Saturday, 21 April 2012

On Reading Other People's Diaries (Part 1)

On Reading Other People's Diaries (Part 1)

The first in a short series of articles on the enduring popularity of diaries, including some of the most engaging examples from across a range of styles and times.

The diary as a literary form remains with us and continues to engage and enthral.  What lays behind its enduring appeal?  Firstly, there is the sense of intimacy - we are able to witness (at second hand, at least) events as they unfold.  In the case of political diaries, we are able to gain some insight (depending on the author's proximity to events) into the thinking behind occasions of importance and significance to which we might not otherwise have access.

We are also able to learn about the author in a manner different to that of a biography or autobiography.  In the case of the latter, there is always the tendency (however subconscious) for the subject to portray themselves or their role in events in a more positive light.  The benefit of hindsight works wonders, and the autobiography (particularly in the political sphere) often winds up being a litany of self-justification (when things went wrong) or self-congratulation (when they went right).  This doesn't happen with diaries - we see people's vacillations, indecision, and sometimes their sheer bewilderment at what is happening around them.  What an honest and forthright diary captures is the changes in the state of mind of the author - today, life is hopeless, tomorrow it will be exhilarating.  An engaging diary should remind us that our perspective on the world on any given day is not an irreversible, indelible truth.  Rather, it is a reflection of circumstance, mood and our relationships with others on a given day, and is always subject to change at short notice.

The diary has not been superseded by the blog.  They serve very distinct purposes and so their intrinsic characters will continue to remain separate.  The blog is written with the intention of its being published and read immediately.  It is written with a particular audience in mind and often invites instant comment or feedback.  This undoubtedly affects how we read a blog, as we take it in instalments as they are produced, and this doesn't always provide opportunity for detailed analysis or comparison, or allow us to stand back and take an overview of the author's changing perspectives.   The blog is not designed as a record, more of a running commentary, and so for that reason it will often tend to lack a sense of perspective.

The diary, on the other hand, while also recording events contemporaneously, is nevertheless not designed for immediate consumption.  We are able to digest a longer period of time in one sitting, and so we have more points of comparison and reference.  To push the analogy, we are able to order from the full menu at the outset, rather than simply taking each course as it comes.  The diary often offers such an engaging insight into events because it manages to combine both immediacy and overview at the same time.  We have events being recorded as they unfold, but we can simultaneously gain an understanding of the full story from beginning to end.

With the above in mind, we would heartily recommend the series of political diaries that have been published recently by the former British Labour MP, Chris Mullin.  Mr Mullin, as well as being the author of the 1982 novel A Very British Coup, led the campaign for the overturning of the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four.  His diaries cover an historic time in British politics - the birth and rise to power of New Labour including, perhaps most significantly, the time of Britain's decision to join the allied invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

As can be deduced from the titles, A View From the Foothills (2009), Decline and Fall (2010) and A Walk-on Part (2011) Mr Mullin was not a big-hitter in the New Labour regime (rising only as high as a junior cabinet minister), but the diaries are all the richer for that.  He is both an insider and an outsider at the same time, with access to the decision-making process beyond the rest of us, while still being (frustratingly, for him and us) a long way from the real heart of the action.

Mr Mullin is a wonderful diarist.  He writes with clarity, honesty and a degree of self-effacement that is extremely engaging.  We share his frustrations at the powerlessness (at times) of the backbench MP, his efforts to fight bureaucratic indifference on behalf of his constituents, and his moments of (admittedly) small triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.  The sections dealing with his elevation to junior minister ranks in the Department of the Environment are especially interesting, as are those dealing with his later return to government in the Department for Overseas Development.  What we see is a principled, decent and honest MP (and as the diaries reveal, the latter is in short supply) struggling against inertia to achieve positive change on behalf of his constituents and the nation.

Perhaps the most horrifying part of the diaries is the vacuousness at the heart of the New Labour project that they reveal.  Mr Mullin rightly details the successes of the Blair/Brown years (and despite everything, they did undoubtedly improve the lot of many people in need), but he also chronicles their lack of vision and cohesion.  The infighting, political machinations and sheer opportunism of leading politicians is laid bare and, while none of this should come as a surprise, it is nevertheless a salutary lesson to us all.  This is nowhere in evidence more than on the debates regarding British involvement in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Mr Blair is revealed to have essentially taken the decision to join the invading alliance of his own accord, with little or no pressure on him from either the electorate or members of his government.  Whether the decision was right or wrong, the lack of consultation, rational debate or disclosure of facts should give us all pause.

Mr Mullin undoubtedly ranks alongside Richard Crossman and Alan Clark as the pre-eminent political chroniclers of their times.  Anyone with an interest in recent international history, the nature of politics or simply engaging, well-constructed writing, should seek them out.

