Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Five Days of Unemployment

I skipped out of the Bastard Bank data centre at ten past five this afternoon, a spring in my step, the weight of the world off my shoulders, looking down the tree lined tram line into the future. Though I am going to miss the people - I met some great ones there. I'm not going to miss fogey radio over the loudspeaker, the previously monotonous work (which did get better after a bit) and the isolation of being just that little too far out of town.

It felt like bliss.

The other good thing to happen today - it appears I've got myself a contract, starting on Monday with a new consultancy. The paperwork is on it's way, but the job is there.

So what am I going to do with my time off? Slep in? Relax? Go away?

No such luck.For the next five days I want to achieve the following:

Finish editing that book.
Get on top of the Greek Travel page I've got on
Clean the flat
Put some crap on Ebay
Train for at least an hour a day
Have a massage on Saturday
Go go to Blarney's tenth birthday party (Blarney was born on 29 February - hence she's ten)
Have lunch with my old Tin Can, String and Whistle team
Have dinner with some mates
Dream group
Go to the consultancy Professional Development session.
Finish my current novel.
Read the book for book group next week.

That will do for a start.

So tomorrow morning, sleep in? No such luck. I'm off to Blarney's at the crack of dawn. One of the boys is in hospital with a virus (he will be fine, just has to stay in overnight, poor lamb). As luck has it, Blarney has a business commitment she has to make, Barney is staying at the hospital with Chance - so I'm off to take care of Lance and wait for the arrival of their grandfather, who's making a mercy dash from Tasmania to help out for a few days.

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to be looking after Lance for the morning, providing tubs of yogurt at regular intervals, pushing round trucks and reading books.

And being really honest, as much as I'd love a lie in, knowing I can help a friend feels good. If the shoe was on the other foot, I'm sure Blarney would do the same for me.

Well, at least it's something different - a change is as good as a holiday.

And this is a change with cat time attached - can't moan about that.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Sis

My kid sister is turning 40 tomorrow.

So it's with a few reservations that I'm heading back to Adelaide tomorrow morning.

Regular readers will know that my sister, affectionately referred to as Manhands, and I don't have the closest of relationships. It's not that we don't get or or like each other, it's just that we're completely at opposite ends of every spectrum know to man.

Politically we're opposite (she votes Liberal because they're the family party - I wouldn't piss on Tony Abbott if he was on fire, my politics being in a more socialist vein)
She did all the things you're supposed to do - get married, buy a house, live in the suburbs, have kids and  a Golden Retriever and a mortgage - I've done none of that.
My sister's only been to New Zealand (family holiday when we were teenagers) Tahiti for her honeymoon and Bali for their tenth wedding anniversary. I've travelled the globe.
She didn't go to university or tertiary education - I did.
She had a boyfriend from when she was in first year high school and has always had a boyfriend/fiance/ husband - I never went that route never having a boyfriend for more than a few months at a time.
She's a blonde. I'm a brunette. 
She doesn't read books. I do.
She doesn't go to movies or plays much at all. I do.
She's into things. I'm into experiences.
She got on with my parents as a teenager. I didn't.

The list goes on and on. Other than we talk with similar inflections in our speech and if you look at us, you can see similarities, we'd never be seen as sisters.

She's never been in my flat. She's never visited me - then again, I don't have kids and I've got disposable income so I can get away cheaply and easily. I tend to call her. I can't remember the last time she phoned for a chat.

To be honest, if we weren't sisters, we wouldn't know each other. Other than sharing parents we really don't have much in common.

I don't have any photos of us together - then again, very few people have photos of me. My sister is the one who's happy to be in front of the camera - I take the pictures.

There were a lot of disparities between the way my sister and I were treated by my parents, but that's water under the bridge - and I don't really feel like rehashing it. I've spent years in counselling over it. It's done with.

I've no idea what her favorite bands or music is. I'm pretty sure that she would say the same of me.

So it feels a bit strange that I'm travelling back to Adelaide to go to her fortieth birthday party. Mum's told me that we're going to be serving food and drink for the night.


JD, my step-sister, will be coming for a bit, which is good - I'll have somebody to talk, even if it is only for a short time - JD and I know very few of my sister's friends, just as she knows very few of mine. When she came to my fortieth a few years ago she was very much a fish out of water. At least I have a job to do tomorrow night to keep me occupied.

Then later in the evening, my Mum and step-dad and my nieces will go back to Myponga for the night, then early-ish the next morning we'll return to Adelaide and then I'll board a plane back to home to Melbourne.

I know this is stiring stuff up in me - I just can't quite put my finger in what it is. I'm here with a very unusual glass of wine.

I think I will have another.

I just hope she has a lovely birthday.

Happy birthday, Manhands. xx

p.s. Why refer to my sister as Manhands? Well, she's my height, about the same size as me, but her hands are what appears to be double the size of mine. They're certainly not ugly, but she has big hands. And feet - which is a bonus as she can always find shoes on sale - being a standard size 8.5 (39 in European sizes) this never happens for me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Random Lyric Public Holiday

As is the tradition with me, it's a public holiday and on my facebook page I post random song lyrics. I could do random movie lines, but that would be just silly. Well, sillier than posting random song lyrics, but as I like this ritual, and I'm stuck in front of a computer for most of the day writing and editing, so it's a nice diversion. Some songs are a bit ear wormy. Some songs mean a lot to me. Some songs just come off my iPod and that's it. The only guarantee is that somewhere in the 24 hours there will be Pixies song mentioned.

So let's see what comes up this time round.

Wednesday 25/1/12, 22.43 p.m.

"Quesadillas made with cheese and a rock band who went Japanese."

"Ripe", Ben Lee

This some was discovered in the car when driving one day. A friend loaned me a Ben Lee CD and this was the last track on the album. I wanted to pull over and just listen. Still reckong Ben Lee is one of the most underated songwriters and performers to leave Australia.

January 26/1/12 ; 08.00 am

"You're so pretty when you're unfaithful to me."

"Bone Machine" The Pixies.

Ah, told you there would be a Pixies song in the mix. Bone Machine is one of there better mosh pit songs. I have memories of being among the mix up near the front of the stage with a group of other like minded late 30/early 40 somethings, howling the chorus, then going nuts in the coda.

I love the Pixies for their what I refer to as 'groin factor'. Their music gets to your kundalini and winds its way through you. It spurns you on to get into mischief. And getting into mischief is one of my favorite things.

The Pixies have always, and will always appeal to my very latent, unexercised wild creature. Love em.

9.35 am.

"There's a ghost in my lungs that sighs in my sleep."

"I'm Not Calling You a Liar"  Florence + The Machine

Introduced to this band in the gym, there was something about the unusual lyrics and blended sound that got to me, so I bought the album on spec. One of my best purchases of last year.

