How I came to duel with Rudolf Nureyev.

5 June, 2010

Rudolf Nureyev photographed by Freddy Warren.He was in far more danger from what happened much later that night.

Read How many dancers can fit in a Mini Minor? to learn how a promising career might have ended tragically that night in Melbourne.

Two careers actually, if you count Rudolf Nureyev’s.

How I Came to Dance With Fonteyn

27 April, 2008

<i>I Peed on Fellini</i> by David Stratton

The venerable David Stratton was addressing a lunch crowd at a launch of his autobiography, I Peed On Fellini. As he autographed my copy, I reminded him that I had sometimes been mistaken for him at film festivals from Cannes to Honolulu. Similar age, height, Panama hat, beard; easy mistake to make. To some people Australians all look alike. Even imported ones like Stratton.

The title of his book got me thinking.  If I found the energy,  the memory and the courage to one of my own, I might well title it I Danced With Fonteyn — with perhaps a sequel called I Dueled With Nureyev.

At about the same time as this launch lunch, my son discovered and sent to me an old scrapbook of mine in which was a cringeworthy poem I had written in my 20s about the then binary stars of the ballet universe, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.

Read my new page, Invitation to the Dance, for the full story of how the book got to be so named and how I got to dance with Margot Fonteyn.

A Traveller’s Tale

6 October, 2007

I recall a resolution I once made never to fly with a pilot who was not the same religion as myself, namely atheist. I figured that the less the captain believed in an afterlife the more likely he was to do his best to stay in this one.

I’m not a nervous flyer. More fatalistic than anything. I have had my share of interesting experiences including the kind of landings the produce an hysterical round of applause from relieved and grateful passengers.

This is a plug for a new page on this blog, A Traveller’s Tale. It is the story of my worst ever flight — and damn near my last.

Pictures not at an exhibition

2 September, 2007

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Night Flight

Ducks on Kananook CreekI can’t paint or draw so I try to make paintings with my camera. Often angling, framing and exposing a shot is a visceral experience. Palpable. Making something, creating a picture that is more like how I see it and feel it than how it might actually be. Misty Morning on Kananook CreekSometimes I get a result that actually approaches what I see and feel. All too often I fail miserably to capture or create the vision that was so clear and strong in my mind’s eye and that makes me wonder if it is worth the effort of trying again.

It is only by trying again and again that achievement is possible. One only begins to really achieve in any endeavour when one is no longer bothered with the mechanics, technology or technique of the process.

Sunset Pier, Seaford, Victoria.Windswept Dune, Seaford, VictoriaI doubt if when Jascha Heifetz was playing he was concerned where he was stopping his strings; when Nureyev was dancing he was worrying about the line of his back when performing an entrechat huit, or when Claude Monet was painting his attention was focussed on his brush strokes.

Bruce Lee once said to me: “Technique? I have no technique. I don’t hit — ‘it’ hits all by itself.”

Late AfternoonI need to work more, read more, see more; to become so familiar with my tools that I don’t make the pictures — they make themselves.

All pictures shot with my Nikon D70. EXIF information should be intact on all pictures with all technical information.
Please leave a comment or use the “Contact me” mail form.

Dorothy Parker and the Art of Light Verse

30 August, 2007

Life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Dorothy Parker said she wished she could write like a man and drink like a lady. Perhaps we should be grateful she got it the other way around. Along with her criticism and more serious writing, she penned astute and witty light verse much of which demonstrates her talent to use language like a well-plucked lyre.

As John Hollander points out in his erudite critique, Dorothy Parker and the Art of Light Verse*, the mention of the once celebrated Marie of Roumania no longer has the resonance it did when Mrs Parker penned those lines. He suggests that today those thoughts would need use a more contemporary figure as a punch line. Here is my modest example:

Life’s bounties pour upon me like rain
Life’s riches unceasingly grand.
Love is a never-ending refrain,
And I am Premier of Queensland.

OK, I said modest. Besides, she had scant respect for critics of her scansion:

Say I’m neither brave nor young
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue
Still you have my heart to wear.

But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!

