Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Village By The Sea

I knew from the outset that this would be an unusual book. The back cover blurb set the scene:

With their mother ill and their father permanently drunk, Hari and Lila have to earn the money to keep house and look after their two young sisters. In desperation, Hari runs away to Bombay, and Lila is left to cope alone. 

Cheery stuff indeed. Yes, although the main characters are children, they hardly have child like concerns. Lila and Hari are basically bringing up their two younger sisters as their father is incapacitated by drink, and their mother by illness. I did wonder if the mother was depressed, and wondered if it was possible for a third world mother to take to her bed. Probably not. 

Lila went in with a tumbler of tea for her mother. She stopped to add a little extra milk to it. Then she went past the curtain in the doorway to the room where her mother lay on the string bed on some old grey sheets. She herself looked like a crumpled grey rag lying there. She had been ill for a long time. No one knew what was wrong. She had no pains and no fever but simply grew weaker and weaker all the time. Now she could not sit up to drink her tea. 

The family live in a small fishing village called Thul, and while just a few kilometres from Bombay, it is a completely different world. Hari is forced to take on the role of provider for the family even though he is still a boy. 

What could he do? He worked in the field, he climbed the trees and brought down the coconuts to sell. When he had time, he took a net and fished along the shore. What more could he do? He knew it was not enough but it was all he could do.

The Village By The Sea is a family story at its heart but it's definitely set in the harsh economic situation and environmental risks of the real world. Overfishing threatens not only the livelihood of the professional fisherman, but means that Hari rarely catches a fish near the shore. Overpopulation, the rise of consumerism, overt threats from the chemical industry, and the many other threats to the rural village way of life are all highlighted. But the need to learn, to change and adapt to be successful is quite a pervasive theme throughout the book. 

Hari is overwhelmed by his arrival in Bombay- as I'm sure I would be too. His employment at the restaurant whilst lucky for him is dreadful in its own way too. 

The work was not easy in that firelit kitchen of the Sri Krishna Eating House that seemed to grow hotter and hotter and never to cool down even at night. The eating house never quite shut and customers had to be served with tea and bread or bread and lentils whenever they demanded it, day or night.... What he minded was not being able to leave the eating house and go home when the work was done. He was confined to it day and night: he worked in the kitchen and in the front room, washed and bathed under the tap at the back, ate his meals at the table when there was no customer around, and slept on the bench or sometimes on the dusty back floor. 

My favourite passage naturally enough was about birds. 

'The birds are the last free creatures on earth. Everything else has been captured and tamed and enslaved- tigers behind the bars of the zoos, lions stared at by crowds in safari parks, men and women in houses like matchboxes working in factories that are like prisons. Only the birds are free and can take off and fly away into space when they like.'

At the beginning of the book we are told that Thul is a real village on the Western coast of India. The story and these characters are based on real people in a town where Anita Desai spent many holidays. In the end I'm not quite sure what to make of The Village By The Sea. I wanted to love it, I wanted to get swept up in the grandeur of India- the colours, a life complete unknown to me. But I never was, and to be honest I found it slow going and well, a bit boring at times. The Village By The Sea won the Guardian Childrens Prize in 1983. But I wonder what kids think of this book? Both the western children for whom it was presumably written, and Indian children too.


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Simple Things

Don't judge a book by the cover they say. But how else do you judge it before you read it? And this one is so pretty, the colours so enticing, I was going to want to read it regardless of the CBCA nomination status. The Simple Things was Shortlisted for the Book of the Year Younger Readers 2015.

The Simple Things is a sweet, beguiling story. Stephen Kelly is ten years old. He's a bit of an awkward kid. An only child. He's shy, anxious, sensitive, not a risk taker. Imagine how pleased he is to arrive at his great aunt's house for a three week stay. Steve has never met his Aunt Lola before.

Ever since I can remember, at Christmas and on my birthday, Aunty Lola has sent me her love and ten dollars She's really my great-aunt, but her Christmas and birthday hards always say 'Love from Aunty Lola'. I've never met her before because she lives a long way from my home in the city. To me the most real things about her is that tend dollars. I always write back to say thanks, as soon as Mum reminds me. But I never send her any love. I don't want to lie. How can you love someone you don't know? You can't, not even for ten dollars, twice a year. 

They've exchanged cards before, but now there she is, expecting to be hugged. Could there be anything more daunting than an unknown, severe looking maiden great aunt?

And I don't want to make Aunty Lola feel bad. But I'm shy. You can't switch that off like a light. It's stuck on tight. I don't like hugging, except if it's Mum. 

Not a lot happens in this gentle story. Stephen gets to know his rather curmudgeonly aunt.

