me in hysterics.

(Link found on emptywishes.)

Finally ...

For the handful of fans, Naylor is up for the week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Premature nostalgia

I have only nine weekends left in Melbourne. I’m already beginning to encounter things as if I’m saying goodbye to them, or looking at things in memory.

Not all the time, but enough.

It is forcing me to get out and do things I’ve been putting off, like going to Bennett’s Lane on a Sunday for some pretty nifty jazz. I’m glad to have done some “big” things already, like the camping expedition to Wilson’s Promontory. I also really want to take a road trip out into the spa and wine country before I leave, too. (Suggestions anyone? Too late in the year for penguin watching?)

I am certainly going to miss a city riddled with interesting little bars and eateries. As my first mass e-mail to friends on arrival put it:

“Greeting from Melbourne, where the weather is variable and every vacant shop front has been turned into a cafe/retro-bar! … this town is full of little bars. Funky little bars. It was put to me over a drink the other day that this is the cheapest place in Australia to get a liquor license ... If your band can't get a gig ? you may as well open your own bar. And people do.”

I’m also going to miss trams: their cheerful, patriotic green and gold; the low, warning growl and impatient clack-clack of their impending arrival. All right, they’re slow for the suburban commute, but that’s what the trains are for. They’re a damn nifty way of darting about the inner city, though.

I’m going to miss the big-city but kinda-relaxed pace of life here, the prettiness of the gold-rush era Victorian buildings, the gorgeous night view across the Yarra to the city (preferably with your back to the Casino, but anyway). It’s a town that feels extremely comfortable to me, but one that always remains smart and exciting and full of possibility. Strangely, I’m less concerned about leaving old and new friends. In the age of blogging and e-mail I needn’t really lose contact while I’m away – meeting for a chat, a meal or a movie will just have to wait a while.

It’ll be sad to leave after a little less than a year, but it’s not as though I won’t have the chance to come back. What you miss about a city – like a person, I suppose – is the small things: an intangible sense of place, the mosaic in your head made from little pieces of atmosphere and experience. But that mosaic, perhaps the most valuable part of Melbourne for me, I’m allowed to take with me.

Poets kick novelist butt

Work is swamping me at present, so I offer something amusing I found on the web recently, from one of those irritatingly talented New Yorker writers, Rebecca Mead. When you’re a man’s man working in the unclaimed wilderness of the American social-realist novel, what’s the worst thing that could happen to your self esteem?

“There are very few places in America where it can be claimed definitively that poets kick ass, and one of them is the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference … This was amply demonstrated at this year's poets-versus-fiction-writers football game, a regular fixture in which those who traffic in metre and rhyme go head to head on the Bread Loaf meadow with crafters of experimental, semi-autobiographical narratives.

Granted, the poets had the advantage of including among their number Matt Miller, an aspiring writer of lyric verse who happened to have been a defensive starter at Yale five years ago. They also enjoyed a fine showing from their quarterback, a gangly twenty-nine-year-old named Spencer Short, whose recently published début collection, "Tremolo," brings to mind both T. S. Eliot and McSweeney's ("One need only stand in the aisle / marked Produce to understand how the wan light / obscuring the bruised fruit makes all / of our decisions more difficult"). …

"We totally owned the game" was the verdict delivered later that evening by one of the poets, an earnest young man named Chad Reynolds, who teaches English to eighth graders in Cincinnati, and has not yet decided whether to publish under Chad, Charles, or C. L. Reynolds. The literary-fiction writers were crushed. It's humiliating enough to be beaten; but how much more humiliating to be beaten by the only genre that generates even lower book sales than yours.”

- copyright 2001, Rebecca Mead

Check out the full story over here.

Ah, writers and sport. All strangely reminiscent of “The Tournament”.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Andrew McGahan, “Last Drinks”

Where does corruption start? At what point does playing the system or cutting corners become criminal? What explains the progress from citizen to underworld denizen?

For a journalist and a restaurateur in Brisbane in the late seventies, the “when” comes with an effort to get a liquor license from a corrupt government; the “why” is simple human weakness – the bond of their incipient alcoholism.

The central concern of “Last Drinks” is human weakness: not frailty, or fallibility - but the crippling absence of moral strength. The protagonist has an unflinching perspective on his own weakness, one that gathers depth and poignancy as the novel progresses. He should not be a sympathetic character perhaps, but his failures of strength, of good judgement, of any ability to act, sting acutely each time.

The novel is set in Queensland, in a time after an Inquiry into official corruption, an Inquiry loosely modelled on the Fitzgerald Royal Commission. It is the story of a bit player in the days of officially sanctioned, but illegal, all-night bars, unlicensed casinos and brothels – and the scale of corruption that lay behind these visible, small-time rackets.

The prose is taught, sparse, the words of a man who has hidden from his past and is being dragged back to it - back to Brisbane - to confront how he failed his friends, his lover and in his career. A key part of the novel’s success is its claustrophobic atmosphere and mounting sense of the inevitable. Much of the tension comes from how small a world the narrator inhabits, a world as confined as that of a Gothic short story: there are probably fewer than fifteen named characters, and the novel hinges on the relationships between just six.

