Sunday, November 30, 2008

the plot is not the thing

Jinx and I had the privilege of watching a dress rehearsal of Aladdin on Sunday evening. When you describe a pantomime to someone who isn't familiar with the tradition, I can imagine they would look at you strangely and wonder what on earth there is of entertainment or interest to be found there. Surely, they might ask, the pantomime is a dated and anachronistic mode of popular entertainment?

Well, let's see. The central character is the "dame" - a man playing a big, blousy, slightly camp female character - in this case Widow Twankey. And then the title role is usually a male played by a female - in this case Aladdin. And then there are other clownish roles (here two policemen - Bamboo and Typhoo) and an evil Egyptian magician fella (whose name I forgot because it doesn't matter) who is after the magic lamp that Aladdin ends up with, allowing him to marry his princess. There are jokes galore, usually localised within the script, lots and lots of audience interaction, singalongs, chases round the theatre and my favourite of all - the audience screaming "Look behind you!". To enjoy it you must find the child within who has no preconceptions about how the world actually works, and enter a chaotic world of slapstick, colour, movement and dancing. The plot is always thin to non-existent...but the plot is not the thing that's important here.

When I was growing up in Bundaberg we lived in the same street that the Playhouse theatre is now still in. Every Christmas we would troop down in the stinking heat of summer to see the matinee. This was in the days before the theatre was airconditioned, but we would spend a raucous (and sometimes I must say, very long) afternoon doing all the things just described. The most exciting part was when it was all over and the actors would remain in costume and go outside to meet all the children as they filed out the theatre. This was a real thrill, and having been involved in Jack and the Giant (a previous panto production) in 2006, this joy has not changed in the intervening years. Kids are always fascinated (and sometimes I must say, a little freaked out) to see the actors come down from the stage and mingle amongst the audience.

Twenty five years later it's no different. Surprising as it may seem I found myself laughing at the jokes, singing and clapping along, and screaming quite loudly, "He went that way" during the chase scene. I hadn't laughed out loud that much for quite some time. What could be better than that?

"It's been a week, it's up to the cat now": Seinfeld Series 2, Episode 3

The Busboy is another of my early Seinfeld favourites, giving us the opportunity to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus's capacity for physical comedy, and the developing the awkward relationship between Kramer and George.

Food is one of the recurring themes in this episode, with Jerry's first stand up deriding contemporary culture's obsession with food and foodie culture.

Nice too, is the opening scene with Jerry, George and Elaine eating out at the restaurant. George is lamenting his poor choice of pesto, "why do I get pesto?", "where was pesto 10 years ago?" - yes, good question George. I have always found pesto an unsatisfactory meal. Here the Elaine storyline for the episode is also introduced. She's borrowing Jerry's car to pick up her new flame, Ed from Seattle, at the airport.

Jerry: Everyone's moving to Seattle

George: It's the pesto of cities.

Anyway, after learning that Ed is coming to visit Elaine for a week, we witness the real turning point for the episode, when George (somewhat uncharacteristically I think) bravely puts out a fire at the next table, caused when the busboy puts the menu too close to the candle. A sequence of events quickly follows, the busboy is fired, George freaks out because the restaurant manager tells the busboy that George is the one who alerted the manager, and put out the fire, and Jerry reassures George in his inimitable fashion, "He'll probably kill his family over this...lots of excons become busboys".

Back in the apartment George is still hassling over his possible role in the busboy losing his job. Elaine arrives to get the car keys, also bearing the busboy's address. George is now a man on a mission, off to the busboy's apartment to apologise. Jerry thinks it's a bad idea, especially for George to go alone.

Jerry: "Take the K man"
Kramer: (entering in a timely fashion for this suggestion) "Take me where..where??" - in the manner of an excitable five year old, or a puppy that sees its owner get the lead out and realises it's walk time.

So the odd couple of George and Kramer set out for the busboy's apartment. Upon arrival, George nicely asks Kramer to refrain from speaking when they get inside. It's hard to take George seriously here, as he's wearing a cute bobbly beannie. He timidly knocks on the door. Kramer pushes by with a great big confident knock and the busboy appears.

The actor playing the busboy Antonio (and if you're really interested you can look who this is up on wikipedia yourself) does a great job as a silent, threatening presence. George turns to jelly and gives a wussy apology. Kramer makes himself at home, asking if there's anything to drink. And then, the worst moment of all...someone left the door open and the busboy's cat "Perchita" (I'm guessing the spelling here) has disappeared. Now Antonio explodes in anger and rage and George and Kramer are looking in vain for the cat.

Sometime later, the cat has not reappeared, Antonio, George and Kramer are sitting round the kitchen table in some more awkward silence. Kramer gets up to leave, trips over the cord of the lamp and breaks it. He carefully repairs the broken lamp base and he and George make their escape, with George in a characteristic ineffective gesture leaves his business card with Antonio.

Back at Jerry's apartment, he's chatting to George onthe phone as Kramer arrives. On his way through the door he buzzes up Elaine from downstairs.
Jerry: George wants to know when you're going to look for the cat again.
Kramer (typically unconcerned): It's been a week, it's up to the cat now.
Elaine arrives frantic, and desperate to get Jerry's car keys and send Ed packing back to Seattle in the morning. It has not been a successful week. An ensuing discussion about alarm clocks, and the best route to take the airport sets up the following scene, where Elaine and Ed oversleep and Louis-Dreyfus does a crazy comic turn to get Ed up, dressed and out of the apartment. She leaves still in her nightgown, throwing a giant red parka over the top.