'You don't have parties at my age. You have funerals.'

These two unlikely friends do develop a bond with time, and there are some minor intrigues- what is in the room that Aunty Lola keeps under lock and key? And what rift has occurred with her neighbour Mr Smith?

One particular scene will stay with me for some time. Mr Smith the neighbour doesn't join in the fishing with the children. Mr Smith describes an incident from his youth, when he and his brother were "gun-crazy".

'I saw a bird land on a branch. Amazing colours it had. I didn't think twice. Took aim, squeezed the trigger- Bang!'
And then

'Well, before I fired, it was beautiful. Glorious. A moment later, as I stood over it, I saw all of its colour disappearing. It happened right in front of my eyes, Stephen. Its feathers became a washed-out, dirty grey colour. It was nothing but ugly. A pice of rubbish.'

Bill Condon was a new author to me. I'm interested in reading more of his work.

Monday, 28 September 2015

50 Things You Need To Eat In Paris Before You Die

I do love a list. Usually they're book lists I share here. But this list was something special, and you know this caught my eye immediately when I saw it on Facebook recently.

I think I've found a mission for my next trip to Paris, whenever that glorious day arrives. I did take up the My Paris, My Sweet Challenge back in 2013 (still only 90% complete sadly). So I know I'm up for it.

If it's in red, it's already done.

The photos are all mine.

My comments are in italics.

1. Steak Frites - Relais de l'Entrecote

Travelers and locals alike line up for this restaurant's only dish- steak frites. It's drowned in a mystery green sauce, and you'll be giddy as a school girl when they come around with a second portion. Do not refuse, for the love of all that is good.

Steak Frites is not normally my thing, but am willing to consider it.

2. Lemon Tart - Sebastien Gaudard

This elegant little pastry shop features killer pastries all around, but the must is the lemon tart. It's the perfect combination of sweet and sour, topped with a candied lemon.

I've had many a tarte citron, but not that one. Happy to fix that terrible oversight one day.

3. Chocolate and Pistachio Escargot - Du Pain et des Idées

This bakery makes magazine covers and TV shows, but it's not too trendy for us. Its chestnut flour bread is equally as noteworthy. But let's talk sweets; it makes some of the best buttery, flaky pastries around, and noone should leave Paris without trying its signature escargot, a spiral filled with pistachio paste and chocolate bits.

Du Pain et des Idées is already on my hit list for next time. I do love pistache anything so would likely have bought this anyway. Consider it done.

4. Ice Cream - Berthillon

It's the most famous ice cream in town. It's so popular that the main parlour actually closes down in the summer. Business must be good. One like of the salted butter caramel (caramel beurre salé) or strawberry and basil will make it obvious why this is the case.

Definitely all over this. Many, many times. It's one of the first things I recommend to anyone going to Paris. Every trip to Paris no matter the weather it must be done. Best. Ice Cream. Ever. I particularly like the framboise, pistache, and speculoos. Next time I need to make it to the Salon de Thé for some pain perdu or tarte tatin

5. Falafel - L'As du Fallafel

Alright, this is not French food, but it's completely Parisian. The world famous falafel is a favourite among locals and out-of-twoners, notably Lenny Kravitz. What more endorsement could you need?

Done. So different to an Australian kebab experience.

6. Eclairs - L'Eclair de Génie

Reinventing the éclair, this shop will break even the most diehard diet, with seasonal varieties keeping things interesting for repeat customers (read: everyone).

It was Choctober when we were there in 2014

A more summery selection in 2013
Oh my. So good. I might have been there a number of times. 

7. Roast Chicken and Fries - Chez l'Amis Louis

A favourite among those looking for a higher-end bistro- including Bill Clinton- it's known for its quality fare, especially roast chicken and some of the most perfect frites in Paris.

8. Bloody Mary - Harry's Bar

While frilly cocktails are all the rage, sometimes you want to get back to the basics. The Bloody Mary and several other drinks were all created at this old-time bar in the early 1900s. Interchangeable with the Side Car and Blue Lagoon, if you must.

9. Financier - Eric Kayser

While his bread and pastries are all fantastic, monsieur Kayser makes absolutely killer almond tea cakes called financiers. His mini versions, flavoured with chocolate, vanilla and pistachio, and mandatory for anyone in Paris.

Breakfast of champions. Also their chocolate chip biscuits are divine. And the chouquettes- I'm a great fan of chouquettes- those balls of deliciousness studded with sugar. Bag of mini financiers a bargain at 7€ in 2014. 