Its other triumph is a literary, yet unromantic description of the nature of alcoholism: the creeping addiction, the way it robs a person of dignity, judgement, even time; but its power to fuel a sense of boundless possibility, to free the afflicted from boredom or culpability, to make every fool a wit.

It is no accident that it is an alcoholic, a man who understands living in a false ecstatic state and the painful waking to his own degradation, is the one who tells the story of an official culture grown cancerous with corruption.

I found it an extremely well-crafted novel (as one would expect from the author of the award-winning “Praise”), but wonder about the effectiveness of its somewhat “Heart of Darkness” ending and even perhaps about the depth of his female characters. There are few women, each with an interesting story, but they seem more literary ciphers than people. Still, it has a well-paced plot and an unflinching, unromantic, but quietly human quality that I found compelling.

Friday, June 20, 2003

The things you see the second time round: “The Sopranos”, season 3

Beth mentioned that in the third season the producers became worried that the mobsters had become too sympathetic and decided to increase the violence towards women. It shows.

I’ve been catching episodes in concentrated bursts recently, and the theme of women as chattels or subjects (in the sense of being acted upon, not acting) is terribly strong. Ralphie murders a girl in the Bada Bing! carpark, Tony continues his womanising, Meadow has two emotionally abusive boyfriends (one coldly careerist, the other, Jackie Jr, old-fashioned sexist and unfaithful), and Dr Malfi is sexually assaulted. When Tony seeks to discipline Ralphie, he’s counselled against it “She wasn’t your daughter, not even a cousin. She wasn’t your goom-bah,” says Silvio. The wording is no accident – women are owned. Tony’s rage at Jackie Jr’s feeling up a stripper has everything to with the disrespect for his daughter, and nothing to do with Tony’s own adultery or use of prostitutes.

Female power is, at first, much less evident in the series than with Livia as a toxic, scheming presence. But there is Gloria’s manipulative ways and, more positively, Carmella’s first steps towards seeking financial independence from Tony.

For all that, the show retains a genuine moral and emotional complexity. The love/antagonism Tony shares with his sister is engaging, Tony’s vacillation over getting a cop fired, his ambiguous responses to the deaths of Stacee and Gloria and Carmella’s wrestling with her religious guilt over living on the proceeds of crime all suggest the Soprano family live in a more complex moral world than those around them. Watching Dr Malfi struggle with the knowledge she could easily have Tony kill her attacker ads a depth to the series, too.

That said, my favourite episode still remains two members of Tony’s crew trying to “bury a package” (being a Russian ex-commando and Chechnya veteran) in the snow-filled pinewoods of South Jersey. The black comedy of the episode is spectacular.

More of that Melbourne experience

Missing a train after cocktails at the Kitten Club and walking home in the light rain from the tram stop to the where I’d left my car. Droplets beading on my overcoat. A rare hill-crest view of city lights in flat Melbourne. Rain, dark streets, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” on my headphones. Walking alone and unwatched past the post-war Californian bungalows and federation-style weatherboard houses of Westgarth and Northcote, little details of roof line and chimneys stencilled against a purple sky. So easy to slip into a jazz-age film noir mood.

Speaking of which Naylor is up.

PS Today, for reasons unknown, my damn comments are up and running one moment and crashed in a heap the next, so please feel free to use the guestbook.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Wintertime, and the living is easy

Ah, the first doonah-struggle morning of the season, when despite disciplined habits waking early only means gently half-awake dozing until the alarm goes off. Time to declare winter, the start of Melbourne’s grey-sky months.

Blogger meetup last night, something else I could easily grow nostalgic for. Catching the train home, I stopped in the gentle drizzle outside the entrance to Central station. I was such a soft evening: the illuminated gold stone of the State Library, the fractured neon of the RMIT façade, the cranes and skeletal construction of the new QVB building – everything just softly misted by rain, and wine, and the hour. Everything an impressionist haze or flat and black-mirror perfect as tram-tracks in the rain.

A moment to reflect on the big questions. Should I register my own domain name? Upgrade to movable type? Shop about for a new template (despite being secretly rather happy with my off-the-peg look)?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Little Blue and other perilous anachronisms

Anyone else remember the bog-average Brit cartoon of the 70s, “Little Blue”? It featured a small elephant living and going to school in London, who was a bit ... different. Not because he was a pachyderm, but because his skin was bright blue. It was one of those cartoons where most of the “animation” was mostly static pictures with a voice-over. Story-books for TV, or some other great BBC idea.

The title music had a picture of the eponymous little elephant in a bubble bath:

“Little Blue, Little Blue,
bit his mother’s fountain pen and broke it in two,
the ink it squirted in the water ... wow! ...
and mummy’s got a blue boy now – ow – ow ow”, burbled the theme song.

My own recent encounters with the Mad Ex’s fountain pen have brought this childhood relic to mind.