This song is one of my favorites - Florence in a bit of downtime.

11.36 a.m.

"We'd like to know a bit about you for our files. We'd like to help you learn to help yourself."

"Mrs Robinson" Simon and Garfunkel

Always a standby for the car. Guaranteed to get you humming along, you can't go wrong with these guys.

I came to Simon and Garfunkel late - as my parent's music tastes ran to Bing Crosby and Hooked on Classics (remember those awful albums with Classical Music and an electronic drum beat - dire!) I bought their "Bookends" album on cassette on the back of the greatness that is Paul Simon's "Graceland" album - the latter which was played to death. Found out that they were the ones who penned 'Hazy Shade of Winter" - which I knew from The Bangles. Doh.

A song that you want to sing along to, but you probably only know a quarter of the lyrics. And then if you don't know the words you can just go, "do dee doo doo doo doo doo doh."

1.49 p.m.

"The Captain's name was Morgan, by heck he was a gorgon."

"The Good Ship Venus" aka "Frigging in the Rigging". Traditional but covered by the Sex Pistols and many, many rugby clubs.

I've got a reasonable repertoire of rugby songs tucked away in the back of my brain, joys of a mis-spent youth and a not particularly politically correct father. There was a tape of me aged about five singing "I'm glad that I'm an Australian, I'm glad that I am free, but I wish I was a little doggie, and Whitlam was a tree." Cheers, Dad. (If my father ever got wind that you more likely to get me using heroin than voting Liberal his ashes would be stirring in that ugly columbarium in which he rests.)

Still, I get a giggle out of this song, which I've been known to hum along on car trips, shock the pants off the lady freemasons and generally show that I'm not as nice a girl as people think I am.

Found this version of the song, which you CAN play with children in the room. It's the PC version of this very traditional song.


"I'm a lot like you so please, hello, I'm here, I'm waiting."

"El Scorcho" Weezer.

Another car song. I do a lot of singing in the car. I get caught a lot at the lights singing along to something or other that's pretty daggy. The best car songs are the ones which allow you to moan, yowl, scream and sing at the top of your lungs - and this song fits the bill pretty well. It never gets flicked to the next song on the iPods random shuffle - unlike the Arctic Monkeys...


"I could have been a common thief sitting in the dirt quite happily"

"Coin Laundry" - Lisa Mitchell

Possibly the only decent talent to come out of Australian Idol in eight years. I'm ready to strangle Guy Sebastian and Stan Walker as they're all that dag radio at work plays (along with a lot of Adele, who I used to like, but I can't stomach any more through over playing, and I want to garotte Beyonce and Rhianna...)

Lisa Mitchell probably never should have made it onto that stupid show. She's alternative, smart, savvy and she's got a wicked view on the world at a very young age. Her "Wonderland" album is fantastic - and this song is very ear wormy. Once this gets in my head I sing it for days.

5.27 p.m.

"Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, yeah."

"Sexy and I Know It."  LMFAO

This song is soooooo wrong on soooooo many levels. It's always on in the gym. Pinochet always sings along to it, normally when you're lugging round some heavy weight, which makes you want to clobber him more. Sometimes Pinochet even does the movements - which is just wrong. To me, it's just proof that boy bits should stay tucked away in underpants and only brought out when absolutely necessary and preferably in the dark.

I'm posting the Elmo version instead. Much better. Tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle....

8.31 p.m

"I was guessing at numbers and figures pulling the puzzles apart."

"The Scientist"  Coldplay

I have a theory about Coldplay. Just like Aha, Spandau Ballet, Pat Benetar, Cold Chisel etc etc, in twenty years time their songs are going to be played over the tannoy on dag radio in the data centre of Bastard Bank.

Until that happens, I'm going to continue to enjoy Coldplay, because as soon as anything gets played over the loudspeaker at the Bastard Bank data centre, I automatically hate it. (Thankfully I only have three days left there... yay!)

I've always loved this song - just as I've always loved "Yellow" and quite a few more of their songs. Still not sure about their latest album, but it's growing on me.

9.41 p.m.

"Nothing can interfere with a dream of dreams so near"

"Man with a Gun" Jerry Harrison

This song brings memories of the late eighties, of a person that had to be left behind, of new love, of drunken nights on summer streets and the promise of more.

Jerry Harrison is ex-Talking Heads (another favorite band) Another song I find myself singing when I'm out running. It reminds me of good things. Of nice things. Of a person on a promise. Ah to be twenty again.

10.28 p.m.

"Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society"

"An Englishman in New York" - Sting

This was my theme song for many years.

From 1993-1999 I lived in London, working for an now defunct international banking house, without a valid visa to my name. I was an illegal alien. However, as I have an "English" name, a varying English accent and I paid my taxes and national insurance, I got away with it. This was over ten years ago. I wouldn't do it again, but I have no regrets.

This song came on the radio regularly  - it still comes on the radio quite often - and it reminds me of Liverpool Street Station and my time in London.

And I've always loved Sting and the Police - unlike Spandau Ballet, they haven't got banal and daggy over time.

Well there you go. Another public holiday, another round of random song lyrics to amuse, infuriate, stump and annoy.

Happy Stralya Day!


I can do this...

Okay, it appears I'm not as big a wuss as I thought.

I dragged the bike down the two flights of stairs this morning with a huge sense of trepidation.

Jonella came over for a bit of moral support - and brought her new fandangled pump so that the tyres could be inflated to something more than the flat balloons that they were.

Being somebody with a bit of pride, I decided to try a few laps of the driveway first. Which went fine. Then I did a lap of the block and got home just as Jonella was pulling up.

"Didn't need to come and give you moral support, did I?"
"Nope, but I needed you to come and pump up the tyres for me."

Dag points for this photo being taken in the driveway - I sort of feel like you did when you were a little kid and your dad had finally taken off your training wheels.

Double dag points for my lilac bike hat (but it goes with my lilac swim cap - bought because nobody will steal it.) 

After Jonella left I took the bike out of the Yarra bike path for about half an hour and covered seven or eight kilometers and it appears that riding a bike is just like riding a bike. Still scares the hell out of me. The Yarra trails are filled with people with little dogs that are just begging to be run over (not that I would ever run  over a little dog, but with my bike handling skills...)

You don't forget how to ride a bike.

Now I just need a bit more confidence and all will be well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Fear and Confidence

I look at myself now and I wonder how is it I got where I am.

Yesterday I had an interview. This is what happens when you're looking for work. Not that I want to leave the consultancy I'm with,  but if this job came my way I would be a fool not to put my hand up for it. Eight months of work in my area - training and doco.

