Tuesday 31 August 2021

TV review: Agatha Christie’s Poirot, series 3 episode 9, ‘The Theft of the Royal Ruby’ (1991)

This is a formidable franchise and because it’s screened in Sydney on a Nine Entertainment digital channel (Monday nights, 7.30pm) I have been able to sample some episodes, such as this one. I wasn’t entirely happy with the characterisation of the young prince (played by Antony Zaki) but the remainder of the scripting was fine.

The story is, as usual, quite simple even though some of the subterfuges Poirot (David Suchet) takes are complicated and there are slow scenes where the detective can be seen watching what other people do, in this case spying on the inhabitants of the house where he is a guest while standing on a balcony. This is Poirot’s metier: to be aware of things that go on around him, to sample, like the chocolates in the craft confectionary store he’s inside when the episode opens, a rare bonbon. It’s when he comes out of the shop that the game begins, as, walking across the road, he’s accosted by two men who usher him into a car in order to take him to see Mr Jesmond (David Howey), who works for the police. There, he’s told of the circumstances of the crime – a young lady had stolen a rare ruby while having dinner with the prince – and proceeds to scoff and remonstrate. Unknown to Poirot, the prince is standing behind him!

The scene then changes to a country estate in a Modernist house, a rare treat for viewers. Here, Poirot is forced to not only find the ruby that has been stolen but, when he does, furthermore uncover the identities of the thieves. He’d come across the ruby since it had been serendipitously stowed inside a Christmas pudding. Having brought it to the prince and Jesmond, the former demands to know the identity of those who had stolen it, so Poirot takes hold of the gem again and reluctantly returns to the house.

What follows is a typically ornate sting, during which Poirot conscripts the youngsters living there to orchestrate a fake murder, in the process of uncovering which he stashes the ruby in the outflung hand of a girl who’s pretending to have been stabbed. The stone is then found by the villain, Desmond Lee-Wortley (Nigel Le Vaillant), who makes a dash for the airfield where he has his plane ready for escape. On the airfield, the police cut off its careen down the runway by driving their cars onto the field and Lee-Wortley and his “sister” (Robyn Moore) are nabbed by the cops with the prince petulantly exchanging insults with the latter.

A more contemporary script might have dealt with the prince differently; this one has him appear unappealing and churlish though the portrait is tempered with some humour. As usual there is also a touch of scripted xenophobia, in this case Colonel Lacey (Frederick Treves) alludes to Poirot’s being, perhaps, French, during a short scene in his bedroom while he is talking with his wife (Stephanie Cole). Scripting choices will have analogues in Christie’s text, I do not doubt, though not having ever read one of her novels or short stories I cannot confidently pass judgement on the author.

The neatness and economy of a Poirot episode are a delight, everything being performed along with the main character’s old-world elegance and charm. The little head-bows, the small words to compliment his interlocutor, the calm exterior with its machine-like moustache hovering like a hummingbird above his upper lip, all of the paraphernalia of yesteryear – old-fashioned even at the time the books were written, and designed to critique modernity as much as greed or cupidity – made ‘Poirot’ one of my mother’s favourite shows. I, too, have been seduced.

Sunday 29 August 2021

Movie review: Val, dirs Ting Poo and Leo Scott (2021)

This gentle and elegiac Amazon original production poses certain questions about identity and how to live a good life by examining that of Val Kilmer, the movie actor. Not too long ago Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer and after an operation he was able to retain his existence but his ability to speak – something that, for an actor, is of cardinal importance – was curtailed. To speak now Kilmer must use his finger to close a hole in his throat while he moves his lips and tongue and expels air through his mouth. Even if he does all these things in concert, however, his voice is hard to understand and his diction is cramped.

Kilmer’s financial situation is precarious. He underwrote some of his father’s property speculations so lost a good deal of money that way. Then there was his divorce. Because he declined a second ‘Batman’ movie he never entered the lists of mega-rich movie stars, and the culmination of the years has left the man with two children who love him (he lives next-door to his daughter) and a warehouse full of video tapes.

Here the directors had a treasure trove of material to draw on as they constructed a portrait of the man, and they took advantage of all of it when putting together this movie. What’s most decisive about it is the man himself, a kind of resigned jester who ekes out a living signing autographs at Comic Con and similar events held around the United States from time to time. These gatherings take their toll on a frail body and the pathos of Kilmer is striking, like Mickey Rourke in 2008’s ‘The Wrestler’, which chronicles the life of an ageing fighter. A singular difference divides the two portraits because Kilmer is close to his children whereas Randy "The Ram" Robinson doesn’t get along with his daughter. 

Kilmer’s son voiced the narration for Poo and Scott’s film, which I strongly recommend for your viewing hours. It runs to just over 90 minutes.

