Friday, 27 November 2015

Friday Five: Women in Books

Recently I read How to Be a Heroine, Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis, in which the author revisits the books she read as a child and young woman to see if she still admired the same female characters who had a profound effect on her in her youth.

I will return to this book in a later post, but it made me think about my childhood literary heroines, and whether I still feel the same way about them. The answer is yes - does this mean I had great taste back then, or rather, that I've never grown up?

5 Literary Heroines from My Younger Years:
  1. George from The Famous Five books by Enid Blyton: George firmly believes her gender shouldn't prevent her from doing what she wants; she tackles 'the great outdoors' with gusto and is unashamedly physical; she is greatly concerned about animal welfare; her personal integrity crosses class boundaries; she is intelligent without being intellectual; she is fiercely loyal towards her friends. Sure, she scowls a lot, but I still wanted to be her (way more than I ever wanted to be Pollyanna). And I wanted her rowing boat. And her island. 
  2. Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray - I love the novel, and her cheeky, irreverent adaptability. She is a social outsider, who uses cunning and charm to claw her way to respectability, yet never achieves it. She is also radically non-maternal; one of the few female characters who doesn't go all pathetic and uninteresting once she's had a baby. And she had a thoroughly modern moniker, unlike Pamela, Clarissa or Hester.
  3. Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: as the eldest sister, she is compassionate enough to care for her family and brave enough to fight for them and stand up for her beliefs. She has arrows that never miss their target (who wouldn't want those?) but she is the voice of reason and commonsense - often she prefers to take the easy route rather than plunging recklessly into battle - even as a child, I saw the virtue in that. At the end of the series, she doesn't enter Narnia with the others, because she is more interested in 'nylons and lipstick and invitations'. In other words, she discovers sex and and drugs and rock and roll (or real life, if you prefer), and gets to grow up.
  4. Jane Eyre, from the eponymous novel by Charlotte Brontë: she's honest, forthright and powerful, acting with dignity and grace even when burning with shame and rejection. And she addresses the reader directly. She may be plain and unrefined, but she has nothing at all to hide
  5. Anne Frank - this is sort of cheating because she was a real person, but I first read her diary as though she were a fictional character, and I related to all her family frictions and teenage pretentiousness, even if I (thankfully) have never had to deal with Nazis battering down the door. Her words and ways to live have a power she could never have expected. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Friday Five: BFF

The British Film Festival 2015 has been and gone. I wanted to see every film shown as part of the programme (with the exception of the family comedy one), but time constraints and other commitments meant that I couldn't. Some, such as Suffragette and The Program) are coming to the screens on general release, so I will catch them then. Here are the films that I did get to see:

5 Films I Saw at the British Film Festival:
  1. Dare to Be Wild - A young Irish woman (Mary Reynolds played by Emma Greenwell) decides she want s to win the Chelsea Flower Show, so she does. Her garden is meant to celebrate wild places and Celtic mysticism, so there’s lots of soft lighting and swirly music. The story is supposedly true, although it’s full of one-dimensional characters and paint by numbers plotting, but what a glorious canvas: it looks beautiful but it’s a bit twee.
  2. Queen of the Desert - When I was a child Gertrude Bell was my heroine, as I loved her independent spirit and her refusal to be bowed by convention. After watching this film directed by Werner Herzog with Nicole Kidman playing Gertrude, she still is. The story is completely simplified, Robert Pattinson is somewhat laughable as T.E. Lawrence, and the lack of protective eye-wear in the midst of sandstorms is shameful, but it’s still rather lovely. The sweeping scenery shots are rapturous, and Damian Lewis gets to play a bit-part.
  3. Bill Written by those responsible for Horrible Histories, this is a version of William Shakespeare’s lost years that appeals to all levels. The cast of six play all the roles with a dash of pantomime wit, and there are gags aplenty with a smattering of Shakespearean quotes thrown in for good measure. It’s no Shakespeare in Love but it’s funny enough without being original.
  4. Elstree 1976 - If you were an extra in the original Star Wars film, would it change your life? Would you travel to all the conventions getting embroiled in the debate over whether you deserved to be there signing autographs or is that just for the ‘stars’? Would you rather be a recognisable face or wear a sweaty Storm Trooper helmet? How would you feel if your voice was dubbed throughout, or your scenes cut from the final edit? These questions and more are posed and answered in this unusual but intriguing documentary which interviews several actors connected with the cultural icon, and offers a nostalgic look at how sci-fi films used to be made.
  5. Absolutely Anything - A light-hearted, reasonably entertaining comedy about a ‘random earthling’ (Simon Pegg) who is granted absolute power by the Intergalactic Council (animated figures voiced by the remaining Pythons). Of course he initially uses it for personal (and sexual) gratification, trying to get his beautiful neighbour (Kate Beckinsale) to fall in love with him. There’s nothing here you’ve not seen before (it’s similar to A Fish Called Wanda), but it features solid performances, clear direction, some clever scriptwriting, and Robin Williams as the voice of Dennis the dog in his final film, which is particularly affecting.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Friday Five: Beer Day Out

