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Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's that time of year again

Every year I promise myself that I’ll rein in my January activities, but every year it goes off the scale again. It's the coming together of the Sydney Festival, various pop festivals and a few other afctors that always produces mayhem.

In the last 10 days I have taken in;

- The Horrors at Oxford Art Factory (exciting)
- Camera Obscura at the Beck’s Bar (swoonsome)
- Laughing Clowns (disappointing) and The Dirty Three (affecting)at the Enmore
- Florence and the Machine at the Metro (ace)
- 3 movies at the cinema – Avatar (clichéd and overlong), Nine (bizarre but unsatisfying) and Up In The Air (literate and well-performed)
- 1 movie on DVD that was 7 hours long, black and white, Hungarian and superb (Satantango)
- A trip to Avoca

Obviously I need a rest, so over the next four days I am confining myself to Zeeko at the Seymour Centre, Todd’s birthday barbie, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Antony & the Johnsons at the Sydney Opera House, and Echo & the Bunnymen at the Metro.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On the benefits of not doing very much

It was a weekend where most of plans became a bit too hard, so we scaled back and had a great time. Instead of the enormous AJ Rahman concert, watching a Sydney FC match and a trip to the movies, we settled for yum cha, a wee bushwalk and a DVD on the sofa with a bowl of rainbow popcorn. Most relaxing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2009 Reading Review

(Cross-posted from my legendarily unread book blog)

2009 was the Year of Reading Dangerously with no library borrowing and no new purchases (well, one) so that I could get through the backlog of material on my bookshop. In the end I read a new record of 107 books, which meant that my bookshelf went from a double layer:

To a single layer:

Which is quite good, but 2 weeks into the new year and already it’s back up to this;

Best books: The Alexandria Quartet, The Go-Between, The Human Factor, Fingersmith, Framley Parsonage, The Restraint of Beasts, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Poisonwood Bible

Worst book: Either Alice's Masque or The Private Patient

Longest book:Not sure...Framley Parsonage, maybe?

Shortest book: Nehemiah

Non-fiction books: 17

Australian authors: 13

Female authors: 14

The complete list

Miss Lonelyhearts - Nathanael West
Churchill and Australia - Graham Freudenberg
Joan Makes History - Kate Grenville
Inside the Whale and other essays - George Orwell
The Brooklyn Follies - Paul Auster
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
The Child in Time - Ian McEwan
Silas Marner - George Eliot
The Human Factor - Graham Greene
Mr Darwin’s Shooter - Roger McDonald
Intimacy - Hanif Kureishi
The Map That Changed the World - Simon Winchester
The History Boys - Alan Bennett
Bob Wilson’s Ultimate Book of Peculiar Sporting Lingo - Bob Wilson
If This Is A Man - Primo Levi
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
Kowloon Tong - Paul Theroux
Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
London; A Pilgrimage - Gustave Dore and Blanchard Jerrold
Gould’s Book of Fish - Richard Flanagan
Bone; eyes of the storm - Jeff Smith
The Go-Between - L.P. Hartley
The Viceroy of Ouidah - Bruce Chatwin
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
The Pianoplayers - Anthony Burgess
The Private Patient - P.D. James
Bound For Glory - Woody Guthrie
Justine - Lawrence Durrell
Balthazar - Lawrence Durrell
Mountolive - Lawrence Durrell
Clea - Lawrence Durrell
The Meaning of Liff - Douglas Adams & John Lloyd
Bone: The Dragonslayer - Jeff Smith
Brave New World Revisited - Aldous Huxley
Kingdom Come - J.G. Ballard
The Subterranean Railway - Christian Wolmar
Sabbath’s Theater - Phillip Roth
1 Samuel
Leviathan - John Birmingham
2 Samuel
The Eye - Vladimir Nabokov
The Biographer’s Tale - A.S. Byatt
Seats In All Parts - Leslie Halliwell
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer
Bone: Rockjaw, master of the eastern border - Jeff Smith
The Europeans - Henry James
Bloody Margaret: three political fantasies - Mark Lawson
Shakespeare Wrote For Money - Nick Hornby
Absolute Friends - John le Carre
1 Kings
2 Kings
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
Humphrey Clinker - Tobias Smollett
Framley Parsonage - Anthony Trollope
The Steep Approach to Garbadale - Iain Banks
Timequake - Kurt Vonnegut
Wake Up - Tim Pears
All The Conspirators - Christopher Isherwood
According to Queeney - Beryl Bainbridge
Stone’s Fall - Iain Pears
Mary - Vladimir Nabokov
The Lieutenant - Kate Grenville
A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson
The Restraint of Beasts - Magnus Mills
The Third Man & The Fallen Idol - Graham Greene
King Rat - China Mieville
1 Chronicles
Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins - Rupert Everett
Bone; Old Man’s Cave - Jeff Smith
2 Chronicles
Shakespeare - Bill Bryson
Bone; ghost circles - Jeff Smith
Carter Beats the Devil - Glen David Gold
The Rip - Robert Drewe
The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid
The Riders - Tim Winton
The Millstone - Margaret Drabble
Alice’s Masque - Lindsay Clarke
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
Lush Life - Richard Price
Doctor Sally - P.G. Wodehouse
Illywhacker - Peter Carey
The Devil’s Pool - George Sand
Shepperton Babylon - Matthew Sweet
The Light of Day - Graham Swift
Jonathan Wild - Henry Fielding
My Life as a Fake - Peter Carey
The Service of Clouds - Delia Falconer
Bone; treasure hunters - Jeff Smith
The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby
Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
Bone; crown of thorns - Jeff Smith
Red Harvest - Dashiell Hammett
The Constant Gardener - John Le Carre
In The Winter Dark - Tim Winton
Choke - Chuck Palahniuk
Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier
A Big Life - Susan Johnson
The Comedians - Graham Greene
The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
Talking It Over - Julian Barnes

