Pieces (everyday life) (original song)

That plan to record and put up some of my old songs was stalled. No special reason really. I do want to do more, but I also think I should space putting them up! It’s so hard to get people’s attention these days.

I always liked this song. I wrote it in September 2006, which seemed a particularly creative month for songs.

I was a hoarder for a long time. Kept things hidden away, and hung onto old pieces of paper or keepsakes, for the nostalgia and sentimentality. And of course I also hung onto less tangible items: memories, friendships. I remember thinking at the time of writing this: what are the pieces that make up our lives?

Hope you enjoy it.

Pieces (Everyday life)

Here are the pieces of everyday life: a shoe, a cloth, a butter knife,
A pocket of change and an overdue bill, a magazine clipping, a vitamin pill.

And our little habits, all of our routines
The fuel in the motor that runs the machine

Did you stop, did you stare, are we getting somewhere?
Is it real? Did you feel?
Did you fall, did you call, did you give it your all
Did you steal? Did you deal?
Things we could not say… How you got away

So where do I stow away my little songs: a nest, the wind, with lock and key?
And all of my stories, where do they belong: the ground, a book, an acorn tree?

And the sun has come out after five days of rain
There is blue in the sky, there is all it contains

Did you fly, did you cry, did you say your goodbyes?
Is it so? Did you know?
Did you lie, did you sigh, did you turnaround? Why
did you go? Did you go?

Things I never knew… Things I wanted to.

Here are the pieces of everyday dreams: a ring, a rock, a football team
A lottery ticket, a knock at the door, a trip to the south, that tie you wore

And the world is as big and as small as can be
And it spins and it shines, do you see this with me?

Did you play, did you say, did you give it away?
Was it right? Was it kind?
Did you share, did you care, did it finally feel fair?
Was it good? Was it good?
Ways to say goodbye… Ways to wonder why

Joy and sorrow, grief and laughter
Blessings and mistakes
Wasted efforts, happy endings
Tears and lucky breaks…
Here are the pieces of everyday… life. Life. Life. Life. Ah, life.

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Old movies: Bonjour Tristesse and La Dolce Vita

So, overseas travel was cancelled for 2020 and it seems unlikely for 2021. So, we thought we’d catch some European films at the local arthouse cinema. It seemed like an interesting, well-adjudicated list so we thought, why not?

Bonjour Tristesse was promising. A 1958 film based on the 1954 novel by Françoise Sagan that scandalised France (she wrote it as a teenager), the storied cast featured Jean Sebert, David Nevin and Deborah Kerr (who I remember from the Sound of Music). The early scenes of Paris excited me: they were all iconic locations that I had passed through. Sebert is beautiful, in a short pixie haircut, with charisma.

But it was then that I remembered: I’ve never liked old movies. Ever since my first movies, if they are too far away from the present day, they seem so stylised that they are unreal. I can’t even see them as fables. The rhythms of speech are dramatic and stilted and the dialogue false. In this film, I think requisite for the time was a mid-movie dance number, where the characters lead all the townspeople in a raucous dance and conga line near the water (most of the film takes place on the French Riviera). I found it jarring that they were pretending the characters were French, while speaking in Hollywood English. A pivotal scene, where Cecile follows Anne into the woods, nearby their villa, has Cecile literally tip-toeing around and hiding behind trees, a pantomime.

And the story itself was old-fashioned and I couldn’t relate to it. A creepy father-daughter relationship. Both of them addicted to romance, but not serious about a relationship. The conflict from Anne, to whom the father proposes, promising to interfere with said creepy relationship.

I wanted to like it, but I didn’t. So I was glad to read after we saw the movie that neither critics at the time nor critics now particularly liked the film. A few movie buffs seem to love it, for example, this one from Slant Magazine, or this one from the Guardian. I found the original NY Times review the most interesting, calling the characters in the film as immature and lacking in depth as the novel.

So, perhaps it’s not old movies persay that I don’t like, but SOME old movies. Except then we saw Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), which is in many lists of the top films ever made, and while I initially found it much more engaging than Bonjour Tristesse, I lost it when we hit the two-hour mark, and concluded, after the third hour that to the contemporary viewer, the movie is a big, steaming pile of poo, quite terrible, which would put me at odds with all film buffs.

As we discovered, the film, about a celebrity journalist (who flirts with being a writer and eventually becomes an ad man) is made up of episodes that are mostly completely unconnected to each other. So, it’s very unsatisfying in terms of a narrative. So, I tried to step back and see each episode as a philosophical and moral treatise: is there something that can be learned in each episode for the development of the character?

And I couldn’t see it. Marcello and a lover go back to a sex worker’s flat and use it to make love. Marcello attends a wild party at a castle with eccentric rich people and probably ends up having sex with the English poet. The Virgin Mary is sighted by two children outside of Rome. Journalists descend and others hoping to be healed. Mayhem ensues. Marcello’s father visits and they pick up a French cabaret performer from the club, but then Dad loses his mojo and decides to take the train back home in the morning. Mostly, the characters in the film pursue desire, amusement or distraction, and are not particularly happy.

The film does not age well. Marcello’s lover, Emma, is portrayed as a crazy, possessive woman, with no other character notes. She is treated like garbage by Marcello and the scene where he tries to get her back into his car after an argument, and she refuses, and then he tries kick her out of the car and she refuses, and then he physically ejects her from the car, and leaves her there for the night, and then comes back and picks her up is all kinds of painful. When Marcello abuses a drunk woman at a final party, manhandling her, and then literally sticking feathers onto her to make her into a chicken, is terrible. The only character who seems to have some intelligence, a caring family man, then is shown to actually be in despair. He kills his children and himself in a murder-suicide. If characters were being portrayed in a negative light to show their moral decay, I felt by turns repelled and uninterested.