Chris Mullin's website can be accessed here

Chris Mullin writes about the genesis of 'A Very British Coup' in the 'Guardian'







Saturday, 10 March 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - The Right Dishonourable Dickie Daventry

Adelaide Fringe Review - The Right Dishonourable Dickie Daventry at The Austral (The Bunka) Saturday 10 March

Having spent a bright and beautiful Saturday buried in the bowels of the Barr Smith Library researching Singapore's historic role in ASEAN, it is not hard to imagine that I was approaching my appointment with the Right Honourable Dickie with something approaching gay abandon.  A hour or so in his company brightened my day considerably.

The former Tory MP and all-round old school cad is the wonderful comic creation of actor Dave Lemkin.  Part Alan Clark, part Sir Rowley Birkin, part Lord Morgan of Glossop (spot the odd one out), this is intelligent and thoughtful comedy that somehow seemed entirely out of place in a back room at The Austral - if only he could have appeared at the Royal Institution (the former Adelaide Stock Exchange) all would have been perfect (there are rooms there decked out with Chesterfields and wing back armchairs!)

Ostensibly, the show is a political memoir and the Rt. Hon. Dickie takes us through his life and career - Eton (buggered senseless), Christchurch College, Oxford (buggered senseless) and then, with remorseless inevitably, into the upper echelons of the Conservative Party.  Along the way, we hear about his marriage to Marjorie (drowned in a sea of her own lesbianism), his feckless children and his rampant sexual encounters with Margaret Thatcher that involved Dickie dressing up as Breshnev on the outskirts of Wolverhampton (it's hard to work out which part of that is the most frightening!)

This is a beautifully imagined character in the Wodehousian tradition, and appropriately Mr Lemkin uses language and verbal dexterity with great aplomb.  Having known one or two chaps in my time not that far removed from Dickie,  everything about Mr Lemkin's creation resonated, from the genteel poverty suggested by the slightly shabby tweeds that had seen better days, to the hair with a mind of its own (a la the Mayor of London), although I am afraid that I had to take exception with his shoes which were clearly not from John Lobb as one would reasonably expect from a man of Dickie's pedigree.

The fact that I would appear to be engaging with this character on a level that takes almost no account of Mr Lemkin's contribution to the entertainment goes to show just what a fine portrait he has created.  This was old-fashioned character acting and story-telling of the first order.  The fogeyish inability to engage with a mobile phone, the condescending attitude towards the colonies and the muddled retelling of one of the funniest 'An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman go into a pub...' jokes you will ever hear all added up to a splendid entertainment that was thoroughly engaging and inordinately witty.  My only regret is that it didn't go on for longer - a long convivial lunch and a dangerous third bottle in the company of the Right Honourable Dickie Daventry would be the perfect way to unwind on a late summer's afternoon.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Bob Downe: 20 Golden Greats

Adelaide Fringe Review - Bob Downe: 20 Golden Greats at the Arts Theatre, Friday 9 March

I first saw Bob Downe on TV in London in, I think, about 1992.  For some reason, the self-styled Prince of Polyester resonated with me and I found him hilarious without ever quite knowing why.  Nothing much has changed.  I may be fatter, older and balder but Bob still looks as youthfully effervescent at the age of 53 as he did all those years ago, and is just as wonderfully funny.  If only he still wore the legendary beige safari suit...

There is something quintessentially Australian about Bob Downe, but I don't quite know just what it is.  Perhaps it's his warmth and the sheer delight he seems to take in performing.  You cannot help but think that he lives to be on stage and that really does reach every corner of the theatre.   Mind you, the feeling is very much reciprocated.  Many performers have fans who enjoy watching them, many have devoted followers, but I have rarely seen a crowd that so adores their idol.   Genuinely adores him.  Bob (we can't even conceive of him under his real name, Mark Trevorrow) could literally do anything on the stage and he would have the audience in raptures.  And what a mixed audience it is - he has a demographic that other acts can only dream of.

For those of you who have never seen Bob perform, his genre is probably best defined as retro-kitsch (another sign of the impact he has made on me, as this sort of thing is not normally my cup of tea at all).  He performs classic pop from the 60s, 70s and 80s punctuated with gags and banter, and enhanced by nifty but naff dance routines.  But I think it is the eyes and teeth that really seal the deal.  He has a piercing, wide-eyed stare and stage-school smile that have to be seen to be believed, topped off (literally) by the most immoveable hairdo known to man.  He started the show in a 70s style tracksuit, but then stripped down to reveal his Caribbean Cruise Collection - floral shirt and stunning white polyester slacks, while a mirror ball whirled away gaudily above.  You get the picture...

It is only right and proper to point out, however, that Bob Downe really can sing.  I have never seen Mr Trevorrow in any context other than as Bob Downe (except in some episodes of Kath and Kim) but it would be great to hear him belting out some big band classics, as under the playful camp there is unquestionably a truly fine interpreter of a song.  I would also love to hear him doing some Sondheim one day, or perhaps some Noel Coward.  That I would travel a long way to see.

