#Book Snap Sunday – Mrs M

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Sharon at Gum trees and Galaxies has started a new meme called Book Snap Sunday. It is a project aimed to encourage a little bit of creativity while chronicling the books we have read, are reading or want to read. You can read more about Sharon’s Book Snap Sunday here.

The photo above is my first attempt at Book Snap Sunday. Mrs M by Luke Slattery is a fictional account of the life and loves of Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of Major General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810-1821. It was a quite enjoyable read and has whet my appetite to learn a bit more about Macquarie, who seemed to have rather enlightened views about society, convicts and the right to a second chance.

Elizabeth was a keen gardener, hence the backdrop of the lavender peeking over the hedge. She was also somewhat of a musician, playing the viola as well as the piano. The stand on which the book is sitting reminded me of the ornate music stands on the old pianos and the candles evoke a sense of a time gone past.

If you enjoy both reading and snapping, you might like to join in too. It is giving me something to think about as I read. I may not have something every Sunday, but I’ll give it a go.

Happy Reading!

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Book Bingo Catch-Up

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This year I am having a go at the Book Bingo Challenge run by Theresa, Ashleigh and Amanda. The idea is to read a book in each category over the course of the year and complete the Bingo card. With 30 squares it works out to be about one book every fortnight with a few double ups. You can read more about the challenge here.

Initially, as I finished a book I would check to see which category would fit and tick off that square. This strategy worked quite well for a while and at first it was quite easy to tick off some squares. But then it started getting a bit harder. None of the books I was reading seemed to fit any of the categories that were left to be filled. Obviously, I needed a different strategy. 

So one evening I pulled out my paper copy of the Bingo card, sat in front of my 2019 TBR bookshelf and started pulling out books. My TBR list is a never-ending, constantly growing, work in progress. I actually don’t know how many books I have sitting on my shelves waiting to be read, except that it would be a very big number. And that doesn’t count the ebooks on my iPad – you know, out of sight, out of mind. At the beginning of each year I select a range of books from my shelves that I want to read during that year and place them in a special bookshelf next to my bed. Currently it is called the 2019 TBR shelf. Next year it will be called the 2020 TBR shelf – you get the drift. I try to choose a bit of everything – some historical fiction, some SF, some crime, some fantasy, some non-fiction, some prize winners, some off the 1001 list and so on. A bit of everything.

After perusing the 2019 TBR, the Bingo card was partly covered in pencil scribbles of potential titles for at least some of the remaining squares, but there were still some gaps. I had to widen my search. So I went on a book hunt – up to the shelf by the front door, around the corner to the bookshelf by the kitchen table, past the bookshelf by my desk, to the two remaining bookshelves across the other side of my bed. This scavenger hunt had three main outcomes.

  1. I now have even more books on my 2019 TBR list.
  2. I have almost all of the remaining squares scribbled on.
  3. I have broadened my usual reading zone – which is one of the greatest benefits of completing a reading challenge. 

Of course, I still have to read said books, but at least there is a plan in place.

If the last six weeks are anything to go by, the Bingo card is back on track. Today I am checking off…

Memoir about a Non-Famous Person: One Life by Kate Grenville                                       Kind of a biography-memoir, Grenville’s book tells the story of her mother’s life. She wasn’t famous, but a remarkable woman none-the-less.

Written by an Australian Woman: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland     The book is visually gorgeous, the prose is beautiful, and the story packs a punch.

Written by an Author Under 35: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta                 Growing up is never easy.

Written by an Author Over 65: A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie                            Christie is always a winner. Nothing is ever as it seems.

Historical: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco                                                                       Now this was a hefty read. Intriguing mystery set in the late medieval world.

Fictionalised Biography about a Woman from History: Mrs M by Luke Slattery                  Mrs M is Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of Major General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810-1821. An enjoyable, if very fictionalised account of their time in Sydney, told from Elizabeth’s point of view.

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I now have one whole row completed!

There’ll be a bit more of a write up about these books, as well as the other books I have been reading, in my next reading update at the end of the month, but until then…

Happy Reading!

