Flashing pretty lights! The year in review.

BROWN PAPER KITTENS TIED UP WITH STRING…
To finish off a fun year, I’d like to share my favourite pop culture moments off the year. Since I go to see so many movies, concerts, musicals, and buy so many books and CDs, picking the favourites is a challenge but here, after much deliberation, is my Top 5 of everything this year!

Top 5 songs (in no particular order)

1. Shuffle – Bombay Bicycle Club (read my review of their album here).

2. Videogames – Lana Del Ray (read my review of this song here).

3. Rolling in the Deep – Adele.

4. Hello – Martin Solveig.

5. Jumped Up Kicks – Foster the People.
Top 5 TV shows (of the ones I managed to watch anyway!)
1. Eureka.
This fantastic show is set up in a quirky town where the people who work at a top secret scientific facility all live. It’s got great characters, humour and drama and a great sense of fun!
2. Community.
Another show packed full of quirky characters (sensing a theme?) all attending Greendale Community College which is not, let’s just say, an Ivy League school. It is deliciously imaginative, pushing the boundaries of what a sitcom can be and for that reason alone, I bow before it.
3. Warehouse 13.
Yep you guessed it – more quirkiness! You can tell now that I don’t do straight laced boring police procedurals. What I like to watch though is a show about  secret agents who guard a top secret warehouse full of artefacts, all of which possess some kind of malevolent force. It’s a mix of ongoing story lines and artefact-of-the-week searches, with characters who are goofy and yet not, all at once.
4. Miranda.
I have always loved  a well-written, extremely funny British sitcom since I first laid eyes on The Good Life and To the Manor Born, and this one is right up there with them. Once again, quirky characters abound, Miranda (Miranda Hart) talks directly to the camera when needed, and the situations are absurd and yet at the same time, all so believable. I laugh often and much.
5. Big Bang Theory.
Another sitcom but this one’s US in origin and features a bunch of nerdy scientist friends living and working together. Star of the show is undoubtedly Sheldon (Jim Parsons) but he wouldn’t be anywhere near as appealing without the rest of the cast who are funny, real, and oh yeah, quirky. Like they weren’t going to be if I was watching it!
Top 5 Movies (if the title is hyperlinked then there’s a fab review of the movie by yours truly).
Somehow I managed to see three Ryan Gosling movies this year and it’s not simply because he’s GORGEOUS (the abs alone are worth the price of admission if I wanted to sound totally shallow, and I don’t mind that I do). He’s also an amazing actor, and in this movie, which is one of the best romantic comedies to come out in years, he flexes some great acting muscle, along with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore. It had intelligence, wit and charm and tackled some all too real issues.
A standout. 
Woody Allen was back in top form in this movie which featured time travel (possibly), razor-edge smart comic interplay and a script packed full of more bon mots than a top class dictionary. It was also an engagingly sweet movie that you wanted to stay a part of for as long as possible. I came out of this with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

This is not the movie for everyone, I’ll admit. The drama unfolds at a very slow boil until it breaks out into furious but in context violence before settling back to a simmer. But it explores the underbelly world of crime and poverty in Los Angeles with dazzling mastery, and of course Ryan Gosling, as always was superb.
4. Beginners

Imagine finding out that your dad is gay only weeks after your mother has died, and then watching your father embrace his new life with an enthusiasm you can’t muster for your own life. This is what happens to Oliver (Ewan McGregor) who looks on as his father Hal lives life with a fervour that as they draw closer finally draws Oliver out of his shell. It’s a quirky indie movie but with lots of heart and soul.

5. The Help

What an inspiring movie. It tells the story of the awakening among African-American maids in the 1960s in Alabama when they slowly realised, thanks to interviews by the daughter of one of the rich families in town who chose to profile their lives and write about them, that they have rights. It was rich, deep, and beautifully filmed and acted. A joy to watch which gives you much to ponder.

Once upon a Time

Once Upon a Time is, quite simply, brilliant.

I had high hopes for this show which seemed to promise LOST-like intrigue with a postmodern take on fairytales, and it has delivered in spades. It bounces back and forth between the fairy tale characters as we know and love them, and the present where these same characters, among them Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and a suitably creepy Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) are effectively imprisoned in the modern day town of Storybrooke, Maine. They have been cursed to live in a world without happy endings by the evil queen (Lana Parilla) who is also caught up in the all-consuming spell, unaware of who they really are.