It is also worth mentioning that Bob really does seem to know and like Adelaide and his many knowing references to the city and its personalities are very entertaining and only made the crowd love him more (if such a thing were possible).  And, as a final coup de theatre he is joined on stage by a local living legend, who tells a truly scandalous story about William Shatner, a yellow sports car and a trip to Windy Point.  Get along to the Arts Theatre if you want to find out more...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - 5-Step Guide to Being German

5-Step Guide to Being German
Austral Hotel - The Bunka, Saturday 3 March 2012

"You know this whole five step thing, it's just publicity.  Of course, there aren't really five steps to being German.  There are eighteen.  Five just makes you Austrian"*

Thus begins our guide to the Fatherland with Paco Erhard leading the way.  Amidst the humour he makes some serious points about being German today (his riffs on German school children being good at maths simply as a way to avoid yet more history lessons was extremely funny) and poses questions about what it means to feel patriotic pride in the 21st century.  However, this is no polemic and the jokes come thick and fast, aided along the way by some amusing homemade visual aids.

Mr Erhard is a somewhat frantic performer and he tends to be a bit all over the place physically, but this in a way ties in quite neatly with his attempts to poke fun at German stereotypes (efficiency, order, etc.) as he seems to be an embodiment of their antithesis, in that he's pretty scruffy and rather uncontrolled.   He is at his best when exploring the characteristics of the different regions of Germany and how Germans behave when abroad.  The latter got many laughs of recognition from a fairly large and enthusiastic audience.

My only real issue with Mr Erhard's show is that I would have liked to hear more on his observations on Australian life and culture.  There are some passing references to dangerous outback creatures, and one good crack at Adelaide's latte drinking classes, but given the nature of the show and the overall accuracy of his observations, I was hoping that he might have poked fun at us a little more.  Mr Erhard lives and works in London and there was perhaps a little too much material from his sets there focussing on the nature of Anglo-German relations.  I would like to have heard some more new material written especially for an Adelaide Fringe audience - this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he is actually performing in a venue called The Bunka but amidst all the Hitler jokes makes no reference to it!

This is a good show without being a great one. Mr Erhard is a lively and engaging performer and it was the perfect show for a Saturday afternoon.   I would have no hesitation in going again but, as I say, the material could do with a little more reworking for an Australian crowd.

*  I am paraphrasing wildly here.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Wee Andy at Holden Street Theatres

Review of Wee Andy, Holden Street Theatres, Saturday 3 March 2012

It seemed somehow sadly serendipitous to be seeing this play the night after it was reported that five people have been arrested in connection with gunshots being fired in Hindley Street on a busy Friday night.  This play dissects violence and the fallacious notions of 'respect' that inspires so much of it and, although set in a bleak Glasgow housing estate on the face of it a million miles away, it should rightly have resonance for us here in Adelaide in the way that it explores a largely unseen and unacknowledged sub-culture that exists in parallel, but without ever really interacting with, mainstream culture.  Without wanting to seem unduly pessimistic, if one stops to consider for a moment our own highly fractured and segmented society, the world of Wee Andy suddenly doesn't seem so far away after all.

This is a stunning piece of theatre.  Paddy Cunneen has created a muscular, powerful blank verse that is incredibly versatile and eminently suited to theatre.  Quite simply, this is the best contemporary verse I have ever heard on a stage.  Both down to earth and poetic, both narrative and rhapsodic, the language of the play is so rich in its imagery and the evocations of both scene and atmosphere so compelling that there were moments when the audience seemed to be collectively holding their breaths as they were transported to the scene of the crimes that are at the heart of the action.

Mr Cunneen's direction is also exemplary.  The play is staged very simply (no setting, a couple of chairs the only furniture) and so the language is accordingly allowed to do the work.  Movement on the stage is measured and minimal on the whole (but at times, suddenly explosive), yet the events being recounted are frenetic and disturbingly violent.  This contrast is wonderfully effective and allows the actors to exploit the language to maximum effect.  There are some very simple devices employed to show the end results of the violent acts that take place in the play - rubber bands on the head are used to show knife wounds, cling film the horrifying effects of an acid attack - but they were entirely appropriate and effective.  Mr Cunneen's language here again takes the credit - we don't need to see a literal depiction of someone whose face has been slashed with a knife as the playwright has already shown it to us in words.