Breaking the Communication Barrier

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Communication difficulties and autism go hand in hand. It might be misunderstanding facial and body cues, taking things too literally or just physically getting the words out. Dan’s communication difficulties were the first indication that something was different. It was a very frustrating time for all of us. There was a lot of pointing, leading and screaming as Dan tried to communicate his needs and wants. Over the years we trialled a few different communication systems, from Makaton signing and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to a specific communication device. Each system had its benefits and  disadvantages. 

Makaton is a form of sign language which uses key words. It didn’t require any special equipment apart from hands, however it was the child who did not need to use the signs, Bec, who was the one using them. Dan, the child with the communication difficulties, took some convincing initially to use the signs. Signing was effective but it only worked with people who also knew the signs.

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 PECS involved the use of  picture cards called Compics – Communication Pictures. The exchange part of the system was very important because it taught Dan that communication is a two-way process involving other people. He had to physically take the picture and give it to someone and in a sense, this is what communication is all about, the giving and receiving of messages. It took a little training for Dan to get the idea, but I can still remember the day he first used the cards to initiate a request. I was so excited I felt like running out into the street and telling everyone. PECS was a great system because anyone could read the cards and know what Dan wanted. It did require a laminator, though and metres of velcro dots (I should have bought shares in a velcro company!) and the folder that Dan used to hold the pictures was a little cumbersome to cart around. 

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Then towards the end of primary school we were able to access some funding to get a small hand held communication device. This device used the same kind of Compics as PECS but also had speech. Dan actually learnt some speech by imitating the sentences verbalised by the device. It did work, as long as teachers and aides used it. And this has been a primary issue  – communication systems only work as well as those who know how to use them and actually remember to use them. 

The introduction of iPads, iPhones and other devices has opened up a new world for those on the spectrum. For quite some time I had been keen for Dan to try using an iPad for communication. He is pretty quick at learning how to use technology – you just have to ask his grandmother about that. He kindly updated her apps on her iPad without her knowledge. Well, finally Dan has an iPad and is using it to communicate but it has been a very drawn out and frustrating process. 

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You would think that a device that enables Dan to communicate would be a support that is both necessary and reasonable. Unfortunately, the NDIS didn’t seem to see it that way. We were able to access funding to trial different types of software. There are a few different ones on the market and we needed to know which one would be right for Dan. One size does not fit all. We eventually settled on a program called Snap+Core First. The next step was actually get an iPad for Dan.  This was something the NDIS would not fund, even though it was going to be specifically used as a communication device. They would fund a specific communication device but not an iPad. I suppose they thought it would be just used for entertainment! So we bought the iPad.

Then we had to get the software. Simply a matter of downloading it from the App store, right? No, not so simple. The NDIS would fund it, but we could only purchase items from NDIS registered providers. Apple was not a NDIS registered provider. Fortunately this was easily solved by purchasing some iTunes cards. Now Dan should be ready to go. 

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No, not quite yet. During the week Dan is out and about in different places with different support workers. How could we be sure the iPad wouldn’t get lost or dropped? We have already had so much trouble with losing hats – four hats in one month! And before that, it was losing his wallet – at least four times too. Sometimes I do wonder what is going through some support workers heads when they are with Dan. So a better case and shoulder strap would be required but this had to be ordered from a disability supplier. Now this was something the NDIS would fund, but for some bizarre reason they would only forward the money to purchase the case in dribs and drabs. By the time we finally got the full amount, which was not a huge amount to start with, the price had gone up! 

More than a year after we completed the software trial… we have now got the iPad, the software and the new case and Dan has started taking it with him every day to Yellow Bridge. Dan has been very quick to learn to use it. He is able to construct sentences, request items, ask questions and make comments. He even knows how to add new pictures and words to the categories and how to use the search function when he can’t find the word he wants. He also loves using the camera to take photos of the places he has been. He likes this so much we have multiple copies of everything! I think he just likes to stand there and keep pushing the button! Dan still needs to be encouraged to get it out and use it – initiation has always been a challenge – but it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Dan.

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National Bookshop Day 2019

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Across Australia today, readers and book lovers are celebrating the wonderful contribution that the local bookshop makes to communities big and small. It is a magical experience to enter a store specifically designed for the promotion and selling of books. Meandering slowly past rows and rows of shelves stacked with books, their colourful spines facing outward, exposing titles printed in bold black or embossed in sparkling metallic, we look for a new friend to take home. Will it be from the new release display at the front of the store, or the science fiction and fantasy section that has been promoted to the middle, or my favourite, the classics section hidden in the back corner.

