Monday, 14 October 2019

The Book of Idle Pleasures

I found this unexpected delight at the recent Newcastle Lifeline Book Fair. A few days later I was prostrated by illness and a rather consumptive cough and took an afternoon rest and decided that this would make a great accompaniment. How right I was.

I'd never heard of this book before, or either of the two editors or 13 contributors I suspect. But I'm mightily impressed with this little book from 2008. It is a "restorative gift book for the stressed out, tired and hassled" according to the back cover.

Very simply, it is a compendium of mini essays about Idle Pleasures. Some of these are rather obvious. Cloud Watching. Taking a Bath. Good Company. Others not so much- Slouching, Putting Out the Washing, Learning the Names of Trees and Walking Back Home Drunk. 

It turned out that even Being Ill was an Idle Pleasure. Which is lucky I guess because I'm still ill over a week later, although I've been at work and not particularly idle. The Book of Idle Pleasures was actually quite prescient for its time. While concepts such as mindfulness and hygge were yet to take the world by storm in 2008, they were spelt out here using slightly different words. 
Enforced idleness is a rare treat. Those brief moments in life where for one reason or another you are forced to just stop and think. In waiting rooms, queueing, for example, or even just sitting on a train. Waiting for the tea to brew is one of those moments. 
Which is all so delightfully English. In 2008 these moments didn't give us enough time to 'do' anything else. Now of course we have a screen handy at all times that we can stare at and scroll. 

I loved the deliciously English turn of phrase so often used, and how wonderful it is to find that chuntering is indeed a real word: from the start of a passage extolling the virtues of Sleeping in Your Clothes. 
After a busy day you find yourself lying on the sofa drifting off into a hypnogogic state in front of a chuntering TV screen. 
Or that merely owning a dressing gown could be a sign of hope, that a dressing gown can actually be the uniform of revolution. 

Each Idle Pleasure is accompanied by a fabulous illustration by Ged Wells. I think they are lino cuts, whatever they are, they're great.

The whole book is great. I was going to read it and pass it along. But I'll be keeping it on my shelves instead. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Whiling Away the Hours 2019 Edition

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of travelling to Europe. So I spent a lot of time whiling away the hours in economy. I was desperate to watch Fleabag, but Series 1 was not available anywhere sadly.

On the way to Helsinki I only managed one movie. I finally got to watch The Wife. I've been keen to watch this for a while, but never managed it, so enjoyed the opportunity to finally see it. I haven't read the book, but knew enough about the book and movie to guess the plot twist very early on. 

I'm not sure if it was the cramped economy watching, or the middle of the night feelings, but while Glenn Close was fantastic, a couple of the male actors really got on my nerves. Unusually after watching the film, I'd still be interested in reading the book. 

I really can't explain what else I did on the way to Helsinki, but I didn't watch anything else. 

I watched two movies on the way home. Both on my rather sleepless Hong Kong to Sydney flight. First up I watched Swimming with Men.

Which was perfect economy seat fodder. Light, fluffy, no surprises particularly (although perhaps how long it took me to recognise Jane Horrocks was a surprise), and actually laugh out loud funny at times. Always good for your neighbouring passengers. 

Then I watched The First Monday in May. I do so love a fashion documentary, and this one was particularly fascinating. I watched it twice back to back. I did manage my only sleep between Budapest and Helsinki during the first run through, so I rewatched it and managed to stay awake the second time. Indeed I was riveted to the small screen. 

The First Monday in May is a 2016 documentary looking at the year of preparation and planning for the 2015 Met Gala, the annual fundraiser for Metropolitan Museum of Art's Anna Wintour Costume Center. Each year the Gala is themed for the upcoming spring fashion exhibition at the Met. In 2015 that exhibition and theme was China: Through the Looking Glass

It was a fascinating peek into the amount of hard work that goes into creating a blockbuster fashion exhibition and event. Months of meetings. Trips to Paris and Beijing. I loved seeing Andrew Bolton (curator of the exhibition) wetting himself visiting the YSL Archive in Paris. 

Naturally there were tortured discussions and a lot of hand wringing about whether fashion is art- at this level it certainly is, and whether it belongs in a museum- yes, it certainly does. Even though the designers deny that rather strenuously. Karl Lagerfeld was still with us and he called what he did applied art, while Jean Paul Gautier said that he doesn't design clothes expecting them to be in museums. I well remember the sensational Jean Paul Gautier exhibition I saw in Melbourne (way back in 2014! Can that really be 5 years ago?).

