Self Isolationist Life – Notes From the Back Rows – The Iso-Posts #1

Reflection of sunrise from my backdoor

I’ve been in self isolation for over two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic (I have multiple risk factors) but that doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs! Sadly, I haven’t written anything for weeks, so forgive me regular readers! I’ve been a little preoccupied what with one thing and another. Despite being at home, I’ve found myself incredibly busy, and by the end of the day I’ve been too tired to do much of anything.

It’s autumn here in southern Australia, though the weather has mostly been balmy these past weeks. In fact, it’s been so warm, basil plants are still putting on new growth in the greenhouse and I’ve taken to knocking off any new flowers on the chilies while waiting (impatiently, I admit) for the Habaneros to ripen.

I made a batch of fermented hot sauce last month and I’ve got another jar underway at the moment. This ridiculously simple recipe has become something of a staple here over the last couple of years and it’s perfect anywhere you’d normally use tomato sauce. If you’re interested in the recipe, it’s here in a blog post from a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going gang-busters in the kitchen making stock for the freezer, something I like to do every autumn in preparation for the colder months. But family members went hunting just before I locked down so I had to find room for venison roasts and even more stock – it was like playing Tetris with the freezer! I resorted to reducing some of it down so I could fill ice cube trays with incredibly rich, condensed stock. I anticipate one cube will be enough to feed four!

It’s been equally busy in the garden, planting out a bed of garlic, loads of seeds for winter salad (spinach, brassicas, mache/corn salad, endives etc) and trays of peas and broad beans for late winter/early spring cropping. Yesterday I was trying to liberate the cabbages, beetroot and caulifowers from their layer of living mulch (aka weeds) when I pushed a little too hard and I’ve found myself today with very sore hands, a mark of the arthritis that always comes with the end of summer. Thankfully, it’s been raining today so I couldn’t have done anymore even if I’d wanted too!

Instead, I’ve rested up, done lots of stretching exercises, dipped a little into social media, watched some YouTube videos, played with the cat (who also thought it too wet to be in the yard) and called a former fellow student who’s up in NSW. We’ve never met in person (yet!) but it was lovely to chat about families, writing, gardening, putting food by and the joys of modern technology in these days of lockdown.

I DO miss going to the cinema and will be at The State as soon as they reopen but in the meantime, I’m enjoying watching movies online, catching up on reading and getting the garden ready for winter. It’s my hope that we’ll come out the other side of this difficult time with a greater appreciation for the things that matter and a willingness to tackle other important issues as a community.

In truth, I’ve really begun to think of my life and natural introversion as my greatest superpower (talking underwater is the other one, thanks for asking!) After six years of online study, an urban farm to deal with and a predilection for home grown/cooked/made cuisine, I don’t feel put out by being at home. Rather than “shut in”, I feel “safe” here at home.

Talk with you all soon. Meanwhile, stay safe friends and be like Neko (aka Lord & Master, aka The Cat Who Came to Stay) – stay home ❤

Lord and Master, Neko in his cat igloo

One Last Radio Interview for 2019 & Seasons Greetings

Rainbow across kunanyi/Mt Wellington from my backdoor a few weeks ago

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I probably won’t be writing much for the blog between now and next year. 

But I have been asked to come in and talk to the wonderful Ryk Goddard on ABC Radio Hobart about the year in film, my high points and what I’m looking forward to seeing next year. If you’re not in Hobart (or even Australia) the ABC offers excellent ways to listen online, either through their app or via the website for Ryk’s program (which also has an archive of shows). I’ll be on air about 9:10 am (Australian Eastern Summer Time) if you’d like to listen in live or catch the interview afterwards. 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for bothering to read my meandering musings – more about films at the moment than anything else! – but there are other exciting (to me at least) projects on the horizon for the new decade, so stay tuned. All in all, it’s been a tough year and your ongoing support means so very much to me – so huge thanks from me!

Over the southern summer, I’ll still be watching movies in between harvesting fruit and vegetables, making pesto from the jungle of basil and reading books for pleasure again – probably in my old deckchair under the chestnut tree. There might even be blog posts about some of my other creative pursuits – who knows?

