I remember this story that my mum told me. As a child, she visited this family friend’s abode. The house per se was unremarkable, save for one difference maker. The family had a pet monkey. Not just for beautification purposes; they employed the ape to fetch them coconuts. Imagine this: a hairy primate climbing coconut trees, bringing them the fruits, and giving them high fives. Now, that’s progress. My mum inferred that the ape was trained. Even as a kid, she knew that primates didn’t just fetch cocos out of altruism.
In the media
She also has this primate sewing kit. The monkey head is really cute, until the zipper started acting up. Thankfully, we managed to remedy this hiccup. Anyhow, primates are well represented. Think of Marcel, Ross Geller’s pet in Friends. The former was a movie star and the latter adored him, even following him to San Fran. Ross even introduced him to his friends. He regards Marcel like another son. He tells Joey that apes are their ancestors. Big Bang Theory, another winning sitcom, had Amy doing experiments on this cheeky ape.
Going back in time, Congo was one of Crichton’s bestsellers and was adapted into film. I recall reading the book, before catching the movie on HBO. The novel, which featured intelligent apes running amok, was much better than the underwhelming feature. Of course, the book dealt with mountain gorillas (not monkeys). Congo was about the foreignness of the country. Rich in natural resources, the Congo remained a vast wilderness that westerners had only settled. The state hides as much as it presents and Crichton channels the strangeness through the merciless gorillas.
Speaking of gorillas, the Planet of the Apes franchise has consistently delivered. The reboot did a lot of good for them, which spawned hit after hit. The instalments not only won at the box office; they likewise scored well with the critics. While we’re at it, King Kong and Godzilla are exhibit A of what could go wrong with underfed primates and monsters. Hard to believe that the pair got the ball rolling even earlier than Planet.
The usefulness of pets
Going back to being trained, it would be nice to have a useful servant. Think of Dobby the house elf in Harry Potter. He may look weak and he may wear rags, but he’s a powerful critter who could do the laundry with a snap of his fingers. He’s extremely loyal and would protect his friends to the end. Even the Weasleys dreamed of having one. They had to settle for a ghoul in the attic.
Monkeys may have negative connotations but they remain highly intelligent creatures. You don’t have to be a Darwinist to see the similarities. They have been stereotyped as banana eating beings, but as per the aforementioned movies, they are also crafty.
There was this show when I was a kid. This kid had no respect for his elders. One day, his face turned into a monkey’s and he became the town’s curiosity. He regretted his actions and changed. Having understood the importance of good manners, his features were returned. Our teacher also told us this parable. The parents cooked and clean but the kids were insufferable ingrates. The parents told them repeatedly to wash their plates and cutlery but they never listened. One time, the parents got fed up as the dishes remained on the table. They looked for their offspring and found them playing outside. Enraged, they hit their kids with the utensils and cursed them. They grew tails and became the first monkeys.
I must admit that I believed that this week would be a blank slate. We were downing some coconut juice. My mum told me that some people didn’t like it.
‘It tastes like laundry water,’ according to white people.
She was about to pack the juice box away when I sighted this monkey in the container. Incidentally, we call this as buko juice or bj for short. As a Pinay comedian once intoned, ‘You’re right on time, doo.’
Her friend’s suitor had annoyed said actress.
‘Just come back next year,’ she told him.
Thankfully, that wouldn’t be the case with this week’s post.
Around July of each year, the temps absolutely plummet in Sydney. At the turn of winter, it was already freezing but July is traditionally the coldest month. It’s the perfect time to catch up on your reading. I begin this list with another book by Murakami. Sputnik Sweetheart is not among his best rated works but it remains enchanting. I followed this up with Mitch Albom’s The Fab Five. A chronicle of the Michigan Wolverines quintet, the five freshmen starters defied the status quo and created a legend.Finally, Total Recall, Schwarzenegger’s dense memoir, rounds out this month’s haul. The biography, full of bodybuilding and politics, was so far the year’s most challenging read. It took me the better part of three weeks and even then, I had to read other books simultaneously. In the end, this was a very worthwhile book and well deserving of the time invested. Two nonfiction works and one novel. As Alex Compton intoned, ‘makes sense to me.’
1. Sputnik Sweetheart (Murakami). Like Norwegian Wood, Sputnik is mostly a love story. This involves the two female leads, Sumire and Miu. The protanist, Sumire’s bestie, is secretly in love with her. However, Sumire wants a strictly platonic relationship. He then spends his time bedding married women. He works as a schoolteacher. The two of them have an odd connection. They are very open to each other, maybe too open. Though they had attended the same college, the guy is much further along in his career. He can afford the finer things and both is parents are alive. Sumire’s mother passed away when she was a child. Thankfully, her stepmother treated her like her own.
Sumire is a frustrated writer. She has tried to write many books but has not finished any of them. Her bestie is her only believer. She often comes to him for answers, whether big and small. She believes that he should know everything. These exchanges are sometimes philosophical. When Miu, a sommelier and publicist, marches into her life, she becomes smitten. She now works as Miu’s receptionist, eventually turning up each weekday. Suddenly, she accompanies her boss to Europe. They like it so much that they extend their visit a couple of times. Miu then contacts the pal, only saying that he must fly to Greece immediately. Once he gets to this small island, he understands that Sumire is missing. Miu needs his help to find her.
Miu shares that Sumire was spending long days working on a project. This was a shock since she wasn’t able to write anything since meeting Miu. Sumire had simply up and left one night after Miu rejected her advances. She was in her PJ’s and slippers. All her things were left in her room. With some luck, the bestie manages to open her luggage where he finds two documents. It were like polished, extended diary entries. As usual with Murakami, there was a touch of magical realism. A 39-year old with white hair? An out of body experience? A splitting of souls? These are hallmarks of the great novelist. In the end, he even has time to unpack a moral question. Sure, some of his prose isn’t that easy but ultimately, this book is better than purported.
2. The Fab Five. (Mitch Albom). I’ve read most of the author’s work. As I’ve consistently stated, his are the easiest books to read. Fab is one of his early works, back when he was a sports writer. The title chronicles The Greatest Recruiting Class ever. The eponymous five freshmen changed the game forever. At this point, getting a quintet of the best college prospects was unheard of. Eventually, all five players would start for Michigan. Fab has some shade of Halberstam’s Breaks. Fab doesn’t deal purely with basketball action. The book provides profiles. Whether it’s Bobby Knight or Mike K; forward Rob Pelinka or the Webbers; Carmichael Auditorium or Seattle’s Kingdome; there’s something for everyone.
Fab also deals with the highs and lows of a hoops juggernaut. When the five gobbled all the minutes, the rest of the team was relegated to garbage time. The freshmen were cocky even though they had won nothing yet. They loved to talk trash and to show up their opponents. Like the rest of the team, each had been the star player on their high school squad. Three of them – Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Jimmy King – were the number ones at their position. As freshmen, they were notorious for their baggy shorts and bald heads. This later became a trend. Furthermore, their long black socks were also a hallmark of defiance.