There were many brewers at Beer Day Out this year, and many beers to be drunk. the following are five of the ones I sampled.

5 Beers at Beer Day Out:
  1. Threesome; Nomad Brewing Co./ Beavertown/ Birra Del Borgo - You would expect a collaboration beer between these three to produce something pretty special and you wouldn't be disappointed. UK malts (including Maris Otter) provide backbone for Aussie bush tucker - muntries (emu apples) and bush tomatoes - and it's rounded out by ageing for six months in grappa barrels. It tastes as intriguing as it sounds
  2. Inappropriate Touching; Hawkers/ Edge/ Kaiju!/ Evil Twin/ Baird - Collaboration beer with smoked malt and some sweetness
  3. Brett Porter; Bridge Road Brewers - It's sour and it's dark and it shouldn't work but it does - marvellous chocolate bitterness
  4. The Vandal; Panhead Custom Ales - fresh, bitey, in-your-face Kiwi IPA
  5. Blacktop Oat Stout; Panhead Custom Ales - dark and tasty with a roasty bitterness; a fine example

Friday, 6 November 2015

Friday Five: A Good Year for the Roses

We have roses in our garden. We didn't plant them, but still we reap the benefit of their perfumed blooms. Much has been written of roses: they are literal and metaphoric flowers. Here are five of my favourite quotes about roses:

5 Quotes about Roses:
  1. 'A rose is a rose is a rose.' - Gertrude Stein
  2. 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.' - William Shakespeare
  3. 'The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.' - Rose Schneiderman
  4. 'What though youth gave love and roses/ Age still leaves us friends and wine.' - Thomas Moore
  5. 'For women are as roses, whose fair flower/ Being once display'd, doth fall that very hour.' - William Shakespeare

Friday, 30 October 2015

Friday Five: Artistic Expression

I stumbled across an exhibition at Belconnen Arts Centre called Landscapes of Decay. It features work by artists from a collective called Random9. Working in a range of mediums, they use this exhibition to explore the influence of disintegration. The exhibition is curated by Liz Taggart-Speers, and the following statement is quoted in the catalogue:
"Disintegration is a subtle whispering, a barely realised theme of everything in life. It is as finely woven into the textures of humanity as birth, creation, war, sex and love." 
As our world continually decays, erodes and transforms, we have an artistic desire to capture the ephemeral nature of our existence. Despite the expression 'as old as the hills', landscapes are impermanent. Their living nature makes them vibrant and precious, and the ability to transform with time inspires these artists to attempt to capture their essence.

From the trees branching out of seats of learning in Dianne Libke's sculpture (the dictionary supporting the found wood are enclosed within a bell jar, preventing them from access to oxygen and carbon dioxide), to Camallie Guest's black and gold pigment wash and charcoal image of a peacock with feathers named for disasters caused by human intervention, the implications of the artwork are there for the viewer to interpret. I imagine that the latter with its colour scheme of the images painted for posterity onto Greek vases and the like juxtaposed with the stereotype of shrieking vanity suggests we should be ashamed of having caused such destruction to humanity and the environment.