Return to Jerry's, where Jerry is testing George on his boast that "Anywhere in the city, I'll tell you the best public toilet". This fascinating discussion is interrupted by Elaine, dejected and drained with a tale of woe after failing to beat the traffic and get Ed on the plane. Then the mood quickly turns to one of glee and excitement:

Kramer: The busboy's comin', The busboy's comin'

George is terrified, imagining Antonio coming for revenge for the loss of his job and his cat.
As Antonio enters in his usual swaggering, threatening manner as George futilely backs away into the corner of Jerry's kitchen. But Antonion arrives bearing good news. The night after he was fired there was an explosion in the restaurant. George getting him fired has saved his life. He has now found a new job and best of all, the cat has returned.
Awkward hugs all round.
But of course, there can be no happy ending.
As the busboy leaves we hear him meet Ed in the hallway. The following confrontation and fight leads us to a final scene in the diner.

George can't stay, he has to go and feed Perchita until the busboy gets out of hospital.
Elaine has to go and feed Ed who is still staying with her until he can get back to Seattle.
Jerry, unaffected by both of their plights, remains enjoying his dinner.

And in a cute final touch, the diner's busboy comes over to clear the table.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

stripey shirts and electric typewriters

Inspired by a friend on facebook reminiscing about 1927 (the band, not the year) I'm remembering the late 80s and early 90s, which for me was the end of high school and the beginning of university. Remember when those stripey shirts looked cool. When we were only just beginning to hear murmurs about Nirvana. When REM's Losing My Religion shifted them firmly into the mainstream. When you couldn't listen to Triple J outside of the regions of capital cities. When I dyed my hair black and in the cold Toowoomba winter wore a black duffle coat (for some reason the term for this look favoured by arts students was "swampy"). When I really wanted, but couldn't afford a pair of doc martens. When I was practising the piano for hours every day. When CDs were new and I paid 120 dollars for a huge and clunky hitachi cd player that could feed into my twin cassette stereo (which was huge and clunky in itself). When the only people I knew with desktop computers were those actually studying IT (and at that stage I'm not even sure if it was called IT. To do my music history assignments I had a fantastic electric typewriter with a very small amount of memory (like a line of text or something that you could see on a tiny little display). When we hadn't heard of the internet (well maybe some people had but I was studying music so the most technical we got was the hifi record player in the music library which didn't have any cds). But we did have to do a compulsory computing subject in our first year where among other things we learned to do very basic programming in DOS, and save things on those huge big floppy disks. When I wouldn't miss The Late Show (with the D Generation), listened to Helen and Mikey's breakfast every morning, and Roy and HG on the weekends. When my favourite shows were Northern Exposure and Seinfeld (and still are). When Cheers finished and I had to miss it because I had an orchestra rehearsal. When the Simpsons was new and I didn't recognise it for the television icon it would become. Best of all, when pop music actually had some hooks and a mild amount of substance even in the one hit wonders.

Wendy's Week of TV Part 20

Saturday: Gardening Australia

No matter how hard they try it's just not the same without Peter Cundall and his blooming lot for the week.

Mountain with Griff Rhys-Jones

I thought we would actually watch Griff climb a lot of mountains, but with the exception of the beginning and the end of this program that didn't seem to be the case. Snowdownia is certainly beautiful and the entrepreneurs making recycled paper out of sheep poo were interesting but low marks for the hour seeming to pass so slowly.

Iron Chef

I watch it because there is nothing else remotely worth watching. The scallop battle. This show is rigged I'm sure...does anyone ever beat the Iron Chef? The panel (including an actress with bizarrely long pearl earrings) seemed to dislike most of his dishes, yet still he was the winner. How does that work? Intriguing - in a non-intriguing kind of a way.

Tuesday: Father Ted

Aaah, Ted and Dougal attempt to rig a raffle for a car to fix their leaking roof. Surely there can't be any comic potential in such an innocent and straightforward storyline. Wrong. I laughed out loud on a number of occasions, particularly at the dancing priest. And, when Dougal finally realised he had the "winning ticket" no. 11. He was just holding it upside down so took a moment to realise it was in fact 11.

Hamish Macbeth

You know in another setting we would have sympathised with Alex, because her cheating, no good policeman boyfriend was in love with Isobel, had been unfaithful and made her look like an idiot for sticking around so long. But when she had the accident in the radio van and died, it was Hamish I felt sorry for. And just a little bit relieved that they finally got rid of such an annoying character. I wonder if that makes me a bad person.

Wednesday: It was my Grandma's birthday which required dinner and more Andre Rieu unfortunately. I've never seen a 45 minute encore before. What I really object to here is that these concerts totally devalue the standing ovation. A standing ovation is for something special, not just playing each song and finishing it. To most likely completely misquote Blackadder the Fourth's telegram to Charlie Chaplin, "please, please, stop".

Thursday: The Amazing Race

Finally, just as I learned their names (Kelly and Christy), the divorcees were eliminated. How ditzy were they in that paintball challenge though? Nearly as stupid as Dan and Andrew and that's saying something. It was pretty funny though when those same two couples kept doing the bleary eyed test and not even seeing the numbers they had to hand to the man with the sewing machine. How nice for Ken and Tina to give them a little hint. Tina's green hair looked great and Dallas and Toni (?) were legends, taking it right up to the perfect siblings Nick and Starr. I'm excited about next week!

Friday: Muhammed Ali documentary on SBS

Now this was interesting, particularly in the setting of Ali's achievements and his journey from Cassius Clay to Ali against the background of the black civil rights movement in the 1960s. The drama of the initial fight with Sonny Liston was exciting. And (as it was all happening before I was born) I hadn't realised the extent of the relationship between Ali, Malcolm X, and the Nation of Islam more generally. Not sure if there is a part 2 next week but I'll be watching.

