When the swarm of literally tens of thousands of films nesting inside a dedicated movie buff’s head reaches critical mass and the buzz becomes too busy to ignore, there’s but one thing to do – compile a top 100 list.
This ‘hive’ will be organised according to time period – nominating ten loved films from each of the decades from the 1940’s through to the 2010’s. That will total eighty films. Twenty selections will be included each for the 1970’s and 80’s – ‘my‘ decades – rounding out the list to 100 titles.
In the 21st century, historians have increasingly portrayed the 1970s as a “pivot of change” in world history. Novelist Tom Wolfe(1930 -2018) coined the term the ‘The Me Decade” referring to the 1970’s. The term describes a societal attitude towards individualism and away from the communitarianism that characterized the previous decade.
The 70’s were noted for both the oil crisis (1973) and the energy crisis (1979). Politically, Idi Amin led a political coup in Uganda in 1971 and Britain elected it’s first ever female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher – in 1979. Greenland was granted self government from Denmark, a fifteen year Lebanese civil war commenced in 1975 and Angola and Mozambique gained independence from Portugal the same year.
Technology-wise the 1970’s witnessed an explosion in the understanding of solid-state physics, driven by the development of the integrated circuit and the lazer. This was also the decade Stephen Hawking developed his theories about black holes.
Academy Award winners for Best Picture during this decade were –
And here are my twenty favorite films from this period –
There were regrets for the movies that didn’t make the cut but would have if the list had been a little longer – APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) – THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST (1975) – THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) and THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977).
Every frame of every one of these movies a feast!
Ps. Wanna see someone else’s ‘Favorite Films of the 70’s’ list? Click HERE
There’s a well-known story about children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904 – 1991). You might know him from his more famous pen name, Dr Seuss.
After the success of his first book AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, Seuss’s editor at publishing company Houghton Mifflin (today known as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and employing in excess of 4000 people) challenged him to go after an even younger audience.
He sent the American author a list of 350 words with the instructions to make a book out of them. The result was THE CAT IN THE HAT (1957). It clocked in at 236 words and was the second biggest selling book of Seuss’s career.
The book ahead of it? GREEN EGGS AND HAM (1960) which uses just 50 words – all but one of them, one syllable. (The long one: anywhere).
Dr Suess’s word selection came from lists created by ‘readability experts’ such as Austrian-born naturalized American author, Rudolf Flesch (1911 -1986). Flesch, writer of such books as THE ART OF PLAIN TALK (1946) and THE ART OF READABLE WRITING (1949) helped create a mathematical formula known as the FLESH-KINCAID GRADE LEVEL TEST.
The formula is fairly simple : the total number of words divided by the total number of sentences + total number of syllables divided by the total number of words.
The resulting score is the school-age grade level required to understand the text. If a book scores a 3 for example, that means you’d need at least a third-grade education to understand it.
A few years back American ‘data journalist’ Ben Blatt – one could be forgiven for mistaking his name for an off-the-wall Dr Seuss character – collected digitized versions of every fiction book that had made the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller List from 1960 to 2014.
He then fed all these words into a computer.
Not just any computer; but a computer capable of engaging in the kind of next-level ‘literary experiment’ Blatt envisaged. A computer ready to perform the number-crunching act of it’s life. And one that was eventually able to apply the Flesch–Kincaid Readability Test to every single digitized page of every one those 563 novels.
Most books meant for a general audience will fall within the 4th – 11th grade range, as did all of these bestsellers. Looking at the scores over the decades, an undeniable trend became clear to Blatt. The Bestseller List is full of so much simpler fiction nowadays then it was 40 or 50 years ago. In the 1960’s for example, the median book had a grade level of an 8. By the 2010’s that had reduced to a 6.
The trend to stripped back, ‘economical’ prose has been obvious now for some time. In 2021, what I call ‘homogenized word-soup’, vanilla dross so devoid of creative description, beautiful words, figurative language and good ‘ol personality – for me all the good great stuff – converts stories into adult versions of Run Spot Run, is tragically more now often the rule than the exception. Well, it can seem that way.
It’s but one reason I’ve concluded it may just be something in the water nowadays. Sadly that ‘something’ is something which no longer quenches my literary thirst; a thirst for the wham-bam creative word sparkle – set amongst a page-turning story – that literally leaves you breathless – and in my case saying, “I wish I could write like that!”
THE PLOT is the seventh novel from American writer Jean Hanff Korelitz.Her 2009 book ADMISSION was made into a 2013 film of the same title starring Tina Fey and Lilly Tomlin.