10. Savory crepe - Chez Alain

Inside the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the eccentric Alain makes savoury crepes (and sandwiches) in a way that will test even the most patient of eaters. But the wait is worth it in the end as you bite into the salty concoction with meat, cheese and veggies wrapped up in a perfectly browned buckwheat crepe.

11. Macaron - Pierre Hermé

Macarons are everywhere in Paris and beyond, but the most innovative and elegant examples are found here (sorry, Ladurée). If you want a real macaron, Parisians will tell you to pay Pierre Hermé a visit.

Yes I know it's PH vs Ladurée (and I think I might prefer Ladurée), but you know Gérard Mulot is possibly my favourite. And I've been to see them being made.

12. Baba au rhum - Stohrer

The oldest pastry shop still operating in Paris, Stohrer is also home to the rum-soaked baba au rum. They still do a bang-up job with it, all these years later. Best served with a dollop of whipped cream.

I've had their éclair and am keen for their puits d'amour next visit. A rum baba is never high on my list but I just might be willing to try one- purely in the name of research mind you.

13. L'hamburger - Le Camion Qui Fume

You didn't come to Paris for burgers, but we're not going to lie- they're worth it. Head to the now-famous truck that started the food truck trend in the City of Light. The burgers are still some of the best in the city and pair nicely with a movie at the theatre located conveniently next to the truck's location.

14. Duck - La Tour d'Argent

While not the cheapest meal in Paris, the duck is meant to be the standout dish here, in the restaurant where the French royalty allegedly first used a fork. You pay extra for the history.

It's always advisable to order the duck/canard anywhere in France. I'm sure La Tour d'Argent is no exception. Have toyed with the idea of going there several times, but not made it -yet.

15. Croissant - Blé Sucre

Saying that any one place makes the best croissant will get you in trouble in Paris, but many locals agree that Blé Sucre makes a mean one. If you can't make it to this bakery, you'll probably be able to find another good one somewhere in the city.

I've been to Blé Sucre for their madeleines, which David Leibovitz recommends as the best in Paris. It is hard to get a bad croissant in Paris- and cheap! They're usually around a euro.

16. Chocolate - Patrick Roger

The basil and lime ganache and the hazelnut- filled praline are two of the many reasons to stop by this artisan chocolatier. Patrick Roger makes buying chocolate feel like shopping for an engagement ring, though with slightly lower prices.

One of those incredible boxes on the right
made it back to Australia last trip!
Be very careful as under the chocolates
the box was lined with chocolate!
The adults nearly missed it.
Eagle-eyes Master Wicker was onto it though..

Patrick Roger is one of the uber famous chocolatiers of Paris. His stores are particularly cool, and he does absoultely incredible chocolate sculptures. But Jean Paul Hévin was my first Parisian chocolatier love, and remains so.

17. Oysters - Le Mary Celeste

Though it's become a bit of a scene at Mary Celeste, the oysters here are as good as its cocktails. A variety of options awaits those hungry for a taste of the ocean, with just a squeeze of lemon.

18. Choucroute - Bofinger

This Old- World brasserie, like many others, serves up traditional Alsatian choucroute, an assortment of pig products served with tangy sauerkraut. It's the best you can get without going to Strasbourg.

19. Fig Gelato - Pozzetto

The most delicious Italian gelato in town is easily found at Pozetto. Seasonal flavours like pumpkin and candied chestnuts keep customers surprised. And the fig one is simply terrible (amazing) as the French would say.

20. Profiteroles - Profiterole Chérie

No fresher profiterole exists in Paris, as this tiny shop pops out new pastries every hour or so. Ice cream versions and more innovative cream-filled profiteroles are on the menu- so go crazy with lemon curd or hazelnut cream.

21.  Baguette de Tradition - Le Grenier à Pain

This bakery won the title of best baguette de tradition in Paris twice, and as the current title holder, it's the bread that anyone who loves carbs must surely try. The rule is that you tear into it immediately upon leaving the bakery and get crumbs all over yourself. Seriously.

22. Café Crème - Belleville Brulerie

The new- wave coffee scene is spurred on largely by this local roaster that sells its coffee to the trendy shops around town that brew it for you. Head to the source and see what the fuss is all about.

I don't do coffee at all so this one is off the list for me. 

23. Hot Chocolate à l'ancienne - Angelina's

The pot of molten chocolate served with a bowl of whipped cream is nothing if not decadent. If there's a line, you can cheat and go to its smaller location by the Luxembourg Gardens. The end result is still a chocolate coma.