Note of little excitement: the original BBC adaptation of Brideshead Revisited with Jeremy Irons starts tomorrow night on ABC2 at 7:30.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I am all waltzed out

I went to work.
The day was turned upside down - administrivia in the morning, book writing and filing of readings in the afternoon
There was pavlova and profiteroles at morning tea - a farewell for a corridor colleague.
I ate both pavlova and a profiterole.
I reviewed two course profiles for Term 1 2009.
I taught my lovely piano student this afternoon. She brought me a bag of tomatoes and homegrown cucumbers.
The whippersnipper -debussy incident (see post below)
I chased the cat off the christmas decorations for what seemed like the millionth time.
I'm not sure who will break first - me or the cat. The standoff has been going on since Saturday.
It was my Grandma's birthday so she came over for dinner with the family.
There was more Andre Rieu after the cake.
I am now all waltzed out and drinking chamomile tea in recovery.

modern gardening equipment vs piano impressionists

Why does my new next door neighbour feel the need to whippership right next to our boundary fence while I am trying to search iTunes for Debussy's Prelude "the sunken cathedral". It's a very quiet and atmospheric piece. I can't remember the French and so am relying on the little iTunes previews. Whipper snipper is drowning them out because of my computer's fairly ordinary sound system. He has a whole acre of backyard. So why my fenceline at this particular moment in time?
Whipper snipper will win out every time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

rhubarb and apple crumble

It's been a pleasantly productive day. The morning zipped by with a few inquiries and telephone interviews with prospective external students - all of whom were enthusiastic (as usual). I also managed to attend a learning and teaching seminar about theories of leadership and management where it seemed everyone there came to the same conclusion about our institution (I shall leave this implied I think).

Then a quietish afternoon where I waded through some more of the book editing and continued the filing of readings. Big achievement here was staying awake.

All that plus leftover rhubarb and apple crumble for afternoon tea from last night's Christmas celebration made for a lovely day!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

pink rose

Finally, my pink rose has produced a flower.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wendy's Week of TV: Part 19

Sunday: The Einstein Factor

The Einstein Factor is really heating up now with the grand final for the year tomorrow night. Sadly, the contestant with Insane Clown Posse as his special subject didn't get through, but his hair was entertaining nonetheless. Please, please, please let Barry Jones be on the brains trust. Please, please, please don't let Jennifer Byrne be on the brains trust. That's all.

Who do you think you are?

Carol Vorderman, not particularly well known in Australia I would imagine, but still an interesting subject given that she knew nothing about the Dutch side of her family. Apparently, one of her ancestors was a potential Nobel Prize recipient, something about discovering vitamins, which as we all know are very important.

Tuesday: Father Ted

Distinguished by an appearance from a younger Graham Norton as a crazed, singing, guitar playing, youth-group leading priest. Ted, Dougal and Jack find themselves sharing a tiny caravan with him and his followers as they try to have their yearly holiday. Hi-jinks galore.

Hamish Macbeth: Isobel has a makeover, Alex becomes even more annoying and the villagers think for a brief moment that they have won the lottery. Thanks to Lachie snr losing the ticket while trying to fix the village bus they haven't. Oh, and something about an evil car manufacturer testing cars in the Highlands woven in there as well. All very satisfying.

Wednesday: This was the night of the Andre Rieu marathon (6-9:15 with no breaks). Schmalzy is an understatement. Sure the guy plays the violin very nicely and his orchestra plays some jolly popular classics and well known show tunes. But do we really need this set against the backdrop of an actual fairytale castle, complete with clowns, dwarves, elephants and all manner of other bizarre props and costumes. Also, note to Andre: less with the narration about how life is a fairytale and just get on with the music. This was especially annoying when the subtitles stopped working and for the last hour we had to guess what the Dutch might be meaning. Please let's never mention this evening again. Ever.

Thursday: The Amazing Race

Gosh it was touch and go there for Ken and Tina.. They really should have chosen the Indian laundry challenge rather than the money necklace at the Indian wedding. Trust Nick and Starr to have gloves in their bags to cope with the heat of he coal fired irons. I do like how the divorcees (whose names still escape me) have started calling frat boys Dan and Andrew "Dandrew". Lucky for Ken and Tina this was a non-elimination round. Phew!

Friday: A mish-mash.

The last half hour of an SBS documentary on the Summer of Love in San Francisco was very interesting and made me wish I'd realised it was on earlier and seen the first half hour. Instead, I was watching Stateline on the storms. I've had it with news of storms (even though it looks promising for one later today here). I then saw Fast Ed and Johanna Griggs make three salads that looked easy and edible (unusual for TV cooking shows). Hmmmm...I might have to buy that edition of Better Homes and Gardens. Later, Harry Potter ate some kind of weed recommended to him by Neville Longbottom (?) and turned into a fish while searching for something in a lake. Then I went to bed. Goodness knows what happened next because I haven't read the book or seen that movie before.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Making plans and doing the sums

I have been doing some sums this morning. If I am going on official holidays on December 15th this means I have about three weeks to get through my book edits once more if I am to holiday without it hanging over my head. So if I have about three hundred pages still to get through, and work on the premise that I can find time for it five days out of seven, then I need to do 30 pages or so a day. That doesn't sound like much. Does it? Actually, 30 times 15 seems to be 450 (according to my trusty calculator). So what I have really done is factored the usual procastinating time, as well as unforeseen events such as getting up in the morning and thinking, "I don't feel like looking at that book draft today". And the fact that when I'm at work I might actually have to do the job they are paying me for (which sadly is not research...don't get me ranting on this).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I really must improve my filing skills

The reason why I have been unable to locate my copy (for at least 12 months) of John Corner's excellent and very useful article "Performing the Real: Documentary Diversions" (2002) is because it was in the "D" file ( I presume for documentary) rather than the "C"(for Corner which is where it should have been).

In the last few days I have also found a reading by Lyotard in the "B" file and an article by Mimi White in "A".

I really must improve my filing skills.

And my memory.