THE PLOT is a plagiarism tale from what might be referred to as the “Excuse Me While I Steal Your Book Idea & Get Famous” literary sub-genre . It centers on a writing teacher who helps himself to one of his student’s stories after the student expectantly passes away. The thieving pedagogue becomes very famous with his appropriated novel but someone out there knows the truth.
From literally hundreds of on-line accounts all attesting to the sheer wizardry of this novel – including horror writer Stephen King‘s glowing endorsement of “insanely readable” – to my own experience of digesting the crafty-sentences-packed excerpt, this book looks like it has every chance of being the exception rather than the fifty-shades-of-dull-slow-and-vanilla-not-to-mention-a-60-page-irrelevant-prelude-to-wade-through rule.
Good for a chatter. Good for a giggle. Excellent for a wrangle.
‘Best of’ lists are all those things. I say ‘giggle’ because every time I spy a favorites list that attaches the grandiose words ‘OF ALL TIME’ to it’s title, I wanna go the felt marker and add (UP TO THIS POINTIN TIME) in crazy, explanatory brackets. Wordy I know. But maybe ‘point’ made.
Rolling Stone Magazine released a 100 GREATEST MUSIC VIDEOS list the other week. (HERE) Given there’s by now no less than forty years worth of 3-minute clips to choose from, narrowing it down to just 100 would have been quite the feat.
Old school tastes were well represented. And so they should have been! These five classics – at the very least – DEMANDED inclusion –
BEYONCE claimed the top spot with four and a bit minutes of gyrating shenanigans titled FORMATION. She put that one together back in 2016. Interesting video. Maybe not so great a song.
So here’s a question: how many music videos do you think the world has seen since MTV first put to air their very first offering, the Buggles VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR, forty years ago this month?
A hundred thousand? Five hundred thousand? Maybe a million? Whatever the number, in amongst all the cataloging, researching, eliminating and shortlisting, the good folks at ROLLING STONE somehow forgot about these personality-packed little gems, buried admittedly deep somewhere amongst the 80 story’s-high bowl of M&M’s they had to go impossibly fossicking through.
That’s ok. I found them for them.
DEVO did make it into the list at number 48 with BEAUTIFUL WORLD (a clip made up mostly of B &W historical film footage). But I reckon WHIP IT easily outdoes it in the all-important fun and whackdepartments.
Someone or something has been killing off the world’s bee population in scarily large numbers.
Like, en masse. As in murder on an industrial scale.
It’s been happening for a while. As far back as from the end of WW2 onwards.
Cruelly for the amateur sleuths of the world, this is one murder mystery that’s already been solved. If you want to know the answer to the riddle, go clickety click on the (mercifully short) video below.
With that sorted, time now to cue a…
This months ‘must haves’ for the short story writing competition offered up by the Australian Writer’s Centre were –
That low ‘hum’ you can start to hear is not your refrigerator going into it’s over-night cycle. It is rather time to…
Wally Funk could feel the weight beginning to press down on him. By his own guess, there were now nearly ten kilograms of live, writhing honeybees nesting on his body. Hundreds more were joining by the minute. “Exquisite!” he thought to himself. If it wouldn’t have risked collapsing the stable platform his mouth was serving for his winged besties, Wally would have let rip a whoo-hoo grin from ear to ear.
Wearing nothing but shorts and swimming goggles, the strong-as-an-ox-and-twice-as-hairy 42-year-old turned his head in minute increments, like a slow-motion tank turret. What his gaze came to rest upon next lay only a few meters away.
Jimmy Hunzer was half his age and not doing nearly as well. Known more widely by his self-assuming, pompous stage name “Royal Jelly”, the brash council worker, who Wally regarded as at best a ‘professional amateur’ within the ranks of the bee-wearing hopefuls chancing their luck on the competition circuit, was at this moment looking more like a whopping great sports stadium attended by just a handful of loyal fans.
For someone with a penchant for appearing on stage wearing t-shirts emblazoned with gobby slogans like “I’M THE BEE’S KNEES” and “I LOVE BEES – AND BEES LOVE ME” – this was a sad moment. One that Wally was fully savouring.
Before the eyes of a hypnotized crowd and watchful judges, bees continued to land en-mass like mini-helicopters on Wally’s flesh ‘n bone helipad. Laying motionless while controlling his breathing and heartbeat, he thought back over all the things he’d done to make this undeniably top-hat moment happen.
