Thursday, 9 April 2020

Honour at the drive-in


 Honor Blackman — the forebear of all stunning and svelte onscreen butt-kicking females — died this week. She was 94.
For me, there's a strangely satisfying incongruity in the fact that the name Honor will forever be synonymous with Pussy Galore.
Was it?
An honour.
Or was it a fortuitous annoyance to her?
I mean, when asked to name a Bond girl, I immediately think of her or Honey Ryder — played by the equally ironically named Ursula Andress —famous for emerging from the sea in a state of un-dress.

Our Zephyr was like this one, only cream.
I remember the first time I saw Goldfinger, even though, at age 7, I probably wasn't supposed to see it at all. I was supposed to have fallen asleep in the back of our Ford Zephyr, curled up with my pillow on the back seat, under the red tartan travel rug. It was always a bit too prickly to be really snug, that blanket, but I did love making short stubby plaits of its fringed ends.

It was a Bond double feature at the Oakleigh Drive-in. We arrived just before dark. Mum and I stayed in the car watching changing advertisements on the giant screen while Dad took my brother through the labyrinth of bumps, cars and speaker cords to the brightly lit take-away store. It looked like something off My Three Sons or The Donna Reed Show.

They came back with milkshakes and chips — hot salty chips in a bucket, not wrapped in paper like
from the fish 'n chip shop.
Mum said I had to be careful not to spill anything.

The movie had no story or songs – not like Mary Poppins, anyway.  It was just a lot of men in screeching cars and loud gunshots...
Plus a skinny blonde lady who fought with men.
Dad told my brother to stop asking questions and just watch the movie.
So I kept quiet.
And I watched that beautiful skinny lady fight the bad guys.
I remember.

So, yeah, I wonder if Honor felt honoured and proud to be Pussy Galore.
I reckon she should have.
She was a bad-ass pioneer.
Not like Mary Poppins at all.


If my recollection has stirred any reminiscences for you, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Five shot

I just read a news story about a guy in Russia who shot five people in the flat opposite his over an argument about undue noise. Extreme. Sure. But I have to confess I kind of know how he feels. In fact, I'm willing to stick my neck out and suggest that the vast majority of us who live in close proximity to strangers, and are now locked up in close proximity to said strangers, can find just the teensiest bit of sympathy for him tucked away in a secret corner of our beings. Can't we? Or is it just me?

To set the scene, the kids and I moved into a city townhouse just a few weeks before the world started shutting down. It's a comfortable little 4-level south-facing abode with a geisha-sized footprint. For over a century, the street was home to Croxton Park Tannery, but now it's home to hundreds of us in 130 townhouses and 53 apartments.
 
The original tannery building built in 1900.
Well, of course, I wasn't supposed to be moving in. Mine was intended only to be a short-term residency as amateur interior designer and untrained transition-support person on loan from London.
But Covid–19.

Anyhow, in the townhouse to our right are lovers of late-night doof-doof music and daytime sleeping. To our left can be found two excitable Samoyeds.
Two excitable but largely untrained Samoyeds.
Two excitable, largely untrained, loud Samoyeds whose nemesis is apparently the equally loud and untrained canine occupant of the townhouse opposite.
The only joy I get from their matutinal call-and-answer hysteria across the concrete canyon is that it must really piss-off the nocturnal doof-doofers next door.

One sunny day early last week — was it only last week? maybe it was last month or last millennium: time has no substance anymore — one sunny day recently, through our open living room door wafted the rather polished voice of an elderly female neighbour who likes to make her calls on her balcony. Maximum network coverage that way: all 181 other residences can be privy to her conversations.
The cactii are fake.

She was on the phone to her friend in Hong Kong confirming that she intended to go ahead with her planned visit. After all, it had cost her a fortune, she exclaimed, and she might as well be in an apartment with her friend there as here. An overseas holiday. To Hong Kong. Ummm. Really?
I didn't want to shoot her, but I did want to yell at her.
Mind you, we haven't heard from her in a while. Maybe she's enjoying her 14-day hotel stay courtesy of the state government.