Melinda Brouwer's ceramic boulders remind me of the peculiar rock formations in Tidbinbilla, or the Snowy Mountains. Her work investigates the changes caused in the environment by weather, seasons and the passage of time. Similarly, Naomi Somerville's cold-worked cast glass hints at melting polar ice and all the consequences that entails.

Meanwhile, although the word 'decay' has such negative connotations, Maria Klingner sees a more positive message in transformation and ageing, representing the ups and downs in the rhythms of a baby's heartbeat, captured in a piece of jewellery. She says she likes to examine 'the dynamic connection between adornment, creative expression, daily rituals and embedded memory'.

Five Pieces of Artwork from the Exhibition, Landscapes of Decay:

Memento Senescere... To Grow Old (2015) by Dianne Libke
Promenade of Failed Ideologies (2015) by Camallie Guest
Untitled (2015) by Naomi Somerville
In Utereo (2015) by Maria Klingner

Boulders (2015) by Melinda Brouwer

Friday, 23 October 2015

Friday Five: Birthday weekend

It's not a 'big' or a 'significant' birthday, but I believe in celebrating them anyway. Any excuse for a good meal and/or a get-together with friends should not be missed. Him Outdoors and I are both exhausted after a very busy couple of weeks and moving house. More than half of our belongings are still in boxes, and we might have spent the weekend sorting things out, but that didn't appeal, so...

Five Things I did for my Birthday Weekend:
  1. A blind gin-tasting. It turns out that my favourite gins are the most expensive ones. Who'd have guessed that?
  2. Breakfast at Rocksalt, Hawker - smashed avocado, whipped feta, and poached egg on rye toast, since you ask
  3. Celebrate the christening of the child of friends - it's on the same day as my birthday and sharing the love in the arms of tradition and community makes me happy
  4. A bike ride, sussing out our new location, past vineyards, rolling hills and the river gorge - and not a single magpie swoop
  5. Invited a bunch of friends round to our new house for home-made pizza and drinks on the patio: houses need cats, conversation, company and laughter to make them complete

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How can you be sure: The Invisible Gorilla

The Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
Pp. 242

If you were watching a basketball game on television and a person walked onto the court in a gorilla suit, you’d notice, wouldn’t you? Even if you were concentrating on counting the number of passes executed by one of the teams? Apparently not. In a now-famous survey conducted in 1999 by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, half of the subjects didn’t ‘see’ the gorilla, although 75% swore they would have seen it if it had been there. The fact that it was, and they didn’t, has led the two experimenters to investigate the human limits of concentration and assumption of knowledge and ability.

It’s not good news for anyone who talks on a mobile phone (hands free or otherwise) while driving. We only have a limited amount of attention, and if we split its focus, then we are not able to perform either task to full competence.

The book is subtitled ‘And other ways our intuition deceives us’, and these ways are many and varied. Generally we think we are smarter than we are, and the less ability we have, the more confidence we have in it. This illusion of confidence extends to others, as we are more likely to trust someone who expresses absolute certainty, than one who consults their colleagues and considers their opinion. 

This illusion of confidence ties in to the illusion of knowledge, by which we think we know more about a subject than we do. We understand many things on a superficial level, but not at greater depth, because we don’t have to. We may all think we know how a bicycle, a zipper or a toilet works, and this comprehension carries us through life quite adequately. But do we really know how such things operate? Try explaining it in detail and, unless you have had to fix one, you will probably soon come unstuck.

We are also under the illusion that technology is all-powerful. This is evident in examples of people blindly following sat-nav directions until they end up hundreds of miles from where they intended, or in the sea. “Technology can help us to overcome the limits on our abilities, but only if we recognise that any technological aid will have limits too. If we misunderstand the limits of the technology, these aids can actually make us less likely to notice what is around us.”

Part of this confidence trick is the use of ‘neurobabble’, in which scientific terminology is used to lend dubious theories the ring of authenticity. We have long been seduced by talk of the brain’s functioning power, and the myth that we only use 10% of its capacity is commanding. There is a widely-held belief that listening to Mozart makes us more intelligent, and although we like to think we could get smarter by doing nothing, there is no scientific basis for this illusion of potential.