Meanwhile, I wish you all a peaceful and relaxing holiday wherever you are on this wonderful planet ❤ 

 

Streaming – The Changing Landscape

Yesterday, I was asked to talk on local ABC radio about streaming services and what they mean to average consumers, and I thought it was a great opportunity to expand on that and offer some alternatives to the big names – ie: Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney +

Here in Australia, with different licensing agreements, it is slightly different. We have region specific versions of Netflix and Amazon Prime plus local player Stan, which, along with the highest level of AU content, has held the license for a lot of Disney properties since last year. Foxtel Now provide a number of HBO titles here and HayU offers wall-to-wall reality TV shows, if that’s your thing. There’s also AppleTV+, YouTube Premium, 10 All Access and Kayo (a subsidiary of Foxtel) for sports nuts. Add in the free services, SBS On Demand, ABC iView, 10play, 9Now and 7plus and it gets even more complicated.

The problem is, particularly with the advent of Disney +, how is that going to affect local media consumers? Streaming video on demand (SVOD) was supposed to be the cheaper alternative to leaving the house to actually go to the movies (perish the thought) or the video store (may they rest in peace) but it’s rapidly turning into something of a digital dilemma and if you watch a lot of screen media, a potentially expensive undertaking. The other thing to remember in all this too, is as consumers, we only ever own the right to watch, not a hard copy of the media, and there is no guarantee that our favourite films or shows will stay on those services. 

For my household of two tech-savvy adults, we share Netflix with another family, which halves the cost of a premium subscription. I signed up for Amazon Prime a few months ago simply to watch Good Omens (and it was worth it just for that) and the Suspiria remake because I was doing a screen studies major and I love horror movies. But I don’t know if I’ll keep it on past the new year. If I see things I particularly love – Good Omens being a perfect example – I go and buy DVDs or Blu-rays. I know in this age of minimalist living I’m being very old fashioned, but I like being able to put a disc on with all the extra features – just like I love real, physical books! And I have a loyalty card at my local independent cinema and I still love going out for dinner and a movie. 

Having said that, I also subscribe to MUBI, which provides 30 films on a strict 30-day rotation. This service is curated to provide independent, foreign language SVOD and it remains my favourite paid subscription for several reasons. Firstly, I never suffer from the usual paralysis of what to watch because everything is only there for 30 days. The films come from all over the world and have given me a chance to delve into cinema I would never have thought of looking at – thinking of directors like Ruth Beckermann, Ciro Guerra and Krzysztof Zanussi as well as favourites like Peter Strickland, Agnes Varda and Ben Wheatley – it’s great for broadening your mind and getting away from the somewhat generic fare on offer through the major services. But when I’m looking for something less demanding, I go to TUBI. There’s a little of everything but it ranges from fairly good to absolute trash movies and television. The horror section is particularly worth sifting through and the bonus is, it’s free. 

So, what’s going to happen with SVOD? I think there’s going to be some casualties along the way. From what I’ve seen so far, I think Stan might fail as they lose content to Disney +, and in turn, they may well struggle to keep subscribers outside of school holiday times when kids require entertainment and I can’t see AppleTV+ keeping up with their initial business model of original content. Unfortunately, a lot of people in Australia simply won’t be able to afford multiple subscriptions and could revert back to pirating content – something we were infamous for in the early seasons of Game of Thrones, which was only available on Foxtel on first release. 

Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching MUBI and SBS On Demand, going to the cinema and dreaming of a day when the Criterion Channel and Shudder are available here in Australia – and spending more time out in the garden or reading books…

So what do you think? Are you a media junkie like me? Are you obsessed with The Crown or Carnival Row? Do you still buy DVDs or Blu-rays? Let me know – I’d like to hear your thoughts too.

And here’s a photo of me and Neko, because he’d far sooner have my complete attention than compete with a screen, even if it’s cat videos!

The Embrace of Now

So, I’m a week past handing in my final project for uni. All things being equal, I should pass and be able to graduate next year. Seriously, I’m too tired to cheer, and I’m still not sure if I want to travel up to Queensland for a couple of days, dress up in a funny gown and hat just so someone can hand me a piece of paper. Having said that, it would be nice to meet a few people in person, some tutors that were outstanding and some fellow students who’ve become online friends.