Saturday 28 August 2021

Movie review: Minimalism, dir Matt D’Avella (2015)

This is a quiet and discriminating Netflix documentary that charts some of the lives of two men who decided to give up – in the manner of the hero of ‘Fight Club’ – the trappings of success (high salaries, possessions) and to live their lives more simply. It’s a welcome antidote to the unceasing appeals to our cupidity screened every second on commercial TV, the endless ads for dishwashing liquid, jewellery, and car insurance that offer lures to a basic human need as, the makers of this film tell us, we are hard wired to want more.

The day before this show appeared on my TV downstairs in the living room (the TV upstairs in my bedroom isn’t digital) I watched a YouTube video a friend selected that showed electronic waste recycling in Ghana. A hellish scenario and one that ‘Minimalism’ might help us to better understand. Thinking about the contrast between the aspirational tone of this documentary compared to the journalistic grit of the YouTube video I am struck by the cognitive dissonance and I wonder how much change Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus can actually bring about with their measured approach to a problem that is so obvious once you look into it for even a day or so: that we produce and throw away more “stuff” than the environment can cope with.

Millburn and Nicodemus are prone to ending their conversations with a hug, and this is how the show leaves you feeling: as though you’ve been embraced by an emotion that only success can make. But this is confusing because we normally equate success in a certain way and these men are asking us to understand it differently. The two bags that Millburn packed for their nine-month trip around the US in an early-model Toyota sedan emblematise a desire but the growing sense that the men are gradually cutting through the noise in the public sphere offers its own kind of plenitude. Of course, once that peak is reached another issue comes along to divert the population, to engross its viewers, and to take precedence on the TV screens dotted around the United States like gems.

Friday 27 August 2021

Movie review: Made You Look, dir Barry Avrich (2020)

This Netflix documentary chronicles the case of fake art made by a Chinese painter who masterfully copied the styles of leading American abstract expressionists (eg Pollock, Rothko). The art was sold by a reputable New York gallery for a total of $80 million, starting in the late 1990s. The FBI finally took the dealer to court but the gallerist who offloaded the works was only forced to retire.

The show is engrossing for anyone, like me, who is interested in art, because it makes you think about the value we place on this form of human expression. The object is therefore privileged, and ‘Made You Look’ asks us to question how it is that one production from one artist is worth so much when the work of another artist is relegated to obscurity.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this show. It was one of two shows I watched on the same day when, after about a year away from Netflix, I finally returned to sample what’s on offer to subscribers.

Sunday 15 August 2021

Take two: Grotesque, Natsuo Kirino

For a full review, see my Patreon

I’ve had this in my collection for a good while and it was bought at some point in time for a discount price at the Co-Op Bookshop, though I don’t know which one. The book was originally published in English in 2007 and in paperback in 2008, so it’s likely that I bought the volume at the store at Sydney University as my office at the time was located just around the corner from the swimming pool.

Saturday 14 August 2021

Take two: The Rings of Saturn, WG Sebald

For a full review, see my Patreon

I had this book from dad, who probably bought it in the 90s. The publication date (in English) is 1998. Wikipedia says this is a novel but it’s not: it’s a memoir. I took the photo shown above in front of two photographs in my collection. The top one is by my cousin Rob, and shows a Chinese window. The bottom one is by a man named Terry Broadford and is titled ‘Station Control’. It shows a Jpaanese railway employee, which is appropriate as Sebald uses trains in his book as a kind of magical device that lies in the region between his routine existence and a life free of bad memories he dreams of living.

Friday 13 August 2021

Take two: The Mountain, Drusilla Modjeska

For a full review, see my Patreon

I bought this volume at a Lifeline sale recently when the city was still relatively open for business. Under current restrictions it’d be impossible for the charity to hold the event, or for bibliophiles like me to find cheap entertainment. God knows though we need more of it! The photograph in the image above is apposite as in Modjeska’s book the central character, Rika, is a photographer. It’s also suitable as the person who took this photo is Polish.

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Take two: Sodom and Gomorrah, Marcel Proust

For a full review, see my Patreon

I bought this, as mentioned last month, in June 2013 at Folio Books in Brisbane. I was living in the Sunshine Coast at the time and missed things to do with the big city, as my familiars up there, rather than old university friends, were mostly bush turkeys and bananabirds.

Thursday 5 August 2021

Conversations with taxi drivers: Eighteen

This is the eighteenth in a series of posts relaying conversations I have had with taxi drivers. The first of these posts appeared on 6 June 2018. 