Most of the quintet grew up impoverished, with Webber and Rose being local kids. Howard was from Chi-town and Jimmy and Ray Jackson were Texans. The five would lead Michigan to back to back runs in the chip match, only to come up short both times. They especially hated Duke, the one team they never beat. The Blue Devils were fundamentally sound, cohesive, and made the smart plays. For the Wolverines, they seemingly looked out for the outstanding move rather than the sure two. With Duke’s experience and camaraderie, the Wolverines proved no match. In year two, they got past some powerhouses, including UCLA and Kentucky. They played a close match against the Tar Heels before some brain cramps cost them in the end.
Fab talks about Sutherland hypocrisy of college basketball. Despite being household names, the fab five were unable to reap the rewards from their merchandise. Albom’s effort reminded me of Sooley (Grisham), although this was nonfiction. Michigan was the darlings of March Madness. I wouldn’t be surprised if Grisham drew some inspiration from Fab. This was an easy ebook to read, taking me six full days to knock back. Moreover, the title was divided into ten parts, with mostly short chapters. The one thing going against it was the nineties publication date. This was the era before smartphones and social media. Imagine how much further the fab five would take off had the technology been there.
3. Total Recall (Schwarzenegger). As mentioned, this nonfiction title is the third leg of the tripod. I started reading this 618-page monster three weeks past. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for a while, purchased from Basement Books. Recall is the definitive look into Arnold’s amazing life. He talks about his humble beginnings in Austria, the second of two boys. His father was in law enforcement and Arnold took an interest in weight lifting. Soon, he’d be crowned Mr Universe, repeating as champ a record number of times. He would then move to the States, where he’d spend hours in the gym. While improving his physique, he studied in college part-time. He also became a real estate mogul.
After accomplishing all there was with bodybuilding, he set his sights on Hollywood. Initially, he was viewed as an oddity: the guy with the impossible surname; an imposing brick with an accent. After a flurry of box office hits, he gradually became the world’s biggest movie star. He teamed up with helmer Jim Cameron for Terminator, which is his most famous role. Arnold proved that he was equally adept in comedy as with action. In 1983, he became an American citizen. When he married Maria Schriver, he was part of the Kennedy clan. Over the years, he’s suffered his share of setbacks on set, which required hospitalisation. He was fortunate to meet the right people, who supported and nurtured his show biz career.
When a special ballot was announced for the California governorship, Arnold knew that he had to run. Eventually, he would have the support of everyone including his wife. This paved the way for a landslide victory. Before his win, he mentioned meeting Nelson Mandela. He was amazed that, despite being in goal for twenty seven years, the latter harboured no ill will. There are occasional typos in the book but is a solid effort on the whole. Be prepared for some dense prose; I had to skim a long chapter on politics. Arnold was a bit of everything. He was a champion athlete, a sharp businessman, a megastar, a model politician, a talented writer, a husband, and a father. Clearly, Arnold has the Midas touch. In the last chapter, the author urges his readers thus: ‘When someone tells you no, you should hear yes.’
‘So it’s not always obvious what you should celebrate. Sometimes, you have to appreciate the very people and circumstances that traumatised you.’
If you’re going on a solo adventure, what would you bring?
A few months ago, I streamed Into The Wild on Netflix. Sean Penn directed the film, which was based on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book. The read per se is timeless and has been studied in schools across the US. The adaptation was no slouch either, even being nominated for Oscars.
Emile Hirsch portrayed Christopher McCandless, the main character. He studied at Emory University. Upon graduation, his parents bought him new wheels. Chris was apoplectic. His 1970s ride worked just fine.
‘Things, things, things,’ he said, shaking his head. Chris returned the money that his parents gave him.
The trappings of modern society disinterested him. He did not want creature comforts: a new car, fancy clothes, a big house. The four walls of the classroom suffocated him and he believed that real learning was out in the field. Wining and dining at the finest establishments meant little. He would rather curl up and read a book. Indeed, he was fed up with living in the secular world. He wanted to explore, to roam, to live. He longed to pack up and subsist out of his rucksack.
He changed his name to Alexander Supertramp. He treks to Mexico, where he meets some hippies. Even when promised accomodation, he opts to sleep rough. He goes to this gathering, where he encounters a sweet teener (portrayed by Kristen Stewart). He refuses her advances as she was underage. In Salton City, he also meets this senior and they connect. The oldie tries to adopt him but Alex, while tempted, leaves instead.He then continues, alone, to Alaska.
Finding someone who’d forsake all the material goods in his life is rare. Selflessness is not ingrained to humans. No one would turn down a brand new vehicle. Watching this movie made me reconsider my priorities. If you’d strip a person to bare essentials, what would this entail? What makes the cut? What would be left off?
Imagine following Alexander’s lead to Alaska. Or, perhaps, to walk the Camino. You are only allowed one big bag. What would you stuff in it?
I would probably include four sets of clothes. Two thermal tops and two jumpers. Two long johns and two thick pants. I might throw in an extra tee. I would likewise include a scarf. I heard it gets chilly in Alaska. Meanwhile, for outerwear, I would bring this down jacket from Kathmandu. It kept me warm when I last visited the snow. I might need to add a ski jacket down the line. I’d also bring five sets of underwear, although I doubt Supertramp was as liberal. Don’t forget the socks, either; three would suffice.
Aside from these, I’d carry a notebook to jot down my thoughts and observations. Obviously, I’d include two gel pens. You can’t go totally incognito, so I’d bring my passport. I’ll also carry my wallet, mobile phone, and its charger. No point lugging around a Mac. I’d probably pack some eye drops just in case the scenery isn’t too pleasant that my eyes become sore. I’ll also bring two unread books and a Bible. Looking at my shelf, the duo is: The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway and A Supposedly Fun Thing by David Foster Wallace.
I would not forget my toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. I’d also include one kilo of bananas for nourishment. As Alex found out, you can’t rely on berries alone. Furthermore, I might carry some cream as the freezing weather would require this. Ditto with lip balm. I’d also throw in a bath towel. I will take my two pairs of gloves as I don’t want to get frost bitten.
Looking at this list, there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make the cut. There’s no razor, as we’re channeling the Supertramp look. The food could be adjusted, but there’s only so much that you could fit into the pack. There are no extra shoes. There is no scissors. My phone is the only device I need. I don’t require a car to explore the wilderness, nor do I have to charter a plane. I don’t need dollars because they aren’t the currency in the wild. Most importantly, I don’t ask for a companion since I need to make this journey by myself.
Transience is the theme of our world. Nothing is permanent and set in stone. Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s turnips. The picture reminded me of this other film, Up in the Air. I saw this in the cinema. George Clooney plays a hopscotching executive who downsizes firms. He asks the audience what’s essential enough to pack. Since he practically lives on planes, he becomes a million miler. At the onset, he really covets this award. However, as he celebrates alone, he realises that even this august achievement means nothing. This is the opposite of Wild. While the latter sees the benefits of solitude, the former posits that accolades are better shared with loved ones.