I uploaded a 4000 word research paper concerning villainy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I feel my work only scratched the surface. The last couple of weeks were intense but really, last week spelled the end of six years of online study. It’s been a mammoth undertaking and while I got a lot out of the experience there are some things I would’ve done differently and others I’d rather not have done at all. But that’s part of the study journey and it’s different for all of us. 

Despite what most people think, I only give a reasonable impression of an organised person, and some of my 3rd subjects were very demanding on my time as well as my attention. Combined with too much work, a laptop that kept crashing whenever I opened a pdf, increasing levels of anxiety and depression and rampant insomnia, the last three months have certainly been a struggle. 

But I got there. I did what I could, when I could – and when I couldn’t, I didn’t. 

Sounds so simple when I type it out like that but believe me, it wasn’t. Trust me when I say, I agonised over every single bit of it, but (fingers crossed) it’s done now and the big question looming on the horizon is what’s next?

Who knows? There’s a number of projects starting to take shape, some of them more realistic and better formed than others. But rest assured, it’ll be a ride – and as ever, I’ll stress about the smallest details like I always do. And while I stress, I’ll be holding every moment of it dear, imbuing it with passion, like I always do. 

Meanwhile, today is my birthday. I have a new laptop that I’m still getting used to (another kind of stress), I had the most wonderful dinner cooked for me and the wine was a perfect match. There was cake too that I didn’t make and I watched my favourite Ben Wheatley/Amy Jump movie, Kill List – not for the faint hearted. I should write a movie review about it but not right now. 

Now is for embracing the passion of time off, chilling out and enjoying it for what it is – now. 

Because, as I said to a friend tonight in Italy, now is all we ever have. Let’s enjoy it ❤ 

The new laptop for new projects

 

Sneak Preview ‘Behind the Curtain’

While NSW & parts of Qld are on fire and I’m chipping away at my final project for university, here’s a preview of the latest radio play I’m involved in.
This is the pilot for ‘Behind the Curtain’, a comedy/soap opera that is set in Tasmania but has relevance to any small city. Tons of fun to be part of as an actor but a slick production thanks to the excellent writing by Matt Dean​ and sound effects, production and theme tune by Mike Raine​!

Hope you enjoy it – and please let me know what you think!

I’ll get back to being academic now and see you all in early December, when I hope to be in a position to write regularly for this blog!

Take care lovelies ❤

Suspiria (1977) & Suspiria (2018)

I have to confess, the original Suspiria (1977) has always been one of my favourite horror films and Dario Argento a director I generally enjoy, despite the unevenness of his oeuvre. So when the remake was announced, I was a little concerned that anyone should mess with one of the movies that ushered me into adulthood.

On the plus side, Luca Guadagnino has made some good films, such as The Protagonists (1999) and Call Me by Your Name (2017). He’s a regular collaborator with Tilda Swinton and I’d read enough to know that he wasn’t going to try to do a shot-for-shot remake. I decided finally to watch both in the same day, starting with the original.

I can’t remember where I saw Suspiria when it finally arrived in Australia – it might have been at a film festival – but I know it was in a cinema. I do remember being awed by both its astonishingly bright colour palette and the really wonderful score by prog-rock band, Goblin. Jessica Harper stars as the virginal Suzy Bannion, who arrives as the new American student at a dance academy in Freiburg, all to the background of the Munich hostage crisis. There was also an absence of men, which was unusual for most horror films of the era, let alone giallo – a traditional domain of the leering, usually psychotic, sex-crazed maniac! Instead, male characters are sidelined and the screen is dominated by women of all ages, body types and dispositions ranging from the ridiculously innocent to the truly evil. Harper is sublime as the ingénue whose dewy eyed innocence is so lovingly captured in Argento’s frame.

While many aspects of this film haven’t aged particularly well (even back in the day it could be read as camp) it has an undeniable atmosphere, a creepiness that builds throughout to a climax that is ridiculous, gory and oddly satisfying all at once. Every time I’ve watched this over the years, I always think of it as a drug-fuelled, psychedelic Alice in Wonderland horror for the late 1970s.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria is unsurprisingly, a completely different beast. To start with, the academy has been transferred to Berlin, though in the same time period. Interiors are muted and drab and exteriors are predominantly in rain or snow, which gives a bleak coldness to the film. There are sub-plots involving Baader-Meinhof terrorism and Germany coming to terms with its Nazi history which I found muddied the central theme of the dance academy as a home for an ancient coven.