The only person who can free them from this amnesia-powered curse is Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter, Emma, (Jennifer Morrison) who was saved from the same fate as everyone else by being placed in an enchanted wardrobe mere moments before the evil queen’s spell took effect, destined to free everyone on her 28th birthday. The catch (and of course there has to be one)? She is no noble warrior, valiantly riding in to save those she loves. For a start, she doesn’t know anyone in the town, even her mum and dad, who naturally don’t know her either, and though the person trying to convince her she is indeed the saviour of all of fairytale-dom (the son she gave up 10 years earlier – Jared Gilmore who, rather cleverly has been adopted by the evil queen, now mayor of the town) argues intensely and with passion that she is who he claims, she remains convinced it is all hokum.

But little bit by little bit in ways I won’t reveal, she begins to suspect that there may something to the ‘delusions’ of her long lost son, and the series begins to get more and more involving, especially as you have each character in the town contrasted with their backstory, using a very LOST-like mechanism. It shows great promise, and if they can hold to the strong characterisations, post modern synthesis of fairytales and the modern day (a great contrast if ever there was one), and the attendant exploration of what a fight between good and evil really looks like (and is it as black and white as it first appears), it will go from Must See to Absolutely Cannot Ever Miss A Single Episode On Pain of Death.

Yep, it’s that clever, and visually arresting too with the town’s often dour visage contrasting nicely with the brightness and colour of the fairytale flashbacks. I can’t wait to see what they do with it next.

 

Aspirational writing: one day I will write


Like so many things that fall victim to our modern action-packed lifestyles, writing can all too easily be consigned to the wish list of life.
Though I live to write, and I am practically super glued to my blogs and the novel I am working on, I have been guilty of seeing writing as an extravagance I will indulge when time permits. But as we all know, unless something is made a priority, time will never be found to do even the things we love doing.
Regardless of what causes us to forgo our love of writing for paying bills, or taking out the garbage, we need to make writing less an aspirational pursuit and more of actual activity. That will only happen if we take deliberate steps to weave it into the fabric of our day, and write come what may.
So here’s five things I have found that works wonders for me and will hopefully kick start your writing momentum into the New Year:
1. Make writing a part of your day-to-day life.
In the same way you make time to eat breakfast or watch that favourite TV show, make time to write. Set aside a particular time, and make sure that it’s inviolable in terms of any competing priorities gazumping it.
Here’s an example of something similar being built into my everyday routine that worked a treat. I used to struggle to exercise, always making excuses that I was too tired, or  that there was a threat of an impending zombie apocalypse to get out of doing it. But when I finally decided enough was enough, I got up an hour earlier each day, stuck to my decision to exercise then, and lo and behold, I had an ongoing exercise regimen.
This can work well for your writing too, and in fact, I have done much the same thing with my writing time. It now happens far more than it ever did before, and it’s simply because it’s as much a part of my life as exercising or eating breakfast.
2. Write regardless of inspiration.
I am not sure if it’s because I am a hopeless romantic, but I always imagine that every time I write, it is because I am divinely inspired or in ‘the zone’.
But the truth is I often struggle to get going, even when inspired by an idea, and it takes time to get up a creative head of steam. The key here is to keep writing and don’t let the fact that words aren’t divinely flowing from you dissuade you from writing that day.
Maybe everything you write that day won’t be the best thing ever committed to paper. Perhaps it will be like dragging blood from the proverbial. Or maybe, and this has happened to me more times than I can count, you will break through the struggle barrier and write something amazing. You can never be sure that’s what’s going to happen, but I write on the difficult days as if it will.
3. Don’t wait for an idea to strike before writing.
This may sound like odd advice. Why bother writing at all if you don’t know exactly what you’re writing about?
Well because sometimes when you simply start out writing with nothing but a murky concept, and maybe not even that, you can surprise yourself with the ideas that form. Vague ideas can be firm concepts quickly when your creative mind starts firing away, which it usually does when you start playing around with words, no matter how directionless initially.
I found this borne out when I was involved in NaNoWriMo last year. For those that aren’t familiar with it, you commit to writing a novel in the month of November, come rain, hail or shine. The focus isn’t on producing a polished manuscript but the raw guts of one, and the encouragement is just to write. It is scary and challenging, but ultimately liberating, as many times you are just forced to write and see what happens.
4. Try writing something other than the Great [insert country here] Novel.
If you’re anything like me, you will subconsciously see your novel as a high and lofty calling and all other writing as somehow inferior by comparison.
But that’s not the way to think about it. Sure you want to get the novel written, and every day it doesn’t happen is a day you’re name isn’t writ large across the New York Times bestseller lists. It’s great to make it a priority and if it really matters to you, it should be.
That doesn’t mean though that anything else you write isn’t as important. I have come belatedly to regard my blog writing as every bit as important as the novel I am trying to finish editing. My blogs give me the chance to flex my creative muscle and, by so doing, the novel, when I get the chance to work on it, benefits. Writing blogs, funny short stories, whatever you want to, is every bit as important as the main writing goal you may have at the time, and you should value it every bit as much.
5. Get your friends and family involved in the process.
I don’t mean have them standing over your shoulder watching every keystroke with fevered intensity. That would be weird anyway and at six in the morning when I am usually writing, it would be damn near freakish.
No, what I am suggesting is letting them know that you are writing as much as you can, and that you have x or y goal in mind. You may fear being that creatively exposed to someone, but not one of my friends nagged or cajoled me to keep writing any point. What they did do was ask me how I was going from time to time and those gentle enquiries kept me motivated in part to keep working away at my manuscript.
It was invaluable encouragement and made such a difference to my writing.
So there you are. They’re simple things but they can make a profound difference to the way you approach your writing. Hopefully you will find your writing became far less aspirational and much more actual, and that can only be a good thing.