The final exhibition looked amazing. Chinese art and film was displayed along with the fashion. The presentations of the rooms were incredible, every one jaw dropping, different, so imaginative. Glass poles lit from below creating a bamboo forest of light sabres! Definitely next level. 

I learnt about some topics that I'm keen to followup on. There was a focus on the impact of Chinese film. JPG was fascinated by a film called In the Mood for Love, he watched it over and over again and a year later produced his chinese inspired Autumn/Winter 2001 Couture Collection. The trailer for In the Mood for Love makes it look creepy, we will see. It seems to be available on Kanopy. I haven't used that platform yet, this seems to be a good excuse. Most of the designers featured were big names and I was quite familiar with them. I hadn't heard of Chinese designer Guo Pei, but am intrigued, and will be checking her out. 

A similar amount of work went into the production of the Met Gala. Anna Wintour is extremley impressive to see in action. The amount of thought that goes into the seating plan is phenomenal. So many egos to be massaged. "We should bury this table." And celebrities are "great carpet material". Whilst the little people, we the general public "will just come back next week" according to Wintour when she needs to close a gallery a day early for preparation for the Gala. Some of those people have travelled from around the world, and will be there for one day only, they can't come back next week. 

Anna Wintour was a walking ad for Starbucks. Someone needs to buy that woman a keep cup. 

The First Monday in May is highly recommended. 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Black Cockatoo

Black Cockatoo was an immediate cover buy for me as soon as I saw it long listed for the CBCA Awards earlier in the year. I'm not having my best reading year and I think that this is the only book I've read from the longlist, and I didn't even make my usual post about all the long listed books. Now it's Book Week and the winners will be announced tomorrow.

Black Cockatoo tells the story of Mia, a thirteen year old girl living with her extended family in a remote Kimberley town. I really wasn't expecting the brutal start. 
The hit came hard, sending the young dirrarn black cockatoo reeling from his roost in the large gum tree. The boy approached cautiously, shanghai dangling from his hand, to inspect his catch. The dirrarn lay sprawled amongst the smaller birds he'd been using as target practice. 
The boy is Mia's older brother. Jy is 15, and loosing his way as many teenage boys do, he's not respecting his elders, or his country. He's killing birds for fun, not going to school. Mia rescues the bird and looks after it in her room. 
Mia let her mind wander to all the places she had dreamt of seeing. No one in her family had ever left the west coast, let alone travelled over oceans. In days past there was no need to, the family had everything they needed on their country. She imagined soaring high above the coastline, red cliffs below, as the waves crashed onto golden shores- even in her imagination she could not fly out over the waves. 
I don't think that I've ever read a book set in a remote Western Australian town like this one. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. I've never even travelled to that area, these are stories and lives I've never encountered. I enjoyed learning more about Aboriginal family constructs. I knew that elder women would be called aunty, and men uncle, and that family is a very inclusive term. But I'd never heard of cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers before. 

I enjoyed the themes of family, country, tradition and freedom. Of course with any story like this the Stolen Generation is never far away. 
Jawiji had met Mia's jaja on the station when they were teenagers. Her family had been rounded up and forced to live there. Jaja rarely talked about the little sister her family had lost when the government and police rounded up the lighter-skinned kids. One the rare occasion she did, the pain was raw in her words and plain across her face. 
Black Cockatoo is as beautiful inside as it is out. Each chapter has a stunning full page illustration by Dub Leffler- an illustrator that I need to see more from. There is a sprinkling of Jaru and Aboriginal English/Kriol words throughout the text as you can see in my quotes, and they have supplied a glossary at the end (although I aways think these should be at the front). I've read a couple of books from Magabala Books  now, they're always impressive, and well worth seeking out.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Plastic Free July 2019

 230 million people participated in Plastic Free July world wide in 2019! This year I was one of them. I've been working towards being plastic free and reducing waste for a while. I've used reusable grocery bags for ages, long before the changes last year. I've pretty much sorted out the big four. 

I don't drink coffee, so avoiding takeaway coffee cups is easy. I carry my own straw and water bottle. Indeed I have a zero waste kit in my handbag. I've started using cloth serviettes, I love having one in my handbag for when I'm out and about. I even have a couple of those little plastic gelato spoons in there- you never know when you might come across gelato that needs eating. 