Hot chocolate with a Paris-New York 2014
a pecan riff on a Paris-Brest

Angelina's has quite a few locations now. The original store of course on Rue de Rivoli favoured by the stylish such as Audrey Hepburn over many years. To dine there is to take part in history. Their meals are nice, but do pick something small as you definitely want to leave room for a hot chocolate and one of their sensational pastries. I'm rather partial to their Mont Blanc, but their eclairs are fabulous too. Last visit I sampled the absolutely incredible chocolat chaud at Jacques Genin Salon de Thé- I'm now torn. Both quite different- is one better than the other? Je ne sais pas. 

24. Cheese Platter - Astier

Finish off a delightful dinner with the requisite cheese platter at Astier, which features one of the better ones in our humble opinion. Take a bit of everything- leave no cheese untasted.

Cheese in Paris, and indeed in France is amazing it's true. And a cheese course at a good restaurant is a thing of beauty that you will remember forever. I really wouldn't take the advice to try everything, much as you might want to- it would be considered badly. 

25. Salted Butter Caramel - Henri Le Roux

The only thing that can make French butter better is sugar, and Henri Le Roux nails it. This guy perfected (and trademarked) the salted butter caramel in France. Try the original as well as the green tea, chocolate, and other seasonal varieties.

You know that I've been there right? The birthplace of CBS. You can never stop at one. 

26. Basquiat Pizza - Pink Flamingo

This Franco-American establishment has some of the oddest pizzas, and the Basquiat, with Gorgonzola, dried figs, and French country ham is a best seller. You won't find this on a slice in New York, that's for sure.

It's a very French combination, a riff on a salad I think. I'd definitely line up for this one. 

27. Local Beer - Brasserie La Goutte d'Or

Paris is growing into a beer scene after years of being out of the game. one of the few microbreweries, this is one of the best. Try its smokey Charbonnière or tis chai infused La Chapelle.

28. Sole Meunière - Chez Georges

Start your meal off with buttered radishes, just like famed client Julia Child once did. Then get one of her favourite dishes, sole meunière, fish cooked in a butter sauce. Simple yet perfect.

29. Cheese Fondu - Refuge des Fondus

Delicious cheese fondue is deliriously served with baby bottles of wine. What more could a glutton want?

More wine? Oh wait it's not baby sized bottles, but bottles with which one would normally feed a baby. Hmmm, not so sure about that. 

30. Tasting Menu - David Toutain

Toutain is one of the newest Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, and its tasting menu is nothing short of mastery. Innovative, playful, and relatively affordable, the tasting menu at lunch or dinner is the only way to go.

Going to a Michelin-starred restaurant is always a treat in Paris and a highlight of any trip. We've been to L'Astrance. L'Arpege. Le Jules Verne (three times now- first, second,  and third, but I don't seem to have shown you that yet). Even if you can only afford to go for breakfast it's definitely worth it- like our experience at Le Meurice

31. Pralines - Mazet de Montargis

This storefront sells pralines- French ones, made from almonds and sugar, not pecans- that they have been making just south of Paris since the 1600s. Sample the wares first. Don't be shy.

32. Southwestern Salad - Chez Papa

This place serves up authentic southwestern French salads, featuring lots of duck products, fried potatoes, cheese, and foie gras tossed in with lettuce. You know, to make it feel healthy.

33. Couscous - Chez Omar

With so many North Africans in Paris, you have to try some couscous with meats like spicy merger sausages. Chez Omar is a popular spot for it in the trendy Upper Marais district.

34. Coq au Vin - A La Biche au Bois

This place just screams Paris, and diners will want to try the perfectly cooked coq au vin, a sort of chicken stew that comes out in its own pot.

35. Meringues - Aux Merveilleux de Fred

These little meringues covered in chocolate and nuts are the lightest, most guilt-free dessert in Paris. Until you end up eating a box of six. No judgement.

These fabulous looking meringues have been in my sights for two years now, but I still haven't made it there.... C'est la vie. 

36. Ham and Cheese Sandwich - Any bakery

The only way this sandwich could get simpler is to take out the cheese and add butter instead, making it a jambon-beurre instead of a jambon-fromage. Either way, as long as it's on a fresh baguette, you must have one, unless you don't eat ham, then, well, just cheese for you.

It is quite unbelievable how good these are. And they're cheap, just a few euros.

37. Roquefort with Quince Paste - Laurent DuBois

This top French cheese maker has a shop full of stinky, hard, soft, gooey, and utterly mouth-watering cheese. One of his specialities is Roquefort layered with quince paste, which looks like a slice of birthday cake. No need to wait until you're a year older though.

