Elegant Bubb

October 23, 2020

I have been weeding out my books. This is one which I will keep for a while. The back cover conveys more of the time and the tone.

This is the contents page.

The item by Professor Frederick May depicts the teachers’ “sex orgy.”

The dramatis personae are as follows:

On the previous page (not reproduced) May assures readers that none of the characters is Frank Knopfelmacher.

As to “Elegant Bubb” I reckon I could make a pretty good guess.

Signs of spring

October 10, 2020

This is our fifth spring in this house.  We moved here at the start of June 2016.

Every year, pretty much bang on time for the calendar-month version of the beginning of spring, the oak tree two doors down bursts into leaf.  The first year this took me by surprise – all of a sudden, there was this massive green tree. I imagine some cosmic underground giant squeezing the sap up from the roots as if from the bottom of an enormous toothpaste tube. 

It must be spring because (as a result of when we moved here) a quarterly bill arrives for winter’s electricity usage. This year’s was a whopper, though not my biggest ever.  In previous years we have hung a blanket/curtain to divide the open-plan living area and only used a heater in the living room.  This year we didn’t so the area heated was larger. There was more natural light to go round and we were able to keep out from under each other’s toes, which was a definite plus in the circumstances.

We heard the first channel-billed cuckoo about a week into September.  There seem to be fewer this year. Could it be that, after this year’s rain, they have more non-urban options? About 10 days later, the first koel arrived.

I baulk at buying asparagus from Peru or Mexico.  Now local asparagus are back in season.  It’s a welcome return as we had almost run out of little purple rubber bands.  Veronika, der Lenz ist da! (*)

8 ribs good…

October 7, 2020

16 ribs better.

Contact tracing

September 8, 2020

We huddle at home or at least out of the way hoping that the great virus will pass us by.

The authorities announce places where people may have been exposed to it.

This one caught my eye:

CamperdownCarslaw Building toilets, University of Sydney8pm to 8:20pm Friday 28 August

Are those toilets unisex these days?


July 31, 2020

ST, mentioned previously on this blog as an opera-lover and a taxi driver,  is just about my last friend who actually sends me letters.  Enclosed with his latest epistle are two pages which he has entitled “Brushes with Fame nonsense.”  They are a list of “famous” people he encountered during his times as a cabbie.

These are grouped under headings:

  • politicians (10)
  • critics (7) (by this he means someone who was “the” critic for a newspaper – so James Waites comes in here but David Gyger  is counted a “journalist”)
  • directors (8)
  • journalists (21) (some of whom I would have classified as media personalities rather than journalists)
  • musicians (11) (this starts as a list of conductors and moves on to instrumentalists)
  • actors (25)
  • writers (14)
  • singers (17 “opera” and 4 not so described).
  • Artist (1 ).

In some instances, a bit of extra information has been provided – probably a remark made by the passenger, such as:

“Are Keating and his wife back together?” (Michael Lavarch)
“You could tell Fr Brian Lucas hadn’t read my book.” (Barbara Thiering)
“I’m famous too” (Mona Brand) (you might need to google her)
“Opening night is hurtling towards me.” (Patrick White).

ST, also a keen theatre-goer,  generally drove nights.  He always knew what was on at the Opera House and  other theatres and probably had a good idea of when it would be finishing.   If otherwise unengaged (ie: Vacant) that’s where he would head in hope of a fare.

To this extent then, the list reflects ST’s interests.   It is appealing to me because I share them – especially opera.  I suppose that is why ST has shared the list with me: shared interests are the stuff of friendship.

Not only shared interests, but shared lack of interest.  I left one heading out of my summary above, namely:

  • Sportsmen (3).


June 7, 2020

On 5 August 2013, Renae Marsden, aged 20, drove to the Gap, the well-known Sydney suicide spot, and ended her life.

From 20-24 February 2020, an inquest was held into her death.  On 20 May 2020, the coroner published her report.

Normally an inquest is into the causes of death.  There is CCTV footage at the Gap which cannot have left any room for doubt as to the physical cause.

As reported in the press-formerly-known-as-Fairfax, (there are numerous other reports)

[Renae] was making wedding plans, enquiring about a honeymoon in Greece and looking forward to her 21st birthday. Her friends and family describe her as a happy, bubbly and loving young woman who had her whole life ahead of her.

But on August 5, Ms Marsden took her life at The Gap after her relationship with the man she’d been dating for two years, but had never met, came to an end.

Stop right there in case you missed it:

the man she’d been dating for two years, but had never met.

How can you date someone you have never met?