And my basic knowledge of the alphabet it seems.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

magic television

I am now up to D in my recataloguing of all readings in my filing cabinet. I have been a little bit ruthless in throwing out articles I can't remember reading the first time, deciding on a closer look that there was no way I was going to try reading them again because they were now very irrelevant, considering the direction my phd finally took. I am looking forward to using the shredder!

I have been enjoying reminiscing over many of the books and articles on 19th century visual entertainments. For while there during the phd process (say for about 18 months) I became very focussed on trying to draw an argument on the connection between very early technologies like the magic lantern and the liveness we find in television. There is so much written about early cinema history and the technologies that preceded it, but very little about television. I had forgotten I had a whole photocopy (ssssh..don't tell anyone) of Barnouw's The Magician and the Cinema, as well as the wonderful books by Jonathan Crary (real not photocopied) and lots of other bits and pieces on Lumiere, Melies, and actuality films generally. In last week's major throwout I found endless drafts of a chapter called 19th century televisuality. In the end, I decided it was too long a bow to draw. I had little access to any supporting archival material and went with the early experimental mechanically scanned TV images instead that I could find as digital reproductions. Still, it's lovely to look back at the pictures of the magic lanterns, the dioramas, the kaleidoscopes, the peepshows, and all the other imaginative names inventors came up with for describing images that moved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

with a little help from Foucault

I have spent the morning at work going through our area's Quality Assurance Manual in preparation for Thursday when I meet with the QA officer to make sure what we do in running our program is reflected in the processes in the Manual. At the moment it very much isn't and with a potentially disruptive restructure in the offing we are trying to get things tied down. As well as the delightfully dry language of the manual I have also had the opportunity to go into the institution's policies to check a few things. I managed to resist reading through the "Policy on Policies" (that is not a joke) but did actually find some useful things in the Assessment of Coursework Policy that we can transfer. It seems the key with policy is to be as broad as possible while allowing for every specific eventuality. I don't know, I'm not a policy maker but I'm sure one could write a fascinating critical discursive analysis of contemporary policy and management documents with a little help from Foucault. I shall resist that temptation.

I am also wondering if the fact I now have a headache could in any way at all be related to the morning's reading material.

I am now engaged in a much more interesting task - tidying out my filing cabinet of 8 years accumulated readings and journal articles and compiling them into some sort of final library. Alas, I find myself using the dreaded endnote...but only for compiling an alphabetical list of titles. I am also enjoying preparing a pile of readings for the shredder, of many of the obscure, irrelevant and intensely theoretical readings that were of no use at all, but were continually supplied to me in an insistent manner by my original supervisor.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

pink geraniums

Brightening up my desk. The rose wilted and has now been superceded.

Who figures an immigrant's going to have a pony?: Seinfeld Series 2: Episode 2

The Pony Remark is one of my very early favourites. Mind you I'm not terribly discriminating when it comes to Seinfeld favourites. There are favourite aspects of nearly every episode, but this one is an early treat.

The first thing to like is that after Jerry's opening standup the first scene is devoted to his parents Helen and Morty. Staying at Jerry's they have flown up from Florida for a 50th anniversary dinner for distant relations. Two great old married couple arguments ensue - one over Morty's checked sports jacket which is particularly lairy, and another over who will answer the phone when it rings. When does conversation turn into argument? I get the sense here that the scriptwriters are saying that this is what marriage turns into after so many years. Life is filled with minor disagreements that don't have any long term meaning. In a way this is a comforting thought, but also fits into the regular Seinfeld theme of exposing the difficulties and problems inherent in long term commitment.

Jerry arrives thrilled that his baseball team has made the final for the following Wednesday. It is, he says, the greatest moment of his life. And then in a clever piece of foreshadowing we learn that Morty's greatest moment was when he went to work for Harry Fleming and came up with the idea for the beltless trenchcoat. Stay tuned for a future episode involving Kramer, Morty and beltless trenchcoats that is also a joy.

Jerry's parents try to convince him to come to the anniversary party, bringing Elaine along. His objection is that Uncle Leo will be there, grabbing his arm and tellling him all about cousin Jeffrey who "works for the parks department".

And then perhaps my favourite moment in this episode when Kramer appears with his genius plan to remodel his entire apartment as "levels", getting rid of all his furniture and replacing it with carpetting and pillows, "just like in Ancient Egypt". Jerry is skeptical: "I know that you can't and I'm positive that you won't". They agree on the bet of big dinner if it doesn't happen. Kramer is supremely confident.

The pivotal scene of the anniversary dinner is delightfully staged. Jerry and Elaine are in attendance. Jerry has landed a seat next to Uncle Leo who regales him with tales of Jeffrey's tours of the park; "edible foliage tours". Jerry listens dutifully, while Elaine seated at the add-on "kids table" desperately attempts to join in the conversation: "These peas are bursting with country fresh flavour", "phe-nom-en-al peas". It's all very awkward and becomes more so as the conversation turns to horses. Jerry sees an opportunity to join in, "they're like big riding dogs" and ponies "what kind of abnormal animal is that?". It just gets worse as Jerry and Elaine riff off each other on the ridiculousness of ponies, culminating with Jerry observing that hates anyone who ever had their own pony. Supremely embarrassing moment follows when Manya (she of the anniversary dinner) tells them off. She had a pony when she was a little girl in Poland, and then she promptly huffs off out of the room.

Jerry then, tries to makes amends with some beautiful lines: "Who figures an immigrant's going to have a pony?"; "Who leaves a country packed with ponies to come to a non-pony country?"

It sort of puts a dampener on the party atmosphere.

Next morning at the apartment Jerry is farewelling his parents when Kramer enters. The levels are off. "I decided I'm not going to do it." Jerry wants to know when he's going to get his big dinner. Kramer's logic is stunning: "There's no bet...I'm not doing it."