Sitting in the waiting room of an anonymous office in Southbank, suited and booted, face paint applied in an understated matter, lipstick blotted, I waited for the interviewer.The only consolation I could have made with my dress was a pair of stockings, but as it was 35 degrees celcius in the shade, sod stockings. I don't wear stockings at the best of times unless I REALLY have to - and it's only when it's under 25 degrees.

 I wasn't delayed badly, but I did have to wait for a few minutes. It happens. People run late around lunchtime.

The door opened and in walks my manager from seven years ago - a person instrumental in getting me where I am today. She was the first manager who I worked under in a technology role. We've been bumping into each other in the street every so often for years.

"I heard you were coming in. Your names been bandied around here for the last few days." she said.

Glumph. I'd only passed over my CV on Friday around two. I had the interview lined up by four.

We has a brief catch up - her son, the one we used to watch through binoculars from the 35th floor as he played at his day care centre on Collins Street is about to start high school. She asked about my writing and if I kept in contact with a few old colleagues. She wished me luck and bid me farewell.

The interviews went really well. All three panelists (who I saw one at a time) made positive comments and made reference to the fact my name came up via a couple of people. Never a bad thing at all. I had to wing a few questions on some technical stuff - to which I gave my best standby answer - I pick things up quickly, and that's what google is for - which is true. If you don't know, ask google. If google doesn't know, ask the network, which is expanding and filled with all sorts of good advice.

Sitting, answering the questions that were fired with me, it finally struck me - I know what the hell I'm doing. even if I don't know what I'm doing, I have the confidence to muddle through and get on with things.

We'll see about the job - I'd like it if I can get it.

For somebody who used to have no self-worth or self-esteem, this is huge.

I like it.

I like it a lot.

Had a similar feeling coming out of a meeting with a resource manager here at Bastard Bank. Only good things to say, would happily keep me on if and when the roles comes up - send my CV across and watch him work some magic. All good.

Last evening, sitting in my lounge room, the opposite occured.

Jonella's mountain bike was finally assembled. I had to get a bit from the bike shop to get it to work properly. Discovered that hot blokes hang out at the bike shop. Also discovered that the ditzy female routine works well on the guys at the bike shop.

"Hello, I need a bit. Well, I need a part. Look, I need one of these things." I said as I pulled a zip lock bag out of my handbag this levery, metal bit thing (allegedly called  a skewer, but I think a whatchamacallit suits it better).
"I can help with that."
"Cool - but is it a bit or a part?" I asked using my best cow eyes.
"Its a bit that goes with a part," cute bike dude replied.

Two minutes later, $20 poorer I had a new thingy for the bike in my handbag and I trotted home.

An hour later, the bike was in the middle of the lounge room, dohickey in place and the bike in one piece.

And all I have to do now summon up the courage to take the wretched thing downstairs and go for a ride.

I'm petrified.

I can tackle corporate Australia. I can run half marathons. I can dispose of hunstman spiders with the aid of a can of bug spray and a hoover.

But I'd dead shit scared to hop on a bike. What a wuss I am.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Find Me Another Day to the Weekend

Okay, the last week has looked like this:

Monday: Gave myself a night off after tripping and falling heavily in the street. My right knee is still blue and purple and I can't kneel on it. The grazed elbow is nearly healed. My pride remains dented.

Tuesday: Book Group, followed by a trip out to Gloria's to donate some flowers for her 60th. Worth it, but tiring.

Wednesday: Went back to dream group. A few buttons were pushed.

Thursday: Saw Pinochet. Full sit ups while carting an 8kg kettle bell in one hand have left my abs shredded.

Friday: Jonella, Mary-Rose and I went and saw something called "Spontaneous Cabaret". A mix of theatre sports and musical theatre. Very fun. Very funny. We were asked to put a song title into "The Bucket of Dreams" at the start of the night - and the cast members improvised songs and styles, asking the audience to vote on the four or five songs started. Mary-Rose's selection waas chosen for votiing - but her song, improvised into the new musical "Believe" didn't make it. Personally, I think a song entitled,"A Unicorn is a Pony with a Strap-on" has a lot of potential.

The three of us had a great night and a good laugh.

Saturday:  Got up, met Kitt at Richmond pool for my first swim training session. Went about 800 metres in under half an hour. Kitt's attempting to correct my stroke. I'm a confident swimmer, but my stroke is crap. I had my last swimming lesson when I was six-years-old - but I've picked up a lot after spending years in swimming pools. If I had more time I'd go and get some lessons to correct my stroke - but for now, Kitt is doing a great job.

An hour later I was scaling the 1000 Steps at Ferntree Gully. Met up with a group from the 12WBT. It was also great to make contact with Bertie, a woman I met on the 2009 Melbourne Half-Marathon. Bertie and I just started running together, our strides about the same. We ran for over 10 kilometres, finding out we're in similar types of work, both from Adelaide and all sorts of other things in common. Last year I ran with her for a bit, but ran ahead after fifteen minutes. Still great to meet up with her again.

The afternoon was spent trying to tame my feral flat, with a little success. The bathroom is clean, the washing and ironing done - what more do you want?

Late afternoon, Trin and Rhee turned up and we made our way to the Botanical Gardens to see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. We took a picnic, a tarp to sit on and a decent quota of pear cider.

I forgot to warn Trin and Rhee about me and cider. I really like cider. Unfortunately, cider doesn't like me. Well it does like me, but it sends me stupid. Beer keeps me honest, spirits render me voiceless, wine makes me emotional - and cider puts a gleam in my eye, a dopey smile on my face, a raucousness to my laugh and the devil up me. Watch out any man in a ten foot radius. Cider takes my gentle, quiet, unassuming nature and turns me into Fifi La Rue, potty mouthed, vampy sex kitten, with the propensity for singing "Roll Me Over in the Clover" with my legs wagging about in the air. Well that is after three pints of Scrumpy. Two bottles of pear cider and I have the gleam in my eye, the raucous laugh and my poor friends wondering where sedate, plain spoken Pand had gone.

The performance of "Behind the Scenes of A Midsummer Night's Dream" was FANTASTIC. Have not laughed that much in ages. Incredibly silly, very smart and great fun, I'm hoping to go again. It was a great night. The line of the night came after an on-stage discussion of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical "Paint Never Dries."

Sunday: Read my book for a bit before going to pump. Came home. Was going to drop out and see Blarney and Maow Maow, but Blarney's ill. Did some writing and got ready for Gloria's afternoon birthday party.

After getting back from the shindig held in the Docklands, I made my way out to Mary-Rose's place. Jonella had dropped her spare bike off and it needed collecting. It appears this triathon is happening. Thankful that Mary-Rose's bike mad brother was about, I got a lesson in how to put the bike together as it was in three pieces when I go there and being a cycling nuffer, needed some help. I'm pleased to say I can put the thing together and take it apart with ease now. It's no harder than putting an AK-47 together (another story for another time, but yes, I can strip down and rebuild a standard issue machine gun..)

