Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Back to Black (Benjamin)

I am doing VERY poorly on my Goodreads promise of three books a month - I keep jumping from book to book halfway through and never seem to finish one. Perhaps because I keep buying more of the fuckers, and faster than any human can read.


I was in Folio Books in Brisbane last week (Archives Rare Books secondhand store was earlier in the week, no Oakley Hall in the Westerns section, damn) and, while I was buying the new biography of Stefan Zweig, I saw the latest Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) on the shelf, with a picture of Gabriel Byrne on the cover, dressed up in period costume almost as he was in the movie Miller's Crossing. Obviously they (who? BBC One and RTÉ One) have started placing the shambling Dublin pathologist, Dr Quirke, into a TV series! But I realised when I looked inside the cover that I was several books behind. I thought, hey, I won't buy it now anyway because bought-too-many-books-already/overweight-luggage/double-stacked-shelves/too-small-apartment (Ha, say my friends).

Back in Singers I go to check the last of the dour Quirke sagas I have read, the fourth - A Death in Summer. There it is, correctly sited in Fiction, alphabetical Author, publishing date order... with a bookmark poking forlornly out the top between pages 220 and 221. One third through. I didn't finish it. Oh, well there are a plethora (veritable, literal, actual) of other unfinished dusty* old tomes here, no great surprise there. I was no doubt enchantedly distracted by fresh pastures of augmented literary verdancy then as I still succumb to now.

I decided to restart it on the spot, catch up to the latest in the series and then download, ahem, purchase the TV shows.


Straight away, just a few pages in, I knew why I had not finished it. It was not that I had been distracted by something else. I think instead I had consciously decided not to finish it. I didn't enjoy it, it was too light (despite the grisly death) for what I was expecting from the early books. Too much sunshine, or something (not even sure if it mentions sunshine, but...). I'd given up on it. When the author is named Black, you expect darkness. Perhaps the women are too beautiful, too photogenic, and that is where the sunshine comes from. But Quirke in love with that snooty-French bitch, the gorgeous, newly widowed (Femme Fatale alert) Francoise? You've got to be joking.

Sigh. Well... The plot also seemed (and still seems) terribly formulaic, something of a pastiche, a parody, an Agatha Christie-like passionless, vaguely intriguing mystery to read on the train. It seems to steal something from every other crime mystery ever written. Oh no, it's not suicide after all! The usual suspects; the rival blustery businessman fresh from verbal with the deceased; the surly, estranged daughter; the sensitive ex-con estate manager; the ice-hearted widow due for the inheritance; the businessman's mysterious son just back from (shades of Inspector Hound) Canada... This feeling was so strong, I recall I could almost see Banville/Black surrendering to a How To Write A Crime Mystery Writer's Workshop rigidity. The mindset that forces him to use hoary old tricks to keep us reading on past the chapter breaks. Perhaps they're not so much a cliff on which to hang, as a street gutter outside a pub to stumble over, but I hate that type of overly dramatic pause with a finishing sentence that doesn't finish anything. I might just be me, I despise airport (or train journey) thrillers because of it. It's an hiatus that clangs of ad-breaks for the TV shows (ironically), so that you can rush to the toilet... I fight against it. I prefer closure to the Perils of Pauline while I hold my piss. I much prefer watching cable-TV shows or movies that are edited to be watched all the way through, rather than to the fifteen minute ad-cycle of free-to-air TV I am forced to sit through with the FLOs in Australia. And it is the same with books.

Meanwhile other novels I have dug my head into lately (and not finished either, mostly) include ones by Thomas Bernhard, Jose Saramago, and Låszlo Krasznahorkai, writers who confront you with great slabs of un-paragraphed text for many, many pages, and even in Bernhard's case a whole novel, and when so the break does come, it comes not with a short gasp of suspense, but with a sigh of completeness. That's that part of the story done, OK? Now let me tell you the next bit...