Many of Mrs Parker’s aphoristic verses were effectively oozed by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Robert Altman production Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle. In this there is much of the ambiance of American letters in the 1920s with its literary knights’ nights of jousting with wit-tipped lance and broad-sword tongue at the round table at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, New York City.

I hope to get back there sometime to pay it a visit. Hommage, actually.

*First published in the Yale Review 85:1, 1997

Spot the deliberate mistake

29 August, 2007

There was has been some barking in the local media columns about inaccuracies in the new Australian naval drama, Sea Patrol. Yes, ok, perhaps there were some and there shouldn’t be, but Sea Patrol and Australian production in general is not alone. Two recent episodes of the British crime series that gets all kinds of smiles and nods, Midsomer Murders, had errors so glaring they almost might be classed as “spot the deliberate mistake”.

Rolleiflex TIn A Picture of Innocence, the opening sequence features a senior amateur photographer setting up a landscape shot with the excellent Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera on a tripod. (Anyone remember tripods?). He takes a light reading then adjusts the camera’s shutter speed and aperture settings — with accompanying loud, crisp clicks which no Rolleiflex ever made.

He then adjusts the focus — with more absurdly loud crispy clicks. The focussing action of the venerable and superbly-engineered Rolleiflex is absolutely smooth and completely silent.

He then uses the fold-out handle to advance the 120 roll film to a new, unexposed frame, but the frame counter resolutely stays at “0” indicating there is no film in the camera. In any case, advancing the film (which also cocks the shutter) is always the first step so the framing is not disturbed after composing the shot and the camera is ready to take the next shot.

Multi-pocketed photographer’s vestAnd, please, not all amateur photographers wear hunting/fishing vests, not even old amateur photographers, especially when the vests’ many pockets are obviously empty of extra lenses and camera accessories and film (anyone remember film?) — and almost never over their business clothes and when not taking pictures. The gaggle of ageing amateurs all in their hunting/fishing vests was unintentionally farcical.

In King’s Crystal, a character with a rifle is apprehended in a field. He appeared to be taking aim at another character but protests he was hunting rabbits. This explanation rings no alarms with Chief Inspector Barnaby, notwithstanding that the rifle in the scene is a “civilianised” version of the Lee-Enfield .303 Mk. III. In its various versions, this was the basic, and best, infantry rifle of WWs I and II. The three-oh-three as it was commonly called, fired almost half an ounce (14 grams) of copper-jacketed lead at 2,440 feet per second (744 m/s).

Lee Enfield .303 modified as a hunting rifleHit a rabbit with that and you might find fragments of fur and occasional pieces of skin surrounding the previous rabbit — but certainly nothing to make a meal of.

I owned a weapon very similar to the one in the program. Making a clean hole in the steel wheel of a old traction engine presented no difficulties. Ned Kelley’s armour would have been a mere trifle.

Oh, yes, I also own a hunting/fishing vest but I only wear it when out taking pictures. Honest!


Rolleiflex: The Rolleiflex line of twin-lens reflex cameras was continuously manufactured by Franke & Heidecke in Germany from 1928 until recently, steadily advancing features and quality. At its height of popularity in the 50s and 60s it was the camera of choice for such luminaries as Philippe Halsman, Richard Avedon, Bert Stern and Cecil Beaton. I believe modern versions are still in limited production but Rollei’s recent focus has been on digital cameras, both amateur and top-end professional, the latter costing upwards of US$20,000. Batteries not included.
(Picture credit

Photography vest: For me the khaki vest of many pockets conjures images of the Vietnam War and combat photographers, some of whom were friends or acquaintances. True, some of them did wear this gear around the odd bar or Foreign Correspondents’ Club when not actually taking war pictures.

SMLE .303 rifle: This is very similar to the rifle in the episode and to one I owned. I think I even did the cross-hatching on the stock, too. As I can best recall, the calibre of my version was designated 7.7/54 to distinguish it from the military version. The cigarette lighter indicates scale.
(Picture sourced at

Where were you when …?

17 August, 2007

Never mind JFK, do you remember where you were when Peter Sellers died?

I was sharing a poolside table at the rooftop restaurant Le Méditerranée at the Sofitel le Méditerranée during the 1980 film festival in Cannes with theatrical agent extraordinaire, Theo Cowan.