Ultimately, like George, we are merely travellers in the cosmos. We are just passing through. If we seek to gain glory and material goods, we will never be content. I admire Alex’s worldview. There are more consequential things than success and creature comforts. Moreover, Alex was an exemplary person. He never took advantage of anyone. Indeed, he’s so autonomous that he knocks back help of any kind. He lived like a nomad but troubled no one. He left his life behind and embraced the unknown.
Having a unique perspective and way of life can never be overlooked. So many souls yearn for fame and fortune that getting lost in the crowd is easy. However, people who choose to live like Chris are so rare that his story is being dissected decades later. Opting for his path was not easy but I could understand how modern society could make him disillusioned.
Watch and learn
I spoke with my chiropractor about the movie. He said that he’s seen it.
Last year, prior to the months-long COVID lockdown, I recall having a conversation with a ‘kindred spirit’. He asked me if I knew about this TV series, The Twilight Zone. He said that it was ‘a really old series’. When I asked him if it aired in the nineties, he told me that it screened ‘ages and ages ago.’ He then related one of its eps.
Oldie but goodie
Apparently, there was this family guy who kept getting interrupted when he was trying to get work done. His kids were a handful; his wife never left him alone. So frustrated was the hombre that he exclaimed: ‘I wish everyone would just DIE.’
Suddenly, a great upheaval transpired. It destroyed the entire planet, including his meddlesome family. The father was the sole survivor of a species-level extinction. He got what he wished for. He had all the time to peruse his books. He even visited the library, which was like an Elysium of reads. His heart jumping in joy, he was ready to pounce on these titles. Suddenly, he realised that he lost his glasses. In his haste to get going, he stepped on his frames. Now, he had everything and yet nothing. He had every book at his disposal, but he couldn’t read ‘em without his spectacles. We shared a chuckle.
‘Should have gone to Specsavers,’ I told him. I was referring to the catchphrase by the eyewear giant.
That night, I did some web-based research on the ep. I found out that it was entitled ‘Time enough at last’ and featured a protagonist who was a show regular. It originally aired on November 1959. So ancient was the production that Time Enough was shot in black and white. I’m sure that my interlocutor wasn’t alive by then. He must’ve watched a rerun.The ep was noteworthy and was based on a short story. The show’s presenter, Rod Serling, regarded the ep as one of his favourites. Twilight Zone lasted for five seasons but it left an indelible imprint on American TV. To this day, the term ‘twilight zone’ is employed on something too unbelievable or bizarre for comprehension. Moreover, the programme has been considered as one of the finest US telly productions ever. Twilight Zone consistently charts on best shows lists.
There are a few interpretations of the ep. The overriding trope is ‘Be careful what you wish for’. Our perception may be to yearn for a different, better situation. However, the reality may not always meet our expectations. Before moving forward, human error must be factored. The reading scenario is likewise another theme. The protagonist, Henry Bemis’s voracity is at odds with the public, who could care less about pages. The ep implies that his family’s apathy toward books could be emblematic of future attitudes. Reading is clearly in decline.
The show’s ending highlighted the tensions of living in the Cold War. However, ironically, the sheer implausibility of Doomsday is what enabled the ep to be produced. Sterling stuck to his role, retaining poise even as the events turned darkly comic and unbelievable. His deadpan delivery is in stark contrast to the grimness on the screen. What was left unseen ultimately draws in the audience. The dangers of technology are also highlighted. Bemis has access to libraries, book stores, and universities. However, without his glasses, he’s unable to exploit these resources. Nowadays, we are blessed with the Internet and ebooks. The ep proves that, despite technological advancement, we remain – like Henry – indebted to wizard technology.
The glasses ‘crunch’ could be decontextualised further. The specs represents the quintessential tool of any trade. Imagine a hyped basketballer who joins a new team. He has all the skills and is even considered a mad player. However, upon joining his new squad, his teammates never pass him the rock. No matter how talented he is, no matter how much work he puts in, his new scenario becomes a nightmare. The lack of Spalding time severely negates his effectiveness.
Sometimes, having all the necessary resources is not enough. I recall this post on social media. A writer has all the ingredients ready but does not sight the biggest aid. The abundance of instruments so bewitches him that he fails to see the most obvious. Just like Henry, he is unable to maximise all his tools as a result of his lack of foresight. There was also this ep in Cobra Kai where Johnny angrily takes his laptop to the pawnshop. He wants a refund. It turns out that he did not press the power button.
‘Time Enough’ continues to resonate with the viewing public. Sixty years on, it is both an audience favourite and critics’ darling. The ep has been parodied in Modern Family, The Simpsons, and Futurama, among others.
I leave you with Rod Sterling’s closing monologue:
‘The best-laid plans of mice and men…and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deemed to himself. Mr Henry Bemis, now in the Twilight Zone.’
Over almost the past fortnight, the action unfolded at tennis’s most prestigious tourney. Only a mere two years ago, the event was cancelled due to COVID concerns. The shadow of the pandemic still lingered on in last year’s edition, with crowd caps and wholesale restrictions. This year, the multitude was back in full force. Avid patrons included the Royal Family, David Beckham, and even a few actors. In the men’s singles, Novak Djokovic is the defending champ, while the women’s field was wide open with the retirement of Ash Barty. World number one, Iga Swiatek, was the fave before being defeated in the third round. Prior to her loss, she had won thirty seven straight tour matches. A Tunisian and a Kazakh, both maiden finalists, contested the women’s chip. The latter, with the significant height advantage, won in three quick sets.
Calendar Slam foiled
By emerging triumphant at the first two slams, Rafa Nadal had a chance at a historic calendar slam. Only Rod Laver (who did it twice) had swept four of four majors in a regular year. His two trophies has put him in first place with twenty-two majors. He had missed the grass court season after the clay court stretch had drained him. Rafa soldiered on until the quarters, where he was down 2-1 against American Taylor Fritz. Sensing his injury, his family had pleaded for him to retire. The Spaniard did not give in, ultimately winning, but the effort required had finished him.
As has been reported, he pulled out of his semis tussle with Nick Kyrgios, citing his ab injury. In a snap press con, Nadal admitted that he cannot win another two matches. This marks only his second withdrawal at a grand slam. Rafa’s durability is legendary. In the Aussie Open alone, I can recall two instances where he played on despite an obvious malady. A Kyrgios-Nadal matchup would’ve been mouth-watering. The two have a beef against each other and Kyrgios shocked Nadal on centre court as a teenager. This was their first meeting on tour. Nadal has a 6-3 edge against Nick. Yet with his injury and Nick’s momentum, anything was possible. Even Nick was looking forward to their matchup.