In a regional city like Toowoomba, as well as the big cities that dot our coasts, we can often take our local bookshops for granted. We can choose from the big chains like QBD or Dymocks, the occasional independent book store, as well as the book sections located in department stores. However, for many book lovers in rural Australia there is no local bookshop.

Bookshops Need Booklovers

Before Toowoomba, we lived in a small country town out west. For most of that time, there was no local bookshop. However, I do remember the delight when an independent book store opened in the Main Street. It was an exciting event to have our very own bookshop, designated purely to books and so it was greeted with great enthusiasm by the local book lovers. It was thrilling to walk through the doors, browse the books on the shelves, enjoy the quiet or relax in the comfortable book reading furniture. Sadly, it was not to last. Independent bookshops never lasted more than a few months in our town. A rural bookshop needs more than just a handful of book lovers to be viable.

It’s hard for bookstores to be a viable concern in a rural town. Rural residents are often less well off. Books are a luxury they may not be able to afford, especially now when many rural areas are in the grip of severe drought. With a smaller population, there is simply not enough avid readers to support a book store. There is also less access to book related events, like writers festivals or author events, to encourage and promote reading as a worthwhile leisure activity. And rural towns often have a different culture, one focused more on more physical activities like sport. Quiet activities, like reading, are often not as highly valued.

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There were other options for buying books of course. The local newsagent stocked a small range of books, and our one department store in town also stocked a small selection of books, but not always what I liked to read. Often I had to wait for a trip to a larger town or regional city for the opportunity to visit an actual book store and on these occasions, our to-do-list was so jam packed with appointments and essential purchases that there was little time for browsing through a book store.

We did of course have a very good library. It provided a welcoming environment for browsing the shelves, enjoying some quiet reading time and sampling unfamiliar writers. But I never understood why there were no classics. What is a library without Austen or Bronte or Shakespeare? Surely I was not the only reader who loved the classics?

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Fortunately for rural book lovers, we live in the technological age. With limited access to a physical book store we are forced to turn to the online market place. It’s never quite the same as a real bookstore though. We cannot pick the books off the shelf, feel the embossed print, smell the paper, or read the first page. Online book stores are good if you know what you are looking for, but they hold so many titles it’s time-consuming to browse in the way that you can in a real bookstore. On the other hand, there is the anticipation and excitement of the arrival of a package in the post. After all, somebody has to keep Australia Post going!

So whether your local book shop is a physical store devoted to books, a couple of shelves in a department store or a well visited bookmark in your internet browser,  celebrate the joy that books bring to our lives and spare a thought for those living in rural communities where the local bookshop is often just a beautiful dream.

Happy Reading!

Texts in Adaptation

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It is not often I have time to sit down and enjoy a movie. We don’t watch much television. It’s probably because I refuse to pay for streaming services and there’s very little worth watching on the free to air channels. So we read or occasionally watch one of the movies or tv shows we have on DVD. 

However yesterday I sat down to watch the 2017 live action movie of Beauty and the Beast. Bec and I went to see it when it premiered here in the cinemas. It had special meaning for Bec as she was in the chorus when her school staged the Beauty and the Beast musical. It was quite interesting to sit in a cinema packed with adults to see a film about a Disney princess. And of course, we loved it.

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This time though, I was required to watch the film for my studies this semester. What kind of course requires me to watch a Disney film, you might well ask. The best kind of course I would think. A course that studies texts and their various screen adaptations, such as Beauty and the Beast, Pride and Prejudice, Logan, and an Australian film you may not be so familiar with, Jindabyne.  

Texts in Adaptation (that is indeed the title of the course) delves into the world of both literary and screen adaptations. As readers we all have opinions about much loved books being turned into movies, usually with the declaration – “It’s not as good as the book!” And until recently I would have said the same. However this course is challenging us to rethink the concept of an adaptation, to reject the idea of fidelity (faithfulness to the text) and to consider adaptations as texts in of themselves. The definition of text here also includes other media such as movies, tv and computer games.