If there’s one theme that seemed strikingly contemporary, it was the paparazzi, the hounding of celebrities (or wanna-be celebrities) by the press, a voracious chase and consumption of gossip, prestige and status.

I did find it interesting that there was a character who was clearly gay, and very camp, but didn’t seem to be more exaggerated in emotions than the other characters, and then two young drag queens at the end of the film were also interesting. Fellini clearly loved to use non-white actors as decoration, and I was surprised and interested to see Asian actors in the background, and an African-American woman portrayed as a singer, and then a dancer. There is a highly objectionable speech about the attributes of an Oriental woman.

I am sure that I can research all the reasons why I should like the film, say Roger Ebert’s review and tribute, and apparently I am missing a lot of Catholic symbolism and other symbolism, with most of the episodes ripped from the headlines of the day. And the film seemed to be important because of how it broke with previous traditions of filmmaking, and was, at the time, completely new.

But to these modern eyes, I found it hard to connect to this film. Apparently, it was loved by Americans as a view into Europe. And it was a commentary on the decay of the rich and privileged, yet these days they are richer and more privileged than ever with probably even less morality. And as for the spectacle of the film, the Felliniesque bizarre and exaggerated, this has so quickly been overtaken. The bizarre and unbelievable seem to be surrounding us in our daily lives, as well as an TikTok and YouTube. Ostentatious display of wealth and celebrity is just part of the scenery now.

It’s an interesting philosophical question though. If we cannot appreciate art unless we know the context, is it good art? Or is the fault put on the observer of the art (I was going to but should not say “consumer” of art) for not doing the research, for not placing themselves in the position of a person who would appreciate (or be shocked and scandalised by) it. What say? What’s your opinion on the matter?

Posted in Film, Review | Leave a comment

How to refill a long lighter

(Originally posted 14 December 2017): Does anyone else have this problem? I’ve never liked cigarette lighters. I spin the little metal dial, get the flame up, and then when trying to light my tea lights (which is the main reason why I would use a lighter), I manage to angle the lighter so that it burns my fingers. In situations where a gas stove needs lighting, I have always had the fear that I will light the gas and my whole hand.

That is why I have always used long lighters.

I’ve always found it wasteful, though they only cost between $2 and $6, to throw them out when the butane has run out. But the thing is, the first times I tried refilling them, many years ago, I remember it being a complete disaster.

But things move fast these days. I thought of this task more recently and realised that at the time, it was unlikely for there to be advice up on the internet, but nowadays, there is advice on EVERYTHING. The weird thing is that the advice that I found was super complicated and often wrong.

The worst advice involved removing the cartridge from a cigarette lighter and then removing the cartridge from the long lighter, and putting the cigarette lighter cartridge into the long lighter AFTER you’ve made a few small adjustments.

Yeah, right. A video from a kid (who shouldn’t be playing with lighters) didn’t help out, and gave advice that was opposite to what eventually worked. The best advice was found on a message board, but without illustration. So, I thought that I could help out here, for anyone who was once, like me, confused.

How to refill a long lighter:

  • Buy a can of butane
  • Use the smallest nozzle and first use it (or a pin or a screwdriver) to completely release any remaining gas or butane that is in the lighter. Put your instrument into the small hole and press until there is no pressure left, no sound, nothing. This is an important step and I think was my problem the first time I tried this.
  • When the cartridge is completely empty, then you can fill it up. Hold the can of butane upside down with the nozzle inserted into the tiny hole for refilling the butane!

  • Press down. It’s likely that extra butane will leak over your fingers, which will be cold, so you might want to wear gloves. And you’d probably want to do this on a solid surface rather than my hands in the air illustration purposes only.
  • You will be able to see in the window whether the cartridge has filled up.

I’m still using the same can of butane to refill lighters 2.5 years after I first wrote this post. And I just got some new advice!

John (thanks John) advises:

You should use a quality butane from brands like Colibri, Puretane, Vector etc. The brand name is less important than how refined it is. Personally, I use 9x refined Colibri for my torches.

Cheap butane like Ronson has more impurities and it can clog up your lighter and ruin it. Long lighters are pretty cheap, so maybe it’s not worth the hassle, but I’ve ruined torches with low quality butane in the past.

I’ve found that I can only refill the lighters about 4 or 5 times and then they just won’t light, even when there’s enough butane in them. So maybe this is the problem.

Posted in Advice, Consumer, Home | 17 Comments

2021 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV

(A work in progress…)

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Bonjour Tristesse. Read some grumpy words about this here
  • La Dolce Vita. Read some grumpy words about this here
  • Possessor. A movie from David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, I brought husband because it was described as a sci-fi thriller. I sort of had skipped over the ‘horror’ part so saw more blood and gore than I’ve seen in a long time. But I thought it was an amazing film: engaging story, creepy atmosphere, superb acting. 
  • Roman Holiday. Having not appreciated two film classics, and another not-so-classic old film, I had high hopes that this film would change my view. Oh yes it did. Obviously the mother of so many romantic comedies, this was the original, and done in a way I found engaging and charming. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck have wonderful charisma, the script is funny, Rome is shown in its full glory (whereas when watching La Dolce Vita, I was like: Where’s Rome? (except for the Trevi Fountain scene). If you haven’t seen this film before, give yourself a treat! We saw it on Valentine’s Day. Perfect.
  • Max Richter’s Sleep. A documentary about Max Richter’s 8.5 hour musical composition, written for audiences to sleep to, the film has the same dreamy, unrushed quality. I really like Richter’s music: it’s emotional and direct, beautiful and atmospheric. The film is a little about him, and a little about him and his wife and their partnership, with a focus on some of the fans of the music and event. I loved it.