Prep had been perfect. The benefits of using a pheromone-enhanced, crayfish-scented hair shampoo were now obvious for all to see. As was his tried and true trick of consuming a bowl of garlic soup the morning of the comp. This guaranteed he would ooze from literally every pore what his fuzzy friends regarded as no less than a potent love potion.
Wally’s training in the lead-up to the competition had likewise been innovative and carried out with the tenacity of a small animal. He’d engaged people to beat him with sticks to build his resistance to the inevitable toe-curling pain of multiple bee stings. He’d used a portable altitude chamber borrowed from his mountain-climbing next-door neighbor in a bid to increase his red blood cell count – something bees are apparently quite doubly good at sniffing out.
He’d even near-memorized every line of the god-awful 1970’s Michael Caine movie ‘THE SWARM’; for some reason. And taken to wearing to bed on cold winter nights a ridiculous yellow and black bee-onesiehe’d purchased on the internet; just so, in his own words, he could “mind-meld with my teensy weensy insect soul-mates”.
Poised for victory, a catastrophic thought then suddenly sent jolts of panic through Wally Funk’s inert head. Nose plugs! He’d left his on the kitchen bench at home. With his face now transformed into a writhing, humming insect mask, he sensed any second now could spell defeat if a breakaway bee was to venture up the dark cave cavity of either nostril, causing him to abort his attempt.
Wally thought fast. How could he plug the holes? His first idea was trying to expel air from his nostrils in a continuous series of exhaled puffs. In very little time he realized he would be unable to keep this up for long without running out of breath. There had to be another way. And very soon it came to him.
Lunch! Yesterday’s to be precise. Wally began to use his bee-encased fingertips resting at his sides to gently feel the inside of his pants pocket. Incredibly, he’d horded a left-over carrot stick and left-over celery stick from the previous day’s lunch. Lucky for him, he’d decided, for some reason he no longer remembered, to store them there. The trick now would be to remove them without aggravating his furry golden companions.
Moving centimeter by centimeter Wally spent the next few minutes doing just that. Getting to the point where he could insertone veggie stick at a time in each nostril was his next maneuver. Super slow-mo movements were also to eventually achieve this near-impossible feat as well.
Wally finished that day with another gold trophy for his cabinet. He also notched a personal record of 32 kg of weighed bees attached to his face and body. Probably most special of all was a unique winner’s photo he received. For a few days it created quite the ‘buzz’ around town when it was published by the local paper.
Featuring a fist-raised Wally still completely covered in bees, with two prominent veggie sticks protruding from his nostrils and some rather sad-looking and thoroughly deflated ‘Royal Jelly’ standing alongside him, it was a jubilant prizewinner’s image destined to live long in the memory. And one unlikely to be ever repeated.
Wanna read the 500 word winner’s entry? You do? Then go ahead and clickHERE.
After a lifetime of loyally expounding the virtues of free-to-air television and tut-tutting those who chose to part with their hard-earned and PAY for viewing content, last week the streaming revolution finally landed at our place. Better late to the party then no party at all, I say.
One of the first things I hit play on was a documentary called BEHIND THE CURVE.
It’s about the idea – and people who believe with every breath of their body in the idea – that our planet is NOTball-shaped, as we have all been brought up to believe, but flat.
That’s flat as in something that has edges. Flat as in something you can fall over the side of.
Barely had the opening credits rolled when the admittedly underused rational side of my brain spoke up loud and clear, challenging“Do you really need to sit through the next 90 minutes of this tin-foil hat brigade lunacy?”
Incredibly, even… unimaginatively, the answer turned out to be “Yes”.
I say incredibly because, well… there’s this –
I did end up indulging my curiosity for the entire 90 minutes of this ‘show’.
Iwas interested to see what type of person chooses to deliberately go against the last twothousand years of empirical scientific fact.
In fact, what type of individual champions the sort of nutty idea with double whack that could only ever fly in our ‘anything goes’ internet age; an age where proven knowledge has little choice but to cozy-up alongside way-out theories, speculationand the dreaded ‘fake news’.
What type of person? Labeling the ‘flat Earthers‘ – as they like to be called – as typically age 30+ adults who still live in Mum’s basement might come across as a little harsh or sarcastic. Instead I’ll broadly categorize them as the type of person who could be inclined to believe other far-out conspiracy theories, like um… oh don’t know, maybe that one about the government being able to control the weather or that other dandy about chemicals in the water supply turning frogs gay.
