Saturday, 28 October 2006

Movie: Children of men

From the moment I saw the preview on At the movies I wanted to see this movie. Starring Clive Owen, Children of men is set in a bleak not-too-distant future where women have been mysteriously sterile for 18 years. It's set in an England where "illegal immigrants" are herded around in metal cages and dumped in illegal immigrant camps. One of these is the entire town of Bexhill on England's southern coast (near Hastings). There's a terrorist group fighting for the rights of these illegal immigrants, and they contact our hero (Clive Owen's character, Theo) to enlist his aid to smuggle one of these (who is miraculously pregnant in a world where no babies have been born in 18 years) out of the country.

As such, the plot is relatively straightforward. It's basically a chase storyline, with a few twists and turns along the way. Julianne Moore plays Theo's ex-wife and leader of the terrorists; Michale Caine plays a hippyish reclusive bloke, close friend of Theo's, who grows and sells weed to the immigration camp officers. It's not always clear what extra significance the baby holds for those chasing after it, but it's a minor criticism.

For me, the most striking thing about this movie was the plausibly bleak outlook of our future. While it's unlikely that women will suddenly become sterile on a global basis, maybe we should be considering the effect our modern lifestyle has on our general health and ability to reproduce. And as for the treatment of immigrants/refugees . . . in Australia we have such a poor history in this area that it must strike us all particularly hard. This film made me wonder what would happen in this country if our government pushed things a little more, ever so slightly more.

It's a pretty violent film. Lots of guns firing, although not much gore. Thousands of bullets whizzing around. And a lot of swearing. There's also a lot of death, and a slightly unsatisfactory ending . . . I would have liked another scene or two, just to complete the resolution. I think it needed a few more rays of hope in what was an incredibly bleak experience.

It's a really GOOD film, without being a terribly uplifting one. Very thought-provoking though.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

words for the week - 2082

Still going pretty well. Finished chapter 14 and started chapter 15.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Detox - day 12

Still on the limited diet, but I'm starting to cheat a bit. (I am sooo sick of chicken.) Today I ate: a vanilla custard rice snack for breakfast; half a choc-chip scone for morning tea (naughty); a steak sandwich (with onion, lettuce and mustard mayo) for lunch (the mustard probably not ideal), followed by pears and natural yoghurt; a jam tart for afternoon tea (I tried to resist, I really did. In the end I read the packet and there wasn't really any lemon in it, so I relented); risotto with chicken (tick), leek and peas (tick), roasted pumpkin and sweet potoato (tick), balsamic vinegar (probably not so good). Plus loads of coffee of course.

Skin allergies seem to be going down, but not subsiding completely yet. Getting really sick and tired of these stupid eating restrictions. It makes me depressed and cranky. Especially NO WINE! AAAGH!

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

words for the week - 1705

Having a good run at the moment. The words still flowing. Feels good.

Did the above in two sittings which is pretty good for me! What is not good is that I only had two sittings in an entire week.

Having said that, I find that a run of a few days (such as Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) makes the fourth day really difficult. Why is that?

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Books I've read recently . . .

First Truth by Dawn Cook (fantasy)
This was OK. In truth it didn't live up to expectation. I first came across the title when I was browsing 'favourites' lists on Amazon, and someone's list included just about all my other favourites, plus four books by Dawn Cook. I reasoned this was a pretty good bet. I enjoyed it in a mild way. The plot was very simple, there are only four characters of note, plus a couple of logic/plot errors that annoyed me. Not sure if I'll continue -- probably will if I happen to see the next one. It meets my night time demand of 'not too intellectual'.

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer (audio)
I have read just about all Heyer's books, with the exception of some of the historical novels, and this was one on the borderline -- partly history, part historical romance. The romance part is between the grandaughter of favourite hero/heroine pair from Devil's Cub (Mary Taverner and Dominic Alastair, Marquis of Vidal) and the brother of the hero of Regency Buck. I enjoyed parts of it a lot, but it went a bit too much into the detail about the battle of Waterloo (both the lead up and the battle itself). I ended up 'reading' the last half (as opposed to listening), purely so I could skip through the tedious sections, which were largely narrative and, although educational, not terribly interesting. I am glad to have finally read it though.