Movies (seen on TV, like on Netflix)

  • Pride. How I loved this charming English movie about a group of ragtag gay and lesbian activists who supported a community of Welsh miners during the strikes in Thatcherite England in the 80s. Based on a true story. 
  • 101 Rent Boys. A documentary, of sorts, of 101 rent boys in Los Angeles. I thought it couldn’t be NOT interesting (and was right) but didn’t expect the storytelling to be so weak and just watching it makes you feel like you’re part of the exploitation. 

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 13. They’re shaking things up. Let’s see how it goes. 
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race Vegas Revue. Hmm. Watching out of sheer fandom. It’s painful to watch these young men, who are great performers but not very mature human beings in how they treat each other and their bodies and their expectations. 
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Season 2. Wow. How much of drag race can we watch? The year has only begun. Still, it was such a diverse group of queens in the finale, I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I’ve seen Ru lately fall in love with someone so much as he did with the winner. Every time they were on screen together, it was clear that Ru LOVES this one. 
  • Amy. Ouch. Amy Winehouse had such an amazing, natural voice and a real talent. Could she have survived her additions? It’s not sure, but she was certainly surrounded by people who did not help her survive, and those who wanted to help her couldn’t reach her. Sad. 
  • Blown Away, Season 2. I loved the quirky first season of this reality show about glass-blowing and you know, I loved Season 2 just as much. 
  • Project Runways All Stars, Season 8. Not sure how we missed this when it came out a year or two ago, but we can’t resist this show. It was, all in all, pretty fun, and I think I was happy enough with the finale, though a little nationalism was creeping through and I was hoping Biddell, the Canadian designer, would win. 

Other television

  • Death to 2020. Not a documentary but a mockumentary by Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror on 2020. It got mediocre reviews but I don’t have high expectations these days.
  • Lupin. Season 1. Wow, did I love this series! Bring on season 2. 
  • Snowpiercer. Season 2. I was enjoying it but in the end, I didn’t love this season that much. The first season had a strong dramatic question and then a fantastic twist at the end. This season had too many plots and a focus on too many characters for me. But husband liked it a lot. 
  • Money Heist (La Casa de Papel). Watched the first season then took a break. I really loved the feel of this, the characters, the storytelling. Watch it with subtitles. 
  • It’s a Sin. Touching, engaging, the tragedy leavened by comedy. Apparently a huge hit, in the UK, especially. I’m glad that this story is being told for a new generation. 
  • Sex Education. Seasons 1 and 2. I really like this series. The characters are appealing and mixed in with light, youthful comedy are some heavyweight emotional truths and situations. 

Books

  • Alain De Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (philosophy). I’m not convinced that I should read Proust, but I loved reading this instead. Is that cheating? Beautiful writing about friendship, reading, paying attention and being alive. 
  • Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain (novel). I was so engaged with the story and characters that I stopped noticing the writing. It’s a harrowing story and feels unique. I’m not sure if I loved it as much as some of my friends did (or the Booker prize jury) but it is a great book.
  • Judith Flanders’ A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order (non-fiction). It’s rare that I give up on a book, and I note I probably could have finished it as the last third of the book is footnotes. And it really was interesting in many ways to see the way alphabetisation developed. But it’s SO well-researched with SO much detail (about text from so long ago). It takes a particular kind of mind to be able to engage with this material. 

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Sydney Festival’s The Rise and Fall of Saint George. An interesting, passionate sort of rock opera that portrayed the time of the same-sex marriage debate in Australia, symbolised by the defacing of the striking wall mural of George Michael, as a saint, in Erskineville. And what a setting. I had no idea they’d be able to host concerts at the Headland in Barangaroo like that. It was stunning. 
  • Young Frankenstein (Hayes Theatre). It seems like Mel Brooks, buoyed by the success of adapting his movie ‘the Producers’ to a hit musical decided to do the same with Young Frankenstein. It’s basically a silly, ridiculous, entertaining farce. I think is reminded me of the ridiculousness of Spamalot more than the Producers, and the cast and crew do an amazing job with bringing this to life. An enjoyable, silly time. 

Posted in Book, Books, Concert, Exhibition, Film, Review, Theatre/Show | Leave a comment