And then there is the illusion of causality: people tend to find the link that suits them, even if there were other factors which have a more influential bearing on the incident, hence conspiracy theories. Because we can relate to the personal rather than the general, we are far more likely to believe an isolated anecdote from a person we know than banks of statistics.

The Invisible Gorilla suggests that we are constantly being duped – often by ourselves – and asks us to question our emotional responses. It’s not so much that everything we know is wrong, as that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Friday Five: Mornington Peninsula Beaches

It's beautiful down here. Don't just take my word for it, though. Here are some beaches:

5 Fabulous Beaches on the Mornington Peninsula
    Beach huts near Rye

Cape Schank


Fisherman's Beach
Point Nepean

Friday, 9 October 2015

Friday Five: Season Launch

Before anyone races to point it out, I know that there are six rather than the usual weekly five, but that's just the way it it goes. Canberra Repertory Society have announced the plays they will be producing for the next season, and I'd like to hear your thoughts. I was on the committee that helped to select the plays, so please don't be too hurtful in your comments.

One factor I would point out is that this is a sub-committee, which recommends a number of plays (15 in this case) to a committee, who decide upon the final plays - nothing is one person's opinion, and I'm sure we all know how committees work. I think each play is a good choice individually. 

6 plays in Canberra Rep's 2016-2017 Season:
  1. Uncle Vanya - Anton Chekov (28 April - 14 May)
  2. Witness for the Prosecution - Agatha Christie (16 June - 2 July)
  3. Macbeth - William Shakespeare (4 - 20 August)
  4. She Stoops to Conquer - Oliver Goldsmith (22 September - 8 October)
  5. Noises Off - Michael Frayn (17 November - 3 December)
  6. Wait until Dark - Frederick Knott (23 February - 11 March)

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Let it Rain: The Wife Drought

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb
(Ebury Press)
Pp. 255

Annabel Crabb is a political commentator, an author, journalist and television show host. She examines the position of women in the workforce, the inequality of wages, and the perception of parenting in this book, subtitled, ‘Why women need wives, and men need lives’. While she makes some interesting points, all of her examples are drawn from politicians, TV presenters, writers and journalists. The debate is, therefore, heavily skewed towards middle-class professions, making it not really typical of real life for most people.

There is no question that women earn less than men on average, but the reasons for this are less clear. Often women don’t get the higher-paid jobs because they don’t have the experience – but how will they ever gain the experience if they aren’t given the job? Part of the problem is perception. Because there are currently more men in higher-paid positions, the trend is likely to continue. Another part of the problem is that the emergent workforce doesn’t see it as a problem at all, because it isn’t for them. Yet.

Firstly, there is marriage; secondly (in this model, at least), there are children. Each stage makes a difference to a person’s income and status. Until relatively recently (October 1966), legislation forbad married women from working in the public sector. Although things have changed, they are still fairly regressive in the upper echelons of the pay scales. Of the 1192 senior executives (half male; half female) who responded to a ‘Leaders in a Global Economy’ survey, three-quarters of the men had a wife or spouse who didn’t work. Three-quarters of the women had a husband who worked full-time. “The men got wives, in other words. And the women didn’t.”

Having a wife is considered an asset for a worker. Employers tend to see men with wives as more reliable, and remunerate them accordingly. “Marriage, for men, means being paid more money. The phenomenon known as ‘the marriage premium’ is recorded in many countries, and in Australia married men earn on average about 15 per cent more than unmarried ones.”

Stage two: children. “What proportion of nuclear families has a dad who works full-time, and a mum who doesn’t? Sixty per cent. What proportion has a mum who works full-time, with a male ‘wife’? Three per cent.” On the whole, due to earning capacity and public perception, it is the man who goes to work and the woman who remains at home. After all, “A mother who works is a ‘working mother’. A father who works is just a normal guy.” Crabb argues that this situation must change so that men leaving work to look after children has to become considered as normal as women doing it.