Kyrgios, twenty-seven, has played a dream tournament. On the plus side, he has progressed farther than ever. With a bit of luck, he even had a walkover in the semis. When he battled the Chilean, Cristian Garin, this was only his third quarterfinal despite competing since 2012. In the fourth round, he split the first two sets before upping his ace count in the third canto. His opponent, Brandon Nakashima, broke him early in the fourth set and Nick looked lackadaisical for the rest of the frame. He admitted to employing some ‘rope-a-dope’. In the fifth segment, he left no doubt and handily broke through.
Without question, the highlight of his campaign was his third round clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas. He emerged victorious in four sets but not without some controversy. As usual, he bickered with the chair umpire. At one point, Tsitsipas appeared to slam a ball into the crowd. At another, he had tried to hit Nick with a forehand. Thankfully, ‘no animals were harmed in the making of this (attraction)’. When Kyrgios was almost struck, he berated the umpire. It must be remembered that when Djokovic hit a linesman in 2020, he was disqualified. After the match, Tsitsipas called Kyrgios ‘a bully’. The latter responded by labelling the former as ‘soft’. He pointed out that he was more popular than Stefanos among his colleagues.
When the incident was replayed on Kyrgios’s countrymen, one Asian commentator said, ‘I love it’. Both Nick and his opponent were fined for their outbursts. This year, the former has racked up over $20,000 in fines at Wimbledon. Kyrgios has likewise been singled out for violating the Wimbledon dress code. Players are expected to wear all-white outfits. Kyrgios rocked up with a red cap and Jordan sneakers. This hasn’t been Kyrgios first brush with controversy. A quick online search would reveal his list of transgressions.
Simply put, he’s this generation’s John McEnroe, without the slams (so far). He speaks his mind, he’s a flamboyant, fearless bunny. He hits the biggest serves and wins the big points. He had two slam quarters in his belt as a teenager. He serves underhanded and does tweeners. He laps up the crowd and berates his own team. He travels the world but readily admits that tennis is not his first love. He gets set, and loses, in a hurry. His propensity to lash out at others is only surpassed by his tendency to lambast himself during matches. In this regard, he’s reminiscent of former champ, Marat Safin.
When he’s good you can’t get enough of his game. When he isn’t good, you can’t wait to switch channels. He makes you cheer and hold your hair, sometimes simultaneously. He doesn’t just feast on weaklings. As I’ll point out, he saves his best for the world-beaters. He’s only one of two pros to have won their first meetings against the Big 3. Incidentally, McEnroe is doing some commentary work in London, as is the usual. He has been seen fighting with koalas as he tries to squeeze eucalyptus out of the twilight zone. He also would not let up on the Djokovic incident down under. As he fights for his politics, some would even label this as ‘bullying’. Just don’t say that to his face.
Aside from his on-court tantrums, Kyrgios has to contend with off court drama as well. Before his quarters clash, news surfaced that he grabbed his ex. When reporters confronted him, he compared the situation with The Last Dance. He’s a big fan of Jordan’s Bulls, even donning a Rodman tee to a press con. Nick was even seen grinning. Wimbledon was also fined a million after preventing Russians from participating in the tournament. Novak didn’t seemed very surprised to be facing Kyrgios for all the marbles. Nole asserted that Kyrgios plays his best tennis against the best, much like Sakuragi in Slam Dunk.
By now, many tennis fans are familiar with Nick’s story. The son of a Malaysian mother and a Greek father, he took to the game as a kid in Canberra. He fell in love with basketball and his towering stature seemed tailor-made for the sport. He grew up idolising Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics. As mentioned, he turned pro in 2012 and two years later, stunned the tennis world by vanquishing Nadal on centre court. He has enjoyed most of his success at The Club, having reached the second week a number of times. He has endorsed Nike, Malaysian Airlines, among others. He speaks his mind to a fault.
Say what you want against Nick. Fact: he’s the first Aussie to contest a major chip since Little Lleyton in 2005. No Aussie man has emerged victorious at the Club since Hewitt two decades ago. At one point, fellow pro, Alexander Zverev, said that Kyrgios could not meet his lofty expectations as being great in one set does not beget victory. Tennis excellence is measured in sustained success, not just one set or a string of tour matches. He saw Alex ‘The Demon’ De Minaur as the Aussie male most likely to win a slam. I recall watching him at the US Open many years ago. He bageled Tommy Robredo in the first set and was up 3-love in the second. It looked as though he would finish the match in record time. However, the Spanish veteran regrouped and Kyrgios capitulated. In the end, despite the impressive start, he looked vulnerable.
Aussies at the Club
This year has been a strong Aussie showing at the All England club. There were four players who made the second week, including three men. Apart from Kyrgios, De Minaur also had a strong showing. He led two sets to love against Garin, but ended up packing. Had he succeeded, it would’ve been an All-Aussie men’s quarters. Kyrgios had no such troubles, dispatching of the clay court specialist in straight sets. Meanwhile, Roger was a no-show. Indeed, he hasn’t suited up since last year’s edition, when Father Time seemed to have humbled him. He looked dapper though during the centenary celebration of centre court.Meanwhile, Ajla Tomljanovic (Nick’s other ex) carried the torch for the women’s side. She ultimately lost in three sets in the fourth round.
A match of contrasts
Kyrgios, as a world number forty, is the lowest seed to make the men’s final since 2003. Most importantly, he has won both his prior matches against the Djoker, not even dropping a set. However, the stakes for this one are much higher. History is on the line and Nole knows what it takes to lift that trophy. After all, he’s the three-time defending champion. He was barely troubled as he took out the hometown hero (and world number nine) in the semis. He hasn’t lost at the Club since 2017.
He has his eyes on the prize. Rather unusually, Nole has not won a slam this year. He is stuck at twenty majors, tied with Fed for second all-time. As pundits have posited, every final is crucial in his quest to catch up with Rafa. Novak has been the game’s best returner for a decade and has spent the most weeks at world number one. His stretching ability on the court has enabled him to defend far better than any player in history. In spite of his visa concerns, he has dominated the Aussie Open almost as much as Nadal has lorded over Paris. This is a battle of contrasts: power against finesse, youth versus experience, flashy against a steady hand. Regardless, with Federer out and Nadal ogling his ab, this is probably Kyrgios’s best chance to take home the bacon.
When play wraps up this year, will it be the champion or the challenger who hoists the The Cup?
For this month’s inventory, two nonfiction bestsellers and Grisham’s latest are up. I started off with Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer’s gripping account of the 1996 Everest disaster. The author is a recent find and I look forward to perusing more of his work. Mirin Fader’s Giannis is next. A candid portrait of the global NBA star, the writer goes beyond basketball. She offers a socio-politically charged narrative that traces the cager’s humble beginnings to his eventual ascent to the NBA throne. Finally, Sparring Partners was the first fiction book I read in a month. Debuting at number one on the Best Sellers chart, Grisham offers three stories that include some familiar faces.
