Archive for December, 2014

Happy Christmas

December 25, 2014

Pussy at Christmas

Taken last Christmas. We miss him this Christmas, four months to the day from his last trip to the vet.

Sprummer in Sydney

December 18, 2014

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Seen from the front yard of my (rented) house in Ashfield.

My brush with fame/death NOT (/yet)

December 15, 2014

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This morning to the Supreme Court before the registrar.

I had to wait to the end of the list. That’s a tedious story.

As I left, a bit after 10 am, I was directed away from my usual exit. Phillip St was blocked off and crowds were streaming southwards; police were telling people where to go. A loitering courier told me there was a hostage situation at the Lindt Café, which is on the corner of Phillip St and Martin Place. (Previously it was a much more groovy bistro.) I may have been there once. I can’t remember why. I was not tempted to return.

News of the situation spread fast. President Obama, we were told, had been briefed. The Prime Minister of Canada (a fellow conga-suckholer) tweeted his sympathy.

For all anyone knew, even allowing for the Islamist flag pressed to the café window, we could have been dealing with just another angry father protesting at the loss of his custody case. (“Wrong end of town” said one colleague to me when I suggested this.) Even now we don’t officially know who this person is or what they want. – Somebody knows, I guess, by now, but it is not considered good practice to disclose this.

Because the street address of my office (“chambers”) and the Lindt café are both “Martin Place” I received messages of concern from my sister, in WA, and D, in Shanghai. I tried to put them at their ease with a message which could never have been sent on a hostage-taker’s instructions. I answered as my sister’s son was wont to answer any number of (so I thought) “open” questions about life, school, holidays, Christmas presents, birthday presents etc. I told them I was “Foin.”

Meanwhile live news kept us informed.

Never have I seen so much on-screen commentary based on so little information. A barrister told them (and it was earnestly repeated) that the hostage taker could have done better business if he’d been there yesterday, on Sunday, when the barrister was on the way to work, or even that very morning, a bit before 9, when the early morning rush was on. He produced the receipt, pictured above, from when he ducked down for a coffee (after 9) before a conference.

That receipt gives the other reason I could have given to D and my sister to assuage their fears. I don’t go to Lindt because I think it is over-priced and over-rated. Not to mention: chocolate is chocolate; coffee is coffee; but Mocha?

The city has been in “lockdown.” Junior staff at my “chambers” were allowed to go home. Cars must have been prevented from entering the city. Retail shops shut – and not just in Martin Place or anywhere particularly near the siege site. Television news crews were belatedly moved on from line-of-sight real-time broadcasting.

The city became eerily uninhabited, save for people gawking from the further parts of Martin Place.

If it wasn’t necessary to move them on, how can such a “lockdown” have really been necessary?

The building management for my own building, which by no stretch of the imagination can be threatened by any physical threat to the hostage site, announced that there would be no access AT ALL to the building after 6pm and that access tomorrow (should the situation continue) will be seriously curtailed. It is still not clear to me how that is consistent with our lease – but let that pass for now.

When I was a young solicitor I did some work for a partner who had latched onto a lucrative line of business. He acted for a credit provider which was in liquidation. The credit provider had committed many breaches of the then credit legislation which it was obliged to fess up to and which potentially voided the loan contracts. The partner dutifully audited (well, he didn’t do that himself: that was the work of minions) the credit contracts and detected the many breaches of the credit legislation which had to be disclosed to the relevant courts/authorities. The more irregularities which could be found, the more work there was for him (and us) in mournfully disclosing them and endeavouring to set them to rights.

It was a great gig. But it had a kind of (legal) drama-queen moral-hazard element.

The “war on terror” has something similar. Threats are good business for those appointed to guard us against them.

I’m conscious that, as I write, there is an unknown number of people (15? 20?) stuck in a coffee shop with a potentially murderous angry person (AP).

That needs to be taken seriously. The site needs to be secure and accessible to emergency services and a dialogue with the hostage taker entered into into.

Those are all difficult things.

But I also think it is important to have a proportionate response. That’s because it’s not just about this AP, but about every AP and every bunch of people who, without having anything to do with either the AP or the AP’s grievance (other than a love of overpriced chocolate mixed with coffee or whatever or, more generally, their membership of a society which has voted for the powers that be), may find themselves in the next AP’s anger’s way.

Afterword

It’s now the morning after and the AP and two hostages have been shot dead in the final storming of the café at about 2am.

Now it is revealed that the AP was Man Haron Monis. It’s clear that the police were aware of his identity well before the end of the siege.

It’s worth pointing out that Monis first came to public attention when he was convicted of sending offensive material over the post when he sent letters to families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan describing their children as war criminals. He appealed to the High Court and indeed it was a 3-3 decision which meant that the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal case upholding the charges stood. That’s the sort of thing that is likely to lead to a grudge against the system.

The best description I have seen of Monis is that by his former lawyer. He is quoted as saying “”His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” (maybe Monis was still alive when he said this), and “”This is a one-off random individual,” he said. “It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged-goods individual who’s done something outrageous.”

Police must have known this.

