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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Just Finished Listening To… Norse Mythology BBC Radio 4 Full Cast Dramatisation by Neil Gaiman!

 I have just listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I do have the book and was hoping to find the actual audiobook of the original, but it wasn’t on Apple or even Kindle, for some reason, and it’s constantly out from my library, so I bought this instead, and I have to say, it’s very good, especially for the amazing cast. 

Neil Gaiman himself does his usual cameo role, in this case a radio announcer talking about the weather. It starts with a mysterious woman who calls herself Njordsdottir -presumably the goddess Freya - visiting a hospital and talking to a sick child, Magnus. She ends up as the storyteller, telling him the Norse myths, which are acted out as a play. 

The role of the Teller -  Njordsdottir - is played by the wonderful Diana Rigg, but she is not the only one listeners might have heard before. We hear Derek Jacobi’s distinctive voice as Odin and goodness, he is Odin! I’ve been a fan of this actor since I, Claudius and Brother Cadfael. Natalie Dormer, whom you have probably seen as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors or as Margaery Tyrrel in Game Of Thrones plays the goddess Freya. The adorable Colin Morgan, Newt Pulsifer in the radio play of Good Omens and Merlin in the TV series of the same name, is Loki. Colin Morgan’s voice is delightful as always. 

If you do want to hear the audiobook for free, I have come across it on YouTube, read by the author. There is another audiobook of it read by Tom Hiddleston, though to be honest, I prefer the one read by Neil Gaiman. He is a fabulous reader who does most of his own audiobooks. Tom Hiddleston has a beautiful speaking voice, but his performance of this one is rather dull, I’m afraid. I have no idea why. He is a fine Shakespearean actor, as well as wonderful in the role for which he is best known, Loki, but really, he might as well be reading the phone book in this. 

The radio play, though, is well worth a listen. I got my copy on Apple Books for a very reasonable A$12.99. If you are on Audible it’s free with the trial.

Or perhaps your library has a copy! 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Just Finished Reading…Murder In Williamstown by Kerry Greenwood. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2022


This is the twenty-second Phryne Fisher novel by Melbourne author Kerry Greenwood, set in Melbourne in the 1920s.

The year is 1929, the place Melbourne. Private detective Phryne Fisher has received some abusive cards in her letterbox. Her two adopted daughters Jane and Ruth are doing the 1929 version of work experience at the Blind Institute, where there is something fishy going on with the accounts, but it isn’t the book-keeper who is at fault. And a dead body has washed up on Williamstown beach while Phryne is taking an evening walk with her university academic friend Jeoffrey. The victim is Chinese, but Phryne’s lover, Lin Chung, has asked her to stay out of the matter, and also not to look for his missing sister in law. There is another murder late in the book. 

All will be explained by the end of the novel; meanwhile, you’d think that Phryne won’t have much to do, but she delegates the initial investigation to her three adopted children, Ruth, Jane and Tinker. 

Tinker begins with a paper round that enables him to find the letter-dropper. Jane, the maths whiz, works out how much money is missing and who might be involved. Ruth helps, asking questions, both at the Institute and a party the girls attend. Phryne uses all the information to work out who the culprits are. 

A small event early in the novel, involving a broken clay pipe found in the Williamstown Botanical Gardens, proves more important than it might seem.

Kerry Greenwood takes great joy in giving detailed descriptions of food and clothes, as always. Phryne’s cook, Mrs Butler, loves a challenge in her work. This book is no different in that respect. Jane and Ruth, invited to a schoolmate’s party, are growing up and need new dresses, made for them by a dressmaker(not Madame Fleuri, Phryne’s usual dressmaker). People eat and drink, both at home and at the three parties in the book and the food and drink are described in loving detail.

Each Fisher novel has a theme, whether it’s a place or a community. This time, it’s the seaside Melbourne suburb of Williamstown and the Chinese community. Williamstown is one of the nicer Western suburbs of Melbourne now, but was a working port in the 1920s. There is still a ferry going there, though nowadays it’s really a tourist thing.

