Archive for June, 2016

Books do Furnish a Room

June 30, 2016


I’m unpacking and shelving my books after moving.

Once, inspired by the book-lined walls of lecturers’ offices in which tutorials were conducted, I aspired to acquire books.   I suppose I felt that to own a book was to own its contents.

At some point I began to cast off books. What’s the point of owning them?  If you need one, find it in the library!  Well, if not the library, given the way libraries are going these days, the internet.

I have sometimes sold old books.  In preparation for the move before last, I found that so dispiriting and the prices offered so insulting that I arranged for volunteers from 2MBSFM to come to my house.  They took boxes and boxes away (as well as practically all my LPs).

On my latest move I didn’t manage such a ruthless culling, though I did take a few boxes over to the radio station and gave others away.  That included my set of Anthony Powell novels which I had previously given away to my friend Sq/Sx.  After his death, his parents offered them back to me and it seemed churlish to decline the offer.

I still have just a few vestiges of a collection: the remnants of a poetic canon, books about music, a few favourite writers.  Otherwise, it’s a scrappy assemblage: books with some sentimental attachment (school prizes, parental keepsakes, books by friends/relatives); a very few books that I expect I will want to read again; some reference books (increasingly supplanted by the internet); books which are rare or hard to replace (foreign language materials; obscurities which will never make the internet); and, worst of all, books which I have not previously discarded because I thought I ought to read them first.  Some of these I’ve had for years and still not got around to reading.

And so this week I finally got round to reading James Baldwin’s Another Country.  I took it with me for train reading on the way to and from Armida.  There my (somewhat older than I) friend CB told me that Another Country  was originally banned in Australia and that CB had only a single weekend to read the illicit copy passed to him before returning it.

My copy is a book club edition from London which has had the bookplate torn out but retains a pencilled note that it was a gift on 23.6.67.  Somebody, possibly me, paid 20 cents for it.

It took me a while to get into it.  Everyone was either an artist or a novelist or a musician.  The central character, Rufus, beats  up his girlfriend and takes his grievances out on a male lover as well. He’s a black jazz musician down on his luck – why doesn’t he just get a day job?  – and then Baldwin lets slip that Rufus is a drummer.  But as Rufus’s despair spiralled the writing drew me in.  Rufus jumps off the George Washington Bridge to his death on page 72.

It’s a well known book and you can find out practically everything you need to know about the plot on the internet so I won’t attempt to recount it further.  But there were two little aspects I want to record as a memento – a way of, possibly, saying goodbye to the book before I pass it on.

One of the characters is an expatriate actor in France.  He has a (younger) boyfriend.  They are somewhere warm and sunny and going swimming.  The boyfriend goes swimming in a “bikini.” I suppose that means that bikini originally meant any skimpy swimming costume. Who knew?

Here Baldwin is describing a scene in a bar.  It’s ostensibly from the point of view of Vivaldo, an Italian-Irish wannabe novelist who a little later has an MSM epiphany which is central to the book.

Another Country page 235

I just love “who really should have been home in bed, possibly with each other.” I don’t think that is Vivaldo – his gay sex is yet to come, and it’s too sharp.  Baldwin just couldn’t help himself from slipping it in.

London calling

June 28, 2016

Last, wind-chilly,  Friday night, to the SOH to hear the SSO in a concert marketed under the title “Channel Crossings.”

The program was a mix of English and French music:

  • BAX Tintagel
  • RAVEL Piano Concerto in G
  • VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A London Symphony (Symphony No.2)


The irony of this on the night that the UK (or the English parts of it, at least) had voted to leave the EU did not pass unremarked.

John Wilson, whose visit probably owed more to the previous week’s concert of movie music, conducted. Jonathan Biss was the pianist.

You’d think “Tintagel” would count as the rarity on this program.  In fact I last heard it in 2009.  I enjoyed it more this time than last time and was less inclined to discount it as the precursor of a thousand British maritime film scores: it made me think of the first act of Tristan, though I can’t say I explicitly recognised the reference to the “Sick Tristan” theme which comes in the middle.

The Ravel, sadly, seemed to be over almost as soon as it began.  It is one of my favourite piano concerti.   I wouldn’t say that Biss swept the audience off their feet or that the co-ordination between orchestra and pianist was as crisp as it might have been (especially in the first movement), but I still enjoyed it and not just because it is a great work.

