Saturday, October 15, 2011

Welcome to the dark side

There is an attraction to being a performer. Why else do so many young people secretly dream of  being rock stars? I know I did.

I tried being a musician and I was brilliant apart from the slight drawback of being virtually talentless. I did a little amateur theatre years ago. I think the most memorable bit of that was wandering around one evening in the foyer before removing the stage make up, only to be told that make up really suited me.

Last Friday evening I experienced that amazing thrill, the rush of being in front of a crowd in a packed venue, performing and getting laughs that were intended. The energy in the room was amazing and just lifted you up, bringing out even more manic energy in me. Perhaps not surprisingly, Robin Williams is one of my comic heroes. While I most surely am not anywhere near as funny as he is, I can relate to his manic bounding around. And how tiring it is. I felt exhausted by a set only some seven minutes long. It was all that adrenalin and manic energy pumping through the system.

Now I understand why people do it, getting out there to make people laugh. Fortunately I never got into drugs so cannot compare it to a drug high. But I know I never felt that good when I was still drinking.

Comic DeAnne Smith said to me afterwards via Twitter, 'welcome to the dark side'. I understand what she means. I want more!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Joys, laughs and tears (almost)

Today has overall been one of joys.

Firstly, I received a lovely offer from the Chair of the ACT Writers Centre, El Presidente Sylvia. No, not that sort of offer - minds out of the gutter you lot. It was yet another offer of transport to and from the hospital next week. And to water the plants. And look after the pets. And do the ironing. Well, the transport is organised, housemate looking after my straggling African Violets and no pets. But there is the Ironing Mountain waiting.... Nah, I'll do it next week. Maybe.

Then there was the most wonderful statement from another friend. I shall not mention her name to save embaressing her. But Lisa Fuller - whoops, wasn't going to say that, was I - offered to come and stay during the surgery itself when the brain surgeon is amusing himself turning my head into a colander. "That's what we do in my family," she said, "and your family now mister."

I was almost tearing up over that. Truly. What a truly lovely thing to say. Unless that means I am now expected to be taking out the rubbish at her place, washing her better half Ben's car or something like that.

This evening was my first outing to an open mic comedy night. It was at The Pot Belly, a bar in Belconnen. Now I haven't been there since I sobered up about ten years ago. I suddenly had a fit of the giggles, comparing the coffee in my hand to the terribly, terribly drunken state that I think I was probably like the last time I was there. The mere fact that I cannot entirely remember that last visit, probably says volumes.

So my first real outing doing comedy. Quietly forgetting a very forgettable attempt many years ago when I did not have the faintest idea what I was doing.

Having a bit of a memory problem these days, I made a memnomic on the back of my hand so I would know all the gags I was supposed to be doing. Except I couldn't remember what half the bloody things were supposed to be. But I got some laughs. And I had some fun. A special thank you to the two lovely young ladies, Rachel (?) and Maddie, who laughed at everything. I felt better about the memnomic afterwards when one of the other performers showed me the small essay he had written on the back of his hand.

A big part of the reason why the night went so well was the MC, Marie Helou. Marie is a working comic who divides her time somewhat between Canberra and Sydney although she is based in Sydney these days. Now Marie has been working very hard for three months now, trying to teach loonies like me, how to do comedy. Every Thursday, into the car to drive down from Sydney to teach us at the Belconnen Community Arts Centre. Marie has put a LOT of time and effort into this and we really, really appreciate it. Marie is funny and an all-round sweetheart. I'll leave it to her to make the short jokes and boob gags. I was going to post a piccie of Marie with the link to her page at the Comedy ACT website, but ever since this blogger thingy upgraded its shit, I cannot seem to load pictures properly at least half the time these days. Including this time.

Thanks Marie. XOX

Also thanks to Tim who has been doing all the hard work for the Mindscapes Festival as part of the ACT Mental Health Week activities. Tim has been a great support in making this all happen for us.

Onward to our big gig at the Civic Hotel this Friday evening.

I suppose I ought to think about going to bed. Sometime. Eventually.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Maudlin notes, thank yous and unexpected results...

I have been in something of a maudlin mood of late, concerning the forthcoming surgery. What if it doesn't go right? The surgeon could sneeze just at the wrong moment when he has a length of my grey matter pulled out of my head. And so on. In reality the procedure has a much higher chance of things like stroke than other trips under the knife. So I have been taking care of a few things like getting in touch with a few people juuuust in case the worse did happen - I would hate not to be able to communicate with them properly again afterwards.

Well, one author I admire wrote me a lovely note back. To preserve her anonymity, I shall just say thank you anonymous-statuesque-former-model. :-)

At the same time, I have been hiding said fears behind my usual exterior of nonsense. Well, that's just what I do, OK. However this has had some unexpected results.

As I have regularly referred to this as getting a labotomy, one of the university staff thought I was actually being lobotomised and was wondering how I was going to be able to continue my studies. Whoops.

A dear friend in the US, knowing my usual habit of talking drivel, thought all of these comments about getting holes drilled in the head were just more of the same. She received quite a shock to actually receive a serious email from me about it and realise that, no, I'm not actually joking. And I made her cry. Whoops again. Sorry Bailey - didn't mean it - promise!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Salvation's Reach - Dan Abnett

review first posted at A Writer Goes On A Journey

Salvation's Reach
Dan Abnett
Gaunt's Ghost 13
Black Library
ISBN (UK) 97881844168200
ISBN (US) 9781844168217


The Tanith First-And-Only embark upon a desperate mission that could decide the fate of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade in the thirteenth book this popular Imperial Guard series. The Ghosts of the Tanith First-And-Only have been away from the front line for too long, listless and hungry for action. But the proposed raid on the mysterious Salvation's Reach is so hazardous, it's regarded as a suicide mission. Haunted by spectres from the past and stalked by the Archenemy, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and his Ghosts embark on upon what could be their finest hour... or the final mission.


Dan Abnett is widely regarded as one of the best military sci fi writers in the world today. And I agree.

The release of another novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series is a reason to settle down with a cuppa in a comfy chair and get lost in the universe of the 41st Millennium.

In terms of the military action, Salvation's Reach is every bit as crisply written as its predecessors. Plenty is happening by the reader is drawn along without any difficulty.

Ibram Gaunt continues to be the hard-bitten warrior and leader, fighting in the continuing Sabbat Worlds Crusade. Fans of Gaunt will no doubt enjoy this next instalment.

I was however puzzled by some things. By the time I had reached the end, Gaunt and his men had fought their way across a couple of battles with the survivors mourning the loss of their fallen comrades. And I was left with a disquieting sense of 'so what?' A number of elements were introduced into the story that by story's end, had not seemed to drive the plot forward in any real way. While these will no doubt play a role in future instalments, I felt the story arc would have been stronger for bringing these out more in this particular instalment.

For a nobody like me to be seen to be criticising someone with the credentials and success of Dan Abnett, probably seems the height of arrogance. I certainly didn't dislike the novel and generally enjoyed reading it. But at the same time I have a guilty sense of being a school teacher writing 'can do better' on a report card.


BOOK REVIEW: You'll be sorry when I'm dead - Marieke Hardy

review first posted at Boomerang Books
You'll be sorry when I'm dead
Marieke Hardy
Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781742377261

Marieke Hardy became a much more visible presence on the Australian landscape with her  regular spot on ABC Television's First Tuesday Book Club. But of course she had been around for much longer than that, writing for The Age and elsewhere, including the Australian Writers Guild's magazine, script writing and acting when younger. She is clearly a fascinating individual and I looked forward to finally getting to review this book.

This is less a biography and more a collection of shorter pieces about aspects of her life, some of which previously appeared in print in shorter form.