It is important to seek out some of the extraordinary cheese shops in Paris. It will blow your mind. Laurent DuBois is not a cheesemaker though, he is a cheesemonger and affineur (ager of cheese) of the highest level. He is a coveted MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) in aging and selling cheese. I have visited Laurent, but not had this particular cheese. Another favourite fromagerie is Quatrehomme. But if you're on a very tight budget you can buy amazing cheeses at the frequent outdoor markets (like Marché Biologique Raspail), and even the supermarket cheese in France is better than you're used to. 

38. Sweet Crepe - Princess Crêpe

These Japanese girls have a tiny shop in the Marais decked out with pink frills and stuffed animals. It's kitsch to the max. But its sweet crepes, filled with ice-cream, fruit, and a variety of sauces are no joke.

Argh. I stayed a block from here last year. 

39. French Onion Soup - Au Pied de Cochon

This 24/7 restaurant once nourished the market workers at the old food hall. Today, it's still an institution, serving up its famous onion soup covered in gooey cheesy goodness.

40. Cupcakes - Sugar Daze Bake Shop

How does an American make cupcakes in Paris? With Nutella, speculoos cookies and salted butter caramel, and other local ingredients mixed with good old-fashioned American recipes. These ones are  worth the trip.

41. Cream Puff - Popelini

A store dedicated to cream puffs? Heaven. They're filled with creams like raspberry, rose, pistachio, coffee, and lemon, so you'll be hard-pressed to choose. A suggestion? Don't. Get one of each.

There are several shops in Paris dedicated to cream puffs. And no don't get one of each. Even I had to decide. Pistache, caramel and cafe. 1,90 € in 2014. 

42. Foie Gras - Au Petit Sud-Ouest

Foie gras in Paris is rarely bad (it's basically pure fat, so how could it be bad?). This specialty restaurant, however, excels in the often controversial product. If you're not morally opposed, this is the place to try it.

I have eaten foie gras in the past, but find it increasingly difficult to do. I avoid it where I can now.

43. Praluline - Pralus

This unique pastry is one for the history books. A butter brioche filled with little pink candied almond needs only a black coffee to have the trappings of a very happy breakfast. You won't find it anywhere else. Accept no imitations.

I know everyone raves over this, but I just didn't get it. I think to be fair I need to try it again. 

44. Beef Bourguignon - Josephine "Chez Dumonet"

This classic bistro makes the simple beef stew that Amy Adams' character tried so hard to perfect in the film Julie & Julia. Fortunately they never screw it up here.

We stayed very close by in 2013. That's the trouble with Paris- too much to do.

45. Frogs legs - Le Grand Colbert

This iconic bistro still serves up traditional dishes that people imagine Parisians eat all the time, notably frog legs, Provençale-style with herbs and fresh tomatoes. Taste like chicken.

I just don't think I could. I've never even seen frogs legs on a menu.

46. Croque-monsieur (or madame) - Café de Flore

It's a magnet for tourists- both the spot and the sandwich- so just go with it. The grilled ham and cheese sandwich that everyone learns about in their high school French textbook is alive and well at the Flore, and is one of the better ones in Paris. Fry an egg on it and it turns into a madame. Clever, eh?

47. Escargot - Carette

Located near one of the best vantage points for the Eiffel Tower, this place also serves up the most French of French dishes- snails.  The garlic and herb-covered gastropods are always averrable here, and they're delicious. When in Paris, right?

I've eaten one escargot on my first trip to Paris, and I think that excludes me. I've done it. I'd get the Salmon Tartare and Tarte Citron instead. Oh wait. I did. In the wondrous Place des Vosges.

48. Ile Flottante - Café Constant

A baked meringue floating in a pool of crème anglaise is one of the best ways to finish off a meal in Paris. The dessert resembles a floating island that will quickly sink to the bottom of your stomach.

I had one Ile Flottante in 2013, it wasn't all that. Sadly not at Café Constant, which is another place that has been on my radar for some time. I'm willing to pursue my Ile Flottante dream. 

49. Absinthe - Cantada II

Absinthe was all the rage among artists during the Belle Epoque,  and now it's back in fashion. With over 65 varieties to choose from, head to Cantada II and take a visit to see the green fairy. Go on now.

50. Steak Tartare - La Rotonde

Your food doesn't always have to be cooked to be delicious. Raw beef, an egg, and other ingredients are mixed to make this iconic dish... so you don't want to trust any old cafe with questionable hygiene to serve  you raw meat. La Rotonde serves one of the best in town.

Lest you think I never eat savoury.
Saumon Tartare at Carette

I'm all over Saumon Tartare, and have had many. All of which were fabulous, and just what I wanted. I'm less keen with the beef, but probably should try it some time. 