Well yes, this ad-break method is inherent in the style of the genre Black/Banville's chosen to write, that of the unputdownable (take it to the loo with you) thriller, but it makes you wonder why he is just following someone else's sclerotic old rules half-heartedly, only half-seriously when he is such a master. He still writes as well as you'd expect of a Booker winning author (maybe Noble Prize short-listed?) and has sent me to now and then ("louring turrets" - louring: lowering, looming, threatening, as in dark storm clouds louring. As in turrets. A very Thomas Hardy word, don't you think?), and I think back on the masterly works of Banville as Banville, how Kepler captivated me, etc...

The title of the book itself:A Death In Summer**, it reeks of a TV show, doesn't it? Mid-summer. Murder. Sort of thing. From the start you know there's only going to be one corpse. There's a bit of mystery already gone. And it is not to be confused with the more Hemingwayesque title of William Trevor's Death In Summer. Death as a concept, as an abstraction, as a slaughterhouse. (Is Midsomer Murders about a serial killer?)

B/B's going to have to do something special to get this penny dreadful plot to rise above a Dame Agatha level of two-dimensionality. The sad fact is those cliffhanger devices work best when the story is thrilling already, but the intrigue of whether Sinclair will bang Quirke's daughter or not hardly moves me to insomnia. (Of course he will. Or maybe not.)

Having said all that, we know and love the man with more troubles than all the other crime mystery heroes combined, the multi-troubled, diffident but determined, the grown man still tormented by memories of a childhood in those horrific Irish orphanages, the poorly-reformed alcoholic, chain-smoking, overly curious Dr Quirke, surely enough.


- Is it himself in this one?
- Aye, it surely is.
- And is he worth the flamin' effort? Just for himself, the man, at all?
- Aye, to be sure.


Ah well, I keep pushing on... There's sure bound to be more about child-abusing priests, and the stories of other victims of the horror orphanages who had made it out even more negatively affected than did Dr Quirke. And Sinclair will bonk Phoebe. Or if not, definitely in the next book - I can wait to find out.

I'm sure blacker things will lour up suitably turret-like and ominous once I push past last time's point of abandonment. Then I can get on with rest of them.


* NTS: must berate the FDW for insufficient "attention to detail". (The catch-phrase of my old Chief Radiographer, who'd sweep every horizontal surface of your monthly allocated x-ray room for any particles of germ carrying dust: "Attention to detail, Mr E@L, is the hallmark of the good radiographer." As it is for almost every occupation, E@L kept muttering under his breath.)

** I wrote this before I read the much, much better informed and more forgiving Guardian review - I see cliché, he sees homage and due respect. The reviewer seems at least to have finished it before putting fingertips to keyboard.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Put Your Feet Up, Not Your Socks

E@L was in Australia, 8 - Feb 2015 - 13 Mar 2015. Phew, glad that's over. Working mostly, but 10 days off as well. Perth, Townsville(!?), Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane.

To have paid so much for every drink and every meal (chicken parmagiana [sic], three types!) for all that time. Man, that country is expensive.

Expenses: big bill...


And then, woah, E@L comes back to pay a mere $23 for his share of a massive feast of Schezuan specialities and loads of beer (with ice) on the streets of Chinatown, Singapore. OK a lot of the dishes were vegetarian (or close to, but hey, we are talking volume here.) Awesome! Man, this country is cheap.

And the few the remaining Dionysians walk up to Ang Sang Hill Rd and E@L pays $15 for that yap for doh (one for the road). Outrageous! Man, this country is expensive.


Meanwhile, on the plane back, earlier that day, IKYN, he's eating his dinner of eye filet, roasted root vegetables and creamy mash with a glass of Bordeaux (what, you good people of Singapore, etc, don't think E@L flies cattle class on long hops do you?), when a sense of nausea creeps up on E@L, a slowly enfolding miasma of awful, permeating stink... It takes a minute or so to register that something is wrong in fact. E@L is just sitting there, and the meal doesn't taste right, the wine lacklustre (it is only French).

Literally, the atmosphere here is bad. It dawns eventually that he is becoming enwrapped in a fearful cloud of noisome wrongness and that something really smells!

He doesn't know where the smell is coming from initially, whom is the source, the culprit, except that stench is of human origin. No shit not, piss... FEET. Like his own feet get when he has been wearing old sandals in the rain. Pong. Pure and simple, sickening and foul.