Dakota Johnson takes the central role of Susie and while I like her as an actress, I found it difficult to connect with her in the role of the innocent ingénue (Mia Goth as Sara seemed to fit this role with far more ease and believability). Nevertheless, there is a sincerity that Johnson brings to Susie, applying herself to the bizarre tasks required for the sake of the dance. And dance is a major theme in this version.

Where Argento used it only as a mechanism to provide a house full of women, Guadagnino milks it relentlessly, particularly as a means of controlling and manipulating the bodies and minds of the young dancers. Head of the academy, Madame Blanc is played with equal parts relish and menace by the always wonderful Tilda Swinton. It also made me realise she is undoubtedly one of the most graceful women on the planet and it’s worth watching just for her. She also plays a prominent male role (albeit under a lot of make-up) which works up to a point.

Thom Yorke provides a good musical score as expected and Jessica Harper makes a welcome appearance in a small role, but where this film fell down for me was in attempting to make something much deeper than the material allowed.

Throughout, I felt Guadagnino was trying to dig down deep into the psychological underpinnings of horror but in an altogether far too knowing manner. The result was for me, a ham-fisted and overly long mess – and turning what should have been an emotional and (literally) gut-wrenching ending into a pastiche of 21st Century nihilist cinema with added red.

Worth watching if only for Swinton and it has some good moments – but for me, ultimately a disappointment.

Suspiria (1977) is available to watch in Australia on Tubi and Suspiria (2018) is currently on Amazon Prime

Baw-da Farce – A Radio Satire

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Australia, I live in Hobart, the capital of the southern-most state, Tasmania. While it’s a small city (just over 200, 000) it’s really quite an extraordinary place for creative endeavours and recently I’ve been reminded of the many amazingly talented people I’m blessed to rub shoulders with.

One of them is Matt Dean, originally from the UK (via Western Australia), a fellow songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist, stand-up comedian, educator and generally decent human. The last few months he’s been quietly writing, recording and producing a radio show which satirises some of the issues we’re currently facing locally and as a nation. The episodes are quite short (all around 10 minutes) and have provided quite a lot of laughter in my house these past months.

Last weekend, I had the immense privilege of recording three episodes in an afternoon with Matt and his ensemble. The first of these, ‘Rolf Creep’ is up for listening now on Soundcloud and I think it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It harks back to radio satire that I grew up with and still love.

Please note this is for adults. There is bad language (some of it from me), very questionable themes and Australian references that should travel well – but don’t hesitate to ask if you need a translation! I hope you enjoy it ❤

Apollo 11

Apollo 11 (2019)

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller

Like so many kids of my generation I was obsessed with space and space travel, something that has persisted in my love of pure science as well as science fiction literature and film. One of my earliest preschool memories was running around our yard in rural Australia with an empty cereal box as a helmet, telling anyone who would listen I was going to be the first singing astronaut.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and my local, the State Cinema in Hobart has joined with a few other independent cinemas to run a Moon Festival. This short season of moon-related features opened tonight with the documentary Apollo 11.

As a child of the 60s (I was 10 when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon) this film bought back many memories, such as having the day off school in the middle of winter, sitting with my friends on our couch, all with our legs raised trying to put our foot on the ground the same time as Neil Armstrong. And long conversations with my beloved father about physics, space travel, what we might find there and the hope the Apollo missions represented for humanity.

So, as soon as the pre-mission countdown began at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) and the luscious sound design started to work its magic, I knew I was being emotionally manipulated by a very cleverly made documentary – and I welcomed it with open arms! Rather than filling screen with facts and figures, this film explores more the feeling of the time and the profound nature of the mission. Even though I know how the story goes, I felt the tension build in me as the astronauts and their ground crews approached crisis points.

