Westfield Hurstville: minimalist galleria

Recently, I went with a family member to Hurstville. I haven’t been there in ages. The first time I went to Hurstville was many years ago, when I met up with a classmate. We ate at the food court before watching this really good sci-fi flick. I took the train, but I couldn’t remember how he got there. The cinema was out of the way for him. The last time I visited was three years ago. I learned then that Myer had exited the mall in 2014. Though the Westfield underwent a significant redevelopment in 2015, the departure still left a gap in the plaza.

Westfield Hurstville

The centre

Westfield Hurstville is a medium-sized shopping mall, with a floor space of 61,231 square metres. The centre is a joint venture between Scentre Group and another entity. Hurstville train station sits across the road from the Westfield. There are also numerous bus connections to surrounding areas, including the Inner West, St George, and Sutherland Shire. At the moment, the centre has seven anchor tenants. These include Woolworths, ALDI, Kmart, Coles, Big W, Event Cinemas, and Rebel. The mall also has over 2,700 parking spaces. Westfield Miranda in the Shire dwarfs Hurstville, with wider corridors, a better layout, and more upmarket shopping options. At 127,000 square metres, Miranda is two times that of Hurstville.

Dining options

Although unimposing, Hurstville has two food courts: the main one featuring the headliners and a smaller one with mostly Asian cuisine. The primary food court has the big names: McDonald’s, Oporto, and KFC. There is also Donut King and Chatime for those with a sweet tooth. There are the usual sushi place and other rice options. They also have Top Juice and Boost. You will likewise find kebabs here. The mini-food court has Soul Origin, a Korean place and others. By the time we left, most of these eateries were closed. The mall also boasts a Starbucks. I learned that the centre housed a few cafes, namely Mrs. Fields, Oliver Brown, and The Coffee Club.

The December toys

We only visited a few stores. We had a browse at Big W first, where we bought a two-pack of Aussie-made pillows. We then dropped by T.K. Maxx; we were there for a while. I saw these weatherproof umbrellas in black colour. They were a steal at their price. The brollies seemed quite durable and were rather lightweight. Two of them, please. I had a look at their menswear. They had this intriguing Ben Sherman polo, with contrasting front and back colour schemes. Upon trying it on, I surmised that it wasn’t the best fit. I also tried on this cargo short, but the pocketing needs improvement. No wonder there was still a couple of them on the rack.

We then went to Kmart, which was one level up. We had a look around; my companion browsed the shorts section. We got this striped pencil case which was perfect for my hair clipper and accessories. We had dinner afterward. We learned that most of the food option closed at six pm. COVID restrictions ensured that stores could allow a limited number of shoppers. Hence, there were queues outside some stores. We didn’t do the groceries thus we skipped the supermarkets. We passed by Best & Less and Uniqlo but didn’t enter.

Some history

Westfield Hurstville was instituted on 9 October 1978 by former state Premier Neville Wran. First proclaimed in 1975 at an expense of 30 million, the centre was seen as ‘the start of a new and greater shopping era for St George’. The mall was originally co-owned by Westfield and the local council. The Westfield included a Coles, Franklins, and Best & Less. The mall was known for featuring the first quiet park on top of the shops. This became popular among visitors who needed a top-up after browsing and carrying bags.

Hurstville was redeveloped in the 90s over The Avenue, a retail bridge connecting both sides of the mall. Kmart, Grace Bros, Greater Union and a further 125 specialty shops were added as part of the expansion. When Grace Bros opened shop in 1990, the store was very popular with the locals. Grace Bros originally wished to operate at Rockdale Plaza but talks of a David Jones entering the scene paved the way for the department store’s entry. Two months later, Greater Union opened, adding some pomp to a heretofore dead night life. However, the extension also caused headaches to the small retailers along Forest Road. There were then plans to turn these shops into a pedestrian mall. The early 90s saw the addition of a second food court, which had a 32-person capacity.

The mid-1990s saw many of the high-end stores waving goodbye. The arrival of Target was one of the bright spots. Though Toys R Us shrunk, this facilitated the advent of Rebel. ALDI currently holds the latter’s space. By 1998, the mall was seeing dwindling numbers as nearby centres were attracting more dollars. Roselands was refurbished, Miranda was growing, and Burwood was modernised. The building was showing its age and many businesses were boarding up. Franklins begat Food For Less which begat Tong Li Supermarket. As mentioned, Grace Bros or Myer closed in 2015. With a dearth of high-end shops and department stores, the centre was seen as moving more toward Rockdale Plaza. In other words, the Westfield had a bevy of discount stores but in much need of refitting.