Ladies and Gentlemen...BRENTWOOD!

I was amazed that the snow of Europe followed us to England. And in a big way:

Of course the Bs loved lobbing snowballs, building snowmen and other such frozen water based fun. I, too, was enchanted at first but by the end of the week I had had enough. Some of our meeting plans were disrupted, and rugging up for every brief trip got a little tiresome.

Nevertheless, we were able to have a great time doing the usual stuff; catching up with mates, hanging out with family and visiting old haunts.

A big bonus was the absurdly generous exchange rate which made this trip unusually cheap and encouraged us to buy lots of stuff. M bought clothes, and here’s my haul of books, CDs and DVDs;

Sadly my Dad’s health was not good, and we are now looking to move him into sheltered accommodation in Bristol. Perhaps we will never stay in his house again if it gets sold, which is strange. It was desperately hard to say goodbye to him this time, but we’ll be back in July and I have to remember how extraordinarily lucky we are to have that freedom.

Bavaria & the Czech Republic

In retrospect we should have flown home from Zurich but such was our enthusiasm to see Prague that we then embarked on a 3 day bus trip across Bavaria to the Czech Republic. The long journeys were tough on the Bs, and they found the delights of medieval Mitteleuropa architecture a less than adequate reward. It was a tricky job to keep them entertained, but M&I enjoyed revisiting Neuschwanstein (aka the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang castle) and B1 enjoyed the horse and carriage ride up to the gates.

I couldn’t help being disappointed by Prague. Having visited in around 1990, the decline of a beautiful city into an overcrowded tourist town dominated by money-grabbing touts and stag/hen groups was disheartening. The best moments where when we got off the beaten track and found, say, a groovy little sculpture park for the Bs to clamber around.

This suit was a struggle to get into, but;

Then we bid farewell to the Player clan, who were continuing with travels around Eastern Europe, and rejecting the oh-so-obvious option of visiting Vienna, Kracow, Bratislava and Budapest we headed for…Brentwood.


(Pommie readers will find their reading of this post significantly enhanced by listening to this music while reading the post:


Thanks to the generosity of my parents-in-law we were able to spend a wonderful white Christmas with M’s family near Interlaken, Switzerland. We were staying in the alpine resort of Wilderswil with a view from our hotel window of the legendary Eiger and Jungfrau peaks.

I’ve never spent time in the Alps before and I was absolutely blown away by the staggering beauty of the place. Snow and ice made delicate patterns everywhere you looked and the imposing mountains evoked the awestruck aspect of the sublime that I learned about when studying the Romantic poets.

The great cliché about Switzerland is efficiency, and we came to value it greatly. The railways going up to great heights, often tunnelling through the rock itself, were extraordinary feats of engineering and we were never late by a minute. Then there were the ski fields with the supremely well run lifts to take you exactly where you want to go for your fun that day.

We don’t ski or snowboard, so we went for the muppet option of hiring a sledge and hurtling down the slopes on a barely controlled lump of wood at high velocity. The bloke at the hire shop had blithely assured us that it was easy and that taking the Bs would be no problem, so off we went with them on our laps. I started with B2 on my sledge, and within a couple of minutes his weeping face was entirely caked in snow and he had heard me swear more in a few seconds than in his entire life hitherto.

After a reorganisation, B1 went with M and B2 with Karen while I went solo. That went well during the more forgiving stretches of the path but then we missed a rather important sign that read “Run Closed”. We realised we were in grief when we found ourselves sledging down a road with a bus coming in the other direction.

Then, after crisis talks, we decided to try and descend on a ski run. Bad idea. I will never forget hurtling along and seeing my wife, sister-in-law and both children slam into a wooden fence as I sped past. I had to stack myself and run back up, in genuine fear for my family’s safety. Luckily everyone was fine although both kids were very shaken and B1 ended up crying about “the worst day of my life!” through a bleeding lip.

Anyway, we got down okay in the end, and next time we put the Bs into kid’s club and had a fantastic day. sledging without them. Now we’re talking about learning to ski as a family once B2 is old enough.

Lots of photos over at the Flickr site.