It has prompted me to think about why we tend to think that the book is always better. Most often I think it is because we are readers first. We first experience the story and fall in love with it as a reader. The reading experience is completely different to the screen experience. Reading involves using our imagination to see the setting, the characters and the action unfold in our minds. We can choose the pace of the story, whether to read it slowly over a number of days or weeks, or to indulge in a binge read of a complete series. We can delight in the beauty of language as the authors creates worlds in our mind, arouses our sense, and taps into our emotions. We can reread parts or even skip ahead to the end. Our mind is actively engaged in making meaning from the text.

 

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Watching a movie, on the other hand, is a very different experience. While it can be exciting to see a beloved text on the big screen, we lose the choice of how the characters are depicted. Scenes and characters can be added or deleted. The setting or time frame or even the ending can be completely changed. We can come away thrilled at the experience or disappointed that it does not live up to the text that lives in our imaginations.

Sometimes there are practical reasons for changes. Sometimes the director or producers have a completely different interpretation of the text or motivation for even making the adaptation in the first place. Every reader interacts with a text in a different and personal way so it is impossible for an adaptation to please every one. But I think that one of the main reasons that we believe the book is always better, is that it is the way we first interact with the story. It’s not to say that screen adaptations are necessarily inferior, (although some probably are) – they are just different. The book is our first love and no adaptation can ever really replace that. 

The fidelity of an adaptation is often the thing that can get readers in a tizzy. We may love the text so much that any change is considered sacrilegious. But we might like to think a bit more about this idea of a text as original. Beauty and the Beast is a good example. Most people are probably familiar with the Disney version of this tale, however the origins of Beauty and the Beast date back to at least the second century CE with the story of Cupid and Psyche. There are numerous variations of the tale, including the one often considered as the original, de Beaumont’s version published in 1756. But as we know, fairy tales come from a long tradition of oral storytelling, so all these variations could be considered adaptations of adaptations…the original tale has been probably long lost. Do we really then have any right to be picky about screen adaptations? Aren’t they just another retelling in a long line of retellings which will continue as each successive generation retells the story for its own time?

It will be interesting to learn more about the business of adapting a text for the screen and the way that we can learn to appreciate an adaptation for what it brings to the story and the new meanings it may create, even when it may not be to our liking. I will still probably prefer the book, but that’s because I am a reader and the book will always be my first love. 

The Bolshoi Ballet – Spartacus

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Last month Bec and I went to see a simulcast of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of Spartacus. Performed in Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre at Southbank, the performance was streamed out to regional centres across Queensland, including Toowoomba, Cairns, Mt Isa, Gladstone and Bundaberg. Interestingly Brisbane is the only Australian stop on their tour – such a good reason for living in the Sunshine State. 

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the world, so to see them perform is a truly memorable occasion. Founded in 1776, it is also one of the oldest ballet companies in the world. The word “bolshoi” actually means “big” or “grand” in russian, and when you see them perform, bolshoi is an apt label. Their performances are known for being bold, colourful, athletic, expressive, dramatic and intense and Spartacus lived up to that reputation. It was extremely athletic and emotionally dramatic. The two male lead dancers endurance and athletic prowess was incredible.

The story of Spartacus has spawned many adaptations – novels and movies, as well as ballet. Of course when you mention the word Spartacus, many people will immediately think of the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas. I can remember seeing that film on television many years ago, however that film was based on the novel by Howard Fast. The ballet Spartacus tells a slightly different variation of the story.

Living from 111-71 BC, historians believe that Spartacus may have been a roman soldier, who “escaped”, but was then recaptured, and along with his wife, enslaved. Forced to fight as a gladiator, Spartacus led a slave uprising, known as the Third Servile War. While many survivors of the battle were publicly crucified, supposedly around 6,000, Spartacus is believed to have died on the battlefield.

The Ballet of Spartacus shows the ruthless arrogance of the Roman Empire as they invaded, enslaved people, forced them to fight as gladiators for their own perverse amusement, separated husbands and wives, and sexually abused women. The four main leads in the ballet, Spartacus, his wife Phrygia, the roman leader Crassus and his consort Aegina, were brilliant. The performance was not just incredibly technical and athletic, but also portrayed Spartacus’ anguish at the loss of his freedom, his joy when reunited with Phrygia and his courage in the final battle. His crucifixion at the end of the soldiers spears demonstrated some very inspired and dramatic choreography. The final moment though goes to Phrygia, as she defiantly declares that Spartacus’ name and sacrifice be remembered in the annals of history.  And so they are today.