Just this week I had taken part in an SSO poll which asked what would improve your subscription series and now, too late, I had an answer: L’Enfant et les Sortileges! Or even L’Heure Espagnole.  Some may have thought we had a surfeit of Ravel in the Gelmetti years, but I’m definitely ready to hear more of his less-performed works.  I also want to hear the Litolff Scherzo one day, by the way, though maybe including the whole work would be a bit of a stretch.

I was surprised to find that I had last heard  the SSO play the Vaughan Williams in 1991.  I can’t say I remembered it specifically, but I did remember it making a strong impression, so that I was looking forward to it very much when the SSO’s projected performance was cancelled in 2009 owing to Richard Hickox’s unavailability.  The first movement, incidentally, has a snippet which sounds just like a bit out of Phantom of the Opera – the theatre-organ melodramish bit.  How ignominious for RVW.  Apart from that, the symphony is pretty pastoral for an avowedly urban work (though RVW did say it was a Londoner’s rather than a London one).  I liked the Bloomsbury Square in November slow movement with muted strings (I’m a sucker for these) and gentle triplet figures the most, though the Mass-in-G-ish ending was also quite magical and held the audience in rapt silence for quite a time before applause began.

I would have enjoyed the concert more were it not for my lady neighbour who spent the entire evening re-arranging her forearms about once every 30 seconds and looking at her watch.  At first I thought it was because she was cold but I think probably just restless and a bit bored. Hard to tell.  I should have moved.

Afterwards, for once, I headed to the Northern Foyer for one of these “Night Lounge” events which the SSO has been running after some concerts.  The goal is to make the orchestra more groovy for younger people – perhaps also to offer other outlets for the musicians. The other reason offered as an incentive to go (not applicable to me) is to sit out the traffic jam in the car park.

It was the promise of witnessing a serpent in action which took me there.  Scott Kinmont played that with Bassist David Campbell and percussionist Mark Robinson in an improvisation on a chant by Hildegard von Bingen; Kinmont was replaced by  Emma West and Alex Norton for a spirited percussioned-up Vivaldi version of La Folia.  Then an even larger cast, headed by singer Katey Wadey, performed “Blues Fall” from “Tombstones” by Michael Pisaro.  We got a slightly incoherent introduction about this from bassist Ben Ward and I still don’t really understand where it was coming from or what it was about, but I allowed myself to mellow with the atmosphere (quieter and darker SOH) and a glass of Shiraz.

The whole thing was a pleasing kind of coda to the main show.  It’s good to see some of the musicians close up and doing something a bit different away from that nineteenth-century industrial machine or factory which we call an orchestra.

We were played out with a more perky song – all about Georgia but not the song I already knew.  Afterwards the younger musicians hung around with their friends as the rest of us left past the odd cleaner.

The next Night Lounge, we were told, is in October.  That seems a long way away for anything to catch on as a regular thing.  Then again, being the SSO, there were almost more staff than musicians in attendance and I suppose they have to watch their budget.


June 27, 2016

On Sunday night to Pinchgut’s production of Haydn’s Armida.

I’m on a bit of a frugality spree at present. Unless I missed it Sunday’s was the only performance where they opened the third level with C reserve (but still $90) seats.  Better deals have been available in previous years.

The story is perhaps not on a theme calculated to excite modern sympathies: it treats the struggle, mostly within Rinaldo, between the call of martial duty (he is a crusader) and the snares of erotic temptation (he is bewitched by the Saracen sorceress, Armida). How exactly this is resolved, at least as a matter of detail, remained a bit of a mystery to me in this production. Basically, as Rinaldo extricated himself from the spell, Armida, always manipulative, became more and more nasty and ghoul like. Rachelle Durkin was Armida; Leif Aruhn-Solen was Rinaldo. Janet Todd impressed as Armida’s offsider.

In the first act, perched high up on the side, I was a bit too close to the mechanism to really be taken in by the plot: it ended with a big duet for the principal pair though rather a lot of it homophonic in thirds and sixths. Drama picked up in the second act in which the finale, oddly enough, included a portent of Beethoven’s Ninth. The music and the production aligned dramatically in the last Act, where Rinaldo confronted Armida’s magic and destroyed the myrtle tree which was its source.  The last act, for me, was where, musically (though there had been good bits before) Haydn really pulled everything together/out of the hat.

The orchestra was great, despite mishaps in the oboe section from time to time.

I really enjoyed it.  If I were feeling richer I would definitely rock up again on Tuesday for the final performance, but some restraint needs to be exercised.