I ran out of pens at work, and rather than go to the stationary cabinet, reached for the fountain pen I was given in, I think, 1998 by a particularly odd woman who I was then dating – more-or-less. She was seriously deluded, but very good at keeping up the pretence of her highly successful life as a uni-student/young businesswoman/parliamentary advisor. Never mind that each of these roles was a complete fiction backed by her father’s credit cards. She was eventually convicted of obtaining a financial advantage by deception (otherwise called “fraud”, boys and girls).

Anyway, I keep the fountain pen she gave me. At some point I was even given fountain-pen ink by a friend. Every now and then I convince myself writing with a fountain pen requires deliberation and will improve my handwriting. Perhaps.

Using a fountain pen, however, reminds me why the ball-point exists. Fountain pens are messy. After just opening an inkbottle that had lain dormant for a year (and glued itself shut with spilt ink) I looked like freakin’ Little Blue.

... Except for being a four-foot tall elephant in a school uniform.

Anyway, refilling the actual pen was another near-disaster. (“Crap, oh crap, oh crap, where are the tissues around here?”)

My writing’s appearance, however, has marginally improved.

We’ll see how I look at the end of the week ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

“After the Deluge”

Sunday and Monday night I trundled round to Beth’s to share perhaps the best television experience I have ever had.

(No, not Jo’s eviction from Big Brother.)

“After the Deluge” was an extremely important story, the story of three estranged brothers and their relationships (changing, stable or disintegrating) with the women in their lives, with each other and with their Alzheimers-afflicted father. It also spoke quietly but intensely about the meaning these men derived from their own families – both the family they were born into, and the family they themselves were in the process of making. A story we need to see portrayed more often.

The script of the first episode suffered a little, in that the women seemed to speak exclusively in clichés; their roles, however, improved a good deal in the concluding episode. This was, however, simply a by-product of the fact that this was not meant to be an even-handed drama, but a drama about the emotional lives of men – and “Deluge” was as well originally to be a partner-piece to Deb Cox’s 1997 ABC miniseries “Simone de Beauvoir’s Babies” about the reproductive struggles of three thirty-something single women (in which men were often fairly peripheral ciphers).

The extra time in production certainly didn’t hurt it, nor did the $6.4 million commercial budget, and a stellar Australian cast. The stand-out performances were legion, but among them Rachel Griffiths was predictably excellent and well-teamed with Hugo Weaving (who has never seemed so seedily sexy), David Wenham delivered every line as it was written for him alone and Samuel Johnson turned in a lovely character piece free from his irritating “Secret Life of Us” psuedo-philosophising and voice-over diction.

The stand out role in Andrew Knight’s script (assisted by “SeaChange” collaborator Deb Cox) went to Ray Barrett as the father: a man who can no longer separate memory and reality, who has always held from his family the piece of his past that best explains him, who married the wrong woman and for love of his sons gave up the life of which he most dreamed. The series was also notable for the wonderfully adroit way it visually mixed the father’s past and present, and segued from one to the other. The sense of memory impinging on environment, of the slow unlayering of a man’s past, was wonderfully realised. The show’s frank approach to all the characters’ sexuality at all stages of their lives was also excellent.

A gem, and extremely moving.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

“Hellsing: impure souls” and “Hellsing: Blood Brothers”

I’m a sucker for anime and vampire fiction, combine them and I’m likely to be a fan - though a picky one.

Van Helsing was the Dutch brains-trust of the anti-vampire posse in “Dracula” - now in a near-future Britain his family are local aristocrats heading a military organisation aiming to eliminate paranormal activity in England. The Hellsing Organisation (I think the extra “L” is deliberate) has on retainer an arch-vampire called “Arucard” or “Alucard” (“Dracula” spelt backwards and adapted for Japanese.)

The first episode, introducing a novice Hellsing vampire, policewoman Seras Victoria (yes, really) was a shambles. The dialogue and plot was wooden, the animation average, and the discordant electric guitar and piano sound-track jarred my nerves. At this stage Hellsing was looking as charismatic as Reilly and the Initiative from “Buffy”.

It improved markedly, or I got used to it. The ideas get better. After six episodes I was intrigued. Hellsing has jurisdiction over vampire-eradication in Protestant England. The Catholic mainland has the Vatican-sponsored Iscariot Organisation: and one of its sword-wielding Palladins has it in for Alucard. There is a weird conspiracy creating artificial vampires though technological implants, giving them great power with fewer limitations. And when Alucard’s gloves come off he’s a nightmarish, and typically anime-bizarre, demonic force. At least part of his motivation is sheer arrogance: immortality, in his view, is wasted on unworthy lesser vampires. The dialogue improves briefly with the introduction of the Valentine Brothers, the first enemy vampires possessed of personality, intelligence and a plan.

Corny bits? Sure. The Japanese concept of Englishness and Christian iconography is stilted. The modern Miss Hellsing (sorry, “Sir” Integra Hellsing) is wooden. And am I the last person who remembers that silver bullets are for werewolves, not vampires? I don’t care if the silver is melted down from a church cross. I tell you, when the real vampires come, all you silver bullet/silver-plated sword guys are gonna feel a mite stupid and mighty dead. Alright, if you have it blessed first, you’d be in with a chance. But you could do that with regular bullets. (End geeky rant.) Oh, and Alucard’s red opera cape, cravat and big hat are too silly for words. He still manages some moments of creepy, though.

