Thursday, July 28, 2011


Vale Margaret Olley, Australian artist who died on 26 July 2011 this week at the age of 88

(Cyclamens and Apples 2005)

(daisies and pears 1978)

She recently sat for a portrait by Ben Quilty, which won this year's Archibald Prize, here it is.

Olley was a figurative painter of great skill, who produced wonderful still lifes, which seem so old fashioned these days and yet full of life and light and substance.  What, really, could be more wonderful than a perfect bunch of flowers and a bowl of fruit sitting in the sunshine. 

(Poppies 2004)

(spare bedroom, 1970, which is at the Lismore Art Gallery)

She always struck me as a very determined person, not at all a flighty scatty artist.   And I love her food \ flower combinations.  Others include cornflowers and pomegranates, cliveas and mandarins and ranunculas and watermelon).

(Quinces and Marigolds 2005)

The older you get of course the more you can get away with saying what you want.  I love this quote of Olley's:

'I’ve never liked housework. I get by doing little chores when I feel like them, in between paintings. Who wants to chase dust all their life? You can spend your whole lifetime cleaning the house. I like watching the patina grow. If the house looks dirty, buy another bunch of flowers, is my advice.'

(from the biography by Meg Stewart you can read a review of this here).  

She certainly took her own advice because here she is in her studio:

The Sydney Morning Herald's obit is here. 

One of my ambitions in life, if you could call it that, is to reach such a ripe age, say what I want, paint what I want, and clean when I want (or not).

(all still life images from Eva Breuer)

Monday, July 18, 2011


Location: rainforest north west of Mosman, in tropical far north Queensland.

Weather conditions:  warm and dry.  A bit of tropical rain at night, but what could be nicer. 

Lazy act of self indulgence: being woken up at 6.45 every morning by shouty son, putting him in front of ABC Kids on TV and going back to bed.  

Assignment:  lots of swimming, eating and sleeping.  And standing on rocks.  And running up and down the grass rather pointlessly. 

Participants:  two small wet children, one happy husband, one very happy me. 

Local natives:  Beware of screeching tropical birds in the night. And green tree frogs hopping from pond to deck.  And feral pigs, although the gunshots we heard early most mornings I suspect may have put paid to those piggies.   And watch out for koalas and bright parrots.  Oh, and the large black spiders which crawled into our luggage whilst we were there.   Luckily most of the local crocodiles seem to be quickly caught and sent to the nearby croc farm.   I have had this question a lot though 'Can crocodiles eat people?  Why?  Will they eat me?  Why not?'.

(little bird at our house) 

(A koala doing what koalas do best: snoozing)

(this is the only breeding pair of jabirus in the world. They spent 2 years courting and another 2 looking for the right place to nest.  Just like human beings.) 

Sustenance:  I only have one rule about holidays, and that is, I do not want to cook breakfast lunch and dinner.  Much as I love cooking, that is just too much standing around in the kitchen for me.  For this holiday, we had lunch every day in Port Douglas (mostly here and here).   

Crazy self discipline idea:   do you go on holidays full of good intentions like exercising in inappropriate locations, or not drinking alcohol, or going fat free?  I do.  And that usually lasts about 3 days.   As I have spent most of the last 6 months feeling hungover from the lovely chemo side effects, drinking has not been high on the agenda.   How nice it was on this holiday to enjoy wine.    Oh, and should I mention we had dessert every single day for lunch? With no guilt, no regrets and no second thoughts.   Otherwise what is the point?

 (pistachio kulfi with silver leaf and watermelon salad) 

(dragonfruit ice cream (how amazing is the colour) and creme caramel. Very 1970's!)

(at our fourth meal at this restaurant they supplied the children's honeycomb ice cream in an ice and rose petal bowl instead of a 'normal' bowl. )

Outcome: for some reason it seems as if the children always take some great step on holidays. Is that just because I am paying more attention, or because they relax into it?  The guilty mother in me would say this is because I am around the whole time, not working and not distracted with life.  But I think it is more that they have time to work on things with lots of pushy parental encouragement.   This time round, our son became independent in the water (with a foam noodle of course) and our daughter finally got the hang of diving (as opposed to belly flopping).   

Now it's back to the real world. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

43 Books

Following my last post where I mentioned the books I read during surgery and chemo, a number of people asked me (a) what I read and (b) how I found the time.

The answer to (b) is that when you spend months hooked up to intravenous poison every Monday morning for 4 or so hours, you suddenly have quite a lot of time for reading.

(a bit of our library)

And the answer to (a) is below where I list my 43 books. 