Mary-Rose also asked if I'd like to come and do cat duty with her. See, Mary-Rose works at her local vet, and on weekends, she checks in on the moggies boarding at the practice. I jumped at the chance. After spending 15 minutes cuddling this gorgeous black kitten (who climbed all over me, purring incessantly) and spending time with this black and white skunk like arrangement called Sylvester, who looks like his cartoon namesake, and Oscar, the fat ginger long haired fellow, I went home very happy - still wondering if I could steal the kitten...

Came home early this evening, tired but happy.

And now I need another day for the weekend.

I'm interviewing tomorrow and Tuesday. I've got writing and editing work to do. There's some stuff I have to complete for the consultancy. There's dream group. There's training with Pinochet. I have to get a 'skewer' for Jonella's bike as I've been told there's a chance I'll do a face plant if I use the one that's on the bike at the moment. There's a 90 minute spin class and a BBQ to go to on Australia Day. Then's it's off to Adelaide for Manhand's 40th next weekend.

Please can I have another day for the weekend?


Life is good - but it's bloody busy.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Trying the Tri

I wish I wasn't a people-pleaser.

I wish I had the guts to say no more.

I wish I hadn't opened my consultancy email the other day, where there was an email from the Executive Assistant which went along the lines of,"Hey Pand, you're up for a bit of fun. Do you want to go in the BRW Corporate Triathalon? Let me know."

The EA is not somebody you say no to. She's lovely, but she's got this way of looking at you which beats you down in ten seconds.Most of the people at the consultancy have this feature. You just don't appear to mind doing things for them. You know what it's like. " Jump off a cliff. Yeah. Sure. Drink battery acid. No problem."

I was due to check in at the consultancy later that morning, so I said I'd have a think and give her an answer when I go there. Arriving at the office, I had a chat to the EA. She said I could try on the uniforms for size. Hmmm. Go on, she said, looking at me with a look that would give Bambi a run for his money.


I put up objections about maybe not working at the consultancy in March as my contract was days off finishing. Didn't matter she said - I was part of the consultancy family (something I love about the consultancy) Besides, I participated in the other BRW race.

After a few more minutes I ran out of excuses. She gave me her best full on Bambi look and I was unable to say no.

So effectively, I've been press ganged into my first triathlon. 400 metre swim. Ten kilometre cycle. Four kilometre run. To be held down in Elwood Beach on 4 March.

I have never had the desire to participate in a triathlon. Never. Zip. Nada. Never appealed to me at all. Triathlons are for grunty boys with much to prove. And Tony Abbott. (Bleargh)

Looking at this, it is a doable challenge.

Okay, the running component isn't a problem. No worries at all. My normal training runs are between five and seven kilometres at the moment which are about to be built up to regular tens again. No issue at all.

If I get myself into a pool now twice a week, the swim wont be a problem - I'm a competent, confident swimmer - I've got no style, I'm not very fast, but I can beat out a kilometre in a pool without too much hassle. This is open water, but it's only 400 metres and there are plenty of other people for the sharks to bite in the water at the same time. Open water isn't my favorite water to swim in, but ah, plenty of people to save me if I start to drown.

The cycle section.


The last time I rode a bike was in 1991.

I used to be able to ride a bike. I'm not bad at spin class. But spin class doesn't entail wearing a silly hat and having your butt bruised by pot holes and it's hard to go over the handlebars in spin class.

Jonella has offered to loan me a bike. I'm not sure where I will get one of those silly bike hats from (I'm told they're called helmets). I'm also thankful that I live near a heap of bike trails and I won't have to practice on the road - I can't put me on a road with a bike. Traffic scares the hell out of me - but I should be okay on the bike path, away from the traffic. The bike can live in my spare room while I have it in my custody. And after the race, I won't have to ride one again.

But the swim, the cycle and the run aren't the things that scare me the most.

These are far more banal than that.

First issue. I have to wear lycra in public. This is not something I consider doing lightly as it is not a pretty sight. Nobody is a pretty sight in lycra.

Second issue. How am I supposed to run in aforesaid lycra uniform? I have to double bra to run normally - one industrial strength scaffold arrangement on the bottom and a crop top over it to give a bit of stability. If I run without two bras I end up with black eyes. Like being in lycra, not running with proper support is really not a pretty sight. A stray boob could knock somebody out.

Third issue. After swimming in the sea, in a lycra uniform and two bras, wont like the grains of sand stick and basically chafe you to kingdom come? I hate chub rub at the best of times, but this is just asking for it.

Fourth issue. What if Greenpeace is about? Will they throw me back in the sea after the swim.

And before you rag me about self-deprecating humour, Greenpeace are nice to dolphins too. I'm no longer a small whale. I like to think of myself as a dolphin. Nicely rounded with just enough blubber to keep me warm.

Goddess, give me strength... Training starts Saturday with two laps of the 1000 steps and either a boxing class or a swim.

Ah well, at least it will get my exercise fully back on track.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Joys of Giving and Receiving

Yesterday was what should have been a 'meh' day.

But it wasn't

It was 35 degrees in the shade outside. Meh. The heat was the nice kind of heat - dry with a breeze, although the Hare Krishna's appeared to be wilting outside of Flinders Street Station later in the day, sounding like a 45 rpm record played at 33 speed, their esctatic jumps more like a half-hearted demi-plie. I passed them as I made my way to book group with an ice cream in my hand.

Simple pleasures.

Other good things happened yesterday.

I'd received my marching orders from my current job in the morning. My last day, 31 January. No more miserable people, boredom and not particularly effective management. I'm happy to be moving on. I know I have to go find another job -  and it will happen. I'm just pleased that this three month period of work misery is nearly at its end.

The day had lots of other lovely little surprises.

Glen Waverley and I met for lunch. Hadn't seen him for a few weeks and this was overdue since he and Merijn only got back from New Zealand last weekend. Our lunches are a regular occurence. On meeting he handed over a bag, inside which was a decorative gift box.

"Present for you. A thanks for looking after the cat."
"There's no need. But thank you." I responded.

Inside the box, a bottle of my favorite perfume. I'd asked them to collect me a bottle if they saw a bottle in duty free if they thought about it and I'd pay for it when they got back.

"We were going through customs we weren't exactly sure what perfume you were after. But then we smelled it and we knew it was you," he told me.

I find it a little strange that I have friends who know what I smell like. This small fact got to me. I didn't realise that people got close enough to me to get a whiff of the Stella MacCartney scent I've been wearing for years.

"This is too much." I told him.
"No it's not.You deserve spoiling."