The trailer for “Vampire Hunter D” looked pretty impressive too, based on a video-game or not.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Peculiarly modern bad behaviour?

From the New York Times comes an internet “cad” story with a twist. A married US Army Colonel, Kassem Saleh, proposed to over 50 women with whom he had only e-mail or telephone contact – many accepted. But what the internet provides cover for, the mass media may take away: he was exposed when one of the women appeared in an NBC piece on women waiting for fiancées serving in Afghanistan, and other women who believed they were engaged to him started posting on the station’s website:

“The Army said yesterday that it was looking into
allegations that he managed to line up dozens of
prospective wives … women he met through Internet dating
services. Virtually all of them posted advertisements on a site
called, which specializes in men and women
who are taller than average.
The matter began to unravel after a television station in
Washington, KNDU-TV, showed a segment in April about a
woman in Pasco, Wash., who was engaged to Colonel Saleh and
awaiting his return from overseas. That story was posted on
the MSNBC Web site. Soon, other women who thought they were
Colonel Saleh’s fiancée called KNDU. ...
They now derisively refer to him as “Kassanova.”

In fact, one of the other women said he mainly recycled
letters he got from one woman and sent them on to the
others. Or he would cut and paste letters he received from
different women and create new ones that went out in bulk.

“There was this connection I felt,” Ms. Solod said.
“Unfortunately, there were 50 of us who felt it.”

“He’s a sick individual that deserves jail time,” she said.

I’m not posting this as a “freaks you meet on dating sites” warning. I think it’s just an interesting example of how modern forms of communication, by stripping emotional interaction of body language and personal contact, may allow people to “get ahead of themselves” in feeling a sense of personal connection. Any blogger recalls their first meetup would know something of the feeling: a sense of disjunction between what you know about someone from their writing and how you initially react to them in person. I’m sure the same scam could have been (and probably was) run in days of handwritten letters by international mail – just on a less industrial scale than this guy’s love-spam-letters.

I can understand these women’s anger – but calls for disciplinary proceedings seem a little bizarre, unless they feel he was somehow trading on his status as a serviceman stationed in Afghanistan for romantic appeal. It all seems strangely reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan plots about court actions for “breach of promise of marriage”.

Maybe times haven’t moved on so much, after all.

(And in a massive act of sensitivity, the web-article features an ad for one of the implicated dating services … )

Okay, dammit - I'm going and no-one can stop me

This weekend, I am determined to check out Bennet's Lane Jazz Club. I cannot call myself a jazz fan in Melbourne and not have been there yet, it's ridiculous. I'm certainly not leaving town without a visit.

I'll either go Friday or Sunday, I think. (Following Meredith's comment, below, I am now strongly inclinded to check out Sunday.)

From the site:

"Friday 23rd
Yvette Johansson Quartet
Yvette Joahnsson - vocals, band - tba

One of Melbourne's ... premier female vocalists, Yvette Johansson will perform another inspiring gig of fan favourites including a couple of the tunes from her sold out tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.

$15 or $12 concession in the Jazz Lab, Doors open 8pm in the bar"

"Sunday 25th
Hustus-Keller Duo with Danny Fischer
Andrea Keller - piano, Anita Hustus - bass, Danny Fischer - drums

Since their 1997 premiere ... the combination of pianist/composer Andrea Keller and acoustic bassist Anita Hustas (with guest drummer Danny Fischer) has created an unique niche with their stimulating mix of originals and interpretations of 20th Century Classical works. Their impressive all-original debut CD ³Ice Dreaming² bought them national attention ...their return will see them premiere several new compositions.


$10 or $8 concession"

Seems Yvette Johansson drew some of the biggest crowds at the January Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Anyone who's interested in coming, just sing out (no pun intended).


The new Naylor is over here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Preambling along

Six Australian authors have been asked by the Australian Republican movement to write a preamble to the Australian constitution, not so much as serious proposals, but as a creative exercise to re-start debate about whether our rather dry, arid constitution (essentially a document imposing uniform customs and creating a common domestic market) should include something that at least acknowledges our history and values – and provides some recognition of the aboriginal people as the continent’s first inhabitants.

What I find interesting about these preambles is the way they are historical documents – not speaking so much of our past, but our present concerns. Still, every effort at “nation building” statements is an act of imagination usually trapped within the historical preoccupations of its era. The imagination of our national past, and present concerns, is apparent in each.

Here are my quick views:

James Bradley (novelist, poet, once a lawyer) – I don’t like his opening. Pledging allegiance to the sea and sky? It rings hollow. His incorporation of a national apology to our indigenous peoples is good, though, as is his reference to “equal and inviolable” rights.

Peter Carey (perhaps Australia’s greatest living novelist) - I find his preamble just too dark in tone. The reference to the convict experience (“… a nation forged by prisoners in chains, dispossessed …, rejected, spat out, unloved”) is particularly brutal and a very Sydney perspective on European settlement – the free-settler states go unacknowledged. It’s 1970s nationalism, really.