As I have said before, I found reading a bit challenging this year.  I did not want to read anything life changing which would later remind me of where I was when I read it. 

I also found it quite helpful to read about people battling life and death in an escapist sense because it made me feel that they were in more trouble than me (the same reason I have watched a lot of House this year.  They have what disease?   Just made me feel better that I had simple straightforward cancer).  

And also I did occasionally feel pretty brain dead and something simple and soft was just the answer. 

I have to mention the role of my Kindle in all this.  Whilst I love to hold a real book in my hot little hands, the Kindle has so many advantages.  Two in particular I mention: the first is that if you are stuck somewhere and don't feel like reading what you have, you can in 30 seconds download another book.  The second is cost.  On Kindle, most paperbacks are $5 to $7, old classics are free, and even new ones are about $11.  Compared to a shop price of $29 for a new paperback that is a major saving and explains why I could do crazy things like read the balance of the Lee Child oeuvre.  ( I bet not many people put 'Lee Child' and 'oeuvre' in the same sentence). 

So, fully categorised and colour coded, here is the list.   

This post is dedicated to Anton, the lovely silver haired man from the country I met in the oncology suite who reads military history and was always interested in what I was reading.  I hope you are doing okay.  

A mixed bag of fiction

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
One Day by David Nicholls
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak 
The Flaneur by Edmund White
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (thanks Simone xo)

US loner ex military cop adventures

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
The Visitor by Lee Child
Without Fail by Lee Child
Tripwire by Lee Child
Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child
Persuader by Lee Child

I am addicted to Jack Reacher and his slightly improbable but impeccably plotted adventures in the US heartland. 

Self Help and Cancer

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle  (first and last self help book I will ever try to read)
C: Because Cowards get Cancer too by John Diamond
Crazy Sexy Cancer by Kris Carr
The C Word by Lisa Lynch

A classic fast paced WW2 thriller

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
(I also read 'A Dangerous Fortune', epic banking family revenge saga set in late 1800s London).  

Soppy and Likely to Make You Lose Respect for Me

A Special Relationship by Douglas Kennedy
Temptation by Douglas Kennedy 
State of the Union by Douglas Kennedy
The Moment by Douglas Kennedy (this is his latest book about a doomed romance set in a 1980s separated Berlin.  I don't know about you but I fully loathed the main character by the end of this story - whatever you do don't read this book)
A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve (always love her work although her earlier stuff is superior I think)

Venetian Detective

Wilful Behaviour by Donna Leon

2 new US legal thrillers

Innocent by Scott Turow (this is a sequel to Presumed Innocent and is quite brilliant.  His writing is so calm and powerful, and this is a marvellous depiction of a marriage in decay as well). 
The Confession by John Grisham

Adventure for 12 year old girls
 (and me)

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
Night birds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken
The Witch of Clatteringshaws by Joan Aiken
Midwinter Nightingale by Joan Aiken
Mandy by Julie Andrews (actually I read this to my daughter but it still counts)

You may think this is a bit odd but proper children's literature can be read by adults, I think.  And I may have been regressing just a bit in hospital, so I went on a bit of a Joan Aiken splurge.  These books are amazing, they feature a little Cockney adventuress, Dido Twite and are set in an alternate history in the 1600s and feature a range of kinds (Good King James III and in Midwinter Nightingale a dying King Richard and a baron-werewolf bent on taking over the throne).   You can read about Joan Aiken here

Cornish and Scottish Bohemia

Wild Mountain Thyme by Rosamund Pilcher
Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher
Day of the Storm by Rosamund Pilcher
September by Rosamund Pilcher
Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher

I read The Shell Seekers 20 years ago and it is one of my favourite books ever.  I bought lots of her lesser works on Kindle, some of which are okay, especially Coming Home which is an absorbing story set in Cornwall and London and Malaysia over the 1930s and in WW2.  

Mixture of Non Fiction

At Home by Bill Bryson
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell 
The Big Short by Michael Lewis 
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
Love Wisdom and Motherhood by Jessica Rowe
Is there a Nutmeg in the House? by Elizabeth David 
Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich

Two Rock and Roll Tales

Just Kids by Patti Smith
Life by Keith Richards (still reading this one)


One of my favourite books - have read several times now
Not their best work 
Need to be in the right mood for this 
If you want to read something completely different...?

Finally, a very big thank you to Simone from Bottom of the Ironing Basket.  You see, I won her incredibly generous 500th post giveaway of 16 yes 16 books and they have been arriving in my office in twos and threes over the last couple of weeks.  Here are some of them.   Thank you very much lovely S.  xo 
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