Various 'Thursday Next' novels by Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots)
These are really rather strange and defy description. They are set in an alternate 1985, where Shakespeare is almost a god, reverse engineering allows mammoths and neanderthals to live again, international travel is via a tube through the centre of the earth, the Crimean War has only just ended . . . it goes on . . . oh, and some people can go INSIDE the world of books to interact with the characters there. Thursday Next is the main character and she is a literary detective -- one of those who goes inside books. With these books I find the premise and world really interesting, but the books and characters themselves rather lack heart, and I am far more intellectually engaged than emotionally. As a result I can pick them up and put them down again just as easily. (I find my ambivalence rather fascinating in itself.)

Currently reading:
The Silver Road by Grace Dugan -- exciting because I sort of know the author (and various friends know her really well). She is part of the Aus fantasy/sci-fi crowd, which is how I 'know' her. I saw her first novel the other day and picked it up in a show of support and interest. I thought it sounded OK. So far, it hasn't wowed me, but I am enjoying it in a mild way.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown (audio) -- more 'walking to work' fare. Need I say more?

Supposed to be reading:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (for Page Turners) -- I really want to read this, but haven't picked up a copy yet. Funny how not many shops keep such a classic in stock! Will have to try harder this weekend, because I'm running out of time.

detox - day 5

The thing to note is that it's not really a detox program. It's more me trying to rid my system of chemicals (amines and sylicates and MSG) that have built up to overflowing point . . . or so I hope. (I'd hate to think this was all for nothing.)

So after hell-Saturday I relaxed the rules to include cooked chicken (no skin) and pancakes with maple syrup. I've also had a little mashed potato with parsley (not thrilling).

I am getting a little sick and tired of chicken now, so plan to progress to rice and steak tomorrow. Perhaps also some green beans and/or peas. (I refuse cabbage, choko and brussel sprouts.) The pancakes are still good (and the life-saver at the moment). Still also progressing with pears and natural yoghurt. In theory I should be able to eat pasta/gnocchi, but I'm not sure what to put with it?

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Detox - day 2

I think I'm going to die.

I don't know how I can possibly do this. I have a fridge full of food that I can't eat. I am absolutely starving, but I couldn't face the thought of another rice cake. It will have to be more pears and natural yoghurt.

What is life without food? I feel lethargic and depressed and I have a headache. I managed to do some gardening (chopping back) today, but I have little energy just now. I cannot write.

I want a toasted bagel with avocado and smoked salmon. I want chocolate. I want a pizza. Hell, even vegemite toast would be welcome right now.

OMG I will die. Tomorrow I can introduce potato and skinless chicken. Just how am I supposed to make that tasy?

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Detox program

For the past month or so, I have been suffering severe skin allergies, mainly on my arms. It started with a rash on my arms; it looked as though I'd touched something that had caused quite a severe reaction.

After a few days I went to the chemist and got some non-drousy antihystamine, plus some mild lotion. A few days after that, I switched to a cortisone cream that I had in the cupboard. (At this stage, the skin was quite inflamed, hot to touch and very itchy.)

A week after it first appeared, I went to the doctor, who prescribed a cream that's 10X stronger than the first one, plus suggested I take a stronger antihystamine (the kind that makes you drowsy) overnight.

The doctor explained that such a rash is actually caused by your immune system attacking whatever it perceived to be as foreign. Your immune system goes mad, producing hystamines (hence the antihystamine) and the various creams counteract them as well by lowering the immune system.

I should add at this point that I was against putting on these particular creams, simply because they do act to lower your immune system and in the past, this has resulted in skin infections.

Anyway, after at least another week of this treatment (two different antihystamine tablets a day, plus the cream), the rash cleared up but . . . you guessed it, skin infections on my arm.

So for another week I treated these with bathing, betadine and bandaids. (The rash fading away all the time.)