2015 upgrade

As noted, the mall underwent a major refurbishment in 2015. This followed on the heels of of Myer and Toys R Us turning their backs on the centre. The $100 million refitting was completed on 18 November 2015. Celebrations ensued the next day. The redevelopment includes a new wholescale Woolworths as well as a JB HiFi on the former lower ground space of Myer. Meanwhile, Big W and Cotton On replaced the upper floor of Myer. A Rebel Sport ate into the half of Kmart. Best & Less barged into the former Toys R Us. There was likewise a new rooftop outdoor dining area. The Greater Union was rebranded as Event Cinemas, with a humongous Vmax screen added for good measure. Anyhow, new department stores were announced. Three mini majors were touted in July of last year. These would replace the erstwhile Target store. The first two, TK Maxx and Uniqlo, have already opened.

Minimalism galore

This is definitely one of the more minimalist Westfields around. Make no mistake though: this is a plaza that caters to a busy community. Though labelled as an ageing mall in the past, they have made an effort in recent years to move with the times. I remember when I first visited, they didn’t even have a Vmax screen. Unlike Roselands, this mall is close to the train station. This centre reminds me of Top Ryde. Both of them have Event Cinemas and there are overlaps among the stores. Both have seen the bolting of a major tenant. Both underwent major refurbishments in the past decade. While Hurstville is more accessible, Top Ryde is about fifty percent larger than Hurstville. The centre may not be the biggest, the newest, or even the closest, but is worth a visit every once in a while.

Bon appetit
Posted in fashion, reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

Fresh reads

Christmas is almost upon us, a festive season most unlike prior celebrations. The pandemic has brought a different milieu. This list includes another Grisham, his bestselling A Time for Mercy. This is the third instalment in his Jake Brigance series. Grisham has been making serials of late. This year alone, he’s produced Camino Winds and Mercy. Phantom by Jo Nesbo is next. After hanging onto the Nesbo, I just thought the time was right to tick this off my inventory. A Life in Parts forms the third leg of the tripod. Master actor Bryan Cranston pens this edition’s de rigueur nonfiction title.

  • A Time for Mercy (Grisham). I admit that I haven’t read the previous two books in the series, though I’ve seen the first on screen. I noted that this series is about racial tensions in the South. Brigance is a defence attorney helping the indigent. He has represented Carl Hailey, a convicted black murderer. The latter was acquitted. In this edition, he gets a job nobody wants: to save a cop killer. Drew Gamble, sixteen, is indicted on the murder of Stuart Kofer, a sheriff’s deputy in Clanton. Kofer came home intoxicated and left the mother, Josie Gamble, unconscious. The Gambles (Drew, Josie, and Keira) are all revealed to be victims of abuse.

The A-team

The whole town has passed their judgment on Drew. Jake courts their ire, though he has little say in the matter. Brigance’s career suffers as a result of taking the Gamble case. Instead of a multimillion-dollar settlement on another case, he is staring at a lengthy wait for a trial. His office also gets far fewer cases. However, he has the support of a strong team. In his corner is his wife, Carla and his assistant, Portia. His old buddy, Harry Rex, reassures him while Lucien Wilbanks remains his mentor. This is by far the toughest lawsuit he’s faced as all evidence points to Drew.

The verdict

His client is detained in the county jail. He’s had a trouble life and has attended too many different schools. The Gambles find some allies in The Good Shepherd Bible Church, where Pastor McGarry welcomed them with open arms. The killing is the talk of the town and the source of news. There is a lot of build-up before the trial. The jury manoeuvring and selection alone was good for a few chapters. Furthermore, Grisham makes sure to add a touch of drama. This twist will definitely impact on the outcome and change the complexion of the plot. While this is rated highly, I admit that it’s not his best work. The pacing of this one and the opening murder scene were reminiscent of The Reckoning (2018). However, Jake’s family life and his altruism are breaths of fresh air. Familiarity with the setting and characters are also helpful. Overall, a more challenging Grisham read sprinkled with his trademark suspense.

Rating: 4.3/5

  • Phantom (Nesbo). This is the ninth book in the Harry Hole series and the seventh I’ve finished this year. The story deals with the murder of Gusto Hanssen, an ambitious peddler who sells the best stuff. Oleg Fauke, Harry’s foster son, is charged with his slaying. This impels Harry to return to Oslo. He was previously living in Hong Kong. Hole is not even on the force for all of this book, but he takes it upon himself to solve such a personal crime. There is the usual battle with the bottle, which he manages to curb for the most part. He realises that Oleg has grown up and turned over to the dark side.