And a roll of fawn cotton socks, monogrammed with a brand if not the owner's name, strikes him as incongruous.

Swear to God, the guys sitting next to him has taken the complementary pair of useless sock/slippers they give you in long hauls in Business Class, but rather than place them over his socks, he has taken the socks off, tucked them into a ball and plonked them ... wait for it ... on the tray for the small storage slot on the back of the seat in front of him. Right out in the open, up high.

Here: to give you an idea.

What the bromodrotic fuck?

What sort of ignorant creature would do this, you ask of E@L?

Let's test E@L's powers of description. Well, first of all he's a man a bit older than E@L (past middle-age by now); pale skin, loose around the jawline; light hair, curly and thinning; a bit of a paunch but no more than you'd expect; steel-glasses; well-dressed (second time in a few days well-dressed men have offended E@L: another story in Brisbane re: locked keys in car, need bus fare) in pale slacks and two-tone polo shirt; and he's eating the crispy skinned cod filet. Perhaps that's why he doesn't notice?

But when you think about it, why wouldn't a man who looks intelligent enough, mature enough, successful enough, why wouldn't he realise that it is simply rude, inconsiderate, and woefully ignorant to place your socks up somewhere in view while you and others are eating. This is the sort of thing a mother should have whupped out of him as a youngster.

Manners. This man is bereft of manners.


The feet can be a source of great offense in Asia as you know, even beyond power to demolish the olfactory aesthetics of the moment. Typically people have outside shoes which they leave at the door, and inside shoes, or they go besocked or barefoot. Dirty, profane, disgusting, bad luck. You shouldn't point with your toes, or place your soles of your feet (or shoes) in the direction of certain South-East Asians, particularly those who are Buddhist.

[There is some interesting (to some) Japanese porn about feet - footjobs, enejaculated toes, the like. What is it with the Japanese?]


E@L shakes his head. It must be the socks, of course. Yes, no doubt: This nauseating fog is a characteristic of a uniquely sock/foot emanation.

He doesn't get angry, he gets mildly offended - hey, he IS mildly offended. "Excuses me sir, are they your socks?" With a slight twist of bitter disgust at the end.

Untaken aback, he leans forward, pops them under his nose, and says, very convinced, "They don't smell."

E@L only partially stifles a guffaw of incredulity. "I beg to differ," counters E@L.

The man drops his socks to the floor, and as if to dismiss E@L, continues to eat and watch his movie.

So, E@L shakes his head again. And slowly, his appetite challenged, he chews into a chunk steak as it were cardboard, orders another vin cru bourgeois, ignores the ignorant savage right back at (or away from, it would have to be) him.

Well, yes, of course it was the socks. With them out of public view the foul air gradually dissipates and, E@L presumes, is recycled - to offend someone else in the plane, probably down at the rear end where lighter gases, such as body odour and (once upon a time) cigarette smoke, slowly driven back with the plane's slight accelerations, gather. Back where you'd think the unwashed and malodorous would typically reside and not up in the classy end where businessmen, and E@L, not to mention the jerk who was beside him, prefer to sit. Safely ensconced, unassailed by fell aromas. You'd think.


After the meal, the man unapologetically but not rudely it must be said, gathered his stuff, stepped over E@L's discretely shod feet and moved to an unoccupied seat by the window at the rear of the section. Open the window man, let the stink out.

Fuck him, smelly old twat man.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015


The Singapore food market for expats and Mercedes-driving locals is Cold Storage. It's run by Dairy Farm Holdings. Now Dairy Farm is a place in Singapore, so that makes us think that it is a local company, right? But people, it's, um, not really. Not at all in fact.

It is managed out of Bermuda (as if Singapore's taxes weren't low enough), and uber-owned, surprise-surprise, by the Jardine Matheson group. Those are the charming fuckers who made it big by sneaking around and eventually usurping British East India Company's monopoly on trade (in particular opium) with the Chinese in the early-mid C19th. The drug trade caused the death and suffering of countless Chinese and was threatening to bankrupt their place, but it was raking back in all the silver the English had paid for tea and silk, so England didn't seem to care.