The acting on display is also first class.  Although I may have been carried away by the language, the actors are not - they treat it as though it is their natural speech and therefore, perhaps paradoxically, they are in this way able to give full weight to the graphic imagery and poetic turns of phrases with which they are working.  The narrative and the characters' plights drive them, not a desire to speak poetry and so, as should be the case in verse plays (but sadly usually is not) the structure and carefully crafted composition of the language almost passes us by as we become engrossed by the stories these characters have to tell.  It is a very strong ensemble cast, but the extraordinary performances of Pauline Knowles as Andy's Mum and Andy Clarke as the surgeon are of the sort that make sure, despite all the disappointments it so often brings us, the theatre keeps dragging us back in.  Ms Knowles' grief and bewilderment as she recounts hearing that her son has been horribly wounded in a vicious knife attack is mesmerising, while Mr Clarke exquisitely portrays the dilemma confronting the detached professional surgeon who is battling with his own pent up rage at having to stitch too many people back together.

We have not booked tickers for Fleeto, the companion piece to Wee Andy.  We shall be doing so first thing tomorrow morning.  Opportunities to see theatre as good as this come along rarely - we urge everyone not to miss this one.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Charles Barrington: Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment

Charles Barrington: Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment
The Tuxedo Cat, 28 February 2012


"I am not a comedian.  I am a comic actor.  This means that if you are laughing, I must be doing a very good job.  If not, blame the writers."

Charles Barrington welcomes us in to his studio apartment with these words, but he need not have feared.  The small but enthusiastic audience did indeed laugh a good deal, and rightly so.  Barrington (as portrayed by Anthony Rogers, runner-up in the 2009 Raw Comedy Awards) is an engaging if somewhat shambolic character who has a fine way with a joke.  There is a sense of self-deprecation and arrogance at work in him at the same time; he wants us to laugh but at the same time he couldn't care less if we do.  This makes for a style that is laconic and throwaway at times, at others declamatory, and this mix creates a somewhat unique tone to the performance.

The riffs on bee keeping and making a garden salad are beautifully timed and well constructed, and he is a performer who is not afraid to take his time and let his material wash over us.  No machine-gun, rapid fire delivery in this show (which is entirely right and perfectly in keeping with the persona of Charles Barrington), while the pseudo-rap version of Shakespeare demonstrated Mr Rogers' innate sense of timing and rhythm exceptionally well.  We have always enjoyed characters that seek to undermine the pomposity of performers (think back to Nigel Planer and Christopher Douglas' creation in the 1990s, Nicholas Craig) and there are the beginnings in Mr Rogers' Charles Barrington of a similarly entertaining comic persona.

However, ultimately this is a show in search of a dramatist (or at the very least, a good script editor).  In order to give his character a chance to really grow and breathe, there needs to be a greater sense of structure and some reworking of the material.  By this I don't mean the jokes - many of these are extremely funny indeed - but in the way the character of Barrington comes to the jokes.  There is no real journey in the show, no sense, for want of a better word, of a format.  If you think about the most successful solo character creations of recent years (Alan Partridge, Giles Wemmbley-Hogg, Ed Reardon), they all have strong narratives from which their comedy can grow.  Mr Rogers' show could do with some similar sense of coherence; an evening with him in his apartment is a good enough starting point, but there seems to be no real reason for our being there - there is nothing in particular he wants to tell us, no great revelation to drive the show along.  If the performance could be developed in such a way as to find a strong narrative line which could be used as the starting point for the jokes, anecdotes and recollections, then there is the potential for Charles Barrington, actor, writer, director and bee keeper to become a significant comic figure.

Similarly, the actorly anecdotes include his impersonating people like Marlon Brando, Michael Caine and Christopher Walken (these impersonations are done very, very badly and I am assuming that this is intentional).  Yet there must be more contemporary figures in the Australian theatrical scene worthy of parody.  It is in this way that the selection and style of the material perhaps needs some development, or at least a critical outsider's eye cast over it; in essence, it needs to go further in its satire, to be perhaps more contemporary in its choice of celebrity.

I should say, however, that I am talking here about making a good show into an exceptional one.  I enjoyed Mr Rogers as a performer a great deal and he clearly knows how to write a joke and to make it work very well.   If he can team up with the right writer or editor, and perhaps sharpen the focus of the material and ground the character more firmly in a world in which he can grow and flourish, there are the foundations here for an extremely entertaining comic persona. As it stands we have a very funny show that is well worth seeing, but one that leaves us with the sneaking suspicion that we could have seen even more.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Judith Lucy: Nothing Fancy

Judith Lucy @ Thebarton Theatre Friday 24 February

Judith Lucy's new show Nothing Fancy comes to Adelaide after a run in Sydney, and we are undoubtedly the beneficiaries of this.  The show is well-timed, her material is well chosen, and she is clearly in confident and buoyant form.

Ms Lucy has two great strengths as a performer - her warmth and the sense of physical control she exhibits on stage.  The show began with some interplay with members of the audience in which she interacted and improvised with the punters in a way that set the mood for the evening, in that her aim was not to mock and denigrate as is often the case with less secure performers - instead, the comedy came from the way in which she took the audience's contributions and then built upon them.  She was not afraid to give these exchanges time and space and was rewarded with rich material that she then proceeded to develop.  Throughout these exchanges, there was never the sense that audience were potential 'victims' - rather, they were contributors and appreciated as such.

