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Friday, September 30, 2016

The skyscraper curse


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going through financial convulsions as the oil price keeps dropping but that's not stopping them from building what will become the world's tallest building, the Jeddah Tower, which confirms once again what the economist Andrew Lawrence called "the skyscraper curse" when noting that the construction of record-breaking skyscrapers often coincided with economic downturns.

It is being constructed at a preliminary cost of $1.23 billion and will be the centerpiece of a $20 billion proposed development known as Jeddah Economic City that will be located along the Red Sea on the north side of Jeddah. If completed as planned, the Jeddah Tower will reach unprecedented heights, becoming the tallest building in the world, as well as the first structure to reach the one-kilometre-high mark.

It will have 58 lifts, including four of the world’s fastest “double-deckers” travelling at up to 10 metres per second, and some single-deck lifts that travel even faster and can induce bladder problems (I know I'd be pissing myself going up 200-odd floors! ☺).

I hope they won't forget to instal separate lifts for women because I remember from my time in Jeddah in the early 80s when the city's skyline was dominated by a wall of apartment blocks which had already stood empty for years. Why? Because Saudi men refuse women into the same lift with them. Goats yes; women no!

No separate lifts for women and Jeddah Tower may yet become another Ozymandias’s ruin: “Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away” - unless, of course, women are expected to take the stairs.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Happy hour is a nap in the Clubhouse


I'm a terrible sleeper at night but make up for it during the day. There's something about the clubhouse by the pond that sends me off to a blissful sleep almost as soon as my head hits the old sofa.

Or perhaps it's something about the sofa, old and well sat in as it is. It's the first sofa I'd ever bought when back in 1985 I had given up employer-supplied cars, employer-supplied accommodation, and employer-supplied furnishings and hit my own domesticity - and my own bank balance - with a vengeance.



I had bought myself a one-bedroom hole-in-the-wall apartment at McMahons Point and furnished it all - sofa, chairs, coffee table, bookshelves, standing lamp, bed and bedside tables, et al - in one short lunchbreak by walking across to Grace Bros.'s George Street store, pointing at the various objects, and telling the sales assistant who was already mentally calculating his commission, "One of these, one of those, and two of those over there, and have it all delivered by this evening."

The sofa is all that's left of those "Sturm und Drang" years. It's like an old friend I've known for years and feel comfortable with. Rover thinks so, too. Come on, Rover! Time to put on some Mozart and hit the sofa! It's happy hour!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Do you ever have too much shelf space?


Definitely not in my workshop! Being able to spread out and having all the tools and screws and bolts and nuts in their proper places makes for much more enjoyable and faster work. Not that 'faster' is the operative word; after all, this is retirement and pottering is what it's all about.

And what's that odd caneball hanging down from a string, I hear you ask. It's the Burmese equivalent of our rugby league: chinlone, a traditional ballgame in which the ball must never touch the ground. And in keeping with the happy disposition of those gentle people, there are no opposing teams and no winning or losing.

Now my caneball hangs in my workshop to remind me of happier times and so as not to knock my head on the tools hanging above.

You always learn something when reading my blog, don't you? ☺


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Boy on a Dolphin


This almost forgotten film is noteworthy for two reasons: it was Sophia Loren's English-language debut, and much of it was shot on location on the Greek island of Hydra when George Johnston and Charmian Clift lived there.

Living at Marina Zea in Piraeus - see here - , just metres away from where those Russian-built 'Flying Dolphins' left for Hydra, I visited the island several times in the early 80s. Situated 70km south of Athens, the ferry would skirt what seemed little more than a bald rock in a boundless cerulean ocean when, abruptly, the town of Hydra would reveal itself like a quixotic watercolour print — its dramatic terrace of garish white houses perched enigmatically above the harbour, where pastel skiffs gently pitter-pattered against the ancient stone walls.

Beyond a few cosmetic nip-and-tucks, the island scarcely differed from the island the Johnstons sailed into in 1955. Old men still crouched over tables in the meniscus harbour playing plakoto and downing cups of black coffee, while nearby donkeys bellowed, awaiting the next shipment from the mainland.

During their years on Hydra, George Johnston and Charmian Clift presided over an extensive bohemian community of artists and writers and became Australia's greatest love story and, some 20 years later, a Greek tragedy because, within five years of returning to Australia, Clift committed suicide, Johnston succumbed to his illnesses just a year later, daughter Shane suicided in 1974, and son Martin died from alcoholism in 1990. The fate of their son Jason, who was born on Hydra in 1956, is unknown.

During 1963, amid the partying and the drinking, George began to write his iconic Australian novel My Brother Jack but confided to his friend Leonard Cohen, "I just don't know what to call it". "What's it about?" Leonard said. "My brother Jack," George replied. Leonard said: "There you are."


Island of Love. Charmian & George are best seen in the wedding scene as they are coming out of the church. Charmian in big straw hat is directly behind the groom; George is to her left and the man on her right is Gordon Merrick, best-selling US author who also lived on Hydra. The children, Martin (in black-rimmed glasses) with his sister Shane, are clearly seen in their own full-frame shot walking along the port, and in the next shot Jason with his friend Evangelina.


The filming of "The Boy on a Dolphin" and two other movies, "Girl in Black" and "Island of Love", caused great excitement on the island and got a mention in both George and Charmian's writing. The whole family were extras in these movies. See if you can recognise them.


Girl in Black. The Johnston children are extras in this film.


Charmian writes most Charmianly about this invasion of their little island by the people from Hollywood in her book "Peel Me a Lotus" in the chapter "September". You won't be able to rush out and buy a copy as it has been out of print for a long time but you might find a second-hand copy on ebay.

One of George Johnston's friends was the LIFE magazine photographer James Burke. James came to Hydra in October 1960 and photographed the expat community. His photographs of that era are all on the Google LIFE archive and can be viewed here. To this day the locals call the house the Johnstons lived in, the "Australian House".

As for me, as soon as I hear Zorba the Greek's theme music - oops! sorry, wrong version! try this one - or see the movie's opening scene, set in a Piraeus taverna just a few streets up from where I lived, I'm right back in Greece, long before "the full catastrophe" happened ☺


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Our floating neighbourhood


The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.

It's easy for us to love our neighbours because they're usually here today and gone tomorrow. These ones anchored their houseboat just across from "Riverbend" two nights ago.

They obviously like the location and are welcome to it because that's as close as they will get.

Howdy, neighbours!