Monday, 28 September 2020

Book review: Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History, Eric J Evans (2019)

On a whim I bought this book in Glebe one day in the middle of September. I had gone to the shop to pick up an order and saw Evans’ book and thought of a friend who reads a lot of history, and thought to myself: “This looks interesting ..”


In the event I turned out to have been right in my assumption, which is remarkable as a biography about a dead historian might not, to most people, seem like fertile ground for analysis of larger themes. But born in 1917 (a little after my grandmother) Hobsbawm was part of a generation that saw the major events of the 20th century at first hand, including WWII, the aftermath of the October Revolution, and the Cold War.

He subsequently wrote at length about a range of eras, though he concentrated on the period extending from about 1750 to 1900. Evans asserts rather glibly, at the end of the book, that Hobsbawm “was never a Stalinist” and flirts with irrelevancy by using the ridiculous term “Hobsbawmian”. He never seems to address the problem of categories – something that must be, for any historian, a central issue – and accepts the prima facie importance of terms such as “Marxism” in a way that Hobsbawm must’ve been unable to do – if he was honest (though I’ve never read any of his books).

Evans makes the point well that Communism was a way for Hobsbawm to find community – something he needed early on as both his parents died before he reached his majority. In his youth he was a dedicated Communist. His parents were British subjects of Polish Jewish extraction. 

He was bookish and aspired to write – it’s evident from surviving sallies he penned as an adolescent – so drew inspiration from others, such as Shakespeare, Shelley, Coleridge, and Rimbaud. Which is a good place to go to look for such things (you can easily do a lot worse). Evans keeps the ball rolling – by about page 100 you’re at the time Hobsbawm went up to Cambridge – and as, himself, an authority on Germany in the 20th century, he is well-placed to make cogent observations about the environment in which his subject lived and learned though there’s a lack of information about Eric’s sources and curricula for these years, which isn’t remedied until Evans starts talking about books Eric wrote in the 1960s and 70. And I wasn’t sure that Evans grasped the significance of sentiments Eric expressed in his early writings; I often felt a good deal of boyish innocence behind strongly worded statements, a strong hint of uncertainty lying behind the bravado, but Evans seems not to have seen such things. 

What’s remarkable however is the fact that so much material survives for historians to ponder. Such a trove of riches enabled by the subject’s scribbling propensity. He was also hypercritical, with an opinion about everything – often, as it turns out, wrong, as when he predicted the demise of pop music – complementing a keen eye for the telling detail. His biographer’s equally quick condemnation of poetry – which Hobsbawm tried on various occasions, including when he was in the Army – is regrettably of the same stripe as his subject’s incisive discernment though considering the number of things Hobsbawm got wrong, perhaps a bit more reflection might’ve leavened the mix. On the other hand, you want someone to make people think, someone with a solid commitment to a particular line of reasoning is probably more likely to deliver pithy, memorable phrases than someone who goes the more round-about way to arriving at his or her goal or who is liable to qualify everything with reservations. In any case, being right all the time is probably not as important as regularly participating in public debates. So, for example, Hobsbawm’s dismissal of the environment and nationalism in favour of economic factors as explanations for specific phenomena that everyone agreed had become manifest in different places at different time. So what if Eric’s approach was contradicted by later scholars? 

If you demand 100% correctness all the time you’re going to end up with such stupidities as Stalinism specialised in. Other people on the left have expressed a similar kind of abhorrence of dogma and conformity, notably the Australian novelist Vance Palmer (one of whose books I reviewed recently). Hobsbawm solved the problem by being successful in a way that allowed him to survive on the proceeds of his own labours – he taught at a tertiary education institution for most of his adult life at the same time as he wrote and published books. 

Mao was equally pithy in terms of his written output, so Hobsbawm was following in the footsteps of greatness. An intelligent youth who wants to overturn all old institutions and structures and uses his natural abilities toward achieving that aim: the world has paid a high price for this characteristic of the species where still, today, we live with the consequences of the mistakes of past generations. When are the old going to be allowed to set the tone? Perhaps never. So we must fix problems that endure due to the triumph of the young by using patience in a way that Hobsbawm – soon tiring of the discipline that poetry needs in order to produce quality verses – was able to do only by dint of consistency. In the end, Eric prevailed in his chosen profession due to the fact that, over the course of many decades, he remained true to a single political line. His political views were cemented in the 1930s but financial security didn’t arrive until the 1970s.