On stage, Ms Lucy is probably not generally thought of as a particularly physical performer, but this is to underestimate the level of physical mastery she has over her craft.  Not for her the annoying tics and idiosyncrasies that seem to afflict less accomplished performers when they attempt to inject 'energy' into their routines.  Instead, her movements are measured when necessary, exaggerated when desirable, but at all times there is a sense that how she moves is indelibly linked to and reflective of her material and has been well planned and considered.  She does not wander aimlessly about the stage, use redundant gestures or seem uncertain as to what she should do with her hands.  The theatre was very nearly full and Ms Lucy was all there was to look at, and so her movement and her entire physical demeanour reflected a sense of design and careful thought.  Watching a solo performer can sometimes be dull, sometimes be downright tiring, but with Ms Lucy no gesture is wasted or unnecessary and you are watching a performer who is confident and in control.

I am sure we are not the first people to remark that Ms Lucy's voice can at times resemble that of Dame Edna, or that the frock she chose to wear made her look (in the opinion of one member of our party) a little 'frumpy', but these are very minor caveats.  Much of the material in Nothing Fancy related to Ms Lucy's experiences while making her recent television series and this made us want to see it, in order to be able to see more of her.  This seems to us as about as high a recommendation as we can make.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Classic Books for Boys


Our Man in Havana (1958)  Graham Greene
The archetypal Greene work, the novel is set in Cuba prior to Castro coming to power.  James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, is enlisted by the British secret service and agrees  to ‘spy’ for them in order to cover his teenage daughter’s very expensive tastes.  However, Wormold’s spying is at first entirely imaginary, but his life begins to unravel when his fantasy world and the real world begin to coincide.
A classic work for boys in terms of its subject matter, but more importantly Greene’s direct yet poetic prose style has turned many a sceptic into an enthusiastic reader.
Rogue Male (1939) Geoffrey Household
A British sportsman attempts to assassinate Hitler in his rural retreat. However, he is captured and tortured although he finally manages to escape. He then finds himself on the run from a mysterious figure and the two engage in a riveting and deadly game of hide and seek (the scenes in the London Underground are a particular highlight).