First trailer for The Hobbit released!

It appears that shooting on the Peter Jackson helmed The Hobbit movies is much more advanced that I thought. In fact enough footage has been shot that they have put together an awesomely great trailer that recalls the wonder and excitement I felt as I watched each of the dazzlingly good Lord of the Rings movies.

The trailer features Gandalf the Grey (Isn McKellan) who recruits a reluctant Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to go on a quest with 12 dwarves (who, if the footage is any guide, love a good party and proceed to make themselves quite at home in Bilbo’s house) to reclaim Lonely mountain and its treasure from the dragon Smaug.

I know part 1 of The Hobbit won’t be released till Dec 14, 2012 but I cannot wait to see it and I am thrilled that  Peter Jackson’s imagining of J. R. R. Tolkien’s world will be back as a part of Christmas holidays for the next three years at least!

On the twelfth day of Christmas… I watched this year’s Warehouse 13 episode "The Greatest Gift"

What a fantastically fun episode!

If there’s one thing that a Warehouse 13 episode deliver in spades normally it’s fun. But how much more fun that even those stellar heights was this episode that managed to be heartwarming, comic, and seriously reality-threatening all at once. There’s was just enough schmaltz to warm the cockles of even the most jaded of pop culture-immersed hearts, the spot-on character interaction so finely tuned that you wish you could be a part of their wise-cracking gang, and a storyline that cracked along at a blistering pace. They even threw in a few mythological/historical references just for good measure, and it all added up to a rollicking festive piece of television.

This sublimely wonderful episode kicked off with Peter (Eddie McClintock) and Myka (Joanne Kelly) retrieving Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’s nose from a house in Florida where it was causing massive power surges through the Christmas decorations and transforming a confused family’s dog into a very destructive reindeer. Once the nose was ‘bagged and tagged’ of course everything reverted back to normal and Peter and Myka returned back to the titular warehouse for what they hoped would be a normal Christmas. Or as normal as they can usually manage anyway.

Preferring to avoid family, Pete volunteers to keep the home fires burning and farewells Myka who’s off to see her family, Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) who’s off to Switzerland to see her brother Josh, and even Artie (Saul Rubinek) who is off to Vegas for Christmas with the lovely Dr Vanessa, and alas also his dad. You feel momentarily sorry for Pete, but only momentarily as you soon see him having a ball stacking items in the Christmas aisle (which Artie later calls the aisle of No L… groan).

That is until he falls, and his hand brushes a number of artefacts that fall into the snow covered aisle – which makes perfect sense in a place like Warehouse 13 – and suddenly no one knows who he is. Not the agents in the warehouse office, nor McPherson who should be dead but now runs Warehouse 13, and most distressingly, not even Myka who treats him as a security threat when he turns up in her office. It seems no one remembers who Pete is nor do they remember that they know each other, ands this naturally freaks Pete out completely.