I smiled, nodded and thanked him again. It's lovely having friends who appreciate you. Merijn was thanked for the offering when I saw her at book group later that night - still feeling very blessed.

Book group was fantastic. The book, Zoe Heller's "Notes on a Scandal" very well received - the conversation flowed, and dinner, a pot of garlic bombed mussels hit the spot on the warm night.

Racing home after this, I dumped my stuff, hopped in the car, went around to the local 24-hour florist on Bridge Road and debated flowers in my head while the florist made up arrangements for other customers. Roses, lilies and carnations. Nice and bright, but not too bright. Irises wilt too easily. Sunflowers, under the circumstances, not really appropriate. Australian natives - not today. Besides, the roses smelled amazing. I settled on a large mixed bunch in bright apricot tones. Gorgeous. I jumped back in the car with the flowers and made my way west. It was 9 p.m.

My friend Gloria turned 60 yesterday. The flowers had to be delivered in person on the day - that was important - no florist vans and recalcitrant delivery people to deliver these blooms - they had to be selected and delivered by me. On the day.

Not only is Gloria having to come to terms with the fact that she's now eligible for a Seniors Card, she's also dealing with the sudden passing of her beloved sister ten days ago. She's rightly distraught, but also working out where all of this fits in her life. It's hard stuff. Not having seen Gloria since Christmas Day as she's been away it would be good to see her.

Twenty minutes later I arrived at Gloria and Gaynor's place and made my way out to the back yard, where she and some friends were finishing dinner.

The flowers went down a treat.

"It's just lovely that I have friends who love and appreciate me. I'm thankful for the lovely weather that lets me have dinner in the back yard. I'm thankful for my good health. And I'm thankful for the vanilla ice cream I'm about to have for dessert. You're having some, aren't you, Pand."
I nodded with glee. Ice cream twice in one day. Cool!

 I added, "Are you thankful that you can get into the cinema for five bucks less after you make that trip to Centrelink."
"So you can get your bus pass. You get your bus pass at Centrelink, I think." piped out one of her other friends.
"Oh, I spose I should think about that. Not that I ever take the bus."
"True. But it makes you think."
"Yeah, it makes you think how lucky you are to have friends who come and stand by you, and who bring you flowers and presents on your birthday or for what ever reason , and cook you meals and talk to you through things good and bad."

I couldn't agree with her more.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Little Rituals

5.02 p.m. Friday - the brunette in the stripey top streaks for the door, flashing a pass to get her through the umpteen air locks to let her finally out to the street and apparent freedom.

It's Friday night, nothing's planned. That's a ritual in itself. After years of going out and going hard in the week, the most exciting thing that gets done on a Friday night is turning up at beer club at my old company for a Brok or two. Not that this will be done on this night. The beer club mates are still out of town or busy - no beer club tonight.

Friday night is about feeding the soul. Which means doing things I love doing - not things I have to do. A walk to the post box, a banal act in itself, but the perfect foil after a tedious week in an unwanted office. A feed of hot chips, a weekly serve to stop the cravings from setting in. A trip to the macaron shop - not that it's open at the moment. A visit to Chokolait for a chilli hot chocolate dialed up to nine (I don't normally do hot chocolates, but I make an exception for these - Reindert put me on to these a few years ago and they are sublime). This is the ritual if I don't turn up to beer club, where I will dribble crap with old friends for an hour or so.

I've been thinking at the little rituals of my life - exclusive of the ones that go on at my Freemason's - which I'm forbidden to talk about.

My wandering along among the arcades and narrow lanes of the city bring me peace - as all good rituals should do.

The final stop on the walk back to the tram is to Spellbox, my witch shit shop in the Royal Arcade, where the wheel at the back of the shop is spun to obtain advice for the weekend. Wandering through the scent of frankincense amongst the talismen, tarot cards and idols gives me a sense of belonging. This side of me is hidden for the most part of the day.

This weeks message read, "The Wheel speaks of: Happiness and Freedom - Great happiness will be entwined with your fate; dancing, romancing, and joy for joy's sake. Knowledge and health, an abundance of wealth; a future to connect with your magical self."

It gave me a little hope - dactylic trimeter will do that for you.

Friday evening, once home, is quiet. A little television. A load of washing. Maybe hoover the floors. Maybe do the kitchen and bathroom floors - jobs so hated but so necessary. Maybe a little writing or editing. My book editing job is almost over, thank heavens. I have another Greek Tour description to do by the end of the weekend - nearly there. The ritual of typing and considering - not that writing about tours around the Northern Peloponnese takes much talent or skill - it's just the ritual of sitting, considering, writing and refining.

The writer's life. Look. Consider. Write. Refine. Write. Slash. Refine. Hope.

It's really what ritual is all about.

I've other rituals. My visits to Blarney's on the weekend. I drop over for a cup of coffee most weekends to see Blarney, Barney, her 18-month-old twin boys and most importantly, the Maow Maow. On entering, giving everybody in the room  a peck on the cheek (has to be done - including if Grandpa is over from Launceston) I find the cat, pick him up, place him on my shoulder, and there he stays for around 20 minutes, or for what ever time is required - it depends on who moves first - do I need to sit and have a cup of coffee? Is he over being carted around like a fox cape. It's our ritual.

Other rituals are now coming into play as the boys are getting older. Bouncing the twins in my knee to the tune of "Row Row Row your Boat" , or "The Wheels on the Bus" are now in order. They're at the stage where they can sort of sing along in their joyous, discordant 18-month-old voices. I'm hoping I'll get a name soon. But there is nothing more joyous than the toothy grin of a toddler as he descends into your lap from a reasonable height. Chance has discovered that I hate being tickled - so five minutes of tickling has to take place before he goes toddling off to play with his truck. Lance, the more serene of the two likes his bouncing too - but he hasn't worked out about the tickling yet - thank goodness. Chance is a little bloody minded. Lance is the more laid back of the two.

Pump on Sunday morning, another ritual. Up the back of the gym with Jay on one side and Emm on the other, we have our version of brinkmanship - Emm blitzes the squat track - I'm doing heavier weights for the shoulders, biceps and back track. It feels good. We all roll our eyes at similar places - normally at the end of the back and lunge tracks. After class we go for a coffee where we discuss the rituals of Sunday afternoon. For Jay, a trip to see her mother or a game of football. For Emm, some studying, for me, normally a trip out to Blarneys or an attempt and taming my feral flat. Today it was just Jay and me in the back row - Emm's sprained her ankle.

My other ritual - a free Sunday night with nothing to do. I don't go out on Sunday nights. I refuse invitations on Sunday night if it is more than having my dinner cooked and nothing more strenuous than a bit of telly. Sunday sets me up for the rest of the week. Even if it's just a bit of ironing or reading. It's my night for me. It's comforting. It's enriching - it may not be very interesting, but it's what makes me tick.

