Leafing Through the Pages of Time

My love of magazines began in childhood. My mother bought stacks of them every month and passed them on to me after she had read them cover to cover. Titles like Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman and Home were the ones I saw most, with an occassional Photoplay thrown in, but I was also quite happy to get my father’s Mechanics Illustrated when he had done with it and filed his favourite projects. No one remarked on the clear definition of interests – things were very traditional then. At street markets we bought American magazines like Life and Seventeen (my personal favourite – how I longed for a pair of saddle shoes!) My mother loved Life magazine – a confirmed royalist, she cherished her copy with this portrait of the then Princess Elizabeth on the cover.

28July47

So my main interest in vintage mgazines is mainly womens’ magazines from the 1940-60s. The physical changes are immediately apparent when you look at the covers – older magazines are thinner, smaller but more densely packed with text.
As you come up through the decades, the paper becomes smoother and glossier, the pictures get larger, color is introduced and, of course, the advertising becomes more lavish. So if you remove the larger illustrations and the pages of advertising, womens’ magazine have actually not increased much in text content.
But how that content has changed! Our mothers and grandmothers really enjoyed their magazines, and looked forward to every issue. Just skimming through a magazine of the 50s shows plenty of varied reading matter, from short stories and serials to feature articles.
The idea that women’s magazines once only contained recipes and knitting patterns is quite wrong. The target reader for these publications come across as outgoing, curious and eager to learn about the world she lived in.
In contrast to the self-absorbed reader of today, there is a noticeable lack of self improvement and self analysis. Problem solving was strictly practical – the advice columnists were no nonsense types who upheld strong social values and had little time for women who could not control erring husbands and wayward emotions.
There were the pages of recipes, but in the older magazines, these didn’t have today’s mouthwatering illustrations. The favored cooking style was cheap and plain. Foreign food was largely unheard of, and even Chinese cooking got little attention. The curry was a popular dish because it could be left stewing all day while housewives got on with the business of housekeeping without modern aids.
Crafts were simple, mostly confined to knitting patterns, crochet and embroidery – some of these are so pretty, I am tempted to learn to knit!
Toward the end of the fifties, the magazines started to include movie news and reviews and star stories, but nowhere near the salacious content we see today. The stars are never seen at less than their best and little reference is made to their private lives. In fact, one article strongly defended Hollywood marriages, saying the divorce rate in the star community was smaller than the populace at large!
Some obsessions seem to be perennial. There are long articles discussing the latest trends in child rearing, and the problems associated with motherhood. Did you think that diets were the prerogative of our generation? Wrong, women of the early 20th century were just as concerned with the state of their figures. But the ideal wasn’t a six pack set of abs, it was a tiny waistline. There are lots of ads for miracle slimming pills and other products that “magically melt away that ugly fat.”
No political correctness or consumer protection guarded gullible readers against these ads, but they were no sillier than the claims for miracle herbal “fat blasters” today.
The aim of slimming was just the same – to look as good as the willowy models in the fashion pages. But the bodies were very different – full hips, nipped in waists, and womanly bosoms – the ideal was the `hourglass figure’.
No wonder women of the sixties fell on the `sack’, a shapeless, waistless, baggy number that skimmed all manner of figure faults. But even then, one catty fashion editor remarked that it looked much better with a belt.
The magazines of the 40s, 50s and 60s were aimed at the homebody, to be enjoyed with a cuppa and your feet up after a hard day’s housework. If you want that kind of cosy reading today, you have to go to the `lifestyle’ magazines.
Today’s women’s magazines, with their lip licking celebrity gossip and pages of advertising, are clearly designed for the woman with nothing better to do than read them.

200th Birthday of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

IMG_2447

This year the grand old dame of Sydney, the Royal Botanic Gardens, celebrates her 200th birthday. Spent the day there recently with Jack and Lucia and had a fabulous time. The gardens always manage to look good, and there were some cool new things to see.

IMG_2449

One thing that never changes is the view – just glorious, in spite of the loud house music emnating from one of the boats. Couldn’t they have picked something decent?

 

IMG_2477

The Wollemi Pine has grown into a mgnificent specimen, straight out of Jurassic Park. Discovered in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales in 1994, the wollemi dates back 116 million years – a living fossil. It’s quite awe inspiring to gaze on something that existed with dinosaurs. Now I know how Dr Alan Grant felt!