On the opening of this production it was announced that Antony Walker is stepping down as co-artistic director of Pinchgut. The writing has been on the wall for a while about this in terms of the publicity and the pattern of who does what and what works are chosen.   Usual things are said about Walker concentrating on his other commitments in Pittsburgh and Washington, but I can’t help thinking that Walker may have been elbowed aside just a bit by co-AD Erin Helyard, who now takes the helm on his own.

At a nearby Justin Hemmes establishment, Opera Australia was holding its 300-person 60th anniversary bash.  Minions encountered in Angel Place recounted that Taryn Fiebig was to sing “Mack the knife” as the assembled benefactors and bigwigs tucked into their dinners.  Heaven forfend that they should be put off their food by anything more typically operatic.




June 21, 2016

Hohot ticket3

I am a terrible hoarder.  I find it hard to part with this ticket, which was for the train back to Beijing from the (still, to me) exotic destination of Hohhot, in Inner Mongolia.  Actually, the main station at which I arrived from Beijing was more exotic: the station for the return departure, Hohhot East (Huhehaote Dong – 呼和浩特东), has less atmosphere.

It took me three goes to obscure my personal information from this copy.

I shall slip the original into a book somewhere and hope one day I will open it and be pleasantly reminded of the trip.  If someone else opens the book, then perhaps it will cheer them up too.

What a joke

June 21, 2016

Today I received from the NSW Rental Bond Board the bond for the rented house I moved out of a fortnight ago.

A large portion of the interest earned on the funds held by the board is skimmed off by the State Government, but they still go through the motions of crediting some interest to the tenant’s account.

On a bond of $2400 held by the Board for over 3.5 years, I was paid just $1.09 interest.

Why do they bother?


June 20, 2016

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The opera is back in town!  It’s a sadly short 2-month season before the theatre goes dark in mid-August for them to get ready for My Fair Lady, opening on 30 August.

On Saturday night to Opera Australia’s new production of Carmen, directed by John Bell.  The set is by Michael Scott-Mitchell and the costumes by Teresa Negroponte.  Andrea Molino conducted.

The house was as full as I have ever seen it in recent years: even the third level boxes were populated.

Molino was lurking beneath the lip of the pit and with a preparatory gesture from his hiding place leapt to the podium to bring the overture to life. This drew applause when the up-tempo section came to what the audience judged to be the finish though the dramatic heart-beat thumping cello moment was yet to come.

I sometimes forget how utterly delightful it is to soak up such glorious music so close up.

The curtain rose on what is becoming Opera Australia’s best choice for the Joan Sutherland stage: what proved to be a single set, set as deep and wide as possible into the stage to create space.

The production has been billed as a Cuban take on Carmen.  That’s to say, a kind of Ruritanian Cuba or do I mean Cuban Ruritania.  It’s not really Cuba, you see, just something like it.

An awful lot of stuff, especially in Acts II and III, seemed to be played for laughs: the cute-as Kombi van for Lillias Pasta’s café, parked in a square (so it was a mystery why Zuniga needed to knock on a door when he turned up);  the merry band of smugglers. That’s Carmen’s two ditzy besties, Frasquita and Mercedes, pictured above.  (Opera Australia’s picture.)

Everyone was so busy being funny in the Act II quintet that they couldn’t really keep up with Molino (who had set a cracking pace) and it was just a bit of a mess.

There was lots of colour and movement as there should be for any good musical,  but despite a shift from vaudeville in the final scene I found it hard to take seriously Don Jose’s descent into outlawry or even Carmen’s love of liberty.

It took me a while to get used to Yonghoon Lee’s vocal style as Don Jose – he seemed to be making a lot of noise from rather far back in his mouth, but as the opera went on he drew on reserves of a brighter sound.  His Flower Song elicited what seemed to me the most heartfelt audience response of the night.  Clémentine Margaine as Carmen was also good without any such single moment.

Back in 2014 I was critical of Natalie Aroyan as Micaela.  The things I criticised are both improved/fixed.

I probably don’t really want to see Carmen as often as Opera Australia seems determined to put it on, but I still had a very pleasurable time.




Dad jokes

June 19, 2016

I buried my father almost two months ago now.

Actually that’s not strictly true.  I committed his body to the furnace and the ashes still await their final disposition.

I am the only son and executor.  At the preparatory ceremony I gave the eulogy.  Here are two Dad jokes I didn’t include.

Our father was keen to moderate our enthusiasm for Halva. He told us that it was made by an old man chewing up sesame seeds and honey and then spitting them out.

I don’t remember believing him.  I expect more practical measures such as physically securing the Halva had to be adopted.

Some years earlier, when I was 6 or 7, I developed an unseemly habit of fidgeting with my private parts.