As the parents leave, Jerry gets a phone call. Manya has died. He hollers to his parents down on the street and they return, now staying for the funeral. Morty is particularly concerned about losing money on his cancelled flights, while Helen despairs once again over the sports jacket, which is particularly inappropriate for a funeral. Together they muse over what caused the death: "the pony remark". Jerry is then in a dilemma, as the funeral clashes with his baseball final. "Who has a funeral on a Wednesday?"

Some stand up on death.

In the diner with Elaine and George. This is a strangely late appearance in the episode for George. While Elaine and Jerry debate the pros and cons of him going to the funeral or his baseball game, George remains completely self-absorbed. He can't envisage any situation where he will ever have sex again. This is totally ignored by the other two as they consider the meaning of life and wasting time. Elaine is concerned, "Can't you have coffee with people?". She is interested to hear that Manya's apartment will be available as Isaac is moving to Phoenix. Three hundred dollars a month.

At the funeral the pony is a big talking point in the eulogy as Jerry shrinks into his seat. "She even had a pony. Oh, how she loved that pony...It was the pride of Krakow."

And the wake is nicely constructed too, with Morty badgering his intern nephew for a doctor's note to take the airline, while Elaine and Jerry engage in an very unsubtle interrogation of Isaac to find out what's happening to the apartment. Jeffrey's taking the apartment. The only good news for Jerry is when it starts to rain. His game will have been postponed and he will get to play.

Finally in the diner, post-game, Jerry is being severely paid out for the hopeless game he played. Elaine suggests it may have been karmic payback for the pony remark.

Last line pre standup: "Who figures an immigrant's going to have a pony?"

giant flowery spikes

These salvia have gone from punnet-sized seedlings to giant flowery spikes in the matter of a month. And I was very excited to see the miniature rose (after I pruned it back to nothing but bare twigs) has flowered for the first time in a year. It's not a great picture but it's orange which is one of my favourite rose colours. What you can't see in this photo is that the weeds are also growing riotously well and this will require some work to remedy. Maybe later this afternoon when it's cooler.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

mild mannered philosophising

Sometimes, particularly before bed, I just have to read books that don't require me to think too much. And in this way, Alexander McCall Smith fits the bill perfectly. That being said, I didn't take to the Botswanan detective agency series where it seemed to me that he hadn't quite struck the balance between his slowly building plots and his mild mannered philosophising of the everyday. I think this is why I like the Isabel Dalhousie series better. Just now bedtime reading is the most recent The Comfort of Saturdays. Don't ask me what it's actually about...some kind of medical/pharmaceutical issue that Isabel is gently poking her nose into. This is what interests me least. What I like are the descriptions of Edinburgh, the architecture, the people, her niece's delicatessen, and the fact that Isabel's partner is a younger bassoonist allowing McCall Smith to write quietly and intelligently about music.

And it is this last topic that he really explores in the most recent La's Orchestra Saves the World. Apart from falling into the trap of the current fad for stupidly long book titles, this one had a slightly weightier theme being set in and around World War Two in country Suffolk, where a young woman escaping a bad marriage sets up an amateur orchestra. There is a lovely review of it in today's Weekend Australian Review. It's was a comforting reading experience, yet it made me think about my own involvement in community music activities in a positive way, emphasising the importance of the arts generally as a complementary salve to other darker and more serious social issues.

Of course the worlds McCall Smith constructs are all very idealised and escapist...fantasies in their own way. And that's why I like reading them I suppose.


My Deals Direct phone bargain arrived today. Well, yesterday actually but because I wasn't home when the parcel man came by tooting his horn, I had to go to the Post Office this morning and pick it up. I was very excited because it was like a birthday present. Needless to say I was quite peeved then that today was the day Ergon Energy chose to turn the power off for six hours while they install new telephone poles up the road. This meant the new exciting toy/ present bought for self had to sit in pieces until 2pm this afternoon. And then, I very cleverly worked out how to put it together and which plugs to plug which cords into (I know this sounds extremely basic but I am not very technical!). And then nothing happened. No lights came on the display, and when I rang it from my mobile - nuffing. Well, the little light on the base flicked but the phone was dormant. So I read through the whole manual which really had not one useful troubleshooting hint in it. Except it noted that if the batteries are really flat it can take a "few moments" for the battery charging icon to appear on the display. After three hours I decided that those "few moments" were probably passed. So, using great powers of ingenuity and deduction I decided there must be an actual problem with the battery. I pulled them out and put them back in again....and it started charging on the display. That wasn't in the manual.

Now, to work out how to turn on the caller ID promised in the manual.

Wendy's Week of TV: Part 18

Sunday: Who do you think you are?
Graham Norton - I've never actually watched his show in full (screening here on ABC2) but he was a delightful subject for this episode. Once more into Ireland dear friends, and then circling back to England.

Monday: Enough Rope with Dawn French
I raced home from choir in time to catch most of this interview. I have actually never been much of a fan of French and Saunders, but did watch The Vicar of Dibley quite religiously (oh how witty I am!). Dawn has written a book about, among other things, her father. I imagine this is why she had agreed to appear with Denton - for a little bit of free publicity. However, she made a wonderful interviewee and her self-confidence and open attitude to life in general was inspiring.

Tuesday: Hamish Macbeth
Ah...the seeds of discontent are now germinating between Hamish and Alex. You can just tell TV John doesn't think she's the right one. And he should know, what with the second sight and all. I do enjoy this episode where Barney and Lachie Jnr cook up a whale-watching scam for the tourists. Nice back story for Agnes with her long lost son appearing out of the blue. A pity this wasn't followed through in later episodes. The frequent mention of tongue sandwiches was a little disconcerting.