It’s just disappointing that Evans’ loyalty to his subject allowed him to unthinkingly take sides in a contest that Hobsbawm refused to enter into all those years ago. It seems strange that Evans would reward Hobsbawm for a signal failure, but Eric’s other failures of the period in question – he was refused access to the cypher program due to that fact that his mother was not English – seem to have made Evans lose control of his critical faculties at an important moment in his narrative. English chauvinism is, to be sure, a poisonous elixir and Hobsbawm was right to have felt aggrieved (though he didn’t express such feelings to the officer who informed him of the decision), but surely it’s not necessary to forgive him everything (including his failure to persist with poetry, regardless the low quality of his youthful productions) just because you’re studying his life in exhaustive detail. 

It seems that familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. In fact it’s astonishing that Evans neglects Hobsbawm’s German-language poetry considering how liable the young man was to start writing at the slightest pretext, since he wrote reviews of films and other cultural products, and since he clearly considered himself to be educated. Hobsbawm’s reception among peers – visible in the critiques offered by people who were sent his essays and theses for comment – reveal that he was happy to accept others’ reviews as valid, but Evans seems to think that Hobsbawm’s poetry is exempt from the same kind of scrutiny his academic work received.

While pretending to offer a comprehensive view of the historian’s life, Evans still leaves out critical clues to his subject’s approach to the world in terms that a reader could easily grasp. I find this failure a severe one, and deeply regret it. 

It’s possible to see Hobsbawm’s reluctance to use poetry to achieve agency as a reflection of his disenchantment with the creative arts in the light of the economic burdens society places on the proletariat. Artists had been writing, painting, and composing for generations but things were still bad (notably after 1929) so: what’s the point? The failure of the mainstream to take the hint might be seen as having convinced people like Hobsbawm that art wasn’t the best way to achieve their goals. Linked to this feeling of ennui was Hobsbawm’s need to get involved in committees and to run educational activities for students; in other words, to belong. The dream of finding a place for himself that would both satisfy strict ideas about relevancy as well as his appetite for sophisticated thinking drove him to participate in activities that brought him into contact with others. Once his writing and publishing led to financial security and acclaim from peers, however, Hobsbawm was happy to accept sinecures and memberships that had previously been withheld from him. He became a notable part of the same Establishment that he had, in his youth, rejected outright.

A shortcoming of Evans’ book is the absence, for most of the first 300 or so pages, of any indication for the layman of how Hobsbawm’s scholarship fit into contemporary society. What kind of academic was he? Was he fashionable? Unnecessarily biased (considering his Marxist leanings)? Good? Bad? Indifferent? The contents of the curriculum during his BA are also not detailed very comprehensively, so it’s hard to understand formative influences leading to choices later made.

Until things became clearer at about page 350 I felt that Evans considered the average reader able to know such things – unlikely unless they were a truly committed history buff (and even if that was the case, they might know little about Hobsbawm) – or else likely go and find out for him- or herself. Fortunately, once Eric travels to Russia and once he starts becoming involved in the journal ‘Past and Present’ – and especially once the USSR invaded Hungary – it became easier to see how his ideas fit into the magazine of global Marxism and into broader debates about values, economics, and politics. He was less a doctrinaire Communist – though he tried to stay active in bodies affiliated with the Party – than a fellow traveller; ideologically sound rather than slavishly toeing the Party line.

Evans is right to criticise the intelligence services on account of the scorn they expressed, in reports, with regard to Hobsbawm’s political allegiances, especially after WWII. During the war, young Eric was clearly unsuited to secret work – in fact he abused his privileges on several occasions when given freedom to use his discretion, compromising the war effort for ideological reasons – but if anything their alarm grew once hostilities had ended in 1945. Hobsbawm had predicted that this would happen. Again, we must be grateful that so much survived to furnish material for a book such as this.


Friday, 25 September 2020

Book review: Agent Running in the Field, John le Carre (2019)

I got this fun genre gem from my local bookstore in early September. I’d run out of things to read and as an afterthought I picked it up because it was there, on a shelf, waiting to be noticed. Like a chocolate bar on a display rack near the supermarket checkout. I’d originally gone to the bookshop to pick up something I’d ordered – they’d sent me an SMS to inform me of its availability and arrival in-store – and while there I browsed for treats. 