After the performance, Bec and I declared that one day we would like to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform live. One of the benefits of the simulcast is that we had a variety of camera angles – views that even people in the Lyric theatre would not see. We saw close ups of the dancers and could see their emotional response as they literally poured everything into their performance. To see them perform live on the stage would be a once in a life time experience. The simulcast experience was amazing, despite some initial technical issues which fortunately got sorted pretty quickly. It’s probably not as good as being right there in the Lyric Theatre, but it was definitely the next best thing and it was a fantastic opportunity for people around the state of Queensland to see a performance by a world class ballet company – something which many regional people may never be able to experience otherwise. I think the state gov of QLD and QPAC really need to be commended for their determination to being the arts to the regions.

Family Time

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In our hectic modern lifestyles, it can be hard to carve out spaces for quality family time. It often becomes a matter of minutes snatched here and there, in between ferrying children all over the place, never-ending domestic chores, and work or study related activity. Until one of those significant life events occur that draws the family together in a big way. 

We’ve just recently returned from a trip down to Adelaide for my uncle’s funeral. Funerals are a bitter-sweet time. There is sadness because we miss the one that we loved and we cannot imagine our family without them. But sometimes there is also happiness and relief that a long and painful journey has come to an end. And so it was with my uncle. After a long fight with cancer, he is at peace. 

Adelaide is my home town. Although most of my family grew up in South Australia, in Adelaide and in small farming towns to the north of Adelaide, most of us now live in other states. We sometimes joke that we get along better that way. It is difficult for us to be together in the one place, at the one time, and so, when we are together, the time is very precious. Despite the reason for our gathering, it was a beautiful time with my parents, my brother and his family who flew in from Western Australia, and my aunty from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

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My uncle was a farmer, a traveller, a glider. He married late in life, gaining not just a loving wife and companion, but three young adult children, who held him in great esteem, love and admiration They gave such beautiful tributes about the role he played in their lives, showing that family isn’t always about blood, but about love. He was their hero. 

My uncle will be missed but the time we spent sharing stories, laughing and remembering, deepens the memory of him in our hearts and minds. My mum and aunty reminisced about growing up on the farm with their brother, riding to school in the horse and cart, and family holidays at Victor Harbor. These are the stories that become part of our family folklore to be passed down through the generations. And the telling of these stories, over and over again, strengthens the relationship between all of us. Sharing our grief and our joy brings us closer, even though we live many miles apart.

We also added a new story to the family folklore. One evening we went out for dinner at one of the local hotels. Paul has a sweet tooth and so he ordered some dessert – strawberries and cream. When the dish arrived, there was great amusement as we embarked on a strawberry hunt. Apparently “strawberries” means one strawberry cut into four pieces, spread across a rectangle plate with small blobs of cream. Photos were taken, of course, and the story has already been repeated and will no doubt be embellished as time goes on.

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Paul’s Strawberries and Cream

Some stories become traditions imbued with special meaning. When my mum, aunty and uncle were growing up, they went on an annual holiday to the beach. Initially this was to an Adelaide beach called Glenelg, and then to Victor Harbor, as mentioned before. The tradition didn’t stop there. When our cousins came down from Queensland to visit, our grandparents would take our whole family for a holiday to Victor Harbor. Interestingly, the holidays to Victor Harbor started well before my grandmother was even married. Victor Harbor was a special place to her and so it has remained for our family, so of course, any trip down to Adelaide must include a visit to … Victor Harbor. My brother even took his family down there for a few days holiday continuing the family tradition.

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Looking Across to Victor Harbor from Granite Island

 All family gatherings eventually come to an end. We all have normal lives to which we must return, accompanied by a collection of new memories and a story or two. As the years pass, and more and more family members pass away, it can often feel that we only see each other at funerals. And this where we can see the true blessing of technology – for keeping us in touch with those who live so very far away and the recording of stories for future generations.