2020 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Enjoyable enough and hit the mark, I thought. I would have liked to see Rose get more screentime. I enjoyed seeing Carrie Fisher. I got mixed up and expected to see Baby Yoda in this film.
  • Jojo Rabbit: Whoah. I don’t even know what to think of this one. A superb performance by the lead and the director playing Adolf Hitler was hilarious and charismatic. But I’m still kind of taking it in.
  • Joker: Joaquin Phoenix is so intriguing and compelling, I was really drawn into the film, even though the main plot seemed to be ‘How did the Joker become who he is?’, basically a set-up for the Batman myth. So, not much of a movie in the end, but a performance. Interesting to read the reviews: critics seemed to hate this (or at least the hype or huge praise it got). 
  • Tenet: Watchable and even enjoyable, but does it make sense? No. 
  • The New Mutants: I was such an X-men fan as a teenager and I *thought* I remembered the New Mutants, but so many years later, I didn’t remember any of these characters or the storyline. I found it a bit flat and badly written and wasn’t drawn into any of the characters, so this would be a *meh* for me. Surprised though that one of the main actors, Anja Taylor-Joy, turns up in the TV series, The Queen’s Gambit, and with some great acting skills (I thought she was one-dimensional in the movie). 
  • Lucky Grandma: A number of reviews mention that this is a simple and straightforward movie, and as a gangster heist film, I would have liked a twist or two. But the lead performance is really amazing, and I quite enjoyed this film. 
  • David Byrne’s American Utopia: A deeply nostalgic experience to remember discover Talking Heads and how I not only liked them so much but made it part of my identity for a while. I was a kid who liked Talking Heads. Decades later, I still think Byrne is extraordinary, and who else makes songs like this, the faux naivete of the lyrics and outsider’s perspective matched with world music and something else. And the staging of his was terrific. I really loved it. 
  • Crock of Gold: A few rounds with Shane MacGowen: Similarly, I wonder at the particular genius that Shane MacGowen and the Pogues had of creating deeply regional and personal music that happened to reach a worldwide audience, for example, a Chinese-Canadian teenager in Vancouver. I didn’t know why I loved the music but I did. The film is bizarre, engaging and disturbing. MacGowen is an absolute wreck (as you would be if your family got you started drinking at six years old) but it is like hanging at a bar with your drunk friend. The story has little structure. The big questions (what did the other band members think? How did he manage to find a beautiful and loyal partner who stuck by his side for many years (while always drunk and high)? What was that genius that brought him worldwide acclaim? 

Movies (seen on TV, like on Netflix)

  • Frozen II: How could I be bored during the world’s highest grossing animated film? I guess I’m not the target audience (though I liked Frozen).
  • The Marriage Story: Meh. I think I read too much of the hype and was distracted by it. I thought it was fine, but didn’t love it.
  • The Irishman: Uh oh. Again, the critics have been raving about this. I think the acting is magnificent but in one of the longest films I’ve seen in recent memory, the storytelling wasn’t exactly tight, and the dramatic hooks took a long time to come.
  • Judy: I quite liked this one. Amazing performance by Zellweger and I liked the story enough: a look behind the legend.
  • Fyre: The Greatest Music Festival that Never Happened: They sort of make this out like this is a particular sign of the times, instagram influencers combining with the young wealthy and technology, but compulsive liars and fantasists have been the subject of literature and art throughout history. Some surprising similarities with Tiger King (see below).
  • Michelle Obama’s Becoming: Loved it. What an incredible woman.
  • Snowpiercer: Inspired by watching the current TV series, this movie, the first English-language film by Oscar-winning Bong Joon-Ho, was great. Gripping and suspenseful but makes a point too (like Parasite). Tilda Swinton was unrecognisable!
  • Circus of Books: I found this character study, of the filmmaker’s parents, a conventional Jewish couple, one of them devout, who happen to own a famous gay porn store and get into producing gay porn, to be fascinating.
  • Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas: What an interesting mind Gadsby has, and this show is a perfectly constructed look inside her brain, with unusual connections, some discomfort, some outrage and some deep laughter. I really liked it.
  • Tickled (documentary): I thought this was going to be a comic exploration of a sexual fetish, and it turned out to be much, much darker. Recommended.
  • Boy, Erased: Some very beautiful moments and made with hearts in the right place. But I could never forget that the parents were Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, instead of believing they were Baptist parents in … wherever it was set. 
  • Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen: Interesting and engaging and powerful, I’m glad to have watched this. 
  • I’m thinking of ending things: Umm. It’s not like I don’t like to be challenged and I did appreciate the way the film drew you in during different parts of it just because of the narrative, the story, the way we tell stories. But parts of this really dragged for me.
  • The Half of It: Oh, I was charmed by this. The writing in the second half was not as good as it could have been, but great characters and yup, if someone had told this gay middle-aged Chinese-Canadian that in 2020, there would be a movie, available to be seen by millions of people, with a Chinese-American lesbian as the protagonist, I would NOT have believed them. 
  • The Boys in the Band: I’d heard about this, part of our gay cultural history, but never read it or saw the play or movie. There are parts that feel dated, surely, but what surprised me is how much in the characters I can see in people around me today. The 1968 play was criticised of portraying gay men as self-hating, and that it was dated within only a year, after Stonewall in 1969, but much of the way human nature was portrayed in the play is not something that changes so easily. 
  • The Prom: I understand this fun, light, silly musical that makes fun of Broadway and celebrates it and with a core of a story not often told (or not before the last few years: young lesbians in love!) worked very well on stage. But with a camera constantly in motion, no space to laugh, breathe or take it in, saturated in colour, it was a bit of an assault on the senses, and the flimsiness (and already datedness) of the story was readily evident. 
  • The 40-Year Old Version: Smart, funny and humane. Autobiographical without being self-indulgent (as they often are). Educational but not didactic. I liked it.

