Monday, 31 December 2007

The Golden Compass

Saw this last week and enjoyed it. It's a young adult fantasy, based on the novel Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, set in an alternate world that is essentially a parallel Earth. It's a deal less technological than our Earth, but the main difference is that the human race has evolved to have our souls manifest as animal familiars (daemons). The type and personality of the animal reflects the type of person you are. I love this idea (and wish I'd thought of it) and posted on it back in June, when it was the trend to work out your own daemon via the movie web site. My daemon is a snow leopard called Leonidas.

Anyway, these deamons are integral to the plot of The Golden Compass, which is essentially a quest story that is at times a little confusing. The movie production is lavish, and I thought Nicole Kidman was good as the enigmatic and somewhat sinister Mrs Coulter. Based on my memory of the novel, which I read a few years ago, the movie stays fairly close to the original stopy -- always a good thing!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

For my viewing (and listening) pleasure


Some months ago, my CD player went kaput. Something is whirring inside and will not play CDs, nor will it stop when I select the tuner or auxiliary port in the fully integrated stereo unit.

After a while of putting up with this whirring noise while I played music from MP3, I decided that 'enough was enough'. Not only was the noise annoying, but I had no means of playing CDs, except through my existing DVD player, which was not connected to an amplifier. (OK, so I know that such a lack is somewhat archaic, but . . .)

The obvious solution was to upgrade my complete system. Replace my stereo system with a surround sound system that will play CDs and DVDs and why not throw in a new TV while I'm at it?

It's amazing how much you can learn in a couple of hours. JB Hi Fi was useful to gain an overview of all the options. Fully integrated surround sound units with DVD & speakers start at around $300. Or you can buy an amplifier with surround sound speakers - just add DVD player/recorder. Or you can by a separate amplifier and a set of surround sound speakers. Or you can buy everything separately -- including speakers -- and spend a fortune!

The problem with surround sound, I've decided, is that you either get small cheap speakers that sound crap but don't dominate your room, or you get large cheap speakers that sound marginally better but completely take over your living room, or you get high-quality speakers, large or small, that cost you a fortune!!

With this dilemma in mind, we wandered into retravision, a few stores down the road. Here, we were lucky to be approached by an 'audio specialist', who demonstrated the sound of high-quality speakers and talked me out of surround sound all together. To be honest, it wasn't very hard. I perfectly comprehend the logic that it's far better to have two high-quality speakers than five crap ones! (And the thought of not having to run all that speaker cable or find homes for the speakers . . .)

So now, courtesy of the Boxing Day sales, I have a new fancy amplifier (with the capability for surround sound), two new speakers (pending), and a new 32-inch LCD TV! The sound (even with my old speakers) is fantastic and I now have yet another reason to avoid writing at present . . . The next item on the purchase agenda is probably a DVD recorder, but that's definitely for another day.

And, of course, I can now play CDs again!! (Currently listening to Sara Storer)

Monday, 24 December 2007

Mulholland Drive revealed!

I would consider myself a David Lynch fan, although I haven't seen all his films. Twin Peaks was a revelation (and an obsession) back in the 90s. It was strange and weird, quirky and compelling. The catchcry of "She's dead, wrapped in plastic" is just one of many memorable moments from this series.

More recently came Mulholland Drive, a movie I picked up on DVD recently and watched (not for the first time) the other night. It's set in Hollywood, centred around the movie industry. At its heart is a mystery concerning identity, but it includes many seemingly unrelated subplots, twists and turns -- not to mention some things that are almost unexplainable!

Almost . . . Today I was intrigued enough to search out some explanations online. To my delight, there's this page on IMDB that answers everything brilliantly. (In fact, I can't help feeling that maybe I should have worked some of it out for myself!) Anyway, if you've seen the movie and want some answers, check it out.

If you haven't seen the movie, do not read the spoilers and instead rent out (or borrow) the DVD!

One of the fantastic things about David Lynch movies and TV series is the surreal and seemingly unexplainable nature of events, but I must admit I also relish ultimately finding out what it all means.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Midsummer or midwinter?

Today was the solstice. The longest day of the year. Midsummer, supposedly. Only, the temperature barely passed 14 degrees and I have the central heating on. And in the past two days it has done nothing but rain. And it has been so overcast that the sun might have set at 6pm for all we'd know otherwise!

Nevertheless, it was the longest day today, and yesterday evening we had our annual gathering to celebrate it. And, despite the unobliging weather, which ensured we stayed indoors for all but about half an hour, a merry time was had by all!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Page Turners: I am legend

Our final book for discussion this year was I am legend, by Richard Matheson. This is a classic horror/science fiction novel, written in the 1950s, set in the 1970s, about a man who is the last man alive-as-we-know-it.

