Archive | July 2016

The Nightingale 

Accuracy. All I ask for in historical fiction is historical accuracy. 

Ok that is not all I ask for. Style. Believable, human characters that aren’t caricatures. Good dialogue. 

But I do want accuracy too. 

Even if it states the novel is a fictionalised account and the author is taking liberties with people and events, there still has to be accuracy. 

Or even believability. One character lives in the country and has an extensive vegetable plot (of which we got a bit of a purple prose description). But she nearly starves in winter and has to burn her furniture for fire wood! She hides in the forest but can’t collect wood? Her sister hides food in the basement of the barn but she can’t get it? A country woman who doesn’t make tonnes of preserves or lays down root vegetables? (My mother was a child in rural Germany in the war. I have tried to encourage her to write a blog on her memories. It would be an antidote to this drivel.)

“No antibiotics for her daughter” the character bemoans. But during WWII antibiotics were limited to military. GPs didn’t prescribe them to the public. I can’t believe they were available in a small rural village in France. It may be a small detail but lots of small details such as these accumulate. 

It is up there with the shot down British airman walking around Paris. OK, the Allies did bomb Paris, largely the industrial areas but if a plane had been downed in Paris it would have been noticed and an airman in full kit wouldn’t have been able to walk around Paris, let alone hide under a bush by the side of the street opposite German soldiers sitting in a cafe. And, if the bomber was on the way to Germany, the flight paths wouldn’t have been over Paris. Has the author looked at a map of Europe? 

So no accuracy then! 

What about style?

Well if you like similes, you’ll be right. The following are all from a few pages:

  • roses tumbled like laughter along the ancient stone wall
  • The [attic] stairs unfold from the ceiling like a gentleman extending his hand. 
  • A tall thin woman with a nose like a water spigot 
  • Father dropped off his daughter like soiled laundry

The best account of this novel comes from a Goodreads reviewer. 

And when you think the sudden dropping in of historical facts couldn’t get worse you have this, coming after the character has been tortured and imprisoned by the Gestapo, seen her father shot by the SS, herded on a cattle train with other women and children, transported without water and marched into a “prison camp” she suddenly remembers. 

A woman who was in the resistance, who helped Allied airmen escape! She didn’t “remember” this before? She didn’t think of it? Or know it?

I get it. The author is writing for an audience who probably knows nothing of WWII but why present the info so stupidly? 

Yes, I learnt some interesting things about Vichie France, the Resistance, Allied bombings of France, the lack of preparation of the French government for German invasion. But more because I googled Vichie France than from the novel. Of course, that’s a positive that the novel has provoked some further reading and that I learnt things. I always like learning new things. 

As it turns out, the author probably used Wikipedia too. It certainly reads like she did. 

Look, it’s not as bad as all that. Just after All the Light We Cannot See, I just wanted this book to be better. And if you don’t know much or anything about WWII, it would be an exciting tale. 

The ending is very emotional. I teared up. So the novel must have done something to affect me so, and not in a manipulative manner. 

I also think part of the problem was the manner in which I read it – an electronic version on my iPhone. Not pleasant on the eyes and not easy to skim if you feel like skipping along. 

I would be interested if some of my blogging friends who are readers would give this a go and see alternate views. The book’s a best seller, some people have said its their favourite read of the year and it is being made into a movie. 

Maybe I’m just a literary snob!

Edited to add: here’s a interesting read: From the Daily Mail. I wonder if this was Hannah’s inspiration. I might investigate this book. 

What I read this month

Strange coincidence. I picked a novel to read and it was on a similar story as the next bookclub novel. Women as counter agents dropped behind enemy lines in World War Two. In fact the third novel I read was also set in WWII. 

The Postcard by Leah Fleming was one of those melodramatic  epic novels suited for holiday reading on the beach or by the pool. Even the cover suggested it, although it had nothing to do with the story. 