What makes him the natural choice for portraying a man cut adrift, and gives his performance such emotional gravitas is that he is usually the one who acts as if he doesn’t really need anyone. It’s not that he’s callous and indifferent; in fact his relationship with his Warehouse 13 are warm and playful. But he does keep an emotional distance much of the time, and so seeing him desperate and panicked and yet trying to hold it together so he can fix whatever has gone wrong, is almost heart-wrenching. He is raw and vulnerable and desperate to restore things to the way only he remembers they should be.

Of course I won’t spoil things by saying how he manages to restore his timeline but it involves a lot of pleading, cajoling, sweet-talking and sweet talking until everyone is convinced, even when they aren’t sure why, that he is telling the truth. When all the wrongs are righted and things bounce back to the skewed normal of Warehouse 13, Pete finds them all trapped at Leena’s (Genelle Williams) guesthouse by a snowstorm, and he is so ecstatic he even hugs a very unimpressed Mrs Frederic (CCH Pounder) who cautions him to never do that again. Pete isn’t worried – he has his family back and he realises how much these people mean to him. They all think, though he’s gone crazy, and get on with the business of being, well, the family that they are.

This episode is a joy to watch as I said. It has everything you could ever want in a Warehouse 13 episode, and much more, underlining with a thick permanent marker that no matter what it is you do in the world, even when it’s as weird as the things the Warehouse 13 crew is called on to do, that it’s who you do it with that really makes the difference.

A thoroughly engaging tale beautifully told.

On the eleventh day of Christmas… I was given a Kobo e-reader and joined the e-book revolution

Today I powered up the Kobo e-reader I was given for Christmas by my partner and behold it is very good.

Now just in case you’re thinking I jumped the gun completely as far as Christmas is concerned (which wouldn’t be an unreasonable assumption given my love of instant gratification), my partner and I exchanged the larger gifts before he departed to Melbourne for a week with his family so we wouldn’t have to cart all our presents up and down the east coast of Australia for Christmas itself. It worked out well for me because (a) I got presents early, and (b) I got an e-reader!

It was a complete and utter surprise and the reason it is exciting me so much is that, while I love print books a great deal (four overflowing bookcases are more than ample testament to that), and I hope bookstores hang around because I love browsing them (and buying in them too – refer back to the crowded bookcases), I have been itching to get my hands on one of the devices that is transforming publishing.

The reason I have been so keen to jump into this particular end of the digital pool is that in the first half of next year, hopefully sooner rather than later, I want to publish my first novel as a Kindle e-book on Amazon. I am hoping this will lead to a traditional publishing deal but self-publishing via the growing digital medium seems to be the way to go, puts power back in my hands to a large degree, and means my book is out there to be bought and read rather than languishing as 0s and 1s in a file on my iMac. Part of the process of e-publishing is being able to read it so I can make sure all my HTML formatting – a skill I have yet to acquire although I do have HTML for Dummies on my bookshelf – looks perfect, and to do that properly I need an e-reader.

Hence why my partner’s thoughtful gift (he is endlessly supportive) is so important and exciting. It’s another step in my creative career, which has taken a giant leap forward this year via self-publishing courses, the locating of a book cover designer and graphic artist, and the use of a great editing and proofreading site I have discovered via my new job. This is like another critical piece in the puzzle, and coming at Christmas, it is exquisitely timed at the end of what’s finishing up at least as a wonderful year.

So I have joined the e-book revolution at last and while I will not stop reading or buying print books, being able to quickly and easily take books to work, on a flight, wherever will be a boon. It will be just like when I first got an iPod and could suddenly take my entire music collection on a trip with me, not just the CDs that would fit in my travelling case with the Discman.

To start things off, I bought three books – I’ll Mature When I’m Dead by Dave Barry (love his humour and with plenty of his print books on my shelf, making him the first e-book seemed quite appropriate), Out of the Dark by David Weber (I had to have a sci-fi novel in there!), and finally, Ancient Mysteries by Peter James and Nick Thorpe (so my Kobo doesn’t think I am completely bereft of intellectual curiosity).

So happy e-Christmas everyone! May it be sparkly, bright, lightweight and a step into a very exciting future!

On the tenth day of Christmas… I watched 2011’s Eureka Christmas episode – Do You See What I See

So I finally got to see a few of the episodes I previewed earlier and they are such a delight. Here’s my reviews of Eureka’s Do You See What I See

DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE – EUREKA

Ah I do love the twisting of standard Christmas phrases into titles that work so well for a Christmas episode. In this case it’s perfectly suited to an episode where what the characters isn’t really what they are seeing at all. What we see though is a delightful flight of animated imagination with almost every style of classical animation used, telling a story that will become a Christmas classic if there is any justice in the pop culture universe.