For the record, the idea that the Earth is a sphere was all but settled by ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle (384–322 BC), who obtained empirical evidence after travelling to Egypt and seeing new constellations of stars.
Eratosthenes, in the third century BC, became the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. Islamic scholars made further advanced measurements from about the 9th century AD onwards, while European navigators circled the Earth in the 16th century. Images from space were final proof, if any were needed.
It would be easy to dismiss flat-Earthers as simply being misguided due to a lack of education. While there are indications that those susceptible to such views have low levels of scientific literacy, there is most likely something else at play here, to account for such wayward views. Views that fly in the face of all generally accepted laws and principles of science.
That something is a conspiracy mentality. There are arguments to suggest that such conspirists view the world through a really quite dark filter, whereby it’s assumed all authorities, institutions, corporations and governments are there to simply exploit people and keep various truths from leaking out, thus maintaining the status quo.
You can keep up that degree of denial and fact-twisting for a while I guess, but in the long-term, reality and tested, proven science have to surface at some stage. Don’t they? Well, don’t they?
For some reason that saying about never arguing with a fool in case people may not be able to tell the difference is playing through my head like some kind of rabid earworm at this very moment. And yet... I now deliberately fly in the face of such wisdom and offer these two proofs of a round Earth...
Different locations on Earth experience seasons at different times. Ever notice how summer in the United States corresponds to winter in Australia? Or how winter in Italy lines up with summer in Argentina? If the Earth were flat, Australia, Italy, and Argentina would all experience the seasons the same exact way. The flat Earth idea can’t explain this.
The second proof can be done simply by watching a sunset. Pick a nice spot from which you can watch a sunset (Point A) Ideally, you’d have a clear horizon in front of you, and behind you would be some sort of elevated point that you can quickly access (a hill, a building with at least two floors, or perhaps a tree; this is your Point B).
Watch the sunset from Point A, and once the sun is out of sight, hurry on over to Point B. With the added elevation provided by Point B, you should be able to see the sun above the horizon. If Earth were flat, the sun would not be visible at any elevation once it had set.
If you don’t have a hill, you could even try lying on your stomach to watch the sunset and then standing up to get a higher line of sight.
I can scarcely believe SWS is inserting a video of this ilk, but if the two justifications above didn’t grab by the intellectual coin purse than maybe this slightly wordy two and a half minute video will…
PPS. Care to read what THE NEW YORKER thought of the documentary BEHIND THE CURVE ? Then go clickety click HERE.
Two years ago, a slew of books and movies, all focused on the same subject, were released.
That subject was Manson. Charles Manson.
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the crimes the world would come to know as the Tate/LA Bianca murders. That year I read and reviewed a number of those newly published accounts of life with the hippie cult leader –HERE , HERE and HERE. And now comes another.
AuthorEdward George was Manson’s jailer for eight years of the career criminal’s incarceration. Beginning first at San Quentin Prison in 1975 and then following Manson when he was transferred to Corcoran Medical Facility, Edward George supervised Manson’s cellblock, read and censored Charlie’s mail and talked to him almost daily.
At both locations, George, whose unique background includes having been both a navy fighter pilot and studying for six years as a seminary student, was in charge of the lockdown unit (what he refers to as the ‘cuckoo’s nest’) – the section that housed prisoners so crazed and violent they couldn’t even coexist in a society made up of their criminal peers.
Against his better judgment, the author describes developing a rapport with Manson to the extent he began to feel the self-proclaimed guru’s words and ideas flowing through his brain at night, even as he slept. George says he used Manson – who he describes as being animated and entertaining (when he was in a good mood) in a not dissimilar vein to Jack Nicholson’s‘McMurphy’ character in the 1975 movie ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST – to get through his workday, perk him up, amuse him, make him laugh and make him angry.
“In retrospect, I needed a guy like Manson to keep me sane. Prison work is dull and boring. Charlie’s wit engendered a subtle excitement. Manson was the buzz of the day, my daily rush. Many afternoons I sprung him from his cage and escorted him free and unshackled into my office. We sat like boyhood friends and shot the breeze, sometimes for hours”.
George confesses that a prison unit psychiatrist was among a number of people who warned him to stay away from Manson and not get pulled into his mad charismatic aura. The author describes dancing around the fire of madness but not being singed by its flames was an exhilarating experience.
“Before Manson arrived at San Quentin, I found the prison routine stifling redundant. Of all the murderers, sociopaths, psychos and gangbangers I managed over the years, Manson was the one who always made my day.”