Richard Flannagan – I didn’t like “Gould’s Book of Fish”, I don’t like this. Unsuccessful poetry assembled with a steam-hammer.

Dorothy Porter (poet) touches lightly on aboriginal heritage, but makes no bones about the importance of asylum seekers, international peace-keeping and higher education in the current national debate. Interesting.

Leah Purcell (aboriginal writer, singer, actor, director) has a touchingly simple and poetic turn of phrase. After opening with the language of the the Kamilaroi and Gungarri people she does refer directly to the aboriginal peoples again, but exhorts that we “Respect our pioneers, both men and women, of every creed and colour for their efforts in building this country they have given us”. Her abandonment of formal English jangles with me a little, I also shy from the word “empower”.

My favourite is Delia Falconer’s, other than her very lawyer-ish reference to a duty of care. Its simplicity speaks very loudly, and its syntax – just one sentence – is well-crafted:

“We, the citizens of Australia, recognising that this land was given to us by no God and existed first as country, then as colony, and last as a Federal Commonwealth created in 1901 by the federation of six states; honouring equally the system of law inherited from England and the continuing laws and cultures of the Aboriginal peoples who never ceded ownership; affirming our duty of care toward this ancient landscape and its creatures; upholding the liberty of each individual regardless of ancestry under the laws of our democratic system; cognisant of our history; accepting our special status as an island continent, generous in expanse and heart, linked and looking outward to the ocean; charge each government to uphold the rules and ideals of this constitution decreed by us, the Australian people.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Reason for excitement

I have a college offer.

Well, more confusingly I have a letter saying the college is about to make me an offer (and I am strongly advised not to refuse). It’s Trinity Hall. I am so relieved because this was my other nominated choice and I’ve now been spared the third-round accommodation ballot.

It looks pretty damn nifty – and was founded in 1390:

Though I’m more likely to wind up living a little way off campus at “Wychfield” (way too Harry Potter or Neil Gaiman a name), which may look more like this:

Or this:

Monday, June 9, 2003

A half-quiet weekend

Ah, a long weekend. Time to tackle big projects, take a winter’s coast trip, or just recharge the batteries.

I was pretty social for the first half. Friday night I caught up with a former Canberra girlfriend. While we were dating, she was always late. On a cold, wet, windy Friday I told her Tony Starr’s Kitten Club was on Little Flinders, not Little Collins, and then went to the wrong place myself. She found the bar first and I was twenty minutes late. She crowed with good reason.

There are well- and ill-advised ways to pass a Friday night. Seeing an amicable ex is fine, three or four (or maybe more) G&T’s, wine with dinner and a cocktail at Smitten (upstairs, or more accurately, up-even-more-stairs at the Kitten Club) is less advisable on anything other than a hearty dinner. The fish of the day at Café Miro, however so tasty, counts as a perfect light meal – not a perfect white-spirits soaker. Ah well. It was a pleasant evening that also took in a little of the atmosphere at the Stray Kat, before heading back to Smitten to catch Julie O’Hara onstage at 10.30. The crowd was noisy, and the acoustics average, but it was fun. Some partying swing-dancers added atmosphere. A pleasant evening. Odd to hang out with someone you used to date and find yourself recognising little half-forgotten ticks and habits, small ways in which neither of you has changed much. Odd, but fun.

Saturday morning, I felt the previous night. Yay for aspirin. I finished my party shopping, napped, and set to work preparing. I wasn’t entirely done when the 6.45 dinner guests started showing up. (Nothing like guests who are willing to run errands and lend a hand.)

The best part of dinner (other than people liking my spinach fettuccine chicken pasta and my beef and sweet potato curry) was the “Venn diagram“ discussion: how I knew everyone and which overlapping circles they fitted into. There was Daniel, Marcus, Beth, a friend from work, Miriam the BCOIF member, and Nichole - the one non-blogging friend I’ve met as a result of the internet. Counting me, this made: four bloggers, three lawyers, three students, two IT people, two arts-administrators and two friends I’d made before moving to Melbourne.

After dinner, there would have been over twenty people through the house by the evening’s end - not bad for someone who’s been in town under eight months. The last to leave at 3 am were some of the first to arrive, which also felt good. Slept too late on Sunday for yoga, though. Bad me.

The rest of the weekend was videos, reading, a library-run for travel books and crime novels and a look at a room available when I leave this house.

Pleasant down-time I’ve needed for a while.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Visions of reality: “The Matrix Reloaded” vs “The Invisibles”

Living up to the impossibly cool first ten minutes of “The Matrix” was always going to be a problem for the Matrix sequels: the tension, Carrie-Anne Moss’ stunning opening fight sequence, the first time Hugo Weaving says “your men are already dead” and its whole cyberpunk-lite sunglasses-at-night aesthetic. That sense of mystery, of an intriguing re-imagination of a genre. From there it was always going to slide downhill, unless the directors could continue to hint mysteriously, and not reveal everything in huge slabs of plot-exposition monologues.