This morning “lockdown” continues in my building; the Supreme Court (“on the advice of the authorities”) is not sitting before 12 noon. Who knows what advice the Supreme Court received? Even if the siege had been still going on, it should have been possible to enter the court from the non Phillip Street side and continue work as usual. It’s not as if in the circumstances there was any serious likelihood of concerted terrorist action.

End of term

December 8, 2014

On Saturday to the Opera House to hear the SSO. I had a bag and umbrella, courtesy of the almost daily storms we are experiencing just now in Sydney at about the time one goes to a concert. At the cloak room I bumped into an old friend, who sometimes plays with the orchestra, but was tonight there with her husband and children on the free list.

“Are you here for the Sibelius or the Elgar?” she asked me. That is to say: Frank Peter Zimmerman playing the Sibelius violin concerto or the Enigma Variations? (Donald Runnicles was to conduct.)

I paused. I had to confess I was just there anyway, because I am a subscriber. I said that if I had to elect between the two as a reason to be there, it would be Zimmerman and the Sibelius.

Once in and looking at the orchestra setup (and my program) I realised we had both overlooked something. First up was Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. Maybe I should have nominated that? Mark Wigglesworth directed a memorable performance of it a few years ago with the SSO, and considering it is said to be a rarety I am surprised to say that this is at least the fourth outing of the work I have seen live: maybe because although requiring a large orchestra it is conveniently short.

The Sibelius did not disappoint. It seemed a bit more astringent than I remembered it, and some of the twiddles a bit swallowed up in the orchestral texture. A cracking tempo was set at the beginning of the last movement and I rather thought that Zimmerman came a bit of a cropper at one point, but that wasn’t anything to detract.

As an encore, Zimmerman gave a dazzling performance of the Bach Partita No 3 in E major. I particularly liked when he got to the big broken chord bit he just let it rip, almost slipping the bonds of the tempo, without being in the least untidy.

At interval, I caught up with an old friend who was resting between performances of Iphigenie. I got the low-down on the rigours of their makeup regime, apparently something endured in a slightly shop-steward-ish way. Why not? Just because you are doing something for art doesn’t mean you can’t whinge about it a bit.

Then back for the Elgar. I think I made a mistake by trying to keep track of the variations. I should have just gone with the flow.

It’s a temptation to take a warhorse like this for granted. The upside of that is that my expectations were well and truly surpassed. It is such agreeable music and radiates bonhomie.

This was the SSO’s last advertised concert for the year. It felt like the best of end-of-term concerts. Fittingly, it is scheduled to be broadcast on ABC Classic FM on New Year’s eve. I guess they always expected it would be a good’un.

Which it was.

War on drugs

December 7, 2014

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This weekend’s news.

Gary Tweddle, pictured above, of Cremorne, was at a work conference in Leura.

After drinking one to two bottles of wine at Silks Brasserie in Leura with Oracle colleagues he appeared to be in “good spirits”. He had to be helped into a taxi to go back to Fairmont resort just after 11 pm.

After he got back to Fairmont resort he contacted this man, Christopher Pambos, of Earlwood.

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“Hey man. I’m in Leura. Keen to pay whatever. Any chance for a delivery? Will pay BIG,” said a text message sent at 11.15pm.

The story says: “Phone records showed Mr Tweddle and Pambos exchanged 25 text messages between 11.02pm on July 15 and 12.50am on July 16 to organise the sale of five bags of cocaine for $1550.”

That is a misleading use of the term “exchanged.” Mr Tweddle sent his last text to Pambos at 11.50. It was agreed the pair would meet at Penrith train station to make the exchange.

Possibly Tweddle intended to take a taxi from Leura to Penrith. He was hardly in a condition to drive. It was too late to take a train.

At 11.53 Tweddle was captured on CCTV footage running out of Fairmont.

An Oracle work colleague was seen running after him but he returned seconds later.

Concerned friends called his phone at 12.02am and Mr Tweddle picked up and told them he was lost.

“Tweddle appeared to still be in good sprits during this call. This was the last known contact with Tweddle. [He] was not seen or heard from after this call.”

When Pambos arrived he parked in the station car park and sent Mr Tweddle three texts. (The last of these must the one which takes the “exchange” of SMSs up to 12.50 am.)

He waited 15 minutes but drove back to Sydney after failing to get a response.

When Tweddle went missing there was a great hue and cry. The press report suggests that only Pambos knew where Tweddle was heading (really? No-one else in on the plan?) and that he did not come forward because he did not wish to be exposed as a drug dealer. That’s understandable, though as things turned out it’s hard to see how anything would have changed for Mr Tweddle or finding him if Pambos had come forward.

Pambos threw the phone away and kept dealing drugs “not deterred” (the paper says) by the disappearance of Tweddle. He was at work (with gear and phone and paraphernalia) in his mother’s green Ford fiesta when police pulled him over in Illawarra Road at Marrickville about 3 weeks later.

Presumably Pambos was relying on his phone being anonymous, but its call history likely as not gave something away with a little detective work.