Part of the alpha-male culture which needs to change is that currently the man has to be seen to be the major breadwinner. In this corporate world, men are expected to get to the office early and leave late, and are told that weekends are for families. This isn’t the point of this book, but what about people who work in retail/hospitality – any job that isn’t a Monday-Friday; when are they meant to spend time with their family?

The book is well-argued with many statistics, but it is pretty narrow in its focus. Early on, Crabb states that she is going to boil all the arguments down into two simple and broad categories – ‘Men are awful’ and ‘Women are hopeless’ – and then address them. She proceeds to do so, but only those in a particular demographic, which (while pertinent to anyone working in politics), lessens the general nature of the argument.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Friday Five: Hair Histrionics

Last week I coloured my hair (with the help of friends). It is now red. It's taken several days to get used to it, and although I still get a bit of a shock when I see my reflection, I like it. Yes, it's different and a break from my previous look, which I've always tried to keep along the lines of 'natural' and 'subtle', but it's still me. 

I haven't changed at all, obviously, but you would think I have somehow become less human/ sensitive on account of it. While many people tell me they love it (after they have told me I've changed the colour, as if I might not have noticed) I have been amazed by the highly personal, and not exactly diplomatic comments of others.

5 Things people have said to me about my new hair colour:
  1. Wow, that's brave.
  2. Do you like it? Really? What does your husband think?
  3. What made you do that?
  4. Don't you think you should try a different shade?
  5. That can't be good for you.
So for the record, yes, I do like it. So does Him Outdoors. And that's really all that matters, as far as I'm concerned. And also, so does Niece Niamh, who sent me a text saying, "It looks very good on you." And she's the expert.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Norman Lindsay: Gallery at Faulconbridge

While we were in the Blue Mountains, we went to the Norman Lindsay Gallery at Faulconbridge - the artist's former home. Norman Lindsay (1879 - 1969) is most known for illustrating the Aussie children's classic, The Magic Pudding, but he also painted watercolours, sketched cartoons and made models of ships. The gallery contains many of these.

We were taken on a very lacklustre tour in which the guide didn't seem particularly interested. Lindsay married Catherine (Kate) Agatha Parkinson in 1900, and she operated his heavy and cumbersome printing equipment, encouraged and supported his career, and bore him three sons (Jack: 1900; Raymond: 1903; Philip: 1906). In typical male artist fashion, however, Lindsay began an affair with Rose Soady, who began modelling for him in 1902. By the time he left for London in 1909, Rose had supplanted his wife, and joined him there in 1910. He divorced Kate in 1918 and married Rose in 1920.

The gardens are full of sculptures and fountains featuring suggestive nudes and lewd fawns. None of the women in his artwork look particularly attractive. All of them seem ugly, crudely sexual and aggressively predatory. I didn't really like them, although I appreciated his talent, but Him Outdoors was distinctly unimpressed.

These nudes were highly controversial in their time; when Soady took sixteen crates of his art to the U.S. in 1940 to protect them from the war, they were impounded when the train they were travelling on caught fire, and subsequently burned as pornographic material. He also wrote several books which were banned by the censors, and caused a stir when he wrote such an enduring popular children's book.

In 1994 Sam Neill played a fictionalised version of Lindsay in John Duigan's Sirens, set and filmed mainly at Lindsay's Faulconbridge home. I saw the film at the time and knew nothing of the artist - I thought it was just a sexist piece of soft porn featuring a lot of dripping wet women (including Elle MacPherson in her  film debut) in lakes being leched at by some pervy old bloke. No further comment.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Friday Five: The Mesmeric Magic of Crowds

Following on from last week's Friday Five, I've been thinking about the mesmeric influence of dancing in a club; of the wonderful vibe experienced at a rave. A lot has been written about the brutality of the mob; about how being part of a crowd can make a person lose their individuality and behave in an ugly and anti-social manner. At this point some sort of reference is made to riots, hooliganism and/or the French Revolution. But I think that sometimes crowds can have a beatific influence, and their collective nature can be a force for good. And please stop waving your phone/tablet about and ruining it for everyone else. Aren't you capable of remembering stuff?

