Category Archives: General Interest

Countdown to Leonard: update

Today my car became a church, complete with the obligatory mad woman who can’t hold a tune but insists on lung-busting.
          Just a 40 minute drive with a Leonard Cohen CD as my companion and I’m singing ‘Hallelujah’ like some sort of born-again freak. 
          As of right now, I only have to wait for another 173,165 minutes to see the Brisbane concert.
          Hallelujah, indeed.

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Countdown to Cohen and My Publishing Adventures

Well, this year is turning out to be an absolute corker!
          Last year, a cloud of indigo descended upon me when I was unable to see Leonard Cohen in concert in Australia.  With a strangely defeatist attitude, I resigned myself to missing out on ever seeing him ‘in the flesh’ and, after a period of mourning, I gathered up the threads of my dignity and reminded myself that the world was full of starving and neglected children, oppressed women, and tortured men. 
          Now, I am on cloud 1,099 after scoring presale front-row platinum tickets to the Brisbane leg of Leonard’s 2010 world tour (and I bow my thank you to the almighty VISA).


So it seems I have two momentous count-downs happening simultaneously. 
          The world of book publishing being what it is, the publication date for my novel is still somewhat fluid but I live in hope that it will before the inimitable ‘poet of our age’ graces our shores again. 
          Why?  Because Mr Cohen – and particularly his song Suzanne – provides the ‘soundtrack’ to a section of my novel and it just makes perfect sense in my strange little ‘perfect bubble of a world’ that I should watch my first Cohen concert as a fully-fledged published author.
          I’d love to hear your thoughts on Leonard Cohen.  Anyone got a concert experience to whet my appetite?
          At the time of publishing this post, I am counting down the months until my novel hits the bookstores but at least I can confidently say that in 135 days Leonard Cohen will command the stage in Brisbane and I will be there inRow AA.   

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The Chick Challenge: three small cars under the feminine microscope.