All this triggered the Opium Wars and, as they say, to the victor go the spoils, such as Hong Kong, and J-M haven't looked back since. Well maybe they were glancing back a little bit in the lead-up to 1997's Handover. However, to put them in perspective, it's probably accurate enough to consider them the Mexican drug cartels of those heady (woozy) times.


Cold Storage's specialty, top-end, Australians only/mostly, woah-expensive, organic only/mostly supermarket brand is Jasons Marketplace, or in some manifestations, Jasons The Gourmet Grocer. Jasons it is, note, in a Finnegans Wake sort of mythical plurality of Joyce's here comes everybody trope, calling upon the Platonic concept of the ideal Jason, not Jason's.

They now have stores in Taiwan as well.


FYI, Dairy Farms' low-end, peasant-level consumables are slapped up at Seven-Eleven, and cheap, peasant-level consumable furniture at their IKEA stores.

Singapore expats, being equal with HK expats (often indistinguishable, often the same individuals) as the world's most conspicuously conspicuous consumers, love throwing away their money at the place. S$19 for a tub of strawberries? You beaut!

There's a new Jasons opening around the corner from E@LGHQ vewwwy vewwwy soon. You can bet E@L will be there whenever his recipes call for organic fennel bulbs (which used to be a giant weed growing free and untended along the riverbanks of the Barwon River in Geelong) and biodynamic rhubarb, chia seeds, or gluten free peanut butter.

BTW, the Hong Kong brand equivalent Cold Storage is Wellcome, and Jasons is known in HK, I believe, if I believe Wikipaedia that is, as MarketPlace By Jason.

They all seem to be doing very well, with 2013's world-wide total sales "in excess" (redundant*) of US$11Billion, thank you very much.


However, on another little island with a more celebrated military history**, Jasons didn't really work out all that well...

Valletta, Malta


* since when has $11Billion NOT been an excess.

** the whole frackin' island was awarded the St George Cross! I bet the Maltese people, 1,300*** of whom had died as the Italians and then the Germans carpet bombed the place, were satisfied with that...

*** just over half of the number of people in the Nigerian towns around Baga killed by Boko Haram Islamists two weeks ago. (No medal awarded.)

(Point of this post? These photos of course.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Six Sentences

1. When Michel Faber was writing his most recent, and last he says, novel, his wife was dying.

2. Writing is a solitary career: you have be alone and uninterrupted to write, he told the interviewer from Guardian Books.

3. You can't write a novel and yet be physically with the woman you love, even while she is incrementally dying in the next room and you know your days together are limited.

4. But she wanted him to keep on and to finish writing the novel, because she loved him too and knew that he needed to finish writing it, perhaps because it was a novel about love and separation, coincidentally.

5. She offered him a compromise: That he write six sentences day.

6. This he did, and he finished the novel before she died.

(paraphrased by) E@L

[I couldn't quite place his accent - is it Australian? I had always thought him Scottish, perhaps because of Under The Skin. Turns out he was born in Holland, went to school in Australia, where no doubt that soft, ESL, accent was developed, and now he lives in Scotland. All these countries claim him as their own.]

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tontine Therapy

The trusty old CPAP has its benefits, that is for certain.

A recap:

Among E@L's many deviations is his septum, thanks to his nose's interception of a speeding, suddenly expanding in size and eclipsing the batsmen and the steel pole of the net off which it ricocheted, cricket ball, way back when No1 son was a rising star in the juniors and his own weaknesses in those left-arm round-the-wicket mediums were becoming obvious, slipping to well-bashable slows and he was ignominiously dropped to the 3rds, were no one could bat so it didn't matter that he could no longer bowl (shin splints, rotator cuff). Add precipitous weight gain to that, also thanks to cricket, viz: the copious beers and sausages in wrapped white bread and ingested in a thrice weekly ritual (the game and training) integral to the social aspect of playing in the 3rds, in a 2nd Div district league of a non-descript provincial city in a distant country girt by sea, and you have a person who snores, a person whom someone can easily HATE. E@L has told you all this..