There are characters from other novels who appear in this one, and Jeoffrey was a character in a short story, “The Hours Of Juana The Mad”. Characters who have been in the series from the beginning, such as Bert and Cec, Phryne’s communist wharfie friends, only appear briefly, as does her lover, Lin Chung, who is only on the phone until finally appearing near the end. Bert and Cec aren’t involved with solving the mystery this time, and weren’t helping much in the last novel, Death In Daylesford, either. (They did find a dead body in that one, but didn’t help solve the mystery.)

I enjoyed it, as always, though I must confess that I like the earlier books better. Each one of the novels has had two or three threads, but usually the threads are more or less woven together or at least not too far apart. In this one, two of the mysteries are over by about halfway through the novel. I found myself shrugging and saying, “So what? Do I really care who has been stealing from the Blind Institute?” I think these small mysteries are just to give the children something to do and they really can’t be involved in the murder part of the story. 

There are a few oddities too. We know Phryne was in France during the Great War, working with the battlefield women’s ambulance(Murder In Montparnasse), and it’s even mentioned late in the novel, but she also mentions being in London during the war, something she couldn’t have done if you accept the premises of the other novels. But there were some huge plot holes in Murder In Montparnasse and I still found that very enjoyable. You just have to suspend disbelief when reading this series, something I am happy to do - anything by Kerry Greenwood is great fun.

This novel is available from all the usual sites, including Book Depository and Amazon.

Monday, November 07, 2022

In Which I Go To The Opera!


Poster for Melbourne production- fair use

Last Wednesday I went to see Opera Australia in Phantom Of The Opera. It was the first time since I saw it in the 1990s. Back then, I was sitting at the front, and had the fascinating experience of seeing into the wings, where the stage hands were hauling the boat across the stage! This time I sat near the back, so was able to enjoy whatever illusion there was.

 I know there are those who sneer at this sort of popular stuff, but it’s popular because a lot of people enjoy it. What’s wrong with that? I enjoy classic opera, but let’s face it, the stories tend to be pretty silly. Not all, but many. Anna Russell had a lot of fun with describing those operas in her shows - and she loved them too, she just understood that they could be silly. If you are interested, there is a lot of her material on YouTube, including a video of her famous twenty minute Ring Cycle. It’s hilarious! 

This opera - and it is an opera, not what we think of as a musical - is based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. The Paris Opera house is “haunted” by a crazed musical genius who has a maimed face and is obsessed with Christine, a beautiful young soprano, who thinks he is the “Angel of music” she read about in a book as a child. He teaches her singing. But the soprano has a boyfriend, which could be a problem…

I do have a copy of the book somewhere, beautifully illustrated. 

There are quite a few film versions, including one I vaguely recall had Nelson Eddy, with the “Phantom” played by Claude Rains(1943). There was a film version with Herbert Lom as a very sympathetic Phantom. The baddie has stolen his opera, Joan Of Arc, and he became disfigured in a fire, trying to get it back. When she hears his sad story, she gives him a hug and lets him continue to teach her the role.

I had such a wonderful evening at the theatre! The music is glorious, and I ended up buying some merchandise. I resisted the jewellery and the mugs and t shirts and bought the program and a CD of the opera. I rarely buy programs these days, with nowhere to put them, but it was a special occasion, and I can play the music when I feel like it.

The only thing was, I had a hard time trying not to think of Terry Pratchett’s send up, Maskerade, in which his two witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, go to the big city to sort out the problem of a book Nanny wrote, which has become a bestseller, but the publishers haven’t paid her.  It’s a cookbook with recipes which are all about “goings on”(Nanny thoroughly enjoyed sex in her time and regrets nothing). While there, they are in search of a young woman, Agnes, whom they want to be their third witch but who has become a member of the Ankh Morpork opera chorus. And yes, the Opera House has its own “opera ghost”, who makes demands and who has a fascination with a girl called Christine, but Christine is dim-witted, can’t sing and only got into the chorus because the new owner owes her father money. Agnes has a powerful, glorious voice, but is fat, so nobody wants her in leading roles. The opera ghost accidentally teaches her instead of Christine, so she is asked to sing for Christine when the opera ghost demands Christine be given lead roles. 

