Midwinter Delights

Weatherwise, it’s a miserable day here in Sydneytown. Southerly squalls started gusting before dawn, and when the rain hasn’t been slamming us sideways, the sun has straggled out to show ragged strips of grey cloud racing their way north.

After hearing the mere mention of the words “East Coast Low”, I am glad that I officially proclaimed today “Trackie Dack Tuesday” — we have dressed accordingly and hunkered down indoors for the day, listening to Sigur Rós, playing Scrabble, baking cookies and cutting out sewing patterns. We are all a little sad plans for netball training this evening have been ditched, but at least the cancellation means we don’t have to change out of our aforementioned (super daggy) attire. Besides, being at home for the day has given me the opportunity to reflect on what has been happening lately and pinpoint the moments of delight that have captured me since winter began.

Without further ado, here are four highlights from our winter (such as it usually is) so far:

Apricity

winter 1Ahh…what a wonderful word: precise, perfect, and something I cherish. Apricity means “the warmth of the sun in winter”, and I am particularly fond of seeking it out — especially on days when the blue sky stretches high but the temperature drops deceptively low. Recently I have been struck by my appreciation of apricity when chatting with my elderly neighbour over the back fence, shooting goals with my family down at the local neball courts, and curling up with a good book on the lounge beside my beloved cat. Apricity is a true winter delight (and one most felines can point you in the direction of, if you care to follow their lead…which in my view constitutes another reason to join the Cat Race). Besides, in winter a decent dose of Vitamin D is good for you.

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

winter 2The good book I was curled up in the sun with? Well, when I wasn’t on a fiction bender reading all eight of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass books (because it’s school holidays and who actually needs an excuse to escape into a book anyway), I was completely and utterly caught up in Julia Baird’s latest offering.  It’s full title is Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and the things that sustain you when the world goes dark, and it is absolutely worth getting your hands on a copy — not just because the cover is truly a thing of beauty. While I was reading it, this book made me think deeply about Baird’s many and varied insights, and after finishing it several weeks ago I am still pondering her observations, recalling certain turns of phrase, and picking up the book to delve into certain sections again.

Winter 3Chocolate Croissants

Is there anything more satisfying than biting into a freshly made chocolate croissant? Particularly when in it is a perfect ensemble of crisp, flaky, buttery pastry and decadently high quality dark chocolate? Do I even need to begin justifying including this as a delight? I think not…and I am abundantly grateful to have a magical patisserie not far from home where these masterpieces are made every single day. Nom.

Hamilton

What a wonderful coincidence, that Disney Plus released the film version of Hamilton the very same evening the NSW winter school holidays began! For me, the fact that this already marvellous confluence of events also happened to line up with Marvel Girl receiving news that she had been accepted into the high school she was aiming for made it all the more magical. Marvel Girl and I are big Hamilton fans and even bigger devotees of the insanely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, so settling in to watch this massively ambitious piece of musical theatre was an absolute, unmitigated delight. We relished and rejoiced in every rhyme, and since then even Miss Malaprop has been known to sing out a line or two…especially if it allows her render a completely lifelike Jonathan Groff impression to send a fully armed battalion to remind [us] of [her] love!

There’s no better way to end this post than that.

winter 5

 

 

Isolated Delights

Hello from the inside…

Like many of you all around this wonderful world, I’m stuck at home riding out this awful COVID-19 pandemic. One would think it was an entirely delightful thing for an introvert like me to be stuck in the house, and that I would be completely au fait with such arrangements given I happily work from home three days a week.  When my usual routine has been combined with (or has, more accurately, collided with) home schooling, however, I am finding that I am yearning for time ALONE rather than time AT HOME.

Even so, there are still moments of delight in these self-isolated times, little gems that have kept me going as my dear children have driven me slowly but surely around the twist.  It’s true that we’ve had a lot of laughs, including when Marvel Girl decided to christen me “Catnip Everdeen” when I volunteered to run the grocery shop gauntlet and our list included cat food and litter. I also had a life-changing moment of glory when I managed to find not one, but two display books to keep the kids’ many home school materials separated and corralled.

Looking back, there have been several things that I have found truly delightful in the past couple of weeks, and I share them in the hope that you find some in your own self-isolated exile.

Our Tibouchina Tree

TibouchinaIn the corner of our back yard stands a Tibouchina tree. Most of the year it is an ordinary, stock standard tree — you know: green leaves, brown trunk, sometimes bits fall off it, other times there are birds in it. But every year in February and March, the Tibouchina tree transforms itself into something truly resplendent, crowned with beautiful purple flowers. Every year it brings a smile to my face — and this year, believe me, it felt extra special.

Paper Towels

tibou 2I never thought I would live in an era when hoarding groceries became a Thing. The silver lining to this unexpected (and more than likely unethical) behaviour, however, is that when I found a four pack of paper towel on the supermarket shelf while doing my aforementioned Catnip Everdeen impression, I felt like I had won Olympic Gold.