I thought it would be a good idea to join the 185K (and growing) others around the globe who are posting views from their windows. Have you been looking at those?
Positive, mood-lifting images to connect me to other human beings, I thought.  
How lovely.


Well, just a few time-wasting visits had me feeling even more trapped and isolated than before. I'm not a Gram-er, so I've never seen so many glorious wide-open spaces, Monet-worthy sunsets and perfectly curated private gardens in one place before. It was downright depressing.


Do you think that one day social media will, like Pop, eat itself? So much self-congratulation and shameless self-promotion. So little compassion. So much photoshopping of life. Too little honesty.
 
Our garden

Still, I've moved on to the Bridging the Distance Facebook group set up by National Museum Australia with the purpose of collecting stories and images of daily life that document what they call 'a Defining Moment in both Australia's and the world's history'. And this morning there was a post that simply said: "Today I'm sad. I keep trying to focus on positives, but I'm confused and sad. I'm ok, but sad. I guess we all feel this way".
Yep.For sure.

My bedroom window is frosted.
So, in the spirit of attempting to keep things real in this surreal time, I've included pics from our windows, and I'd love you to post yours in the comments section accompanying this.

ps.
Hey, did you realise that camped in is an anagram of pandemic?
You're right.
I've been watching way too many episodes of 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Stirring up ghosts


 
Chris Hemsworth as ‘Thor’ | © Disney/Marvel


Grass trodden by Thor!
I promised myself never to take the sight of Christopher Wren's distinctive Old Royal Naval College for granted, no matter how often I see it in my time at Greenwich. It's an easy promise to keep.  Every time it comes into view, from river bus, footpath or big red bus, I marvel anew at its symmetry of design, its grandeur and the centuries of cultural change it communicates. 


And I'm repeatedly awestruck that these elegant buildings were completed and opened some 76 years before Lieutenant Cook landed at Botany Bay.  We white Australians have such a short story.

Inside the Painted Hall
Some of the internal spaces are equally stunning. Thornhill’s Painted Hall is an exquisite storybook of characters from history and myth, and the chapel never fails to make me think of fine Wedgewood china.

But, let's face it, it's also pretty gosh-darn impossible not to be gobsmacked that, almost daily, I'm standing where the mighty Thor battled Malekith, evil leader of the Dark Elves —— right there between the domes in beautiful downtown Greenwich. Truly. Awesome.

Inside the chapel
But these impressive buildings were created not just to inspire awe and celebrate the glories of Britain. As the Royal Hospital for Seamen, they housed thousands of pensioned seafarers, plus the widows and children of such men. Some of the inhabitants were highly distinguished, some were scoundrels. Many were quite unremarkable.
But life is a narrative.
Everyone, no matter how seemingly ordinary, has a story.

The Pensioners
And so it was that a small group of enthusiastic amateur-historian volunteers became the Lives of Pensioners Research Project. Our objective: to transcribe some 250 wills of people who lived at the Hospital in the 18th and 19th centuries and, using them as a starting point, to flesh out their narratives — to put the people back in the buildings.


Just reading the handwriting, dealing with variant spellings and navigating the lack of punctuation in historical wills posed problems to we novices. So, a core group of seven met over Tuesday morning coffee to compare notes, check each other’s transcriptions and compile lists of names, places, words and dates that needed further investigation.

I lack the formidable knowledge of British history and naval traditions in general, and of Greenwich in particular, that the others have. I didn't know the typical names of the era and common place names were a mystery to me. I couldn't even have told you what county Greenwich was in. Boatswain, testatrix, the Chalk Groins — all strangers to me.
Bumpkin from the Antipodes.
Pop kulcha loving hick from the New World.
Definitely odd-one-out.
That is me.
Our summer picnic in the grounds with archive staff.