Like at Cow and the Moon

I've started buying staples like oats, hemp seeds, chia seeds, dried fruits, nuts etc from my local bulk store. I've bought meat straight into containers from local suppliers. Not that I buy meat very often. So I decided to extend myself for Plastic Free July and look at some things that I was using and try to change things. I've been using more milk recently (something to do with the amazing milk frother that I got for my birthday in June). Milk and dairy products generally come in plastic. You can still buy sour cream in cardboard, and while I like that, I don't buy it all that often. I've stopped buying yoghurt for some time because of the plastic packaging. But I enjoy milk, and cream. I have a couple of local options for both in glass. 

The Little Big Dairy Company are local to me in NSW, and they have most of their products in plastic. But some are also available in glass. The Double Cream is amazing! Expensive, but well worth it, a little goes a long way, and it lasts pretty well. I've taken to having some in the fridge at all times. I've also taken to Non-Homogenised milk in the past few years. They have a small 750ml bottle in glass. It's more than $5 though, so not feasible for families, but ok for me. 

A cheaper option, but one that takes a bit more work is the Single Herd Milk On Tap at Harris Farm. I'd wanted to try this for a while, but was hesitant wondering if it was too fiddly, or if I'd poison myself. I used Plastic Free July to give me the push to give it a go. It isn't too fiddly at all, and I haven't had any troubles with it so far. The shelf life of the milk is shorter (4 days), and it's $3 a litre. I have to organise myself to go early in the day, because they clean the machine in the evening- which is when I tend to do my shopping. So, like much of the plastic free shopping it takes a little bit more organisation, but it's certainly very doable. And I've basically eliminated plastic milk bottles from my house. 

Other products I've tried recently have been compostable dog poo bags from Onya. They hold dog poo very well. 

I've also been using cellulose sponges in the kitchen and am totally in love with Safix Coconut Fibre Scourers and have been giving them to friends and family who love them too. I've been using mine for months, it still looks great, doesn't smell, and I can just put it in the green bin when it finally does wear out. 

I've been trying to make other changes too. I've made suggestions to the cafes at my work on how to reduce plastic packaging. It worked with one, but not the other yet. 

So, all in all I had a pretty good month and great progress was made. I'm not perfect at it, but anyone can decrease their plastic waste with rather little effort. I was devastated to receive a smoothie in a plastic takeaway cup when dining in at a local cafe, and the response of the owner was awful when I pointed this out. I won't be going back until they change. 

You don't need to wait til Plastic Free July to make some changes. Do it today. 

Monday, 5 August 2019

Captain Rosalie

I've been meaning to read Timothée de Fombelle for some time. He's probably most famous for his Toby Alone series, about little folk living in trees, which I have in the house somewhere, but it's a big chunky book and I knew I wouldn't get it finished for Paris in July. Captain Rosalie is a delightful little morsel, and I easily read it in July, but then dragged the chain with blogging about it. An illustrated story for older readers, Captain Rosalie is not a picture book in the traditional sense.

Captain Rosalie is a young French girl, 5 and a half years old. Her father is away fighting in the trenches of the First World War. Her mother works at the munitions factory. Rosalie is not yet old enough for school, but her mother has nowhere else to take her, so Rosalie spends her days sitting at the back of the school room drawing pictures in her notebook. Or so it seems. Rosalie has other plans. 
.... I am a soldier on a mission. I am spying on the enemy. I am preparing my plan. 
It is 1917, and every morning the schoolmaster reads aloud progress of the war from the front page of the newspaper. "The master always gives us good news, never bad."
He tells them that they must think of our soldiers who are giving up their youth, their lives. 
At night Rosalie's mother reads her the letters her father has written home from the front line. 

Delightfully illustrated by French Canadian Isabelle Arsenault, who makes the most of Rosalie's flame red hair. It was initially published in French in 2014, and in English in 2018. 

Timothée de Fombelle talking about Captain Rosalie
(in French)

Saturday, 20 July 2019

French Film Festival

I live in a small town in rural Australia. We don't get a lot of foreign films here. The local film society screens one film a month at the local cinema. I can't always go though.

Of course all of Australia can watch foreign language films on the joy that is SBS. They've just started their SBS World Movies as free to air, which is fantastic. Well I'm sure it would be if I could access the channel. I haven't quite managed that yet.

Each year though there is the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. And one weekend in winter we get 4 of those French films screened over two days as part of the travelling film festival.

I made it to two of them this year. I hadn't heard of either of them before this event.

Family Photo

The Trouble With You

I enjoyed Family Photo much more than The Trouble With You. Family Photo is an engaging family drama, covering 4 generations, a dementing nana, separated parents, three adult siblings with the daily problems of adult life, and at time tricky interactions with their own children. It was touching and funny, and set in Paris. 