Gleebooks never disappoints and le Carre rarely does. If this formulaic novel has one shortcoming it’s the indeterminacy of the ending, especially regarding the fates of some central characters. 

The narrator – an experienced MI6 officer named Nat – and his wife Prue live a normal life in London. Their house is in Battersea and their daughter Steff is contrary, so the base upon which le Carre cleverly builds his edifice is credible. But ‘Agent Running in the Field’ might’ve better been titled ‘The Pair’ or ‘Badminton for Beginners’ in order to play off a major plot device – Nat is an expert at the game and at his sports club meets a young man named Ed who comes to figure largely in his life.

The novel doesn’t disappoint as far as the demands of the genre go, but his handling of the message – which centres on Trump and Brexit – is somewhat insistent. Furthermore you won’t, unfortunately, find any attempt to diagnose the disease that led to these political phenomena, things that have made many people (including le Carre) both unhappy and worried. 

He deserves a credit mark for attempting to talk about contemporary politics, though the inclusion of such elements in genre novels is routine. Adding a bit of evidence that you’re talking about the real world is common for novelists and directors of films, and fans of genre products pride themselves on recognising the linkages between plot devices and contemporary events. A bit of colour can offset the effects of an outlandish plot. 

Le Carre is candid about where his sympathies lie, so ‘Agent Running in the Field’ is something like a manifesto. Due to the fact that personal beliefs seem to function so strongly in spies’ motivations, it’s possible to make such secondary elements more important than they might be in, say, a literary novel, where the writer might choose to examine more profound things, such as the nature of the species or of existence itself. In genre fiction you rarely get to see this sort of topic dealt with, so you feel grateful that he or she chooses to admit you into the inner sanctum, to view his or her political views displayed in relation to the story. I give this one six stars.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Book review: Samsung Rising, Geoffrey Cain (2020)

I bought this volume at Gleebooks for the recommended retail price.

Cain had been writing stories about Samsung, the diversified manufacturer, for many years before he decided to write this book, though signally the company wouldn’t cooperate with him in the latter endeavour. Cain yet found many people willing to talk with him, some on the record and some not.

The company had nothing to fear in my case as apart from the Ellen De Generes selfie that made such a splash when it was taken in the Oscars about six years ago, I wasn’t aware of most of the events that form the core of this book of journalism. The TV personality’s stunt however wasn’t spontaneous but was, rather, the result of a sustained effort by a group of American employees who subsequently left the company on account of its culture.

Excellence isn’t prized very highly at Samsung but conformity is. Belonging to the herd is the most important characteristic of successful employees of a company that, to succeed, relies on the support of the Korean government, the country’s judiciary, as well as business luminaries. The collective is paramount.

As is the case also in Japanese companies. Hard to imagine I’d be able to stoke into existence a desire to buy a Samsung phone after reading this engrossing book, which begins its account in the early years pre-WWII and continues up to the present. Luckily there are plenty of alternatives available in the market.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Book review: The Husband Hunters, Anne de Courcy (2017)

I bought this entertaining study at Gleebooks one weekend earlier this month after a ramble in the sun across Wentworth Park. My mobile phone’s activity tracker said I’d been more sedentary this year and, in response to this information, I decided to take countervailing measures.

The body wasn’t the only thing exercised in the event; the mind was also. Sometimes with this book it’s hard to keep abreast of outcomes as the intricacies of people’s relationships can force meaning out the window if you don’t pay attention though what it has in abundance – these are all true stories despite the soap-opera tone – is pathos. 

Often modulated by irony: the book mainly deals with New York society as the endless search for social cachet therein was the driver of female ambition fuelling interest among patrician and arriviste mothers, from Stateside, in titled families resident in the archipelago. 

These are basically American stories although there’s no doubt that England also benefited from the transaction, especially in terms of human rights. What young Americans were used to in terms of property law and civil rights differed from what was normal for their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. The ethos of the frontier – where men outnumbered women, and where women’s contributions to domestic economy were more highly prized – impacted on the ethics and morals of the community in London and rural England. 