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • Flirty Dancing UK, Season 2. We were utterly charmed by this show, that seemed to be sincere about trying to match up couples and set them up for a first date where they dance together, a routine they’ve practised all week with trainers. They don’t even know each other’s names. It’s sweet and romantic.
  • Queer Eye, Season 3. For some reason, this season didn’t grab me as much. Was it that there were no standout heroes? Or am I getting bored of the boys? It’s still good TV but we weren’t as into it this time around.
  • Queer Eye in Japan. Wow, was this weird. I do enjoy the show in general, but there were so many moments that I cringed at, well-meaning Westerners walking into another culture and giving advice that probably is inappropriate. Here’s a really interesting commentary on the show.
  • Project Runway, Season 18. I am loving that this show is back with its original production team. The focus is on talent and skills and that is here in abundance. Of course there was drama, inevitably, but it doesn’t feel manufactured as in some previous seasons. Christian Siriano has really hit his stride, and I like Karlie Kloss and the judges too. Happy with the decision on who won!
  • Don’t F#ck With Cats: Netflix is making crazy documentaries these days, and this was so compelling, engaging and disturbing. I couldn’t look away.
  • Next in Fashion: We’re huge fans of Project Runway so wanted to watch its competitor. There were drawbacks: like the Chef’s Table competition, pairing randoms together and eliminating these teams of two seems unfair and brutal. Yet the quality of talent was so much higher that it was great to watch, and the focus was all on the talent and skills, rather than interpersonal drama (though the current Project Runway is doing a good job of this as well). With a truly international cast, it felt a whole step up from Project Runway in terms of diversity. On Project Runway, German blonde supermodel host Heidi Klum has been replaced by American blonde model host Karlie Kloss. Here, South Asian Tan France and part-Chinese Alexa Chung are refreshingly short and non-blonde. All in all, we loved it. Good television!
  • Australian Survivor All Stars (Season 5): So much Survivor. So much TV. So much time in my life that I’ll never get back. And really, half the cast aren’t really ‘All Stars’. They didn’t make it far in their own seasons or were very good at the game. It’s just that viewers seemed to like them. But I can’t stop watching. In the end, I was happy enough with the winner (though would have preferred Moana to win).
  • Survivor Season 40: Winners at War: Bringing back winners from 20 seasons. OMG. Am loving this season. Every player is interesting and knows how to play. I don’t love the Extinction Island thing. But it’s a great theme for one of our favourite shows. In the end, it was one of the best seasons ever with a worthy winner. Why did no one take him out earlier, knowing how good he is?
  • Tiger King: Like it seems everyone else in lockdown, I watched this. Oh my god, this was good TV. A trainwreck that you could not look away from.
  • Making the Cut: The long awaited return of Tim and Heidi features Amazon’s plumped up budget, and a set of designers with more experience than in Project Runway. The producers still love their drama though; I’d rather just enjoy the fashion, which teaches me what’s in style and what works and doesn’t. There are little interludes during the show of Tim and Heidi hanging out in Paris which are completely bizarre and not very enjoyable. But in the end, enjoyed watching the designers and see their (generally) beautiful creations.
  • Googlebox Australia, Season 11: I dipped into this here and there, and missed some of the cast that had left (or are taking a break because of the COVID). But it’s still great TV. Much more enjoyable than watching the shows themselves to instead see the commentary. ‘We watched it so you don’t have to.’ And it confirms my belief that Aussies are really some of the most naturally funny people, ever. I dipped into the Celebrity Googlebox USA that they started showing in June, and am bemused that they are so less interesting and funny than the Gogglebox Australia cast.
  • Masterchef Australia, Winners at War: Oh, was that the name of this season of Survivor? It’s pretty much the same. Super enjoyable. Love the new hosts. Enjoy people being celebrated for their talents and they are supportive of each other. The producers don’t stir up any interpersonal drama. Am not as inspired to cook the dishes, as I have been in the past: they’re too complicated. But yup, we were hooked on this.
  • More Rupaul: Mama Ru just churns out more and more of these. The celebrity four-parter was a bit odd, and not that engaging. The idea of anyone doing drag is great (including women and men and folks of different shapes and sizes) but something about this mostly didn’t work for me. Uh, we got through the last regular season (12) which was interesting for some wrong reasons (the Sherry Pie scandal, the finale under lockdown) and while I respect Jaida, the winner, and understand that the other two finalists were too similar to recent winners, I did like them a bit better. Also finished the latest All Stars season (5) and felt oversaturated. And now onto Canada’s Drag Race, which also is not catching me, even though I’m Canadian.
  • Queer Eye Season 4: A little better than the last, for me, and I find it raises really interesting cultural questions.
  • Survivor South Africa Season 6 & 7: Channel Ten here has started showing foreign Survivors. Hurrah. I love this show and it’s fun seeing it in a different cultural context. Season 6 was weirdly predictable until it wasn’t but enjoyable enough to watch; Season 7 was pretty good & husband was in love/lust with one of the players!
  • My Octopus Teacher: Beautiful images, charming story. 
  • The Vow: While I was really drawn in and engaged with some of the episodes and storyline, about the NXIVM cult and efforts to take down its leader, Keith Raniere, perhaps that’s why I was so disappointed at the end of nine episodes. I thought it was going to finish! And we’d find out what happened to everyone. Instead, there’s going to be a whole another season. This series really lost itself, many times, repeating stories, introducing new people without a dramatic arc, focusing on the guilt of the whistleblowers, when there is SO much fascinating about this whole, crazy and sordid story. Not sure if I’ll be able to stomach the 2nd season when it comes out. 
  • Indian Matchmaking: I binged it. It was a combo of an insight into a particular part of a culture and a crappy dating show with memorable characters. In the end I found it disappointing to not really know what happened to the people we’d invested our time and energy into, but it was still pretty good TV. 