I might have even sent my mother a picture of it…

Passionfruit

Tibou 4Yep, you read that right. Passionfruit. On another of my early morning Catnip Everdeen runs (and believe me, I do them far less frequently than this post is seeming to indicate), I found a whole pile of passionfruit: large, plump and — most importantly — heavy.

I bought six.

Three of us have eaten one so far.

We are all in agreement — passionfruit this good is an unmitigated tropical delight.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive

Tibou 3It’s no secret Australians are completely, perhaps catastrophically sports mad, and the fact that Coronavirus made its unwelcome appearance in our country just as winter sports seasons were kicking off could be described as…unfortunate? No, let’s be honest, here: it’s been devastating — particularly for Miss Malaprop, who worked super hard to make the A Grade team in our local netball competition, only to have the season scrapped before it started.  At least I was able to tell her all the professional sportspeople have been affected, too. The Sydney Swifts won’t be playing either. The Olympics have been postponed. The Melbourne Grand Prix was cancelled…

And that’s when I remembered seeing something about car racing popping up in my Netflix home screen — Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Needless to say, in the absence of any other televised sport, I am devouring it. The ups and downs of Formula 1 racing are so far removed from my daily grind the show is providing me with much needed mental relief. I get so caught up in watching it I don’t think about anything else — and that, at the moment, constitutes pure delight.

Ten Thousand Views

Tibou 5Another moment of delight also came via screen this week…by the very screen I’m watching these words appear on as I type. This, my little blog, the patch of cyberspace I escape to every now and then to make sense of this crazy old world, ticked over 10,000 views — and this Daydream Believer was delighted.

I honestly never expected for anyone to really read this — but apparently more than 7,000 of you out there decided to prove me wrong, and some of them obviously came back for more. It’s times like these I feel most grateful for the opportunity to write, and they take me back to a post I wrote some years ago called The Wellspring, which is as close as I have ever come to writing a manifesto describing what this blog is about. It also reminded me of how I have often used this space to try to make sense of things that confront me (like restlessness), or confound me (like the treatment of refugees), and comfort me (like reading cookbooks, of all things).

I also want to say thank you for being one of those ten thousand views…whoever, wherever you are.

I hope these words, in turn, bring you delight.

BJx

 

 

2019 on Screen

Here comes the second instalment of my Top Five’s for 2019 — movies and television. I should probably preface this by saying that for me, any time I’m sitting in front of a screen without a keyboard is a form of escapism, so I’m not too likely to be using much grey matter when I’m watching. It’s all about being entertained!

So, without further ado, here (in no particular order) are my Top Five great escapes on screen for the 2019.

1. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

SWix

Now, this one was always going to be on here. It seems like only yesterday that I was wondering whether my kids might be ready to watch the Star Wars movies, and since then they have devoured everything in the universe currently available (though they might not be quite up to date with the most recent episodes of The Mandalorian).

We saw this movie as a family (which always makes it more special) and we all, unequivocally, loved it. After all, outer space could possibly be the greatest escape of all. On a side note, Miss Malaprop was also properly impressed I accurately picked Rey’s parentage within the first ten minutes…

2. Captain Marvel

CapAs a mother of two girls, strong female role models are always high on my lookout list when it comes to movies — Rey in The Rise of Skywalker being a case in point. And while it might seem like completely hyperbolic overload to include two massive blockbusters in this year’s Top Five, I simply could not relegate Captain Marvel to the Highly Commended section.

Ironically, part of what made this movie special for me was that I saw it in Hobart with The Bloke when we’d absconded from Sydney without our two (mostly) cherubic offspring for a long weekend in Tasmania. I will always love the Marvel Universe, and I thoroughly enjoyed Captain Marvel from start to finish — and I was, of course, totally entertained by Goose the Cat/Flerken. Winning.

3. Patrick Melrose

Thought you might need a change of pace…

PMThis TV series was one I would describe as an emotional onslaught of epic proportions. How Benedict Cumberbatch pulled off playing the titualr role so brilliantly — being, as he is, in virtually every scene of the entire production — I will never know. Hugo Weaving’s performance as Patrick’s father is also devastatingly good.

It was difficult to watch Patrick’s life unravel, particularly as the audience is given increasing insight into the unmitigating awfulness of his childhood. What makes it even harder to watch is knowing that the series is based on the semi-autobiograpical novels of Edward St Aubyn. That Patrick persists (for the most part) and attempts to overcome the trauma of his past and the addictions of his present transforms Patrick Melrose into compelling viewing.

The final episode also delivered one of my favourite exchanges of dialogue for the year:

Patrick Melrose:  I’ve decided I’m bored of ghosts. I want to see people instead.

Mary Melrose: Oh, I see. OK.

Patrick Melrose: Or is it too late to change my mind?

Mary Melrose: Not at all. After all, that’s what it’s for. 