Part military survival manual, part thriller, part old fashioned heroic tale, the pace is gripping, the descriptions of the protagonists’ plans and tactics for survival are compelling and right triumphs at the end.  A boy can ask for no more.
The 39 Steps (1915) John Buchan
Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Richard Hannay has returned to London from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) when a mysterious man calls upon him and desperately seeks his help to stop a group of German spies known as the Black Stone.  However, when the man is murdered in Hannay’s flat he is forced to go on the run.
A complicated and twisting plot, treachery, betrayal and some good old fashioned murder and mayhem make this the father of all ‘man on the run’ novels and films.  This, combined with the glimpse back in time to a world that no longer exists, makes it a vital and necessary part of every young man’s education.
Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) PG Wodehouse
Bertie Wooster finds himself in one of his usual scrapes: trying to reunite his friend Tuppy Glossop with his estranged fiancée Angela, avoiding getting married to the soppy Madeline Bassett and trying to stay on his Aunt Dahlia’s good side so that she doesn’t ban him from eating any more of her peerless chef Anatole’s (“God’s gift to the gastric juices”) sumptuous dinners. Thankfully, at Bertie’s side throughout is the inimitable Jeeves, his gentleman’s personal gentleman, who is always there to ensure that he avoids the ultimate peril.  A classic set piece is the laugh-out-loud scene in which Bertie’s friend Gussie Fink-Nottle drunkenly presents the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School, which once read will be never be forgotten.
Quite simply, this is the funniest, most well-written, warmly generous book in twentieth-century English literature.  Life would be unbearable without it.
Lucky Jim (1954) Kingsley Amis
The eponymous hero Jim Dixon is a Medieval History lecturer at a provincial university in the north of England. Despite the ironic title, nothing quite seems to work out for Jim and he struggles to find a place in the world, a world from which he feels increasingly isolated.
In this great ‘outsider’ novel, Amis captures the anger and frustration of a young man who sees his way thwarted by those with better connections but far less talent. A must-read novel both for its delicious humour and its fascinating evocation of a grim, grey post-war England.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1928) Erich-Maria Remarque
Paul Bäumer joins the German army at the beginning of the First World War. He arrives at the Western Front with a diverse group of friends whose fates intertwine. The book focuses not so much on warfare and fighting, but rather the horrendous conditions in which Paul and his comrades find themselves living year after year.
The book is always a favourite amongst boys for its toilet humour, scenes of mayhem and schoolboy pranks that all take place against a backdrop of terrible doom and danger. The last chapter of the book, a single paragraph from which the title is taken, is painfully moving and only serves to highlight the senselessness of conflict.
The Red Badge of Courage (1895) Stephen Crane
The novel is set during the American Civil War and has as its hero Henry Fleming, a private in the Union Army. Much of the book revolves around Henry’s questioning of his own (untested) courage: how will he react in the face of the enemy? In several graphic yet honest depictions of conflict, Henry discovers more about himself than he cared to know.
A truly great war novel in which Crane is interested in exploring concepts of valour, duty and loyalty, but from a surprisingly modern standpoint given the the time at which the book was written.  It is also extremely interesting to read in the light of what society was to learn about the nature of warfare only twenty years later.
Animal Farm (1945) George Orwell
The animals on Manor Farm rebel and overthrow the farmer.  They then assume control of the farm themselves.  The novel (invitingly short!) details the trials and tribulations of the animals as they fight to control their own destiny amid attempts to destroy their solidarity both from without and within.
Orwell’s classic parable of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union is flawless. The writing has a directness that is unparalleled and this, combined with his restless and ruthless search for truth behind ideology, makes this the greatest political novel ever written. However, it is far from a polemic and there are moments of real human (animal?) tragedy that would move even the most dialectically detached Marxist!
Of Mice and Men (1937) John Steinbeck
One of the first credit crunch novels. George and Lennie, two itinerant workers in California during the Great Depression, land casual jobs on a ranch, hoping to “work up a stake” and buy a place of their own. However Lennie, who despite his immense physical presence has the mind of a child, accidentally brings tragedy and misfortune down upon the two friends’ heads.
A road novel, an astute piece of social analysis, a brilliant study in character and dialogue – all of this and more can be said about this masterpiece.  Popular with boys, initially at lest because it’s short (I am sorry parents, but it’s true - this matters a lot!), the story soon engulfs all but the most unwilling reader. You’d have to be made of stone not to be moved to tears by the book’s concluding moments.
The Diary of a Nobody (1888-89) George Grossmith (illustrated by Weedon Grossmith)
This hilarious pseudo-diary first appeared in Punch magazine in 1888-89. Mr Charles Pooter is a social climbing, irredeemably snobby clerk in the City and his diary details his everyday life as well as significant social and family occasions. Mr Pooter’s pretensions and lack of self-awareness provide the richest veins of humour, but nevertheless he is a lovable figure and is perhaps one of the finest examples of the inconsequential suburban hero.
This book, helped in no small measure by its charming illustrations, cannot but help to delight. It serves in one sense as a fascinating social document in the way that it lays bare lower-middle-class life in the Victorian age, but is also startlingly modern at times, especially in the depiction of the strained relationship between Mr Pooter and his son Lupin, which is stunningly contemporary in the way it dissects the generation gap and the despair a father feels at seeing his son’s potential go to waste. This is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable books you will ever read.


Saturday, 11 February 2012

What we will be seeing during the 2012 Adelaide Festival and Fringe

It is always the same with major festivals - how is it possible to fit in everything you want to see along with still trying to do at least some work, keep up with research and still find the time to do all the other things that go along with modern life?

Therefore, after much deliberation, juggling of calendars, shifting of appointments and generally clearing the decks, the Cadogan and Hall Festival and Fringe programme of events is as follows:

Judith Lucy: Nothing Fancy - Thebarton Theatre, Friday 24 February @ 8.45pm
Charles Barrington:  Inside the Actors Studio Apartment - Tuxedo Cat, Tuesday 28 February @ 8.30pm
5-Step Guide to Being German - The Austral, Wednesday 29 February @ 8.15pm
All My Friends are Leaving Adelaide - Pembroke School, Friday 2 March @ 7.30pm
Wee Andy - Holden Street Theatre, Saturday 3 March @ 9.00pm
Legacy of the Tiger Mother - Adelaide Town Hall, Sunday 4 March @ 7.30pm
Bob Franklin:  An Audience with Sir Robert - Rhino Room, Wednesday 7 March @ 7.15pm
The Right Dishonourable Dickie Daventry - The Austral, Saturday 10 March @ 5.45pm
Your Days are Numbered: The Maths of Death - Science Exchange, Saturday 10 March @ 8.00pm
The Ham Funeral - Odeon Theatre Norwood, Sunday 11 March @ 3.00pm
Sarah Furtner:  The Good German - Gluttony, Sunday 11 March @ 6.00pm
The Caretaker - Her Majesty's Theatre, Tuesday 13 March @ 6.30pm
Bob Downe:  20 Golden Greats - Arts Theatre, Wednesday 14 March @ 7.00pm
Iolanthe - Opera Studio, Friday 16 March @ 8.00pm

Thoughts on this list appreciated - have we made some terrible mistakes?  Any sure-fire winners amongst this crowd?  Where have we wasted our money or where are we amongst the avant-garde?