The new rave

Harry learns that a certain Dubai holds the cards. He was so named after the Arsenal jerseys (his peddlers), of which Emirates is a major sponsor. Apparently, they’re selling this new craze called violin. For a while, Oleg and Gusto work for the old man. Being selfish hypes, they decide to emancipate from their boss and deal with the manufacturer directly. In particular, Gusto would stop at nothing to get his fix. No one is untouchable for him in his quest to get high. In the meantime, the force has made headlines for curtailing the drug trade in central Oslo. However, ‘Looks are deceiving.’ While the coast is clear, this has ensured that a couple of organisations have thrived. While some substances have been eliminated, violin use has climbed. We learn that not only airline pilots are crooked, but also law enforcement and high-ranking government officials.

A man of lists

The plot shifts between the regular narrator and thoughts from Gusto. The extensive use of lists is one thing I notice about Nesbo. Every few pages, there’s an index of items. Harry attempts to depart for Hong Kong a few times, but comically backtracks while almost leaving. As usual, Harry is being hunted. His work on the baddies is rewarded with a bull’s eye from his former colleagues. Indeed, he has to ‘borrow’ a passport. Looking at him, he is worse for wear. He has a bad neck wound and his suit is grimy. He stays at the Hotel Leon, a shabby inn where he meets Cato, a reverend hiding a dark secret. Cato appears like the voice of reason but is actually a closeted killer. As always, there is a massive twist near the end, a paradigm shift. Nesbo is a master storyteller, but I am no fan of those lists.

Rating: 4.28/5

  • A Life in Parts (Bryan Cranston). In this memoir, the Breaking Bad actor talks about the many hats he’s worn over his lifetime. For instance, he relates on his being the son of an ambitious thespian. He tackles his parents’ divorce when he was eleven and how this affected his mum. He likewise reveals how he and his brother worked as farmhands, fetching eggs and beheading chickens. He shares about how his brother travelled the world, making him follow in his path. He chronicles his cross-country road trip with his brother, sleeping under the stars, and growing a beard. He decided to become an actor on said sojourn, while stranded in the rain. We are given a look into his acting classes.

Bryan’s sphere

Of course, Bryan reveals his roles and his biggest challenges. Early on, he had a recurring role in a daytime drama. He was part of a police drama where the crew did not know what they were doing. He quitted soon enough. He was in one episode of The X-Files, where he met Vince Gilligan – creator of Breaking Bad. He also appeared as an antagonising dentist in six episodes of Seinfeld. For the most part, he was cast in small roles, but he never gave up hope. Malcolm in the middle was his big break. He played the father, where he showcased his eccentricities. The comedy ran for seven seasons and Cranston earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for his trouble.

Acclaim and accolades

His performance on Breaking Bad was one of the greatest captured on telly. He knew right away that this would be his moment. Upon reading the script, he never longed for a role more. He proceeded to become one of the show’s producers. He likewise went on to win a slew of awards along the way. He talks about art imitating life. When he is seeing Jesse’s girlfriend on the brink of death, he is thinking of his own daughter. He admits that good directors would give some actors leeway in their portrayals and dialogue. He feels that his progress on the show has given him a voice.

Breezy read

He discusses staying in character and giving praise where it is due. In addition, he describes the feeling of celebrity status, where you could not please everyone. He even explores his relationships with fellow stars, including his Breaking castmates. He confesses that fame is a bonus and is not the main goal of acting. After his career-defining role, he also downplays money as the main driver of roles. He intersperses musings on his wife and child, both actors, and how they make him proud. Cranston’s format is quite unique and there’s no doubting his storytelling prowess. This is an easy read from an acting maestro.

Rating: 4.85/5

Next book:

Posted in Books, reviews | Leave a comment

Categorising the various fragrances

The other week, I purchased an EDT (eau de toilette) from Myer. The Calvin Klein fragrance was forty percent off. The item was called CK Everyone and was very eco-friendly: no nasties, recycled container, and reusable bottle. The fresh scent was also made in France. However, upon reading, I learned that EDTs are less potent than Eau de parfum (EDP). The same brand had a woody EDP at a slightly higher price point. Like Everyone, Eternity came in at 100ml. Having done some research about their differences, I gathered that the latter (a woody fragrance) was better. Black Friday was perfect timing, with the sale running through to Cyber Monday. I was able to exchange the spray. What is the difference though between EDTs, EDPs, and perfume? Let me count the ways.