I won't go into my other little OCD like rituals around running or the start of work (fire up computer, go fill water bottle, get a cup of coffee, email Jonella good morning....)...

A friend once told me that it was the little things that give us such joy. I never thought a walk through the streets, a cup of hot chocolate and a night in front of the telly could give me such comfort.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Blue Day Meme

It's Sunday and I'm editing. As I've got much to write about at the moment that I wish to share but finding it hard to articulate anything - there is some big stuff going in the background, but it's not really my stuff to talk about.

I'm a bit over writing about cats. I've been doing well in the gym -  I leg pressed 120 kg in the gym yesterday (and did squats with 45 kgs on my back and generally kicked some butt). And contrary to popular belief, hoiking weights around is lady-like - and it doesn't mess with your manicure - see.

But as I'm dithering with all sorts of other subjects, and I don't feel like writing about job hunting, illness, boredom or editing, I though a quick meme might help break the monotony.  So I'm parsing two pages and answering a question. I need to get this editing job out of the way - and I feel the need to write.

Thanks to the Sunday Stealling Blogger for the questions.

1) If the whole world were listening to you right now, what would you say?

Oh my, what would I say to the world - hell! That's a huge question. Probably something along the lines of stuff capitalism, stuff everything, find a way of fixing the environmental problems in the world and fix them now. We're running out of time - stop bickering and get on with it. Oh, and while you're at it - be nice to one another.

The joys of being a mix of INFJ  and INFP - stupidly idealistic.

2) If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?

There's plenty of people I'd love to meet - Kenneth Branagh, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, all the normal people who make these sorts of lists.

But the one person I'd love to meet is my grandfather's brother, Roy. He died a year before I was born, but I think he'd be fascinating.

You see, Uncle Roy was a soldier and a postmaster. In WW1 he was responsible for keeping the lines of communication open at Villers Bretonneux and Bellicourt. He received the Military Medal twice for repairing lines under heavy enemy shell fire with a total disregard for danger. He was the postmaster in Darwin when the Japanese attacked during WWII. My aunt remembers him as one of the funniest and loveliest blokes she's ever met - and if you asked him what he did in the war, he responded., "Ah, I just milked a cow in no-man's land."

I've always wanted to meet a real hero. Uncle Roy fits the bill.

Saying this, of my maternal grandparent's siblings two ended up in Gallipoli, another two on the Western Front and one lies in a graveyard in Egypt.

For more on Uncle Roy, see here.

It's something of which I'm very proud.

3) You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?

If I had the chance, I'd go back to Spain in a heartbeat. LOVE the place - in particular, Toledo. But on my last trip, I didn't get to go to a heap of places - I'd love to go back to Barcelona, go see Zaragoza, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Cordoba, Salamanca, Segovia... - and of course, I want to spend more time in Toledo, Seville and Granada. There's also a dream I have of returning to Spain for a few months and maybe do the Camino do Santiago de Compostella - a pilgrimage along the north coast of Spain.

Yeah, I'd go to Spain. Though I'd love to go visit Reindert in Boston too. Or go back to London for a pint with friends. Or pop over to New Zealand to see some old mates. Or head back to Thailand and go Buddha watching in between getting the bejeezus pummelled out of me by some Thai masseuse (love Thai massage).

So many places, so little time and money... and must renew my passport.

4) What do you think about most?

Sex. Next.

5) You have the opportunity to spend a romantic night with the music celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?

Bryn Terfel.

Who you ask? Bryn Terfel is a Welsh Baritone/Bass. His voice sends shivers down my spine. The fact that he's the spitting image of an ex-boyfriend of mine has nothing to do with it. I'm a sucker for an accent, he's a funny bloke and his voice is to die for.

If he's not available, I reckon hanging out with the Pixies might be fun too. Might not be romantic but it would be fun.

6) You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?

There are a couple of things I don't discuss in this blog - and the few things I'd like to erase come under this gag order. Then again, these crappy experiences make who you are. They aren't regrets, their just things I could do without happening to me.

Of the plentiful things I'm willing to talk about:

The last three months of my working life would be great to get rid of, though I've learned a lot so I can't moan too much.

Glandular fever when I was in my early twenties - could have done without that.

And the dry socket I got after having an impacted wisdom tooth removed - wouldn't want to go through that again.

7) What's your strangest talent?

I have lots of strange talents and abilities - ask my friends. I can diminish pain with a phone call. I know where people are hurting. I'm a dab hand with a pack of tarot cards.

But my strangest talent is my party trick. I can recite the whole of "Jabberwocky", normally using a bedspread for a cloak and a breadknife for the vorpal blade.

Yes, I'm a geek!

8) What would be a question you'd be afraid to tell the truth on?

I think this question might be under the gag order too.

The one that springs to mind would be somebody asking me if I love/loved them. Scares me witless.

9) Ever had a poem or song written about you?

Don't be daft. No. Not that I'm aware of.

10) When is the last time you played the air guitar?

I don't play air guitar, but I do play air drums a lot. And the last time I did that was in the car a few days ago, doing my best Phil Collins impression at a set of traffic lights drumming along to Vamos by The Pixies.

11) Do you have any strange phobias?

Other that being scared of success and intimacy, and I'm working on those - I'm not fond of huntsman spiders, but as I've slain a couple now I'm less scared of them. I get a bit of claustrophobia, but it's not debilitating and I can manage that. I think all of my minor phobias and foibles are pretty normal - and I'm thankful they don't stop me from doing anything.

On second thought, anybody who's been with me when I've been walking down stairs will know that I have to take a breath before going down stairs or escalators. It's not that I'm scared of them, I just had a seriously bad fall going down a set of stairs as a kid when I was in callipers. Strangely, my Mum and Grandma do/did exactly the same thing.

12) What's your religion?

Gawd, another loaded question. I'm best described as an agnostic wiccan. I believe there's something out there that's bigger than us. I believe in the power of nature. I love the structure that the Kabbalah gives me. I respect the teachings of Christ and the Buddha, but I don't believe in either of them being my personal saviour or prophet. I'm certainly not affiliated with any organised religion - and I'm not an athiest.

Happy to let anybody believe in what they want as long as they don't try to throw it down my throat.

13) What is your current desktop picture?

It alternates between this one:

And this one:

The top one was taken at Castle Urquart on Loch Ness a few years ago, the bottom one is of the front door of the Toledo Cathedral from the lane leading to it. This was taken on my travels last year. I love both photos.

14) When you are outside, what are you most likely doing?

Walking or running. I love doing both.

15) What's the last song you listened to?