It’s not always comfortable viewing, but well worth the effort.

4. The Crown, Series 3

tc3I, like many others, was loathe to see Claire Foy, Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby relinquish their roles in the newest series of The Crown, but my fears were unfounded. Olivia Colman is brilliant as Her Maj, and Tobias Menzies (once I had got past seeing him as Black Jack Randall) was equally good as Prince Philip. I was less sure about Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, but she does cut a suitably tragic figure.

The inclusion of Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten was a stroke of genius (though it could reasonably be said that the inclusion of Charles Dance in just about anything amounts to a stroke of genius), and I was delighted by the performance of Erin Doherty as Princess Anne — particularly the scene where she sings along to David Bowie’s Starman without losing a modicum of her stiff upper lip.

We all know what’s going to happen in The Crown — let’s face it, it’s recent modern history, so you’d have to have been living under a rock not to — but I was drawn to the way certain key events were portrayed, humanising both the happenings and the Royal Family themselves. I can’t wait for the next series. Not to mention the costumes…

5. Killing Eve, Series 1 and 2

OK, OK…so I was late to the party on this one — but how good is Killing Eve?!

Sandra Oh excels as Eve Polastri, and Jodie Comer turns being the villanous Villanelle into a fine art. Never has being a psychopathic assassin looked so good — or so fashionable — not to mention sounded so incredible (thanks to Comer’s brilliant range of accents).

That this show also features Danish actor Kim Bodnia (who I first encountered in The Bridge) as Villanelle’s handler was an extra treat for me. Bring on Season Three — waiting is so boring!

Bored Killing Eve GIF by BBC America

I watched a bunch of other stuff during the year, including a French show called Chefs which kept me entertained, and (thanks to my kids) more episodes of Nailed It than I would care to recall, and fell asleep during almost every instalment I tried to watch of The Witcher — which probably had more to do with the time of year than with Henry Cavill, and I am resolving to do better in the future.

witcherBut I can’t think of anything else that really stood out for me in 2019. No doubt I will as soon as I hit the publish button…but no matter.

Don’t change the channel — next up I’m talking best books of the year.

Harry Potter and the End of an Era

HP 5It was always going to happen.

Always.

Two nights ago, the girls and I had three chapters plus the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left to read. Last night, we simply couldn’t stop — could anyone have stopped, I ask you? — and I kept reading aloud, and drinking peppermint tea, and reading aloud some more until the book was finished.

And now, quite understandably, we are feeling a little bereft.

It seems like only a month or so ago that we started reading Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, embarking on our J K Rowling odyssey. In reality, it was several years ago, and we even had a considerable hiatus between books four and five to allow our (very visual and emotionally sensitive) Miss Malaprop to be sufficiently old enough to cope with the content without having nightmares.

There have been so many laughs along the way, as well as tears, as Harry Potter and his friends have woven themselves in the fabric of our existence. Whenever any of us has to read something less interesting or onerous, we trick ourselves into persevering by inserting the words “Harry Potter and the… before the title. Recent examples of works made far more palatable by this process have been Harry Potter and the Land Tax Exemption for Land Used and Occupied Primarily for Low Cost Accommodation, and Harry Potter and the Effects of a One Year Development Programme for Recently Graduated Veterinary Professionals on Personal and Job Resources, and the truly inspiring Harry Potter and the Australian Privacy Principles.

See? Every so much more fascinating once you add in a dose of Harry. A little magic goes a long way in such cases.

But a little magic helps us get through life every day, doesn’t it?

HP2Both my children have the words Nox and Lumos on their bedroom light switches. Both have Hogwarts robes, Gryffindor for Marvel Girl and Slytherin for her sister, in their wardrobes. All three of us have our wands, which chose us (of course) at Ollivanders, and mine (since I am a Ravenclaw) sits beside my laptop, ready for use at any time. I even have my Hogwarts letter, apparently redirected many times over until it finally arrived, courtesy of a dear friend and a then much smaller “owl” who flew it to my doorstep on my 40th birthday.

All of these things are treasured.

The world is not a smaller place now that we have finished reading the books. Rather, each of our universes has expanded to include the realms of possibility, of imagination, and of magic. We are all more conscious, every day, of the saving power of love.

And it was hard last night, really hard, not to tear up when reading the final portion of the seventh and final book in the series to my children, particularly when I read these words:

Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

How fortunate are we, to have the benefit of these so-called children’s tales, and to know their power really is beyond the reach of any magic.

HP1And so we will embark on new adventures, in search of new tales, perhaps with Sparrowhawk as he wends his way from the Isle of Gont towards becoming an Archmage, or with Zaphod Beeblebrox tripping through the galaxy, or perhaps we will stay closer to home, roaming the streets of colonial Sydneytown with Beattie Bow, or dancing in the Anzac Deli with Mareka Nikakis.

Yet I know, deep down, that in years to come my children will more than likely read the Harry Potter books to their children, and will love them just as much then as they do now.