At one stage Manson had attempted to convince George he should quit his job and join Charlie’s ‘Family’. Amusingly he writes, ” Sometimes, absurd as that was, I have to admit it was tempting. Especially for a man going through “Middle Age Crazy”. I ended up buying a motorcycle instead. Whew!”
The book recalls in vivid detail the daily grind of Manson’s imprisonment; from endless tirades that saw him repeatedly set his cell bed on fire or attempt to clog the sink and flood the floor to him tending to and ‘raising’ a pair of cockroaches.
Manson seemed to take particular delight in toying with and confounding prison psychiatrists. Some of the recorded and transcribed conversations sound more like comedy routines than psychiatric evaluations.
DR H: “If you had only one wish, whatwould you wish for?”
MANSON: “More wishes.”
DR H: “How are your spirits?”
MANSON: “Right here.”
DR H: “How do you see your future?”
MANSON: “I don’t see any”.
DR H: “When was the last time you wished you were dead?”
MANSON: “I haven’t found out what life is yet.”
DR H: “When did you last think of suicide?”
MANSON: “When you mentioned it.”
In the book’s epilogue, George recounts this defining exchange with Manson –
“Why did you do it” I asked him a thousand times in a hundred different ways. “Why the celebrity slaughter that rocked the entire world?” He offered a dozen different answers, depending on his mood at the time.
By way of summary, the following passage is probably as good as any to capture the essence of the author’s Manson experience –
“For nearly a decade, Charlie entertained me and my staff. I visited him daily. I befriended him, knowing full well who he was and what he had done. He could be Saint Francis one minute and Satan the next. I experienced the bipolar mind control throughout my personal association with him. There was no doubting his powers.“
Former Miami News reporter Dary Matera (1955 – ) is the ghost writer of CHARLES MANSON: CONVERSATIONS WITHA KILLER. He is the author of 14 books, including John Dillinger – The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal.
It’s been a long time between drinks for me as far as attending live music concerts go.
How long? Put it this way. The last time I attended a major stadium concert (for the curious and nostalgic alike, it was Bob Dylan on his ‘True Confessions’ tour) the internet had not yet been invented, Ronald Reagan was in the Whitehouse in the U.S and legwarmers – pants for your calves – were a thing.
And now I’m about to break that drought in, well…if I’m forced to chose a description – WHOLLY SPECTACULAR FASHION!
My G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) band are coming to Brisbane and I’m so happy to announce I’ll be there to cheer them on. The END OF THE ROAD tour is being promoted as the last opportunity fans worldwide will have to see the band live before they hang up their touring boots forever. Not sure I entirely believe that claim but I do know I have no plans to see them again in the future so for me this will be it.
I remember I was in Year 9 at school when KISS visited Australia as part of their UNMASKED TOUR. That was back in 1980 and at that time KISS were big beyond any comprehension. The media compared them to The Beatles for the amount of hysteria they generated amongst fans. Thousands gathered at airports around the country to greet them and wherever they went an army of the most dedicated would camp outside their hotel rooms.
Their Brisbane concert was held that year on November 25th. My mate Google tells me that was a Tuesday night. I remember the next day at school, a boy by the name of Joe Cranitch, who’d gone to the concert, telling the rest of us what we’d missed. It sounded completely life-changing. Well, I was fourteen.
41 years on, the Brisbane KISS concert I’ll be attending will also be on a Tuesday night – also in the final week of November. It’ll be back to work the next day for me. If I make it. I’m not sure I will. In any case it’s seven months away. Seven months to savor one of life’s great pleasures. Antici……………………….pation!
In a confession you can be guaranteed would be considered blasphemous to any lifelong rabid committed KISS fan, I’ll admit I hesitated long and hard before actually going ahead and splashing out the coin to buy a ticket. It wasn’t so much the $200 asking price, ’cause by all accounts that’s more or less the going rate these days to see a name act of this heft.
No, it was the thought I wouldn’t be seeing the band at their peak (key members of the band are now either approaching or in their early seventies) and did I really want to run the risk of tarnishing an unblemished, idyllic recollection of what at one stage you could, if you were really straining for words, refer to as a ‘band’ but a band which many decades ago most assuredly morphed into an out-and-out cultural phenomena.
And while I was in the entertaining-miscellaneous-doubts game, I threw this one in as well : Was I too old to enjoy having my ear-drums assaulted by areputed 136 decibel noise level (the equivalent of a jet taking off 100 metres away or the loudest human voice shouting one inch (2.5 centimetres) away from your ear) while attempting to be entertained by the sight of a lead singer resembling a Japanese Kabuki performer spitting up blood and breathing fire?