May-June Reading Update

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The last two months have been somewhat dismal on the reading front with only a total of five books, and one of those I began quite a long time ago. Oh well, there’s always July.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguru28920

Ever since reading Remains of the Day, Ishiguro has become one of my favourite authors. Although he was born in Nagasaki, he moved to the UK when he was quite young and he credits growing up in a Japanese family for giving him a different perspective than his English peers. He has been nominated for the Man Booker prize four times, winning it for Remains of the Day, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. 

A Pale View of Hills, published in 1982, was his debut novel. Set in both Japan and the UK, the story centres on Etsuko as she reflects on her life after the recent death of her daughter. Ishiguro’s novels often don’t end with the kind of neat resolution that we have come to expect and this book is no exception. The ending was a little disturbing as we discover that things are not always what they seem. A thought provoking if unsettling read.   

Boys Will be Boys by Clementine Ford40737717._SY475_

At the beginning of May I attended a live and local screening of Ford’s session at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and then I read her book. Ford has a reputation as a radical feminist but I didn’t get that impression from either the panel discussion about toxic masculinity or her book. Yes, there’s “language”. Yes, she’s often sarcastic. But I believe that she is right about the negative and damaging impact of patriarchy and toxic masculinity not just upon women, but especially on men. I devoured this book in one day and was filled with anger, sadness and frustration.

 In a recent article about domestic violence,  Hayley Gleeson quotes Margaret Atwood,

 “Men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them.”

One of the most common responses to the issues of domestic violence, toxic masculinity and misogyny is “not all men”. True. It’s not all men and we know that it is not all men. But that’s not the point and Ford addresses the “not all men” response. There has been too much silence for too long. If we wish to create a society in which all people are respected and valued, then men and women need to stand together to call out bad behaviour, to intervene and to speak up.     

 Are Women Human by Dorothy L Sayers 320481

Dorothy L Sayers (1893-1957)was an English crime writer and poet, friend of C.S Lewis and one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. Although she finished with first-class honours in 1915, she had to wait a few years to receive her degree, as degrees were not awarded to women at that time. Typical! She is probably better known for her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, however she also wrote many essays, of which two, ‘Are Women Human’ and ‘The Human-Not-Quite-Human’, are contained in this little book. 

Sayers discusses the way women are always seen in reference to men, always as the “opposite sex” and she wonders if there is a “neighbouring sex”. After all, as she points out, “women are more like men than anything else in the world. They are human beings.” Sayers was writing in a time when women’s access to education and employment was restricted, so her main arguments focus on firstly, that women are human beings, just like men, and secondly, that every human being needs to have purpose and occupation. The upshot is that women want to be respected as individuals in their own right, with their own unique combination of abilities and interests, and not as a single homogeneous class. Perhaps the same could be said of every human being. 

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 841628

Douglas Adam’s (1952-2001) science fiction cult classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy contains time travel, aliens, a depressed robot, as well as the end of the world. It is a hilarious and madcap ride around the galaxy and through time and I loved it. Labelled a “trilogy in four parts”, the book also included The Restaurant at the End of the Universe;  Life, the Universe and Everything; and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Apparently there is also a fifth book in the trilogy, Mostly Harmless, which I will obviously have to track down. Originating as a radio program, the “trilogy” has gone on to include plays, comics, computer games as well as television and film adaptations. A definite must read for those with a warped and zany sense of humour.

Paradise Lost by John Milton 13455114

First published in 1667, Paradise Lost has been described as “the greatest epic poem in English literature.” In poetic form, Milton (1608-1674) recounts the Fall of Man, the temptation of Adam and Eve, and their exclusion from the Garden of Eden. Teskey (2005) says “Growing to understand Paradise Lost is a lifelong adventure”, which is good because it has taken me five years to finally finish my first reading and I think I got the gist of it. One of the problems is that it was an ebook, so because it wasn’t sitting right in front of me on my bedside cupboard with a bookmark sticking out, I would tend to forget all about it. It was also a book that required a fair bit of concentration. Anyone who has ever read Shakespeare would understand what I mean. I found that the best way of reading Milton, was to read it out loud (you should probably do this in private to avoid strange looks though.) Reading it out loud helped me to both get the rhythm and a sense of the drama. I definitely would like to read again, perhaps in another five years, but next time I will use an edition that I picked up from a Lifeline sale, which includes footnotes and some critical commentary.