After all this time?

Always.

 

Waking Late and Winter Walks

two

We shall not cease from exploration…

We’ve had the best time.

Nothing makes me happier than hearing my children say these words — particularly when we’ve just spent the school holidays, in their entirety, at home.

I mean, we have left the house every now and then, because good old Sydneytown has turned on a run of truly spectacular winter days. It’s wonderfully warm in the sun, and even though it’s been windy the skies have been mostly clear of clouds. Staring skyward has been like looking up at a shimmering swathe of pale blue silk, stretching high into the heavens.

But the best bit has been the freedom. 

For me, there is nothing more liberating than turning off all the alarms on my phone, knowing that we are — blissfully — not bound by routine for two whole weeks.

Being winter, we have slept in, relishing being able to get up with the sun at seven rather than scurrying out of bed in the dark.  Even better, there have been days when we have stayed snug beneath our bedcovers, reading books or revelling in the very real pleasure of not having to be anywhere at a specific time.

We have enjoyed other simple things, too. We have walked in the winter sun, sometimes with a destination in mind and other times just because we can. We have watched Captain Marvel and endless episodes of The Adventures of Merlin, reminding ourselves that magic should be part of everyday life. We have planted flowers to brighten the back yard. We have played board games and card games while sipping hot chocolate and even hotter coffee. We have baked more muffins than it’s sensible for humans to consume.

From time to time I have marvelled at my children’s creativity, partciularly when they took it upon themselves to transform a large cardboard box into a Viking longboat in the back yard. I have smiled to myself in wry amusement when they protested having to scrub paint out of their pants when their artistic endeavours haven’t gone entirely to plan. I have admired their generosity when they have gone through old books and clothes and toys and worked out what they wanted to pass on to other kids.

And in the evenings, when the winter darkness falls so fast, we have heated our home by making stews and coming up with new spice blends to season homemade chicken nuggets, all while listening to Miles Davis and other jazz greats, or The Bad Plus working their own kind of wonder with instrumental versions of long-beloved songs like No Woman, No Cry. I’ve probably drunk more wine than I meant to, stirring pots on the stovetop and peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips to bake, not because the kids are driving me crazy, but because I am relaxed and happy — and because these are my holidays, too.

We’ve had the best time.

And I have, too.

beach

…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

 

 

Rescued

noI have been saying NO to my children for a very long time.

Despite my best efforts to be a mother who phrases things positively, explaining what I want them to do rather than what I would like them to stop doing, there has been one small, though significant thing I have been saying no to repeatedly — pretty much ever since they learned how to walk and talk.

No, we are NOT getting a pet.

No, not a cat.

No, not a dog either. 

No, not even a fish.

No. 

And it’s not like I haven’t had good reasons for saying no. In fact, both my girls can quote you, chapter and verse, the many and detailed reasons I have provided to them over the past nine years (since our last pet passed on) why we would not be getting a replacement four legged friend any time soon.

There have even been occasions — usually when they have been particularly persistent in their pestering for a pet of their own — when I felt tempted to start spounting the lines from Labyrinth Sarah uses to defeat the Goblin King.  Go on, I would think to myself, try me: “My will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great…YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME!

But the thing is, as it turned out that one small creature DID have power over me.

During the Easter holidays, I softened my hardline just a smidge: I finally relented and informed the girls that they would be allowed to get a small tank and some fish. They would need to be in charge of cleaning the aquarium, feeding and caring for their new finned friends. They also needed to work out how much everything would cost and stick to a budget when making their initial purchases — gravel, tank decorations, the fish themselves, the works.

And then, while we were at the pet store, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop just happened to venture down to the far end of the shop to a couple of cages containing animals who were up for adoption. They might even have “borrowed” my phone to take pictures of said creatures…or, more accurately, of one in particular.

We went home, set up the tank, washed the gravel, positioned all the plants and the hula hut decoration, got the filter and lights going and and began treating the water so it was ready for fish.

Later that night, once the kids were in bed, I found a series of photographs on my phone. They weren’t great pictures, because many of them had the bars of a cage featuring prominently in the foreground. But beyond the bars was a small, furry feline with tabby/tortishell markings, spectacular whiskers, beautiful eyes and an elegant tail that resembled a plume.

She was one year old. Desexed, microchipped, vaccinated. And she was a stray.

Next morning, I woke up well before the kids.  Without even meaning to, or realising what I was doing, I picked up my phone off my bedside table and began scrolling through the images of the small, furry creature who was most definitely not a fish.

The Bloke rolled over, wondering what on earth had possessed me to start checking my phone at 5:00am.

Ah, he said. I thought this might happen.  I saw her too.

IMG_0305

So, as it turns out, we returned to the pet store that day and came home not with fish, but with a small and ever so delightful cat we have named Tauriel.

And since we got her — or since I said YES — I have made some interesting discoveries.

