You (almost) sunk my battleship. Thai Time strikes again!

Anyone who has travelled to Thailand knows that time is of little importance. Five minutes probably means thirty, and if you want a piece of toast for breakfast, be prepared to wait 40 minutes because it’s very likely it will be cooked in an oven.

If you take Thai time and inject it into a tiny island floating peacefully in the Gulf, the result becomes more extreme. Quite simply, nothing happens in a hurry around here.  Last Saturday was an exciting day for the sleepy little island of Koh Tao, but unfortunately, Toa time struck again. An old Navy ship was being sunk just off the coast (between Mae Haad and Sairee beach). With convincing from the Save Koh Tao Group and the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, the Thai Navy agreed to donate a decommissioned Naval Vessel, which will serve as an artificial reef and wreck dive site. Boats from across the island came to watch, while larger passenger vessels offered a free ride for anyone on land. The 10 year-old in me came alive… There’s an old navy ship about to be sunk, and I can watch, from a boat, no more than 30 meters away. Are you kidding me, that’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever heard! Koh Tao was buzzing. Clumsy tourists fumbled about the dock, trying to score a prime position on the boat, while suave Thai soldiers sauntered past – with an ease the tourists could never possess – almost floating across the pavement, dressed to the nines in full military regalia. Thai children of all ages swarmed onto the boats (followed by their relatives) injecting an infectious dose of energy into an already exciting day. There were fireworks, a parade, and an entourage of Navy ships; come to bid their old mate, the 742, a fond farewell. But alas, it was not to be. The sinking was scheduled for 10.30am. At around 1pm we started to wonder why there were still so many people onboard a vessel that was supposed to be familiarizing itself with its new digs at the bottom of the Gulf. So after three hours of uncomfortable shuffling on plastic boat seats, and with ominous storm clouds fast encroaching, one by one, the boats took off back to shore. Turns out the wind, and therefore current, was too strong to successfully sink the ship. I was a little disappointed and planned on checking it out again the next day. But, as it turns out, officials went ahead with the sinking at around 5pm that day- with no-one to watch, and no media to document or recount it. Apparently it’s not easy plugging  a ship with a huge hole in it! Who would have thought?So the old girl went down to her final resting place alone, and (because of the current) on her side. R.I.P 742. The divers are coming, you wont be alone for long.

Bloodline by Sidney Sheldon- Book Review

 

 

First Published: 1977

Genre: Mystery/thriller

Rating:

1,5 out of 5

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR…

Sidney Sheldon (February 11, 1917 – January 30, 2007) was an acclaimed American writer whose extensive body of work includes over twenty novels, all of which he wrote after turning fifty. In his younger years Sheldon was a small, and silver screen heavy weight. He was responsible for the creation of I Dream of Genie, The Patty Duke Show and Hart to Hart, as well as numerous film and stage titles.

Okay, so I hate to bag out the man who created one of my favourite childhood sitcoms, I Dream of Jeannie, but this book is terrible.

Perhaps if I read it back in 1977, when it was first published, I would have appreciated it more, and been somewhat more surprised. But unfortunately, CSI, NCIS, SVU, ABC, 123 and the countless other acronyms tumbling together in an ever-growing avalanche of TV crime dramas have ruined crime fiction for me, forever.

The story goes a little something like this…

Sam Roffe, head of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical empire Roffe and Sons, dies in what appears to be a tragic mountain climbing accident.

Sam’s daughter, and only child, Elizabeth, is bequeathed with the entirety of Sam’s will, including his majority stock in Roffe and Sons.

Elizabeth is- surprise, surprise- young, intelligent, and stunningly beautiful (*yawn*). She struggled tirelessly throughout her life to gain her father’s love, approval, and attention.

She therefore takes her new role more seriously than her family, the Board of Directors at Roffe and Sons, anticipated. They convince Elizabeth of the company’s financial problems and urge her to make Roffe and Sons a publicly owned company, therefore allowing the Board to sell off their shares (a luxury previously denied by Sam, who insisted the company remain within the family).

As we are introduced to each of the Board members, and learn of their debaucherous exploits and illegal undertakings, it becomes boringly clear that something sinister is afoot.

And Elizabeth begins to think… maybe Sam’s death wasn’t an accident… an experienced mountain climber falling into a dark abyss is maybe something she should have looked into a little more… maybe someone killed him… maybe that someone was a member of the Board… a member of her family…. DUN DUN DAAAAAAAH (cue anxious nail biting here)!!!!!!!