IMG_2492

The Cactus Garden is quite specyacular but the most terrifying exhibits (possibly not even intended) were these guys, dripping off almost every plant.

IMG_2489

Something new, and stunning, is Wurrungwuri, a pair of sculptures by Chris Booth, This one is made from 16,000 white pebbles that look like eggs stacked together. The sculptures are intended to encouraged habitation by wild flora and fauna. This one has habitation for bats.

IMG_2518

Happy birthday! Who knows what will be discovered and created in another 100 years.

A Place in the Country

While staying in Sydney with Jack Perry and my daughter Chi, of the rock band A Girl’s a Gun, I accompanied them to a gig at Laguna in the Hunter Valley – well, just outide it, as this small hamlet is known as the Gateway to the Hunter Valley. Our destination was the Great Northern Trading Post, an eclectic assemblage of amazing old buildings and antiques where good food, good wine and good music are the order of the day. But the first thing you notice is the view…

IMG_2569

 

And after that, the Mad Max wildlife…

IMG_2565

When they are not rocking the Sydney music scene with their band, Jack and Chi play gigs like this as a duo where their repertoire of blues, soul, jazz and rock suits the ambience.

IMG_2560

While they played and sang, I wandered about and found some things just begging to be photographed – like this overgrown whatsit that reminded me of the krynoid from Doctor Who. In fact it concealed a far more mundane secret. It’s the public toilet.

IMG_2541

The room where Jack and Chi played had wonderful views from this airy little balcony, where I caught them relaxing between sets.

IMG_2563

It was the most atmospheric, peaceful room, full of glorious little vignettes like this desk…

IMG_2546

…and this window….

IMG_2549

These ‘Kraken’ bottles seem to be quite a feature of the GNTP. They remind me of Captain Jack Sparrow, but that’s water, not rum.

IMG_2576

I loved this antique (vintage?) pram sitting in state on its pedestal, just one of the quirky little vignettes dotted about the place – honestly, it’s just like a box of story prompts.

IMG_2574

Mismatched windows and panes of glass like boiled lollies – everything offered itself as a work of art. In every way, a most enchanting day.

Learm more about the Great Northern Trading Post here.

 

The Reality of TV These Days

On the one hand, I can’t believe this is TV season Prime Time in Australia – on the other hand, it’s all too stultifyingly obvious. Reality shows, stretching as far as the schedule can go – weight losers, cooking losers, building losers in hard hats and neon vests – all bursting into tears and having tantrums at the least excuse.

One look at The Biggest Loser (what a perfect name for this show) told it all. The hulking trio of Rambo, Xena and the other guy strode into the fattest town in Australia assuring us that they were going to make it shape up. I thought they were going to do a Jamie – open a gym, drag the population down to the park for push ups and improve eating habits by teaching the denizens how to cook. But no, only the chosen ones would get the opportunity to be snarled at by Rambo, yelled at by Xena, and handed tissues by the other guy.

The usual bunch of self loathing fat people sobbed and self immolated their way through the auditions, while Rambo et al deliberated which ones needed to lose weight most. How’s this for a radical idea? All of them! Get them all out there running in circles in the park!

A first glance at My Kitchen Rules (which I have to admit I have watched before – I did love those two bitchy gays in Season 3) but I’m over lame-assed dishes, sob stories, ‘my dream’ and sniping Disney villains now. Watching someone try to slow boil duck in a baking dish full of oil (I think its called a confit) was utterly disgusting. I think it’s safe to say I have moved on.

But I don’t mind if other viewers love these shows and want to see them return. Fine. I’ll watch something else. Except that there is nothing else. What’s this deal with putting them on every night? What’s wrong with once a week? Maybe twice for recaps? But EVERY night?

Last year I would have chuckled and said ‘SBS to the rescue.’ Not only better cooking shows, but better TV all round. Until I moved into an area that doesn’t get the SBS signal. At. All. Luckily, I have also recently upgraded to a new laptop – one that streams SBS on Demand like a boss, not like my old laptop, which didn’t. So instead of people dropping their ingredients on the floor and sobbing in Manu’s arms (is there nothing these women won’t do to inhale his Frenchness?), I have been watching a couple of shows that have restored my faith in the better nature of TV programers.

