Sunday, December 28, 2008

Old Revolutionary Posters

Jeff VanderMeer, reviewing Penguin's Great Ideas collection on his blog Ecstatic Days has reached the Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels. This reminded me of some old treasured posters in my possession which I acquired during the uproar of the Whitlam Government dismissal in 1975. Several of them (in fact most of them) were produced by the Communist Party. Even though I was never a member of the Communist Party I have a communist party badge, given to me by a friend who was.


Anyway, back to the posters...

They are all a bit tattered and browned by time, being at the time printed on poor quality paper, but they are probably extremely rare these days. I have photographed them as they are too large to scan.

Firstly, a very popular poster of the time showing Malcolm Fraser on a horse as a haughty squatter. Even though we hated Malcolm Fraser at the time he took power, he has since evolved into an admirable human being, being outspoken in his concern for the underprivileged.

poster1 (Medium)

Next, the infamous John Kerr (the Governor General of whom Whitlam famously said Well may we say "God save the Queen" because nothing will save the Governor-General) features as the focus of a rally.

poster2 (Medium)

Blinky Bill, the hero of a famous Australian children's book, carries the Eureka flag.

poster3 (Medium)

And finally, a bit irrelevant to politics, Bear Dinkum - iconic Australian bear created by Neil Curtis.

beardinkum (Medium)

Click images for larger versions

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day - The Aftermath

As usual we spent Christmas Day at my brother's place on the coast and a fine day of excellent food and and drinks it was.

I was also able to see how much my great nephew, Tate, and great niece, Zoe, had grown in the past year - a lot.

It was a pleasant sunny day, not too hot - perfect for the drive down in B's silver Mercedes with the top down - wankerama personified, but truth to tell, very windy.

Anyway, here's a few photos - kids, cat and magpies.

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Zoe - a year and a bit.

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Tate - now three years old.

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Indie, my niece's extremely laid back one eyed burmese cat. Indie is a lovely boy, amazingly relaxed and friendly. He lost his eye in an accident either with a car or dog when he was quite young, but he seems unfazed by it. He came for Xmas lunch along with the kids.

And finally some tame magpies, hanging out for a hand out.

xmas_2008 027 (Small)

We stayed the night and got back to Melbourne about lunchtime today. Except for the so far non appearance of Willy, the cats appeared unstressed by the experience of having to fend for themselves last night. Our neighbour, by prearrangement, fed them anyway.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eye Candy For Bibliophiles

I've finally got around to posting new covers in my other blog Eye Candy For Bibliophiles after a hiatus of several months.

I'm currently moving through my medium bookshelf and am almost halfway through the entire bookshelf. I should be able to run through the rest of my paperback fantasy section this month, then get into the Science Fiction section early next year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jeff VanderMeer Blogs Penguin Great Ideas

Jeff VanderMeer on his Ecstatic Days blog is in the process of reviewing 60 Books in 60 Days by reading the entire collection of the Penguin Great Ideas series. He aims to read one a night, from mid-December to mid-February, and post a blog entry about it the next morning.

So far he has posted reviews of:

On the Shortness of Life; Life Is Long If You Know How to Use It
by Lucius Seneca (c. 4 BC - 65 AD)

by Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)

Confessions of a Sinner
by St Augustine (AD 354-430)

Jeff's blog is always entertaining, but he has certainly reached new heights with this latest endeavour.

I am finding Jeff's reviews of this series to be fascinating and very interesting and look forward each morning to see which writer/book gets the VanderMeer treatment.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Willy Immortalised On Canvas

Some time ago one of the women, who is part of the small painting group who gather in our next door neighbour’s shed for painting sessions, asked us for a photo of our cat Willy, as she wanted to paint him. A cat lover, she has always admired Willy who often hangs around in the neighbour’s garden. He is a very attractive animal – one of the prettiest cats I’ve ever set eyes on.

We gave her a printout of a photo I shot of him in our back garden, and the other day she very kindly gave her finished painting to us. It’s a lovely picture and she has captured the cat perfectly, especially the expression on his face.

Below is the original photograph and photographs of the painting ...

will_061206 (Small) willy_painting (Small)

Original Photo


...and a detail from the painting with a detail from the photo.

will_061206_detail (Small) willy_pasinting_detail (Small)

Original Photo Detail

Painting Detail

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

Bantam Paperback 1981

Every couple of years or so, I pick up Walter Tevis’ wonderful dystopian novel, Mockingbird, to read again. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read it since I first came across it in 1981 and fell head over heels in love with it.