(By the by, I bought this at my second hand bookshop and left it down the snow for someone to enjoy when the weather is not suitable for heading out on the slopes.)

I started on the next novel, Nine Days by Toni Jordan, but how could I proceed when on page one it has “should of”. I know the author was trying to recreate the character’s voice but still… So I swapped it the book club novel but that was atrocious in both style and inaccurate historical detail, so I returned to Nine Days. 

It was an easy read, still not only was it stylistically superior to The Nightingale but it had a truer sense of place and time and language. Maybe Kristen Hannah should have written about what she knows? 

Set in Melbourne, each chapter in Nine Days is told by a different character  all linked by family. The thread follows the impact of WWII and trying to support family when times are tough.  

The photo used on the cover was the inspiration for the tale. It is a famous photo and so evocative of the time. 

Also got this second hand and left it down the snow. Hope someone enjoys both. 

I started on the book club choice and stopped and started and maybe gave up. 

In the meantime I read Benjamin Law’s The Family Law. Growing up in the unglamorous hinterland of the Sunshine Coast of Queensland is be interesting enough, as would being Australian-born of Chinese parents, but to be both?!? And to be gay. It’s very funny. I laughed out loud about the sad theme parks of the 80s and 90s in that area. Honey Land. I remember it. And the land of big things -Bottle. Pineapple. 

This book has been translated into French. What do the French make of tropical, sweaty, suburban Queensland? It must be extremely foreign. 

And then I returned to the atrocious bookclub novel. A fellow book clubber abandoned it. And my frequent texts confirmed for her that she made the right decision. 

But the champion I am, I perservered. 

PS: I also nearly finished two other books. But I’ll include those in “What I read in August” when I have finished them. Some books might get a post of their own. 


I have abandoned Snapchat. Pah! It’s so last month. 

I’m into Pokemon Go. 

For now!

I went into the city for dinner this week and caught Pokemon and spun Pokestops for balls and potions and eggs. The city is positively alive with stops and lures. Like sparkling hearts. And with all the gyms flashing over the streetscape (on my phone) so much more alive than out in the sticks where I live. Hardly any Pokestops here. 

There’s another thing wrong with living in the burbs. We have plenty of bat-things and pigeon-things but wouldn’t you know it, when an interesting things turns up (platypus-like) I have run out of balls. Luckily I’ve forgotten my apple password or I’d probably spend too much on in-app purchases. 

Look who’s visiting my lounge room!

My eldest hasn’t spoken with me with so much animation and without wanting something for so long. He’s advised me on powering up, evolving, which team to join, when to train and battle, how to transfer, and on other things that made no sense, yet, to me. Who knew it was so complicated!

There’s also been some funny conversations as the group chat with my two boys shows. I’ve renamed them Tweet (that’s Dreamer) and Like (Brother) on the image. 

Picking a team was difficult with my sons in different teams. My choice of Blue team left  Dreamer abandoned as his FB status shows. (He’s on Red team.)

I do feel the blue, red and yellow team lacking any sense of belonging. But then I find most team identity nonsensical. 

You know how the news has been full of invented outrage at people walking without looking as they are playing Pokemon? Well, as I was walking down the street, yes with Pokemon go on, I nearly walked into a man. I was on the wrong side of the path. Totally my fault. “Sorry.” “No worries.” Oow, it’s handy being middle-aged. No one suspects you of being engrossed in Pokemon Go and he may have been less friendly if he knew I was playing that silly game. 

I’ve since found out that there’s an app using the same principles, Google maps, where you can devise treasure hunts. Someone at work is exploring this. 

So who is the Jygglygirl of the title? I don’t know. If it’s not taken you’re welcome to it. I’ve used a variation of Jyggly with my real name as my trainer’s name. Jigglypuff was the only other Pokemon I knew besides Pikachu. But Jiggly+my name was gone so, on Mr S’s suggestion I changed the i to a y. Too modern and hip. 