That shattered ethmoidal plate has restricted his air intake capacity too, and he finds it difficult to breathe with sufficient efficiency when right lateral decubitus. Those BreatheRight nasal strips help, but only so much, and they don't prevent his snoring.

Industrial strength snoring, as mentioned. And eventually he developed sleep apnoea as well. It took an inordinate time for E@L to discover this, and its severity, sleeping as he used do back in that land-girt, open-cut mine, alone. No doubt much of the blame for the brain-rot which afflicts his cogitative abilities and his (what was it again?) memory can be directly directed at these frequent near-ischaemic episodes. There was no-one there to prod him, gently or otherwise, out of his semi-comatose state, to rouse him, to shake him, to kick his shin, to stuff a pillow over his face and press, press, press until the snoring stopped.

So E@L snored on: he dropped his soft-palate, stopped breathing for 20secs and, spluttering into state just below consciousness, took a great last gasp in order to breathe again for a few seconds. And the cycle of little-deaths started, and so he grew dumber and dumber and... [fuck, this is starting to sound like a fairy-tale!]


E@L is using his third CPAP, one especially designed for travelling: it's lighter, smaller, etc... His main machine sits at home, unloved for long periods like this current three week stint in Thailand, and it has a humidifier, which makes it a bit bulky to cart around. The small portable one's base is a bit slippery so he places it (upside down so it doesn't suck in all the bed-bugs) on the bed next to the pillows. The hose he wraps over the pillows and the nasal-plug mask is light and barely noticeable if he keeps his nose-hair and moustache trimmed (hence the hipsterish half-height mo). It is a simple matter to turn off the machine, easily de-nasalify the plugs and trundle off to the toilet...

AIYAH! those bathroom lights. Why so fracking bright!


There are several advantages to sleeping with CPAP.

Well, number one, fucking obviously, is that he can breathe properly and not wake the sleeping hooker(s), nor, in the cheaper places E@L stays, the guy in the next hotel room and his hooker(s). And not choke and effectively cut off the blood supply to his (E@L's, not the guy in the next room) brain by dropping his oxygen saturation to coma level in that apnoeic half-minute.

Second, or third if you count the last sentence which is really a follow on from the number one benefit, he can sleep under the sheets.

Third/corollary to Third/Fourth/whatever: he (or his hooker) can fart while his head is under the sheets because his air supply is coming from the CPAP on the outside! Brilliant!

Fifth (fuck it): E@L has never tried this, but he supposes he could use it as a cunnilingus snorkel if he were that way inclined (to sexually gratify a hooker, pffft!). Carefully clean with an antiseptic wipe after each use.

And sixth, he can sleep on his stomach, face into the Tontine, and not suffocate. Awesome, as he often tosses this way and that as he tries to drop off, and might end up face-down [end UP face DOWN ha!] a few times.

But why (other than the hypothetical cunnilingual point) is E@L under the sheets, you ask. Not just to see if he can Dutch Oven himself faultlessly, but also to hide his alcoholically lucifugous eyes and, by extension (the optic nerves), his brain, from the all those hotel room lights: eerie green and red USB chargers, the red glowing fuse-confirmer of his multi-plug extension cord, the slow blinking fire-detector, the ineluctable glow through curtain which never quite closes off the big city's 24hr bright lights. But all this candle power is never enough to light up the path for his 4am trip to the bathroom and to enable him roughly determine the correction of his direction. And so, on go those retinal blasting lights every time.

But new on the scene is an eyemask, one from Singapore Airlines. Black. From First Class, the time he got that well-overdue upgrade. (Yes you can ask for them anytime, and you get them in business class, but not the black ones - it's like the black Amex, they are only for the high, um, fliers.)

What E@L does now is sleep with both the CPAP and eye-mask on. And, get this, with the blinds open! That way, when his bladder wakes him there is enough ambient light to either wake the AEI-worker for another go with his piss-hardon, or to trundle to the loo and not turn on the lights!

Why didn't he think of this simple life-hack earlier? It's brilliant, amazing, life hacking, he means life-changing. He is even considering sending it to Corey Doctorow so it can go viral on BoingBoing, or even LifeHacker itself.