The basic premise is that everyone else has been turned into a vampire, leaving our hero 'Robert Neville' to barricade himself inside his house at night, and fend for himself by day -- which largely involves scavenging canned food, bottled water, car parts/fuel etc from abandoned supermarkets and such.

The book was generally very well received among the readers in our group, with a number saying they'd not been so engaged by a book (to the point it was unputdownable) in a long time.

I enjoyed it as well, but found too many plot holes to be completely swept away by it. While the themes it explored were interesting (isolation, companionship, segregation, survival, humanity, evolution), the science rather ironically let me down.

Fundamentally, I didn't much like the fact that the novel attempts to explain vampires using science -- or at least it tried to explain the condition of the people in this particular novel. Maybe it's the fantasy reader/writer/lover in me, but I'm more willing to suspend disbelief for something that is purely "other", than something with a dodgy scientific explanation. And for me the explanation (which centered around the vampire condition being a bacterial disease) was very dodgy. The attempt seemed rather half-hearted.

Nevertheless, it was a good story about a man who first comes to terms with his situation, then strives to deal with it and asserts his dominance, only to find everything coming full circle again.

Neighbours

This evening I was dragged out by my next door neighbour (the other unit at the end of the driveway) to a social do -- Christmas drinks for a few friends and other residents of the driveway.

I was hesitant at first, shy, not to mention in the middle of watching something on TV. But when the show was finished, and I had washed the dishes, I ventured next door (all of ten paces) to socialise.

It turned out to be a lovely evening. I met the residents of two other units for the first time -- don't ask me how we could have lived so close without even sighting each other, but somehow we have managed it. I learned I had earned the nickname, 'lady of the night', because no-one had ever seen me! The residents of units 7 & 8 are amazingly friendly people, and I am really glad that we are strangers no more.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Stranger encounters

Many mornings when I walk to work, I pass the same woman walking in the opposite direction. Like me, she walks fast, purposefully. I wonder if she recognises me as the same person she frequently encounters. There's never any sign of recognition. Not even a faint smile. I don't smile either.

We always pass in the same stretch of footpath. It varies exactly where, depending on whether one or other of us is later or earlier than normal. I always wonder where she's going, where she works, for there's not a lot in the direction she's walking. Is she near her destination, or has she just stepped out the door and has another half-hour to go?

My most recent hypothesis is that she's a nanny. Somehow to me she looks like a nanny, although I don't know why. She's about forty, wiry and lean, reddish wavy hair that's always tied back, and always wears multi-layers of skirt or dress. Makeup too.

I sometimes contemplate stopping her in the street and asking her, so intense is my curiosity. Yet she does not seem a particularly approachable person. Maybe I don't either.

There's another man I often see on a different part of the walk, a middle-aged man out with his large fluffy white dog. I can tell he recognises me, because there's a hint of a smile, but it's not yet an exchange of greeting. More an awareness. This afternoon, the dog barked from the other side of the road, and I idly wondered whether it barked at me! This man is much easier to categorise -- retiree!

It's interesting how people in the city don't talk to -- even acknowledge -- each other. If this happened in the country, I'd be on a first-name basis with both these characters by now. You say hello to everyone you meet on a walk, and this type of recurring experience would not go unnoticed!

On the other hand, I also pass a couple of crossing supervisors in the morning. One ignores me politely, but the other insists on saying hello. I can't get past without this greeting. Sometimes I cross to the other side of the road (further up of course) to avoid him! There is nothing menacing about him, he's clearly just a friendly person. But the fact is, I don't want to be saying hello! I'm usually listening to music or an audio book, plus am invariably hot and sweaty. I'm just not in the mood to be friendly. I approach in dread!

So there you go. It's one thing to be fascinated by someone you see everyday, and wonder about their life and who they are. But once you cross the social line and find yourself exchanging greetings, it suddenly becomes a burden.

So methinks I shall continue to merely wonder about the mystery woman and retiree man.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Wuthering Heights

I don't know how I made it this far in life without reading Wuthering Heights, but I did. I haven't even seen any of the movies. Of course, I've known of "Heathcliff and Cathy" for years and years, partially assisted by the Kate Bush song. I always assumed it was a tragic love story with moors involved, and no-one ever bothered to disabuse me of this notion.

For, now that I have "read" Wuthering Heights (via audio), I find that I was mistaken. It is not a love story. In fact, there is very little love anywhere to be found -- although I was right about the moors.