My old Bantam paperback edition of it is holding up well thank goodness, as I don’t know what I’d do if I could never get another copy of it. It’s THAT important to me, one of my all time favourite books.

Fortunately it has pretty much stayed in print through the almost three decades since its first imprint in January 1980. It is currently available in the SF masterworks series.

So what makes Mockingbird so special?

It is indeed one of those books, like Whittemore’s Jerusalem Quartet, that reveals its treasures in repeated perusals. Even though I know the plot of the novel from start to finish, there are passages within it that take my breath away every time through the potency of their imagery.

Take this passage, for instance, where Spofforth the robot shows Bentley an old silent film.

“The great ape sat wearily on the overturned side of a bus. The city was deserted.

At the center of the screen a white vortex appeared and began to enlarge and whirl. When it stopped it had filled more than half the screen. It became clear it was the front page of a newspaper, with a huge headline.

Spofforth stopped the projector with the headline on the screen. “Read that,” he said.

Bentley cleared his throat nervously. “Monster Ape Terrifies City,” he read.

“Good,” Spofforth said. He started the projector again.

The rest of the film had no written words on it. They watched it in silence, through the ape’s final destructive rampage, his pathetic failure to be able to express his love, on through to his death as he fell, as though floating, from the impossibly tall building to the wide and empty street below.”

This passage relates very poignantly to both the beginning and ending of the novel. You only know that if you have read the book as many times as I have.

There’s another passage that never fails to delight me with its reference to the temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Some background first…

Mockingbird is set in a 25th Century New York, where humanity is in decline. The young are raised in dormitories and conditioned to introversion, encouraged to maintain privacy and distance from each other. Personal relationships and emotions are discouraged – “quick sex is best” is a catch phrase as is “don’t ask, forget”. They emerge from the dormitories as virtual zombies, drugged by sopors and the readily available marijuana cigarettes, and are given some meaningless task to perform. Most of the real work is done by robots

This future New York is controlled by a Make Nine robot called Robert Spofforth, the most sophisticated robot ever made. He is the last Make Nine robot, his fellow Make Nines having all gone mad and/or committed suicide. Spofforth has been modified so he cannot kill himself, but really, the only thing he has ever wanted, in his long artificial life, is to die.

Enter Paul Bentley, who has taught himself to read. He approaches Spofforth with the idea of getting a job teaching others to do so.

Spofforth instead gives him a job transcribing the text of old silent movies into speech - a useless task in itself, but important to Bentley. Through his developing skill at reading and writing he comes to realise several important changes in his mind, which leads him to an awakening from his sleepwalker state.

In time he meets Mary Lou, a dormitory drop out and the only unprogrammed human in the world. Sopors make her physically ill, so she doesn’t take them and is clear headed. She is the ultimate outsider from this society. Having escaped from the dormitories, she is hiding out in the Bronx Zoo, subsisting on stolen sandwiches and sleeping in the Reptile House. The development of the relationship between the two is slow, but gathers apace when Mary Lou breaks the cage of the python an act of vandalism shocking to the conventional Paul. Hauling the snake out of the smashed case she demonstrates that it and all the other animals at the zoo are robots.

The following passage is the one I referred to above:

“I looked at the broken glass on the floor and then at the broken case with the plastic tree in it, now empty of movement. Then I looked at her, standing there in the House of Reptiles in the bright artificial light, calm, undrugged, and – I was afraid –totally out of her head.

She was looking toward the python’s case. From one of the higher branches of the tree inside there was hanging some sort of fruit. Abruptly, she reached her arm inside the cage and stretched up toward the fruit, clearly intending to pick it.

I stared at her. The branch was quite high, and she had to stand tiptoed and reach up as far as she could reach, just to catch the bottom of the fruit with her fingertips. With the strong light from the inside of the case coming through her dress her body was outlined clearly; it was beautiful.

She plucked the fruit and stood there poised like a dancer with it for a moment. Then she brought it down level with her breasts and, turning it over in her hand, looked at it, It was hard to tell what kind of fruit it was; it seemed to be some kind of mango. For a moment I thought she was going to try to eat it., even though I was certain it was plastic, but then she stretched her arm out and handed the thing to me. “This certainly can’t be eaten,” she said. Her voice was surprisingly calm, resigned.