I don't do coffee, and will never do coffee, and can't really come at foie gras or snails any more, so excluding #22,  #42 and #42 I made 11/47. There is clearly much work for me still to do in Paris...

I'm Dreaming of France alright. 

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Sunday, 27 September 2015


I hadn't heard a lot about Oddball before we went to see it the other day. But I knew it was about a cute dog and some even cuter fairy penguins. I knew that it was based on a true story. And what a wonderful story it is.

Oddball tells the slightly modified story of how an unconventional free-range chicken farmer saved a penguin colony from foxes. The fairy penguin colony on Middle Island at Warrnambool in Victoria had been depleted nearly to extinction by foxes who had learned to cross to the island- either by walking over at low tide or even swimming over. Baiting wasn't working, neither was trying to shoot the foxes.

Swampy Marsh used Maremmas on his chicken farm to protect his flock from foxes, so when he heard about the plight of the penguins he knew that his protective dogs could work wonders, and thankfully they did.

Of course there are other plot lines in the movie, some of which work better than others, but I'm really glad I went to see it. Shane Jacobson known to many from his sterling work in Kenny is endearing as Swampy. It took me a while to recognise Frank Woodley (yes I was just talking about him the other day as an author) as the dog catcher- he does sport one of the most unflattering hair cuts ever known. Naturally the dogs and the penguins steal the show. Warrnambool comes off fairly well too, with lots of atmospheric coastal shots, and I'm sure the movie will do great things for tourism there. Thankfully lots of Australians are heading out to see Oddball this school holidays.

Yes the movie is a little bit hokey. And it's a bit predictable. But it's sweet, and uplifting, and it's important. There aren't all that many good news stories on the conservation front. Polar bears are starving. The last male Northern White Rhino will die in the next few years. Tasmanian Devils are under threat from the devastating Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

But with this great program, just by putting a few dogs on an island to guard the penguins, that penguin population is making an incredible recovery. Sensibly there is a pozible campaign to raise money to train the next generation of Maremma dogs to stand watch over the penguins of Middle Island. Perhaps this is exactly what the Sydney penguin colony needs too?

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Newcastle Memorial Walk

On a recent, all too short, visit to Newcastle we managed a lovely trip to the new(ish) Newcastle Memorial Walk. Officially opened on Anzac Day this year to commemorate the centenary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli and also of the opening of the BHP Steelworks. It's fitting then that it is constructed from 64 tonnes of stainless steel.

The weather was very dodgy this day, but in a moment of perfect timing we caught a break in the weather.

A pair of pelicans gave us a fly past for our arrival
The silhouetted images of Anzac troops are so well done. 

Each figured has family names carved in to it. 

There are a number of signs to inform. 

And of course there are breathtaking views along the coast.

And over the city.

Part of the walkway is actually a bridge.  

It started to rain again just as we left. 

If mobility is a problem try and get a park at the northern end (Strezlecki Lookout end) where it's a gentle flat approach to the walk, otherwise you will need to come up all these steps. 

A gentle walk along a 500m path can bring on a mighty appetite. So we made our maiden trip to nearby Doughheads. OMG. So good. Do not miss the Citrus Cheesecake- it's sensational. We weren't brave enough to try the Maple Bacon. 

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Friday, 25 September 2015

Kizmet And The Case Of The Tassie Tiger

Comedians are the new children's authors it seems. And why not? Kids certainly love humour, and they love humorous books. Just look at the phenomenon that is Andy Griffiths. And David Walliams has really hit the big time writing children's books. I saw recently that Julian Clary has released his first children's book! The Bolds. You know that I bought it immediately don't you? I also have Russell Brand's The Pied Piper of Hamelin sitting amongst my TBR. And you know that if Keith Richards can write a kids book, then I guess anyone can.

Recently Australian comedian Frank Woodley released his first two children's books simultaneously. Which seems a slightly odd move perhaps. Both books feature a young girl, Kizmet Papanicillo, her father Detective Spencer Papanicillo, and Kizmet's personal assistant, Gretchen- who just happens to be a currawong. And when comedians get involved naturally the story is narrated by the currawong.

Kizmet's father works for IMPACT- International Mysteries, Puzzles and Crimes Taskforce. He takes Kizmet along on his cases- which is a good thing because of course Kizmet is the brains behind the operation. Here the trio are called down to Tasmania to investigate sightings of a large Tasmanian Tiger. Rather impossible as Tasmanian Tigers have been extinct since the last one died in captivity in Hobart in 1936. But goats have been attacked and there have been fearsome noises in the night. It all needs sorting out. 

Kizmet and the Case of The Tassie Tiger is much more adventure/mystery story than I expected it would be. But there are plenty of laughs along the way. It's great fun for young readers.

