Archive for October 2010
This is another of the panels I attended at Aussie Con 4, the real title was High stakes: The Television Worlds of Joss Whedon and it was talking all about his various television productions and how good they were. This will be a shortish post as I don’t want to give away spoilers for those people who have just discovered him or are considering watching his works.
There are various things that are key to Whedon’s brilliance. They are as follows:
Now, I could explain each point but that would mean giving examples and that’s spoilers. I know his works have been around for quite some time, but some of the people in the session had barely started watching Buffy and others had seen everything he’d done. At the time I’d seen bits and pieces of both Buffy and Angel so it was quite interesting to me to get other people’s viewpoints and see some of my own ideas come back to me.
Just because I really can’t be bothered writing anything of substance today and because I have this book awaiting a review and because I’ve mentioned a rant coming on about this book and also because I had to have a break from Australis Imaginarium (a fantastic book but I want to eek out the fantasticness so I stopped and read something else) I’m reviewing another Gerald Durrell book.
This is another in the series of autobiographical books written by Gerald Durrell to help support the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. Durrell was a seriously amazing man, he started being interested in wildlife from a very early age and some of his books written about his family show just how interested he was, his room was apparently awash with all sorts of animals, birds, insects and spiders. This book is dedicated to showing us the state of conservation of fauna in New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia in the mid 1960s.
Things have changed tremendously since that time and yet in some ways they haven’t changed at all. In the 1960s the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust was the only organisation in the world dedicated to preserving wildlife, to ensuring that wildlife of all kinds were not made extinct and to ensuring their zoo developed breeding programmes for all sorts of animals and birds that were heading for extinction. Nowadays we have so many organisations and I’d suggest that all zoos are dedicated to breeding programmes to ensure extinction doesn’t happen. I’ll just mention a few and if you want to put more into the comments section that’d be good too. We’ve got WWF, World Land Trust and Greenpeace, I’ve chosen these three in no particular order and for no particular reason than that I remembered them, there are a large number of other organisations like these and you can donate money to them or donate your time and energy I’m sure they need more of both.
I’m not going to detail the number of species that were in danger at the time this book was written and show you which ones are now extinct and which are no longer in danger due to the breeding programmes as that would take more time than I have available, it would also not be a review of the book. I’m sure you are aware of some of the fauna that are endangered at present, the whales being fairly high in people’s thoughts.
Now, to the book. Durrell came out to the southern hemisphere with his wife, Jacqui, and a modest film crew to document conservation in this area, most specifically in New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. Having said that he was only out here for a few weeks and really could not be expected to see everything so if your area is not mentioned then it doesn’t mean conservation wasn’t actually happening there just that he didn’t have enough time. While here he saw some amazing sights and shot some fabulous footage, including getting footage of a live kangaroo birth, one of the first pieces of footage filmed of this amazing creature. He also managed to see the Wrybill in New Zealand which is an amazing bird which seems to walk around in packs while also staying in the same place, you’d have to read the passage to understand, it also has a bent bill. He also managed to film a Leathery Turtle laying eggs and watched the conservation techniques at work.
On with the rant. This is a wonderful book, it is one in a series of wonderful books by the same author but I take exception to this one due to it’s poor proofreading. Durrell is in Melbourne, talking
out about Lyrebirds and is taken out to Sherwood Forest to see them and to film them. At this point I was almost shouting in distress as it’s not Sherwood, but Sherbrooke. I’ve been there so many times, I’ve fed the Rosellas (even though you’re not meant to feed them as it makes them lazy) and I’ve seen Lyrebirds there on a number of occasions, one very special occasion we even stopped for several minutes and recorded two Lyrebirds competing in song, one up in the forest on one side of the path and the other down in the forest on the other side of the path – a truly amazing experience. But why couldn’t the proofreader have got it right? Just digressing a little, there’s a fair chance I was actually there on the day he filmed only I wouldn’t remember as I would have been fairly young at the time, I recall visiting there with my family on a number of occasions. I’ve even seen an Echidna there.
Anyway, if you can put aside the proofing of this book then I thoroughly recommend it as it’s a great read.
If you’re reading this then you’re most likely a book type person and you understand what I’m saying. Librarians rock! I know I’m not the only to say this as I was pointed to this website where there are 20 heroic librarians and they include Giles from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I’m not going to drool over Giles, instead I’m going to mention one librarian who wasn’t mentioned.