In Archeology: A Secret History, Dr Richard Miles traces back to the first archeological explorations – and surprisingly, that’s not that far back. Ancients, after all, made the stuff we dig for and like today, didn’t think it was ever going to be worth that much (Barbie collectables, anyone?) and later societies just saw it there every day and didn’t think about it much. I was tickled to learn that the first true archeologist was the Emperor Constantine’s old mum, Queen Helena, whom he sent off to the Holy Land in search of relics that proved the existence of Christ after he shook the scattered pieces of the new religion into order. Nothing like slamming the stable door shut after you’ve let the horse loose on the populace.

arcgheology_jph_2550855b

Dr Richard Miles – I love the way he loves archeology

In her 80s, Helena was a game old girl, toppling a temple in her quest, and bringing back a nail from the cross, a robe (not the Turin Shroud) and bits of wooden crosses. Irrefutable proof, now on display at the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany. They even made a solid gold container encrusted with jewels to  house the nail- imagine that, a rusty nail as long as a man’s hand given a solid gold container.

None of it proves that it had anything to do with Christ (unless there is a good sample of his DNA still to be found) but it is still astonishing to see an actual nail – the sheer heft and size of it – and imagining it being hammered through a man’s hands or feet. Dr Miles was pretty exited to be holding it, and well he might – real relic or not, it is an amazing link with the past. Good on ya, Helena.

HISTORY OF ANCIENT BRITAIN

Neil Oliver, part rock star, part archeologist

In A History of Ancient Britain, another windswept and interesting archeologist takes the viewer back to the dawn of humanity and a Britain that was still part of the frozen tundra of the ice age. Neil Oliver has the rugged persona of a true Celt and looks a bit like Gabriel Byrne. The camera loves him a bit too much, but in between rugged close ups, there is a lot of fascinating information – such as the ancient Paleolithic tribe that made Nutella (by grinding hazelnuts to a paste to take on long journeys) and a huge tsunami that finally freed Britain from the mainland. Riveting stuff, can’t wait to see the rest. Both shows are also availble on BBC4 as well.

This is probably how I will be watching TV until the reality shows end. SBS On Demand has Iron Chef, as well. Bargain!

iron-chefkaga_mug

I love this man!

For crying out loud!

51a7b3tWaHL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_
I have to confess I absolutely love Top Gear. I love the TG Triad of Clarkson, May and Hammond, the cars, the jokes and the madcap adventures around the world. How does this sit with my rather Greenish and liberal stance on everything else? Very badly. But I also love being entertained by witty, cheeky – yes, even bombastic – Englishmen(QI is another case in point)and yes, I love Jeremy Clarkson best of all. Even if most of it isn’t irony, sarcasm or just plain self mocking British humour, I love the way he talks, the way he writes and the way he slags off sacred cows.  Knowing this, my eldest daughter bought me a gift pack of three of his books, and I have happily devoured them all. Drat the man, I laughed even when I disagreed with him. But actually, quite often I did. The world, according to Clarkson, is a daft place that has abandoned common sense and is slowing strangling in its own politically correct red tape. Honestly, who can argue with that? Well, the people busy wrapping the tape obviously. The rest of us are too busy choking on it.

Clarkson has no such restraints, he talks right through it, about everything, from Audis to Coke Zero, about cars, phone boxes, binge drinking, droughts…he fills that column of his in the British Sunday Times with whatever is on his mind at the moment – and there’s a lot. He’s not always wrong either. “The sea’s a frothing maelstrom of terror and hopelessness” does sound more exciting that the bland weather forecast of “stormy”. This book is dedicated “with gratitude to the Green movement, the Americans and the Health and Safety Executive for giving me so much to write about.”

But is he betraying green sympathies in How to Blow Up a Dead Seal when he writes of his efforts to dispose of the body of a seal dead from natural causes on a beach. In typical Top Gear style he does try to blow it up, but the body is barely touched, although the rest of the beach looks like Beirut. Finally he tries to dig a hole in the sand with a bulldozer but it keeps filling itself in, so he is forced to leave the seal to decompose aromatically while Clarkson wears a gas mask to write his column.