Other television

  • The Good Place, Season 4. I really did love this show. I thought it was so funny and witty. I fell in love with the characters. I loved that it offered wit and intelligence as well as a lot of silliness. The finale was lovely.
  • Crashing: OK. Who’s watched Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s predecessor to Fleabag? I loved Fleabag so it was fascinating to see a first draft. Instead of the uptight contrasting character to Fleabag being her sister, in this case, it’s Phoebe’s childhood best friend (and unrequited love)’s fiance. Waller-Bridge’s character is wild and shocking and sexual. But what doesn’t work is that, unlike Fleabag, where there’s a rationale for the protagonist’s coldness, fucked-up-edness and wild behaviour, here, there is none. It’s pure id. Scenes often end in a mass fight verging on an orgy involving liquid (food, wine, paint, bodily fluids). They often go too far, because the sake of it seems to be to go too far. It was watchable and has some great bits, but all in all, is a promise of what’s to come, not that great itself.
  • El Camino: Six years since Breaking Bad. I remember being obsessed with it, captivated by it, and yet I’m surprised now how much I’d forgotten. I read a catch-up summary online and here we were: ready to watch El Camino, which basically tells us what happened to Jesse Pinkman after the final episode. As before, the filming, the angles, the storytelling: all top-notch and the characters were always uniformly fascinating. So, I’m glad they made it! And I’m glad we watched it.
  • Killing Eve, Season 3: Oh boy is this ever good.
  • Schitt’s Creek, all seasons: I found this show just got better and better after an uneven first season. Funny, heartwarming, amazing. 
  • Hollywood: There was something about Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace that I found both compelling but just a bit too tawdry. It was so dark. The pace was all over the place. So, I worried about Hollywood, which was pilloried in every review I found in major newspapers. But I found it like cotton candy. I couldn’t eat it more than once in a blue moon, but it was sweet and it sure was pretty.
  • The Politican, Season 2: I have to report I’m bowing out of this one. I loved Ben Platt in Evan Hansen. And pretty much on that basis watched Season 1. But by the second episode of season 2, I found the whole thing so cartoonish and so lacking in some emotional grounding or reality, it’s unpleasant. The story, the characters: everything just seems to be begging for attention.
  • Snowpiercer: The reports on this series, a variation rather than based on the movie, were really mediocre, but I really enjoyed the vibe and was completely willing to suspend my disbelief.
  • Normal People: I find this just a really, really beautifully filmed and acted story with two compelling lead actors. Loved it. 
  • Alias Grace: As a Margaret Atwood fan, who read this book years ago when it came out, I’m surprised it took me this long to get around to seeing the mini-series adapted from the novel. It was a pleasure to hear Atwood’s voice coming through loud and strong (as I understand much text came verbatim from the book). The acting is beautiful, the leads charismatic, and the style of storytelling is engaging. Also: good to see a bit of Canadian history portrayed on screen, that’s not too usual. 
  • Years and Years: Art is not only meant to entertain, and this show I found harrowing, a scary look into the near-future, which is not that different than today. Great characters, great ideas, and as I said: harrowing. 
  • My Brilliant Friend, Season 2: I loved the books so was mostly interesting in seeing how they were brought to life. I’m not sure how compelling the series would be to those who haven’t read the books!
  • Emily in Paris: It is filled with stereotypes, but what strikes me is that in my time, I’ve encountered them and made anecdotes about nearly each one. I find the lead character annoying and the French boss  a one-dimensional caricature, but I can’t stop watching it.
  • Giri/Haji: An interesting, melodramatic, genre-blending Japanese-British production with memorable characters, some great acting, and a fantastic conclusion. 

Books

  • André Aciman’s Find Me (fiction). Boy did I hate this book. Here’s my review.
  • David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames (humour). Here’s my review.
  • Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (novel). Here’s my review.
  • Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (a ‘pictorial work’). Here’s my review.
  • David Lebovitz’s Drinking French (recipes and more). Here’s my review.
  • Lydia Davis’s The End of the Story (fiction). Here’s my review.
  • Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors (fiction). Here’s my review.
  • Ian Young’s London Skin & Bones (memoir). Here’s my review.
  • Milan Kundera’s The Festival of Insignificance (fiction). Here’s my review.
  • George Ilsley’s The Home Stretch: A Father, A Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About. Here’s my review.

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Dodecalis Luminarium. This art installation apparently took six months to make. It really is beautiful and I love how it engages people (especially kids). By the Architects of Air, this was part of the Sydney Festival.
  • The Life of Us, Hayes Theatre. A homegrown Australian musical, where the two young leads were the writers and are partners (in a musical about the trials of a long-distance relationship). Such great talent. Amazing songwriting. I think the book might need a little adjustment if it’s going to make it to bigger stages, but we were really impressed.
  • Conchita Wurst & Trevor Ashley in Concert, for Mardi Gras 2020. A rainbow sparkly evening with not two but three amazing performers (Kate Miller-Heidke was a guest).
  • Hamilton (television). I might have seen this on TV but have to count this as a show, for what a show it was. Finally, after reading about it all these years, I got to see it and it was perhaps even better than I expected. Wonderful.
  • Next to Normal, NIDA. Finally out to see theatre again, this is the only show that NIDA opened to the public this season. Great to see the young talented performers, Australia’s new musical theatre stars. I saw this show in NYC years ago, and remembered I liked parts (tuneful melodies) and not so much others (confusing messaging about mental illness). 