The book is Embers and I wrote a few words about it here. In it the heroine goes into a library and finds the ghost of a librarian who helps her find all the information she needs. The librarian, Felicity, died when a fifty-pound bucket of drywall fell off scaffolding onto her head, she had the choice to move on or stay around. Now, if you’re really into books and you’re given a choice of living in a library for an incredibly long time, long enough to read absolutely all the books currently residing there and then all the ones still to be acquired wouldn’t you stay? Anyway, I loved this librarian, she just dove into the stacks and rustled through the newspapers, she didn’t need to actually move anything as she could look without doing that. How cool is that?
I was planning on writing more about AussieCon 4 as I still have stacks I wanted to say about the whole event but I went to school play last night and was so pleased with it I’m going to tell you all. Put on by the years 3 – 7 of the King David School it was performed at Chapel on Chapel.
While it was called Frankenstein Meets Dracula they were actually quite separate. Both of them were written by Carey Blyton (Enid Blyton’s nephew) and you can see a little more here. Dracula was first with a 20 minute interval before we met Frankenstein. I had to bear in mind that it was a school production and some of the participants were only in grade 3 so naturally they’d be taking out a lot of the scarey stuff. Anyway, I had a ball.
I’m reasonably familiar with the story of Dracula having refreshed my memory earlier this year with it but haven’t read Frankenstein for far too long. Dracula was fairly true to the Bram Stoker’s story with the deletion of most of the scarey stuff, the addition of a few songs and a lot of narration to bring the whole thing down to 30 minutes. Professor van Helsing was female and had a companion who did a lot of Buffy-style moves but both of them were terrific. There was the addition of an M & M, yellow one who was so embarrassed she was red and yes, she was wearing a red M & M suit. There was a lovely sequence where Count Dracula was mourning not being able to see his own reflection in the mirror and so we saw a pair of twins do a mirror sequence followed by a number of ‘twinned’ people doing a rather nice dance. I particularly enjoyed poor Renfield’s Dining-Room Ballad as she proceeded to tell us about some food she just had to eat.
Frankenstein was also good but I didn’t enjoy it as much. Maybe it’s an age thing as my niece (she was the flautist in the in the orchestra) tells me Frankenstein was much better. Maybe it’s because I’m not as familiar with the story. They did bring on Michael Jackson as a companion to Elizabeth (Frankenstein’s fiancee) giving them the chance to dance to Thriller and I enjoyed that very much.
I enjoyed the whole evening. The orchestra did a fabulous job and the cast was fantastic. There were few problem moments and they were totally outweighed by the whole. The sets were really well done. There was one young man who collapsed in the first few moments of Frankenstein and I do hope he’s okay, there were enough nurses and doctors in the audience to look after him.
Gerald Durrell was a naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, author, television presenter and all round nature lover. He spent a lifetime collecting animals, studying them and educating people and zoos in the best way to study and keep them. He’s written a large number of books about his childhood, his collecting and his zookeeping days.
This particular book describes a collecting expedition to the Cameroons where he put together a pack of African hunters and mongrel dogs which he called the Bafut Beagles and together they collected a vast range of animals. Durrell spends some time describing some of the hunts as well as describing the cleaning of the animals and his struggle to keep them alive. He spends time describing the animals and their personalities as well as his interactions with the people around him. One particular day is incredibly long as he spends a lot of time drinking with the Fon of Bafut (the head man), only to get back to his house and go straight out for a lengthy hunt, on his return he then makes cages and feeds and waters the new animals as well as looking after the current animals before finally getting to bed.
Durrell struggled with the superstitions of the local people. One story stands out. It’s the story of the Que-fong-goo, a skink about a foot long, the Bafutians thought it was poisonous and that even to touch it meant death. Durrell thought otherwise and managed to catch one and to the amazement of the Bafut Beagles he stuck his thumb into the skinks mouth; needless to say he didn’t die but the Bafut Beagles were convinced he would. He talked to them about white man’s medicine and eventually talked the Fon into trying out the ‘medicine’ (some boracic acid) on his hands and then picking up the skink. He was fine and the next day the Bafut Beagles talked Durrell into giving them some white man’s medicine so they could go out and hunt some Que-fong-goo for him, they came back with a good catch. He then ordered a good supply of boracic acid for the future.
He wasn’t quite so lucky in an encounter with a snake. He disobeyed the cardinal rule of look before you put your hand into the container and was bitten by a deadly snake. He quickly cut into his flesh around the bite and got rid of as much poison as possible before being driven to the nearest doctor. He was lucky enough to make it to the doctor in time but all sorts of things went wrong first such as the car needing to be push started.