I had expected to be entertained and I was certainly not disappointed. Hardy's prose is every bit as sharp and bright as her verbal barbs on television. I was quite literally laughing out loud in places which is unusual for me even when amused while reading. I had started writing down some memorable quotes for use in this review but there was simply so many of them. But referring to Alan Jones as 'that little cockstain' was just priceless.

This read was not all giggles and smirks. There is a darkness to Marieke Hardy as well and she was not afraid to explore this in places.

There was a passing reference to Hardy's great-Aunt Mary. I am old enough to remember the often outrageous and always funny, Mary Hardy when she was a fixture on Victorian television. Her tragic demise was surprisingly typical of many 'funny' people – surrounded by people yet alone and very sad. At the risk of sounding like a pompous, amateur headshrinker, I felt a sense of the same coming through at times in Marieke's writing.

This is an adult read in many respects and some of it is somewhat confronting. And I loved it.

“You'll be sorry when I'm dead” will definitely be going into my list of recommended reading from 2011.

Hoss Ramilton
(not my real name – read the foreword to get the joke)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Ghost Platoon

first reviewed at Boomerang Books

Ghost Platoon
Frank Walker
Hachette Australia
ISBN 9780733626432


In 1969 a ragtag unit of 39 men were thrown together at Nui dat, Vietnam. It didn't even have an officer or sergeant in charge. A rugged ex-Royal Marine, acting corporal, stepped forward to take the lead. The platoon found itself involved in a high-risk ambush and under Riddle's leadership, came through unscathed, leaving a trail of enemy bodies behind. Yet afterwards, the platoon was disbanded and the army then spent decades denying the unit had even ever existed.

More than forty years later, Frank Walker details what happened at that ambush and why the army buried their existence, and the secrets that went with it. His findings are a shocking indictment of the long-term effects of war.


If you are looking for a book full of heroic, Gallipoli-esque mythology of the Anzac digger, then this is not the book for you. This is an ugly, nasty story. Sadly, it is also a true story.

Walker has used his years  of journalistic experience to dig deep into this story of why Defence officials for decades denied the existence of this single platoon. And it is not a pretty picture.

Some of the material received during the investigation simply beggars belief. For example, there is no sign of an official Headquarters diary covering the activities of this unit and this time frame. Among the excuses subsequently offered up for this inexplicable absence, was the suggestion that perhaps the HA staff concerned were not aware that they needed to keep a diary. What complete, utter nonsense. And I am being exceedingly polite with that description.

Another serious alarm bell goes off when it is revealed that the service records of some of the soldiers concerned, suddenly show them being transferred to another battalion – when no such actual transfer ever took place. It was a simple fabrication.

The continuing denials etc arose out of Defence concerns way back in 1969 that these soldiers may have been involved in what may be seen as an atrocity, born out of circumstance. That would never have done at a time when the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly unpopular in Australia.

In tracing the stories of a number of the soldiers involved in this platoon and the battle, the truly awful effects of war on the frontline infantry soldiers in Vietnam are seen only too badly. Alcoholism, depression, violence, inability to cope – these poor bastards wore the lot. Not much of a reward for what was still essentially voluntary service, even among the conscripts who still had to volunteer for overseas service.

This is not a history as such but it is still a factual story backed up by witnesses and other evidence.

It was not an enjoyable read. Parts of it are simply too raw to be enjoyable. But it is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand what these soldiers went through in Vietnam and the aftermath for many. And it is also an eye-opening indictment of how politics of the day can echo on decades later.

Bureaucratic cover-ups and sly tricks are certainly nothing new. In order to save a few bucks on future war pensions, bureaucrats had my grandparents sign documentation stating my uncle was being discharged fully fit in 1944. All my grandparents wanted was their son back home again and signed anything to make it happen. In reality he was a complete mental case from PTSD and never worked again. No pension. No support. Just a few medals and a flag on his coffin when he died in 1965 at age 42.

I have no doubt this sort of thing happened in respect of World War 1 and Korea, just as it clearly happened in respect of Vietnam.