This was posted on a friend's facebook page today - and I have to repost this clip. I think I prefer this to the original - great song anyway, but this just rocks. And  it's really worth watching the clip. It's cool.

Sure beats the Cat Stevens song I was going to have to mention which is playing in the car at the moment.

16) Simple but extremely complex. Favorite band?

Easy. The Pixies. Utterly, utterly brilliant.

Favorite Australian Band - toss up between The Hoodoo Gurus and Hunters and Collectors.

17) What was the last lie you told?

My naturopath asked me how my blood pressure was yesterday. I said fine when in reality I wasn't too sure. I took it a minute ago and it was 130/78 - which is fine - but when she asked me I felt a little guilty about no knowing. A lie by apathy really.

18) Do you believe in karma?

Yes, but not big picture, do something bad and come back as a poor person in Africa type karma. I do believe what goes around comes around.

19) What is a saying you say a lot?

"At the end of the day..." Terrible turn of phrase, at the end of the day.

I like to use Blarney's standard "And thank your mother for the rabbits." It floors people.

"I am the suppository of all useless knowledge" gets a regular bashing too, at the end of the day.

20) What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?

My greatest weakness is ice cream. Followed by getting destructive when bored.

My greatest strength is my ability to persevere and stick with things.

21) Who is your celebrity crush?

Clive Owen. Phwoar! He's been on my Christmas list for years.

22) Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word: heart.

Mitral valve. My father was one of the first people in Australia to have his surgically replaced back in the seventies. He used to tick like a clock.

23) How do you vent your anger?

Ranting and stomping.

Not many people have witnessed me in full flight anger - it's freaking scary when I do get like this, really truly awful murderous rages can happen - but I've only been in that state a few times in the last couple of decades. When I get like this I could seriously murder.

Normally, when I'm in a strop I go into a rant, shout at things and stomp about - if it's really bad, I'll hit a pillow or throw an inanimate object against a wall.

Thankfully, I normally just get mildly stroppy every now and then.

24) Do you have a collection of anything?

Other than the 30 or so packs of tarot cards I have in my cupboard, I have a small collection of carved elephants that people have brought back for me. When people go to Africa, India or Asia I always ask for a little elephant. I have four in my collection and hope to have a few more by the end of the year.

25) What is your favorite word?


If I ever had/have a daughter I'd love to give her Serendipity as a middle name (or hidden second middle name after more sensible Christian names). It rolls of the tongue well. It means happy accident - which if I had a child, other than being a miracle, it would be a  happy accident.

Right, I've done 50 pages of editing - better get back to it.

Hopefully I get some inspiration to write a real blog post soon.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Three Days, Five Films

Melbourne is going through one of it's regular summer heat waves - which sucks. For those who don't live in Australia, we have proper heat waves over here. We're talking over 35 degrees centigrade in the shade. (95 fahrenheit). Yesterday, Melbourne made 40 degrees. Bleargh.

At least Melbourne's heat waves don't last for more than a few days normally - unlike Adelaide which can have weeks of temperatures over thirty in summer. This is one of the main reasons I chose Melbourne as a home - the weather. yes, it's changeable, but at least it's normally not too hot or too humid.

Regardless, as my flat is like a sauna by day three of a heatwave, and despite overworking the airconditioning and running a fan, all I can do is get out to escape the heat. I feel sorry for the Maow Maow. He's found the coolest place in the flat in the middle of my bedroom floor. He's not doing much. I tried damping him down with a wet bandana, but he didn't like it much. Add to this indignity  with the antibiotics I'm shoving down his neck twice a day, I know that the friendship is being stretched. He's just going to have to wait a few days for the heat to break and for the temperature in the flat to go down. The tablets are thankfully clearing up his pelt and he doesn't appear to be too itchy.

Despite the air conditioner, which is fairly effective, when the mercury rises, I tend to take myself off to the cinema. The hotter it gets, the more films I see.

Five films in three days is a bit of a record for me, but being on holidays and as there's been a heap of movies on that I've wanted to see and I thought I'd miss, it's been a great opportunity to catch up on my movies.

I've been stunned, impressed and overjoyed with some of my choices - not a dud one in the group.

So here are my thoughts on these five films:

1) The Iron Lady 

Director: Phyllida Lloyd       Starring: Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent

The reception to this film has been a bit hit and miss in the reviews, but I was pleasantly surprised. Streep will get an Oscar nod for this one, where she plays Maggie Thatcher from her middle to old age. And it's a tour de force. She is Maggie - just as Helen Mirren  completely captured the Queen with pathos, Meryl Streep takes on this tsunami of a woman completely. Jim Broadbent is divine as the long-suffering Denis.

Phyllida Lloyd is a reasonably inexperienced movie director, with her only big screen credit to date being the fabulously fun Mama Mia. However, she's very, very well known in British theatre as a peerless director of stage and opera.

It's not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved how they have taken the ailing, dementia-addled Maggie and told her story with a lot of compassion. That her relationship with Denis was highlighted as the rock of her life - Denis portrayed as a strong man in the background, taking on this flighty middle-class girl with ambition and spunk. The film is interspersed with historical footage of the miner's strike, the Brighton Hotel Bombings and other facets of her political career. The supporting cast has a plethora of England's finest are great and they capture the times perfectly. John Session's Edward Heath is brilliant just for the dreadful haircut alone (and it was strange to see Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy) as Geoffrey Howe). You get an appreciation for how much hair product has done for the human race in the last few years.

I walked away with a new appreciation for the woman. I've many, many English friends of my age who blame Thatcher for destroying England. This film gives her a bit of a new perspective - as a woman first, a woman of principle second. I'm also glad they treated Denis Thatcher with love and respect - something I don't think the press did for most of his life.

I left a little more tolerant of a woman once described as being "Right of Hitler."

Panda Bamboo sticks - 3.5 out of 5

2) Albert Nobbs

Director: Roderigo Garcia   Starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska

This is a quietly devastating film. Thoroughly engaging, completely believable, terminally sad, it also opens up the questions of what we do for life, and love. I saw the trailer for this film and vowed to see it.

Albert Nobbs is a waiter at a Dublin Hotel, where the aristocracy of the turn of the 20th Century come to visit and play. Pauline Collins is the indomitable hotel owner, Mrs Baker. She and her staff run a reputable house. There is a bit of an Upstairs, Downstairs feel to the place as we see Albert go through a quiet life of silent desperation.

Albert is woman living the life of a man. She is also looking to start living a fuller life, saving furtively so that she can acquire a business of her own. Thing go a little pear-shaped when she if forced to share her room with a painter who comes to work on the hotel.