Wednesday: Iconoclasts
I neglected to mention in last week's Wendy's Week that I had watched the Paul Simon/ Lorne Michaels episode which was really entertaining. I'm a big Simon and Garfunkel fan. My how Paul has aged. The music retains it charm however. And Lorne Michael's long standing role with Saturday Night Live is to be applauded (even though I have never really found it funny). This week it was Dave Chappelle and Maya Angelou. Less interesting I think because they had never met before the episode was shot. So it was all a bit stilted and awkward with them pseudo-interviewing each other.

Thursday: The Amazing Race
I have become addicted to the Amazing Race. I don't understand why everyone dislikes brother and sister Nick and Starr. They're no more annoying than any of the other couples. But the Frat Boys (Dan and Andrew is it?) are starting to really get on my nerves. I'm going for the separated couple - Ken and Tina? (just learning the names) and going against the divorcees (whose names I forget because they are like interchangeable Barbie dolls). I just musn't have the spirit of adventure because there would have been no way I would waded through that Cambodian lake in search for fish in a trap...even for a million dollars.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do we have any incense?

Father Ted repeats return next Tuesday on ABC2 before Hamish Macbeth.

Ted: "Do we have any incense?"
Dougal: "There was a spider in the bathroom last week"

What's not to find funny with that!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the internet plus gift vouchers

Items purchased via the marvellous resources of the internet over the last seven days:

Stainless steel kettle and toaster
iTunes Gift Card
Cordless phone
String of rattan Balinese style outdoor lights

I think I might be a convert to online shopping and with Christmas fast approaching this can be no bad thing. I dislike Christmas shopping. The endless list making, the racking of one's brain for the perfect gift and the racking one's brain to try and remember what grandma was bought last year all combine to make late December a little bit stressful. Some people, more organised people, keep a book with a list of the presents they buy each year so they can check it back before they start buying. Others build up a stock of bargains and specials throughout the year so Christmas involves going to the cupboard and matching their large store of gifts to people they know. Both these practices are admirable but I engage in neither of them.

So although three out of the four items above are for me, I see huge potential for quick and painless Christmas gift buying. What with the internet plus gift vouchers I'm set!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The frog at the front door

Musing on Summer Heights High

Some of this appeared in the Courier Mail yesterday in an piece by Erica Thompson who kindly contacted me for a comment. It seems Summer Heights High is getting rave reviews in the US (as opposed to the critical panning of KandK). Anyway I thought I would post the lot in case anyone is interested. It's really just thoughts in response to some points raised from Erica - that may appear later and be followed through in more academic papers.

Glowing critical reviews do not always translate to high ratings. And sometimes shows rate highly but are critically panned. And then you have something like Kath and Kim which got bad reviews and poor ratings. The shows do seem to be being received differently in the US and it would be wonderful for Summer Heights High to be celebrated as I think it deserves every success. As to the reason why it could be something to do with Summer Heights High’s comic style. The Australian Kath and Kim relies very much on catchphrases and broad physical, visual and verbal comedy. Summer Heights High is closer to the deadpan comedy style of the mockumentary that we see in The Office, where the comedy is somewhat blacker. By this I mean, there are moments that are funny, but there are also a great many awkward, embarrassing, almost cruel scenes which make the viewers cringe in disbelief. Perhaps this kind of comedy translates more easily across national and cultural boundaries, although I imagine the ratings will be the real judge. I also think part of the attraction of Summer Heights High (as with Lilley’s previous effort in We Can Be Heroes) is watching him play all the characters . It’s a real comic tour-de force.

It’s always difficult to say whether programs will translate into other markets. I think it always depends on the people involved in the project. I was very sceptical that Ricky Gervais’s The Office would translate well to the USA but it seems to have succeeded. Maybe Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were able to regain more control than Jane Turner and Gina Riley were able to. I do think that with the right people involved Summer Heights High might have had more of a chance of success in translation as I think it’s characters are more universal types. This is slightly different to Kath and Kim where so much of the comedy is based on the nuances of Australian culture, and clearly it was difficult to capture the essence of this in the US version. I also felt that Selma Blair was miscast as Kim – there seemed to be a hesitation in the US Kath and Kim to embrace the grotesque dagginess of the Australian version. But then, maybe that was one of the aspects of the program that was lost in translation. What I would have really liked to see was an American network take a risk on running the Australian version of Kath and Kim and seeing how it was received. In remaking program I think there is a bigger risk of failure, in that the mystery ingredients of its success might not be able to be recaptured. Top Gear Australia is a good case in point here too. It looks and sounds like the British Top Gear, but the magic of this program is the personalities, not the cars. And it is those personalities who are missing in action on the Australian version.

Airing on HBO the imperative for Summer Heights High to be a ratings bonanza is perhaps not as strong, as it was for Kath and Kim which aired on NBC. Network television tends to look for immediate commercial success in terms of ratings, whereas cable broadcasters like HBO have more room for programs like Summer Heights High which are critically adored but need not necessarily attract a huge mainstream audience. Perhaps Kath and Kim (particularly in its original Australian version) would have been more successful if it had been given an opportunity on HBO or another similar station.

I think it’s too early in his career to label Chris Lilley a genius. However, if he continues to make such incisive satirical black comedy he may turn out to be the modern day equivalent of someone like Barry Humphries, as he builds up a body of comic work and comic characters. I hope he does because his powers of observation and ability to inhabit the characters he creates is something very special and original and not seen on Australian television for some time.

Successful or not, what I think is positive about programs like Kath and Kim and Summer Heights High trying their luck in the American market is that the awareness of the Australian television industry is being raised, particularly in such a lucrative and large market as the US. We have some wonderfully creative comedians working in television and the more opportunities they are given both here and overseas, the better it is for the future of the industry, and for us as TV viewers. That being said, I really hope American audiences are as fascinated by Mr G, J’aime and Jonah as we have been.

And final thought for the day: I'm glad Lilley resisted the lure of the American remake.