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Sydney Food Diary: IIKO Mazesoba, Darling Square

I love trying food that is new to me! So I’m glad we decided to try IIKO Mazesoba, among so many restaurants in the city’s new Darling Square district. An explanation of mazesoba seems not so easy though.

First, it seems, came the Szechuan dish, Dan Dan noodles, thin noodles in savoury and spicy sauce topped with pork mince and peanut sauce.

Then, the Japanese adapted it, using their own ramen noodles and adding a spicy broth. This became known as Tantanmen ramen.

In the 1970s, in Nagoya, Japan, a Taiwanese chef created his own version of the ramen. According to Jackson Lee, writing for Taiken Japan, the innovation was that ‘the soup turned into a simple shoyu chicken broth’ and ‘the focus of the toppings was a mixture of pork, garlic and nira [garlic chives].’ I learned on one of my trips to Japan that every area of Japan seems to have its own special way of making ramen with different types of broth and noodles. Taiwan Ramen, unknown in Taiwan but named for the chef, has become popular throughout Central Japan, particularly in Nagoya.

Wikipedia has the simplest and clearest explanation of the invention of mazesoba, although it’s not well-referenced! It was apparently invented in 2008 when a chef had cooked the meat for the Taiwan Ramen, but for some reason, it didn’t go with the soup. A part-time worker suggested serving the meet on TOP of the noodles and without the soup. So mazesoba are soba noodles in a soy-based sauce with toppings that you mix up (‘maze’ means ‘to mix’ I think). It’s attributed to the Menya Hanabi restaurant chain, but there now seem to be mazesoba restaurants around the world. As in Sydney, with a cute fox mascot.

Finally, from experience, and not a Google search, what mazesoba is in Sydney in 2020 from IIKO mazesoba is freshly made soba (so with a wonderful chewy al dente texture), mixed in a savoury, salty sauce, thick enough that upon request you receive a small portion of rice at the end of the meal to mix in with any leftover sauce. On top of the noodles is offered a much wider and innovative selection of toppings than usual: we had two types. One with chicken karaage and curry (mainly) and the other with pork belly and XO sauce (mainly), but as well a barely cooked egg (sous-vide?), cheese, spring onions and sweet dried seaweed (nori).

It’s a rich, simple dish and super yummy. However, it is recommended to do two swirls each of kombu vinegar and chili oil at the beginning before mixing it (maze) all together. We both found that was too much chili oil for us, and threw off the balance of flavours (and made our mouths tingly and numb). So, I guess we have to go back and try it out with less chili oil, right?

IIKO Mazesoba Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Back into your arms (original song)

It’s been a few years since I’ve recorded a video of one of my songs. But I have so many! Since I stopped making CDs and cassettes, I like the idea of trying to make public some of my unrecorded songs. This one, as sung in December 2020, recalls back nostalgically to the time before COVID-19 and travelling, a time when I was doing a lot of travelling, and the pleasure it was to return home to the embrace of my partner.

I wrote it in September 2007 after coming home from a meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s funny that I wonder in the song if “this traveller will retire”. In March 2011, I did my last trip for the work that had brought me so often overseas. And then in the last five years or so, my husband started travelling all the time (a third of the year) for his new work. So our roles were reversed, and hopefully he was as happy as I was, to arrive back into my arms.

Back into your arms

I thought it was time for a new song
that the old ones wouldn’t do
So I stayed home, was late to work
to see what would come through

You see I’ve just gotten back again
Off a very long flight
I didn’t know what country I was in
When I woke in the middle of the night

These days I do so much traveling
I’m always trying to adjust to the hour
Unpacking, and packing, and checking in
Will the kids on this flight get much louder?

There weren’t always a set of strong reasons
To come rushing back
Now there’s a small part of me
That is always keeping track…

It is so sweet to come home… Back into your arms
You make it so good to come home. You are my lucky charm.
So good to come home… Back into your arms.

I don’t know if it will ever change
If this traveler will retire
But it means a lot to me
That you can let me fly

We are travelling too
You’ve got a ticket to my heart
You’ve offered me the same
I am ready to depart…

It is so sweet to come home… Back into your arms
You make it so good to come home. You are my lucky charm.

So good to come home… Back into your arms.
So good to come home… Back into your arms.

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Book Review: George Ilsley’s The Home Stretch: A Father, A Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About

The Home Stretch: A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk AboutThe Home Stretch: A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About by George K. Ilsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You wouldn’t think, necessarily, that a book about a son, visiting his father in his 90s, to take care of him, to give his brother a break from caring duties, and finally to say goodbye, would be a page-turner. But it is. Around these visits, Ilsley lets a larger story unfold, about families and secrets, about a complex relationship between father and son, about the mysteries of ageing, memory and affection.

It is a palimpsest, a story about eccentric people with tales unique to them layered on top of a universal narrative of family and the ways we care and do not care for each other. Like all good writing, it will reach out and prod you to think of similarities in your life and I’d think this book would be especially poignant to anyone with an ageing parent, who has said goodbye to a parent, and anyone (is this most of us?) who have family members or loved ones who are particularly stubborn.

The Home Stretch is touching but it is also very, very funny. Humour is not a shield nor affectation; it is an observation of life’s absurdities and also part and parcel of the whole puzzle: sadness and frustration and resentment and care and laughter all gaffer-taped together. The joke made of his father’s passion kept giving and giving: I was surprised that it got funnier and funnier.

I hope this honest, funny and beautifully written book finds a wide audience. I recommend it highly.