Anyway, I love all of the books written by Gerald Durrell. He’s lead a colourful life and has an entertaining way of sharing that with us. Some of his books detail how he started his zoo in his sister’s garden and how he was able to move out of there to somewhere far more appropriate.
This is Dawn French’s memoirs. In it she writes letters to those who have been a big influence in her life. There are a number of letters to her father who committed suicide when she was 19, letters to her elder brother, letters to her best friend, letters to Fatty (Jennifer Saunders) and among them is a letter to her boyfriend when she was 16. I laughed, I cried and I put it down with a satisfied feeling. French is a very talented woman and has had the good fortune of having some extremely talented and dedicated people in her life.
Her father was going through his own private hell called depression and managed to keep this from both her and her brother until the time he committed suicide, it was at that time that the family found out and had to confront their own loss as well as wondering if there was anything they could have done differently. In one particular letter French asks so many questions, there’s about two pages of questions and there are no answers, I’m guessing these are the questions that each family member of a suicide asks themselves and you never really get the answers; it is very confronting reading through all these questions and I had to put it down part way through as I couldn’t see through the tears. The closest I’ve come to this is when a cousin died of an overdose and he wasn’t really a close cousin. While he was going through all of this French’s father gave French enormous doses of self-esteem, including telling her how important and wonderful she was just before she went to a party, a very special party where she’d dressed up in a short skirt to impress a boy, she went to the party feeling on top of the world and while she didn’t impress the boy she didn’t seem to care any more, her father had done a fabulous job.
Her mother knew she had to help pick up the slack with the family finances as it was obvious things were not going well financially and French spends a bit of time going through the reasons for the financial problems. In order to do this she identified an area that needed a specialist, trained in that speciality and then opened her own business. She helped hold the family together financially and made it possible for French to do all the things a teenager feels they need to do. She quietly and efficiently kept the family together.
Her best friend has been a tower of strength over many years (and I’m sure she has a name, but I don’t recall reading it) even pretending to be pregnant when they were looking for baby equipment to ensure French didn’t have to suffer a barrage of questions from the media. Jennifer Saunders threw herself into the task of focussing other people’s thoughts away from French when she went into hospital to have the baby by getting them involved in her new project, Absolutely Fabulous – I knew there had to be a reason why French wasn’t in the programme. The baby isn’t mentioned again after that and French talks to her daughter about her adoption so I can only wonder what happened to the baby, I’m theorising it’s a sad story.
As I mentioned before one of the letters is to her boyfriend at the age of 16. A very formative time and an interesting letter. Her father was in the RAF and so the family moved around a lot, at one stage her parents decided that if the children were going to do more with their lives then they needed to have some stable education so they sent them to boarding school. Here we go, French is at boarding school at the age of 16 and also has a boyfriend and one day they decide to have a party at his parent’s house. Fine and dandy, it was mostly organised over the phone (remember this was the 1970s so with no mobile phones they would have had one wall phone to organise it with) and everything came together beautifully. His parents agreed to be on the premises but upstairs where they’d be out of the way, lots of people turned up and it was a great party…until his mother screamed and the whole thing became chaos as his father had died. French had to deal with the task of getting everybody to go home when they’d been expecting to crash on the floor that night and she herself also went home and then back to school the following Monday. During the week her mother took her out school as her boyfriend hadn’t come out of his room for three days, she went into that room and hibernated with him for several more days. The part that amazes me here with the writing is that she goes into absolutely zero detail about what happened there, she says it’s his story and he gets to choose whether to tell people or not. This is fabulous, so many memoirs go into enormous detail about embarrassing parts of other people’s lives and she chooses to just leave it.
French goes into detail about so many moments and people in her life that cause her to be who she is now and to have the confidence she has. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. When I wrote about it for Teaser Tuesday Lynn kindly mentioned French is writing her first novel and I shall be very excited to read it.
I can’t leave this article without mentioning the letters to Madonna. Madonna has turned down requests to work with French and Saunders on many different occasions and so they turned this to their advantage creating skits about her on their show, French writes letters to Madonna talking about this. Now, it’s not the fact that she’s written letters to her it’s the way they are written as she completely changes syntax and style to write in a vaguely female Borat style. Cute.
I had great respect for French before reading this book but now I have even more respect. She goes into detail when she needs to but leaves the detail out when it is someone else’s story. She writes in many different styles depending on who she’s writing to. She writes to her niece as if they are twins, but twins separated by 40 years. Now I have the hard decision, do I sell the book, give it away on BookCrossing or put it on my shelf.