Peter Cundall inspired pruning

Last night this was a barely visible rosebud. This morning it was in full bloom. I probably could have left it on the bush, but the rain had weighed it down and it was falling face down into the dirt. What's exciting is there are four or five more buds on the same bush. Some dynamic lifter and Peter Cundall inspired pruning three weeks ago has produced great results.

view from my bridge

After last night's rain my creek is running. This is a garden water feature that didn't require thousands of dollars in landscaping or a surprise visit from Jamie Durie.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Fruit's a gamble. I know that going in": Seinfeld Series 2: Episode 1

The Ex-Girlfriend begins once again with Jerry's stand-up, persisting it seems with the sports jacket and abominably colourful, wide tie. Topic - driving in traffic. Nice observations but not laugh out loud funny.

We move to Jerry and George chatting in the car, while waiting to pick up Elaine. The topic here is breaking up, how to do it, in person or over the phone with Jerry's helpful advice being "You should just do it like a motion... RIGHT OFF". George, it seems, is sick of his girlfriend Marlene. Elaine arrives with a tale to tell of the degeneration of her once-friendly relationship with a guy in her building. First it was "stop and chat" (this is a great Larry David concept that also crops up in Curb your Enthusiasm), then verbal hellos, then polite nodding, and then: "he went from nods to nothing". The scene then is set for the Elaine storyline.

In Jerry's apartment, a little introductory scene on dialling a wrong number. It has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, but it's cute nonetheless. Following this we also enjoy Kramer's obsession with fruit and his insistence that everyone who enters "taste this cantaloupe", (foreshadowing the later episode of the macana (?) peaches) proffering a piece of cantaloupe on a fork. Jerry and he disagree over whether to get fruit at Joe's or the supermarket. Kramer kindly offers Jerry the use of his shopping cart to go to Joe's, and we learn of Kramer's endearing habit of returning fruit if it's not up to his high standard. As Jerry astutely observes: "I don't return fruit. Fruit's a gamble, I know that going in". (I would dearly love to see someone try and return fruit and vegetables to Woolworths. Some of those lettuces have clearly been in cold storage for way too long. And don't get me started on the tomatoes that taste like nothing.)

George arrives excited that he has managed to break up with Marlene. Kramer, as always inappropriate, reacts with 'I like that Marlene...what's her number?". George is concerned though. He has left some of his books over at Marlene's and can't possibly go back and get them. The following exchange exemplifies Jerry's simple and stressless view of the world:

Jerry: Did you read 'em?
George: Well..yeah
Jerry: What do you need 'em for?

There's no comeback to that. So Jerry meets Marlene in the diner and she entices him into a relationship with her southern drawl.

Then, the chiropractor's waiting room, still on the subject of the books. Jerry pokes fun at George's anxiety over getting his books back, "When you read Moby Dick the second time, Ahab and the whale become good friends". And then George's cheapness is emphasised once more after he sees the chiropractor and gets the bill. Seventy five dollars for two minutes, "I'm only paying half". And he does.

Back at the apartment, Kramer is demonstrating his new golf swing to Jerry while Jerry cuts up a supermarket cantaloupe. We witness Kramer's disapproval when upon tasting he spits it straight out. Nice. Elaine arrives describing her confrontation with the hello guy. She's the "queen of confrontation". Later in the diner, Elaine's bravery inspires Jerry to tell George he is dating Marlene, who doesn't actually care. Then in some nice physical comedy George swallows a fly. The ensuing panic is a comedy treat. Jerry as usual, is unflustered.

And then one of my final favourite scenes. Jerry and Marlene are in the car when she refuses his advances. When he questions why, she tells him it's because she saw his comedy act: "It's just so much fluff. I can't be with someone if I don't respect what they do". Jerry is a little stunned: "You're a cashier".

Stand up. Then end.

Wendy's Week of TV: Part 17

Sunday: Who do you think you are
This week - Meera Syal. She had a fascinating trip back to discover her Indian ancestry. As always this program is most successful when the individual's story also teaches us about the history of a nation. This time it was the struggle against British imperialism in India.

Monday: Top Gear Australia
Finally, thanks to a little virus I was able to stay in on Monday evening and catch Top Gear Australia. Yawn. So boring. There is none of the chemistry of the presenters that makes the British show so entertaining. Let's face it, I'm not into cars but if Clarkson, Hammond and May appear on the screen I'm there for the duration. After 10 minutes with this version I was ready to walk away. The jokes are banal, obvious and quite frankly not funny. There's no wit,verve or spontaneity, and the comic set ups are strained to breaking point. Plus, what really annoyed me was that they have a Stig. We're not gullible enough to think this is the British version's Stig (because clearly he would be busy in Britain and can't be in two places at once). We're also not gullible enough to believe that the Top Gear franchise has invested in cloning technology to make this an exact replica of the Stig. So why pretend that the driver is a Stig? Why not, (and here's a radical thought), localise the franchise just a little bit with a mystery racing driver character that resonates in some way with Australia? In fact, (here's an even more radical thought) instead of attempting to replicate the entire British show, why not invest some time and money in coming up with an original motoring program that might speak with greater clarity to Australian audiences?

So many questions, so much ranting, so dull.

Tuesday: Hamish Macbeth
This isn't one of my favourite episodes at all, with the complicated storyline of the fundamentalist Christian cult pseudo-persecuting Hamish and Alex for living in sin. However, it does continue the jealous little love triangle between Hamish, Alex and Isobel that arcs over the remaining episodes so I guess that's okay.

Thursday: The Amazing Race
As I noted in my twitter update, this is exhausting television, running, jumping, shouting, leaping tall buildings with a single bound. You get the picture. Also, I don't understand all the road blocks, uturns, and other amazing race jargon so it's just as well friendly host Phil (the only one who isn't hyperactive) is there to explain it. The southern belles in their matching pink leisure wear were eliminated. Tears before bedtime. I think I prefer the pairs who don't wear matching outfits. I'm going for Dallas and his mum...we'll see if they last next week's adventures in Cambodia.