These infections are mostly cleared up now, but I now seem to be allergic to bandaids, and my skin has become inflamed where the adhesive was.

And to CAP IT ALL OFF, I have now eaten something that has caused more rashes to appear on my legs, arms, belly, face and neck (and ear). ENOUGH ALREADY!

As a result of all this, I am about to embark on a detox program. My mother has given me a copy of a little booklet that explains what food elements tend to cause allergies, and which foods have them in low, medium, high and very high doses. The theory is that the dam is overflowing and my system is filled withthings it simply can't cope with in its current state.

For the next month or so, I am going to try to avoid just about everything. Apprently I am supposed to live on a diet of rice cakes and golden syrup for a week or two. No more tomatos or avocados or chocolate . . . it's a very long list . . . It's going to kill me.

Aussie netballers beat NZ

The first of three netball tests was held tonight in Wellington, and Australia won 51 to 47. Fantastic result! The game is being played on TV at 11:40pm tonight and I'm half tempted to stay up to watch. I'll definitely be taping it.

I am still recovering from missing the previous game against NZ (which Australia also won, breaking a long drought against the silver ferns).

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Monday, 9 October 2006

Page Turners: The sound of one hand clapping


Author: Richard Flanagan
Leader: Astrid
Host: N
Food theme: ‘pickles and bread'
Date: Thursday 5 October

Here's the long-awaited summary of our most recent Page Turners novel and discussion. I took notes this time so I could report more accurately.We had quite a small turn-out to this meeting, but at least four people had finished the book, which still made for a good discussion. (Two of us kept rather quiet: one hadn't started, and I had read up to about p65.)

Here's a synopsis (from Amazon):

From Publishers Weekly
Tasmania--vast, mysterious, like "the unknown country of the heart"--is the setting for this
powerful tale of a father and daughter who struggle to rise above the forces of
history and personal tragedy. Sonja Buloh barely remembers the night 35 years ago
when her mother, Maria, walked out the door of their crude hut in the dismal
construction camp at remote Butlers Gorge, never to return. The mystery and
heartache surrounding that event echo through Sonja's young life all the way to
1989-90, when the pregnant Sonja returns from mainland Australia, longing to see
Tasmania and her estranged father. Bojan Buloh was just another "reffo" from a
Slovenia ravaged by WWII, recruited "to do the wog work of dam-building," when he
found himself the lone parent of three-year-old Sonja. Bojan's poverty and his
memories of his wife and of wartime atrocities made Sonja's childhood difficult;
his brief hopes for another marriage were dashed, and Bojan fell into drinking
and beating his daughter. Sonja's painful memories mix with those of her sober
artie's (the affectionate Slovenian word for father) tenderness and his inspired
woodworking ("his hands knew a restraint which lent him grace"). Though her
father cannot articulate his suffering (one of the themes here is the inadequacy
of words to express the totality of existence), she remains bound to him in deep
understanding of his despair. Only after confrontations, revelations and Bojan's
symbolic and apocalyptic rebirth is the past redeemed and the pair reconciled.
Australian writer Flanagan (Death of a River Guide) brilliantly illuminates the
lives of those who are "forgotten by history, irrelevant to history, yet shaped
entirely by it." His characters here transform tragedy as they discover their
individual worth.


I know that one of the reasons I didn't finish this novel was because it's pretty depressing, and I think most of the others felt the same way. There's nothing uplifting that happens in the novel --- except perhaps for the ending, where apparently all is forgiven when Sonja has a baby; but not many of us thought this was realistic. (I also thought it was a bit gross that the genetic father of the baby was nowhere in sight, and she was effectively having this baby “with her father” as part of their reconciliation. Yuck.) Having said that, one of our number stated that she firmly believed that, despite the violence Bojan committed towards his daughter, there would still have been love present. I think most of us found the idea of beating up a child quite sickening, and that to have a child might just perpetuate the damage, rather than heal it.