As I was reading I was admiring the fantastic illustrations, and flicked back to check who the illustrator was. Odd to not have one acknowledged on the front cover... Were they done by Frank Woodley? Yes it seems so!  Mr Woodley has some little known talents. In this Melbourne radio interview Frank tells that he initially wanted to be an artist as a young man. He could well have done so it seems. I look forward to reading his other book Kizmet And The Case Of The Smashed Violin.

I love the Wizard of Oz reference!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates

I wasn't planning to read this book this week, but sometimes books just require to be read. I used the opportunity of a brief stay with family to read my nephew's copy of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates.

Tom Gates is a normal boy. He lives with his parents and his annoying older sister, Delia. He is in Year 5 at Oakfield School. Tom is usually late for school, and always likes to blame Delia. He likes to sit up the back of the class and doodle. He doesn't enjoy doing homework, there's just too much other stuff going on for him- playing with his friends, rehearsing with his band Dog Zombies and eating caramel wafers.

Told in illustrated diary format The Brilliant World of Tom Gates is full of stuff that is life for primary school aged children. The foibles of teachers and principals. Spelling tests. Homework. An excursion to the British Museum. All while trying to balance the competing demands of family, having fun and working out the best way to annoy your sister.

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates is a fun, funny, illustrated junior fiction book- one of the many fabulous recent books to help keep (mainly) boys reading. No it doesn't really tackle any big issues- apart from that old gem- hobnobs or caramel wafers? I've had many a hobnob in my time but never a caramel wafer. I can feel a taste test coming on....

And in rather typical style for me the Very Day After I read The Brilliant World of Tom Gates in part because it won The Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2011, Michael Rosen announces that The Roald Dahl Funny Prize is no more. It is an ex-parrot. I did think it was odd to read yesterday that the prize was "on pause" until 2016 when it would be reintroduced for the centenary of Dahl celebrations.

Today The Guardian have made a quiz  based on The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. And a #thisbookisfunny hashtag has been created.

### Excellent news! Michael Rosen and Scholastic have announced a new prize for funny books. The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards. The Lollies Shortlist will be announced 11 February 2016, with the winners announcement on 4 July 2016.

P.S. Enquiring minds had to know. Caramel wafers have been trialled at the Wicker household. Master Wicker was very taken with them. I would rather a Hobnob- oh, that's not a bad idea...

Friday, 18 September 2015

Photographs in the Mud

One of the handy things about having a teenager about the house is that occasionally you find Books You've Never Heard of But Just Have to Read lying under a stack of stuff on your own coffee table. Turns out Master Wicker read Photographs in the Mud last term for English. I've been meaning to read Dianne Wolfer's Light Horse Boy for some time now, but haven't got there. Happily this book fell into my hands.

Photographs in the Mud tells the story of two soldiers each preparing to fight on the Kokoda Track in World War Two. Jack is Australian and leaves behind his pregnant wife to join the Australian forces heading north to New Guinea.

Hoshi is a soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army. He is travelling south towards Port Moresby on the Kokoda Track. He has left his wife and infant daughter at home.

Both men want the war to end. But both men must keep fighting in the jungle of New Guinea battling the terrible conditions as well as the opposing forces.

Noone wins in this powerful tale beautifully illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever. I do love pretty endpapers...

Photographs in the Mud grew out of Dianne Wolfer's experience walking the Kokoda Track in 2002. Perhaps some of the most arduous research an author could undertake! It has been published in Japanese translation. See the Teaching Notes from Fremantle Press.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

21st Century's 12 (but really 20) Greatest Novels

A rather grandiose claim perhaps- the greatest novels of the 21st century. This BBC list resulted from polling several dozen book critics. They came up with a list of 156 books. Of course it would be nice to see the whole list, but here is the top 20.

1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao- Juno Diaz (2007)

2. The Known World - Edward P. Jones (2003)

3. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel (2009)

4. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson (2004)

5. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen (2001)

6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon (2000)

7. A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (2010) (see my review)

8. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain (2012)

9. Atonement - Ian McEwan (2001)

10. Half Of A Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

11. White Teeth - Zadie Smith (2000)

12. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

13. Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

14. Austerlitz - W.G. Sebald

15. My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante

16.  The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst

17.  The Road - Cormac McCarthy (see my review)

18. NW - Zadie Smith

19. 2666 - Roberto Bolaño

20. The Great Fire - Shirley Hazzard


I'm rather surprised that I've managed to read 5/20 when my reading focus has been elsewhere for quite some time. By "read" Atonement, I do mean that I started it in good faith some time ago. It's not my fault that I was forced to stop after about 30 pages. Or perhaps it is. I know I should give it another go at some stage. I have meant to read many of these books. Several are sitting in the TBR.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

I Am Jack

I've been meaning to read I am Jack for some time now, and was pleased to have the chance recently. I think I actually found out about the book because of the theatrical adaptation by Monkey Baa, Australia's best theatrical company for young audiences. I have already seen their productions of Thursday's Child and Pete the Sheep.