But this group of intelligent, witty women has become my lifeline.
Intelligent AND witty AND willing to tolerate me. 
Go figure.
Proves how great they are — right?
They are the only people I've met in my three years in London who have included me in anything.
I owe them more than they can possibly imagine.
But I digress.

Back to the wills
...and on this excursion day, we froze!
We Pensioner Researchers set out on a fun journey through genealogical data, naval records, court and parish documents, rate books, letters, diaries, newspapers and journals.
We explored the treasures of the National Archives at Kew, Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum, Wellcome Library, and Greenwich Heritage Centre. We even visited cemeteries and Chatham Historic Dockyard. It's definitely been what Pooh would call a grand adventure.


Many of the wills offer little to work with, but others give rise to fascinating questions or have quirky details to inform our investigations:
·      pensioner Edmund Grenan stipulates that he be buried at the very specific cost of £1 11s 6d. How much DID the average funeral cost?

·      porter John Woolley bequeaths each person who supports his pall a hatband and gloves. Gloves seem reasonable, but why a hatband?

·      Elizabeth Latham, a nurse 1707–1727, bequeaths valuable fabric and silverware to her granddaughter, but leaves just one shilling to her son, John. What did John do to piss her off?



We have been stirring up ghosts and helping them tell their stories.

It's fun.

I'm pretty sure Stan Lee would approve.
 



Saturday, 23 March 2019

Show and Tell



When we left The Rock, I claimed I would write about all the amazing things I do and see over here, that I'd review theatre and music experiences, describe museum adventures... that I'd blog often.
I haven't.
Coz really, that's a journal isn't it? 
Who cares what I think and do?
My posts that get the best responses are the funny ones.
Or the heartfelt ones.

And if I did write about all those things, wouldn't I run the risk of boring the pants off the precious few people who do visit my blog? And alienate others with tales of my over-privileged-brat existence? I mean, honestly, why would anyone give a fat rat's rear end about my London life?

Well, this week I had an experience that I so desperately need to share, that my brain is
Clock storage V&A
going to explode if I don't.

So if you don't give a fat rat's rear end, I fully understand. But I'm going to gush anyway. Feel free to bail out when you feel your pants slipping off and your brain going numb...

If you know me at all, you understand that I became emotionally entangled with the National Vietnam Veterans Museum on The Rock. And I decided that while I was living in this history-soaked city, I would absorb/learn/cram into my leaky brain as much as possible that might benefit NVVM when I come home. So, I'm currently four  weeks into twelve mind-expanding Wednesdays of a museum skills course at the magnificent Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. 


This week's topic was Research and Resources. Sounds dry and dull, I hear you say. Fear not! It was anything but...

It all began when the Head Librarian of the National Art Library brought a collection of Charles Dickens' hand-written manuscripts and type-set page proofs into our classroom. 
I was allowed to handle them, to get up close and personal with how Dickens edited his own writing and to see what a headache he must have given the typesetters who had to make all the adjustments he demanded.
Truly. 
 Right there in my hands.
 Dickens.
 Breathing was difficult.

Next came a visit to the Prints and Drawing Study Room. Apparently anyone can request to see anything stored there. The collection belongs to the people.

A selection of archive boxes had been set out for us to explore. We were encouraged to handle the contents and consider how well they reflect the information stored in the catalogue.
In some of those boxes were:
E.H Shephard sketches for Now We Are Six
Medieval illuminated manuscripts
Horst photographs for Vogue in the 1930s

Rembrandt etchings
Blythe House
By then I needed a good strong cup of tea and a little lie down.
But it was only lunchtime.

The V&A has on display only two percent of its collection. Most of it is stored at Blythe House in Olympia, a facility shared with the Science Museum and that also houses the Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion. 
The building is every bit as immense and imposing as you might imagine it to be.






In the Clothworkers' Centre, mannequins and variously shaped garment bags accommodate gowns and jackets and breeches and suits and dresses and shirts from the greatest of designers and eras —on bespoke hangers.
I walked amongst them.

Metal drawers protect items too heavy or fragile to hang.