Not a problem encountered in Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles”, which has improved over time and may be growing on me. Much as I like most British graphic-novel authors, I’ve always been ambivalent about Morrison. His blood-and-gore shock tactics are usually too Garth Ennis’ “Preacher” for me. The first volume of “The Invisibles” was also too sententious, obscure and heavy-handed in it’s “what is reality, really?” philosophy. The art was scribbly and the historical guest stars like Byron and De Sade didn’t gel.

Over the weekend I read “Counting to None” and “Kissing Mister Quimper” from the second series. Some think this was where it morphed into just another spy-action comic book. For me, it finally clicked.

“The Invisibles” is post-modern, self-parodying, science fiction. The back-story, slowly disclosed, involves a war between anarchist cells aligned with the Invisible College and forces serving the Outer Church. One represents chaos and creativity, the other order and conformity. The College and the Church, respectively, stand on the edges of concept-universes beyond human perception – where these two universes overlap they create our own, as overlapping images may create a hologram. The principle characters are literal freedom-fighters against forces of conformity, a combination of seventies spies, conspiracy theorists and new-age magicians. The range of references to science fiction, conspiracy theories, magic, religion and philosophy remain staggering, but more integrated and less in-your-face than his earlier work (or “The Matrix” films).

The “is this all a dream?” angle is heavily explored, the plot featuring: a double-agent so deep in cover she can no longer tell her original self from her fictitious persona(s); a time-traveller who wrote herself into a novel called “The Invisibles” which she now appears to be living; intimations it may all be a film (American cinema being presented as a dream-form); psychic projections allowing time-travel; and a theory that our entire universe is a complex equation of language. It leaves much to ponder and few clear answers.

Also, as the series progresses, the protagonists’ use of violence is problematised. Of the principal characters, only Gideon - a former horror novelist - has the action hero’s ability to gun down hundreds of faceless minions. His murders increasingly weigh on both his companions and the assassin himself, until he eventually throws the gun away – occasioning a further cinematic reference: “Bruce Lee never used a gun”.

I enjoyed “The Matrix Reloaded”, but it was flat cardboard plot next to Morrison’s origami. For those who can stomach even more from me on the topic, I’ve a few thoughts below. Yes, I enjoyed the fight sequences, and the freeway chase had me on the edge of my seat. Plot-exposition-by-speech though is a lame, tedious, overused device. Yes, the Matrix series throws up philosophical food for thought – in a ham-fisted, obvious way. The films are so gratified at making these references, that their relevance or plot integration is never considered. I am also faintly perturbed by the films’ basic failure to problematise the relationship between the protagonists and violence – though the heroes do now use guns less.

But yes, I had geeky fun and will see the three films back-to-back at the trilogy’s first marathon screening.

PS A thank-you to Jason for some of the Grant Morrison links.

Hugo Weaving is now a virus: random thoughts on "The Matrix Reloaded"

(1) Hugo Weaving is now a virus. That’s cool. Inadvertently created by a programmer (Neo) he can replicate himself by infecting other programs - even human minds through their manifestation in the Matrix. (Think about it, they were going to hack into Morpheus’ mind in the first film, so why not “possess” humans? Also the whole ability to “download” skills suggests programs in the Matrix can affect human consciousness.)

(2) I like in principle the “bored immortals” addition to the plot - really an extension of Agent Smith’s dissatisfaction in the first film - programs that start to play their own games.

(3) The plot is now overburdened with significant characters. The sequence reeks of a pet-project so long in the gestation that the creators aren’t prepared to ditch even one of the squillion ideas they came up with. Uncool. Sure, have a big complex universe for your genre masterpiece, but hint rather than speechify, leave some things as glimpses of a greater picture.

(4) It wasn’t until I left the film that I realised Persephone’s French-speaking (or cursing) husband was in the Ladies’ room shagging dessert-girl when she goes to round up Neo, Morpheus and Trinity and take them to the Mens’. Stupid of me.

(5) The rave was OK, the sex was ugly. Not that I object to Carrie-Anne Moss, just Cardboard Keanu. And naked people full of industrial size plug-sockets.

(6) The Architect is not cool. God is an Englishman in a pale linen suit, sitting at the heart of the universe, watching everything. Yawn. What’s worse, his speech made little sense and misused the word “concurrently”.

(7) Free will. So, under the gobbledegook, the Architect said: free will in the Matrix exists, but is limited. Up to 99% of people will be happy with some level of near subconscious choice. The other 1% cause escalating instability by “rejecting” the illusion like a bad transplant, resulting in an Anomaly (Neo) that shows it’s time to roll over from Matrix v5 to Matrix v6. The Anomaly gives Neo his powers, but he’s a design element that reboots the system. Maybe the limited nature of free will in the Matrix explains why the Oracle keeps saying “you’ve made you’re choice already, you’re here to figure out why”. In the Matrix she designed you only really get to make one, limited choice, at an almost subconscious level.

(8) On free will and symbolism, the fact that the opening credits resolve into a clock is cute: the Newtonian clockwork universe, in which there is still room for God as a watchmaker.