5 Times it's good to be part of a crowd:
  1. Music/ dancing - as discussed. Of course one can dance with oneself, but the experience is a lot different if there are 'twenty thousand people standing in a field'
  2. Theatre/film/sport - A live audience is a wonderful thing. The shared emotion makes a film even more memorable - watching Silence of the Lambs in a cinema where the code of conduct was impeccably observed and everybody jumped at the same instant was unforgettable
  3. Battle - That speech of Henry V wouldn't have been so inspiring if no band of brothers were there to listen
  4. Church/vigil - Whatever your belief or religion, if you share it publicly with others through song, prayer, or silence, the feeling of togetherness is indescribable
  5. Rally/ threat - There is power in a union: The people united will never be defeated

Friday, 18 September 2015

Friday Five: Clubbed on the head

Apparently the number of clubs in the UK has halved over the past decade. In 2005 there were 3,144 nightclubs in Britain: now there are 1,733. 

I used to love clubbing, going to gigs and going out dancing - often after the pubs closed at 11pm, but then I lived in Manchester between 1990-1996 when it was good to be alive.

The pub was a great place to catch up with mates, talk utter nonsense and drink good beer. Sometimes there was a pub quiz or a football match to watch if you couldn't afford SKY TV, or get a ticket to the game, or just wanted to be sociable.

Bands in pubs (unless they are specific music venues, or feature an acoustic set in a corner which doesn't dominate all else) completely kill the atmosphere as you can't hear a word anyone says. If I walk into a pub which has karaoke, I walk straight out again (there are perfectly good karaoke bars for that sort of exhibitionism).

I understand pubs and clubs must change to keep up with changing times, but must they all just become the bland and boring same?

5 Favourite Clubs from Manchester Days:
  1. The Hacienda - it's a cliche but it's true; it was a top night out, with 'banging tunes' and a side-serving of edgy Mancs
  2. The Ritz - that bouncy wooden floor from the days of ballroom dancing; that balcony viewing for looking down from above; the way you knew it was time to cop off or clear out when they started playing Sympathy for the Devil
  3. The Academy - simply rave-tastic
  4. Jilly's Rockworld - sticky carpets and all: four floors to suit any musical taste from long-haired prog-rock (apparently; I never went to that floor), to 80's kitch, contemporary jump-around beats, and the cool kids techno in the basement
  5. Home - the night after the bomb when they played nothing but Manchester music, I even danced to The Fall. I've never felt so much affection for a city. 'If it's not love then it's the bomb that will bring us together'.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Quote for Today: Living art

The Globe Theatre
"Theatre focuses on the importance of the moment. No matter how many times they have repeated a play, in each performance, the players strive to create the illusion of freshness, to play their roles in such a way that their characters appear to be encountering these situations, doing these actions, and saying these words for the first time. Furthermore, since the composition of the audience (one-half of the performer-spectator relationship) changes from night to night, each performance differs subtly from every other performance; when you watch a play, you participate in a one-of-a-kind, unrepeatable art work." From Theatre: The Now-Art with a Past by Norman A. Bert

Friday, 11 September 2015

Friday Five: Long to Reign Over Us

This week, having occupied the throne for 63 years, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II overtook her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become Britain's longest-serving monarch. Apparently she didn't want to make a fuss, which, as well as being terribly British, is completely understandable, bearing in mind the reason for her coronation was the premature death of her father.

So she commemorated the event with a train ride along a new section of track along the Scottish borders. With Nicola Sturgeon, a woman who supports devolution of Scotland. This is the height of humility. That's my queen. Many people have criticised her reign as having been unspectacular, uninteresting and 'humdrum' (Jeremy Paxman). She might agree. In her 1957 Christmas broadcast (the first to be televised), she said, "I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else, I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations." 