In the end I surprised myself and concluded I wasn’t too old to still get a kick out of such hoo-ha. Toss in the fact I’ve never seen KISS live before and there’s the distinct possibility this could be the last opportunity to do so, and, with the encouragement of my wife, I set about being among the first to purchase a golden ticket on-line the minute they went on sale a few months back.
Funny thing happened on the way to that on-line KISS concert ticket purchase though. I almost fell for the ‘ol fake ticket scam. Even now, when you enter BUY KISS CONCERT TICKETS into the Google search engine, the first site that appears at the top of the page is something called viagogo.com
I came within a hair’s breath of purchasing my ticket from this site before I looked more carefully and realized they are a reseller of event tickets, not an authorized seller.
Late last year viagogo were ordered by the Australian Federal Court to pay a penalty of $7 million for breaching the Australian Consumer Law by making “false or misleading representations when reselling tickets for live music and sports events.”
Elton John fans who bought tickets on-line from the site got stung badly back in 2019 when they fronted up to some of his Australian concerts and were refused entry because the tickets they’d bought turned out to be fakes.
Consumer magazine CHOICE dropped the axe bigtime on viagogo in this article HERE last year condemning the company for shonky business tactics. I’m confident in saying I dodged a possible bullet by not buying my ticket from these guys.
After having bought a proper ticket from the official Australian seller /https://premier.ticketek.com.au/ I know where I’ll be seated is in the front half of the venue (capacity 13 500) on the right hand side. I won’t need to bring binoculars. Perfect ’cause I don’t own a pair.
Two questions remain…
(1) Will I wear KISS make-up on the night? ANSWER: No
(2) Will I wear my KISS t-shirt on the night? ANSWER: Definitely maybe.
And finally, here’s to the fans…
Ps. And for no other reason than it doesn’t come much weirder than this, PLUS… if you’ve made it all this way through the post you deserve at the very least … a KISS-flavored Scooby snack!
Sometimes you can get an idea in your head so powerful, so insistent, so all-consuming, not even a dozen blows from a hammer can dislodge it from your brain.
Not that I’ve tried that. The hammer thing, I mean.
This was pretty much the situation the other Saturday morning when I awoke with a craving for a coffee frappe. Satisfying that craving was as simple as driving to my local McDonalds.
Or so I thought.
“Sorry but our frappe machine isn’t working at the moment” were the pin-through-a-balloon, deflating words delivered via a crackling drive-thru speaker later that morning. “That’s ok” I replied back into the speaker-box, fake acceptance chortling through my voice as I checked the rear vision mirror and prepared to test my stunt- driving skills by reversing out (who does that?).
A minor set-back like that was never going to stand in the way of me and my beloved coffee frappe being united in a lover’s tryst to rival that of King Louis XV of Franceand Madame de Pompadour. Yeah. I wanted it that badly.
What happened next was sadly – for the telling of this story – pretty next-step logical. I simply drove to the next nearest McDonalds whose coffee machine was working and got my fix there. Hooray for the ‘Plan B’s’ of this world. Simple really.
And that is where the real story ends. But also where the make-believe one begins. See, I used that real-life minor mis-adventure as the basis to concoct a fiction story. One that contained a few more twists ‘n turns. One that I ended up entering in a writing competition. Wanna read it? You do? Ok, but first I’d better act like a good, responsible host and issue one of these rapscallion little devils…
Yeah, and I think you know the type I mean. Five-star-god-awful ‘home-made’ poems and short stories poured out like clumped matter from a raw sewerage pipe by bloggers penning love letters to themselves.
Bloggers who appear to believe that just because they own the domain (or maybe they don’t) that somehow gives them the right to inflict miserable literary dross only they can see the brilliance of on unsuspecting followers.
Naturally I would never stoop so low. Well, not on any regular sort of basis anyway. And I have been considerate enough to issue a caution first, right? Yep, it seems you can get away with a lot when you sound a warning shot first…
Sometimes you just have to hit things. In Carla’s case that meant the rubber-sheathed steering wheel she was holding. Uselessly she’d already shot the drive-through speaker a disgusted look, like she’d just been asked to empty a full bed pan. They’d told her their frappe machine was not working and asked would she like to order an iced coffee instead. No she would not. After joining the backend of a six car queue for the privilege, she now felt like asking for a refund, even though she hadn’t spent any money.