So what happens to the beloved people of Eureka that so upends their festive world? The episode takes place on Christmas eve, where we initially see Allison (Salli-Richardson-Whitfield) and Jack (Colin Ferguson) appear to be living together with Zoe (Jordan Hinson), Kevin (now mysteriously non-autistic – you have to love alternate timelines don’t you?) and little Jenna, and in the full throes of an amazingly over-the-top Christmas. S.A.R.A.H. , Jack’s talking house (who narrates the episode at the top and the tail of the story) is beautifully decorated – multi-coloured animated snow flakes on the walls, a Christmas tree so sumptuous it could only happen on TV and even chestnuts recently roasted on an open fire. It is a perfect Christmas although Allison is so focused on creating her vision of Christmas that she is forgetting the people around her.

Naturally some of the gifts for Jenna require sophisticated technology and while Allison is out getting those, and Jack is seeing to a Christmas surprise he has cooked up with Henry (Joe Morton), and Vincent (Chris Gauthier), owner of Cafe Diem, the Super Photon Generator, meant to create snow for a Winter Wonderland, malfunctions and everyone is transformed into cartoons.

Well, not quite. It’s explained that the photon waves generated by the machine Jack calls a “proton generator” (I love the way he is allowed to mangle scientific names and concepts without the writers once making him look stupid – it’s quite an art and they pull it off beautifully) have simply altered everyone’s perceptions of what’s real so they’re seeing cartoons. Still, whatever’s happened, many cartoon conventions are lovingly observed such as the slapstick sound effects, talking inanimate objects – Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame, is hilarious as Jack’s Jeep, who we find out is called Carl, and is greatly resentful of Jack just using him and not being appreciative – and laws of physics that are bent with few ill-effects on the characters (think Road Runner and Wile E Coyote).

The episode also uses many and varied animation styles – from traditional cell animation to claymation and classic anime style, all of which are used to great effect in telling the story. There is even one sequence where Jo, Jack and Andy cycle through appearing as Peanuts, then Simpsons, then South Park, and finally Scooby Doo versions of themselves. Not only is it a priceless laugh-out-loud sight gag but it pays homage to many of the classics of the genre.

Of course with so many styles being used, one of the joys of the episode is watching how various people are rendered – Jacks ends up at one point in a Dudley Do Right cap (much to his surprise, in an episode packed full of surprises) while Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra) is “Jo White” complete with a retinue of bluebirds (who draw out a softer side of our tough security operative), and Henry has a pull-string which he needs to keep pulling to keep talking and moving(Farho thinks this is to give him a chance to pause and think). Everyone is thrown at one point or another by the way they look, and theorise on why they are seeing themselves as they are. Fargo (Neil Grayston) is particularly appalled by his bobble-head appearance, and begans an earnest conversation, and bout of soul-searching with Henry, at least until another photon wave hits them and he becomes an anime warrior who defeats the Sninja.

Henry and Fargo fight the evil Sninja (snow ninja)

A what you say? Well that’s another of the joys of the episode. Unknown to everyone who’s racing to turn off the photon generator and restore a fully three dimensional world, the events of the episode are being unwittingly controlled by Zoe, Kevin and Jenna who have opened an adventure Holobook from which pretty much anything can be created. They eventually realise what they’re doing but not before hilarious sequences where Jack and Andy (Ty Olsson), and later Henry and Fargo, have to battle the menacing snow ninjas.

But underpinning all the impressive special effects, envelope-pushing imagination, and hilarity, is a substantial story that gives the episode its heart and soul. Their changed circumstances afford the various characters a moment or two of introspection since they are not their normal selves, and heart-to-heart conversations between Dr Drummer (clearly Santa Claus but no one says this out loud) and Allison, Jo and Taggart, and Andy and yes, one of Dr Drummer’s huskies (it’s an animated episode after all people) lead to revelations for Jo, Andy and Allison, all of which are believable and make perfect sense. It’s beautifully woven into the storyline and adds immeasurably to an already rich, perfectly realise episode, which is why I suspect, with all that going on, that it will become an episode that lives on far into the future.

It was an utter delight and joy to watch, and as I alluded to before, it has all the makings of a classic Christmas episode that ticks all the warm and fuzzy boxes, and will entertain regardless of how much familiarity you have with the idiosyncratic magical world of Eureka.