As far as I am concerned, that is exactly what she has done and, in so doing, she embodies the epitome of British values. They may be much derided, and they may not be swashbuckling, outstanding, headline-grabbing virtues, but they are the ones that make me proud to be British:

5 British Virtues Demonstrated by Her Majesty:
  1. Politeness/ courtesy
  2. Dignity
  3. Tolerance
  4. Respect
  5. Going to extraordinary lengths to say nothing that could give offence to anyone

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Bodies by Susie Orbach
Profile Books
Pp. 145

Susie Orbach is a psychoanalyst, psychotherapist and social critic as well as an author, so when she turns her attention to a subject, she is going to do more than just skim the surface, even in a slim volume such as this. Here she is concerned between the disparity between the reality and the projection of our bodies. She would like to see us reclaim the body as a place in which we live and not as a thing which must be permanently altered to fit a shifting social acceptance.

Bodies used to make things; to build and farm; to clean and create. They were fit and active because they had to be. With Western robotics and mechanics this is no longer the case, and physical labour has been largely replaced. “Now those who work with their bodies many hours a day are a class apart. Millions of us work only with our fingers on keyboards. We admire the sportsperson or team for their physical skills; we may garden, walk, dance and swim for pleasure and health, but we are exceptional if we do not have to make an effort to ‘use’ our bodies.”

Our bodies are naturally formed in infancy and immediately shaped to fit the social and individual customs of the families into which they are born. Gestures, decoration and appearances all reflect the specific period, geography, sexual, religious and cultural aspects of the place in which they live. These differences were once obvious, but Orbach worries that globalism is challenging personal identity, even to the way people walk, speak and dress. She sees this clearly in Bhutan which received television only in 1999 so was protected from intense outside influences until quite recently.

This need to conform to a narrow body image is significant because it affects mental health and becomes a public health issue through self-harm, obesity and anorexia. People generate a sort of continuity and “aliveness” by creating and then surviving emergencies, which in effect provide proof of their existence. Orbach cites many cases in which clients traumatise their own bodies, to the extent of removing perfect working limbs to stand out.

Physical attraction and sexuality have become the new standard in relationships in which the visual predominates and the body is judged merely as a sexual surface. For women, even comfy clothing must convey sexy stylishness; women must always be on display and they must always appear to be sexually attractive, available and willing. 

Conversely, as sexuality is increasingly visible, many women are choosing to bypass sexual intercourse as a means of having children. Sexuality is, therefore, seen as a commodity we are encouraged to produce, but one which is separate from its biological purpose. As we sit in front of computers for many hours a day, we create on-line bodies that have nothing to do with our bodies as they actually are, and then try to make our ‘real’ bodies resemble these artificially designed avatars.

Orbach makes a heartfelt plea, based on her professional experience of people struggling to accept their physical form, for us to try to understand our bodies for what they are, rather than trying to make them fit a social norm. She argues that we should be able to take our bodies for granted, and just enjoy them, rather than trying to change them. It’s great advice, but, although easy to take to heart, it may be harder to put into practice; the indoctrination is too powerful.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Friday Five: Modus Operandi

Over a year ago I saw a sign in Mona Vale that made me happy. It was this:

And then there was a sign that made me a lot less happy. It was this:

But since then, it has arrived. Modus Operandi is a brewery on the Northern Beaches, which uses fresh live yeast flown in from the U.S.A. and hops and malt from all over the world. The Head Brewer, DJ used to brew for Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado, where he was responsible for the Specialty Beer Programme and the Brew School. He is happy to share his brewing knowledge while making fantastic ales for us all to enjoy. And we are grateful.

5 Modus Operandi Beers:
  1. Lola Golden Ale - An Aussie Pale Ale bursting with those juicy, hoppy, tropical flavours but still very refreshing and drinkable
  2. Kite Flyer Cream Ale: An American-style common beer with a slightly sweet malt flavour and a hint of spicy hops
  3. Zoo Feeder IPA - Maltier than a traditional IPA, with American resin/pine hops (2014 Craft Beer Awards Champion IPA)
  4. Former Tenant Red IPA - Ruby Red IPA with citrus hops and caramel malt (2014 Craft Beer Awards Champion Australian Craft Beer
  5. Silent Knight Porter - Brewed as a session version of a Russian Imperial Stout, it's full of rich chocolate and roast caramel, which makes it very malty with a light, dry finish

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

My Newest Favourite Thing: Charles Billich

When we were last in Sydney, we saw a beautiful building near the Harbour Bridge. It used to be a place for sailors to sleep; now it houses some spectacular art by Charles Billich. The canvases are crowded with images, real and imagined from the past, present and future. Cityscapes of Sydney, London, Paris, or Shanghai are vibrant and busy, juxtaposing iconic representations in a playful pastiche. As the official artist of Regatta Day, he delights in painting the Sydney waterfront, and as he is so close to it, it would seem contrary not to.

The gallery owner tells me that that the pictures don't date because they are often not real anyway. On hearing we lived in Canberra, she rushed to show us a print he had created of the capital. 

As well as cities and architecture, Billich's subjects include theatrical pursuits such as drama, ballet and orchestras, and sport - lots of sport. He was named the artist of the 1996 Olympic Games and in 2000 was the recipient of the Sport Artist of the Year Award presented annually by the American Sport Art Museum and Archives. The sports most represented in this gallery are racing, both of horses and motor cars. Billich captures the proud equine spirit brilliantly, and the paintings seem to burst to life; The World of Polo is a study of movement as realism melds into fantasy.

His Olympic portraits are stunning and often incorporate gold leaf, which shimmers from the walls and (I am assured) have no need for special gallery lighting to enhance their visual charms. Inspired by his work, The Beijing Cityscape, the official image for the successful Beijing bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, Billich conceived a series of images based on the Bing Ma Yong Terracotta Warriors, engaged in sporting pursuits including fencing, rowing and archery.

Chinese masters also indulge in a series of games such as chess and other contests of skill in Billich's art. He also paints humanitarian pieces and works of religious significance. From landscapes to portraiture, classicism to eroticism, Billich has a wide and varied range of subject matter, to which he brings his inimitable style. The canvases are large and impressive, as are their price tags. A print of the Sochi Olympics is $200,000. At least looking is free.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Friday Five: Bad Publicity

Bad Publicity: popular wisdom has it that there's no such thing. Many actors and directors say they never read their reviews. I don't believe either of those things. The thespians I know read every word they can get their hands on, and they read them at least three times. 

The first time they scan it quickly, looking for references to themselves; the second time they read the whole thing, being particularly alert to any perceived slight; the third time they agonise over the tiniest critical comment, which will be burnt into their consciousness for the rest of their life.

I am just as guilty. Even though I am a reviewer myself, and I know that a review is only one person's opinion, and that as a performer one should have faith in the art as directed, a hastily written quip (often hurtful remarks are the result of an inexperienced reviewer trying to be clever) can still drive me to distraction, where no one else can see the problem.

Recently I played the role of Bella in Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight for Canberra Repertory Theatre. To even out the balance, here are snippets from reviews of the play, both good and bad:

5 Reviews of Gaslight:

  1. Bouquet: "Director barb barnett and her cast resist the temptation to lapse into melodrama, choosing to probe for the truth beyond the psychological abuse and strange occurrences."
  2. Brickbat: "a thriller in search of greater tension and suspense"
    Full Review: Canberra Times

  3. Bouquet: "Entertaining and spooky, with witty jokes and intense drama"
    Brickbat: "The script calls for more paranoia and ambiguity to keep the audience guessing."
    Full Review: City News

  4. Bouquet: "Kate Blackhurst plays the part of Bella Manningham very well."
    Brickbat: "The play is rather wordy and is repetitive in parts."
    Full Review: Stage Whispers

  5. Bouquet: "The audience is drawn into a complex and devious plot that maintains interest right up until the very satisfying climax."
    Brickbat: "A straight forward production"
    Full Review: Canberra Critics Circle

  6. Bouquet: "The members of the Canberra Repertory Theatre showed their wonderful talent"
    Brickbat: "The highlight of the show has to be the curtain"
    Full Review: Woroni