(9) If Neo is just the reboot disk for the Matrix (and his power to crash Sentinels suggests he’s more, unless the world of Zion is a “Matrix outside the Matrix”) - why does Zion need to exist? I don’t get the Architect giving Neo the “it’s the girl or the human race” choice. Not every other Anomoly could be given that choice, because Neo was the first to be in love with someone. So what was the choice for the others? If the Machines have wiped out Zion before, why rebuild it? Why tolerate it? Morpheus has already said they have fields where they grow and harvest humans. What is Zion needed for? I musta missed something here.

(10) Violence against innocents. Every time an Agent possesses a human to fight Morpheus & Co, it’s the ordinary human being who dies when they temporarily “kill” the Agent. Morpheus’ answer: “they’re the enemy”. Not very spiritual as the creed of a movement devoted to human freedom and liberation.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Travel advisory

Europe, two weeks, September. Ideas anyone?

I really want to get back to Paris (haven't been back since January 1998), and to spend some time in Italy. (Prague, too, mayhap?) Other than those few scatty ideas, I'm now realising I need a plan before I finalise my ticket - and I presently don't have one.

Suggestions welcome.

My grandfather’s watch

After eight weeks and ruinous expense, I got the watch back from the jeweller’s recently. It needed a lot of work on the mechanism (it’d stopped winding) and a new loop made for a fob chain.

It’s gorgeous: professionally polished, running smoothly, and with a lovely, rather square, new loop. The watch does not flip open, it’s glass faced with straight hour markings rather than numbers or roman numerals. Thin and flat and silver, it feels like a large, unusually light coin in my hand.

It needs a silver chain now, and it’s the devil’s own business finding one in silver, let alone slender enough to look right. I’m also reluctant to take something of such sentimental value to England. It’s not necessarily that old. Perhaps as little as twenty-five or thirty years (I need to discuss that with Mum), but it was Poppa’s.

Sedentary would only just begin to describe my grandfather. He worked the same office job all his life, and I mean the same work at the same desk. He bought one house in Sydney and lived there until Nanna’s death. He did little he was not pushed to and seldom gave the impression of enjoying travel. He had a passion for cricket, and when he could no longer play cricket, bowls. When he could no longer play bowls, he followed the TV news. He had one memory from before the family left Scotland, sitting on his grandfather’s knee. His biggest adventure was probably moving to Canberra into a little flat after Nan’s death to be closer to the family.

The flat wasn’t too far from the place I shared with Marissa. I tried to drop in often, but it would probably have wound up being only an afternoon a fortnight. He always took such an interest in me, my studies, the job I had lined up in Sydney after graduation.

He died, distressed and disoriented, while I was in Sydney. I never saw him in the hospital, it was a rapid deterioration – but the weekend I could have driven down to visit, all advice was against it. He’d stabilised, he wasn’t recognising anyone, he had months, he’d improve. It wasn’t to be, and I missed my chance.

I don’t recall our last conversation (they were fairly superficial), and I don’t feel I ever got to say goodbye.

But I have his watch.

Join Elliot for morning coffee

"I’d just had enough time to ... make my first coffee of the day. As the intoxicating bitterness hit my tongue, I felt my synapses fall out of fog and back into working relays. I was now officially almost two-thirds of half-awake."

New Naylor up today. I'll try and post again Friday to catch up. Regular blogging below.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Nights at the Opera

I’m in danger of getting cultured, wot with two operas in three weeks.

On Saturday my uncle took me to “Orpheus in the Underworld” - a real romp in the full-blooded tradition of the promiscuous Greek gods.

The chorus was certainly a scantily clad group of shepherds and shepherdesses - and their costumes only got all the more scanty in Hell. I suppose it’s hot in Hell, but I would’ve thought that would make all that leather impractical. I wonder what the blue-rinse, Opera Australia set made of the Magistrates of Hell stripping off judicial robes to dance across the stage in horse-hair wigs, leather straps, French lace, stocking belts and high-heels. (The little prosthetic penis on one of their outfits may also have sent pacemakers a-flutter, along with the good-natured bump and grind of simulated sex during the bacchanal.)

The libretto was re-written for raciness and local flavour and sung in English with surtitles, which seems redundant but was surprisingly handy. Anyway, it was raunchy, rude, extravagantly costumed, and thoroughly entertaining.

I saw “Carmen” some weeks ago, that accessible stand-by of Opera (ie, the only one I know from a bar of soap). The music and singing were fine, but everything else creaked. It had one of those fashionable Transformer sets which reconfigures for each Act. Unfortunately, the tobacco factory of Act I had external iron staircases, which all got parked stage right in Act II - making the bar’s exterior seem more ”Guys and Doll’s” fire-escapes than Seville, even if it was Seville during the Spanish Civil War.

Also, I’m all for multi-ethnic casting, but when Don Jose is a tiny Chinese guy who has to overpower a 6 foot, 100 kilo Toreador in the Act III knife fight, it’s hard to swallow. (Going all kung fu on his ass would have been more credible.) And any chemistry between Don Jose and Carmen would’ve helped to, you know, make the plot credible. Any production that leaves you grasping for reasons why a sensible soldier chucks in his career for a pretty tepid-blooded gipsy makes you realise the importance of having an opera cast that can act and sing.