1. Into Thin Air (Krakauer). I first heard about the author while watching Into The Wild, which was adapted into film. Krakauer has since written nine books in total, all of them nonfiction. Gauging from his tale, Krakauer was at the right place at the wrong time. He made the correct move to go with the most experienced guide, Rob Hall, the Kiwi. Hall had summited Everest four previous times. Jon had always dreamed of conquering Everest. Outside magazine gave him the perfect assignment to report on the increasing commercialisation of the peak. Jon had been an avid mountaineer and for months, he had prepared for this ascent.
Upon barging onto the slopes, he counted about ten groups who were working on the ascent. One of them was a hypocritical South African squad. Even in dire situations, they weren’t helpful. Jon realised that he was fitter than most of his team. During their trek, he was always at the lead. He details his experience by breaking it into smaller stories. For instance, a chapter is dedicated to Base Camp, Lhotse Face, Camp One, Southeast Ridge, and so on. He begins his chapters with relatable quotes from earlier mountaineers. He struggled with the altitude, just as much as his companions. Above 25,000 feet was the ‘death zone’.
Before the fateful day, there were already some ominous signs. On the day itself, there was a conga line to the top. The groups had previously agreed to summit on separate time frames. However, some of the others were overzealous and this delayed everyone. When Jon summited at 2pm, there were dark clouds on the horizon. However, no one would’ve predicted how bad the storm would be. Five members of Jon’s group fell asleep. In the aftermath of the deadly debacle, twelve people went to heaven.
Controversy followed Krakauer even when his book was published. As a result, he added an epilogue in the second edition. Other members of the expedition soon followed him, releasing their own accounts. Among them was Beck Weathers, who almost died but was severely frostbitten. Both Hall and Scott Fischer, his rival, perished on the snow. At the time, this was the deadliest season in Everest history. At 315 pages, Jon’s writing is smooth and riveting. Hence, his is the most acclaimed of his group. Air stands as one of the best Everest books ever, if not of mountaineering.
2. Giannis (Mirin Fader). I’ve had my eye on this bio for a while. I finally got the ebook in mid June and swept through it in six days. For basketball junkies, there isn’t a great helpful of NBA action. If you’re expecting something like The Last Dance, then this book isn’t for you. Indeed, other scribes have compared Giannis to the book on basketball: Halberstam’s Breaks of the Game. In her debut, Fader dedicates long stretches to Giannis’s impoverished early life. How they had to starve and fight for survival. How they were too proud to accept handouts from friends. How Giannis used to be a soccer player, like his Dad, before an amateur coach spotted him. Eventually, Giannis’s ceiling would inspire NBA scouts and GM’s to head to his subpar gym. Interestingly, local powerhouses were unable to sign him as he did not have his papers.
He was born to Nigerian immigrants, the middle of five children. They used to sell trinkets on the streets. Though he lived all his life in Greece, he was subject to discrimination. As he chased his American dream, he was finally granted Greek citizenship. Later, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks took a particularly keen interest in him. They flew him to the ATL and he worked out for them. Giannis was sure that they’d pick him. However, the Milwaukee Bucks had other plans and selected him with the fifteenth overall pick. As a rookie, he was in coach Larry Drew’s rotation and played through his mistakes. Even as a neophyte, he always looked forward to matching up with the best. Though the Bucks missed the postseason, he saw Drew as a father figure. He may have been a millionaire, but he felt homesick as he waited for his family in Greece. They were a close-knit bunch.
The next year, they made the playoffs under new bench boss, Jason Kidd, only to be eliminated by fifty points in Game 6. Giannis was tossed early. Kidd tasked the team with keeping a notebook handy. The forward would become ‘obsessed’ with the journal, taking it everywhere he went. Whether in the gym, in training, or while snacking Giannis would always whip out his pages. He wanted the best scoop from his forebears. While in the US, he would become more aware of the race situation even as he became accustomed to the consumer culture. However, he remained rather frugal in spite of his millions. He had no illusions about his newfound fortune.
He would eventually win Most Improved in 2017 while also filling up his body. He now stood 6-11 and weighed 242 pounds. It was not until Coach Mike arrived that Giannis would reach his full potential. He was an All-Star game captain in 2019. He was back to back MVP in 2019 and 2020 as well as defensive player of the year. The next year, they would make a run to the Finals, where Giannis competed in spite of a hyperextended knee. Milwaukee fans have seen stars leave, the owner unwilling to spend and content with mediocrity. For thirty years, they utilised the same arena, which was rarely packed. With Giannis inking a supermax extension in 2020, he gave them hope. A well-written, intriguing portrait of a truly unique story. This is the kind of ‘struggle street’ tale that sports fans need right now.
3. Sparring partners (Grisham). As mentioned, the author’s first collection of novellas mark the third leg of the tripod. The legal thriller maestro starts off with Homecoming. This tale is set in Ford County, site of many of his narratives. Jake Brigance is back. He famously appeared in A Time to Kill, Grisham’s debut novel. The story is set in 1991. He hears from Mack Stafford, a former colleague who fell off the face of the earth. Rumour had it that he stole people’s money. Jake gets a letter from Stafford, who invites him to Costa Rica. There, they learned that he’s been hopping around Central America and that he indeed fleeced his clients. He wants to return and reconnect with his two daughters, especially since his ex wife was dying. He ultimately links with Margot, his eldest. However, the authorities get wind of his return and slowly put two and two together. Being used to hiding, doing a runner seems like the obvious option here. Probably the strongest of the three, with free flowing writing and relatable characters.
Strawberry Moon is second. It details Cody Wallace’s last hours before he is executed in jail. We find that he’s incarcerated as a teenager and he lost his older brother. Together, they would break and enter into people’s homes, until they found their match. Wallace basically grew up in prison, where a friendly lady sent him two thousand paperbacks. The reading was a welcome distraction from a heretofore dreary existence. He also had an empathetic lawyer at his side, who fought for him till the very end. Marvin, the death row boss, was kind to him. As a last request, he asks Marvin to escort him outside as he hadn’t seen the stars in years. He relates that they once nicked a telescope and he adored it and was soon able to name all the stars. Upon ogling the strawberry moon, Cody explains that this event occurs when there’s a full moon on the first day of summer. ‘Because in late spring and early summer the strawberries…fully ripen. The Indians gave it the name….’
The titular novella, Sparring Partners, rounds out the Grisham threesome. The partners are Kirk and Rusty, who are polar opposites. They divide the office, which their jailhouse father left them. They seldom interact with each other. Rusty is the brash, courtroom brawler while Kirk specialises in lower key litigation. Both Malloys got their bachelor’s degrees from Notre Dame. Rusty read Law at Georgetown University, while Kirk did likewise at Northwestern. Diantha, the unofficial third partner, acts as a bridge between them. Both Homecoming and Sparring involve some stolen loot. This time, a tobacco coup worth millions is the hidden treasure. In pursuit of the riches, both brothers would go to great lengths. I can guess why some people were tepid towards this book. Sparring does have some implausible subplots. The pardon buying trope was unreal enough, with shades of the visa buying scheme (and chartered flight) in Sooley. However, Sparring tops this as it had this bribe to undo the purchased pardon. Definitely not your everyday twist. However, the book hits the sweet spot at 306 pages. All in all, I still enjoyed this legal detour.