Everything about this film is big – the opening scenes of the Saturn 5 rocket sitting on the launch pad, the crowds who came to Florida to watch the launch, the sound of take-off and the beautiful, insistent score by Matt Morton that doesn’t intrude but blends beautifully with the overall sound design by Eric Milano and the superb film editing by Todd Douglas Miller.

Unsurprisingly, this movie won the editing award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (documentary) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and I have no doubt it will go on to earn further industry accolades. If you have an interest in the moon landing, space exploration, lived through the event or just an interest in modern history, this is a great film. See it on the largest screen you possibly can, (there is an IMAX version) preferably one with a very good sound system.

This superb film has taken archival footage and made it meaningful for new audiences half a century later, no mean feat! I found it stirring and incredibly uplifting but I left the cinema with a profound sense of sadness that my generation never followed through on the promise of truly going to the stars.

The Moment I Wept – Ode To a Little Hen

It’s been a very sad morning.

Apart from suffering from a very nasty virus the past few weeks (I blame Dark Mofo Festival) the weather’s been pretty awful and I’ve been watching the elderly hens and particularly B1 & B2 fairly closely. Although they’re younger than the rest, Isa Browns are notoriously frail little things, not bred to live long, just as egg-laying machines. These two came to us over 4 years ago from a paddock-run operation outside of Hobart. At 18 months they were too old to be commercial layers, but they suited us just fine and have been reliable egg-layers ever since. Incredibly tame, these docile little girls also enjoyed being picked up and petted, unusual among my rabble

Today I had to made the call to euthanase B2. I examined her and she was clearly starting to suffer, so I removed her from their run to a sunny spot near the apple trees. It was quick, as pain free as I could make it with a sharp hatchet. She left this plane being thanked for the joy she bought into our lives – not to mention the eggs. She was buried deep with great ceremony in a fallow bed, her final task to condition the soil over the coming months.

I was sad but this is the pact we make when we decide to keep backyard poultry or any companion animal. Chickens in particular can go downhill very quickly and I hate the thought of any creature in my care suffering needlessly. I kept it together until I went back with some barley greens for the other chickens.

There was B1, standing at the gateway, looking for her sister……

Vale B2

 

The Story of the Cat Who Came to Stay

 

Look deep into my eyes…

Back in the start of the year, when I was almost tearing my hair out trying to deal with extremely dry and hot weather, failed crops and the ever increasing work load with university, I noticed a skinny little cat had started hanging around the yard. I live near the university, so there’s a lot of unit blocks all around me and I wondered if this little thing belonged to one of the mostly student tenants.

I’m not a cat person. I’ve got large breed rabbits and a retirement home for elderly chickens in my patch as well as multiple vegetable beds, fruit trees (many on dwarfing rootstock in wicking barrels) and a greenhouse that I purposely didn’t plant out last year in order to concentrate on study. Because of the high number of rented units, this area gets a lot of stray cats that wander into the yard. So the old chooks have a fully enclosed rat, raptor and cat proof run, with grape and passionfruit vines to provide summer shade as well as a covered back section with roosting and nesting areas. (We call it ‘Frankenhutch’). The two remaining bunnies are in their own very secure enclosures and Boudica (the biggest, most sweet natured rabbit on the planet) has been seen taking pieces out of cats when she was still a breeding doe. In fact, we’ve worked out since that she is more than twice as big as Neko, who weighs in at under 5kg (11lb).

It’s common to see an occasional mouse trying to get at the chickens’ kibble but they usually don’t last long, gobbled up as extra protein by the chickens and even the odd rat in the yard looking for feed. Imagine my surprise when I came down one morning and found a freshly dead rat on the pathway!

And up on the fence was perched this very scrawny grey cat, watching me very intently. It had no collar and I asked a few people over the next few weeks if they knew who owned the little charcoal tabby – but no one could help. Over the next couple of months, I surprised it a few times in the greenhouse or saw it watching me from behind a tree and there were further gifts of what I can only describe as pieces of dead rodents. The cat, whether I liked it or not, had moved in. The chickens were still laying, the rabbits were showing no signs of distress and none of the native birds that always hang around in late summer seemed fussed at all by the grey terror in the greenhouse. So who was I to complain about a mouser in the yard? I started leaving a bowl of water out near the greenhouse door but I kept thinking that there must be someone, somewhere missing this little creature.