The Trouble With You was a rather bizarre French farce. It was apparently the standout hit of Cannes 2018. Set in Marseilles, it tells a strange story of Yvonne, recently bereaved, and bringing up her young son. She is a policewoman, and her police captain husband died a hero. But all is not what it seems. There were definitely laugh out loud moments and situations, and I really liked our two leading ladies, Adèle Haenel and Audrey Tatou, but the action scenes were too violent for me, and there was a lot of cringing and squinting. 

I missed out on two films. 

Clare Darling
I'd really like to catch up on  both of those, but Clare Darling appealed more. 

Finding those trailers on Youtube I just discovered that there's already a movie of Heal the Living. Another book in my TBR that is already a movie.

The struggle is real. It's never ending...

Friday, 19 July 2019


I was so looking forward to reading this book. I'd bought the book, and I'd bought into the hype back when it was newly released. We all know what happens next don't we? Yes, of course I ultimately found this a disappointing read.

Lullaby was never going to be an easy read. The cover gives us a major clue with the first two sentences of the text.

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. 
But it gets off to a sizzling start.
The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn't suffer. The broken body, surrounded by toys, was put inside a grey bag, which they zipped shut. The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived. She'd fought like a wild animal. They found signs of a struggle, bits of skin under her soft fingernails. On the way to hospital she was agitated, her body shaken by convulsions. Eyes bulging, she seemed to be gasping for air. Her throat was filled with blood. Her lungs had been punctured, her head smashed violently against the blue chest of drawers. 
And that's certainly a first paragraph to make you sit up and pay attention. Even if you don't recognise how terribly she is being managed in the back of that ambulance. Like my recent read Scrublands (see my review) this is another whydunit. The crime is once again graphically portrayed in the first few pages. There is no mistaking what has happened, only why. But I never got to why.

After that arresting, short first chapter we go back to fill in the story of how these two young children came to be dead.  It starts with Myriam and Paul, their parents selecting a nanny.

'No illegal immigrants, agreed? For a cleaning lady or a decorator, it doesn't bother me. Those people have to work, after all. But to look after the little ones, it's too dangerous. I don't want someone who'd be afraid to call the police or go to the hospital if there was a problem. Apart from that ... not too old, no veils and no smokers. The important thing is that she's energetic and available. That she works so we can work.'
Soon Louise is hired with glowing references. Yes the murderous nanny is called Louise which makes Lullaby the second book in a row for me with a main character, the baddie, called Louise. See my recent post on State of the Union. Louise has smooth features, an open smile, and lips that do not tremble. "She appears imperturbable. She looks like a woman able to understand and forgive everything."

Soon Louise has become invaluable to the household.

'My nanny is a miracle-worker.' That is what Myriam says when she describes Louise's sudden entrance into their lives. She must have magical powers to have transformed this stifling, cramped apartment into a calm, light-filled place. Louise has pushed back the walls. She has made the cupboards deeper, the drawers wider. She has let the sun in. 
Of course no honeymoon can last, and it is the same with this one. Cracks appear, and the relationship between the family and the nanny deteriorates. 

I found Lullaby ultimately disappointing as a psychological crime novel. I didn't understand Louise, or her motivations, how she came to do what she did. Yes, Louise has a sad backstory and a sad current reality, and she comes under new pressures, but still, horrificly killing the kids is where that takes her? I did enjoy the Parisian slice of life aspect of it. The glimpse into the life of a nanny in Paris. 

Around the children- who all look alike, often wearing the same clothes bought in the same shops, with their names written on the labels by their mothers to avoid any confusion - buzzes this swarm of women. There are young black women in veils, who have to be even gentler, cleaner and more punctual than the others. There are the ones who change wigs every week. 
Louise keeps to herself even here, and they wonder about her like we do.  
About Louise, the nannies know very little..... The white nanny intrigues them .... They wonder who she is this fragile, perfect woman...
Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016. The Prix Goncourt is the most prestigious and well known of the French literary prizes. I have to wonder about that. I doesn't seem literary enough to be a literary prize winner in English.  Lullaby was inspired by a real life American crime

The New Yorker did a big profile piece on Leïla Slimani in 2018. I read two American articles about her, both made the point that she was "laying claim" to an American story, or "cashing in" on it. Yes, I realise that second one is from the New York Post but it's an interesting view that they take on it. 

Lullaby was my first read for Paris in July 2019.