Blame
This novel did generate good discussion though. We spent some time discussing how to attribute blame: was Maria (the mother) actually more to blame for abandoning Sonja? By leaving, she created the situation that drove Bojan to drink and violence.

Later, it turns out she committed suicide, and was found hanging from a tree. This led to discussions of whether suicide was a worse betrayal than merely leaving, since there was no room for a lingering hope that one day Maria would reenter their lives. We discussed the difference between abandonment (of the child) and suicide (abandonment of everything). The motives for Maria’s suicide in the book seemed unsatisfying, according to some. I think none of us could possibly understand how a mother could do that --- put her own troubles over the well-being of her child, so-to-speak.

Title
We talked briefly about the title of the book. “The sound of one hand clapping” is evidently a zen koan that means “the soundless sound”. We interpreted it in the context of this book to mean a recognition of incompleteness. Richard Flanagan himself acknowledges that the title was a last minute addition. (Sounds to me like he tried to come up with something that sounded cool, rather than having profound relevance to the story.)

Refugees
This is obviously a hot topic in Australia, and we avoided the obvious rant (although we all agreed) about how bad we felt about this government’s treatment of the many refugees that arrive in Australia. However, we spoke about the experiences of those refugees that arrived in Australia during the 50s (as per the novel), about the two-year contracts and labour camps, about the drinking and gambling culture that occurs when community guidelines are missing. It was sobering to reflect upon how little has changed.

Themes and metaphor
Just finish up we briefly touched on two of these:
China tea set --- This was Sonja’s as a child, but got smashed at some point during the story. When she returns to Tasmania at the beginning of the book (although as a grown woman), Sonja recovers the pieces and commences piecing it together again. I understand that her father ultimately glues it back together --- symbolic of his need to patch up their relationship.
Suitcase --- When she leaves, Maria takes a battered old suitcase, which she stands on to hang herself. It seems that Sonja takes the same battered suitcase when she leaves at 16, and I’m not sure whether it reappears in the “present day”. This seems to represent the passing of baggage from character to character?

Anyway, that’s enough on this book. Next one is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

blog makeover

I've just spent the most delightful hour or so "making over" my blog. See how the template now stretches to the edges of the screen? See how the cacky brown headlines are gone? See how all the posts now have a subject label for easy access of selected categories?

I can also add lists using the new template (instead of html, which I have no idea how to use) so watch out for "my favourite books" coming soon!

words for the week - 1269

A little down from the past couple of weeks, but I'm pretty happy with that, all things considered.

I think I finished another chapter and have almost cracked 60,000 words. HALFWAY!

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Ballet - Raymonda

Last night I went to my first ballet of the year. This is the first year in about 20 (probably more) that I have not subscribed to the season. I first started attending when I was a schoolgirl and my grandmother took all six grandaughters on a Saturday afternoon. Since then, I have had a subscription with friends . . . until this year when we decided we were all just a bit jaded from the experience. When you start to think of attending as a chore, you have to look at what you're doing!

Anyway, two of us decided to attend Raymonda, which neither of us had seen before. I think it was a new production. We went on a Saturday night (instead of Monday at 6:30 after work) and had dinner before and dessert afterwards. We made a night of it. We had fun!

The ballet itself was pretty good. It seemed loosely based on the story of Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier, with Raymonda being a 1950s Hollywood star about to marry (and who in fact does marry) a 'European Prince'. The story was basic, with the tension arising from Raymonda's insecurities that she wasn't good enough for him, and that his family shunned her, all of which manifested in a rather long dream sequence that took up about half the ballet. Moreover, the final act was one of those I detest: no story line at all because it's a wedding reception and you just have to watch them dance and dance and dance . . . and to cap it off the costumes for the final act were weird! The men (including the hero) were wearing outfits that looked like PJs. Terrible!

But the dancing was lovely and the choreography good and most of the costumes were good too. (I don't know what happened in the final act: designer in training?) In all, we both enjoyed it and I was really pleased to have gone.

Cast was Lisa Bolte as Raymonda and Robert Curran as the prince.