The NBA Finals have just concluded and it turned out as I had predicted. Golden State had been down 2-1, with Game Four in Beantown. I prophesied that the Dubs would win in six. Chef Curry would be crowned Finals MVP. This marked Steph’s fourth championship ring and his first such MVP. For the naysayers, this also showed that he can win again without Durant. In other news, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole are in line for max extensions. Between the pair, I would keep Poole. Jonathan Kuminga would be a suitable (and still cheaper) replacement for Wiggins in the near future. Meanwhile, this week, allow me to name my all-time first five. Note that all greats featured in this list have been recently honoured on the NBA’s 75th anniversary team. These selections are by no means definitive.
Centre: Bill Russell. The man in the middle wasn’t hard to pick. Simply put, he’s basketball’s greatest defensive player ever. He’s also the greatest winner, with a record eleven rings as a player. No one grabbed more rebounds in the game’s history. Opposing coaches had to alter their game plans with Russell. He went a long way from being a third string high school centre to Boston’s sultan of swat. Unfortunately, statisticians did not keep track of blocked shots at the time but it wasn’t inconceivable that Russell would average double digit rejections.
At one point, the Celtics won eight titles in a row. Together with playmaker Bob Cousy and, later, John Havlicek, they dominated the field unlike anyone else. Given, the league was much more compact than it is today. However, Bill played in an era of legends like Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West. Wilt Chamberlain was much bigger and taller than Russell. He was also the better scorer. Yet when they went up against each other, Bill always had the upper hand. The moral of the story? Do not prepare balloons before Game 7 of the Finals.
Power forward: Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental went 5-1 in the Finals. In his era, no four man was close to his resume. Karl Malone? Charles Barkley? Never won titles. Chris Bosh? Two rings. Kevin Garnett. One chip. Pau Gasol? Two rings. In fact, you add those last three, who are all great players in their own right. Duncan has as much as that trio of stars. Early in his career, Duncan was one of the league’s best scoring big men. His offence steadily declined after a high in 2002. Duncan was also known for his bank shots, which made him a fine pick and pop player. Most importantly, he was a very durable gamer who suited up for close to twenty seasons with the same outfit.
Duncan was the ultimate team player. He never missed the playoffs in his career. On the other hand, he never scored 30,000 points like Malone or led his team in all major categories like KG. However, he also did not go ring chasing like those two. Stars craved to follow him, not the other way around. He was a fine ambassador for the NBA and Tim operated quietly. He also benefitted from Coach Gregg’s guidance, one of the association’s premier tacticians. Another top 75 player is Dennis Rodman. Like Duncan, he also won five rings. He was never the main man and, unlike Duncan, did not shy away from controversy. However, with the Bulls, you could also say that he was a ring chaser.
Small forward: LeBron James. Could it have been anyone else? No one dominated the 2010s like King James. Eight straight Finals appearances, on two different teams. Four NBA championship rings, the first Finals MVP on three franchises. At one point, he was the regular season MVP four out of five years. Such is James’s talent that he could lead mediocre teams to the Finals. Recently, he also became the first active billionaire NBAer. He was a most hyped phenom who jumped straight out of high school to the big league. From humble beginnings in Akron, Ohio, he became the Cavs’s hometown superstar.
A title eluded him until his ninth year, where he would greatly improve his outside game and make opponents pay for leaving him wide open. His MVP haul is second only to MJ: aside from the regular four, he also has a quintet of Finals MVPs, and three All-Star game MVPs. He wasn’t the first player to execute the chase down block but he certainly made it cool. His rejection of Igoudala late in Game 7 of the 2016 chip series is one of the most iconic Finals moments. Simply put, LeBron is a winner in whatever he does. He changes a team’s fortune and culture the moment he arrives.
Off-guard: Michael Jordan. Air Jordan is often regarded as the GOAT and with good reason. In a brilliant NBA career, he accumulated fourteen MVPs, more than any other cager. He won six out of six championship series. Early in his career, he emerged victorious in back to back slam dunk contests. He transformed the Bulls from door mat to Finals favourites. In spite of this immense success, he did not win his first ring until his seventh season. When the game is on the line, MJ is the sure bet. No one is more clutch than number 23.
His Bulls were the first to three peat since the 60s Celtics, and they did so twice.He led the L in scoring a record ten times. He was the first geezer to win Defensive Player and MVP in the same season. He swept all three MVP awards in 1996 and 1998. In his prime, he was considered the league’s best all-around player. He also benefited greatly from teaming up with Scottie Pippen, who was widely regarded as the L’s second best cager. Despite the changing faces and times, MJ consistently won. He gave a hundred percent in every outing and altered the court for good. Aside from the sold out gyms, Mike made the NBA a global game. He carved Nike into a world beater. He likewise brought hoops to guys like Australia’s Andrew Gaze, Argentina’s Manu Ginobili, Congo’s Dikembe Mutombo, and Croatia’s Dino Radja.
Point guard: Magic Johnson. If MJ was the 90s, then Magic epitomised the 80s. He was the leader of LA’s historic Showtime. He made an instant ripple as a rookie, winning Finals MVP ‘ in Lew of Alcindor.’ The Magic Man was a fixture of the Finals, only missing out in 81 and 86. Magic was unique as he showed everyone that a 6-9 guy could play the point. His large frame allowed him to become the decade’s triple double machine, racking up 138 of them throughout his career. His megawatt smile and engaging personality made him a media darling and fan favourite. Spending his entire career with the Lakers, Magic would nab five titles. He also operated in the NBA’s golden age, with players like Mike, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone scoring buckets.
One could even make the argument that Magic is equal to Jordan. While Jordan won six in the diluted era of expansion teams, Magic won five in a much tougher period. The latter regularly had to go through Larry, Hakeem, and Dr J. He never won a scoring title but he often led the league in assists. He was also the top rebounding guard. He did not win a regular season MVP until 1987, his eight year. Like Mike, Magic was a consistent winner, having won chips in high school, college, and the pros. He may not be the most prolific passer, scorer, or board man. However, Magic showed that you do not have to own the best stats to make an indelible impact.
In recent days, the lowly iceberg lettuce has been caught in a storm. Previously, shoppers paid little attention to this sandwich staple, which sat meekly at $1.99 per piece. In many years of buying groceries, I could say that people took the green one for granted. Never mind that they ate it along with their ham or roast beef. Never mind that this formed the base of their healthy salads and crepes. The head lettuce is a very versatile ingredient, whether in Mexican, Greek, or Southeast Asian cuisine. Perhaps because of this versatility and ubiquity, we couldn’t spare a thought for this humble green.