The novel makes references to the Michael Crawford version of Phantom, only the Crawford character, Walter Plinge, is Crawford’s klutzy Frank Spencer, from comedy Some Mothers Do ’Ave’Em

I tried not to giggle! Still, I ended up buying the Pratchett novel in ebook. I’m rereading it already.

Have you seen the opera or read the novel - either the original or the Pratchett send up of the Lloyd Webber opera? 

Thursday, November 03, 2022

The Power Of The Doctor - oh, wow!

 So, the other night I watched The Power Of The Doctor, Jodie Whittaker’s last episode, in which she regenerated. I have to say I will miss her, to the extent that I am going right back to the beginning and watch the episodes I own.

I have to explain that I have been a fan since William Hartnell, the first Doctor, who was on when I was in primary school. I have loved all of them, but he was my Doctor. 

There is not much in the way of spoilers for this as we already know, through social media and reviews, that her immediate successor is not Ncuti Gatwa but David Tennant. We do have to wait to find out why, though. 

And by the way, you may or may not know that unless you live in the UK, you will no longer be able to watch it on free to air TV but will have to subscribe to Disney+. As it happens, I do subscribe to the House Of Mouse, which has all the Star Wars and Marvel films and TV shows, plus a lot of my favourite films, such as Chariots Of Fire and Ladyhawke, but not everybody does, or can afford it, so I’m not crazy about this. I did hear it may have been about getting bigger budgets, though personally I think they must have a decent budget as it is. No more wobbly sets or monsters with a zipper in their costume. I remember on the DVD extras for The Aztecs(William Hartnell) a memory shared was of hiring art students to paint Aztec pottery. The art budget was about £250. No more of that either. 

Anyway, we all got to see Jodie’s last episode and oh, my, what a story! There must have been quite a budget for it, with all the special effects and the guest actors. Exploding volcanoes. A spaceship battle - right at the beginning and no real connection with the story apart from frilly cybermen and companion Dan deciding he was nearly killed and time to move on.

Interesting that most of the action was done by women. Not only the Doctor, but Yaz finally gets to show what she can do and save the day, the Ruth Doctor, Kate Lethbridge Stewart and two classic era Companions, Ace and Tegan. And all these women kick ass! They don’t just show up for a five minute cameo, they participate in saving the world. Ace even gets out some of her famous Nitro 9 explosive. 

And then we meet Graham, one of this Doctor’s first companions, who turns up in a volcano, of all things, no idea how or even why! By the end of the show he has organised a meeting for ex Doctor’s companions, including the delicious Ian Chesterton(William Russell), on whom I had a huge crush as a child. He only gets one line, surprised to learn that the Doctor is now a woman - actually, Ian, as one of the first Doctor’s first three companions, left before regeneration was a thing at all. He has aged, but still has that beautiful voice I fell in love with as a child.

There were several classic era Doctors, which was nice. David Bradley was back as the first Doctor, but the others were the original actors. 

It was great fun, and who would have expected the Master to dance around to the tune of Rasputin? And was he actually Rasputin or did he take over from Rasputin?  Anyway, I expect we will see the Master again - he seems unkillable, he even came back once after he refused to regenerate. In the Doctor Who movie he came back from ashes, for goodness sake! 

Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, unlike Doctor #12, was calm about regeneration, even sitting on top of the TARDIS with Yaz, eating an ice cream as they gazed out at Earth before dropping Yaz off and flying away to regenerate alone.

This is a story for fans, for people who love the show.

You just have to watch it to fully appreciate what I’m talking about, but it’s well worth the bother. I didn’t watch it till I could watch the episode all at once, a couple of days after it was shown. 


Excuse me, I’m off to get some popcorn and binge on favourite episodes.