Not that acting was at a premium in “Orpheus”: it required all the depth of character of Gilbert and Sullivan. Not that I recall G&S having Satyrs with ten inch red horns. Admittedly, Satyrs with ten inch red horns is nothing startling, it’s just when they sprout from the groin rather than the head and the odd nymph takes to stroking them that you think Mr Gilbert might have had reservations. (Not sure he would have approved a staging in which Jupiter goes down on Eurydice in a bath either.)

All jolly good fun. The ten and twelve year-olds in my row seemed to like it too.

Monday, June 2, 2003

“In the mood for love”

The Night of Serendipity (below) had another marvel in store.

My landlord’s temporarily receiving World Movies. To my lasting shame, I have continued to socialise my evenings away, rather than devour a month’s free foreign films.

Not so Friday, when I settled down with my fish and chips dinner, flicked on the TV and caught just an hour of “In the mood for love”- missing the absolute beginning and the conclusion.

What I saw, was staggering.

The story is surpassingly simple. A man, Mr Chan (Tony Leung), and a woman, Mrs Chow (the gorgeous Maggie Cheung), are neighbours. They live with their respective husband and wife as lodgers within adjacent flats owned by larger families. His wife works late, and her husband very often travels. The male and female leads both work unnecessarily long hours to avoid their lonely marriages. She is a secretary for a kindly, but unfaithful boss, and routinely has to make dinner arrangements for him and his girlfriend, while lying to his wife.

Our protagonists slowly admit their partners are both involved in an affair. They are drawn to each other in loneliness, desire and friendship. This half-way relationship provokes him to take his own room and abandon his day-job for writing serials.

So much for the plot. What held me riveted was the cinematography, pace and composition of the film. It is the nineteen fifties: women have huge, elaborate hair, long dresses in improbable patterns; every man smokes and wears a grey or blue suit, square-cut white shirts and narrow ties with a gold clasp, hair brill-cream immobile. The sashay of a woman’s hips, the curl of a cigarette smoke tendril, a handkerchief drying a face, an unmoving singlet-clad man smoking in a corridor - motion and stillness are all lovingly captured. Many of the film’s most emotionally significant moments are viewed only as reflections in mirrors, as if to look at things directly would be too painful. Indeed, we never see their adulterous partner’s faces - Mr Chow is a pair of hands and a voice, Mrs Chan the back of a woman’s head in a lobby mirror. Enigmatic uses of composition, focus and camera motion invest the ordinary with intensity.

Not everything is languid, much of the film is naturalistic, but some of the lead actors’ conversations are followed with tennis-match whip-pans conveying the underlying tension of their budding affair and how much they have at stake. The film also dabbles with multiple possibilities: a few scenes seemingly presented twice, equally valid alternatives to the way a conversation may have played out, or an evening been brought to a close.

I am going to have to see this again, in DVD wide-screen if I can find it. Something this visually intense when cropped for a TV box could only be improved restored to its proper proportions.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

A night of serendipity

“Where the hell is Alphington?” I wondered Friday night, standing on the half-dark empty train platform.

I’d left the office late and tired. Like most people, I slip up when tired. I miss things, make bad calls. I ran for my train, caught it with time to spare.

Then missed my station.

I looked up from my detective novel and rather than seeing the familiar “Dennis” sign, I saw a retreating sign saying “Fairfield” - the station after. I got out at the next, quite alien station at Alphington, crossed the bridge to the city-bound platform and discovered I’d a half-hour wait. It was seven thirty, and I wanted to be home.

I could have slumped on the bench and read my detective novel, getting into a foul, hungry mood. But sometimes you have two choices: swear and mutter and grump, or breath out and go with the flow. I decided on the second.

I decided it was a night for walking. If I followed the tracks back, two stations couldn’t be that far, right? I could be back at my car in less time than waiting for the train surely.

I love it when a random decision pays off. The path was narrow and badly lit, often wound between spray-painted or high chain-link fences and almost no-one else was using it. It was great. The night was just cool enough for a brisk walk. The abandoned Alphington shops were sad, rather than menacing. I passed all of three people.

I was exploring the way I did as a kid, roaming round little hamlets on the New South Wales south coast, just looking at things and thinking. I wasn’t inconvenienced any more, I was on a very small adventure, alone with my thoughts and footsteps.

When I got into Fairfield I recognised the neighbourhood where I’d stopped once for Indian take-out. It’s not Brunswick Street, but a lot of cheerful little cafes were open. It looked a little like main street in a small town: jaunty, casual, not over-lit, Eucalypts inching up on the pedestrian precinct and the girl guides’ hall just round the corner. I was anonymous, and pleased.

I roamed around and settled on fish and chips for dinner. Resuming my walk, I passed beside a huge sculpture of a square nosed dog by Fairfield station. In the dark, it was the size of a small house. No explanation, just there, sniffing the night air like me. I wandered back to my own station, munching on chips and a corner of my Barramundi, arriving just as the train pulled in. I smiled.

Once home, I took my dinner and a beer in to the telly.


PS Yes, I went to see "The Matrix Reloaded" last night with Daniel, I'll post my thoughts by Friday, once I've collected them.