In the light of such revelations it’s easy to see how reading this book can help to constitute a kind of study of the education of manners, with a bias toward the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. 

What happened at the end of this era – by the first years of the new century the traffic of young women and their mothers to London had slowed – was that people became grossed out by the level of expenditure. The dramas played themselves out in the newspapers, so they were public events. With the push for female electoral franchise heating up and the pushback against sickening levels of spending by the one percent, instead of social advancement the fashionable world became more focused on other things. 

Charity and human rights became popular all of a sudden. The new century was also when technology began to forcefully change Western economies and political settlements, and so de Courcy’s book can have broad appeal if you are interested in learning about how science can affect both finance and morals. The ability to cross an ocean in a matter of days rather than weeks must count as an improvement, regardless of the impact on the global environment, and other novelties (refrigeration, telephony) also made the world a smaller place than it had previously seemed.

Subtitled ‘Social climbing in London and New York’, this multi-subject biography is very readable and is lots of fun especially if you’re energised by descriptions of sumptuous gatherings of people. The lists of costumes for parties, the descriptions of the preparations made by the organisers, and the lists of names of invitees contribute toward making a kind of catalogue of excess in which other objects are ignored – apart from art, which is included only because of the money involved in the purchase thereof. The only thing missing here are details of the catering (today food is of supreme importance in most developed countries, so this is actually a distinct shortcoming). 

Definitely one to keep an eye out for!

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Dream journal: Twenty-eight

This is the twenty-eighth in a series of posts chronicling dreams I have had. As usual, the date shown is the date the dream was captured. This is usually the morning after the night the dream took place. You can’t wait very long before capturing a dream because it soon disappears from memory.

7 May

Had a nap after lunch and dreamt I was in Watsons Bay aged about 25 and granny was still alive. Other elements of the dream were set in the real-life present (i.e. not 30 years ago), for example the tweets that I saw in the sand outside my parents’ house. These tweets showed a conversation held between a woman with whom (in real life) I used to work and stopped being connected with on Facebook because I unfriended her. 

The conversation she was having involved her husband – whom I had blocked on Twitter because of the way he would comment in response to tweets of mine – and some other people, people in the broader community, about buying a property. In the dream, one person offered to lend the woman the money needed for such a transaction. I knew this person from his online persona but didn’t know he had so much money to throw around that he could make such an offer.

I walked along the path from mum and dad’s house to the beach at Watsons Bay reading the tweets in the grass and in the sand – the tweets were embedded and visible in the landscape like actual physical features of the pavement and of the sandy grass verge that bordered it – while I made my way along the promenade to where the restaurant was. Police were near it doing random breath tests, and had set up a marquee on the pathway, in Robertson Park, that heads up the hill toward New South Head Road where, in real life, there’s a bus stop. At the beginning of the long marquee police were handing out flyers – presumably to warn people off drinking – and I took one saying, prophylactically, to the cop who handed it to me, as though to ward off the evil eye, “I haven’t had anything to drink.”

Further on, I walked up the hill toward the Gap and met granny in a church. I had stopped inside it to read tweets, a part of the previous Twitter conversation, now visible on a printed pamphlet that had been made by the church, and that was being given out for free to visitors. In real life, granny used to go to church in Watsons Bay every Sunday dressed in her best clothes, and now, in the dream, I sat in this building – which differed from the historical church in so many ways, and was far more modern – while reading, as she came in and started to talk with the preacher and his wife. Both of these people were Indians. Then I tapped granny on the arm, though, at first, when she turned her head to look at me, she didn’t recognise who I was. I took off my sunglasses so she could see my face clearly and she seemed surprised to see me there. 

After a while I left her. By this time we were up the hill toward the rocks of the Gap. In the dream I’d wanted to get to a place I thought dad used to go to – he was dead in the dream even though his mother was still alive. After granny and I were on a bus I said goodbye to her then went walking on the concrete path by the cliff’s edge. The path I took was sometimes made of rock, the rock of the cliff. 

I met people on the path who were walking the other way, some of whom were young and were singing hip-hop songs. I was rapping too and the path suddenly became steep, so steep in fact that I couldn’t go any further. There was no balustrade at this point, with a drop to my right of hundreds of feet leading to the rocks below and the ocean. I kept going and then, after I had overcome the obstacle in front of me, mingled with crowds of people and police who were standing around the forecourt of the lookout, with Robertson Park spread out below. Then I woke up.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Book review: Warlight, Michael Ondaatje (2018)

I bought this, like a number of recent reads, at an op-shop. It cost me a few dollars but there’s no sticker on the cover so I’m not sure of the exact amount.