The skyrocketing cost of lettuce
This week, the news has been saturated with lettuce talk. In some states, including New South Wales, shortages have inspired a dramatic increase in prices. People were already complaining that a head could cost $9.99. Now, it is as much as $11.99, if you could find any. Before you throw a tantrum, it’s not just lettuce. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other greens, have gone sky high. As a result, fast food chains such as KFC, Subway, and Oporto have all mixed cabbage with lettuce in their burgers, wraps, and subs. Funny enough, the sudden demand for cabbage would also drive up their prices. Now, cabbage is likewise selling for $9.99.
On social media
So remarkable has the upshot been that some influencers have taken to social media to highlight the unbelievable prices that lettuce command. A pair of cheeky Woolworths shoppers posted a video of them placing a lettuce in a bag, with the words ‘channel lettuce’ taped for good measure. The post was an instant hit, accumulating in excess of 720,000 views apart from thousands of comments and likes. The pair were obviously comparing the purchase of lettuce with the iconic handbag. The multitude was quick to respond. Others suggested appellations for similar vegetables that have soared in price, including Gucci Zucchini, Coriander Prada, and Broccoli Venetta.
Apart from this, the lowly lettuce has been the subjects of many memes. From Facebook to Twitter, TikTok to Instagram, there has been a widespread effort to parody the expensive veggie. These posters, whether amateur or pros, are trying to inject some laughs in an otherwise gloomy reality.
This is the polar opposite with what happened a few months ago. There was such a surfeit of avocados in Queensland that growers decided to dispose truckloads of the fruit. Videos of avocado mountains became viral. The in-season fruit is normally expensive. If you’re adding guacamole to your nachos or sandwich, prepare to pay a few dollars for a few spoonfuls. The growers admitted that the transport costs interstate would negate any sales of the fruit. As a result, they reasoned that it was better to chuck them.
In other news
Meanwhile, in other supermart news, Aldi will finally provide customers with smaller trolleys. Until now, the budget grocery has stuck with massive, antiquated trolleys. This is no good to preggers women, who have complained about this for some time. One must note that this has been the norm with its competitors for years. Aldi has also mobilised baskets, which hasn’t been the case since they entered the market two decades ago. A few months past, they likewise greenlit self-service checkouts. Coles has also stepped up their game, offering refurbished iPhone 8’s for $279. Previously, the supermarket giant was selling second hand iPhone 7’s for $259. Unlike the latter, the former is locked to Boost.
Here to stay
This is new to most of us. This kind of exorbitance has not happened in at least the last few decade . The uncertainty caused both by COVID and climate change is being felt almost at lockdown level. Indeed, lettuce has become the poster veggie for these challenging times. From being an overlooked kitchen go-to, it now epitomises the rising food costs. They reason that if the humble lettuce could be so in demand and unaffordable, then what’s next? Economists use the Big Mac Index to gauge countries’ spending capacity. Using the ‘lettuce barometer’ for the same purpose doesn’t sound too far fetched. The war in Ukraine has impacted oil prices half a world away. Surely, the repercussions of these upheavals will continue.
Following on from my last reading list, this time we tackle two bestsellers and one classic. As usual, two fiction reads and one nonfiction book comprise my reading list. I start off with David Baldacci’s latest. Dream Town is the third instalment in his Aloysius Archer series. The book picks off from last year’s A Gambling Man, with the titular character battling the baddies in Tinseltown for a change. Next up is Nick Joaquin’s story collection. I’ve made it a point to read more fiction anthologies this year. What better way to brush up than by perusing the finest English-writing Filipino writer. Finally, I tackle The Power of Regret. Daniel Pink’s self-help title charted on the Times Best Sellers. Regret is a lovely exploration into one of our least understood emotions.
1. Dream Town. (David Baldacci). The book opens with New Year’s Eve 1953. Archer has been hanging out in LA with his friend, Liberty Callahan. They go through two balls, where Archer meets Eleanor Lamb. The latter learns that he’s an investigator and hires him. She gives off a damsel in distress vibe. Archer visits her place to find a dead PI. Clues lead him to The Jade, a Chinatown bar. Along the way, he interviews a few connected women who knew Lamb. He is able to get out of tight spots as a result of his military training and some luck. He continues to work with his boss, Willie Dash. During this outing, the latter will save his skin.
He teases out a connection between Lamb and her French neighbours. He also links a Las Vegas goon to the Jade. Apparently, some famous people are indebted to the latter, which forces them to do his bidding. At The Jade, he meets this young star, who turns out to be the goon’s ex. He promises to liberate her from his clutches. As a result of his investigation, he drives to chic places: from the shores of Malibu to the mansions of Bel-Air; from the studios in Hollywood to a bonkers finale in Lake Tahoe. He likewise heads to Anaheim and its orange groves to seek answers. Baldacci does not play all his cards until the end. Thus, this makes for one helluva thrill ride.
The ending was bittersweet. Of course, Archer would score but he will lose too. Like its predecessors, the novel was a homage to the fifties. The landlines, vintage wheels, and Marilyn Manson hark back to the earlier era. I liked that the chapters were short and mostly to the point. The series has some likeable characters and the period setting was intriguing. It gave us a glimpse of what it was like to be in our grandparents’s shoes. While I enjoyed the title, I wasn’t a fan of too much attire description. Baldacci definitely overdid this. All in all, I can understand why this book trended on bestsellers lists.
2. The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic. (Nick Joaquin). This was my first foray into Joaquin’s prose. This is on the heels of Murakami’s anthology, which I took in a few months prior. Murakami’s omnibus was set mainly in Japan. He employed magical realism and a few cats. Joaquin’s works were even older. Some were set in 19th century Philippines, then under Spanish control. There is also magical realism, with a dash of gothic tones. Joaquin’s fiction has variety, including in length. They range from a dozen to seventy pages.
There were ten short stories in this ebook. I managed to finish seven of them. One look at the backend play made me wary. The titular story was based in Hong Kong. These tales concern Pinoy expats, students, superstitions, religion, post colonialism, and generation gaps. Filo slang adds colour to the narrative. The title is like a snapshot into both pre and postwar Philippines. Even though it’s an old book, one could feel the nostalgia from a bygone era. Before computers and social media, kids played sport. They ate meals and attended Mass together. Without technology to distract them, they were more caring towards their elders. Often, three generations lived under one roof.
Like a majority of literary fiction, this one wasn’t easy to digest. I had a love hate relationship with Joaquin’s work. The author has especially long sentences that go on for half a page. He constructs lists that are two dozen deep. The dialogue could be laborious to read through. Finally, his character count is excessive for the chosen genre. Any astute writer would know that you shouldn’t have more than five speaking characters. Two main ones, and another two or three minor roles. In his seventy-page stories, he has topped what is acceptable characterisation for a short story. I guess though that this is a result of playing with the genre: a hybrid form that defies conventions. On the plus side, a few of his stories were addictive. You couldn’t wait for the next bite. Regardless, this marks the fourth ebook I’ve crested this year.