But! (There's always a "but", like when females tell you that they love you, bu-u-ut something about why they hate you as well. "I love you bu-u-ut you fucking snore like a fucking demented animal, getoutofmylifenow!" for example.

Bu-u-ut, the dye in the black eyemask comes off.

Oh NO!

It's not onto E@L's face thankfully but, to the horror of the hotel's laundry (he anticipates), it does silhouettes of itself onto the pillow, like the shadows of evaporated humans on the walls of Hiroshima. You can almost track E@L's nocturnal movements (body movements, not bowel) from its telltale marks. Oh dear.

Ah well, he sighs and admits to his privileged, arrogant, white-mans-burden, post-colonial self, it's a small price to pay for not having to turn on the bathroom lights.

He means it may be tough on the laundry staff, but it's a small price to pay for


Sunday, November 02, 2014


The thoughts have flown, as they always do, 'twixt shower and computer, and I seem to be at a loss for what it was I thought so urgently a few minutes ago, under the aquatic flux, needed to be said.

It was important, deep, worthy of writing in stone. It has instead been drained in water.


It was, I vaguely recall, on the loss of the muse. A frequently expounded theme.

I was looking for something back in old posts and couldn't find it - perhaps it was on the previous, pre-Blogger, no-longer-visible (some PHP parsing change has completely fucked it) E@L blog. But this allowed me to wallow in some nostalgia with the 800 odd posts still available here on Blogger.

Fuck, I was funny. Even when people didn't think I was, I was: I knew that jokes were nevertheless hidden in there. Jokes only I cared about, only I got, because they were so personal and obscure. I don't even have that anymore.

I can't do that anymore.

I can't even sit down and write properly anymore: instead I wallow in this disgusting and unreadable self pity.


Hey! Great bottle of way-overpriced wine at Gaucho's, the generally overpriced Argentinian restaurant in BKK. (Makes my Woolloomoolloo places in HK and Singapore look ... about the same). Torbreck's Woodcutters - their easy, early drinking Shiraz. I normally take a bottle of The Standish, but this tasted superb after a coupla months of my eschewing of red-wine (mostly, Monday didn't count) as it gives me all sorts of unmentionable intestinal issues (never trust a fart!). Beware the next coupla days.


Now I am still a little pissed and aware of my failings.

How about you?


But I did a review for Goodreads. No wonder I am feeling melancholy.


The Nice Old Man and the Pretty GirlThe Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah. Ah. The characteristic mild mix of pathos, ironic humour and profundity that permeates all of Svevo's work.

An old man (about my age) falls in... love? lust? with a beautiful young woman as she drives her trolley (what we in Melbourne might call a tram) in Trieste at the start of the Great War. Well, we've all been there (I certainly have), falling in love, I mean, with a lovely, clean (she bathes once a day) young woman, inappropriately. She comes around to see (euphemism) him at his insistence a few times, and he gives her some money, but he decides to slow it down for it seems his conscience is troubling him. Then he has a severe angina attack (we've all been there - I certainly have) which makes him reflect on both his mortality and then further on the morality of what they have been doing.

He decides to write something to instruct her (as well as continue to send her money) - but this turns into a larger work on the morality of the responsibilities of age. What does youth owe to old age, and how should old people instruct young people; those who, although they are incapable of understanding this, will become old and near death one day themselves? As his heart keeps giving out (not a metaphor) he tries to prepare this treatise for publication, hoping that it will explain the moral dilemma he faces to the world, but his doctor, who listens to his arguments, is not impressed...

What is to become of this quandary, what will his treatise achieve? As he admits on his last written pages: Nothing, nothing, nothing.


This is stylistically not his best work by a considerable margin, the story doesn't flow quite perfectly, but Svevo nevertheless skewers the guilt and regret of men as they age, as he did so remarkably in Zeno's Conscience and particularly As A Man Grows Older. And I am currently experiencing it.

The term "tragico-comic" could have created just for Svevo. Or for me.

View all my reviews


Yeah. Sad old man.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Religious Certitude 101

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Joshua 6 (NIV)


Gaza = Jericho. Discuss. Calmly if possible.


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