Hunting the hunters 

I loved looking out the window from our unit onto the scene of families having fun in the snow. How big’s the queue for the chairlift? Any dogs gambling in the snow? Anything to catch the eye?

Whats this? Directly below me is a young man who kept getting his phone out. Is he? Is he? No, he’s just flicking through messages. 

No, he can’t be just reading texts; he’s moving suspiciously around the large snow man. 

Yep, sure enough. He is. He’s hunting Pokemon. 

I am tempted to call out, “Did you catch it?” 

But I don’t want to embarrass him, nor draw attention to my snooping from on high. 

And I will be down there soon too. 

But it was too much to resist asking the next pair who I caught as I returned to my  unit. 

The girls were quite coy. I joked with them and we hunted together. (I did want to tell one off. She had no socks and her shoes were covered in snow. It’s -6°, girl, and snowing. Get some socks on. But I held back. How strong am I? I’m not her mum and their English wasn’t that good.)

Turns out I’m not good at hunting, leading them the wrong way. 

Turns out also it isn’t that easy. 
I gave up. Went home for bubbles. 

Gotta catch them all! 

Next time. 

But I caught one in my lounge room last night. My second. The other one I caught was in my unit at the snow. At this rate, I may never have to look as surreptitious as these hunters. 

Go, go Pokemon

Oops, mixed up my “Go, go Power Rangers” with my Pokemon Go. 

My sons were into both. I could never stand Pokemon. Though I purchased enough Gameboy games (Gold, Diamond, Pearl etc etc), the special edition yellow Polemon Gameboy,  Pokedex, cards, cards and yet more cards that one would think I understood them. The attraction, the rules, the stories. 

Nup. Got nothing. I can identify the yellow one – Pikachu. That’s it. The sum total of over 17 years of hearing the cartoons and my boys playing cards and games and discussing strategy. 

So why have I joined the current craze? Well it is amazing how the technology brings these things into your space. And it is a great procrastination technique and time waster. 

My boys were very chatty with me as I sent texts questioning, seeking advice on how to catch them and whether I should battle others. 

Like playing with SnapChat (and SongPop before that), this phase will pass. It’s quite fun. Yes, I could be doing more worthy things with my time. But while it was snowing it gave something to do. 

I must admit, I only caught two down the snow. (And both of them were in my room!) I felt a bit silly prowling around the snow obviously looking for Pokemons. And if I continue when at home is doubtful. 

Are you giving this a go?

Whatever your thoughts on the game, you have to admit though the technology is amazing.

Brrr! It’s cold. 

Cold but beautiful. 

View from our window, to the main road and the area with the main chair lift on the first day, before the storm came. Blue skies returns for the last two days when I had some brilliant skiing. 

Please ignore the fly screen filter. 

Lying in my bed, I see the distant mountains through the windows. 

Up the chair lift, above the clouds. 

And when the clouds clear, the sky is bluer than blue, the white whiter than white. 

Yes, it is beautiful but so was the storm. 

Will they come to see this?

When several industries closed down, Beechworth remodelled itself into a tourist town. Three hours from Melbourne makes it perfect for weekenders. But it is definitely worth the 7 hours drive from Sydney. 

The beautiful streetscape of historical buildings is a drawcard. Yes, I first went because of the link to Kelly history, but there’s so much to see. Even with the low clouds and wet, walking along the street and popping into shops with clothes and knick-knacks is a great way to pass time. 

Many of the homes are gorgeous and I could imagine in spring and summer the gardens likewise. Walking back to our BnB, we were watched by this little boy who bravely only barked once we passed by.  

Last year we stayed in an old home that had been converted into a BnB. This year we stayed in an old bakery that had been sympathetically extended as a purpose built BnB. Both were gorgeous with divine gardens. 

Up the hill over looking the town is an old lunatic asylum. (Yes, not an acceptable term nowadays but what it was called.) The buildings are grand and evocative of the sadness and suffering that took place. 