5 August

I had a car service today, though when 8.30am came by I only just realised I was already late for the appointment due to a scam phone call that alerted me to the existence of my phone. I found the place and then talked with a man for about 20 minutes about batteries and E10 fuel, then called a cab on the 13 CABS app. The driver when asked told me to pay at the end of the trip – the app usually does this transaction for you – and I took a receipt just in case I was double charged. I ate some lunch after they called me to let me know the car was ready to pick up, then when the food was finished I summoned another cab.

The driver was chatty. I told him I was getting my RAV4 serviced for the first time and he said he was trading in his Camry for a RAV4 when it arrived in the country. The service staff had told me there’s an 8-month wait at present; my wait last year was 6 months. The driver estimated that it’d take two weeks to take delivery of the vehicle, which would be a Cruiser (like mine) as Silver Service, which would be badging the car, only took that model on. 

He said he normally gets 130,000km a year for regular cab use, but due to Covid it was about 85,000 to 90,000km. A new battery costs about $2000 because the car maker gives you a trade in for the old battery. He said a person he knows who just bought a RAV4 for cab use paid $45,000 (mine was $52,000) and the different prices reflected the fact, he averred, that for cabbies there’s less tax and no registration charge. I was surprised by the price differential and said I should’ve told Toyota I was a cab driver – but he said I’d need taxi plates (he also said they drop the car off at the depot, rather than it being picked up from the showroom).

He himself drives a 2015 Lexus but he’s only done about 22,000km on it because it only gets used on Sundays – he normally drives his cab for six days a week.

This time the app charged me via my credit card. The Toyota charge was $215 for the service, and also involved driving down a ramp to the street! I felt quite proud due to working out how to get down the ramp – even how to approach it! But just to prove how impractical I am at the exit I went "out" the "in" gate.

Wednesday 4 August 2021

Take two: The Shortest History of China, Linda Jaivin

For a full review, see my Patreon

This book came from Dymocks in Broadway Shopping Centre, where I went while doing grocery shopping during lockdown. Most bookshops in Sydney are closed for browsing, so I went to the best option available. The sales clerk said he wanted to read this book, having seen it discussed on a Tv program. I said that I’d tried a different history of China and had found it wanting, and that I hoped Jaivin’s book would avoid the usual way of chronicling the various tiresome dynasties. 

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Take two: The Guermantes Way, Marcel Proust

For a full review, see my Patreon

I started reading this series of novels a couple of years ago though I had the set in my collection when I was living in southeast Queensland. The full set was bought at Folio Books in that city. At that time I bought Proust’s novels hoping to conjure up the mettle needed to read them, but when I finally did some years later it turned out to be a source of intense pleasure. This is the third in the series and the series has seven novels in it.

Monday 2 August 2021

Tweeting better stories, episode eight: July 2021

Wanting to find a lighter-hearted way I offer readers this eighth post in a series.

This rather incomprehensible tweet appeared at 6.47am on 15 July:

I was left scratching my head also when I read this (it appeared at 9.17pm on 19 July):

More strangeness appeared in a tweet at 6.26pm on 29 July:

More oddness with regard to Harry coming in at 8.30am on 30 July:


At 5.29pm on 1 July I saw this tweet in my feed:

At 3.21am on 2 July I saw this:

At 6.21pm on 19 July this tweet appeared:

This appeared at 4.47am on 28 July:


At 5.22pm on 3 July I saw this tweet:

It came with a photograph that I liked (see below).

At 10.37am on 27 July these two posts appeared in my feed:

At 4.43pm on 31 July this appeared to comfort me (and due to its theme it really did provide comfort when I was feeling especially vulnerable):

The body

At 5.23pm on 3 July I saw this:

This strange tweet (which appeared at 5.20pm on 5 July) came from an account that is often busy with odd messages, so I shouldn’t have been surprised!

At 5.12am on 9 July this tweet (which appeared to me to be making a lot of sense):

And on 11 July at 5.42pm this one appeared (it seemed to refer to the previous one):

Plants and animals

At 6.23am on 6 July this appeared:

At 3.15am on 12 July this rather dry (but interesting) tweet appeared in my feed:

On 14 July at 1.01pm the following appeared:

At 2.41am on 15 July the following two tweets appeared:

The full poem about the loons is, as follows:

At 4.46am on 18 July this appeared in my feed:

This appeared at 8.03am on 20 July:

At 1.21pm on 29 July this appeared:


At 4.57am on 7 July this appeared in my feed (two tweets right next to one another):

At 5.30am on 16 July the following appeared:

The reader

I enjoyed this pair of tweets that appeared at 5.48am on 13 July:

The Italian in the first one reads:

Sounds and resounds the far sea.
This is a door.
Here I love you.

(‘Here I love you’ by Pablo Neruda.)