Reviews will follow in due course...

Monday, 19 December 2011

A Room With a View?

Cadogan and Hall were at Adelaide Oval yesterday afternoon/evening for the SA v Victoria (or rather, Adelaide Strikers v Melbourne Renegades) T20 match.  A splendid win for Adelaide and, having also seen them play well in the 50-over competition, it is something of a mystery as to why there are doing so poorly in the Sheffield Shield.

However, cricket is not the focus here.  Rather, it is the new(ish) Members' Dining Room.

This was the first time we had taken up one of SACA's Summer of Dining offers and were looking forward enthusiastically to the carvery and booze package.  The food, incidentally, was good and the bubbles flowed freely, so no complaints there.

Our point of contention, put quite simply, is that we couldn't see the game!  We were in the front row of the dining room and had anticipated being able to scoff and watch the cricket throughout, the only movement necessary being that of getting up to fill another plate at the buffet.  Nevertheless, we couldn't see a thing.  Now, as astute as we are, we can't possibly be the first people to have noticed this, so surely it is not beyond the wit of man to rectify the situation.   Our understanding is that part of the whole rationale behind the western stand redevelopment was indeed to create a room in which members could enjoy a decent lunch, a glass or two of claret and watch the cricket.  And yet this last, some may even say vital, element seems to have been completely overlooked.  How this was not picked up during the design process is somewhat bamboozling, but what is more baffling is why no-one has done anything about it as the new stand enters its second year of existence.

Taking out a row of seats in front of the dining room, or simply raising the floor by about 30cm would seem to our untutored eye to be enough to do the job.  I understand, of course, that it is probably not as simple as this but surely some relatively straightforward solution can be found.  As much as we enjoyed the game and the atmosphere, there is little likelihood that we will take up one of these options again in the future (at the test match, for instance) given that it is literally impossible to watch the game while troughing down.  Fellow members had to resort to standing against the window of the dining room (after the roast pork and before the pudding) in order to be able to see any of the cricket at all.

Of course, for corporate bods at Adelaide Oval on a company jolly, watching the cricket is a secondary concern and so in this case poor sight lines might not be that important, but this is the Members' Dining Room we are talking about, for heaven's sake.  Membership of SACA does presuppose that one has at least a passing interest in the game of cricket.

We are of course fully prepared to admit that we are completely wrong about this and that other members have no issue at all with the arrangements, but in all honesty we suspect that others must have felt the same frustration.  If this is the case, surely a time will come when members decline to use the dining room at all,  and then where will be?  Perhaps some action should be taken before it comes to that.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Oakbank - a national treasure

Cadogan and Hall were at Oakbank races last Friday afternoon (9 December) for the Christmas in the Hills meeting.  It was a splendid occasion and this event really should become one of the social highlights of the run-up to Christmas.  There was a good-sized crowd (many firms treating the event as a works outing) but it was not excessively large, meaning that there was room for kids to run around and play (and well done ORC on all the free entertainment), you could get a bet on easily and there were no queues for a drink or a bite to eat.  Even getting in and out of the carpark was without anguish.

The racing itself was not necessarily out of the top drawer in terms of class, although there were some tight finishes and it was pleasing to see a race over a bit of distance, the Austbrokers Terrace Handicap being run over 2150 metres (Forcryingoutloud being caught on the line by Birchmore Road in the best finish of the day).

But at this time of the year, the racing is not the real reason for going to Oakbank.  The atmosphere is of course what draws us up into the Hills and in this respect Oakbank can't be bettered.

There is - thankfully - nothing manicured about Oakbank.  It looks as it has looked for as long as we can remember and no doubt it was looking the same for some time before that too.  There is wood, there is corrugated iron, there is grass.  That's about it.  The toilets (the gents', at least) look as though they haven't been altered since before the last war, while the horse stalls and parade ring too seem to have been unchanged in any of our lifetimes.  The stands are rickety, the steps uneven and the Tote is essentially a hole in the wall.

It is wonderful.  You can smell the history and tradition.  More importantly, you can see that the Oakbank committee has remained true to its roots.  It is a country, picnic racecourse and, despite the huge numbers that attend the track over Easter, it remains a picnic racecourse.   They have not been seduced into a ghastly 'modernisation'.  They have sought to attract the corporate dollar through offering a unique product, not by trying to make the track into something it isn't.  Kudos to them and long may this remain the case.

We shall be back at Oakbank at Easter (of course), along with about half the state's population and the atmosphere will then be very different - not queuing to put a bet on then will be nothing more than a dream. Nevertheless, we most earnestly hope that the committee continues to remain true to the real essence of Oakbank and we urge them most sincerely, between now and then, to do absolutely nothing.  Long may Oakbank avoid all change!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Adelaide Taxis - why, oh why...