I have yelled less. We have all been calmer, and made an effort to get along with each other better. We have tried to make Tauriel feel at home, and she was rewarded us with her madcap toy mouse-capades and her speed scampering up and down the hallway, with purrs and playful bites and with the joy only an animal can bring.

The many and varied reasons why we should not have got a four-legged friend remain, and will continue to do so, but after eight or nine years of saying NO, Tauriel appeared at precisely the right time for me to change my formerly made-up mind.

A rescue cat, is Tauriel. And even though we may have rescued her from an uncertain future, I suspect we all feel she has rescued us, too, and that we are as lucky to have her as she is to have us.

And the fish? Well…we finally got them too — and Tauriel takes great delight in watching Mahalo, Taco, Nacho and Mrs Norris swimming around in their tank. So do we.

IMG_0322

 

 

2018: The Year on Screen

So I can’t say I’ve done a huge amount of movie-going this year, and I still haven’t watched Season 4 of Peaky Blinders, which I know would have made my list had I got around to it…some things have to be savoured. Because Cillian Murphy.

Enough said.

But I did manage to see a few things that caught both my eye and my attention, so without further ado, here is Blue Jai’s Top 5 on Screen for 2018.

1. Nanette (Netflix Special)

nanetteThis incredible piece of writing and genuine human bravery by Hannah Gadsby was intended as her farewell to comedy, but became a significant part of a much larger global conversation about equality.

I have no idea how Gadsby pulled off doing her live show of Nanette night after night, but I do know it sparked a rare argument between me and The Bloke and moved me to write about my reaction to that event and to watching this tour de force, which I called We Need More Words. Because we do. This, in my view, and with no pun intended, is compulsory viewing.

2. The Bridge (Season 4)

bridgeAnother piece of viewing that resulted in its own blog post was the final instalment in the brilliant Swedish/Danish production The Bridge (Bron|Broen). There is so much I love about this show — despite it being Nordic Noir at its finest, with all that entails, I was so attached to the main characters and invested in the eventual outcome of their respective journeys (particularly after the brilliant final episode of Season 3) that I did not want Series 4 to end.

But since it as, I’m looking forward to watching this again. No, wait…let’s be clear: I’m looking forward to sitting down with all four seasons through again. If you’ve not seen it, please start at the beginning and stick to the original Scandi production instead of wasting your time with remakes. For me, The Bridge sets the benchmark for quality TV viewing.

3. Ant-man & The Wasp (Movie)

antmanGenerally speaking I include one sentimental favourite in my Top 5 each year, and this is 2018’s offering. I freely admit to being a sucker for any Marvel movie, and felt it my duty as a fan to include one this year as a tribute to the late, great Stan Lee.

The main reason Ant-man & The Wasp makes this year’s list, however, is that we have finally got to the point where we can see Marvel Movies (well, some of them) as a family — and this was our first shared experience of the Marvel Universe together. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop enjoyed the film so much that they went to see it a second time with The Bloke’s parents, who were as baffled by the storyline as they were by the girls’ massive enjoyment of it, but I’m chalking that up as a parenting win. Antman & The Wasp was a rollicking good time, complete with “that gigantic underpants scene” my kids found so funny. What’s not to love?

4. Arrival (Movie)

arrivalYeah, yeah…I know — this came out ages ago, but finally popped up on Netflix so I actually got to watch it, so it’s on my list for 2018.

That said, I found the concepts in this film so intriguing — particularly the treatment of time and language. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner both delivered solid, convincing performances, and I was genuinely moved by the decisions Adams’ character faces and ultimately makes. This is so much more than a “human meets alien” flick, and it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time.

5. The Last Kingdom (Season 3)

last kingdomAn unusual choice? Perhaps, but I’m as big a sucker for TV based on historical events (regardless of its accuracy) as I am for historical fiction.  The Bloke and I do struggle with — and snigger at — the voiceover that precedes each episode of this Netflix Original starring Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon raised from early childhood as a Dane during the time of Alfred the Great.

This, to my mind, is the strongest of the three seasons made so far, particularly in its depiction of Uhtred’s changing relationship with his childhood friend Brida and of King Alfred’s struggles as he faces his impending death.  The presentation of the idea of England — an as yet unrealised dream, intangible but still powerful — also drew me in. If you like a bit of drama with a few big battle scenes and plenty of long haired blokes running around with swords, The Last Kingdom is plenty of fun.

Honourable Mentions this year go to Black Panther, a movie that has generated a bunch of press for all the right reasons as well as being a fantastic addition to the Marvel Universe, to Salt, Fat, Acid Heat, Samin Nosrat’s fantastic Netflix series that is part travelogue as well as being a top notch cooking show, and to every single brilliantly written season of Brooklyn 99, my go-to pick-me-up comedy.

And now, since it’s the summer holidays, hit me with your best viewing of 2018!