Whatever it was, it was good value as I enjoyed reading this gentle thriller that cleaves to a modern method of mixing popular tropes with a literary style. The early chapters – when everything is embryonic and unformed, an ambience suited to the narrative, which at that point deals with teenagers – are wonderful, evoking for me my own youth and filling me with long-forgotten feelings.

Feelings I hadn’t met with for many a day. The book tries to achieve something difficult: the realisation of an atmosphere belonging to a time and place that is, now, almost forgotten except by a few (very elderly) individuals, unless you take opportunities to vicariously experience the feeling of international conflict through movies or books of fiction and history and journalism.

At moments, the word “light” appears and reappears in different settings, with different modifiers, and the title is a word that crops up two or three times in the course of the storytelling. It is designed to describe for the reader a shadowy, uncertain and crepuscular landscape where people aren’t always who they profess to be, where things happen for reasons that might never be revealed, and where the differences between truth and lies are sometimes infinitesimally tiny.

It’s in such a world, in 1945, that Nathaniel (“Stitch”) and Rachel (“Wren”) find themselves when their parents disappear to relocate to Singapore. Allegedly. What is incontestable is that the two leave their children in England. Initially they are enrolled in boarding school but they hate it so they flee the confines of their institutions and return home where The Moth functions are their guardian. Even then they attend school patchily, and The Moth introduces them to The Darter, another reliable but shadowy individual, who takes Nathaniel out on errands on a boat in the evenings, ferrying greyhounds and other cargo from one part of London to another.

It’s hard to say too much without spoiling the book, so I’ll stop there and just add that it seems to me – who has been writing about the use of genre conventions in literary fiction for months now – that we are where we are because of a need for determinacy, a distrust or even aversion to exactly the kinds of liminal tactics and strategies that ‘Warlight’ appears to deploy. 

In fact, the certainty that genre tropes allow is most suitable for our unironic age, a time when people must take sides and where to prevaricate – or even to be seen to do so – is to be considered a betrayer of your cause. The fashion for genre literary fiction is as much a product of the age as shaming on social media, Antifa protests, and Kenosha, WI.

Though at times ‘Warlight’ was, in my view, somewhat overdetermined, I enjoyed reading it for the reasons outlined in this review, and recommend it to anyone who wants a pre-Covid page-turner.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Book review: Brighton Rock, Graham Greene (1938)

Like others reviewed recently, this volume came from an op-shop near Wollongong. It cost me $3 and was a complete revelation, being a literary novel with genre roots avant la lettre. The use of genre tropes – the unsolved murder, the missing husband, the grizzly find – in our day is widespread and Greene appears, to me, to be a harbinger of such riches.

The book is not long but it wastes no time and a good amount of action is packed into a series of eventful seaside days. Greene’s inventions – Pinkie, the 17-year-old gangster, and Ida Arnold, the middle-aged local who likes a laugh and a Guinness in the afternoon – are fabulous. Ida reminded me strongly of Vera Stanhope, the detective in the ITV network’s crime drama ‘Vera’ which is a favourited of mine on Sunday nights (a series regrettably ended at the end of August). 

Like Vera, Ida feels a deep compassion for her fellow human beings and it is this that drives her to investigate the death of a man she’d met only briefly one day in Brighton. Ida tipples during the day and has a generous figure that she uses to her advantage but she’s smart as well as sentimental. Pinkie is also smart but he’s anything but sentimental, so the two characters act as a foil, each to the other, like diametrical opposite components in an interlocking pair that makes a different shape. Almost yin and yang.

The way that Pinkie tries to force people to accept his version of reality has a lot in common with certain totalitarian governments today (another thing to regret, alas). There are other characters of note, such as Spicer, whose bloodshot eyes and calloused feet make him sympathetic despite his life of crime, and Rose, a 16-year-old waitress who comes from the wrong side of the tracks. Greene portrays these unheroic individuals with a kind of awareness and delicacy born of empathy.

