Thursday 31st: I have just completed the late great Nigel Tranter’s last novel written when he was ninety. A prolific factional author of Scottish history his last book , while not one of his best (a must read is his Bruce Trilogy) traced the work of the young advocate Thomas Hope whose legal nous gained the trust of James VI of Scotland and his son and grandson Charles the First and Charles the Second. From his direct line came an Admiral, the First Governor General of the federation of Australia and a Viceroy of India. Anyone who loves history and loves Scotland really ought to give Nigel Tranter’s novels a try.
Monday 28th: Apparently the two radio hosts who made a hoax call to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated have been fired. Strangely though their producers still have a job. The publicity surrounding the call is believed to have resulted in the suicide of nurse Jacinta Saldanha. So now we know ‘where the buck stops’ on that radio station.
Friday 25th: It is the eve of our national day. To those indigenous Australians who believe 26th January should not be ‘Australia Day’ as it was chosen to recognise the arrival of the First Fleet I say ‘get over it’. We are all Australians and the bravery of those volunteers and pressed on that fleet is worthy of national recognition. Without it we might all be French and their colonies suffered much more than those administered by Britain. It is time to move on. Would any Australians really prefer to live in the stone age? There have been many crimes against aboriginal Australians but they are historical, the incomers’ government has apologised sincerely and now we need to celebrate our diversity, our strengths and our achievements, not look with bitterness at the cruelties of the past.
Wednesday 23rd: Proof of life once existing on Mars now seems just around the corner. When will supporters of global warming theories start using Mars as an example of what can go wrong? – Martians obviously didn’t deal with climate change in a very effective manner.
Sunday 20th: While reading the late ‘Punch’ Facey’s “A fortunate Life” I noted in a newspaper that about 30% of British parents will not let their kids play out in the recent snowfalls. If there is anyone out there reading this blog I would urge them to buy teenagers and parents this gripping autobiography. One century ago A. B. Facey lived a life unimaginable to today’s pampered Western children. His exploits growing up in the Australian bush from a very early age show the capacity all children have within them and the generosity of spirit that adults have to help give them a leg up (or meanness of spirit in others to knock them down) along the way. All that before he even arrived in Gallipoli. Perhaps the great strength of this tremendous story is that the first twenty years of this octogenarian’s life takes up three-quarters of the book.
Friday 18th: RIP Oscar, the well travelled (30+ countries) dog who promotes the plight of homeless/rescued dogs. Below a couple of photos of our beloved Sadie, rescued by the Australian RSPCA where we were lucky to find her and her late buddy Donald (see Lionheart in the short story section). Sadie is now an old lady, quite how old of course we do not know. She has lived in Malaysia (warm enough) and Japan (a bit chilly for her old doggy bones at times) but when asked thought Oscar’s globe-trotting wouldn’t be appropriate for a princess like her!
Thursay 17th: In 2010 a Chinese billionaire buyer entered a winning bid of £43 million for an 18th century chinese vase. They then failed to honour the deal, apparently baulking at paying an extra 20 per cent in auctioneers’ fees. Two things struck me about this story – what on earth has the auctioneer done to earn £8.6 million in a matter of minutes? Also that while to a Chinese billionare such a small sum would be pretty insgnificant he obviously also has principles about what auctioneers should earn as well! Two years on the vase has sold for a reported £20 million plus. I used to live next to a Chinese millionaire but he never threw any vases our way over the garden wall, which incidentally was high and well illuminated by night, perhaps to keep out the white fella next door.
Peter Bainbridge, who owns the provincial auction house that “sold” the vase, tried to save the deal by negotiating with the buyer but with no success. After a two-year stalemate, the international auctioneer Bonhams was approached by an interested party to broker a deal between them and Mr Johnson and Mr Bainbridge.