Book Bingo

I have been getting a bit behind on Book Bingo. Recent reads have not really been fitting into any categories but this month I am claiming The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as my comedy read. After all it did me make me laugh – a lot.

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Dangerous Liaisons

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On Friday night I went to see Queensland Ballet’s performance of Dangerous Liaisons at our local Empire Theatre as part of their regional tour for 2019. If you have read the book by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in 1782, or seen the 1988 screen version starring Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, then you may remember that it is a scandalous tale of seduction, revenge and betrayal set in pre-revolutionary France. The blurb on the back of my penguin edition says…

“Depicting decadence and moral corruption in pre-revolutionary France, Dangerous Liaisons is one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Two aristocrats embark on a sophisticated game of seduction and manipulation to bring amusement to their jaded existences. As their intrigues become more duplicitous and they find their human pawns responding in ways they could not have predicted, the consequences prove to be more serious, and deadly, than Merteuil and Valmont could have guessed.”

I read the book a few years ago, as it is listed on the 1001 List – 1001 Books to Read Before You Die – but I haven’t seen the movie. Classic books are not always an easy read for contemporary readers, especially when they are written in an epistolary form, that is, as a series of letters, which is the case for Dangerous Liaisons. It can also be a bit tricky keeping the various characters with their french names clearly sorted out in your head as you read. Some readers find the story deliciously wicked and others have lauded the way it delves into the dark side of humanity. I don’t quite remember my initial reaction which probably means that I need to read it again. It may be one of those books that gets better with each read.

“a classic tale of seduction and betrayal”

Dangerous Liaisons has been adapted a number of times for stage, opera, ballet and screen, but this particular version by Queensland Ballet was a world premiere when it opened in Brisbane in March of this year. It was promoted variously as a “classic tale of seduction and betrayal”, “a hedonistic tale of love, virtue and humanity” and an “evocative and vivid work that will scintillate audiences” (QLD Ballet). It was also stressed that it was a production for a mature audience. Well, they got that right. It was the raunchiest ballet that I have ever seen. 

Now I did know the story, and I did expect it to be somewhat risqué. But hey, it’s ballet. How provocative could it be?

It was an incredible performance. The period costumes were fantastic. The music fitted perfectly. It was brilliantly executed and the emotion portrayed by the dancers was outstanding. It was also provocative because it clearly depicted the licentious and morally corrupt behaviour of the french aristocracy. Some reviews, that I read post-performance, described the production as brave and sensual, some noted the literal depictions of libertine behaviour, while one likened it to a strip club.  

I think it is the story itself that sits uncomfortably and causes a sense of disquiet. It is not the licentious behaviour of the french aristocracy so much, who obviously had way too much time on their hands and seemed determined to have sex with anybody and everybody. I do hasten to add that it was not all members of the aristocracy who were so inclined. No, it is the deliberate seduction and corruption of a young, naive, virginal girl for the sordid amusement and vengeance of of the two central villains, without a single thought or care for the consequences. Remember, this is the 18th century and there is a clear double standard when it comes to sex and morality. In the wake of the “Me Too” movement and regular reporting of revenge porn, domestic violence, sexual assault and catfishing, it is this part of the story that causes discomfit.  Perhaps discomfit is not what we expect from ballet. Perhaps we expect Swan Lake: beautiful, graceful, romantic, tragic.

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Art has many different purposes. It entertains us. It educates. It challenges. I like to read books that I know will challenge and expand my horizons. I go to see some movies for the same reason. One of the most memorable films for me was “Cry Freedom” (1987).  Set in South Africa during  the late 1970s, it depicted the reality of apartheid. One of the things that was particularly memorable for me came when the audience exited the cinema –  in absolute silence. We were shocked, stunned, appalled by what we had seen. Challenged. So, if we can expect to be challenged by literature and by film, why not ballet?

If you explore the Queensland Ballet website, you will see their motto – Move Boldly. 

If you read their vision statement this is what you will see…

“Our dream and our endeavour is to connect people and dance across Queensland through a program of delightful, exciting and challenging work, collaborating with leading artists and organisations.”

