Sunday, January 15, 2012

Christmas 2011

Well here we are in 2012 and I'm getting vertigo.

This Yuletide has been tragic with the death of Ian Mattingly, husband of Ros, Denise's sister.
Ian was only 49 and the father of five children. It was totally unexpected and happened in 1 week.
Our hearts go out to Ros and her wonderful children, Alice, Megan, Michael, Clare and Jack.
Wagga Cathedral was packed to the max with people standing en masse at the sides of the altar and at the rear of the church. Four priests officiated including Archbishop Carrol, a cousin of Ian's and Monsignor Frank Marriott, Monsignor Lane from Corowa and Wagga's Father Paddy Sykes. Father Paddy made the ceremony as light as such a sad occasion can be with amusing comments on Ian's larrikin leanings and sporting propensities – football is a winter sport, Cricket a summer sport but betting knows no seasonal boundaries. Ian's cousin gave an excellent eulogy – picture a young Ian galloping full tilt around the house while loudly calling the race. The rainfall container placed beneath the eaves is the sort of thing anyone might do...

Ian had a finely tuned sense of irreverent humour. The irony of such a magnificent send off would have provided great mirth for this man who, to my knowledge, had not a religious or spiritual bone in his body. He would have appreciated it. Vale Ian.

Our heartfelt thanks must go to Monsignor Frank Marriot who has selflessly officiated at family weddings and funerals, often involving long journeys and breaks away from his own heavy schedule.

Life never ceases to amaze with its twists and turns. Always expect the unexpected. Our son Jamie was attacked in Krakow, Poland at 2:00am by skinheads who jumped from a car, and put the boot in. He lost one tooth and his front teeth were misaligned. He managed to flag down a police car and was taken to Casualty. It could have been much worse, he could have suffered brain damage.

As he philosophically put it, it was random, pointless, but could have been anywhere. He'd travelled across the USA, South America and Europe. We have had a similar stupid attack here in Canberra, one recently upon an Irish tourist, a tragedy which did result in brain damage. Yet Canberra is a relatively peaceful city. There are elements of idiocy anywhere. The irony is that he went to Poland to visit the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, a place of remembrance of those murdered by a system built upon the evil proposition of a mutant. A system which cultivated and licenced brutality and murder not only by the dregs, the worst elements of humanity, but by common soldiers, promulgated through fear and silence.

We were also saddened this year by the death of Kathy Snashall, wife of my cousin Glenn. It was another sudden death and we were fortunate to have spent a lovely evening with them during our trip to London earlier in the year.


Christmas was spent in Melbourne at Cara and Greg's home in Box Hill with Greg's parents Erika and Brad. It was wonderful to catch up with our children, their spouses and grand children, each one beautiful and unique. The Christmas eve seafood was excellent as was Christmas Day's roast salmon, roast turkey and roast pork on the barbecue. Accompaniments were also fab. There was lively discussion and music, as you might expect at a family Christmas. Photos are on Picasa

When in Melbourne a visit to second hand bookshops and CD shops is a must. This visit I was pleased to discover a number of bargains including, from the $2 bin at The Searchers, Collingwood, The New Gothic, a compilation of gothic short stories by Patrick McGrath and Bradford Morrow and essays by Judith Wright called Because I Was Invited and The House of The Mosque by Kador Abdolah. I also bought a biography of D.H. Lawrence by John Worthen, almost new for $8.

My best reads of 2011 were

Disgrace by J.M.Coetze
Lovesong by Alex Miller
Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
All four most enjoyable reads with superb prose. I have reviewed Alex Miller's Lovesong on Amazon. I'll have to obtain his latest Autumn Laing which has top reviews. He rates it as his best yet.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A brave woman speaks out against a medieval culture. Let's hope Islam can modernise, divest its crippling, inhumane doctrines.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Background to Afghanistan, the plot overly contrived but
none the less entertaining.
Speaking With the Devil by various authors. Short stories edited by Nick Hornby. Risky and some hilarious.
Romulus My Father by Raimond Gaita Autobiography with great depth and passion. The troubled relationship between father, mother and son as each comes to terms with their new country and each other. Also wonderful prose. I must see the film.