Saturday 12th: Apparently the Brits have had to wait until yesterday to see the film Les Miserables. They must be almost as miserable as the characters at having to wait. I saw this here a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t read the book or seen the stage version, have no time for the exocet-exporting French, have slept through great operas in Russia and thought the story was set in the eighteenth not almost mid-nineteeenth century. So I perhaps could have been expected to decry an operatic film. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every now and again a movie is made which stands head and shoulders above its peers and is remembered for decades. ‘Les Mis’ is certainly one of those. The individual performances throughout were simply outstanding. I have no time for those professional singers whingeing about how they could have sung the songs better. They were raw, sung with tremendous passion, always in context, and Hathaway’s ‘I dreamed a dream’ was, thank God, nothing like a talent contest audition. There are very few films I walk out of a cinema and say I want to see again immediately. This is one of them. I have only two questions: Why Greenwich Naval College when we all know it is Greenwich (Skyfall, King’s Speech etc etc) not Paris and why isn’t Tom Hooper up for another director’s Oscar? ‘Two thumbs up’ or five stars simply does not do this film justice
Friday 11th: From the sublime in today’s Australian newspaper: “Due to a production error, Senator Brandis’s name was changed to “Senator Barmaids” in an article in The Australian yesterday” to the ridiculous: The ferocity of some of the bushfires has apparently been because the Greens in power wouldn’t allow controlled burn-offs in Winter. As one devastated farmer put it “the Greens care more about birds and wildlife than they do about people and farms. But what’s the point of that now when the hills and trees they told me I couldn’t burn off, because there were protected eagles and swift parrots there, are now all burned and the fire it created was so hot we had dead swans dropping out of the sky?”
Wednesday 9th: After 22,000 hectares ‘our’ fire is still going but may be on its last legs. It is the last in this state to still have the ‘watch and act’ alert warning. The discovery of Terra Australis, like the bush fires themselves depended on the power of the wind. Yesterday our wind veered around following a front and will now, for a day or two, blow strongly from the West. As I watch black swans struggling a little on their daily commute flying into the wind I am reminded how dependent we are on this invisible force which will spread the fury of fire, shift clouds, bring rain, spread pollutants and move solid objects.
Tuesday 8th: After a worrying few days I got a text from a friend in New South Wales where the fire warning was ‘catastrophic’. Tasmania is so tiny in comparison to continental Australia I have been surprised there has not been more focus on the mainland fires and pray they do not suffer as this region has. After my entry on Friday the wind changed again and I spent a nervous few hours on the roof watching where the fires were heading and, like one or two of my neighbours, thanking the police when they told us to evacuate but knowing we had the river at our backs, deciding to remain and now I believe the danger for us is well past.
Friday 4th: Usually I would be sat pondering my writer’s block but today there was no time for that as the excessive heat and high winds meant most of Australia and all of Tasmania was under a total fire ban. 500 homes were lost to fires near our home in Canberra during our first Christmas in Australia in 2002 and this morning we awoke to see the smoke from yesterday’s bushfire hanging like a pall over our river. This afternoon we listened to the radio alerts as the fires got closer and read in detail what to do if caught in the car in a bushfire. After reams of information, including get low on the car floor and avoiding the melting chemicals and gases we noted the chances of surviving in a car are, as first thought, particularly discouraging. Meanwhile the fire was getting closer and the practical one started getting together those things to take with us when we evacuated. The dogs were pretty high on the list, perhaps higher than the husband who kept wondering about when to open a beer. My sole contribution was to identify our place of safety. That is an unconverted toilet block which has the great advantage of being built into a hillside with stone walls and a tin roof and is only a hop, skip and a jump into the river if need be. We evacuated from the house when the fire alert for our area was ‘emergency’ and proceeded to watch as a hillside upriver went up in a secondary fire and at least two properties were razed. There are many precautions you can take to plan to survive a bushfire but perhaps the most important is knowing when it is time to leave as it really is difficult to outrun one. Today’s fire has closed off the main tourist route to the Tasman peninsular and I just pray that there have been no fatalities, especially among the brave Tasmanian Fire service volunteer “firies” who do such a wonderful job. We are now ensconced back in our air-conditioned cocoon and hoping the wind will not change back in our direction while other souls are waiting out the fires on the beaches.
Wednesday 2nd: Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile and identify the acts of some as those of human beings. Be it the attitude and brutality towards women in India or our own rural aboriginal communities to the horrific slaughter of medical staff bringing the polio vaccine to thousands of children in Pakistan. It does us no credit that we treat the perpetrators as having any rights at all. Their actions put them beyond reason and they deserve no mercy from society. If that makes us uncivilised then so be it.