Small cars are like boyfriends really.  So hard to choose and, once you’ve picked one, you can’t help but wonder what you might have missed out on.
            I recently trialled three five door hatches in the drive-away category of $17,900 to $20,000*: Toyota Yaris, Holden Barina and the Suzuki Swift.  Just like men, they all had their good points, but only one of them rang all my bells.
     I headed straight for the Toyota Yaris for three reasons.  Firstly, its reputation preceded it, secondly I’d happily owned a Toyota for years, and thirdly every male in my sphere mentioned it when I said I was in the market for a new car. 
     I’d rubber-necked on a number of occasions as I glimpsed its muscular form gripping the tarmac beside me and I was recently so captivated by the metallic Caribbean Blue paint-job of a parked hatch that I walked into a cane-wielding gentleman who turned out to be not so gentle.
     Despite this advance guard working in favour of the Yaris, I approached it with some reservations, having heard I’d find its speedometer somewhat left of centre rather than in its “proper” place bang smack in front of me.  But, five seconds after take-off, I was impressed with the holograph-like LCD that hovered with perfect clarity within my peripheral range. And it has the added advantage of preventing your nagging partner/mother/father-in-law from seeing your speed reading from the passenger seat. The thought is strangely thrilling.
     Toyota promotes the Yaris as a car that doesn’t feel like a small car from the inside.  For me, that posed a problem.  Once inside, I floundered around, trying to find my sense of space. I didn’t feel connected to the car or to the road.  Perversely perhaps, I want a car that does feel like a small car from the inside.
     The five door Yaris offers some innovative storage compartments and recesses and the bottle drink holders in the doors add a sporty touch.
     Like many men, the Toyota Yaris has class.  It’s well-presented and stylishly dressed but once I ripped its tux off to get down and dirty, I was left feeling less than breathless and just a bit wistful.
     If my expectations for the Yaris were too high, the opposite was true for the Barina.
     Years ago, I’d known a Barina owner … not quite the classic little old lady who drove it to church on Sunday, but close.  He was a Baptist minister with a penchant for women’s shoes who rarely drove above sixty clicks-an-hour. So I wasn’t expecting the earth to move as I approached the Holden dealership.
     Disguised by wrap-around glasses and a baseball cap, lest anyone get the impression that my hip-and-happening sister-of-cool persona was on the wane, I approached with trepidation.  But hey baby, what a surprise. 
     I was instantly seduced by a five-door Sunshine Yellow cutie.  I tore off my sunglasses and cap and ruffled my tresses flirtatiously.
     This guy is all about access.  His doors open wide, invitingly, and there’s plenty of leg room.  His rear seats fold forward and then flip down gymnastically to provide heaps of cargo space. 
     Like the others tested, remote keyless central locking and power mirrors come standard and audio controls are conveniently located on the steering wheel.  But only the Barina has a cute little holder for my sunglasses above the driver’s window.  The six-speaker sound system has some grunt, as does the 1.6 litre engine. 
     Still, I wasn’t completely blinded by the Barina’s rear spoiler and other bewitching charms.  On closer inspection, the silver-look interior trim seems a little cheap and might not age well and the slope and positioning of the glove-box makes for difficult access, hitting the passenger’s knees.  Alas, ABS brakes don’t come standard. 
     Even so, the Barina knew he’d made one hell of an impression and his jewel effect headlamps winked at me cheekily as I walked away. 
     Suzuki isn’t a name to set my heart aflutter.  Still on a high from the ballsy little Barina, I wasn’t in the mood for anything ‘Swift’ and the only model in the showroom was red – not my favourite colour.
     And yet, hmmm.  Giving him the once-over from the outside, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his daring attitude.
     He takes you as his own, from the minute you press the key-lock to find he’ll let in only you until you deem otherwise and press the unlock button a second time.  This two-stage unlocking device is like a seductive secret pact between the masterful Swift and his mistress.
     Where I’d felt inexplicably lost surrounded by the wide chassis of the Yaris, the Swift wrapped me in its sexy folds and I felt safely anchored.
     My handbag too was safely anchored on a handy little hook at the back of the passenger seat.
     The Suzuki’s 1.5 litre engine provided no less vigour and grunt than the 1.6 litre Barina.  The Swift’s wide wheel-base claimed the road as its own, gripping the asphalt as we ripped through the corners together, an instant inseparable pair.  I may have fallen in puppy-love with the Barina, but I was head over heels in lust with the Swift.
     After letting the little Suzuki have his way with me for over twenty minutes, I took another look at the colour.  It wasn’t merely red – it was an extra shiny, strong, and sexy, Supreme Red. 
     To sum up, the Yaris deserves a certain amount of respect.  Toyota hasn’t compromised for the sake of price and none of the guys I spoke to could understand my sense of displacement.  On the other hand, it appears that Holden have cut some corners in order to provide a more affordable vehicle but that still doesn’t make the Barina unlovable.  For my money though, the Suzuki Swift is in a sporty sassy class all of its own.
     The Yaris is the kinda bloke that would get on well with your brother and all his mates down at the football club.  They’d all want to pat him on the back and buy him a beer.  The Barina is the boyfriend I’d take home to meet mum.  She’d find him dependable, well-presented and easy to talk to.  But, ah, that Suzuki Swift – he’s worth slipping out the back door for.  I’d meet him on the corner for a wild passionate fling.  We’d dance the tango, sleep under the stars and elope at dawn.
* Disclaimer: this article was written somewhere around 2007 so the prices relate to that year.  I’m only posting this up now because my adorable ‘whatever’ daughter-in-law loves it so much.
ps.  I did buy the Suzuki Swift and I named him ‘Dave’ (in honour of environmental scientist, David Suzuki)

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THE SMOG BROTHERS

Awesome song.  Have a listen to Better Luck Next Time by The Smog Brothers at Triple J Unearthed Don’t forget to vote.