Lovely, side splitting stuff. He’s a one man Monty Python. OK, so he didn’t actually manage to give the dead seal a decent burial. But at least he tried, and that might just make him green enough to pass muster. I hope so, because I really don’t want to have to stop loving him – and Top Gear.

Get the book at Amazon

Can there be too many mangos?

In short, yes! This is how our mango tree looked a few weeks ago.

green mangos

garden laden mango tree

Loads of green mangos, waiting to ripen. It looked like the lushest bounty imaginable.

Do you remember that Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter films? How it suddenly threw off every leaf as if it had become extremely irritated with them? Well, mango trees seemed to do the same thing. The mangos ripened practically over night – might have been something to do with the big heatwaves we have been experiencing – and next thing you know…

IMG_1859IMG_1860

As if the groaning weight of all that fruit just proves too much for the tree to bear, down it all comes. We have been picking as as much as we can, peeling, cutting and freezing (mangos are good for the skin, by the way, my hands have never been so soft) but there’s just so much! The birds love it, we have had some delightful parrots in the garden lately, but even they have struggled to cope with the glut and there are half eaten fruit everywhere.

The rainbow lorikeets are so gorgeous, I have been trying to capture them on camera, through the back porch window.

IMG_1857close up parrotparrot

Not as close as I was hoping to get, they spotted me hanging over the windowsill with my camera very quickly.

Between us we are clearing up the mango glut – but there is still some way to go…

Live Music and Cultural Values

AC/DC Lane
AC/DC Lane (Photo credit: zoonabar)

 

It is really not surprising that Gypsies performed live entertainment as they travelled – making live shows in one place gave you the coin to move on to another place. I was born into that life. My father and his family were travellers. In his time, he was a musician, a magician, a carnie sideshow operator, an actor – whatever it took to make the coin to keep moving.

 

I grew up listening to him playing the and the banjo. I heard Chuck Berry and Sonny Terry and Barnie McGee on the radio when he tuned into the American Forces Network to learn new songs. Later my own children were similarly brainwashed with blues and rock and roll. We regard busking as an honorable profession (because my dad was a busker in Dublin before and after the war). My daughter Lucia is the lead singer with A Girl’s A Gun. One of the highlights of my writing career was being entertainment reporter for a Western Sydney newspaper, and meeting people like Adam Rawson of Normal Day and The Australian Music Industry Forum, who is passionate about creating more live venues for Western Sydney bands. Yeah, music means a lot to us.

 

More than that, more than what it means to my family, live music and entertainment are an essential part of the cultural life of a place. I get angry when developers and newcomers move into a city area and demand that the life and zest of the place be changed to suit them, as happened at AC/DC Lane in Melbourne. I detest it when people claim live music is dead. Sit at Brisbane’s South Bank with me and tell me that. There is plenty of live music in Brisbane, and plenty of people who want to listen. Only culturally lazy people say,”Yawn, no one wants live music anymore, we have the Internet…” Rubbish. Couch potatoes and Internet Heads are excluded from this conversation. While you are glued to your screens, people are out having a good time and looking for more places to go.

 

So when PM Kevin Rudd says he is going to fight the good fight for the Australian live music industry, I am waving my cultural flag in support. Some may think it pales in comparison to saving other industries but Australian music has been very profitable for this country and deserves the same respect and support as every other. It provides employment, not just on the stage, but in many other areas of Australian working life. It is something Australia can be proud of – we know Australia’s got talent. Just give it somewhere to be heard, and keep party politics out of it. I don’t care who does it, as long as it gets done.

 

 

South Bank Dreaming…

South Bank in the late afternoon is ambient and wonderful – drinking a strawberry smoothie from New Zealand Natural, gazing across at Little Stanley Street, with its left bank atmosphere and sidewalk cafes.

IMG_0999

The sounds we can hear are the bubbling little water fountains, and musicians performing at the Plough Inn, just a few metres to the left. One of my favourite songs – “Better be Home Soon’ written by Neil Finn.

IMG_1002

On the tables is a gentle warning against feeding the Ibis, the water birds that frequent South Bank. They can become a downright nuisance to rival Sydney’s seagulls if you give them half a chance.

IMG_1006

On the way back we pass the Plough Inn and pause to watch the musicians we were enjoying earlier.

IMG_1008