I did find Dangerous Liaisons somewhat challenging. It reminds us that the oppression, degradation and humiliation of women has a very very long history. It shows us the depths to which humanity so often descends. It provokes deep thought and reflection about the way women continue to be treated, the double standards that are still applied today and the very important role that art plays in culture and society. 

I am glad that Queensland Ballet is a company that seeks to challenge as well as entertain. I appreciate their goal to bring ballet to those of us who live out in the regions and I hope they will continue to stage challenging works in the future.

No More Plates

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Just to be clear, we have not decided to dispense with using dinner plates but have finally come to the end of attaching Provisional Driving plates onto the car. After four years of attaching yellow learner plates, then red provisional plates and finally green provisional plates, Bec has officially come off her Ps. So no more plates on the car. Hooray!

Learning to Drive in Queensland

Once Bec turned 16, she was able to sit a written test about road rules to obtain her learners. She had to be on her learners for at least a year, log a minimum of 100 hours of driving experience, including 10 hours of night driving, and display the yellow learner plates on the car whenever she was driving.

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At this time, we were still living in a small town out west, where it takes about five minutes to drive from one side of town to the other, so it was quite a challenge to log 100 hours. Fortunately, we took regular trips to Toowoomba and an occasional trip to Brisbane, as well as one road trip down to South Australia to visit family, so she eventually accumulated the 90 hours of day driving. The night hours were a bit more difficult. We hardly went anywhere at night, so when we moved to Toowoomba, we would deliberately go for a night drive. I would check out the Toowoomba map, chart out a route that would take us all over town, and off we would go.

After a year and 100 hours were logged, Bec could sit her driving test. I was quite nervous about how she would go but fortunately she had a lovely examiner who cracked some jokes and helped her to relax. After passing the test on her first attempt, Bec then had to spend a year on a provisional license with a red P plate. At the end of that year, she had to pass an online hazards test and then it was onto the green P plates. It was supposed to be only one year on the green Ps, but of course the rules were changed and she had to do two years on the green P plates. There were some restrictions for P plate drivers, mostly about who could be in the car late at night, but this never really affected Bec.

And now finally that is all over and we are both relieved. No more shuffling plates on and off the car. So often I would go out in the morning to take Dan to Yellow Bridge- oh, have to take the plates off. Sometimes if we were all going somewhere together, Bec would ask if she could drive – oh, have to put the plates on. I am so glad that’s all finished. I think it is an excellent system for preparing young drivers. Ensuring that everybody is safe on the roads is extremely important – the road toll is bad enough as it is.

I am also thankful that I only had one child to teach to drive.  I really feel for those parents who have three, four or more children. Teaching a teenager to drive is a very stressful job. Bec is a very responsible driver, but in those early months the brake pedal on the front passenger side didn’t seem to work at all! Funny how we push our foot to the floor, even though we know there is no brake there at all. Just habit, or panic, I guess.

People are sometimes surprised when I say that Dan will never be able to drive. I’m sure he’d love to. He loves driving the dodgems at the show and the driving games on the Wii, but that’s as close to driving a car as he’s ever going to get. He probably gets a little frustrated when he sees Bec hopping in the driver seat and he never gets to have a go.  It’s not that Dan couldn’t learn how to drive a car. I think he’d be able to steer the car quite well. He’d probably be ok driving the ute around a paddock, but not on the road.

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Dan would never pass the learners test to start with. While he knows some basic rules – red means stop, green means go – he has enough trouble crossing the road safely. Dan’s autism means that he can be very fixed in his routines and when he gets in “the zone”, he just goes. More importantly though, he lacks the ability to make those split-second decisions when the situation or routine changes or somebody else does the wrong thing. If the traffic light was green, he’d go. Regardless. Besides, having seen his driving technique on the Wii, I think it would be a lot safer for everyone if he stayed in the passenger seat!

People have suggested that driverless cars might provide an option for people with disabilities in the future. Maybe, but I don’t think I’d be willing to give them a go. I don’t fancy being in a car which drives itself. For now, Dan will just have to get used to being in the passenger seat and driving on the Wii and at the show. I’m just relieved that I can  hop in the car and not have to worry about taking the plates off.