A seaside resort close to London, Brighton in this book is a dark and menacing place animated by unseen forces. Good and evil reside there, and people yet go about their errands in peace. 

Without the overt racism it contains – disgusting caricatures of people of African ancestry and of Jews – ‘Brighton Rock’ might have turned out to be a piercing meditation on contemporary Britain, a society with enormous disparities of wealth where anyone’s upbringing is recorded in their voice as much as in their clothes. For a youth growing up in such a place, it must’ve seemed that financial security – as evident in the kinds of establishments you’d normally visit or the clothes you wore – must be achieved as quickly as possible, and damn the consequences for anyone unwise or unlucky enough to get in the way.

Unfortunately, what I found in the first half of the book was too unambiguous to ignore, so I gave up before finishing it. Ian McEwan’s endorsement on the back cover is also disturbing in the light of the repellent ideas I found expressed in the book.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Book review: East, West, Salman Rushdie (1994)

This knock-you-off-your-feet collection of short stories was picked up at an op-shop for $2, proving the rule that you cannot judge a book by the sticker price. It’s the only book of short stories I’d read since April this year, so was a breath of fresh air on two counts. The jacket is surprising too, and seems to me to be distinctly modern, with the naïve style reminding me of similar works by Australian Aboriginal artists.

Each story has its own style and so the fictional process is as much at issue as any notion of the Other that Rushdie successfully imports into his creations. In fact, the striking differences that take you from one world to the next are so severe that it is as though you were reading productions of a range of different pens. 

With aplomb, Rushdie manages to pull off each sally, never shrinking from a challenge and always delivering meaning as well as pleasure. What a find! Surely the best thing by this author I’ve ever read. In fact, it seems a shame that Rushdie decided to spend more time writing novels, if this level of quality is available in the shorter form.

Short stories are, unfortunately, discounted by readers and this can lead good short story writers to transfer their energies to the longer form. In Australia, two authors who have achieved acclaim in the short form and who then went on to try novels are Cate Kennedy (not brilliant novels but exceedingly good short stories) and Melanie Cheng (wonderful short stories; I haven’t read her recent novel). 

Rushdie’s mercurial temperament – something that made him infamous with some parts of the global community – might in fact be the thing that allowed him to write such brilliant short stories for ‘East, West’. He likes variety and doesn’t like to be tied down to convention. In fact he finds himself at home in both hemispheres, and this is a source of charm for the reader. A writer of the future …

Friday, 4 September 2020

Book review: Rupert’s Adventures in China, Bruce Dover (2008)

I bought this book at an op shop in Fairy Meadow while out of town. My apartment was on the market and I wanted to avoid mussing up the place and making more work for myself in advance of buyer inspections.


I’m having trouble working out why the cover was made the way it was but it’s not a fatal flaw: the book is informative and entertaining, having been written by an executive in Rupert Murdoch’s employ during years when Murdoch was trying to gain entry to the Chinese pay-TV market. Dover was therefore, for much of the time in question, close to the source of the events that allowed him to produce material for his story.

It’s interesting for two reasons. On the one hand it provides an indication for the curious spectator of how Murdoch runs his businesses. On the other hand – and just as importantly – the book shows how the Chinese Communist Party worked with overseas businesses in the later part of last century and the first years of this one. Before the Great Firewall and the emergence of native social media sites. The situation has changed dramatically since the time covered by Dover, but reading the book at least you get some idea of how the mechanisms of governance in the Middle Kingdom work.

I won’t disclose the reason why Rupert Murdoch decided to pull out of the Chinese market other than to say it was about access. Murdoch is famous for his love of the media business, and he’s been successful in many global markets because of his ability to make the system work in his favour and by delivering a kind of content for which there was a market that wasn’t being filled. But in China he came up against a different set of principles, and this eventually did it for him.

Because the book is full of dramatic vignettes – bits of stories inserted into the larger narrative to illustrate salient points – you are able to get a feel for Murdoch’s business in a way that a report in a newspaper or on the home page of a stock exchange could not deliver. The different threads of the narrative – involving such issues as political freedom, China’s emergence as a major economy, the role of the media in a pluralistic democracy, and Murdoch’s own character – come together to form a rich tapestry full of primary and secondary significations. Dover’s book is more than just a documentary account of a business failure, it’s a mine of information about the Middle Kingdom.