I'm not going to give anything away, but the way that Roderigo Garcia looks at gender, the period, and how we strive for more is poignant. The supporting cast are wonderful as well, though little stock in trade - the pretty servant who gets knocked up, the layabout, pretty boy drunk, the doctor character (a wonderfully, empathetically gruff Brendan Gleeson) do a great job. The standout for me was Janet McTeer as Hubert, who opens Albert's eyes to the bigger world.

Visually stunning, this film has a steady pace which gathers speed as Albert begins to realise that he/she will be able be released from his self-imposed prison of his own making.

Talking to my mother after seeing it, she piped up that she wanted to see it - and it's a film you can take your Mum to and both of you will enjoy it. In my case, my Mum loves anything like this - she watches anything set in a manor house over and over. I realise that the themes in this movie could have been taken far further than they were, however, the film is what it is. Rather than towing a full feminist agenda, it concentrates on the quiet, rather desperate life of the central figure.

I certainly recommend this - just for Glenn Close and Janet McTeer's performance alone. I see a few Oscar nods coming from this one too.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 4 out of 5

3) The Ides of March

Director: George Clooney  Starring:  George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti

Wow! Okay, I love political thrillers - and George Clooney does them well - just look at the superb "Good Night and Good Luck." This is a superb film. Keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering how things are going to play out right to the very end.

Some of my favorite actors take on this tale of an idealistic staffer who gets involved in dirty politics. Ryan Gosling and his thousand mile stare are perfect as the flawed, well-played player. Paul Giamatti  and Philip Seymour Hoffman (with an only slightly better haircut than the one he had in Moneyball) go head to head as campaign managers. Evan Rachel Wood is the intern in the middle of everything. Marisa Tomei is great, as a always, as a journalist who's getting to the bottom of the spin. Clooney not only directs put plays the Democratic Candidate, complete with Stalinist propaganda posters and a willingness to play the players.

I was suckered into this one until the fabulous conclusion - and I say fabulous because the film leaves you thinking. Oh, and the Julius Caesar quote title - perfect.

Okay, I'm a West Wing freak and I owe everything I know about American politics to the show. At times I felt like I was watching Sam, Josh, Toby, CJ and Donna going through their throws. But this film is more than that. Far, far more than extended West Wing episode. It's smart, it's perceptive. The best things in the film are very much left unsaid - Clooney uses the 'show, not tell' rule to perfection.

I'm really, really glad I made it to this film before it left the cinemas. Ryan Gosling Oscar nod - probably.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 4.5 out of 5

4) Melancholia

Say the name Lars von Trier to me and I tend to block my ears and go "LALALALALALALA.'  He makes movies to slit your wrist by. Okay, maybe that's a bit rich, but he makes pretty movies which can lead you in to deep, dark depression - but he's always interesting. I refuse to see "Dancer in the Dark", point blank, just because I know the ending and execution scenes leave me dry retching. Same goes for "Dogville" - I just can't do that to myself. No point. This Dane makes films that make Hamlet look a nice light country romp.

So it was some trepidation that I took myself off to see Melancholia - knowing enough about the plot etc. and being in a good place, I thought I'd chance it. I'd heard that a lot of people walked out on it. I knew that I might find myself wanting to go home and have a good discussion with a vodka bottle. Thankfully these two possibilities didn't eventuate.

OH MY GOODNESS. This is an INCREDIBLE piece of cinema. Visually stunning in every way, great performances by the whole cast - this movie had me in it's thrall from the opening titles and the super-slow motion start.

If I was to compare it to any film I've seen recently, I'd put it in the group with Tree of Life - deep, arty and thought provoking. The jury is still out on "Tree of Life." that one as ask me one day and I shove it in the "File under Pretentious Wank", then it will be seen as a worthy film the next.

I can see why a lot of people will put Melancholia in the former category - but to me, this film is oh, so, so, so much more than von Trier, penis in hand, trying to make art.

The film, in my opinion, is a near perfect allegory of depression. A dystopic view of  Armageddon. A very, very beautiful look at dysfunctional families. A day on, I'm still processing what went on on screen for the 136 minutes.

Kirsten Dunst is incandescent as Justine, the bride. Charlotte Gainsbourg a wonder as her pragmatic, long-suffering sister. Alexander Skarsgard divine as Michael, Justine's bewildered and cuckolded groom. Charlotte Rampling gets a guernsey as the wonderfully unhinged mother (though she appears to be getting typecast after her turn in "The Eye of the Storm"). John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Stellan Skarsgard (Alex's Dad), Udo Kier and Brady Corbet all have an integral part to play in this film about depression, the end of the world, forgiveness and redemption.The location, a castle in Sweden, is enough get me to see the film again. Glorious.

This isn't everybody's cup of aqua vite. Looking at the reviews, it's divided the film going population - just like Tree of Life. Is it a flawed film? Yes. Are you going to like any of the characters? Probably not. Are you going to file it under the "Pretentious Wank" category. Maybe. Are some of the goings on in the plot completely unrealistic? Of course. But this, in some ways, is a gentle Lars von Trier film. Nobody, gets executed. So the world ends - what the hey!

I found this film utterly and completely spellbinding, from the Wagnerian music, to the location, to the performances to the whole concept. Bravo.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 5 out of 5

5) The Skin I Live In

Director: Pedro Almodovar  Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya

Pedro Almodovar - bless him, is the enfant terrible of Spanish cinema. I adore his later stuff - and this is no exception. His early stuff I'm more likely to leave, but films like Volver, Talk to Her and Bad Education are up there as some of my favorite foreign language films. He also has the ability to make Penelope Cruz look good. She acts well in his films, even if she still looks like an ostrich.

No Penelope Cruz in this one, but a hot, rather broody Antonio Banderas instead, which is enough to keep me in a cinema seat for two hours. You can smell his pungent aftershave permeating the screen. It's also set in Toledo - probably one of my favorite cities on the planet, so there is a slight bias.

Almodovar's been looking at the role of medicine in life for a while - 'Talk to Her' looked at life, care and ethics in hospitals with fresh eyes.

'The Skin I Live' in is a bit of a cautionary tale. The plot, in a nutshell - ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed a further three things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig...

This is a chilling film in many ways. Banderas is fabulous as the flawed surgeon. Elena Anaya perfect as his 'creation'. The house keeper and her son are fabulous. And the great thing about Spanish films - after half an hour you don't notice the subtitles and rely on the language for everything you need.

Certainly not Almodovar's best film - still think that honour goes to "Talk to Her", however this was a wonderful diversion - and it leaves a lot of questions in your mind.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 4 out of 5

Okay, I'm never going to replace Margaret Pomerantz and David Stratton, and I know I love what a lot of people will call "Wanky Arthouse" films, but if there is one thing I love about heatwaves - it's justification to send myself off to the Rivoli Cinema complex to indulge in a favorite pastime.