Like these:
Norman Hartnell's Flowers of the Fields of France worn by HM Queen Elizabeth II in Paris, 1957.

It's a Norman Hartnell icon, an early example of a formal gown decorated with plastic beads instead of glass, to make it lighter for the small-framed Queen to wear. 

Amidst the native flowers and grasses of France, bees — the symbol of Napoleon —hover.

The hem is soiled where it has brushed the floor, and the wine stain on the bodice has yet to be removed by a specialist conservator.


Tapestry from wall hanging c.1570



About 15 cm x 7 cm in size, this is one of several pieces of tapestry featuring animals that had been removed from their safe dark bedroom and left on a table for us to scrutinise with a monocle-like magnifying device.

A PhD student investigating art created by women during their incarceration had requested a viewing of these pieces — stitched by Mary Queen of Scots when, having been forced by rampaging Protestants to abdicate, she was imprisoned in Carlisle Castle by Queen Elizabeth 1... 450 years ago.

Seemingly endless hallways of rolling storage vaults house furniture and artwork.
Roomsful of moisture-proof boxes protect manuscripts and theatre programs by the tens of thousand. 
I wanted to hide in there and make it my home.











The NVVM collections volunteer in me was just a little amazed to discover that London's Science Museum favours open-shelf storage — no boxes. 
The accreditation managers at Museums Victoria would fail them for that!


 
Science Museum treasures in open storage
Wonder.
 Disbelief.
 Overwhelm.
 That's what I felt.
 Overwhelm and a deep sense of privilege —   all swirled together with an ever-present   awareness that Australia is a such a young   country.
It's humbling for me to be amidst objects of such rich cultural significance and profound historical interest. I'm pretty sure I've never done anything to deserve such plenty.
But I am learning heaps about museums  best-practice. I really am. 


So if you've made it all the way to here, thank you for indulging me.
And I sincerely hope you still have your pants on. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Of daffodils

It's Wordsworth time of year — daffodil season. 
'Hosts' of the 'jocund' things are 'fluttering and dancing' in parks and public spaces all over London. 

Bucketsful of rigid buds, not-yet-golden, bundled into £1 and £2 bunches wait patiently in Tescos, Sainsbury's and M&S, promising to fill 'my heart with pleasure' and brighten dull corners of our mostly-grey apartment.
The other morning as I set out across the park that borders our block, I was, as usual, running a little late and feeling anxious about whether the damn bus would be, as usual, running a little early. So I wasn't paying much attention to anything. But I did notice that a young woman pushing a stroller was coming the other way, towards me from the roadway. She was looking at her phone. And dragging on a cigarette. 
I moved to other side of the path.

As I did, the little person burst out of the push-chair. Squealing in excitement, the toddler rushed into the rows of daffodils, running her hands along their heads as she went, her laughter floating up through the naked Birch branches. The flowers bobbed and nodded.
I laughed.
"Get back 'ere. Stop! Why've you gotta be so bloody naughty?"
My smile melted. 
My feet moved me on a little faster.

That afternoon at the Old Royal Naval College, Karen and I were leaving at the same time. John is knowledgeable, genial, helpful ... one of very few who have bothered to engage me in conversation. And I know he loves to garden. So as we passed a bank of daffodils, I mentioned how at this time last year they had struggled to keep their heads above the snow, and of the many varieties I had noticed this season — from compact minis to knee-high trumpeters, from orange centred brights to near-translucent flat-faced beauties. 
And of how they make me happy.

 
"Not those wretched doubles," he all but spat. "I can't abide those show-off doubles. Can't stand double roses either. Awful frilly things."

I had no response.

Two scoops of ice-cream in a waffle cone, two shots of gin in a long glass of cold tonic, the top deck of a big red bus — I like doubles. 
Extra rows of petals are just fine by me.
Maybe that's my problem. 
Too much is never enough.
And if I was a toddler, I'm pretty sure I'd run through the daffodils too. 
How can people be grumpy around daffodils?
Carnations maybe.
But not daffodils.
Am I right?