Although Renae had spoken on the phone to “Brayden,”  “Brayden” never spoke to her.  Replies came by SMS, other communications were via Facebook.  Ostensibly “Brayden” [I can’t be bothered with systematically maintaining the ” ” or even the ‘ ” ‘ so just take them as read after this]  could not speak out loud because he was in gaol and he could not risk being overheard when using a concealed phone.  He couldn’t be visited there because he had traded the right to be visited for a shorter sentence.

Brayden first went to gaol because he was responsible for the death of his friend, Richie, in a motor bike accident.  Apparently he came out of gaol for a while  but soon was back in after some altercation with his father.  (Disappointment about this seems to have led to Renae taking an overdose of medication in September 2012 – see [11] and [12] of the coroner’s report.)

Brayden had gone to The Kings School and was a bigshot in high-rise building projects.  His father lived in Mosman,  Brayden was doing his time in Goulburn Supermax.

Nothing but the best for Brayden!

As a heartstring-tugging bonus, Brayden’s stepmother had died.

The only person who said she had met Brayden was Camila, who had introduced Renae to him as her own previous boyfriend.

A photo of Brayden was found in Renae’s car.  When published it turned out to be a picture of one Cameron Lang.  The original photo, found on Camila’s phone, was of Camila and Cameron, taken at some nightclub.  Cameron knew nothing of Renae or Camila: he was just a casually encountered stranger.

The police investigating Renae’s death, having the advantage over Renae of being able to check out any story about Brayden’s incarceration,  quickly concluded that Brayden did not exist and that Camila was Brayden.

Renae’s cousin Stephanie had suggested to  Renae that Brayden was in fact Camila but Renae had rejected the idea.  Renae even knew that Brayden’s phone was in Camila’s name but presumably this was because  Camila was supposed to have supplied it to him in gaol.

Camila at first denied any knowledge of any fiction involving Brayden.  Eventually, after messages were recovered (she had purged her own phone and disposed of the phone used by “Brayden”) she maintained that he was a fiction shared between her and Renae for the purpose of concealing a relationship which was disapproved of by Renae’s parents.

Coroner Truscott did not accept this.  She found that, by the time of Renae’s death at least, Renae and Camila did not have much of a relationship to conceal.  More tellingly (to me, at least) Camila’s claim that Renae was in on the fiction was inconsistent with inquiries that Renae had made of the Greek consulate as to whether Brayden’s criminal record would be a problem for the planned honeymoon to Greece and a phone call made by Renae to Goulburn Gaol on the day of her death.

(Not that the gaol had any record of Renae’s call or what she was told when she rang. likely as not she learnt nothing.  The prison system doesn’t give much away to casual callers and generally treats the friends and relatives of the incarcerated like shit.)

Camila and Renae met at high school. In November 2011, at around about the time that Brayden came on the scene, Renae designed Camila a tattoo “R 17.12.07.”  In 2007 Renae was in year 9 and towards the end of the year had broken up with a boy she had been seeing for most of that year, telling her cousin Stephanie that Camila didn’t like him.  Renae and Camila saw a lot of each other in  2008, by which time Renae was in Year 10. The coroner’s report does not say whether Camila was in the same year but that seems likely.

Renae’s parents considered Camila a bad influence (jigging school, poor results,  cigarettes).   Renae’s mother discovered “love letters” from Camila in Renae’s room.  Attempts were made to break up the friendship.  When Renae left school for TAFE to study hairdressing, Camila followed her there.  Renae said she wanted to bring the friendship to an end at at one stage. They met at a cafe  with their mothers and Renae told Camila this.  Yet the friendship persisted.  Just before Renae took her life she sent three text messages.  The first was to Camila.  (The second was to her mother and the last to Brayden.)

The coroner found the relationship was marked by abusive possessiveness on Camila’s part and that by August 2013 Renae was ready to break it off entirely and had again told Camila so.  Throughout July 2013, when Camila had been away in the USA, Renae had not heard from Brayden, though she had texted him daily.  She was expecting to receive news of his impending release.  Instead, on 5 August 2013, Brayden texted Renae that they needed a break.

For some years now, reporting of suicides has been suppressed or lightly coded (death “not suspicious”. Public inquests are rare and the publication of a coroner’s report is exceptional (see s 75(5) of the Coroners Act). So why an inquest and published report in this case?

In her report from [51] to [53] the coroner explains:

51. Renae’s family pressed for an inquest with the hope of learning the truth about what had happened to Renae and particularly about what was said between her and Brayden on 5 August 2013.  Given that only Camila Zeidan would be able to tell them the answers to the many questions they had they were most anxious for her to give evidence.