On the ninth day of Christmas … my cartoon ornaments reminded me of childhood past

My Christmas tree is not your usual Christmas tree.

Oh it has branches, and tinsel on the branches, and some sparkly red and silver baubles, and the most gorgeous blue and white twinkly lights. All the usual accoutrements, naturally and I adore it because it is exactly the sort of Christmas tree I always dreamed of having.

But what it also has, that is a little different from most peoples’ trees, is a profusion of pop culture-themed ornaments. Lots of them! They have been collected over the years and they reflect my great and undying love of everything from TV to musicals to commercial icons to cartoons and characters like the Muppets. The tree is a reflection of what I love true, but what it also embodies is a certain nostalgia for shows and cartoons I watched growing up, and having them on the tree neatly encapsulates a sense of where I have come from and what made me who I am today.

The reason why cartoons have been singled out for this blog post is that they, more than anything else, let me escape into a world unbounded by the constraints of reality, and for a boy with an unlimited, far reaching, and yes, quirky, imagination that was an amazing gift. Of course at the time, I just thought they were fun to watch, with engaging silly characters; something to while away the school holidays lying on the day and night couch in the family room while mum let us eat the unusually banned Froot Loops for breakfast.

They also conjure up memories of who I was with. My siblings and I would slip out at 6 am when we were at my grandparents in Noraville on the NSW Central Coast (Australia), quietly turn on the TV – an act of great skill since it was an old TV and came on at full volume which meant you had to dial down the volume very quickly – and watch cartoons for three hours till it was time to go to the beach with my grandpa. He died quite some years ago so remembering the cartoons means remembering him, and that makes them precious… and still damn funny!

So here are three of my cartoon ornaments and a brief rundown of the show itself, and why I loved them and they’re on the tree:

SCOOBY DOO

What would a morning of cartoons have been like without a great Dane called Scoody Doo, his best friend Shaggy, and Fred, Daphne and Velma? Rather boring that’s what! The show, which kicked off in 1969, and came from the Hanna-Barbera company, featured the four kids and Scooby solving all manner of supernatural mysteries by exposing them as the acts of far more mortal criminals up to some evil deed or another.

Yes it was predictable, and the characters weren’t that deeply developed but I cared not. Scooby was hilarious, Shaggy was goofy and afraid of anything that moved, Velma was nerdy and clever, and Fred and Daphne were, well, they were rather bland. But they gained much from being in Scooby’s company and I loved trying to work out who the baddy was!
Now of course I can guess the perpetrator a mile off but back then, I was content to simply let the cartoon play out, pretend it wasn’t the same story week in, week out, and immerse myself in a world where good won out over evil, and you got Scooby snacks for doing that!

DAFFY DUCK

He was Bugs Bunny’s bete noire, the hapless yin to Bugs’ consummately in control yang, and a delight to watch when he lost at whoever he was opposing which was pretty much everyone. Yes I know we were all supposed to love Bugs more, and I probably did, but there was something about Daffy, who started life as a character in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons beginning in the 1930s, that appealed. I don’t think I would have been able to articulate it when I was younger, but there was a sense even then that the shiny happy characters weren’t always the most appealing.

There was a part of me that loved Bugs for his roguish charm, and the manner in which everything came his way, but deep down my heart was with Daffy who was flawed, frustrated and often angry at life. He was a screwball figure who slipped and slid through life with very little grace and ease, and I am pretty sure even then, lying in that family room, that I knew that I was more like Daffy than Bugs.

Now of course I know I am.

Oh I would love to be a graceful-under-fire adult all the time, able to leap social buildings with a single flawless bound but alas, while I get it right much of the time, I also slip up far more than I’d like. I let my emotions off the leash far more than I should do, and reap less than desirable consequences much like Daffy does. But all that simply underscores that I am human, and that’s not such a bad thing.

TOP CAT

He was another creation of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon factory, but unlike the long running Scooby Doo, his TV series only for 30 episodes ran from 1961 to 1962. I am not sure why he didn’t last longer because he was sassy, fun, and was the anti-establishment figure trying to outwit the law, in this case Officer Dibble. He had a gang – the adorable Benny the Ball (also his sidekick), Choo-Choo, Fancy-Fancy, and Spook – an alley he commanded and wit and sparkle and a joie de vivre that Office Dibble never managed to vanquish.