No Surrender by Johnny Rogan. A biography of Van Morrison. Rogan dislikes The Man, yet appreciates aspects of his art. Morrison has said he'd like to do a book on Rogan... A good read but I have doubts about Rogan's taste and honesty, he skewed the book to his own agenda.

The biggest disappointment this year was Parrott and Olivier in America by Peter Carey. I've always admired Carey's writing – True History of the Kelly Gang, Illywacker, Jack Maggs and Oscar and Lucinda are all fabulous. My Life As A Fake was also enjoyable. The prose here is up to his usual standard but the plot for me was too artificial. Ok others liked it, critics among them, and maybe I expected too much, but I read half and had to abandon ship. Should I have persevered?

CD Bargains found over Christmas

I found the following CD bargains also at The Searchers, Collingwood. The Stooges Fun House remastered double for $8, Ernest Ranglin's classic In Search of The Lost Riddim (which went up with our house in the 2003 fire) for $4, an absolute bargain, a union of Senegalese musos with Ernest's jazz, reggae, funk groove. Also from Dixon's Recycled in Brunswick St I found Tinariwen's latest Tassili+10:1, which I'm unsure about so far - it is more laid back and acoustic than previous albums, and Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep Mountain High, the 1966 album, some of which is (over) produced by Phil Spector (also lost the LP in the bushfire) but it contains some good R'n B numbers.

Finally I bought The Doors' 2007 remastered re-release of The Soft Parade with the extra tracks. Must admit I had heard a few tracks but never the whole thing – it had such a poor reputation. Well the reputation is warranted by comparison to their other fine albums, and in fact all of the other albums are worthy additions to any collection despite what critic Dave Marsh wrote in the second edition of Rolling Stone Rock and Roll Guide. Yes The Soft Parade was misguided. However, there are a handful of good tracks which, had they been issued as an EP would have enhanced the group's reputation, these being Touch Me, Shaman's Blues, Easy Ride, Wild Child, Runnin Blue and from the additional tracks Version 2 of Whiskey Mystics and Men. OK, a 6 track EP but good material.

Best Music for 2011

CD highlights for 2011 include most tracks from the Songlines magazine's Top of The World Cds which accompany each issue. Also the additional Cds from various countries are often as good as, if not better than, the Top of The World issues. Of particular note this year are Dutch Delta sounds, Bleu Blanc World, Brazilian Bahia and Shetland Music.

The Best of Van Morrison Vol 3, a double Cd was selling new for $10 at JB Hi Fi and could not be ignored. There are a number of live tracks, re-mixes and collaborations to make it special. I expected a number of indifferent tracks but surprisingly most tracks are well chosen (by Van) and quality material with about six being excellent – Ancient Highway, Raincheck, Blue and Green, Shenandoah (with The Cjhieftains), Help Me (with Junior Wells), Lonely avenue/ 4 O'Clock in the Morning (w. Jimmy Witherspoon) and Early In the Morning (with B B King).

The Hendrix family finally released a remixed and reconfigured Hendrix In The West, originally released as a posthumous collection of superb live performances. This version has added three tracks and replaced Little Wing and Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). In my opinion this is a stronger
compilation, but of course there are moaners on Amazon. I had to place a review.

Sony's Original Album Series are excellent value in that they contain a box set of five albums which sells for $20 at JB Hi Fi. I purchased Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Los Lobos. I have reviewed the Wilson Pickett set on Amazon which is excellent apart from the reprocessed stereo on the Wicked Pickett album.

Other highlights include two live albums recorded in the 60s with the Muddy Waters Band backing John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. Also James Brown live in Dallas from 1968 and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys La Toussaint, great cajun/zydeco from 1995. The Byron Bay Bluesfest is not looking particularly inspired this year at this point but there are artists to be announced.

Our U3A short story group is growing stronger, 2011 had about 15 members and this year should have 20. Paul Humphries generously organised a publication of our output with two stories from each person. It is wonderful to see the variety of styles and this grass roots talent displayed in print.

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