52. Renae’s family believe that Renae’s death was due to having been “catfished” which is a term used to describe a deceptive activity where a person creates a fake identity on a social network account usually targeting a specific victim for abuse, deception or fraud including romance scams, whether it is for financial gain, to compromise a victim in some way or simply as a form of a wish fulfilment.18

53. There is no specific offence in NSW for this conduct other than where the conduct falls within an already defined offence such as conduct such as financial fraud or deception or stalking and harassment or extortion.  Where ‘catfishing’ is without threat or intimidation or is not for monetary gain, then the conduct appears to be committed with the intent to coerce and control someone for the purpose of a wish fulfilment or some other gratification. Though such conduct may cause the recipient mental and or physical harm because it is not conduct committed with the necessary intent it falls outside the parameters of a known State criminal offence.  Given the mental harm and anguish occasioned to Renae, her family press for such behaviour to be criminalised

Taking things a bit further in the next two paragraphs:

54. There is an offence whereby the use of a telephone service (known as a carriage service) in a way (be it method or content or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.  This is found at s474.17 Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) which carries a penalty of 3 years imprisonment.  It is unclear whether a Catfish situation such as this would be captured by this legislation.

55. If Renae discovered that her relationship with Brayden was but a fiction and she took her own life as a consequence, the community might consider that Catfishing is an act with should be prohibited. Even if Renae did not discover that Camila had committed the deception and was simply heartbroken because Brayden had ended the relationship, she has taken her life about a person who does not exist.  That consequence is of such gravity that the community would expect to be sanctioned.

At [263] of her report,  the coroner concluded that Renae “likely” did not discover the deception, at [260] that Renae was “upset that Brayden was not wanting to continue the relationship.” At [269] she states that Renae’s life “ended all too soon in unnecessary emotional turmoil and trauma.”

At [257] the coroner found that, despite the disposal (by Camila) of evidence of what was said or communicated on 5 August 2013, there is no basis to think that Camila incited Renae to take her life.  This suggests to me that such an accusation was raised, at least implicitly.

At  [70] of her report, the coroner concludes that the advantages to Camila of Renae’s “relationship” with Brayden were that Camila was free of any actual rival for Renae’s affections.  She could be Renae’s best friend without this aggravation and also, in a twisted way, maintain a vicarious relationship via “Brayden.”  But this was far from a forest-dappled impersonate romance.  Camila was even capable of expressing jealousy of Brayden – ie, of herself in that guise.  At other times “Brayden” counselled Renae to behave better towards Camila.  Brayden himself was constantly jealous and possessive.  Renae could also hit back at times, but eventually yielded.  The observation by the coroner (at [167]) of one two-day argument rings all too true:

 Reading the exchange, like most of their hostile exchanges, is a crazy moving landscape of bitter control and manipulation and this one had Renae apologising in appeasement.

How could this ever have ended?  The coroner concludes that by 5 August 2013 Renae had made clear to Camila that she was no longer prepared to continue their friendship.  At the same time, Camila’s need to maintain the fiction of Brayden was abating as she was embarking on a new relationship with Michael, whom she subsequently married.  So she pulled the plug, not, as Renae’s family maintained she might have, by “coming clean,” but brutally.  At [255] and [257]:

Camila did know that Renae had left messages on Brayden’s phone every day for a month and no doubt those messages were of love support and hope for his release so they could be together.  Camila did know that terminating the relationship would leave Renae devastated.  That knowledge did not translate to having any care and regard for the consequences of  deceiving Renae  over the preceding 20 months and the impact that deception was having.

I do not think that Camila as Brayden extended any kindness, comfort or support to Renae on 5 August 2013.

The formal finding as to manner of death (at [270]) is:

Renae Marsden deliberately slipped from the clifftop with the intent to end her life after the termination of  a relationship with a person whose identity and intent were, unbeknown to her, a fabrication created and perpetrated for the purposes of exercising coercion and control over her by a known person, who engaged in conduct known as “Catfishing”.

“Coercion and control”  reads to me suspiciously like a legal doublet.  Control is clear enough, but I’m not so sure as to coercion.  Surely some distinction must remain between coercion and deceit?

One possible reason why “coercion” crops up is because it is preparatory to the coroner’s recommendation.  What “sanction” should there be in accordance with community expectations foreshadowed at [55]?

The coroner’s recommendation was:

That the Domestic Violence Death Review Team undertake an in-depth review and provide that review to the Department of Community and Justice to inform any action taken to progress Recommendation 9 of the DVRT 2017/19 Report.