So what happened to the building of public buildings? Why did we turn to such cheap and temporary structures? Such sad and poor looking buildings? Without any design merit? Crappy on the outside and crappy on the inside. 

Compare the library of Bright with the court house of nearby town, Myrtleford. 

The Beechworth Asylum was used as a hospital until the 1970s. Buildings were added with all the design features and sympathy to the environment as the court house above. 

Beechworth had a library of similar design to the courthouse. Opened in 1999,  it is so out of keeping with the town, so indicative of penny pinching, so ugly it shows all the worst of modern attitudes to civic pride. Decisions are made, buildings built with a short term focus.  Not for the future. Not for beauty. Not for civic pride. Not for what will last. Councils and bureaucrats would say for utilitarian and financial reasons. 

The only good thing about the ugly and small library at Beechworth. It didn’t last and was turned into a bottleshop when the supermarket and attached bottleshop was burnt down. Beer or books? It sounds like a crass commercial, low brow choice. 

But never fear, the library had already moved. But even without turning the library building into a bottleshop (and let’s face it, people need their alcohol) how short term is it to open a library in 1999 and move it less than 20 years later? When the building opened I would have said, how ugly; how lacking in any regard for people, books and the environment; and how short term. 

So, will anybody bother driving 7, let alone 3, hours to see these modern, squat, buildings without aesthetic and even utilitarian features? Well the question probably won’t be one that needs asking. The buildings won’t be worth preserving and will probably be knocked down and  replaced with equally cheaply built boxes. 

Your view?

Walking in their footsteps

Not those of the Kelly Gang, but of a similar era, along the Ovens River, flowing quickly from the Alps, at Bright. 

It’s a beautiful spot, with lots of birds, including brightly covered parrots. Sadly I didn’t spot a platypus that are said to be in the river. A family said they saw one but I missed out. 

The same spot at night:

The park alongside the river in town has lots of adventure play equipment for kids and two water slides! Two! Into a fast flowing river! They weren’t open. Maybe the river is not as fast in summer? There were also broad steps into the river, like a public bathing area. And little beach areas. Definitely too cold in winter though a young whippersnapper fellow jumped in. And this dog. 

But with these depth markings, much more water comes this way. 

As we got out of town, along the Canyon Walk, we found ourselves in the footsteps of the past. The Gold Rush era. The information signs transformed a lovely walk into a fascinating walk. 

Seemingly random piles of river stones are actually tailings from the gold diggings. Who knew! Who’da realised wihout the signs!

Once spotted, you see them everywhere. 

The piles are not the only transformation in the environment by the gold miners. 

The course of the river was changed from the dredging. 

And then the gaps in the stone on the side of the river:

Nope. Not natural weathering. Hand cut tail races to channel the water to wash away the dirt to find the alluvial gold. 

And there were lots and lots of these tail races. Some still flowing with water, some dry, some filling up with trees and plants. It must have been so crowded here during the gold rush. Walking at night would have been dangerous. All the holes and racings and trip hazards and the steep cliffs to the river. Death traps a plenty. 

There is no evidence of any dwellings. The miners lived in tents and tiny shacks. And they wouldn’t have had as sturdy, healthy and safety approved bridges to cross that we have now. 

The whole thing smacked of wet, cold, hard work. Walking off the job wet, they wouldn’t have had more than one change of clothes so they would have been continually damp.  

What is it about the allure of gold that men for centuries have risked life, have worked in horrendous conditions? Why is gold so valued by so many societies?

The gold I like is the gold reflection of the sun set on the mountains. Next stop: ski fields. 

Back on the trail of Ned

The annual pilgrimage to the ski fields this year gave me time to pick up the Ned Kelly trail. I love walking in the footsteps of those in the past; imagining what it was like then; seeing what still exists. 