It was only later that the body of Tweddle was found down a cliff between Leura and Katoomba. He was found wearing the same clothes he went missing in with a wallet containing his ID and $1300 cash. An iPhone found 70 metres further down the cliff had no battery but showed Mr Tweddle had been using a compass and flashlight app at the time he fell.

Pambos got two years with a non-parole period expiring next November for possession and attempted supply to Tweddle.

That’s bad luck for him. The drug with the leading claim to a contribution to Mr Tweddle’s death must surely be alcohol. Pambos wasn’t dealing that.

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Iphigénie en Tauride

December 4, 2014

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Last night to the first night of Pinchgut’s production of Gluck’s opera.

It was always my intention to go but as I missed the initial booking rush in July (I was in China) I then wavered in the face of a lack of desirable seats and financial retrenchment. At the last moment I summoned up resolve and just after 2pm on the day picked up a seat in the first side balcony.

In fact there were plenty of seats unsold in the rear balcony and on the third level – perhaps the cheaper seats needed to be cheaper, at least at the last minute. The stalls, in comparison, were well-filled, though sponsors friends and the free list must may have accounted for a fair portion of that. [Edit in response to comment below from Liz Nielsen.]

From where I sat, the ends of the lines of the text, projected in translation to the back of the stage, were obscured by the set. “Will there be an end to our tea?” someone asked at one point (or something like that). Context or leaning forward usually supplied the missing portions.

It was “tears” (of course).

There is cause for plenty given the unhappy family history in question. Iphigenia is in Tauris, whence she was spirited many years ago by Diana/Artemis when her father, Agamemnon, prepared to sacrifice her to ensure a fair wind to Troy. (That was Gluck’s earlier Iphigenia in Aulis). Meanwhile, there’s been the Trojan war, Agamemnon has been murdered on his return by Clytemnestra, his wife, and then Orestes, his son, has killed him in revenge. (That’s Elektra.)  Orestes comes to Tauris (not sure if this is in the libretto or you are just expected to know this) in response to an omen which he has interpreted as urging him to retrieve an image of Diana: he doesn’t know that the prophecy really refers to Iphigenia, whom he believes dead.

Gluck’s watchword, once he embarked upon his operatic “reforms,” is said to have been “beautiful simplicity.” Musically, that meant a move away from coloratura and the floridity of the da capo aria, as well as the banishment of the secco recitative (there is still some arioso recitative accompanied by the full orchestra). Along the way, instrumental obbligato solos mostly fell away and he generally uses the wind instruments chorally or doubling the strings for texture.

Critics at the time said that the simplicity was required by Gluck’s own technical limitations (Handel said Gluck had no more idea of counterpoint than Handel’s cook) but even if so, that still leaves the “beautiful” as well as the dramatic integration which was Gluck’s other professed aim – even if someone else actually wrote his most famous pamphlet advocating all of this.

“Beautiful simplicity” is also a necessary virtue of Pinchgut’s approach to staging. It keeps the costs down and also meets the limitations of Angel Place’s stage. This production was effective in that regard, especially the chorus of priestesses of Diana (was it the design or did we have a pregnant priestess in their midst?), who together with Caitlin Hulcup in the title role also had the best of the music and the action.

I wasn’t so convinced by the semi-automatic-wielding Taurideans, who were given faintly ISIS-ish headgear (in which case, why not swords?). Given their intention to kill any stranger arriving on their shores, they could more tellingly have been got up as Australian border security guards, and their king, Thoas, instead of looking like Russell Brand, could have been Scott Morrison. (That’s Thoas in the foreground of the picture above, via Limelight – the pictures, probably taken at the dress rehearsal, don’t quite live up to the reality and the suspended microphones are less intrusive in the flesh.) Something like that might happen in a state-subsidised German opera house: I doubt Pinchgut is in a position to upset the horses or sponsors in that way. (cf Opera Australia’s timid steps in that direction in its last production of Nabucco.)

At the end, when half the male chorus had to become Greek this was done by a simple and effective device. This was one scene which became a bit of a scramble.

Coming to the work new, it took me a while to realise that the chorus in what looked like a nightmare sequence with Orestes were intended to be the Eumenides.

Even before I checked the cast list, it was easy to guess who was the costume designer amongst the production staff when they took their bows: not only did he have the best outfit but it looked as though he’d whipped it up from offcuts from the men’s chorus costumes.

I enjoyed it and in many ways it was a revelation. As it wasn’t a comedy, I’m glad to say that even though he sat close to the stage, harpsichordist Erin Helyard’s bald/shaven dome remained unmolested.

I’m not a critic. Clive Paget’s review in Limelight is generally spot-on. If I had to single out anyone for particular praise it would be Hulcup (a triumph), the women’s chorus, the orchestra and conductor Antony Walker. It is always good to have him back.  That’s probably taking Lindy Hume, the director, for granted but it is harder for me to estimate her contribution.

Pinchgut do four performances within a week. Sunday’s is booked out. That starts at 5pm and looking at audiences these days it is clear that early starts hold an attraction for many not to mention that for others coming into town at 5pm on a Sunday will be much easier than for 7pm on a weekday. It will also be broadcast on ABC Classic FM on Sunday night and I certainly intend to listen then.