At 6.42pm on 23 July this tweet appeared:

A succinct guide for readers was presented to me at 6.14pm on 24 July:

At 7.28am on 26 July this was visible to me:


At 6.21am on 21 July this appeared:

And the next day at 7.24am this appeared:

At 10.39am on 25 July this appeared:


This strange and quite beautiful tweet appeared at 12.49pm on 17 July:

Sunday 1 August 2021

Grocery shopping list for July 2021

This post is the thirty-first in a series and the tenth to chronicle diets. 

1 June

Morning weigh-in had me at 86.2kg. Later, I checked my bank balance and saw the Campos refund had gone through. It was almost as much as a full bag of coffee costs, almost $30 – so worth my spending time and effort to make a short telephone call. I had had several emails from Australia Post about my PO box – presumably including the coffee – so resolved to visit the place when I went out on morning errands. While at Broadway Shopping Centre I stopped by at Coles and bought (see receipt below) tuna steaks, ling fillets, barramundi fillets, mullet fillets, low-carb bread, milk, strawberries, red Leicester cheese, brie, and marinaded goats’ cheese.

4 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 85.7kg. Later, went to IGA and bought (see receipt below) chicken wings, a pear, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, mushrooms, gouda, Bega Tasty cheese, and low-carb snacks.

My calorie count for the week just past was:

My activity chart was:

My macronutrient chart was:

6 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 85.1kg. Later, went to IGA and bought (see receipt below) Jatz crackers, zucchini, cucumbers, milk, and hummus.

7 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84.7kg. Later went to IGA and bought (see receipt below) a T-bone steak, cos lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes, rice, a packet of Kingston biscuits (a friend was staying over – I wasn’t breaking my diet!), a capsicum, toilet paper, taramosalata, shallots, and low-carb snacks.

8 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84.5kg. Later, my houseguest went to IGA and bought a kiwi fruit, oranges, potatoes, mushrooms, milk, lemon friands sluice, fefferoni, and lamb cutlets. I also went to IGA and bought (see receipt below) bread, sauerkraut, T-bone steak, chillies, gouda, Jarlsberg, and macadamia nuts apples. Later went to Woolies and bought marinaded goat’s cheese, cheddar cheese and Brazil nuts.

12 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84.4kg. My past week’s intake was, as follows:

My activity chart looked like this:

My macronutrient chart looked like this:

Later, went to Coles and bought (see receipt below) barramundi fillets, salmon fillets, a snapper fillet, chicken wings, an avocado, apples, brie, and mayonnaise.

14 July
Morning weigh-in had me at 84.2kg. Later, went to IGA and bought (see receipt below) milk, eggs, sliced pastrami, sliced chicken breast, pears, a capsicum, taramosalata, rump steak, Monte Carlo biscuits, and low-carb snacks.

16 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84.4kg. Later, went to Coles and bought (see receipt below) sliced pastrami, ham, bacon, cold turkey breast, broccolini, cauliflower, pecans, Brazil nuts, an avocado, low-carb snacks, canola oil, hot English mustard, and sandwich bags.

19 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84.3kg. My week’s calorie intake looked like this:

My activity chart was:

And my macronutrient chart was:

20 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 83.7kg. Later went to buy petrol and picked up some water in bottles for the car.

21 July

Went to Woolworths in Pyrmont and bought (see receipt below) hummus, plums, oranges, kiwi fruit, broccolini, Brussel sprouts, onions (red and brown), zucchini, maasdam cheese, d’Affinois cheese, and a block of Bega Tasty cheese.

24 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84.1kg. Later, went to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) dumplings (some with pork and some without), meatballs, broccoli, a capsicum, an onion, milk, beef meatballs, apples, and an avocado.

25 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84.7kg. Later, went to Coles and bought (see receipt below) barramundi fillets, smoked salmon fillets, tuna steaks, Scotch fillet steak, lamb chops, eggs, walnuts, mushrooms, mouthwash, and washing up liquid.

In the evening my neighbour waved to me as I was driving into the garage and I popped out to see what was happening. She’d received produce from Woolies and was giving it away so I scored apples, potatoes, pumpkin, capsicum, cabbage, shallots, and broccolini.

My week’s calorie count looked like this:

The activity chart was:

And the macronutrient chart was:

27 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 84kg. Later was at Woolies and bought bread for my house guest.

28 July

Morning weigh-in had me at 83.7kg. Later, went to Coles and bought (see receipt below) bread, mayonnaise, comte cheese, brie, red Leicester cheese, taramosalata, low carb snacks, and toilet paper. Today a friend gave me a packet of 10 face masks because I’d been unable to find them on the shelves at Coles; a staffer said they were available at the service counter but there the sales clerk was busy with other customers so I didn’t wait to ask about the item before proceeding to the checkout.