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MY SKINNY LITTLE AUSSIE WEDDING

‘Whatever,’ said my soon-to-be-daughter-in-law when I asked what sort of wedding she proposed.
          As the mother of just one child – a son – I had assumed that any sort of involvement in a mythical future wedding would simply not be on.  But I hadn’t counted on a surprisingly laid-back fiancé and the couple’s out-of-the-blue decision to hold their wedding in the little country town which my partner and I call home.  And when I was unexpectedly afforded the title of wedding co-ordinator, I had no idea it would be such an easy job.
          Stanthorpe is apple and grape country with flourishing wine and boutique accommodation enterprises and a burgeoning gourmet food industry and, as such, there is no shortage of possibilities for a wedding: superb four-seasonal gardens, little off-the-beaten-track churches, gazebos in vineyards, and granite-filled parklands.
          Whilst the ‘whatever’ mantra would later set the tone, our son and his little anti-Bridezilla did have some strong views about what they didn’t want for their wedding.  Being non-denominational, they nixed a church service.  Their non-traditional views ousted any thought of a formal sit-down supper. And being completely set on something small and intimate, there was never any hint of a dispute over the guest list which ultimately consisted of ten:- two sets of parents, two nans, the best man and one bridesmaid, two friends and no partridge in a pear tree.
          I emailed the Sydney-sider couple a list of possibilities with links to websites, contact names, and details of pricing but in the back of my mind I had hoped they might choose Diamondvale B&B Cottages and Lodge.  I had the privilege of visiting many of the suggested venues, given that they are all almost in my own back yard, and I fell in love with Diamondvale straight away.  Its superb bush setting and the country charm of chooks, kitchen gardens and miniature horses is complemented by the quaint chintz-and-lace cottages and offset by the eclectic mix of old and new in the recently built four-bedroom lodge.
          ‘That’s it!’ emailed my son’s betrothed. 
          I booked for a two-day party – a romantic cottage for the wedding couple, a two-bedroom cottage for the bridal party and friends and the rest of the guests in the lodge which would henceforth be known by us all as ‘party central’.  The bride and groom had opted for a ‘happy little party with a wedding ceremony thrown in there somewhere’.
          Wedding cake?  ‘Nah, no-one really likes it anyway.’
          Music?  ‘We’ll bring our own.’ 
          Celebrant? ‘Whatever.’
          I risked copping interfering-mother-in-law status just once when the necessity for a photographer was mooted.  I had had the recent pleasure of viewing some ingenious work that Cory Rossiter completed for a local calendar, which then led to me checking out his website.  Cory ‘tree-changed’ to the Granite Belt region in 2007, after working as a commercial photographer in the south west of England and as a London fashion photographer.  Whenever I mentioned the word ‘wedding’ to friends, his name came up time and again.  The aversion to a photographer was brought about by the bride and groom’s distaste for anything staged or forced but, eventually, the bride gave me another one of her ‘whatevers’ and I went ahead.  Thankfully, when the bride and the photographer eventually met, a mutual admiration society was conceived. 
          ‘I am so over contrived poses,’ Cory said and the bride’s smile was as wide as the granite outcrop she stood upon.  And when the photographer asked the bride if she preferred country or city-style shots and she responded with the ‘whatever’ mantra, you could see the shutters clicking and clacking in his brain as he grinned.
          Diamondvale surpassed all our expectations. The hospitality and eagerness to please of Kerrin Cridland is unsurpassed.  That’s not to say that partner Tony is any less gregarious but he does stay in the background somewhat; a quiet achiever.  Kerrin makes you want to linger in her company, to bask in her good nature, to smile and laugh with her.  You only need look to the way she interacts with her animals – glorious white horses that look like unicorns, the black miniature ponies, and the dogs Cara and Shadow – to understand something of Kerrin’s gentle nature and nurturing soul. 
          The comparatively newly-built lodge blew us all away.  Perched up on brolga-like legs amongst the gum trees, its furniture includes a piano and decadent leather lounges.  The kitchen has everything it needs to be functional and luxurious, including a dishwasher and an exquisite dinner setting for fourteen.  There are televisions in the bedrooms with built in DVD players.  Two of the bedrooms have en-suites and there is a large third bathroom.  A BBQ on the wrap-around verandah and a great sound-system make it the perfect party-central venue.  And for chilling out, there’s a surprisingly fun and interesting collection of books which (going off-track momentarily) includes an Isabel Allende novel and Colin Bowles’ Little Book of Immorals and Four and Twenty Tales