I loved him. I loved his accent, his cheekiness, and the way he subverted what you were supposed to do. For a pastor’s kid, boxed in on all sides by people who thought they knew better than I did about pretty much everything, and made sure you complied with their take on life, the idea that you could challenge and beat authority was a beguiling one.

Again, I wasn’t self aware at this age to fully articulate the need to stand up for myself, but clearly the embryonic urge to do so was there since this cartoon appealed so much to me. I hope the fact that it only ran for 30 episodes isn’t some sort of message that standing up for yourself is doomed to be a short-lived thing! I don’t think so. Since I grew up, and wised up to what you can do when you are yourself and firmly stand up for who and what you are, I seem to have survived just fine.

And it’s partly thanks to Top Cat, Scooby Doo and Daffy Duck and their ornaments on my Christmas tree which remind me every year that the richness of my present life owes much to what came for.

Videogames – Lana Del Ray

Thank god for ABC’s JJJ radio, a government-funded music network that is primarily targeted at a younger demographic that plays some mainstream music but mostly spins records from bands than the commercial FM radio stations would never consider adding to their playlist.

It is because of JJJ’s willingness to play music by up-and-coming talents that haven’t hit the radar of anyone but the truly music-obsessed that I stumble across many of the artists that fill my iPod.

One such artist at the moment is Lana Del Ray who possesses an earthy voice that speaks of late nights in smoky bars and a life lived in a harder place than many of us encounter (her beautiful face speaks of nothing of the kind of course). Her voice though is not some blunt instrument capable only of the most rudimentary of emotional expression; no, it’s a thing of subtle beauty, clutching pain and resignation close to a heart breaking from the sadness of dashed expectations.

The song that is currently on radio, Videogames, evinces this emotive sparseness. It is raw, beautiful, and heart-achingly sad. It speaks of a woman who knows that the world is made for two, but lives in a version of it so flawed, you can hear her spirit-crushing disappointment bleeding through the speakers.

She describes a life filled with emotional and physical abuse, graphic and yet also hinted at in lyrics so expertly written they take your breath away. They articulate a world so bereft of the ideals of true love, bound by hopeless resignation to a cruel reality that will never measure up to the wistful longing of the woman at the centre of it.

But all this dark pain is counter balanced by music, including the most delicate of harp playing, so pretty, and sublimely beautiful (that belies the harsh subject matter) that you are drawn into the story again and again. You can help it. It is so seductively compelling that turning away is not an option. Yes you know you are hearing a life disintegrate into a thousand bloodied glass splinters but it is so heartfelt, lyrically and musically, that you can’t stop playing it over and over.

This song is so overwhelmingly gorgeous, and yet so powerfully raw and honest, that you need to listen to it if you value music of truth and real artistry.

I cannot wait to see what this talented woman does next. I expect it will be nothing short of one of the most powerful, rich albums of 2012

On the eight day of Christmas… the publishing industry fell in love with Christmas



Years after watching the cinema and musicindustries fall headlong in love with Christmas, declaring their devotion witheach festive movie and album released, the publishing industry has finallyfollowed suit. It is pursuing a full-blown love affair with the season.Bookstores are awash with Christmas themed-books which, to the delight of theseason’s newest suitor, are selling very well.


