…and one for show

April 5, 2020

Prince Charles and piano

This comes from the news of Prince Charles opening the new emergency hospital in London remotely from his Highlands residence at Birkhall.

No-one would accuse HRH of ever actually using the kerchief he customarily sports in his suit jacket pocket.

Nor does it seem likely that the piano behind him in this photograph is played very often.

Everyone’s an expert

April 3, 2020

A colleague has taken to referring to the C-v crisis as “the Thing.”

It’s hard to concentrate on anything else.

D, who has followed from afar his family locking down in Shanghai, favours a ‘go hard and early’ response because of China’s going hard – he is such a Chinese nationalist that he refuses to countenance any criticisms about not going early enough.

But everyone faces a moment where observing isolation seems too hard.  After a week of home-alone and actually putting them off on earlier occasions, D allowed two friends to visit on 22/3.  I criticized him for that – why sacrifice the hard yards you have already put in?  That evening D retrieved our rather ineffectual steam cleaner from its obscure place of storage and set it to work in the kitchen and bathroom.  Not entirely rational given that the visitors had only passed fleetingly through the house (they talked on our back verandah at my insistence – I hope an appropriate distance apart), but psychologically understandable.

Then I made an exception for the piano tuner, who came on 25/3.  He was very careful, as was I.  He even wiped down my money.  Maybe some time between now and 8/4 I’ll regret that, though even then I’ll never know.  Meanwhile, my faith in Mozart’s piano sonatas – even if they are the poorer and simpler sibling of his other works – has been restored, and also my faith in or at least enjoyment of my humble (bot not yet, I have decided, hopeless) piano.

There have been lots of different views about what should be done, or what should have been done, when and by whom.  The government has obviously been unhappy about the part played by the ABC’s Norman Swan in some of this.

I too have been guilty of a little expertizing – volunteering “information” in a reply to a comment on this blog about possibly using slightly diluted methylated spirits as a surface disinfectant.

This (the meths, not the opining though, on reflection, that too) can have its perils.  I had a small quantity mixed with water in a coffee cup, then used the cup for a coffee without paying much attention.  Had I swallowed any?  Probably not – I think I tipped out whatever remained though maybe did not rinse out – it was the reek of the meths in the kitchen sink that I was probably noticing.

Internet searches about the toxicity of methanol (blindness quite soon after as little as 5ml) gave me a little bit of a scare until I looked further and discovered that in Australia “methylated spirits” is nowadays more than 95% ethanol.  You can learn something every day!



Library nerds unmasked!

March 24, 2020


For some years, for a payment of about $80 a year, I have been an “alumnus” user of the University of Sydney Library.

The library remains open on a limited basis for staff and students, but has been closed to others (such as me) on account of the current crisis.  I learnt this by an email I received yesterday. Silver lining: we can still keep out the items we have on loan.

In fact, there were a few emails, but I didn’t look particularly closely at them once I had got the general drift.  There have been so many emails about that sort of thing in the past few days.

Today I received a further email:

Dear Community Borrower

I am writing to advise you that there has been an accidental disclosure of some personal information about you – being your personal email address. Yesterday evening an email update about our services in response to COVID-19 was accidentally sent out by the Library with recipients in cc rather than using the bcc field. This was the result of human error by a Library staff member. We were made aware of it soon after it occurred, have recalled the email where possible, and are reviewing our processes to determine how to prevent such incidents occurring again.

I am most sincerely sorry for this mistake and apologise to you on behalf of the University and the Library that it has occurred.

Please note that you are able to make a privacy complaint about this matter. You can email your complaint to privacy.enquiries@sydney.edu.au and you can find more information on making a privacy complaint at www.sydney.edu.au/privacy.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this matter, either in person, by phone or email.


This is not a privacy breach which causes me much grief as my email address which was disclosed is publicly available anyway.

Nor is the implicit disclosure to fellow recipients of the email that I am a “Community Borrower” one which I’m particularly concerned about.