Sofitel le MéditerranéeTheo was well-known for his “Cannes outfit” of army surplus safari jackets over the kind of baggy khaki shorts known to British troops of long-past wars as Bombay Bloomers. His heavily horn-rimmed spectacles were invariably adorned with clip-on, flip-up green shades.

Theo also represented Peter Sellers.

We were well into a salade niçois and about to signal for a second bottle of excellent Domaines Ott Château De Selle Cotes de Provence Rose for the main course. The olive oil drooled over the salad leaves and the pool sparkled watery diamonds around the perfect semi-clad bodies disporting themselves on a perfect Mediterranean day.

A quiet, private lunch with the inimitable Theo was a luxury in the madness of the Cannes Film Festival.

Theo was not expecting to be called to the phone. He apologized and followed the waiter. I sat back, sipped and took in the view.

Yachts jostled cheek-by-jowl at their moorings, stern-in to the pier as is the practice in this part of the world. Beyond the yacht harbour, across the Bay of Cannes, past Palm Beach and its casino can been seen the Île Sainte Marguerite, where, according to Alexandre Dumas, the man in the iron mask was imprisoned for eleven years. The intense luminous blue of the sea leaves no doubt why this is called the Côte d’Azur.

Theo’s voice broke my reverie. “Peter has died. I am so sorry but I have to get back to London right away.”

La facture, s’il vous plaît

17 August, 2007

Doubtless the accommodations for the man in the iron mask on the Île Sainte Marguerite were not in the style of the Hôtel du Cap so near and yet so far just a few kilometres across the azure water to Cap Ferrat.

However his dungeon was free of charge.

Hôtel du Cap FerratEleven years in just a standard room at the Hôtel du Cap would have set him back €3,412,750 (A$5,808,748, US$4,567,965), not including food, beverages, laundry or tips.

And believe me, food, beverages, laundry and tips can well bring that close to double.

If he had chosen a suite or villa his bill would have cleared the national debt of many former French colonies.

It is worth noting that only fairly recently did this and many other luxury hotels in Cannes accept credit cards, previously requiring cash in settlement. They also imposed minimum stays (ten days during the film festival), charged a full booking for early departure, and demanded 50% of the reservation in advance — non-refundable. Naturellement!

You want brains with that?

17 August, 2007

TV commercial:

A guy is driving his date to a romantic mystery dinner.

She, in a knicker-twisting agony of romantic curiosity and atrocious over-acting: “Oh come on … where are we going?”

Turns out she gets a cardboard box of mangy chicken and cholesterol sides at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

Hey guy, if she is tasteless enough and dumb enough not to empty that crap into your pants and get a cab home then you deserve each other. Have nice fat, greasy chickens together.

Sin Tax

17 August, 2007

It doesn’t sound like a really funny word, but syntax is the key to much unintentional humour and miscommunication.

As a child I used to delight in Edward Lear’s nonsense rhymes, limericks and riddles — as had a century of children before me. Syntaxually-challenged classified ads were a childish favourite: “For sale: grand piano, hardly used, by elderly lady with carved ebony legs.”

Hey, I was four!

Journalists can do it, too, and most of them are older than four.

Sometimes this leads to humour of a darker shade. The BBC reported the disappearance of a man in Nepal saying “he was last seen being dragged from his home by soldiers wrapped in a blanket.”*

The most devastating effect of Australia’s current drought has not been to the trimmed, green lawns and herbaceous borders of the cities’ suburbia, but to those who provide the crops and herds to feed this and other countries.

So overwhelming have been the consequences of the drought on the many farmers and graziers that some have been driven to take their own lives.

A common slug line for this sad statistic was: “One farmer commits suicide every fours days.”

Australia does not in general celebrate Groundhog Day. If only the solution were as simple as finding this one farmer endlessly recycling himself and stopping him before he does himself a damage.

*Anyone who sends me an illustration inspired by the soldiers wrapped in a blanket may have it included here. Use the “contact me” form to reach my e-mail directly.

Heard on BBC World Service, 31 August 2007.