Not from the area due to the fact she was currently staying at her brother’s house since her own apartment on the other side of town was under repair due to her upper-floor bathtub crashing violently through the floor into the dining room below – traced to a slow leak that had caused the chipboard floor to perish over time – Carla used her spiderweb-patterned, decal-decorated left thumb nail to tap through her car’s navigation maps and locate the next closest store.
She wasn’t pregnant, but the pretty medical clinic receptionist had woken that morning with a craving for a coffee frappe with extra caramel drizzle. A craving that had to be satisfied. That WOULD be satisfied. “3.4km away” read the screen’s little red numbers. Doable!
Carla started humming a tune from an advert to herself as she headed out of the carpark and onto the main road. With hardly any traffic at this early hour she enjoyed a glance out the window of her Ford Focus. What do people see in trees, she wondered, settling into the meditative bliss of driving. Trunk, branches, leaves. And there are just so many of them! Her mind began to wander.
Nearly seven minutes later, she was ready to try to kill the craving for a second time. With the excited interest of a tourist, the first thing she noticed while still out on the street was the red and blue flashing lights that filled the carpark. Chequered police tape was going up over the entrance. From the size of the gathered team of uniformed officers and suits packing guns on their hips, whatever had gone down was a big deal. Too big a deal for her to order a humble coffee frappe.
Carla u-turned the car just as the first drops of rain began hitting her windscreen. With a squeal of tyres she accelerated out and headed for the highway. Her left hand began tapping out the rhythm of her agitation on the centre handrest . The GPS told her it was 14 minutes to the next drive-through. This would be her final attempt she told herself. Even a frappe kamikaze like her knew their limits.
In less time than that, she’d completed her order through a crackling speaker and was now finally inching closer to crossing the finishing line that was the payment window. With the end of her quest within reach and the thing that mattered most to her now close enough she could practically taste the delicious topping cream coating her tongue and sliding down the back of her throat, Carla reached over to where her handbag and purse should have been while momentarily amusing herself with the thought “What could possibly go wrong this time?”
FRUITLESS FRAPPE was my entry in a monthly writing competition run by the Australian Writer’s Centre. That competition is known as FURIOUS FICTION.
On the first Friday of each month the details of the 500 word story’s MUST HAVES are released. This month’s criteria were –
Close to 1300 short stories were received for this month’s competition. If by chance you’d like to read the winning story click HERE.
Well, maybe not actual lighthouses – unless you count my sole visit to the one on Bruny Island in Tasmania two years ago. No, I’m probably referring more to lighthouses I’ve seen in films or read about in books.
Last year I went along to a film called THE LIGHTHOUSE. (For the trivia buffs – an identically titled and similarly themed but otherwise completely different UK movie was made back in 2016). It starred Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. A lot of people were raving about it at the time but, putting it politely, I failed to see what all the fuss was about and said so in a post I named LOST IN THE FOG.
One of my most favorite episodes of the 1960’s television show Lost in Space was titled THE HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE. I’ve heard so many amazing things about the Virginia Wolf penned 1927 novel TO THE LIGHTHOUSE I’m curious to read it.
Only last week I got speaking to a mad keen stamp-collector who used to visit lighthouses in the 70’s as part of his role working as a supplies clerk for the Australian Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.
And who could forget my quirk-filled short story PIANO MAN about two bickering lighthouse keepers? It got published back in 2018 in the less than prestigious, less than acclaimed but quite colorful BALLOONS LIT JOURNAL. Who could forget? Well, how about everyone, including me most days.
But all of this was mere finger food when compared to the banquet on offer in reading THE LAST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER (2020).
To label this book one of the most enthralling reads I’ve enjoyed would be underselling it. More accurately this 352 page memoir is no less than an inspired, visceral and wholly transporting masterwork. Really.
John Cook spent twenty six years as one of Australia’s longest serving lighthouse keepers. In the 1960’s he was running a service station and picking up the pieces after a marriage breakup. Seeing an ad one day in the local newspaper, he applied for a position with the Australian Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. So began his decades long love affair with, as he describes it, “a life in the lights”.
The book centers chiefly with his time spent on two Tasmanian lighthouse islands, Tasman and Maatsuyker (the last spot between Australia and Antarctica) It ends with his transfer to a third, Bruny – the one I’ve visited – where he stayed on for another 15 years.
The presiding tone of the book is summarized on page 55 when the author, referring to his first posting on Tasman Island, notes – “Either people come here crazy or this place turns them that way”. He softens that statement in the very next sentence, however, when he adds – “But no more than the real world does”.