Friday: My Biggest Fan
What a heartwarming documentary this was. (nb. people who know me please be aware I am not being sarcastic!). Tara Morice (best known for her role as Fran in Strictly Ballroom) travels to Florida to meet her biggest fan, Mildred. Wonderful were Tara's reflections on her own career, particularly the pros and cons of how Fran has come to define her. But equally delightful was the story of Mildred, her family and her passion for the theatre. We were treated to a fantastic cast of characters singing and dancing their way through their annual show in the retirement community, directed by Mildred. Mildred's lip-synching, belting out an Ethel Merman number was (despite what it sounds like) an absolute joy. Poignant and life-affirming.

Friday, November 7, 2008

olive oil vs balsamic vinegar

A little incident in the kitchen this evening tells me it's time to apply the spring cleaning principles applied at work today to the pantry. It should be simple - tall bottles of things at the back, shorter items like cans and spices at the front. But no, I seem to have it arranged all back to front. A month of so ago this resulted in knocking a 600ml bottle of olive onto the tiles as I reached over it to get something from behind. The mess of glass and oil was less than a joy to clean up. And then tonight I clumsily knocked a bottle of balsamic vinegar onto the tiles while trying to put something away behind it. I did however avoid the cleaning up process here as the glass cut my foot. So while I administered first aid to myself (pressure+bandaid) others had fun times with the mop, dustpan and brush, paper towels etc.

The moral of the story is olive oil is much more difficult to clean off the floor than balsamic vinegar.

The other (and perhaps more important health and safety) moral of the story is don't be lazy in putting away the groceries and get some semblance of order into your pantry. Otherwise you too may be frantically searching for the first aid kit.

surfaces and coffee mugs

Somewhere in the dim recesses of my television sitcom memory I recall an episode of AbFab where Edina is renovating the kitchen in the bid to have as many "surfaces, surfaces, surfaces, darling" as she can. (NB. clearly this is not a direct quote but it's how I remember it). This morning at work a desire for ruthless cleaning and tidying descended upon me. And I now find myself rediscovering many surfaces. The surface of my desk, the surface on top of my filing cabinet, the surfaces of now cleaned and emptied drawers and the surfaces of in/out trays that were previously piled high with old student assessments and papers. At the time, keeping all this paper seems absolutely essential but when I found myself throwing out things from 2003, I realised the tidy up was well overdue.

I'm now rewarding myself for my diligent cleaning with a cup of tea.

(I also found seven coffee mugs...four of which are now in a box to be taken home. They were clean, but excessive. Really, there is a limit to how many cups of tea or coffee can I drink at one time. (i.e. one!) It's not like I'm throwing an afternoon tea in here)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

blog+twitter=something or other part 2

unsuccessful first time...trying again now...if it still doesn't work I'm giving up

blog+ twitter =something or other

I have attempted to feed my blog posts to my twitter profile. I have no idea if I've been successful just yet.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

my all time favourite election analyst

I just love a good TV election coverage, so it's lucky for me that I'm on a sick day today and can watch the US election unfolding. My, those American news broadcasters are slick. There also seem to be more snazzy technologies and visuals (electronic maps, predictive graphs etc) than we have in the Australian elections. The one thing missing though is my all time favourite ABC election analyst, Antony Green. There was mention of "bellweather" states a moment ago though which was pleasing....I so enjoy a little election jargon.

(On a whinging note, however, Facebook was annoying me this morning with its bold instruction on the login page that I vote. Surprising as it may seem people in charge of Facebook, we don't all live in the USA. Shocking, I know. Don't they have the technology to localise this? Is it something to do with my settings?)

Still, it's all very exciting.

And post acceptance speech:
There is definitely a space being opened here through Obama's victory for a politics of hope, with a connection between drawn from JFK and Martin Luther King. Let's all hope the words are matched with actions, because the weight of expectation now looks very, very heavy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Gentle Annie Road

We had been sitting in the car for just over four hours and as I was thinking I could stand it no longer we drove towards Childers and saw the most magnificent sunset. It was a monstrous blaze of orange, low in the shadowy sky, hanging above the hills as we drove up to the town. The drive to and from Brisbane also allows me to pass my very favourite street sign in the whole world. Just outside Apple Tree Creek is "Gentle Annie Road". Who gentle Annie is or was, and why she may have a road named after her, I do not know, but I think it's wonderful.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wendy's Week of TV: Part 16

Saturday: Rockwiz

I hadn't caught up with Rockwiz for some time but this reminded me how much more energy the show has in comparison to Spicks and Specks. The banter between Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis give more opportunity for spontaneity. Zemiro is clever and witty but manages to avoid being smug (Wil Anderson watch and learn). The live band is genius and the audience members who join the special guests on the panel are always fascinating personalities in some way. It's funny - but the show never loses sight of its inner music nerd.

Monday: Enough Rope

I was very happy to be home early enough from choir to catch Andrew Denton interview Michael Parkinson. Parky has many great tales to tell from decades of interviewing celebrities. A delight from start to finish.

Tuesday: Hamish Macbeth

This was the final episode of Series 1. Hamish, you great big idiot. Can't you see that Isobel is in love with you??? Foolish policeman, falling for Alex's upper-class, authorial charms now that you have escaped a mountainous death. Mark my words it'll never work. Favourite moment though was Lachie Jnr's mystified question "What is this ironic?". Indeed.

Thursday: The Amazing Race

Why? Because there was nothing else on even remotely worth watching. Those Bolivian fighting cholitas (?) were frightening. And the wooden bicycles looked supremely uncomfortable. But what is most confounding is why anyone signs up for this program. It looks like torture to me. Is this what makes it successful television?