I’m guessing the  university is  obliged to make the disclosure it has now made because of privacy legislation.  In fact, the cure is probably worse than the disease.  Who looked at the cc list on the original email? Surely some who did not before will be tempted to do so now, if only to see to whom their information has been disclosed.

OK, I admit, I was so tempted.

I did spot an address for someone who may not welcome my knowing it. I can restrain myself from using it.

I found that I was one of 500 recipients accounting for about 6 or 7 letters of the alphabet by surname.  Across the whole alphabet there can’t be more than about 2,000 of us – probably rather fewer than that.  Because I am such a fan of the library, that makes us  a (to me) surprisingly select bunch.

One part of me regrets that, given we are so few, the University can’t continue to let us into its libraries.  Another less counter-suggestible part is resigned to staying away.

PS, 27/3: at least one other recipient was unable to resist the temptation.  He’s  emailed his fellow privacy-breachees linking to his bandcamp web page and seeking musical collaborators.

PPS, 2/4: possibly in response to that, I’ve received a further email from the library with the following request:

If you haven’t already done so, please delete the email sent to you in error. Please do not forward that email or make any copies of it.

They probably should have made that request at the outset, even though, short of physical destruction of the storage medium, nothing in computers is ever really totally deleted.

I love the library and I don’t want to make things any harder for them, so I’m happy to say (as is the case) that I have acceded to that request.


Life as we knew it – Mardi Gras Film Festival

March 21, 2020

Unearthing and polishing up  some unpublished posts to reminisce over the time before the virus.

Another year, another Queerscreen Mardi Gras Film Festival.

This year’s was billed as the 27th.

I must have been at the first, in 1994. That was a more edgy event than it has since become.

Brochures from 1995 on are available online.

Apart from a few years when it was based at the now-gone Pitt Street cinema, the festival ran for many years mostly at the Academy Twin in Paddington. This was a good fit as Oxford Street was a natural precinct for meeting before or adjourning afterwards to discuss what you’d just seen or just chatting up someone agreeable.

Since the Academy Twin closed down in 2010 the festival “hub” moved first to the “Entertainment Quarter” at the old RAS Showground and now for the past few years to Event Cinemas at George Street. Neither neighbourhood has the same amenity, though Oxford Street too has suffered a decline.

There is a trajectory in the life of organisations such as Queerscreen. If they flourish, they inevitably professionalise and bureaucratise. At some point near the end of the time at the Academy, there was a shift in the volunteer culture. There were still volunteers but I got the feeling that they were now being recruited almost as “interns” for “event management.” A wonderfully over the top mother of a gay person who had made a big splash disappeared and was seen no more.

In the background and international gay/lesbian film festival circuit has also developed. One sign of this is that now we have programs designated as “Asian/Pacific.” That’s a North American appellation. Films can be procured much more “off the shelf.” Except for “Antipodean” content the choice of films seems increasingly less adventurous.

D is reluctant to go at any time to films unless they have an GLBTQI slant (and indeed is really only keen on the G and possibly Q in that alphabet soup). When the program for this festival came out, it looked as though D would be visiting his family in Shanghai. That plan changed for obvious reasons, but by the time we got around to doing anything about the festival only the last week was left.

So we missed a rescreening of the 1981 classic, Taxi zum Klo. I could borrow this from the City of Sydney Library (once somebody returns it) but this is a film which I would have welcomed seeing in the company of a gay audience. When I saw it in 1982 at an alternative cinema on George St in the company of my father (what must he have thought?) there were loud whoops from the audience when a slide came up reminding ladies to keep a watch over their handbags. Would the romantic scene where the lovers piss their initials and a heart into the snow stand up to my recollection of it?

We went to:

Are You Proud

This was a documentary about the history of London’s Pride parade.  I found the earlier historical bits, albeit featuring all the usual suspects, the most rewarding.  In a foretaste of what happened at this year’s Mardi Gras parade, more recent years have seen the burgeoning of proetests-within/against-the protest, as specific groups react against the mainstreaming of the event and on behalf of their own specific interests.  The UK is ahead of us in that regard.

15 Years

Set in Tel Aviv.  The title referred to the length of a relationship which, in the course of the movie, began to fall apart, as the more macho member of the pair reacted badly to a tide of baby-enthusiasm amidst his contemporaries and (though not really spelt out) issues with his near-to-death father.  I can’t say I really warmed to this film or to the central character.  I guess we were meant to find him muscular and attractive but that kind of man is not really my type and I couldn’t sympathetically warm to him at all.

It also seemed to me that the film could have been about any falling-apart 15-year relationship.  What was specifically gay about that?  And here’s a dilemma – in a perfect world we wouldn’t have “gay” films, but films which treat as “normal” gay characters – but I’m not satisfied with such a film when I see it.  At this session time we could have gone to Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) the ultimate audience favourite of the festival.  I’ve been told it is set in Sydney in the recent present.  The ghost of the lesbian aunt returns to give 1980s dating and other tips to a pair of girls wanting to go to their school formal together.  This would almost certainly have been more fun.

Los Fuertes

A Chilean film.  Beautiful scenery.  A romance between an urbanite, visiting his sister before escaping to Canada from Chilean homophobia and parental rejection, and a fisherman determined to make a life in his own community.  The director was in attendance.

Films like this pose a variant of the dilemma referred to above.  The battling-homophobia melodrama is hardly one whose time is past, but it’s a battle which in a way in my own life these days I can sidestep.

The Teacher 

Credits at the end hinted that this Taiwanese film was based on a mid-nineties play by a now-deceased playwright, yet the film was set in the period of the anti-gay-marriage referendum in Taiwan and subsequent law reform (which was a result of a court decision over-ruling the referendum).  This created a slightly odd disjunct because the central plot – a young gay teacher having a romance with an older man who ends up returning to his wife after giving him HIV – was medically inexplicable given subsequent developments in treatment options.  Still, I enjoyed it.

And Then We Danced

Merab (played by a very charismatic Levan Gelbakhiani)  is a young dancer in the training department of a Georgian state folkloric dance ensemble.  His problem is that he is not going to be macho enough to be accepted into the main ensemble – you need only see the dances to see why, though at one point he is told (and it seems to me credible) that the macho-isation of at the at-least-homosocial aspects of Georgian dance is a development of about 50 years ago.

It is only in the course of the film that Merab recognizes his sexuality in a romance with a newcomer fellow dancer.  They are competing candidates when a vacancy has opened up in the main company when a dancer is sacked after having been caught having gay sex, on tour, with an Armenian. (We learn later that family of this unfortunate sent him off to a monastery for gay conversion therapy; the “therapist” turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing; now he is selling himself in front of the Circus.)  At the end, Merab  has to leave Georgia.  The love interest has gone home to get married and look after his family.

In some ways, this is a similar type of film to Los Fuertes, though as it deals with younger characters it also includes a coming-out aspect – Merab’s girlfriend (his dance partner since they were children) ends up having to play the cliched sympathetic female friend role.

As I hope my sketchy plot outline above suggests, Merab is up against a potent mixture of homophobia and cultural nationalism (anyone remember Tamar Iveri?).  So was the film, which had to be made on a guerrilla basis (it was Sweden’s entry for the Foreign Film category of the Academy Awards though it didn’t make the shortlist).  Locations were lost.  A scene involving transvestite street workers was shot using people playing themselves and billed only by their given names.  Police had to protect the opening night in Tbilisi against nationalist vigilantes.  The name of the person responsible for the choreography has been kept secret.

I found myself more drawn-in by Merab’s predicament than by that of the characters of Los Fuertes – that’s the dividend of melodrama, I suppose.  I’m a sucker for post-Soviet/Communist-non-chic, and there was much of interest in the depiction of life in Tbilisi and, as well as the dance, some terrific music.  This was my favourite of the films I saw at the festival (and took second place in the audience vote).

An Almost Ordinary Summer 

This was billed as the closing night gala.  In fact it screened last year in the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.  The premise was two grandfathers announcing to their progeny and descendants their proposed marriage.  There was a bit of melodramatic homophobia (all of it eventually overcome). Most of the film could just have readily been about heterosexual grandparents repartnering and I seriously wonder if that is how the film started out.  Neither of the “gay” (actually, “bisexual” – they’re always bisexual in Italian films – sigh) seemed particularly credible as such; one played a stereotypical limp wrist (he was in the arts so could have spent a lifetime like that).  One of them still had a school aged son but apparently although announcing their impending nuptials they had not even discussed his living arrangements.

Possibly for Italians this is an amusing film – there is also a class ingredient in the unlikely meeting of families and I expect a lot of comic dialogue also involving regional variation as well as class – but for me it was a mainstream waste of space in a gay or even LGBTIQ (have I got them all?) film festival. I was disappointed  that the festival organisers should have thought it worth including.


March 17, 2020

I had to admire this headline:

Nobody expects the Spanish flu pandemic!

End of life as we know it – for the time being

March 15, 2020

I was lucky to get to the first night on Thursday of Opera Australia’s retread of La Scala’s production of Verdi’s Attila.

Lucky because it now looks as if everything will be cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Unlucky because I was looking forward to seeing it again two more times this week and next, notwithstanding its extreme clunkiness.

This week’s SSO performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Elisabeth Leonskaja’s recital of late Beethoven sonatas will likewise be banished to the realm of what-might-have-been.  And that’s just the start.

Attendance at the Australia Ensemble’s first subscription concert for the year last night was notably sparse: perhaps these can continue if the threshold for forbidden public gatherings remains at 500.  [PS, 18/3: now to be reduced to 100, 21/3 – cancelled until at least June.]

Courts have announced a suspension of new trials by jury.  They say that this is because of the risks of large gatherings of empanelled prospective  jurors, but I suspect they are equally motivated by the risk of jury trials miscarrying down the track.  This poses a new version of the prisoner’s dilemma: if you are on remand you may be tempted to agree to a judge-alone trial to have a chance of getting out.  Should presumptions as to bail be reversed?

I’m in court tomorrow morning but after that I expect to be working from home.

I’m likely to have time on my hands.  I hope to get my piano tuned before things get much worse.  It seems like a good time to unearth my copy of The Decameron.


February 2, 2020

On 5 and 12 June 1964, Shakespeare’s Henry V was performed at Sydney Church of England Grammar School, aka “Shore.”  This was said to mark Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and was part of a drama festival celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the school.

A young David Marr took two roles.  The Shore Weekly Record reported (pdf; p 13):

As the Archbishop, Marr was impressive in presence and voice; later as the Dauphin he was suitably foppish, but perhaps could have used the sneer more effectively.

Who says artists cannot learn from criticism?


Get the best of Wuhan!

January 22, 2020

Out of the blue, I have received an email from TripAdvisor:

Get the best of Wuhan!

D and I went to Wuhan in Autumn 2004 after taking a boat down the Yangzi (长江) from Chongqing to Yichang before flying to Shanghai.  It’s actually a compound city of Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang.

We stayed in an enormous hotel suite (at least 5 beds) at a very cheap rate.  The streets were full of motorcyles constantly blowing their horns.  It is probably much quieter there now because the motor bikes will be all electric and even their horns more demure.

Wuhan is where the Great Helmsman swam across or maybe just in  the Yangzi to prove (or at least show) that he still had what it takes.  The museum has some ancient bells and there is a big pagoda on a hill.  Hankou was a colonial concession and has remains of that. We found a rather subdued gay bar down by the river.  That is of course a very superficial summary.

If you search for a location, TripAdvisor can pursue you with offers and updates seemingly forever.  I suppose they calculate that you might want to go back or that your dream to go there is still unfulfilled.

TripAdvisor regularly sends me messages about Kunming, which D and I visited in 2013 with Es, from Dusseldorf, and her two younger daughters, K2 and K3 (they are all Ks), then aged about 13 and 9.  It is a pleasant city though the downtown areas were  at the time being extensively dug-up for a Metro.

We took the train into deeper Yunnan from the enormous main station which was the next year the site of a deadly knife attack which left 31 victims and 4 perpetrators dead.  (Other perpetrators were never caught: one woman was injured and captured at the scene;  the others convicted of planning the incident and eventually executed had been arrested trying to leave the country and were already in custody at the time of the attack.) It’s striking how having been somewhere gives you a more vivid, even if still largely imaginary, picture of an event which took place there.

For us, though, the most memorable incident took place as we left our hotel in the midst of a downpour and with difficulty tried to find a bus or hail a cab to get to the station.

In Beijing Es had bought a natty little wheely-bag which was destined to be used by K2 and K3 for school trips back in Germany.  This was the focus of intense competition between K2 and K3 as to who should now wheel it.

K2 had the bag.  K3 threw herself to the ground on the street in the rain in a massive tantrum.  There was a train to be caught. It was blackmail.  It was spectacular.  K2 and K3 had already regularly attracted requests for photographs as two cute Western girls (by the end of the trip their patience with this was pretty well exhausted) and but for the downpour we would have attracted a crowd.

Es was striding ahead on the dug-up road in the direction of the station.

D, who was unaware of the rivalry over the bag (it had been simmering away for days auf Deutsch) emerged from the hotel and saw what he took to be the exact opposite – a contest between the Ks, neither of whom wanted to take the bag.  This he solved by taking the bag himself, which was of course the right solution even if of a misperceived problem.

I wouldn’t mind returning to Kunming.  The metro must be finished by now.  I expect I have dreamed about it with TripAdvisor’s assistance from time to time though in fact I used Booking.com to book that hotel – now apparently no more.

But I can’t imagine why TripAdvisor would think I might want to go to Wuhan. I cannot recall ever asking  TripAdvisor about it.

Oh but silly me!  I’d misunderstood the algorithm.  This is not a question of demand (my desire to go to Wuhan) but rather of supply.  There must be lots of empty rooms at Wuhan just now.


Estivation 4

January 22, 2020

After my last post, inspired by end-of-year school speech nights, I planned to post my own little end-of-year review, or at least a catch-up on performances yet to be noted on this blog.

That hasn’t happened. I was transfixed by the unfolding horror of the fires. To blog about concerts and the like felt too much like fiddling while Rome burns.

To me the greatest horror is the ecological devastation and the foretaste of more to come. At a personal level, friends and a cousin have had very close shaves in the face of the Morton and Mt Gosper fires respectively.  (Update: ‘close shave’ is relative: the former suffered devastation on the third pass of the flames to all but their house  and the latter subsequently suffered flooding when the Colo rose though not to the house itself.)  I have pored over RFS fire updates (never in quite enough detail) while fierce winds have howled overhead late into the night.  You want to let such people know you are concerned even though there is nothing you can do (and in each case nothing they could do other than take refuge back in the city and wait) and they probably have more on their plate than responding to however many such communications they are getting.

For the first Christmas since 2014 (when I was summoned back from a road trip north on the death of my stepmother) I have not been committed either to visiting my widowed father, tidying up my late aunt’s house in Albany after her death or visits to or from my younger sister ZZ, who also lives in the West, or from my elder sister, YY, who lives in London.

The Christmas break (which for litigators extends well into January) lay before me as a blank slate.

Excursions out of Sydney to the rural hinterland to take advantage of the court vacation were out of the question. It turned out that even necessary trips to Canberra to attend to unfinished business there became problematic.

I stocked up at the libraries I have access to: music scores and CDs from the Con; the works of Philip Hensher, Penelope Fitzgerald and Christa Wolf from City of Sydney and Fisher Libraries; a bit of light reading on the Residential Tenancies Act from the Bar Association Library which, closed over the Christmas break, offered a longer-than-usual loan period. Not that I have got around to dipping into that yet.

I rode the new light rail from Randwick to the City on the day it was opened. Within the city, the service is so slow that generally you might as well walk and it’s not much better further afield. I wonder if a quicker service would have been obtained with smaller and nimbler trams – which also might have required less intrusive infrastructure. We are told things will speed up once drivers have more practice and (possibly) pedestrians develop better consciousness of the trams on the city streets. The launch of Canberra’s light rail – albeit in a more clearly dedicated exclusive track – was better prepared.

On Sydney’s hottest day ever, D and I drove out to Telopea and rode the length of the Carlingford line  on its last day of operation. The line has been there all my life but I have only had cause to travel between Clyde and Rydalmere, which I did when I was teaching at UWS there in the late nineties. I had forgotten that the line included a level crossing across Parramatta Road . That part of the line will close for good while the more picturesque single track from Camellia to Carlingford is destined to be incorporated in a light rail from Westmead to Carlingford. They say it will open in 2023.  Already the network map on display at stations has excised any reference to the former T6 line.

Drought for Sydney is usually more a matter of drought in its catchment area. This year suburban Sydney has been harder hit. You can see plenty of suffering trees. The UTS Business School (which we passed on our way to and from the Darling Square library) has failed to keep alive a tree planted in front of its architecturally swish Chau Chak Wing building. We lost a smallish gall-wasp-infested lemon tree in our own yard before I twigged to the extent of the problem. In the face of upgraded water restrictions, we have been siphoning out our used bathwater and letting the washing machine grey water out to the back yard.

The blank slate was deceptive. Parkinson’s law applied as (in the time I could spare from my extensive reading program) I attended to a multitude of domestic and personal organizing tasks. The backlog is far from cleared.

Soon the courts in which I practise will return from vacation. The working year is rumbling into motion. So far I have managed to respond to emails from solicitors with only a few trips into the city.

Work is such a nuisance!

Skool’s out!

December 11, 2019

I blush now to admit that I went to a private school for my secondary education.

A vital part of that so far as I was concerned was the extra weeks of school holidays which private schools had compared to state schools – usually a week at the beginning and end of the long summer holidays and a week in each of the mid-year vacations.  Even at Easter, you got an extra day on the Thursday before.  This gave a clearer run at the Easter Show if that was your thing.

I’m not sure what I ever thought justified this privilege.  Was it a reward for enduring boater, short hair and Saturday sport?  – I cannot have thought this, especially since I managed to evade Saturday sport after just one term of first form (Year 7 these days).  Was it for the sake of the boarders?  They were an ever-diminishing band.  (I’ve always suspected that equal wages for women is what really struck the death blow for boarding schools at this time.) 

Perhaps it is a reward to the teachers for the extra-curricular burden they shoulder.

If I were a parent, I’d be more likely to conclude that the private-school holidays are a bit of a wheeze – rather like the way that the price of peanut butter goes up by making the jar smaller.   Not only do you have to pay the private school more than a state school, but they take the kids off your hands for less time to boot.  They do it because they can.

Just now, at the beginning of December, the city swarms with be-uniformed school children from those more “prestigious” schools which have hired the Sydney Town Hall for their annual speech day.  This makes sense for a school which can afford it. It would be extravagant for a school to build an assembly hall able to fit all the students AND their doting parents.

For a while, the Opera House also took speech days and school concerts. I’m pretty sure the SOH has retreated from that business these days, so the pressure on the Town Hall must be pretty intense – a bit like time slots at the crematorium.

I guess each school does roughly the same thing in the time allowed it.  There will be some musical items.  Prizes will probably be presented (this can drag on a bit).  Some prominent figure will give an address and the principal will probably also present a report.  The big organ will be played and at the end we will all be free!

Or so it seemed then.