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

 

 

Touching Clouds

little things“Fog,” my then three-year-old daughter explained very earnestly to me as we walked along together one day, “is a cloud you can touch.”

It’s one of the many interesting things my younger child has informed me of over the years, but I remember it particularly well because I made a note of it on my iPhone, along with the date she said it.  Every now and then, when I needed to remember to smile, I would look back at that little note and it would lift my spirits.

And if I really needed to feel better, I would listen to a voice recording I had made of her watching the film version of The Gruffalo for the first time. That audio clip captured her little girl giggle, descending into breathlessness as she laughed so hard that no sound came out.

I am feeling rather nostalgic as I write this, because those two things are gone now: my iPhone died unexpectedly last month, and while I had backed up all my photos (thank the Old Gods and the New), I had neglected to include my notes or audio files in that all-important process.

not thingsAnd so, I am left now with just the memory of those things, and of all the times they made me smile.

I am reminded, time and again, that it is these little things…tiny fragments of memory, snippets of conversation, moments in time…that are not the littlest things in our lives at all, but the biggest. And those things, it turns out, are not things at all.

That, my friends, is my little thought for the day.

And my wish is that you, during your travels through life, may also find a cloud you can touch, and know it for what it really is.

 

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.

HP 20 yrs

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.

IMG_2871

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…