2017 in Review: And That’s a Wrap

It’s that time of year when I’m charting my personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. Yesterday I looked at books, and today I’m switching to what I’ve seen on screens, big and small.

Much like its literary counterpart, I’ve decided that the Viewing category is open to any movie or television series made at any time, but which I watched 2017.  I managed to list the books chronologically, but this list — like my viewing habits generally — is far more haphazard. There are (hopefully) no spoilers here, and definitely no full reviews.  These are just five of my favourites for 2017…feel free to leave me your suggestions of what to watch next year, or your thoughts on what should have made the list.

BLUE JAI’S BEST MOVIES & TV OF 2017

1. Sound City (2013)

2017 Sound cityI’m kicking this list off with a feature-length documentary about the history of a recording studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles — a description that sounds somewhat bland and boring until you realise that the recording studio in question is Sound City Studios, and the director of the film is Dave Grohl. It might sound even more banal if I described this movie as Grohl’s love letter to the Neve 8028 analog mixing console at Sound City but, again, once it becomes clear that this was the console he and a previously little-known band called Nirvana once used to record an album called Nevermind that went on to change the musical world as we know it, the whole thing begins to make a lot more sense.

2017 DGThe list of rock music luminaries who recorded at Sound City is astonishing, as is the sheer number of them who shared their memories of making music there: Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig, Josh Homme and Paul McCartney are but a few of the artists associated with the studio who agreed to be part of the film. (Then again, given it was Dave Grohl asking them, perhaps it’s hardly surprising at all.)

Much like the Neve console itself, this movie captures a moment in time, a particular sound. It’s like a trip down memory lane in a leather jacket, and while the  film — much like its director — wears its heart on its sleeve, it manages to steer clear of sentimentality when discussing the closure of Sound City and, instead, celebrates old school technology being given a new lease of life as the Neve console is moved to Grohl’s own Studio 606, where it will no doubt be used well into the future.

If you’re a music fan, this one’s a must see.

2. GLOW, Season 1 (2017)

2017 GlowSo we’re still in the San Fernando Valley, but my second pick for 2017 is the televsion comedy series GLOW — which stands, of course, for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.  I never thought a comedy about the making of a 1980s syndicated women’s wrestling show (it is fiction, by the way) would interest me in the slightest, but the writing is as tight the ladies’ leotards, the costumes and soundtrack are so tacky they’re great, and some of the scenes — Sheila the Shewolf’s birthday bash at the roller rink springs to mind — are unexpectedly moving.

2017 Alison BrieI absolutely loved Alison Brie as the semi-desperate, struggling actress Ruth Wilder (particularly when she’s in Soviet mode), and Marc Maron’s portrayal of Sam Sylvia, the sleazy, disillusioned director who discovers he might actually care, is completely convincing. GLOW is laugh out loud funny, with some cutting edge social commentary to boot.

Bring on Season 2.

 

3. The Crown, Season 2 (2017)

2017 The CrownSpeaking of Season 2, I’ve just binged on another Netflix series — this time, the sumptuous historical drama that is The Crown. The second instalment is every bit as enjoyable as the first, and while political drama plays out on the wider world stage in the form of events such as the Suez Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination, for me the most interesting episodes are those depicting Queen Elizabeth II (played brilliantly by Claire Foy) navigating the complexities and challenges of her personal relationships — especially those with her husband and sister.

Vanessa Kirby very nearly steals the show as Princess Margaret, particularly in one powerful sequence that captures her volatility and unhappiness.  In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Kirby described the scene:

She does this melancholy dance. You rarely saw her on her own, and I always imagined her alone in the house, grieving for her father — her sister preoccupied with a husband and kids and so busy being Queen. She would feel redundant, isolated; ostracised. I just imagined these dark nights of the soul, rattling around in Clarence House.

It’s compelling, if not a little voyeuristic, viewing.

4. Avis de Mistral/My Summer in Provence (2014)

2017 provenceThis French film is one that has been panned elsewhere, but I still wanted to see it.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that first drew me in, though I’ve always been a Jean Reno fan and I’m yet to meet anyone worth knowing who doesn’t harbour a soft spot for Provence.  Perhaps it’s also because, as the grandchild of divorced grandparents, I was intrigued by the the possibility that a cantakerous old man might eventually be won over by the three grandchildren he has never met — despite the best efforts of just about everyone involved to be difficult and objectionable.

The generational struggles are played out over the course of a long, hot summer, and despite the disputes between the characters being occasionally petty (two of the grandchildren are teenagers, after all), the ultimate benevolence and humanity of the characters and the strength of the bonds between them are never really in doubt — particularly in relation to the youngest grandchild, Theo, who is deaf (and is played, beautifully, but Lukas Pélissier, who is also deaf). One of the things I loved about this film is that whenever the action is seen from Theo’s perspective, there is no sound — which serves not only as a reminder of his condition, but also as a respite from the boisterous, dischordant world of his older siblings.