Following my Summer of Ned in 2015, I agreed to yet another trip to the same ski resort Mr S loves to return to year after year on the proviso we visit Kelly country. So in the winter of 2015 we spent two nights in Beechworth which is steeped in Kelly history. A beautiful town that has held onto its heritage architecture, it is easy to imagine Ned and his crew riding into town. We didn’t get to see everything on the Kelly Trail last year, so another trip was needed. 

This year I again agreed to accompany Mr S on his ski trip (oh I know, the pain of first world problems) with two more nights in Beechworth picking up the trail of Ned Kelly. 

We ventured further afield to Benalla. It definitely has a different feel and look from Beechworth – much more industrial and real rural life rather than touristy, middle-class orderly. 

Powering down the country roads and Hume Highway, one has to marvel at how the Kelly gang rode around the countryside so quickly. They were amazing horsemen!

The Benalla museum holds the cummerbund Ned Kelly was presented with when he was 11 for saving the life of a publican’s son. This symbol of his bravery clearly meant a lot to Ned as he wore it at his last stand. The doctor who tended him after the siege, kept the cummerbund. Now here it is, still stained with Ned’s blood, in a cell in which Ned was once held. Also here is one of his pistols and his bridle with a bullet hole. 

A man made lake (1970s – Benalla was on the move!) divides the town. 

Next on my list was to see the Benalla Old Court House, on the other side of the lake. The Kelly family appeared here a number of times. It is now part of the Anglican Church precinct. Ned was locked up in a cell at the back. There’s a sign declaring Ned Kelly’s cell. But really plenty of others were held there too. Odd for a church to keep the sign up but they would probably get Kelly enthusiasts tramping around anyway. 

Across the road, the old shop where Ned fought Constable Fitzpatrick still exists. It took five men to take him down! God he was strong! Amazing that such a little building still exists! And for those who remember my criticism of the Disney use of a Western movie set for a Queensland town in Saving Mr Banks, here’s what the shops in poor rural towns really looked like: low roofed, higgledy, small. 

Last stop was the cemetery. There are a number of people related to the Kelly era buried here. I wanted to visit the grave of Ned’s second in charge, Joe Byrne. It is a big cemetery but Joe’s grave lies separate, away from all the others, under a tree. There’s a clear path to it that indicates it is visited by many people. 

The path is not the only sign that that’s the grave we sought. Fresh flowers adorn it and ribbons hang from the tree. On the freshest floral tribute, there was a message quoting Ned Kelly. 

Joe was an interesting character. Spoke Mandarian learnt from the Chinese on the gold fields, another great horse man, more educated he wrote down Ned’s dictated manifesto. 

There’s also the grave stone of one of the black trackers who were brought down from Queensland to hunt down the Kelly gang. Poor Sambo (yes, a horrid name given to him) died of a lung infection after arriving in chilly Melbourne. The Aboriginal trackers were, unsurprisingly, treated disgracefully. Sambo was later returned to lay at rest in Queensland. The storm itself came much after his death. 

Mr S was distressed by the ongoing tale of injustice of Ned Kelly. Yes, he started out as a thief (but hey the whole British history of Australia is predicated by crime: sending convicts, including Ned’s father; stealing the land from the Aborigines; massacres of the indigenous). The treatment of Ned, his family and other Irish selectors and small farmers, meant his actions were political. 

Anyway for a change of pass, the Benalla cemetery is divided in two. The old section with tombstones and the new lawn cemetery. The lawn cemetery is eye popping. Every grave, and there are rows and rows of them, has plastic flowers. I’ve never seen anything like it. Obviously a local custom. 

The Catholic Church is worth a look too. The Romanesque style is not only grand for a country town but unusual. This wasn’t built until after Ned died. He would have attended mass in a very different building. 

I do like the normal traditional Australian design of the presbytery with its large verandahs.  

Time and weather meant prevented us seeing several of the other Kelly stomping grounds on the list. Oh well, another year.