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Book Review: Milan Kundera’s The Festival of Insignificance

The Festival of InsignificanceThe Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a young man, I discovered Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and since, have read a number of his books. At the time, his writing was like no one else I had read: short compact scenes filled with interesting characters and everyday philosophy, and a balancing act between the weight of history, a burdensome one of repressive Eastern European regimes, with a lightness, an absurdity, both coping mechanisms and life philosophy: to laugh, to forget, to celebrate carnal desire or in this book, The Festival of Insignificance, to recognise and notice the insignificant moments all around us. So many years later, I have a similar feeling reading this book, inherited from a writer, an acquaintance who died suddenly and tragically; his family were looking for someone to find homes for his books. The feeling I get when reading Kundera is of a man with a formidable intellect, cultured and philosophical and yet with a playful side.

And yet, I also remembered the artifice of his novels. It doesn’t get more clear than in this book that these characters do not live outside of their creator, the author. Their dialogue is as literary as can be, whether commenting on ‘A solitude surrounded by other solitudes’ or admitting to ‘an insatiable nostalgia for chastity’. And while the novel is so short, it travels along at a quick pace, and I was amused at much of the description, I found it hard to say what the book is really about, more than a few philosophical ideas dressed up in a larger form.

What struck me, more strongly than before (though I certainly noticed in the past) was how terribly sexist the writing is. All of his characters, the five friends in the book, are men of a certain age. The women are background characters. One of the friends has a young, pretty and not so intelligent partner, an idea more than a person. There is a diva-like figure, a hostess of a party. A lonely Portuguese maid. A woman at a party who, to escape the attentions of one of the men, allows herself to be taken home by another man, whose attractiveness lies in that he is forgettable. It is implied that they share a bed, but she’s not sure whether it really happened or not. Another man, pondering his mother, casts her in the worst possible light, a completely heartless and absent mother, who he envisions, for a time, actually murdering someone in a river. Contrasting with the murderess is another conversation with a mother who is seen as the mother of all humanity (as opposed to men, who are seen as useless in their department). The men are allowed their foibles, and are given character. The women are pretty much nothing but ideas. And the opening and closing of the book, and running through the whole of it, is heterosexual male desire, an intellectualism of the new age of desire moving from breasts, thighs and buttocks to a woman’s navel.

It doesn’t come across as misogynist or blatantly offensive, just a sort of old-school chauvinism, but in the age of #metoo, it’s not that it’s wrong or should be condemned, it’s just … uninteresting. It’s not a point of view I really want to be reading anymore, nor books without women, or women only as symbols instead of real people.

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Book Review: Ian Young’s London Skin and Bones: The Finsbury Park Stories

London Skin & Bones: The Finsbury Park StoriesLondon Skin & Bones: The Finsbury Park Stories by Ian Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Ian decades ago when I was at university, but I never knew the stories of his years in London, living in Finsbury Park with a colourful cast of friends and lovers. These stories are very charming and engaging, and I remembered right away that he was a poet as the stories are crafted in a short and concise way and end beautifully. It is a visit to another world and time, and I think anyone interested in gay counterculture and working class London in the 80s, would be as charmed to read this as I was.

To expand on our meeting, while at university, at the tail end of the 80s, I was an aspiring writer and had published my very first poems in our university’s literary magazine. I had mentioned in my bio that I was gay. Somehow, Ian came across the magazine and sent me his anthology of gay poetry, Son of Male Muse. The thing is: I was away that year, the whole year, overseas on an exchange. So, I was lucky that my college simply left the envelope in a stack near the communal mailboxes, maybe for a whole year, and that one of my friends mentioned it to me when I returned to university that fall.

I was surprised and happy, but then: I recognised the name. For, as a much younger boy, perhaps 13 or 14, I had gone to my city library in Vancouver, and rather than search for some ‘how to’ manual about being gay, or to accept myself, what I was really interested in was who I was as a gay person, what was my shared culture. So, I looked up in the card catalogue, back then certainly not electronic, ‘gay poetry’, and found Ian’s first anthology of gay poetry, Male Muse (1973). One of the poems, simple and straightforward, about affection between two men, I liked so much, I photocopied and kept it with me in a journal for a time.

So many years after its publication, and another few years after I’d first found it (back then four or five years did seem like a long time!), the editor had personally sent me a letter. And about gay poetry!

Later, after meeting Ian in his home in Scarborough in Toronto, for a special issue of gay writing for the literary journal ARC, I did a profile of Ian and his poetry, including this same anecdote that I’ve written above. And, as another coincidence, when I worked at the Canadian Pavilion at Expo ’92 in Seville, one of my best friends was a Trinidadian-Canadian, Alana, who I found out not only lived in Scarborough but lived in the HOUSE NEXT DOOR to Ian’s.

Connections, connections. These day, people talk about the world being interconnected, and generally, I think they are referring to the way that we are receiving the same information and entertainment, simultaneously, around the world, and how COVID-19 or climate change is affecting us all because of our connections.

But what I’ve marvelled at in the last decades is the way that Facebook and email has allowed us to remain connected with people in our past lives so easily. When I was at university, we drifted off from each other, perhaps after a few letters. Now, though a few purposely stay disconnected, many of us are back in touch with enduring connections with people we may have crossed paths with only a few times.

So yes, how lovely to receive Skin and Bones in the post a few weeks ago, sent by Ian from Canada to Australia, after so many years. I hope this peaks your interest to track down a copy and read it!

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Posted in Books, Creative Non-Fiction, Gay Life | 2 Comments