Craziness in a great many guises is laid forth in huge dollops on nearly all pages. From the monotony of weeks without fresh food before the supply ship would arrive to fisticuffs with fellow lighthouse keepers to removing your own rotten teeth with a wood punch because visiting a dentist is months away to the microscopic gaps in brickwork that, via howling winds, could turn a lighthouse into an oversized whistle and drive a person insane with the sound. It’s all here and more.
Speaking of wind, it’s fair to say the weather is the chief protagonist in this story. I never thought I’d be one given to frequent descriptions of nature – and this book has that in spades – but the degree to which the author makes use of a veritable slew of colorful phrases to immerse the reader in what it felt like to be alone in a concrete tower perched 300 metres above sea level battling the elements, leaves one little choice but to be swept along for the ride.
Here’s a sample of descriptions of battering winds taken from THE LAST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER –
wind so strong it flattens grass
I could hear the windows rattling in their frames and the wind trying to curl the tin off the room.
wind that felt like you were clinging to the wing of a jet
wind strong enough to burst reinforced window panes and tear through doorframes
I would place tissue paper in my ears to withstand the sound of the wind.
I have never known anything like that wind. It sets your ears roaring and your face has to turn away or your stubble will be shaved off.
The tower would literally sway in the 100 knot winds because if it didn’t it would snap.
I followed my torch beam down the path. It was the only thing not moved by the wind.
winds so cold they turn your hands bluish in their pockets
Early on the author quotes the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who advised that men really need only two things: love and work. There’s plenty of both amongst these pages. Love provides one of the narrative spines running through the book, interwoven with a mystery whose answer is only party provided at the end.
The many and varied work routines are also well catered for in descriptive passages throughout the memoir. In the days of manual lighthouses there were always tasks to perform, all without the benefit of power tools. From operating a kerosene pump to logging weather conditions and vessel sightings every half hour to polishing the prisms (what he calls the ‘enormous rotating jewel’) to gutters that needed fixing, grass that needed mowing and 44 gallon drums of fuel that needed hauling and refilling.
There are sad parts of the book as well, not least of those when John Cook documents the beginning stages of automation and de-manning of Australian lighthouses that commenced from the mid 1970’s. (Thelast manned lighthouse in Australia was the Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse in Tasmania, where the author worked for a time in the seventies. It was deactivated in 1996 and allowed to decay.)
The end of the life of tv reception-less isolation came in gradual stages for John Cook, beginning with the day a portable generator got delivered to the remote island he was residing on. He says he was tempted to damage it, so much did it represent to him the civilized world he enjoyed being apart from. “It was the shape of ruin to me” (p 295).
Another pre-cursor to the end was when the island got connected to the mainland by telephone. “94 years after the 1st telephone service in 1880 in Tasmania, Maatsuyker now had a telephone. The world was edging closer to my rock. I felt like we had lost our peace and privacy. In the months to come we would be inundated by fisherman and pilots ringing up wanting to know weather conditions; even surfies wanting to know swell heights” (p296).
When helicopters began to replace mail boats, Cook could see the writing on the wall. “I felt like I had fallen in love with a dying woman” (p296). The day he was lifted off Maatsuyker Island by helicopter for the final time, he says he cried.
When he arrived at his next and final posting – Bruny Island (more populated and connected to the mainland than his other more remote, more ‘pure’ locations – he recalls how he was surprised that he was now required to lock the tower. “It was not something we had to do on the other islands” (p319).
Cook observes in one of the closing chapters, “The ocean gets in your head and soaks your brain”. That is my experience of devouring this genuinely brilliant memoir.
Reading like a thriller in parts, secrets and mysteries are laid out like a trail of breadcrumbs throughout, ensuring the reader is well and truly strung along for the ride. There’s a heartfelt love story here as well. Exhilarating, profound and exquisitely written, probably the highest compliment you can pay a memoir once you’re done reading it is think to yourself – even if it’s only for a few brief moments – “I wish I’d lived that life”. That’s how I feel about THE LAST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER .
Most people who’ve led amazing lives don’t suddenly transform into gifted writers when they decide it’s time to finally share their stories. Unless of course that individual happened to be a professional author to begin with, which lighthouse keeper John Cook wasn’t.
Credit must therefore go to the ‘ghostwriter’ who helped give form and life to this incredible memoir.
Jon Bauer is a UK based author who lived in Australia for 15 years. He is a qualified psychotherapist and is currently at work on his latest novel.