Of course the Scrooges among us will abhor thistrend but the publishing industry cares not. No, what they are trying tocapture now are the Christmas tragics, like myself, who decorate the tree, deckthe halls, listen to carols, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year… andwho now, it is hoped, will buy books that add to their enjoyment of this mostmagical of seasons. 
Since most of the festive diehards are women, itmakes sense that the biggest sector of this new literary love affair with allthings Christmas are books targeted at women. These books typically extol theredemptive power of the season, or at least the Currier and Ives version of it.Titles like An Amish Christmas by Cynthia Keller, Christmas at Tiffany’s byKaren Swan and Miracle on Regent Street by Ali Harris speak warmly of a lifetransformed by a festive epiphany. 
But they are not the only category that is doingwell. Just like the movie industry has a Bad Santa for every It’s a WonderfulLife, so the publishing industry has books like Skipping Christmas by JohnGrisham that lampoons with comedic perfection the excesses of the season. Notat all Christmas romantics will appreciate these less-than-subtle send-ups oftheir beloved holiday, but many do, and the book and its ilk have sold well.
Personal memoirs with a distinct Yuletide flavorlike Holidays on Ice by the bitingly witty David Sedaris are also bringing inthose who know that Christmas can be an ordeal that does not end magically withsoftly falling snow, and smiles all around. 
For many, Christmas can be a time of sadness orfrustration, and anyone with a gift for addressing that in a humourous way willcapture the hearts and the minds of those who know it’s not a perfect time ofthe year. Even some of the Christmas tragics will read these, admitting tothemselves in unguarded moments that all the Christmas lights in the worldcan’t make their family a vision of peace on earth.
So are these books worth your time, and will theyadd anything to your enjoyment of the season? We decided to review three of thethem, one each from the categories outlined, and see if the publishingindustry’s new found devotion to all things festive is a long term love affair,or just a, ahem, holiday romance.
An Amish Christmas – Cynthia Keller
Positioning itself firmly in thewomen-done-wrong-redeemed-by-the-magic-of-the-season camp, this book is not nearlyas schmaltzy as I expected it to be. It portrays a family in the depths offinancial ruin, facing the loss of all they hold dear, both personally andprofessionally. It resonates because so many people in the post-GlobalFinancial Crisis Western world are struggling to reconcile their dreams ofprosperity with the stark reality of their present lives. Christmas simplyunderlines how much they have lost, since almost all Christmas traditions takeplace firmly in the realm of first world prosperity.



It’s this fact that makes the plight of Meg Hobart, suddenly impoverished just before Christmas all the more poignant. At a time when she should be celebrating the perfect life she thought she led, she finds it has slipped through her fingers, and Christmas simply makes it all the more painful. She has to return home to her parents, her marriage in tatters, her children resentful, and ends up stranded in Pennsylvania after a car accident. How much worse can things get?
Well, of course, they don’t. Yes life is still bleak but, taken in by the Amish, with their traditions of simplicity and hard work, Meg and her family re-discover what really matters, which is naturally forgiveness and love. Obviously this won’t appeal to everyone but you can understand why this sort of book is selling brilliantly. Put simply it offers hope that things can get better, and it trades on the idea that if it can’t happen at Christmas then when can it happen?

Skipping Christmas – John Grisham
The Kranks on the other hand, who are a family that decides to eschew the rampant commercialisation of Christmas for a Caribbean cruise. They are running as far from the schmaltz as they can. They farewell their daughter on her two-year assignment with the American Peace Corps, and look forward to ignoring Christmas altogether.

But naturally the best laid plans goes awry and, when their daughter announces she will be home for Christmas after all, they are forced to make a decision about which kind of Christmas they will celebrate. The traditional gift-laden one where not decorating your home is a neighbourhood sin, or the one where Christmas barely exists at all? John Grisham handles this dilemma with surprising comic ease, and you will laugh out loud as the Kranks attempt to untangle themselves from the morass of festive expectations that is the modern celebration.
The joy of the book is that it doesn’t trash Christmas, or the reasons we love it, but questions with delicious clarity whether we have taken things too far, and lost the very essence of what it is we loved about the holiday?

Holidays on Ice – David SedarisRegarded by many as America’s pre-eminent humourist, David Sedaris casts a withering eye over Christmas and finds it wanting, in his re-packaged holiday memoir collection, which also includes some short stories. His greatest strength is his love of subtle irony with which he dissects many of America’s holiday traditions with surgical precision. For instance his recounting of his time spent as an elf at Macy’s in the “Santaland Diaries” deftly shows how many people are so intent on ‘celebrating’ the traditions that they lose track of what it is they’re celebrating. As a commentary on the excesses of the American Christmas tradition, and by extension, American society itself, it is without peer.


But what sets this book apart are the essays on family life such as the one where he recounts meeting the Çhristmas whore, a woman who somehow ended up in the Sedaris’s kitchen one festive season and was treated as reverently as Santa himself by a wide-eyed David and his siblings. It’s this recounting of his family’s experiences of Christmas placed side-by-side with his sometimes scathing accounts of Yuletide excess that give this book its unique take on Christmas.


I found it sentimental at times, plain snarky at others but always hilarious and it helps you to appreciate that Christmas, while possessing many lovely attributes, also hides a great deal of crap underneath its shimmering tinsel skirts. 


I think it’s safe to say that, just like the movie and music industries before it, that the publishing industry will not be a fickle Christmas lover, and you can expect bookstores to be overflowing with even more of these books next year.


Ain’t festive love (and the profits it brings) grand?