This is explained by the coroner at [271] to [273]:

271. Renae’s family are seeking to have a discrete and distinct criminalisation of the conduct called Catfishing.  I hope these findings provide some support and assistance in that regard; there are complex matters which were not canvassed at the inquest which need to be taken into account before any coronial recommendation involving the introduction of criminal legislation.  Accordingly, I do not make such a recommendation.

272. On 24 March 2020 the “Domestic Violence Death Review Report 2017-2019” was tabled in both houses of the NSW Parliament. Recommendation 9 of that Report is

That the Department of Communities and Justice examine the extent to which existing NSW laws (criminal and civil protection orders) respond adequately to nonphysical forms of domestic and family violence and to patterns, rather than incidents, of violence. This examination should include:
1. a qualitative review conducted with NSW police about what forms of behaviour are being targeted under the offence of ‘stalking or intimidation’, whether such charges are laid on their own or in combination with other offences, and the relationship context of such offences; and 2. monitoring the progress and implementation of offences of coercive control and domestic abuse in other jurisdictions.

273. The monitoring and progress and implementation of offences of coercive control in other jurisdictions relate to a widening of the definition of domestic (and personal violence) which would capture the conduct Camila engaged in by Catfishing Renae but are laws not currently implemented in NSW though through this recommendation are being considered.  Renae’s case should be included and considered to inform the Department of Communities and Justice examination.

The coroner’s account, especially of Renae’s final afternoon, must be a harrowing read for Renae’s family. Camila’s conduct towards Renae was horrible and the outcome of it even more so.

Renae was obviously susceptible to such conduct and even worse Camila must have been well placed to exploit that susceptibility.  Yet  I’m cautious about using this case as an example to create a fresh offence, or to extrapolate from such manipulation arising from an adolescent relationship where one party was unable to let go to law about coercion and control between adult partners or extrapolation back in the opposite direction.

When you talk about creating new offences you have to think about consequences for conduct which is on the edge of or adjacent to the posited new offence.  If Brayden was real (as Renae believed) would he too have committed such an offence?  What about, to take a tired old trope, men who tell women they will leave or are leaving their partners, and then don’t?

Other commentary is:

here (including the suggestion that Camila’s conduct could amount to manslaughter by recklessness- which strikes me as opening a whole can of worms – recklessness – and involving  difficulty and therefore undesirable uncertainty of conviction. Renae herself told so many lies about Brayden that there could still be room for reasonable doubt as to her complicity in the fiction);

here   (cautiously supporting the creation of new offences); and

here (more cautious – “more law is not the answer”).

A more detailed account from the family’s perspective which joins some more of the dots – published after the inquest but before the report – here.

Modern manners

May 3, 2020

Recently I had a big birthday.

Current conditions precluded any elaborate celebration, if  such were called for. It was just D and I. We managed a small supermarket cake with full-sized candle plonked in the top. There was no bubbly as by the time we got to the supermarket the appended liquor shop was shut.

Birthday greetings other than from my sisters mostly went to voice-mail as I was struggling with some written submissions (working from home definitely magnifies writer’s block) due the next day and didn’t even notice the calls. Some greetings came via text message.

Apart from family,it is oldest friends who are most likely to remember the day. Is this because birthdays loom larger when we are younger?

I did receive calls or messages from three former girlfriends. Yes, I have some. They were all a long time ago – the last of these relationships came to an end in about 1992.  I am in quite frequent contact with the one who lives closest to me.

Oddly, two of these greetings came, not from the ex- in question, but from her husband – though one of them told me she had also tried to call herself. Is this a special version of the ex-boyfriend rule?

The greeting from the last and latest came a few days late by text from the ex- herself. If there is a rule, that seems to confirm it, because in the message she also announced that she had just left her husband.

Chased a chook

April 30, 2020

There’s been  good news and bad news.  The good news is that  sport has almost disappeared from the evening news. The bad news is that the C-V has taken its place.

A secondary aspect of the good news is that the Morrisonesque commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival at Botany Bay has pretty well sunk like a stone.

I was ten at the time of the bicentenary and it was a big deal.  We had a special public holiday and watched fireworks from some incline above the harbour.  I also had to do an incredibly laborious school “project” on all three of the great Captain’s voyages of discovery. He may have been killed on the third but the second, Antarctic, one struck me as the grimmest.

In Victoria, Dr Annaliese van Diemen, deputy chief medical officer, tweeted from her “private” account (is there such a thing?):

Sudden arrival of an invader from another land, decimating populations, creating terror. Forces the population to make enormous sacrifices & completely change how they live in order to survive. COVID19 or Cook 1770?

Victorian (opposition) Liberal MP Tim Smith tweeted in response:

What’s with the culture wars crap from a state health bureaucrat at a time like this?

Comparing the extraordinary first voyage of Captain Cook where he charted the East Coast of for the first time to a deadly virus is disgraceful.

You’ve lost the plot.

Funny how, like class wars, it is  the Right which calls out “culture war!” these days. I can see from Google (that’s enough: I am never going to give Murdoch money) that The Australian took up his cause.  Of course, The Australian never starts a culture war, ever.

Dr van Diemen’s history may be a bit approximate, but given that James Cook’s visit in 1770 led not so indirectly to the terrible smallpox outbreak that is estimated to have wiped out about 70% of the indigenous population of the Sydney basin in 1789, I don’t think she’s lost the plot.

And smallpox was just the start.


End of an era – Farewell to Fish

April 24, 2020


On 19 January this year my friend ST sent me an SMS.  It began:

What was your tastiest fish takeaway?

I was flummoxed for a moment, then I realised that he was referring to the closing-down sale the previous December of Fish Fine Music, described in Limelight  as the “last remaining classical music specialist shop in the country.”

I hadn’t been helping to keep Fish in business.  Fish had been at its present address since 2006 and I had never darkened its doors there until the final days.

That’s not so much because I’d made any switch to streaming or YouTube (other than occasionally, to look something up) but because I’d basically stopped acquiring recorded music at all.  I’ve lived off my memory, the radio, the Con library, the relatively few CDs I already had and, most of all, live music.

I ditched my sizeable and space-consuming vinyl collection (much acquired in a burst of acquisitiveness from the now defunct second-hand store, Ashwoods, in my early twenties) a bit under 10 years ago.  I do regret that but they took up an enormous amount of space and I was hardly ever playing them.

All the same, no one can resist a bargain and this was probably my last chance to buy a CD in a proper music shop ever.  So I went.  In the end, twice.

It seemed that all the usual suspects had come out of the woodwork, some actually known to me and others known by sight or brief conversation from concert proximity.

The above photo features a well-known Sydney piano identity (to coin a phrase: “well-known Sydney racing identify” was once the standard descriptor in the SMH for George Freeman. I don’t suggest anything similar about the WKSPI.)  She left with a large bag well filled – you can see it in the picture on the counter just past her handbag.  Good on her!  The staff offered to help her carry it away but she managed on her own.

Before I went, ST, who is an inveterate list-maker, pressed me for a list of representative choral/orchestral works which he could look for to establish this part of his notional/aspirational “collection.”

In the end ST paid no heed to the list he’d asked me for.  In truth there must be a reason why didn’t have such recordings already and his taste was not about to change to fill the “gap.”

Even though choral/orchestral music is not really so much my thing these days, it is I who, as a by-product of making a search on ST’s behalf, ended up with 6 CDs extracted at a bargain price from a dismantled Erato Box Set of sacred music: Vivaldi, The First Homicide (that’s Cain and Abel); Bach, Christmas Oratorio; and Mendelssohn Paulus.

I haven’t yet really got into the Vivaldi – it feels a bit generic. I have really enjoyed the Bach but that was no surprise.  It was the Mendelssohn which was the ear-opener.

Paulus is the story of St Paul, starting with the stoning of St Stephen, traversing his conversion on the road to Damascus (of course!), and taking the story up to his embarkation at Ephesus, with a brief anticipation of his ultimate martyrdom to round the story out (Libretto here).

I read somewhere that Paulus was based on Mendelssohn’s study of Handel and Bach. To me Bach looms much larger, probably because chorales are interpolated, including Wachet auf! which also receives a quite beautiful treatment in the overture.  Apparently the chorale-ish stuff was the bit that didn’t go down so well when Mendelssohn later took St Paul  to England – they didn’t yet have any background in this.  Hence Elijah, which has since eclipsed Paulus, especially in the Anglophone world.  Paulus only started to have a revival internationally from the 1980s.

I’ve really enjoyed listening to Paulus and right now I’d say I prefer it to Elijah.  It has the virtue of being shorter.  My preference may abate once the novelty wears off.

The late Charles Rosen famously dubbed Mendelssohn the inventor of [musical] religious kitsch.  Rosen’s chapter on Mendelssohn in his book The Romantic Generation (not quite so influential as its predecessor, The Classical Style) opens with a reference to Schumann’s paired review in 1837 of Paulus and Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, described by Schumann as the “two most important compositions of the day.”  Rosen writes: “the comparison of the two composers was developed in the most vivid terms, and created a scandal.”

What scandal, exactly?  Rosen tactfuly passes over this.  I plan to make this question the subject of a further post.

…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.