Elizabeth keeps her suspicions to herself as the Board of Directors continue pressuring her to step down, and allow for the sale of their shares.

When she refuses to capitulate, several murderous attempts are made to get her out of the picture, and she fears for her life, as well as the future of Roffe and Sons.

But which of her desperate, greedy family members is to blame? Or could it even be Sam’s right-hand man, Rhys Williams, the dashingly chivalrous Welshman with a dark past, and suave charisma (is it just me or does it kind of sound like an episode from Days of Our Lives?).

Each has motive. So how on earth will we ever solve this mystery?

Have no fear, because just when you start to wonder where the hell this is all going, in gallops Inspector Max Hornung, from God knows where, to clean up the messy plot and end my torture once and for all.

This mythical-like Inspector, who asks all the right questions and makes all the right assumptions, was not mentioned in the first three quarters of the book. It almost seemed as though Sheldon himself was growing bored with the story and invented a never-before-heard-of character to wrap things up nice and quick. It just didn’t really make sense. Especially considering the fact that he took about half the book to introduce and set up all the other characters.

The endless barrage of backstories (of the Board of Directors and their spouses) made the text difficult to follow at times, and I often found myself sifting through the pages trying to remind myself which character was which.

Amongst all this, we flash back to Elizabeth’s adolescence, where she has a brief homosexual tryst with her boarding school teacher. You might think this made things a little juicier, a little more exciting.

No. It didn’t.

It was totally irrelevant, added nothing to the story, and still baffles me as to why it was included at all. This is just one example of the overwhelming amount of unnecessary information contained within the covers of Bloodline.

The ending was anticlimactic, forced, and totally predictable- despite Sheldon’s efforts to add a few last-minute twists and turns into the mix.

All in all it’s pretty crumby. So leave it on the shelf.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being- book review

Rating

4 out of 5

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

By Milan Kundera

First Published: 1984

Translated into English (from Czech) by Michael Henry Heim.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author…

Milan Kundera was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929. His experiences as a young intellectual in his war-torn homeland are evident in this partly autobiographical novel. He was a vocal advocate for the reformation of Czech communism after WWII, and was thus silenced in Prague after the 1968 Spring Uprising, before taking exile in France, where he remains to this day.

 

 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being packs some pretty heavy philosophical punches. Kundera begins by weighing up- pardon the pun- the significance of lightness vs. weight, and the inevitable question of which is preferable to the human condition.

He compares Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal return (heaviness) against Parmenides, who understood life as divided into either lightness or weight.

Kundera agrees with Nietzsche when he claims that eternal recurrence allows us to overcome meaninglessness, and therefore obtain happiness. In other words: we crave repetition; we crave the mundane; repetition is happiness.

However, Kundera departs from Nietzsche when he claims that eternal recurrence is impossible, since a human life only occurs once, moving ahead in a straight line. By doing so Kundera asks his audience how there can be any significance to life, when there is no eternal return, “”What happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.” And thus, man will never be happy.

Kundera also has issues Parmenides, who claimed that that in life, lightness was positive, and weight negative. Instead he struggles with which is preferable, a struggle that is represented in his characters- Tereza and Franz symbolize weight, Thomas and Sabina, lightness.

Kundera sets his novel against the backdrop of war-torn Czechoslovakia in the midst of Russian invasion, during the famous 1968 Spring Uprising, and spans over two decades.

In Bohemia, Prague we meet our main protagonist, Thomas; as well known for his work as a surgeon as he is for his unapologetic womanizing (but who ultimately ends up a window-washer).

He struggles incessantly with the inequalities he perceives between thought and emotion, between love and lust, between lightness and weight. Even after marrying his wife, Tereza, he fails to see any reason to cease his adulterous affairs, because to him, his mistresses pose no threat to his wife, and lust poses no threat to love. He believes his mistresses give weight (or meaning) to an otherwise excruciatingly light existence.

Thomas borrows the line “Es’ muss sein” (it must be) from a Beethoven composition, and uses it often to describe his relationship with Tereza, whom he both adores, and at times despises, but believes he has no choice in loving because, ‘it must be.’ He believes that fate sent Tereza to him; vulnerable, sick and needy, like Moses in a “bulrush basket”.  It was because of this belief that Thomas left the safety of Switzerland to follow Tereza back to Prague- a decision he later regrets, when he becomes ostracized and oppressed by the regime.

But still he remains (un)loyal to Tereza until the very end.