If I’m perfectly honest, this is a predictable, safe and sentimental film: the vast majority of the action is telegraphed well before it happens, including the inevitable happy ending. But sometimes, in life, we need movies like this — things that blow in like the mistral, and blow straight out again…and it’s made my Top Five because at the time I watched it I needed such a distraction, and My Summer in Provence served its purpose very well.

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

2017 last jediYou knew there had to be a big-hitting, blockbuster of a franchise movie in here somewhere, didn’t you? Well, The Last Jedi is it — and a big part of the reason why this film makes the list is that I watched it at the cinema with my family.

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the possibility of introducing my girls to Star Wars, when in reality it was two and a half years ago.  During that time, they have become committed fans of the Star Wars universe, have watched all the films, every episode of Clone Wars and Rebels ever made, and have had hours of “Jedi Training” in the back yard with their father. They even insisted on making their own light sabers (purple — just like Mace Windu’s) at Disneyland.

I suspect half of what was written on the internet during the past month was devoted to The Last Jedi, so I’m not going to add to it any more here, save to say that I aboslutely loved this movie. And best of all, I got to see it with Marvel Girl, Miss Malaprop and The Bloke sitting right beside me.

Honourable mentions for other viewing in 2017 go to Thor: Ragnarok, not only because I can’t go past any Marvel movie in which Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, but also because I think Taika Waititi has brought a really fresh (not to mention funny) approach to the franchise; Anne with an E (and a PTSD?), which turned an old favourite on its head in a way I’ve decided I really liked; and Lucifer, Seasons 1 and 2 of which I believe to be the very best sort of trashy television, complete with clever lines and a one very handsome Devil.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…hit the follow button and don’t miss a thing!

The Old Tin of Worms…

Radiohead minute

It’s easy to get lost in the tin of worms.

My head is going around like a tin of worms.

Not because I’m having a Squirrel Week, but because I have been absent from this small patch of cyberspace for more than a month and my brain is overloaded with partially constructed blog posts, bizarrely random thoughts and more than a few reminiscences.

I was struck last week, for example, that on 16 June 1997, Radiohead released their OK Computer album, followed ten days later, on 26 June 1997, by J K Rowling first publishing Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone.

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Two decades of brilliance!

Can we all just take a moment, please, to appreciate the fact that it has been twenty years since these two marvellous creations found their way into the wider world — and in the same month, no less?

I know this happy coincidence may not be considered particulary newsworthy in many circles, but in this weird and wacky era of Fake News and Alternative Facts, I think I would prefer to have my attention drawn to the fact that two of my favourite things in the whole world are celebrating two decades of existence rather than having to acknowledge the things that actually make the papers these days…except we don’t actually read newspapers any more now, do we?

See? That’s what my head is doing — leaping from one thought to the next, much like an Alaskan salmon struggling determinedly yet somehow dementedly upstream to spawn…something…

I mean, this is the time of year that all those Sockeyes and Chinooks and Ketas run, but given that I live more than half a world away from the Kenai Peninsula and haven’t set foot in Alaska for over ten years, I don’t think I can reliably claim to be having a Salmon Week?!

Perhaps it’s because we have finally found ourselves at the beginning of the Winter School Holidays here in the Antipodes that I am thinking such thoughts. Or maybe it’s because I’ve watched a few too many episodes of Life Below Zero on Netflix recently?

I freely admit that Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have beeng pushing every last one of my buttons lately — including buttons I didn’t even know I had — but I can’t really make my children scapegoats for my scattered headspace, particularly when I know that in addition to being more than usually annoying (because end of term and upcoming birthdays) they have also been responsible for some moments of actual joy I have experienced in the past weeks.

Take Miss Malaprop, for instance. Miss Malaprop was blowing up (and believe me, she possesses explosive power and matches it with unbelievable volume) because she couldn’t find anything to wear when I asked her to get dressed before a dinner out with her grandparents. Resisting the urge to retaliate in kind — a feat I managed only because I knew I would probably be poured a cold glass of Sav Blanc at some point in the not so distant future — I ventured into the demon’s lair Miss Malaprop’s bedroom and proceeded to extricate every last piece of clothing from her overstuffed drawers and wardrobe, removing anything that was too small or seasonally inappropriate, then carefully refolded and rehung what remained, all while speaking in soothing tones and encouraging the fiend my dear daughter to get dressed.

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To keep or not to keep…

Three bags full of charity later (more mine than hers, I thought at the time), Miss Malaprop was suitably attired.  She also behaved impeccably when dining with The Bloke’s parents. And then, a couple of days later, when I asked her whether she really wanted to give away a favourite top that had made its way into the hand-me-down pile (a dark blue t-shirt with a glow in the dark picture of the Millenium Falcon on it) she surprised me — no, she actually humbled me — by saying that even though she really loved that top she would rather pass it on than keep it, because that way someone else would get to enjoy wearing it, too.