My father told me that Prince Philip always walked around with his hands behind his back in order to control such temptations.

I don’t think I really believed that either, but I got the message and learnt to desist – at least in company.



Joint trials

June 16, 2016

Yesterday, after deliberating for 6 and a half days, the jury found Roger Rogerson and Glen McNamara guilty of the murder of Jamie Gao.

That is the case where three men, Rogerson, McNamara and Gao, went into a storage facility and only two, Rogerson and McNamara, left alive.  Both Rogerson and McNamara were involved in disposing of the body.  Rogerson said that Gao was already dead when he went in; McNamara said that Rogerson shot Gao and that he assisted in disposing of the body because he was terrified of Rogerson.  Then there was the matter of the 3kg or so of the drug “ice” with which, curiously, McNamara was caught by the police in possession before Jamie Gao’s body had even been found.

It was a protracted trial.  There was a false start last year which led to the jury being discharged and Glen McNamara’s counsel, Charles Waterstreet, withdrawing from the case.  At the time I speculated what the problem could have been.

Now that the trial has concluded, a welter of interlocutory judgments has been published on the internet.  The numbering goes up to 56 though not every judgment has been published.

From judgment number 8, we can now read what Waterstreet said in his opening which caused Justice Bellew to discharge the jury.

The main remark objected to was:

“You might think, from Mr McNamara’s point of view, when Mr Rogerson pulled the gun out and shot Mr Gao, without any warning, without any ifs or buts, that the fear of Mr Rogerson was very apparent in the mind of Mr McNamara because he knew the reputation of Mr Rogerson. He knew that he had killed two, three people when he was in the Police Force.

So, when a threat was made by Mr Rogerson, who having killed someone threatened to kill Mr McNamara, you might think that Mr McNamara had good cause to be afraid”

There were other statements by Mr Waterstreet to which objection was taken.  The objection was that these (and the remarks above) went beyond what was permitted in such an address, which was made pursuant to section 159 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which relevantly provides that:

(1) An accused person or his or her Australian legal practitioner may address the jury immediately after the opening address of the prosecutor.

(2) Any such opening address is to be limited generally to an address on:

(a) the matters disclosed in the prosecutor’s opening address, including those that are in dispute and those that are not in dispute, and

(b) the matters to be raised by the accused person.

You can see how Mr Waterstreet got into difficulty.  One of Rogerson and McNamara must have killed Mr Gao.  The Crown’s case was that it didn’t matter which of them did it because there was evidence of a joint plan.  Inevitably, by bringing the matter to a joint trial, the crown could benefit from the spectacle of each of McNamara and Rogerson blaming the other.  But Justice Bellew held that this did not entitle Mr Waterstreet to start throwing mud at Rogerson or inviting the jury at this stage to speculate on evidence which might not be led.

I understand why counsel for Rogerson objected to what Waterstreet said, but I’m less moved by the objections of the prosecutor.  Despite any number directions to the jury, a joint trial must make it less likely that a jury will decide that neither party is guilty because the possible guilt of one raises a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the other.  It’s the prosecution which chose to mount a joint trial in the first place.

We are also now vouchsafed the twitter post which put Waterstreet in the firing line for contempt charges and which also (from memory) led to a delay in the setting down of a fresh trial, though apparently no contempt charges are proceeding.

Problem gambler

June 12, 2016

On Tuesday we moved – from Ashfield to Canterbury.   It’s a move down in the world.  Well, about 3km south anyway.

On Wednesday we were back at the old house, cleaning up, and retrieving the last few objects which had to be cleared from it, one way or another.  The bins were full, so everything came with us.

That included an old milk-crate, once used to store LPs (newer crates were not quite the right size), which, on unloading at the new house, I found to contain a collection of Grolsch swing-top bottles, doubtless moved in similar circumstances from the house before last.

Must do something about that.  Not yet though, because the bins at the new house are full with the previous occupants’ detritus.

A friend visited us at the new house.  We had a hot shower (the new house lacks a bath) to salve our aching muscles.

All of a sudden it was almost 10pm.  I needed wanted a drink, but there was nothing to drink in the house other than one bottle, put away for a better day than this.

In NSW you cannot now buy alcohol to take away after 10pm.

I would like to claim that the stress of moving had driven me back to the weed  but that would not really be true.

You can’t normally smoke in pubs these days, but you can in their gambling areas.

Which is why I found myself in the gambling zone of the Canterbury Club Hotel as I called my sister in WA.

It’s open until 4am.