While at times the writing can be a bit long-winded and continuity might have been improved – as if it were a feature article being written, rather than a book – it’s a lot of fun to read, and it’s informative on all counts mentioned earlier in this review. Highly recommended, though a bit more attention paid to proofs might’ve improved the final product.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Grocery shopping list for August 2020

This post is the twentieth in a series and the sixth with rona. 

2 August

Went to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) tomatoes, apples, onions, a sultana butter cake, “spiced roasted cauliflower and winter veg,” spaghetti, milk, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


Woolworths had earlier asked shoppers to wear a mask when visiting its stores in NSW but it was announced on this day that, in Victoria, supermarket shopping would, beginning on the 3rd of the month, be legal only if (with some exceptions) carried out by one person. 

4 August

Popped across the road to the bottle shop and bought two six-packs of Carlton Zero.

8 August

Went to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) a perch fillet, salmon fillets, smoked hake fillets, sliced ham, sliced pastrami, bread, blueberries, some containers of soup (one cauliflower one mushroom, one lamb), lentil salad, bean salad, biscuits (Carmel Crowns, Chocolate Montes, and Gaiety), and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


10 August

Went to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) taramosalata, hummus with harissa, marinaded goat’s cheese, blue cheese, duck and currant pate, Jatz crackers, bhuja, Calbee “Harvest Snaps”, Caramel Crowns, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


14 August

Went to a shop in Wollongong, where I stayed for a few nights due to buyer inspections at my apartment, called TJ Max. I bought a container of Turmeric Latte, which I’d developed a taste for while staying at my friend’s place.

15 August

On the way back from Wollongong, I stopped at Auburn and bought milk.

16 August

Drove to Woolworths in Pyrmont and bought (see receipt below) pastrami, sliced ham, couscous with pumpkin, “spiced cauliflower and winter veg,” pea and broccoli soup, beetroot soup, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


Later, went to Lakemba and bought some Punjabi prepared dishes in plastic containers (Lahori cholay, murgh pilau with kebab, chicken karahi), as well as jars with chilli pickle, garlic pickle, mixed pickle and lime pickle. 

I worked out that the food was Punjabi after coming home and doing research; there was nothing in the shop to illustrate provenance. Pickles are sold in many shops in Lakemba, but the cooked food I usually get from this one shop is on the eastern side of Haldon Street.

18 August

Went to Woolies and bought sugarless flavoured mineral water.

20 August

Went to the Campos Coffee website and placed an order (see receipt below).


22 August

On the way back from Wollongong stopped at Lakemba on an errand and while there went to a grocery store and bought milk, yoghurt drink, apples, grapes, kiwi fruit, peaches, nectarines, chillies, ginger, and capsicum.

23 August

Went to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) salmon fillets, a barramundi fillet, marinaded goat’s cheese, pastrami, ham, sultana butter cake, eggs, lentil salad, couscous with pumpkin, pea and ham soup, Malaysian chicken soup, taramosalata, hummus with harissa, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


24 August

At 7.10am arrived an SMS from Australia Post telling me that the coffee would arrive on this day. It also said that, if I wasn’t home, the parcel would be left if a safe place was available for the purpose. At just before 9am the intercom buzzed and I spoke with the deliveryman, who left the parcel downstairs. 

Later I went to run an errand. While out, at Woolworths I bought bread, soap, mouthwash, and no-sugar flavoured mineral water.

26 August

Went to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) no-sugar flavoured mineral water, porridge, “spiced cauliflower and winter veg,” potato salad, and bhuja.


In the evening I popped out to the bottle shop and bought two six-packs of Carlton Zero.

27 August

Had an errand in Broadway Shopping Centre and while there stopped by at Harris Farm Markets and bought (see receipt below) Scotch fillet steak, porterhouse steak, lamb chops, mustard, tabouleh, harira soup, white bean soup, raspberries, and blueberries.


28 August

Went to Woolworths and bought milk and no-sugar flavoured mineral water.

31 August

Went to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) corned silverside, sliced pastrami, lamb soup, lentil soup, lentil salad, apples, blueberries, taramosalata, hummus with harissa, Chocolate Montes, Caramel Crowns, Loacker “Noisette Crème” wafers, bhuja, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).