I Am Jack, the book, was written back in 2000, and the stage adaptation has been touring since 2008- and is still touring- I saw it a few weeks ago. The Australian tour continues until September 2015, and then the production will be touring America in October and November 2015.

Susanne Gervay wrote I Am Jack after her own son Jack was bullied as a child. Jack is 11 years old. He lives with his mother and sister in a third story flat above a fruit and veg shop. Jack's Mum works long hours at the local supermarket to make ends meet, and her new partner Rob stays 4 nights a week.

Jack is being bullied at school by the thuggish George Hamel. George starts calling Jack Bum Head. Soon pretty much all of the kids are calling Jack Bum Head too. Jack's world falls in on itself. His friends won't play with him any more. He's lonely and the school playground has become a minefield.  Jack takes refuge in the school library at lunchtime. He tries to talk to his mother but she is always busy and he doesn't know what else to do.

I wanted to tell Mr Angelou why I didn't want to go into the change rooms, why I was late, why my school trousers were torn, why I missed school, why I didn't answer any questions in class .... I couldn't. I feel breathless. It really hurt when they called Mum names. When they said my father left because of me. And I just took it, like a coward. 

It's probably no surprise that Jack does overcome his difficulties with George Hamel by the end of the book. His bargain loving Nanna reminds him

'You know you're never alone when you have people who love you.'

and Jack releases the hold George has over him.

It makes George Hamel seem stupid. It makes the kids who followed him seem like that too. It makes me wonder why I let them bully me. 

Bullying in schools has long been an important topic, at least one in four Australian children are bullied at some time, and the advent of cyber bullying has made it even easier. The Australian government has a successful Bullying No Way! website.

Hear Susanne Gervay being interviewed last year on Radio National about the fourth and final Jack book, Being Jack.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Harriet the Spy

I’m very excited to have read Harriet the Spy at long last, it’s been on my TBR for so so long. Particularly as it comes highly recommended by Lisa Simpson in the classic episode from Series 9, Lisa The Simpson

And please don't deprive yourself of wonderful books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Harriet the Spy and Yertle the Turtle- possibly the best book ever written on the subject of turtle stacking.

An essential episode that has another favourite scene. 

Yes I have watched more of The Simpsons than is good for me over the years. But now I've finally read that trio of books. We always have preconceived notions of books that are quite famous and Harriet was no exception. 

I wasn’t expecting Harriet to be quite so wealthy for a start. The Welsch’s have two servants - Ole Golly, Harriet’s nanny I suppose although referred to as her nurse, and Cook. Ole Golly likes to quote the classics- Dostoevsky, Wordsworth, Henry James. The Welsch’s have a library and a rather lavish lifestyle- Harriet’s parents are always going to parties and dinners in tuxedos and dresses that sparkle in the light. Harriet is left at home with Ole Golly. 

Ole Golly entertained herself usually on nights like this by making some new recipe, like Lobster Thermidor or choucroute garnie, anything that neither she nor Harriet had tasted before. 

Harriet is 11 years old and has been scribbling her spying observations in notebooks since she was 8. She has set up a patrol of her neighbourhood and has her favourite residents and stops where she likes to conduct her spying activities each afternoon after school. She is rather a creature of habit and has taken a tomato sandwich to school every day for 5 years. 

I really liked the first part of the book, where Harriet was jotting witty things in her notebook. There was a gentle humour. Although I was a bit surprised that the first part was so much about Ole Golly and her suitor. Her friendship with Sport would be unusual now I think. Sport seems relatively poor- he looks out for his writer father, does housework and shopping. It seems odd that they would go to the same school. 

Although I'm glad to have finally read this rather iconic book, I feel sad that I didn't like Harriet the Spy more than I did. I really liked Book One, and I know that I would have loved it if I'd found it at the right age. I'm sure I would have taken up a notebook and begun spying activities. I don't quite know what to think of the rest. I really didn't like the later parts of the book. It all gets a bit mean and preposterous after Harriet's notebook falls into the wrong hands. I have no history with Harriet, no broader cultural knowledge about where she fits into the scheme of things. I'm usually the first person to appreciate and like satire and sarcasm. I'm not sure that's what it was, or what it was for me.