I took it from her. “Why did you pick it?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It seemed to be the thing to do”

I looked at her for a long time, saying nothing. Despite the age lines and sleep lines in her face, and despite the uncombed look of her hair, she was very beautiful. And yet I felt no desire for her – only a kind of awe. And a slight sense of fear.

Then I stuffed the plastic fruit into my pocket and said “I’m going back to the library and take some sopors”

She turned away, looking back toward the empty case. “Okay,” she said. “Good night”

When I got back I put the fruit on top of Dictionary and sat on my bed-and-desk. Then I took three sopors. And slept until noon today.

The fruit is still sitting there. I want it to mean something; but it doesn’t.”

Mockingbird is full of references; to old films, to other dystopian novels, Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four in particular. It is haunting and has a gentle melancholy feel throughout. It arouses a sympathetic reaction in the reader, just as haunting as the ghosts of memory that torment Spofforth or the chance phrases from silent films and poetry that arouse unfamiliar feelings in Paul and Mary Lou.

There are some lovely twists. Instead of Thought Police, the world of Mockingbird has Thought Buses, public transport that can read a passenger’s intended destination telepathically and take them there. As Spofforth explains to Mary Lou, the first models of thought buses were two way telepaths, with the ability to directly communicate with the passengers, but they had to discontinue them. Mary Lou asks why. Spofforth’s reply is that that although they were incapable of breaking down, it was because people wouldn’t get off.

Walter Tevis was an astounding writer. Before his death in 1984 he wrote a total of six novels and a number of short stories. Three of his books were made into films, The Hustler, The Color of Money and the Man Who Fell to Earth. But he has virtually been forgotten by the mainstream these days.

I think Mockingbird is an almost perfect novel. Beautifully written, masterfully plotted, it’s a wondrous fable of the future that is compulsively readable, no matter how many times you’ve read it. I’ve never, before or since, ever come across a novel that explains so intelligently the process of reading and learning to read.

Get yourself a copy and read it. You won’t regret it. I’ve given away many copies of this novel – I am evangelistic about it– and every recipient has loved it. If I had a spare copy at the moment, I’d give it to someone. Unfortunately second hand copies are few and far between these days. Even so, I keep looking.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Justin Townes Earle at the Toff

Justin Townes Earle - Toff In Town - 30/11/08

A heavy duty social weekend culminated in the Justin Townes Earle show at the Toff In Town last night.

I’d never been to the venue before, and I must say my first impressions were less than positive when trying to get a drink at the bar, with poor service and loud horrible music permeating the place, but once inside the band room it improved considerably.

Even though it was a long wait for Justin Townes Earle to front the stage it was worth the wait, and I forgave him my tired legs and aching feet at the end of the night after witnessing what can only be described as a sensationally good night’s entertainment.

It was a standing only show, so I got myself a good position in front of the stage only a few metres at times from the star of the show. It also allowed me to get some good photos.

As for Justin’s performance, it was riveting to watch, and as has been remarked elsewhere on
the blogosphere, one felt one was witnessing greatness in embryo.

I totally concur with the statement made by Chattanooga Free Press "I have a feeling that in a few years we'll need backstage passes at the Ryman auditorium to get anywhere near him. He's just THAT good."

He gave the packed audience a night to remember, playing for something like two and a half hours, ranging through any number of genres, and channelling old time country like a ghost of Hank Williams or Buck Owens.

As well as having a voice to be reckoned with, he is also a fantastically good guitarist, playing non stop and speedily adapting his chord structure to fit the songs.

Words really fail me describing his performance; you just had to BE there.

In other music news, Lucinda Williams will finally be touring Australia in April and playing at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, as well as venues in other cities. She was to tour some years ago but cancelled when her mother died. A bitter disappointment it was at the time, so cross fingers she makes it this time.

There are so many good artists scheduled for next year’s festivals that one would need to get a second job to afford to go and see them all. As well as Lucinda and Ryan Adams, there’s Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Old Crow Medicine Show etc. etc. So far I’ve only booked for Ryan, but regretfully passed on Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, the tickets being way too expensive, and you just can’t go to everything. I saw Leonard Cohen live many years ago, ironically at the Comedy Theatre, and I recall it being a great show.