3. The Power of Regret (Daniel H. Pink). I read this and Joaquin’s collection simultaneously. There’s no doubt that Daniel’s book was well-researched. In many ways, it reads like an academic text, complete with notes and a plethora of studies. The author created The World Regret Survey, where he compiled, collated, and analysed data in the biggest such undertaking ever. The chapters begin with three regrets from anonymous critters. They only supply their gender, age, and country.
The book is divided into three parts: regrets reclaimed, regrets revealed, and regrets remade. The first section is an unpacking of the emotion. Daniel tries to reimagine our understanding of the term, with help from decades of research. He always incorporates anecdotes that colours the narrative. This reminded me a bit of The Subtle Art, another bestseller. Most importantly, he elucidates on the concept of at least and if only. In this chapter, he uses the analogy of the Olympic medalists. The champion beams the widest while the bronze medallist is likewise jubilant. However, the silver medallist is most disappointed. Though second-best, they always ponder the what if.
In his research, Daniel uncovers four main types of regrets, which he expands in the next section. Foundation regrets are deep seated and spring from a rumination with the past. Boldness regrets ponder on the ‘thwarted possibilities of growth’. Moral regrets are more subtle, as one’s judgment is variable. However, these subsume such quandaries as deceit, betrayal and infidelity. Finally, connection regrets involves the fracture of meaningful relationships. Since humans are societal beings, lost connections will cause awkwardness. We always think of the worst while research shows that these fears are usually misplaced.
The last bit puts the argument in context. Daniel asserts that we should not dwell on the past, especially if we have a chance to learn from it and improve the present. He likewise posits that jotting down and sharing your regrets will lessen your burden. Meanwhile, anticipating regret is a double edged sword. The main body is only 211 pages but feels more substantial with the amount of material included. For me, it took about a week to finish. There aren’t many regrets books out there but this one was enlightening.
The past week or so has seen a cold snap hitting our city. Snow in Thredbo and country NSW. Daily showers across the state. Gale force winds making people duck for cover. Plummeting temps the new norm. The last weekend of May saw this sudden shift. The freezing blast continued even until the first day of June. For some, they found refuge in the heater. It was also time to get that duck down quilt. Since the change of season, nighttime temps have dropped to single digits. By the way, the post title was taken from the first Sean Duffy thriller. That series has Topher’s ‘tick of approval’.
Unprecedented but mild
The past two seasons have seen records shattered. The rainfall for the year’s first five months has been unprecedented. Dams have overflowed. Farmers who’ve suffered months of drought have suddenly been living in Waterworld. Even in Queensland, downpours have been the theme. Summer seems to have long gone. Granted, we had a mild autumn. The winds were only sporadic, though the rain was consistent. The mercury was below-average. For instance, revellers got to make the most of the Easter Show.
This is the first fall since we emerged from last year’s lengthy lockdown. Students have gone back to the classroom. Malls have reopened, ditto restaurants and bars. The retail sector is back in business and the spending is on. Barbers resume to do what they do best. Churches have welcomed back their flock. Even travel has returned, with long queues for eager beavers. The crowds at Sydney Airport wasn’t enough to deter some zealous travellers. The long waits were the result of staff shortages, which COVID precipitated. This is a reminder that, though the flight paths are open, the shadow of COVID looms. The issue with flying is that many people will have the same idea. We live in different times. Jetting off during school holidays may have worked in the past. Yet in this COVID world, we might have to rethink that decision.
The sporting codes have likewise resumed. The National Rugby League (NRL) is on, and so is the Australian Football league (AFL). The stadiums are packed like before the pandemic. When the Swans’s Buddy Franklin kicked his 1000th career goal, it was pandemonium. The scene of the stadium descending upon Buddy was hard to forget. In the warmer months, Melbourne hosted both the Aussie Open and the Aussie Grand Prix. As the rugby calendar unfolds, we would get pumped for another State of Origin series. This winter, who will emerge victorious, the NSW Blues or the Queensland Maroons? Tommy Turbo’s season-ending injury was bad news for us. However, we still have a flurry of holdovers from last year’s trophy-hoisting squad.
Vivid Sydney is likewise back on. The winter spectacle has been missing for the last couple of years. The lights and ideas display coincide with the freezing drop in temps. The show is an evening event, with famous displays across Sydney. This include the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, and many more venues around our city. Vivid is sure to attract plentiful visitors, both local and even international.
What to watch
While the last week has been wet and windy, Netflix fans have been treated to season four of Stranger Things. The first volume, consisting of seven eps, dropped last Friday (27/5). The eps are longer than previous versions, clocking in at least an hour. The seventh ep was almost a hundred minutes. By three days, the mainstay series was the platform’s number one show. It unseated The Lincoln Lawyer. After finishing said volume, I did stream a couple of movies, including A Simple Favour and No Sudden Move. Aside from the first two, the final eps of Ozark have also landed. If you’re into tennis, you could also tune in to the French Open. All the semifinals have been decided. As usual, Rafa is the man to beat in Paris. At age 36, he’s aiming to be the oldest champ at Roland Garros. This time he’ll take on first-time finalist, Casper Ruud.
Where to shop
Talk of winter isn’t complete without mentioning the mid year sales. David Jones is offering up to fifty percent off. Rival Myer is also having their mid year clearance. Cotton On had also joined the berserk bargains, with reductions across the board. Surely, others like Just Jeans, H & M, and Target were also hawking similar deals. Meanwhile, Click Frenzy Mayhem just transpired last week. A bevy of retailers participated in the two-day madness. From clothing to homewares, appliances to electronics, accessories to travel, there were bargains galore. Some of the shops jumped the shark, offering huge reductions in the days leading up.
Winter is all about rugging up. I often wear three layers when at home, utilising my thermals. I’ve got a few of them, mostly merino ones but also some cotton/poly blends. Apart from my regular bottoms, I make sure to double up with merino long johns. As mentioned, I’ve very recently unpacked the duck down quilt. Nighttimes could get especially chilly. I also mobilise my Ugg boots to keep my feet warm. This is the perfect time to wear those woollens. Whether jumpers, base layers, coats, or gloves, tis the season.
What to read
In terms of books, I’ve just finished this nonfiction bestseller. The Power of Regret is especially enlightening, using an array of studies to elucidate. The book deals with the world’s least understood emotion. Despite its bestseller status, I believe that this is an underrated effort. The author definitely put in a lot of research and thought into it. Having crested Regret, this marks my fifteenth read of the year. I’ve also tried perusing this Penguin ebook. It’s Nick Joaquin’s collection of stories. The latter is one of the foremost Filo writers. However, upon reading it, I was a little disappointed. His tales have magical realism and gothic elements but they highlight the 19th century. While their literary value is unquestioned, it’s definitely an acquired taste.
There are signs of change. The weather has improved, there are more souls outside, and the sun has come up. Winter may mean shorter days and longer nights. We should make the most of the season…while it lasts.