Sabina, Thomas’s favourite mistress, and close friend, is a Czech artist who lives for rebellion, detests kitsch and is known as the eternal betrayer, “Betrayal means breaking ranks and going off into the unknown. Sabina knew of nothing more magnificent…”

After Thomas moves back to Prague Sabina is forced to find other suitable affairs that will quench her insatiable thirst for ‘lightness’.

Enter Franz. Dear, sweet, silly Franz; the eternal optimist; naïve dreamer; and idealistic sop. If Sabina represents black, then Franz- a Swiss lecturer- is the most dazzling white you’ve ever seen.

Lightness is not something he strives to obtain. He wishes for nothing more than to feel the weight (or importance as he sees it) of his existence. After embarking on an adulterous affair with Sabina, he leaves his wife and daughter, only to be simultaneously dumped by Sabina (having a monogamous relationship with an un-married man was simply out of the question for rebellious Sabina).

After Sabina’s sudden departure from his life, he tries hard to legitimize and enjoy his new sense of freedom. He takes a young lover, moves into a new apartment, and struggles to find meaning in his life.

He becomes obsessed with the idea of a “great and noble march towards a brighter future’. Before long he finds the perfect outlet to fulfill his idealistic dreams when he is invited to travel to Cambodia and participate in a protest (with other intellectuals and celebrities) against the Khmer Rouge. In one of my favourite and most fitting literary deaths, Franz’s ‘great and noble march’ concludes unsuccessfully at the hands of Thai muggers in Bangkok.

This was my first time reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and I feel like it’s one of those books that you need to read a few times before it can be fully appreciated. Having said that though, I thought this book was incredible. It’s universal themes of sexuality, politics, betrayal, love, life and death transcends its context. The way Kundera  deals with these issues is unique and riveting, ensuring the books relevancy almost thirty years after it was written.

Year of Wonders- a Novel of the Plague: book review

Year of Wonders- a Novel of the Plague

By Geraldine Brooks

2001

About the Author…

Geraldine Brookes is an accomplished journalist-turned-novelist who hails from the western suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Throughout her impressive journalistic career she lent her voice to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Wall Street Journal. It was during her time as foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal that Brooks travelled to the small town of Eyam, Derbyshire (or the ‘Plague Town’ as it has become known), from which the contents of, ‘Year of Wonders’ was inspired.

 

 

‘Year of Wonders’ takes place in the small English mining town of Eyam, in 1665. Our narrator and heroin, 18-year old Anna Frith, is struggling with the loss of her husband, and raising their two sons alone, when she agrees to take in a boarder. George Viccars is a well-mannered, handsome and accomplished tailor. With him he brings hope and excitement back into Anna’s life. He also brings a tainted piece of fabric from London, infected with bubonic plague.

And thus the devastation begins…

After a passionate plea from the town vicar, Michael Mompellion, the residents of Eyam agree to voluntarily quarantine themselves within the borders of their “wide green prison,” ensuring the disease remained confined. What unfolds is a beautifully recounted tale of disease, hatred, ignorance and unfathomable catastrophe. The underbelly of human nature arises as the community struggle with grief and superstition, and continually turn to extreme acts such as witch hunts, grave-robbing and murder, oh my!

As the months drag on, and the body count sours, Anna’s battle to survive and bring new life into a dying town eventually turn a year of intense suffering into annus mirabilis, a ‘year of wonders.’

The Good…

Despite its contents, the story is actually quite enjoyable to read. The book recounts a staggering amount of deaths, yet it’s not depressing. Deaths are dealt with swiftly and not dwelled upon (for the most part). Brooks’ time as foreign correspondent in the Middle East and Africa obviously taught her that prattling off death after death ultimately loses its effect after a while.

The Bad…

Unfortunately though, the book tends to be a little predictable (despite the wacky twist at the end). The sequence of events is pretty straight forward, and the characters were annoyingly two-dimensional at times. The town dwellers were cut straight down the middle. You have your heroes- Anna; the vicars wife; and Anys Gowdie; the towns ‘healer.’ And then you have your villains- the evil, rich Bradford family who fled Eyam when the plague erupted; and Josiah Bont, Anna’s father and local lunatic who buries people alive! Inevitably, and predictably, the heroes are rewarded, and villains punished accordingly. There was obviously no grey area in Eyam’s ‘wide green prison’.

Having said that though, ‘A Year of Wonders’ is still a good read. It deals with the plague in an incredibly refreshing way, a more personal way. More than just death and disease, ‘A Year of Wonders’ is about human nature, and how communities deal with crisis.

Sia at the Enmore Theatre

Sia Furler

Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2010 was a big year for Sia. After more than a decade of releasing music, the 35-year-old, Adelaide-born singer is finally enjoying the recognition she deserves, thanks the release of her fifth solo album, ‘We Are Born,’ which debuted at number two on the ARIA charts.

Last week I was lucky enough to see the amazingly talented, and irresistibly charming Sia perform at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre. Her eclectic blend of Jazz, RnB, Soul and pop, provided an equally eclectic mix of humans walking through the doors of the ‘Furnace’ formally known as the Enmore Theatre. The cool kids sipped beer with the queens, and middle-aged mums gyrated up against cute zygotes wearing skinny leg jeans.

Not surprisingly, the 8pm start time stated on our tickets actually meant 9.30pm, so I had a solid hour to enjoy the non-air-conditioned venue (in the middle of a Sydney heat wave), half-listen to the opening act- The Holiday’s- and make some lovely new friends who would sporadically fan me with the crumpled up fliers they’d absentmindedly grabbed on their way in.

It also gave me a chance to appreciate Sia’s wacky set design, filled with multi-coloured crocheted nanna blankets, hippy rugs, loads of stripes, and kind of looked like it was a Big Ted short of a Play School set. It was great!

When Sia finally did grace the stage, the Play School theme continued as she waddled to the microphone wearing a pink tutu, black ruffled top, and mass amounts of black body paint covering her exposed flesh – face and all! Strapped to her back, was what appeared to be an old cardboard box that had been ripped apart, painted black, and held precariously together with sticky tape. Jemima would be proud! Meanwhile, her band members all looked like giant candy-canes; donning colourful, stripy get-ups. It really did look like an art and craft wonderland!

Aside from the kooky set, Sia’s performance was flawless. Her voice is, quite simply, unreal. She entertained the sweaty crowd with a few of her older tracks, and a plethora of new ones, from her latest album, ‘We Are Born.’

Throughout the night Sia was crazy, sarcastic, and engaged in playful banter between almost every song, in her adorably cutesy, High 5 voice – not to mention her crazy cackle, which is deliciously infectious.

My only complaint (aside from the lack of air-conditioning) is that Sia’s set didn’t last long enough. Her battle with Graves Disease – an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid – could be the reason she can’t perform for prolonged periods of time. After a bit of cyber-digging I discovered that symptoms of Graves Disease include increased sweating, warm and moist skin, and heat intolerance. No wonder she couldn’t get off the stage quick enough, the poor girl! She also announced last year that due to her illness she will stop promoting and touring. But no fear, she will continue to create and release new music,

“Someday I’ll die. Between now and then I’m going to keep my shit together and sing my fucking heart out.”

Lets hope so!

 “I’ve always been obsessed with the beauty of sign language. The movement and expression just appears, to ignorant-hearing-me as a dance… a beautiful, emotive dance. But the real beauty is that, hidden in these perfect shapes, is communication.” Sia

Public Holiday’s and National Parks don’t Mix

Public holidays are an Australian institution. We don’t even care what we’re celebrating, just give us a day off, and we’d probably throw an engagement party for a cockroach. I mean, the Queen was born in April, but every second Monday in June we eat heartily, drink merrily and in our own way, wish the Queen a very load, happy ‘fricken’ birthday!

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Last week, Aussies all over the word celebrated Australia day. How did you celebrate?

I foolishy ventured into one of our beautiful national parks. Growing up around the southern suburbs of Sydney I have a definite soft spot for the Royal National Park, located 32km south of the Sydney CBD. My favourite beach rests here, so on Australia Day that’s exactly where I headed, only to discover, so had the rest of Sydney. By 9.30am there were sighs around the Sutherland Shire claiming the National Park was full! We took our chances and headed in anyway. What a mistake. Turns out my ‘secret spot’ isn’t so secret and there were cars parked up to 4 km (a rugged, steep 4km!) away from the beach. We left.

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Instead, we waited until the next day, when the place was unrecognizable. Big black garbage bags lined the outskirts of the beach, and stray rubbish was scattered everywhere.  It definitely didn’t look like a pristine, protected national park, and got me to thinking that maybe this shouldn’t be allowed to happen, especially when there were no clean-up services the next day. In any case it’s a shame that people can’t simply pick up after themselves- considering all we know about how fragile our environment is.

What do you think? Should there be a limit to the amount of people allowed entry into national parks during public holidays or should they be closed altogether?