          Deciding on a walk via the heritage trail to Quart-pot creek, we were thrilled to be offered our own personal guide, a curly-haired four-legged gal who goes by the name of Shadow.  This quiet, unassuming little dog led the way, stopping every now and then to sit in perfect triangle stance to wait for us tardy humans to catch up.  She constantly looked over her shoulder to make sure we were following and never wavered or became distracted from her mission.
          Back at ‘party central’ there was far more alcohol drunk than is probably thought acceptable for a night before the wedding.  We sat on the balcony drinking wine and reminiscing before feasting on the chicken lasagne that the bride had insisted on preparing the day before, despite jetting in to Brisbane from Sydney and enduring the three-hour car trip to Stanthorpe.  And when some of the ‘oldies’ started to fade as the evening progressed, the young ones returned to their cottages via the charmingly rustic communal hut for games and a nightcap of frivolity. 
          Sore heads were soothed with strong blacks on Sunday morning as the bride and bridesmaid were whisked into town for Gavin to weave some magic into their locks at Mansara hair salon and then it was off to see Kelly at Beauty on High.  Kelly has a way with words and kept us lively and laughing as she wielded her magical powders and brushes. 
          Kerrin and Tony made their beautiful home and verandah available so the bride could make a grand entrance, descending the steps to the pews positioned near the creek where the celebrant (who coincidentally shares the same surname as the groom) had set up her white-draped table.  The sultry voice of Etta James cascaded over our little congregation (given that it had taken ten years for the bride and groom to make it to the alter, At Last was the perfect song choice).  The beautiful blonde bridesmaid emerged from the house and walked toward us in the silver-grey dress she had chosen.  When she’d originally asked what colour she should wear, the bride-to-be had given her standard ‘whatever’ response.
          The groom wore a Cavalli Sartorial suit with a hint of khaki.
         And the bride wore red.  Her floor-length gown clung to all the right places and was blinged up with diamantes at the bust. 
          Neither of the girls carried flowers.  The bride was always a bit ambivalent. We had originally planned to raid the gardens of our friends for roses but the roses peaked early leaving nothing more than dead heads.  Rather than cause a flurry, such moments were simply more ‘whatever’ occasions. 
          The celebrant – the totally unrelated Roz Thompson – had travelled from Warwick to perform the service with soft professionalism.  The bride and groom wrote their own vows (or in the case of my son, partially lifted them from an Incubus song) and kept them secret from each other until they were spoken aloud during the ceremony.  The guests blew bubbles (a great touch provided by Roz) as the newly-weds signed the necessary papers.
          No confetti in sight.  No formal seating arrangements or place-cards.  Lunch was succulent fresh oysters and bright pink prawns, brought from the Gold Coast by the Father of the Bride, served with herb bread and a variety of salads prepared by the nans. Instead of the usual wedding favours, guests received a miniature bottle of local Vincenzo’s chocolate port with a ‘film-strip’ styled label featuring a photo of the couple. There were no speeches, just noisy chatter and raucous laughter.  We presented the glowing twosome with a wooden ‘wish box’, filled with miniature sealed envelopes carrying wishes from all over the country.   The newly-weds took turns in opening the cards and reading them out as we sat around the table.  There was no champagne.  The bride and groom had opted to purchase a bottle of everyone’s favourite so we had wines (red and white), scotch, vodka, rum and Baileys Irish Cream.
          And if the bush setting, and the kookaburra-song background weren’t Aussie enough, how about Pavlova for dessert?  Not just any old pav, mind, but custom-built individual ones.  Ever mindful of a variety of tastes and preferences, the bride decided on a build-your-own approach.  Guests created their own personalised pav with mini meringue cases, a mountain of chopped fruit – pineapple, melons, kiwi-fruit, strawberries and raspberries – whipped cream, and passionfruit sauce.  
          Safely back in Sydney and ensconced in their hectic lives, the newly-weds say that, if they had all the money in the world to design their perfect wedding, they would not have changed a thing.  They got exactly what they wanted.
          Whatever! 