Then one day, when I was inside the chicken’s run feeding them some of the choicest weeds, the cat, sitting outside the enclosure, started to meow at me. Henrietta, the maddest and feistiest chicken ever, lunged at it, ready to peck its green eyes out if it got any closer. The cat didn’t turn a whisker, it plainly wasn’t interested in chickens – it was looking and talking only to me. I started to meow and sing back to it and so, we gradually came to an understanding. I never tried to approach it or touch it, and bided my time.

Henrietta, Queen of the Chicken Coop

In the end, it was Mister Him Indoors (who is not a natural gardener but incredibly good with animals) who made first physical contact. He came down to help me get the autumn vegetable beds ready and called the cat, who sensibly came straight to him and then it was on. There was a quite alarming rumble of purring and rubbing its face on our legs, boots and hands, nibbling fingers. It made us realise just how terribly thin this cat was, how dull its coat but how bright its eyes – and how much it enjoyed the affection! This was obviously no rank stray, it’d spent at least part of its life as someone’s pet. It was beautifully marked and fine boned, we thought maybe a female and a tail that was extraordinary in length and movement. We gave it some dry cat food I keep on hand for the chickens. (Don’t laugh – the extra protein is the best conditioner when chickens are moulting and fabulous in mid-winter when they need a little extra bulk). I was astonished – I’d never heard a cat purr while it was eating before. We included it in the regular twice a day feeding schedule – chickens first, then the rabbits’ mixed greens from around the garden and a little kibble and finally, the cat. It started sunning itself on the top of the back stairs outside the laundry in the afternoon, waiting for us to come down to do the evening feed. With the weather starting to cool, we had to do something. It would be too cold in the unheated, drafty greenhouse in the middle of winter.

So I took a photo, plastered it over my social media network and posted it to the local lost pets register. No response. We had to make a decision.

As I said we’re not a cat-loving household, having spent time in the bush and knowing the damage feral and unconfined cats can do to wildlife and the environment generally. The last thing on our minds was getting one, let alone adopting someone’s dumped pet. There were options. We could call the local cat centre. They would come and collect it, scan to see if it has a microchip identification and if not it would be put up for adoption.

But what if no one adopted it?

We talked it over, we discussed making a bed for it in the laundry, discussed the pros and cons of having a young cat come into our lives for potentially the next 15 years. Big decisions!

Through the lost pets register, I met Suzi, who works at a dedicated cat-only veterinary practice in Hobart and we made an appointment, discussed what to do if it didn’t have a microchip, wasn’t neutered, the cost, the commitment.

The day came and we were so uneducated in feline ways, we had no idea the best way to get a cat into a pet carrier is to put it in backwards. There were deep scratches and much plaintive meowing from the backseat of the car – but we got there.

At the vet’s we discovered little cat was a boy! Skinny, but not undernourished thanks to our ministrations. There was no desexing tattoo but a microchip, and a registered owner in Launceston, about 200km (125 miles) away. Suzi rang the owner who was surprised. She’d bought him as a kitten in 2012, had him desexed and wanted an indoor pet but he was not happy confined in an apartment alone all day. Very responsibly, she rehomed Harley (as she named him) a couple of years ago to a rural family in Richmond.

She gave the number of the new owners and we held our breath while Suzi called them.

Yes, they had a cat they called Smokey but it went missing in December last year. No, they hadn’t transferred the microchip information. Did they want him back?

No, they had another cat now.

Mister Him Indoors (always the scholar of mythology) named him Nekomata for the devious monster cats of ancient Japanese tales. How he got from Richmond to Hobart will always be a mystery. It’s some 27km (over 16 miles) from Hobart and we can only presume that he got caught in a truck or fell asleep without anyone noticing.

Currently, he’s still sleeping in the greenhouse. There seems to be some trauma surrounding being confined but he’s starting to come upstairs into the laundry, where he will have shelter, a warm bed and appropriate facilities (a litter tray) for the long winter nights.

No one’s really sure how it happened, but now we have a cat.

In truth, I think it was Neko’s plan all along.

You will love me and obey…

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries