Monday, February 27, 2006

Beyond Narnia and into the mud

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I hope everyone saw the screening of the docu-drama "Beyond Narnia" on ABC-TV's Compass programme this month.

This was a fascinating look at C.S. Lewis and his most famous creation, blending interviews with a cast of actors led by Anton Rodgers as Lewis. It all worked very well and even I learned a few new facts about the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Image hosting by Photobucket Rodgers was very good as Lewis. That wasn't a surprise.

I've seen him in many things over the years, including a now-forgotten 1968 television series based on P.G. Wodehouse's novel Ukridge.

Back in the 1970s I also saw him on stage in Melbourne when the Young Vic Company were touring with their production of The Front Page.

He did a reasonable American accent, which is amusing because he is a very English actor.


Julie's house was the subject of some attention by a crew from the Hobart City Council last week. In fact they were out there with surprising promptness after she finally phoned to tell them there was water running down the hill from the front of her house.

It was a problem that the stopcock for the water was in the middle of a veritable plantation of roses and blackberries. The thorn factor was pretty high, but they got in there.

Turning off the water over the weekend, though inconvenient for the house, should give us a better idea of where the water is coming from.

It had been getting worse over the last couple of weeks. Whenever I've taken Julie's dogs out into the yard, I've had to pick my way carefully. Last week I wasn't careful enough.

Even using a stick for better balance wasn't sufficient for me to keep my footing when I got into the mud. I felt myself sliding, but there was nothing I could do.

I think my left hip hit the ground first. My fall was broken by a pile of sandstone blocks left over from a building that once stood on the site – not a lot of give in it, I admit. My left arm whacked against a block and I said "Oh Gosh!" or something along those lines (or not).

The two dogs, hearing me fall, turned and raced back across the yard to my side.

And ate the apple that I'd dropped when I slipped.

I stared at them chewing in front of me while I gathered myself to try getting back to my feet.

"You're a disgrace to the canine species," I said. "I don't know what Lassie and Rin Tin Tin would have said."


Stephen Deken had some sad news to announce this month:

There is no easy way for me to say this.

Diary-X has suffered from an unrecoverable drive failure. Due to a combination of issues, the last backup (from December 2004) contained only configuration files and other non-essential files. We do not have any other backups for the site. All journals, user information, forum posts, templates, images, and everything else are all irrecoverably lost.

In the past several hours, I have had to decide whether or not I should put the site back online at all. Only those users who backed up their own journals (either using the journal download tool or otherwise saving each entry) would be able to reconstruct their journals. Everyone else would have to start over. Whatever developed as a result would still be called Diary-X, but it wouldn't be the same.

I believe it makes the most sense to close Diary-X permanently. Tentatively, the site will go dark on March 31st, 2006.

This is sad news for all bloggers. Diary-X was my first introduction to blogging and I've been a member for years. Everyone who contributed to it will feel a loss at seeing it go.


We had planned to go out to the movies on Monday afternoon but the arrival of our broadband modem distracted us. By the time we worked on setting it up and made out a list of things we needed to pick up while we were out, it would have been difficult to fit it into our day.

With any luck, Walk the Line will carry over for another week at the Village Cinema complex.

At the moment we're trying to get used to not having to log off when we finish checking our e-mail.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Venetian Twins

The Venetian Twins is the first production in the 80th birthday year of the Hobart Repertory Theatre Company.

In 1926 a group of leading theatre workers gathered to develop the concept of a Repertory Theatre Company in Hobart, to guarantee a number of 'suitable' productions each year. His Worship The Mayor of Hobart presided over a meeting, held in the Town Hall on the 21st June 1926.and Miss Olive Wilton was chosen to be Repertory's first Producer.

The Hobart Repertory Theatre Society purchased a building and renamed it The Playhouse Theatre. The Society used cash reserves to fund the necessary additions and alterations, costing £5700, and the first production in the "new" theatre was William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew directed by Miss Olive Wilton the Founder of the Society.

Since its purchase of the building in 1937, the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society has carried out extensive renovations and improvements to this fine old building. The Playhouse has seen hundreds of fine productions and has been the training ground for many actors, directors and playwrights who have gone on to national and international acclaim.

Two hundred years ago, Carlo Goldoni's The Venetian Twins was the first commedia dell'Arte play successfully to be staged with the actors neither wearing masks nor improvising freely around a basic scenario, but following a set script. In 1979 Nick Enright adapted it as a tongue-in-cheek musical which had its first performance at the Sydney Opera House (directed by the usually serious Shakespearian actor John Bell).

The result is as though Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had taken time off from their Road movies to star in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. The lead actor plays the two title characters with just a change of style, and the villain often seems to be channelling the late Kenneth Williams.

A lot of fun.

One interstate reviewer summed it up well as Commedia del’arte, slapstick comedy, Aussie strine and vaudeville all collide in this enjoyable, if chaotic, revival of Nick Enright’s 1979 play. Enright’s script itself is an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century comedy "I due gemelli Veneziani", but in typical larrakin style, he’s added plenty of Aussie references and humour into the mix. The result is a colourful, if confusing evening at the theatre.


Listened to Just a Minute on the BBC Radio 4 website

Chairman Nicholas Parsons is an old pro at trying to make sure the panel abstain from deviating, hesitating or repeating themselves (at least for 60 seconds). Paul Merton, Jenny Eclair and Graham Norton join veteran Clement Freud with hilarious results.

Graham Norton in particular was amusing, his frenetic style recalling the heyday of Derek Nimmo.

It's a great show - it's a shame that nobody in Australia under 40 would be familiar with it, since these days ABC airs it at 5:30 in the morning. Its audience in this country is presumably made up mostly of milkmen and nightwatchmen.

Maybe one summer the ABC programming department should think about putting it to air at a time when people are actually awake and listening.


The broadband connection is in hand. I've signed the necessary paperwork and we should have the new modem in a few days.

But the problem this week was of a more human kind. The last couple of months my inbox has been fairly dull and predictable; checking my e-mail has seemed less urgent than it once might have been.

So of course the one day I didn't check it at all there was an unexpected message that I would have wanted to see. Respected theologian/archaeologist/author Dr Clifford Wilson was speaking at a midweek meeting at my church on Wednesday night. Naturally by the time we found out it was on, the meeting was just winding up.

A shame - I remember reading his book Crash Go The Chariots back in the 1970s, a trenchant analysis of the then-fad for Chariots Of The Gods. It would have been interesting to hear his talk.


I nearly had a crash in the car while I was out yesterday. I couldn't get into the car park at Officeworks, so I had to make a big circle around the CBD to get to Corporate Express.

Just as I was heading up Argyle Street, a moth crawled down my face. It must have been in my hair I think. Anyway, it was very distracting, especially when it crawled between my glasses and my face.

Fortunately the car in front of me wasn't any closer, or I might have run into it when I tried to brake and shake my head simultaneously.

Those who've read Eric Frank Russell's novel Wasp will be amused, but it wasn't that funny at the time.


My sister has always been a bit of a night owl, but there are limits even to her endurance.

I went to bed last night while she was backing-up her hard drive to the external drive. It was difficult for me to fall asleep because one of the chickens Julie keeps in the front hall was making a lot of noise. Finally I dozed off.

A couple of hours later, I got up just before dawn to answer a call of nature. I was only slightly surprised to find all the lights still on in the back of the house. Julie was asleep in her chair with the computer purring away smugly next to her.

I tapped her on the shoulder and her eyes shot open. "You probably should lie down for a while before the sun comes up," I said.

She looked a little groggy but nodded in agreement.

First time that's happened for a long time. I remember when we first had a computer there were a couple of times that she was still at the keyboard when I got up the next morning.

But we've all done that at one time or another.


The ABC has picked up The West Wing and is beginning the fourth season this week. It has been running on one of the commercial stations but was notorious as one of those programmes that the network feels it has to move around a lot, causing much angst amongst viewers.

I've never actually seen an episode of it, so while I was in the supermarket I picked up a $10 DVD that has the first four episodes of the first season. I figure that way at least I'll know who most of the characters are and have some idea of what's going on.

Otherwise there would be a temptation to tune out because the learning curve would just be too steep.

There was a television critic in Melbourne once who'd never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and figured he'd tune in and look at an episode. Having no inkling of the five years of backstory involved, he couldn't make head or tail of what was going on.

Monday, February 20, 2006

evenings with poultry

We ended up in the back garden last Friday afternoon, which was a lot hotter than I expected. The weatherman predicted a warm day with a possible thunderstorm later. It was certainly warm and humid enough, but when it clouded over a little we braced ourselves for a storm.

Didn't happen. The storm veered off and the only ones who got hit were the people of Bruny Island, who were subject to an unexpected fall of hailstones.

My sister and I moved out onto the back lawn, where she occupied herself by fitting together some metal fencing she'd bought at a local discount store. This allowed her to put all the poultry out on the lawn together – instead of having them dotted around in various boxes and cages in and around my house.

It was a virtual poultry suburb.

We sat out there with a cold glass of wine while the goose and the cats wandered about at our feet and the chickens pecked around happily on the dry grass. Every so often a cool breeze would pass over and we'd go "Aaaaaah."

** ** ** **

Listened to the radio nostalgia programme Those Were The Days over their website.

This is the second of two special programmes they're doing to celebrate Jack Benny and Mel Blanc. Every February is Jack Benny month apparently

Includes PHIL HARRIS - ALICE FAYE PROGRAM (4-2-50) Phil tells his daughters the story of the Easter Bunny. WHAT’S UP MEL? (2-11-06) “The Man of a Thousand Voices” is the second of four special features by animation historian Curtis L. Katz on Mel Blanc and his Warner Bros. cartoons. JUDY CANOVA SHOW (7-6-43) First show in the series as Judy returns to Rancho Canova after a WW II bond-selling tour in Hollywood. JACK BENNY PROGRAM (9-25-49) As Jack arrives at CBS to do his third show of the new season, he bumps into Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Amos ‘n’ Andy and Red Skelton, now all CBS stars whose programs began that week.

They don't make 'em like that any more .

** ** ** **

Valentine's Day again last week. Which is also my mother's birthday. Not as painful as last year, but I couldn't help experiencing a twinge late at night, that part of the day when the house is quiet and memories come floating across the back of the mind. *Sigh*

** ** ** **

You may have seen the coverage of Georgina Richmond's art exhibition on this page yesterday. Unfortunately I missed out on tickets for her concert at Runnymede on Friday.

I spoke to Kookaburra books and they explained the music room at Runnymede only holds 45 people so the tickets sold out quickly. I should have been quicker.

Oh well, next time.

** ** ** **

I enjoy John H. Dircx's stories about black homicide detective Cyrus Auburn. The latest story in the series, with the unlikely title "Bubble Brain and the Fat Ladies", appears in the November 2005 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Can Auburn establish a link between the local occult bookshop and a body found outside the bowling alley?

The mystery classic in that issue is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Man of the Crowd", which I haven't read for nearly 40 years. Not much of a punchline, but an engrossing tale about a man who abhors solitude.

Monday, February 13, 2006

art show

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In a city the size of Hobart it's easy to find yourself enmeshed in overlapping networks of friends and acquaintances, as Friday night demonstrated.

We had had an e-mail from artist/singer Georgina Richmond, who we'd first encountered at a concert at the Moonah Arts Centre, to say she was having an exhibition of her paintings at the Inka gallery in Salamanca Place. So Friday night Julie and I made our way down to the docks and past Parliament House to the little gallery just off Salamanca.

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Inka is a small operation, so half a dozen of Georgina's (rather large) oil paintings took up two walls. We arrived right on time, took a plastic cup of cask wine and inspected the pictures. Georgina has a bright colour-filled style - I particularly liked the patterns and textures in the one inspired by the wildflowers on the foothills of Mount Wellington.

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The place started to fill up quickly until it was almost shoulder to shoulder. We found a few familiar faces. Julie ran into a woman she used to work with at the Wrest Point Casino; she hadn't seen her for 18 years. She remembered that she'd been worried about her expecting her first child in Europe at the time of Chernobyl, just to peg it in time and place.

And we spent quite a while talking to Chris Webster, the state's newest magistrate, who was at university with Julie. I was amused to discover that he lives next door to the parents of Julie's old friend Madeleine - we must have been within fifty feet of their home when we were at Madeleine's Australia Day party.

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The crowd emptied out as quickly as they'd come. A cynic would suspect they were doing the circuit of openings, since Salamanca Place has always been known for its abundance of arts and crafts venues.

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We waved goodbye to Georgina and stepped out into the street for a breath of fresh air before calling at the Greek restaurant around the corner for coffee.

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This week seems to mark the kick-off of the cultural year. An arts exhibition today, a play next Wednesday and a concert next Friday. Things are in such a state of activity that if we wished, we could go out to some sort of event every night of the week.

But I don't think I'm up for that. I have to ration my time out or I'll simply exhaust myself.


A discussion about the days of Tom Wolfe and New Journalism on the Tony Delroy radio show reinforced my belief that the modern media has become increasingly diffused. The era of the general magazine is almost gone - nearly every popular periodical these days aims at a niche market, whether it be scrapbooking, celebrity cooks or computers.

When I was growing up, there were still weekly magazines like Everybody's, Look, Punch, Australasian Post and Argosy. They aimed at appealing to the interests of the entire population, young or old, male or female, city or country. The paperback revolution and the ubiquity of television gradually ate into their readership and one by one they fell by the wayside.

One eminent British novelist later snarled "Reading? Reading is what people do when there's nothing good on television."

Aside from New Yorker subscribers, few people are willing to sit down and read a 10,000 word feature article. The advent of the Internet has not helped either; we've been conditioned to skim rather than read each word, picking out the gist of an article that has already been edited down to as short a length as possible.

By a strange happenstance, on the same radio show there was a segment about latest gadgetry that included a mention of the so-called E-Reader. This is an electronic device that lets you load the text of novels onto a portable screen, simulating the act of reading a book. It's claimed that this will do for reading what the I-Pod did for music.

Prices are up around US$300 at the moment, but if there's one thing we've noticed about electronics is that the price plunges as soon as they go into mass-production. It will be interesting to see what they're going for in two or three years.

Maybe the book isn't doomed after all, perhaps it's just going to be transformed into a new format, rather in the way that the hardcover book gave way to the paperback.

This concept will probably horrify collectors of first editions and I can sympathise with them, but it's encouraging to think that the simple experience of reading will still be with us in generations to come.

And speaking of the Internet, we're seriously considering moving to Broadband in our household. For the last few years we've been on a dial-up of about 50K; before that, we were on 36K for a couple of years when we first went on-line.

It's not so much that we need the higher speeds (though that would be nice), but it would be very convenient to be able to use the phone while we're using the Internet and especially to have more than one person on-line at the same time rather than taking turns.

Indeed, this might even be advantageous to my health, enabling me to get more rest instead of having to extend my waking hours till my sister finishes bidding for items on e-Bay. Years of night shift have given her the habits of the Night Owl, but that makes it difficult for me sharing a house with her.

By coincidence, Jules Verne's birthday was this month and it came round while I was reading one of his more obscure novels The Purchase of the North Pole, first published in 1889 and also known as Topsy Turvy or Barbicane and Company.

At first this seems like a sort of sequel to Verne's famous From the Earth to the Moon, involving some of the same characters. But it doesn't take long to realise that Verne has his tongue firmly in cheek and the project that Barbicane and his friends are involved with here is outlandishly implausible.

Buying the mineral rights to the polar regions, the protagonists have a plan to tilt the earth's axis to make their property more accessible. The consequences would, of course, make global warming look like a church garden fĂȘte and there's widespread panic as the nations of the world begin to understand what is involved.

It's quite fun and there are several references to the ways of the world that are timeless - such as the ignoring of the interests of the Eskimo and other indigenous inhabitants, the squabbling of the nations and the vaguely approving attitude of the Republican party.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

You can download this for free from the website or from the Arthur's Classic Novels website.

The facial tumours that are killing a lot of Tasmanian Devils in the wild seem even stranger than first thought.

A previous theory suggested that the tumours could be the after-effect of fights between Devils. Now a team led by Anne-Maree Pearse of the department of primary industry has performed a genetic analysis of tumour cells from 37 animals - and found them to be genetically identical, suggesting they did not arise in the animals own cells.

Cue the X-Files music.

All the tumour contain cells with 13 "grossly abnormal" chromosomes instead of the usual 14. The cancerous cells seem to be leading a sort of independent existence, the team concludes, probably originating in a single Devil with cancer.

Cancer genomes are usually very unstable but somehow this line is "stable and persistent." The only example of such a disease is one in dogs transmitted during mating.

I've never heard of anything like this before. It was alluded to briefly in one news report I heard on the air, but I haven't seen it in print except in the February 4th New Scientist. Possibly it was just too weird for some of the news media.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

snow day

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After the hot weather last month, it was a shock to hear the weather forecast on Monday evening predict snowfalls in the mountains. And indeed it was quite brisk when we were leaving the New Sydney Hotel after the monthly quiz night.

Our results at the quiz were not exactly a tonic. Last month we won by a comfortable margin, but this month we sank right back to second-last. We didn't do too badly in some categories but the Sports/Television questions brought us undone. Sports are often our achilles heel and the television questions -- well, they were simply about the wrong programmes.

Listening to Brian Kay's light music programme on the BBC Radio website. It featured music selected by Secretary of the Robert Farnon Society David Ades, plus recordings by composers including Angela Morley, Robert Farnon, David Rose, Clive Richardson, Trevor Duncan and John Fox.

What surprised me was that the Robert Farnon society is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. Back in 1956, organizing a fan club for a composer would have seemed more than a little eccentric.

Of course these days every creative person of any type has their own Appreciation Society, their own website, their own newsletter ... ephemerae that used to be thrown away is now sold for a fortune on e-Bay.

Georgina Richmond writes: "I am in a concert 17 feb at Runnymede 8 p.m. -- celtic style harps, violin, flute etc very dreamy! If you want to come tickets are $15 or $10 from Kookaburra 62231019. Also I am having an exhibition 10 feb 6p.m. at Inka next to the Fairy shop in Salamanca Place."

. Maybe it's the milder weather this year, but there seems to be a lot of wildlife around. The other night we were leaving Julie's house and there was a rustling noise from a mass of blackberry plants.

Julie shone her light up at the top of the plants and after a moment we saw two black eyes staring back at us. Moving to one side a little we could see a round russet body and a furry tail.

The possum blinked at us, apparently unafraid. His wariness of us was balanced by his desire for the ripe blackberries.

Eventually we shut the light off and left him to it.