Love in a Surreal Landscape - Photo by Cory Rossiter

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THE SEVENTIES ARE BACK

 

A blonde and a brunette walk into a bar.
‘What’s the concert tonight?’ one of them asks the bar-tender.
Slyhooks,’ says the barman.
‘What did he say?’ says the blonde.
Skyhooks,’ says the Brunette, not picking up on the altered letter.
‘Can’t be,’ says the blonde. ‘They’re all dead!’

   

  By the time the first bars of ‘Living in the Seventies’ thumped out from the Helensvale Bowls Club stage, the two forty-somethings were nicely primed courtesy of what looked like a very fine bottle of Chardonnay and, through the haze of stage-fog and the flashing lights, they appeared momentarily stunned at the sight of ‘Shirl’, seemingly reincarnated.
     Of course the real Shirl – Graeme Strachan – died in a helicopter accident in 2001 but Scott Dean almost brings him back to life with his curly wig, boyishly bare chest and satin pants, and – most importantly – a voice that is uncannily ‘Shirl’.
    
It’s anyone’s guess what the remaining – very much alive – members of the real seventies band would make of Slyhooks, but there is no doubt this tribute band has captured the essence of the archetypes. The guys have the official endorsement of Skyhooks bass guitarist and song-writing maestro Greg Macainsh.
    
Listening to Slyhooks was, for me, like stepping into a time machine. I didn’t even need to close my eyes to be transported back to Melbourne’s Festival Hall in 1975. Or the Myer music bowl. Or Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide. I told you; big fan.
    
I must declare an interest on more than one level. Slyhooks guitarist – Bob (Bongo) Champion is my brother (and let me just say the sight of him in lipstick was rather confronting). But any bias that this relationship could bring is counteracted by my status as a die-hard Skyhooks fan who almost fainted at the thought of a tribute band. This is someone who didn’t speak to her best friend for a year after falling out over who was the better band – Skyhooks or Sherbet (those saccharin clean-cut boys that some girls swooned over through the seventies). Why anyone would even consider comparing the gooey lyrics of songs like Sherbet’s ‘Summer Love’ to the raw sexuality of ‘Balwyn Calling’ or the Carlton drug deals in ‘Lygon Street Limbo’ defies logic.
    
The rest of the line-up in this glam-rock reincarnation – apart from Dean as Shirl and Champion as Bongo – consists of Tom Matthews as Greg in his white suit and blue eye-shadow, Pete (Freddy) Leighton on drums – who got a huge cheer after his solo (those drummers always were the baddest of the bad boys) – and Doug Savage on lead guitar looking so much like Red Symons, its eerie. All the guys come from diverse and lengthy musical backgrounds. Dean is a veteran of revival shows, with Credence and Led Zeppelin under his belt, while Leighton – the original drummer for Buffalo – has worked with Oz-rock luminaries like Jeff St John and Doug Parkinson.
    
The audience at Helensvale was an eclectic mix: old hippie Skyhooks fans like me, who remember nights of heavy passion sound-tracked by ‘You just like me ‘cos I’m good in Bed’ (which, incidentally, was the song chosen by triple-jays frontrunner 2JJ to kick-off their station transmission in 1975), to club regulars who came for a meal and stayed on. Arms waved and a cacophony of voices sang along to ‘All my friends are getting married’ and a couple of boot-scooters busted some moves to ‘Blue Jeans’.
    
The energetic hype calmed a little toward the end of the second half – the multiple key changes make some of the original Skyhooks numbers hard to dance to – but, after a short intermission and some more well-known classics, the crowd grooved and stomped and whistled and cheered till the end. Dean Scott, as Shirl, interacted with the fans: leading a conga line, giving necklaces away to some ‘Mercedes Ladies’, and convincing a few people to have a go at the limbo. Most found it impossible to keep their seats when the band belted out ‘Women in Uniform’ and there were younger rebels who joined in exuberantly to the finale; ‘Why don’t you all get …’. It was Skyhooks’ unrefined suburbia to a tee.
    
What happened to the blonde and the brunette? No idea. I saw them dancing and belting out the lyrics to ‘Ego is not a Dirty Word’ but I didn’t look for them at the end of the show. I was far too busy being introduced by my brother to his fellow band members.
    
I always did want to say ‘I’m with the band’. 

I'm with the BAND!

 

      

      

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