Who knew?  Who actually knew that Sunday evening’s shrieking banshee could turn into Wednesday afternoon’s wunderkind?

Because now I feel completely and utterly torn between wanting to keep the top even more, so I can present it to her in twenty years or when her teenaged self most needs it, as a reminder of that beautiful moment when she showed such generosity of spirit — and yet knowing that to keep it would be completely contrary to her own wishes and the selflessness she so willingly displayed.

And so the worms turn yet again, and my mind remains a squirming mess, until my thoughts eventually happen upon Marcel Proust’s musings, and I am reminded that:

We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. 

Much like Harry Potter, really.

For a minute there, I lost myself…but I’m OKNOTOK now.

JKR

More words of wisdom…

Ivy, Oak and Ash

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Ollivanders…where the wand, as we know, chooses the wizard.

I’m writing this at my kitchen table, listening to a beautiful Ólafur Arnalds track he recorded with Nils Frahm. The music, with its high-pitched, bell-like tinkling, has an ethereal quality that sounds unmistakably like…Magic.

And then it occurs to me that this piece, relatively obscure as it is, has conjured up the memory of the opening bars of a much more famous musical score: John Williams’ overture to the original Harry Potter film, a movie filled with mystery and wonder, and more Magic than you could poke a stick at — particularly if that stick should be a wand.

Ah, Magic.

It’s such a powerful thing — such a potent, creative force.

Even though I know quite well that the Harry Potter novels and films are works of fiction, I also recognise them as works of wonder. Of a fantasy that I can — and do — quite readily buy into. And, as I’ve said before, I encourage my children to do so as well. I think that the late and ever-so-great Roald Dahl, who definitely knew wonder when he saw it, probably explained why best:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

 

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Hogsmeade Village, Hollywood style…please respect the spell limits.

For me there can be as much Magic in a well-crafted sentence as there in a beautifully realised fictional world — complete with its own myths and history. But when The Bloke and I had the chance to take our girls to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood during our recent trip to the US, we both knew this was a opportunity to see some real Magic.

And it was.

We explored Hogwarts Castle, drank butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks, bought sweets at Honeydukes, visited the Owlery, and browsed through the broomsticks at Dervish and Banges.

And then we went to Ollivanders.

Ollivanders, as all self-respecting Harry Potter fans know, have been makers of fine wands since 382BC. Being a Ravenclaw myself, I could spend hours discussing the importance of the Ollivander family in history of European wandmaking or introducing you to the finer points of wandlore but that, one suspects, would be better done at another time. The most important thing to know, for the purposes of this post, is that the wand chooses the wizard.

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Our Wands, each pointing to the Hogwarts houses we most identify with: Gryffindor, Slytherin and Ravenclaw.

Or the witch, for that matter. Because when we came out of Ollivanders, the wands had well and truly chosen: Ivy for Marvel Girl, Oak for Miss Malaprop, and Ash for me. Not surprisingly, my wand is lying beside me on the kitchen table as a write. It is beautifully balanced, it is perfectly weighted, and it feels like it was made just for me.

And that’s the truly Magic thing, isn’t it?

But there are, as I discovered once again that day in Hogsmeade Village, many kinds of Magic…

After our visit to Ollivanders, Miss Malaprop strode purposefully towards Gladrags Wizardwear, where she proceeded to demonstrate her own considerable powers as she persuaded The Bloke to buy her a full set of Hogwarts robes (Slytherin ones, naturally) complete with house insignia and wand pocket, and some for her sister (Gryffindor, of course) as well. How does she do it? I wondered, as I struggled to calculate the cost of purchasing two sets of robes, plus tax, plus the exchange rate, plus the inevitable excess baggage cost associated with getting two large bundles of heavy black fabric back home…and I knew the answer in an instant: Miss Malaprop was utterly certain that we would let her have them before she even entered the shop, because she knew that deep down, we wanted them too.

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Basic Wand Motions…I think Arresto Momento would be one of the most useful spells I could have in my kitchen.

We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than all of us. We all know that there is real Magic to be found in shared experiences, particularly when they involve mutually suspended disbelief.

I know it’s not real.

And my kids know that, too.

(Really!)

But there is much to be said for the transformative joy that is produced when you allow the fictional to enter the everyday.  It’s why my kids have the words Nox  and Lumos on their bedroom lightswitches.  It’s why I’ll tell them I would love one of them to play Quidditch for Australia one day. It’s why Miss Malaprop and Marvel Girl got their Hogwarts robes (or they will on Christmas Day, at any rate).

And it’s also why our wands, which individually and specifically chose us, sit in pride of place in the rooms of our house that we use the most.  Our wands are tangible reminders that our differences make us as strong as our similarities, that our words and actions are powerful and must be wielded well, that there is Magic in us all.

Ivy, Oak and Ash.

Always.

olivanders

Ollivanders: makers of find wands since 382BC.