We here at Cadogan and Hall are not inveterate night owls.  Indeed, most evenings you'll find us tucked up in a bed with an improving book at a reasonable hour, in order to be able to face the new day with at least a modicum of optimism.  However, every now and then, circumstances are such that we find ourselves out on the tiles, attending some binge that would stagger humanity and turn the moon to blood.  This weekend was one such occasion.

Which brings us to Adelaide taxis.  Where to begin?

At Cadogan and Hall, we are fairly cultured chaps.  We've been around a bit, as they say.  Having just recently returned from a somewhat lengthy sojourn in Asia, where taking taxis is a part of life for just about everybody, regardless of their station, we have been staggered by the cost of catching a cab in this town.  For instance, we had some old friends in town this weekend and we went to collect them from their digs on North Terrace.  We were running a little late for a reservation in Rundle Street and so decided to travel there by taxi.

It cost $10.00.  From North Terrace to Rundle Street.

At first, we assumed there was some malfunction with the driver's apparatus, but no, $10.00 was indeed the fare.  We then spent the next hour or so translating this exorbitant sum into foreign currencies and trying to work out how much time in a cab this would have bought us in one of our neighbouring countries.   Even in an expensive city like Singapore, for the same amount of money we decided that we could have been driven from one side of the island to the other - and then back again!

Despite this early evening setback, the night progressed well - perhaps a little too well - and before we knew it, it was 1.00am and time to find one's bed, trying not to rouse the neighbours with too many raucous, off-colour songs.  Such a wish was to prove futile.

We could not get a taxi for love nor money.  And believe us, after we had been standing on the road for about an hour, no amount of money would have been too great a sum to pay.  After over an hour and a half - quite literally, an hour and a half - of waiting we had to bite the bullet and phone home and make a plaintive request to be collected and driven home.  We will be paying for this - in so many ways - for some time to come...

The point, however, is this.  One cannot switch on one's television set without being bombarded with advertisements warning us of the perils of drinking and driving.  And we applaud this, we really do.  However, commensurate with this, the city needs infrastructure that is designed to cope with the demand.  And, quite frankly, it doesn't.  Had we taken a car out with us, it is a distinct possibility that we may have been tempted to get behind the wheel, despite drink having been taken by this point in time, simply because an alternative could not be found.  If you also factor in the exorbitant charges that taxis subject us to, doing the decent thing can easily add $50 - $100 to one's tab on a night out.

In all honesty, it is no wonder that so many people take the risk and drink and drive.

Lots of people going out on a Saturday evening and wanting to take a taxi home cannot be a new or unexpected phenomena.  It should not come as a surprise to anyone that people like to a take a glass of wine or two with dinner, or that they may get together for a pint or two of Pale Ale.  Yet we seem to have no way of delivering these people home safely at a reasonable cost and without a great deal of inconvenience.

Next time we see an ad urging us to act responsibly and not get behind the wheel after that third glass of  Mr Riggs Riesling, we shall have to fight the urge to fling the remote control at the screen and shout loudly to no-one in particular that that is what we indeed tried to do.  But it simply wasn't possible.

Taxis.  Make them cheap.  Make then plentiful.  Maybe then, otherwise upright citizens won't be tempted to do the wrong thing.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Norwood Oval - old world charm

Norwood Oval - or rather, Coopers Stadium as we are told we must call it - is the wonderful setting for the home games of Adelaide Bite, our team in the Australian Baseball League (now in its second season in its revamped format).

And it really is a splendid place to watch sport.  Norwood Oval (as we are going to continue to call it) can certainly be called old school, and it is none the worse for this.  In fact, this is the essence of its charm.

Sit where you like, even - heaven forbid - stand to watch the game if it so suits you.  Walk around the ground in order to gain a different perspective.   Move around freely without a ubiquitous burly security guard scrutinising your every move.  If you have children, there is actually room for them to run about.  It reminds us of what going to watch the football was like in the dim distant past of our youth.

What this visit has achieved, however, is to make us think more keenly on the tragic fate that is about to befall the Adelaide Oval.  Is it too late to prevent the sacking of our once beautiful ground, once the envy of the world's cricket-going public?  And if not, where will it end?  We very rarely find occasion to agree with Mr Peter Goers but, sadly, we think a recent prediction of his is correct, namely that the internationally renowned Adelaide Oval scoreboard and the Moreton Bay fig trees at the Cathedral end of the ground will be gone in five years' time.  And what will we be left with?

A sports ground that could be anywhere.  That looks like every other concrete bowl. We once had an icon and we seem determined to replace it with a stereotype.

We shall be returning, therefore, to Norwood Oval as often as we can to savour a unique, authentic sporting experience, rather than one manufactured to suit those from out of town who visit us once every year or so and moan because Football Park is not on the doorstep of their hotel.  Frankly, we would leave Adelaide Oval just as it is to encourage them to stay away!