I expected the story to be bleak -- and it was. I expected to find tragedy -- and I did. But I also expected to find the character of Heathcliff at least partially sympathetic, a misunderstood anti-hero, perhaps. And I expected to care passionately about him and Cathy and their unrequited love. On both these counts I was disappointed.

What makes this book a classic? Instinctively, I can feel that it is, but I can't pinpoint why. Instead of being misunderstood, Heathcliff is blatantly inhumane, consumed by his plans for revenge on a character who dies very early on. Cathy is selfish and frivolous and far better off with her husband who is far more sympathetic than Heathcliff. I simply didn't care. What is more, Cathy dies halfway through the book.

I cared far more for the younger Cathy, one of the victims of Heathcliff's revenge, and rejoiced at her happy ending. And I disliked Heathcliff all the more for his treatment of the younger Cathy and his own son, Linton.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, for I did. It was beautifully read by Michael Kitchen, and although I found it intense at times, requiring me to take a break, it kept me wanting to know the end.

Moreover, as a writer, I was fascinated by the construction of the novel. It is narrated by Mr Lockwood, who plays no part in the story, but who recounts the story told by Nelly Dean, a servant/housekeeper. Nelly is the true narrator of the book, but even she recounts stories told by others, so that at times we have a story within a story within a story -- all in the first person. I have to wonder why this construction was selected, because it made it very confusing at times.

Anyway, now it is done. After all this time, Wuthering Heights is no longer a mystery (well, the story isn't, at any rate!). I do wonder what inspired Emily Bronte to write such a bleak story, and what she was trying to say, exactly. And I wonder what made Heathcliff and Cathy into one of the emblems of star-crossed lovers, for I am not too sure they deserve it!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Cruisin' in Port Fairy

Ah, Port Fairy! Is there a more cultured teeny weeny town anywhere on this earth? Surely it has more wine bars, day spas, gourmet food outlets and coffee shops per capita than anywhere.

As a result, more wining and dining. Brunch at Rebecca's -- a cafe replete with 'big breakfasts' to rival many a Melbourne cafe (with prices to match!), not to mention an array of take-home gourmet goodies one is hard-pressed to resist. Then there's Time and Tide, a beachfront home transformed into a cafe with breathtaking views and cuisine that makes your mouth water. We went there twice in a single day -- once for coffee and a delicious cinnamon-pecan scroll, then back an hour later for a decadent lunch of turkey, wine and orange/poppyseed cake.

Throw in some turkish delight, chocolate-coated cofee beans, and salmon fillets, and surely Port Fairy is the gourmet capital! It certainly was where I stayed at Chez Cook, where skim lattes might as well have been on tap . . .

Lovely weekend!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Wined and dined (blaah)

Ever since that last 'good news' post, I feel like I have been eating non-stop! We have been wining and dining a visiting international client: cheese platter, many meetings, dinner last night at Gattica in Carlisle St East St Kilda, more meetings with breakfast, fruit (phew), multiple pastries . . . and to top it all off, dinner tonight at Riva on the beach in St Kilda.

This last was a full three course meal, and I'm not going to repeat what I ate, but I will say I shouldn't have!

I am so FULL. I need to go for a walk.

I don't think I have the capacity for food that I once did.

Blaah

Monday, 3 December 2007

At goal - woohoo!

Well, finally, after 11 months, I have hit my goal weight. That's a total of 27kg gone, kaput, disappeared. Progress has been slow the past couple of months, mostly due to decreasing incentive (I mean, when you've reached size 10, where else is there to go?). So there you are. Yay me. I am now a 'healthy weight' for the first time I can remember.

In the past year I have completely replaced my wardrobe - and I mean completely. Every single item. Well, maybe I've still got some socks. It's cost me a fortune! But I'm rather enjoying buying clothes just now. I think it's time for me to venture into shops I previously breezed past, not even looking in the window. (Or, gazing in enviously.) The time has also come for me to buy a suit or two. May as well be optimistic and assume I'll keep it all off!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Death of a huntsman

This is the end of the huntsman saga. The huntsman is now dead -- at least, I assume it's the same one. How long do huntsman spiders live, anyway?

This one spent its final days clinging to my waste paper basket, barely moving, scrunched up in what looked like an agonised ball. I thought it was dead a few times, but it would move just enough to convince me it still lived. Not anymore. Now it is upturned on the floor in the corner of the room (behind the waste paper basket). Its final resting place will either be my vacuum cleaner or the rubbish bin.

I can hold my head high because I was not responsible for its death. It lived a 'long' (in spider terms - at least 6 weeks) and what I hope was a happy life. It explored the house from end to end and escaped the cat more than once. A truly heroic spider.

May it rest in peace.