EDT

Eau de toilette – the lighter scent. Firstly, let’s deconstruct the meaning of this French word. Eau (pronounced ‘ou’ and not ‘you’) is the French word for water. De means ‘from’ and is enunciated as ‘the.’ Toilette (‘twalet’) is often misconstrued as washroom but actually implies ‘preparing for a special event.’ Putting them together, this could be simplified as just ‘perfume’. EDTs contain five to fifteen percent of essential oils and is in the middle of the pack. Eau Fraiche is at the bottom while parfum takes the cake. Being in the middle gives the EDT the best cost per perfume concentration. They are more affordable than EDP and last three to six hours. Regardless, you would need more sprays than an EDP. Since they’re milder, they are perfect for daily use.

As a teen, I recall using a Polo Sport EDT as my go-to. It had a nice scent and came in a blue bottle. As stated, the fragrance required a few spritzes. I then utilised Ralph Lauren, a gift from an auntie overseas. The latter lasted me a while. At the moment, I am tackling a French Connection-labelled EDT which we purchased many years ago in Sydney. Meanwhile, I initially thought about getting the scent from the chemist as they have some basement prices. Upon checking, the cost of Everyone is close enough to Myer’s. They also didn’t stock the Eternity in question.

EDP

Eau de parfum (EDPs) represents the runner-up among scents, in terms of perfume oil content. EDPs may be pricier, but they also last longer (five to eight hours). These sprays have between ten and twenty percent of essential oils. Unlike EDT, these scents have two notes, which work together to retain the aroma. The top note is released once applied. Subsequently, another note goes off, known also as ‘the heart of the scent.’ This note outlasts the top note. EDPs are apparently made for evenings and cooler weather, where the dry air lessens their effect. The higher essential oil concentration and longer-lasting scent made me go after Eternity.

Parfum

Parfum contains about fifteen to forty percent perfume concentration, making it the topnotcher among all spray types. They could reputably last up to twenty-four hours. This likewise justifies its price tag, which is the heftiest of all. Chic perfumes have become known around the world just by their brand names. Dolce and Gabbana, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Gucci are just some of those household names. So renowned are they that they have inspired countless imitations, including that of the black market.

A scent by any other name

Aside from the various concentrations, there are also an array of scents. Being in the same scent family will make them feel the same. My past usage has leaned more toward the fresh category. Of course, there are others: floral, oriental, and woody. Yet more are offshoots from those four. Floral fragrances are an umbrella term for perfumes inspired by sweet smelling flowers. Floral mists smell sweet and romantic. They are usually of a single note or a fusion of different flowers. They generally add a feminine touch.

Meanwhile, oriental scents combine musky and earthy fragrances. Amber and musk are common base ingredients. They are said to be attention-seeking or seductive. They are ideal for a special night or a romantic evening out. Meanwhile, a fusion of moss and wood are main themes of woody fragrances, often termed chypre fragrances. The extensive use of citrus, oak moss, and bergamot together with ‘sweet earthy aromas’ help to create very soothing perfumes. Chypre mists commonly describe a female label and – occasionally – unisex, but not solely the male category. They are said to have strong and classical appeal and are common for the workday.

Bargain buffoonery

The Black Friday sales have been a ray of hope for Aussie consumers. The shadow of the pandemic still looms large. Recent developments though have given the public some reassurance. The Victorian border has reopened to New South Wales residents. The same is true of the Queensland demarcation. The weekend frenzy has seen denizens go berserk for fare bargains. The airlines have done their bit, offering heavy discounts on newly opened routes. I heard that all the flight tickets were snapped up within twenty minutes. Even the sprays were not spared, with eager beavers raiding the scent racks. This excitement has stood in stark contrast to the weather, which hit forty degrees over the weekend. Regardless, just like a decent haircut, buyers would imagine that their new mists would help with their image. Whether you go for parfum or EDT, big brand or banal scent, remember this: the measure of one’s fragrance is on the nose of the beholder.

Posted in culture and politics, fashion, reviews | Leave a comment

The Queen’s Gambit (2020) reviewed

Over a few weeks, I’ve gone through three limited series. I started off with The Queen’s Gambit before taking in Bodyguard. Chernobyl was the latest miniseries I devoured. The last two shows won acting Globes. Yet while all of them are well-received, this week, I will tackle the best of them: The Queen’s Gambit. Since being released in late October, the show has maintained a perfect score on the Tomatometer. Critics have gushed about Anya Taylor-Joy’s ‘magnetic’ performance. Apart from trending, Gambit was the top show on Netflix. The programme chronicles the life of chess prodigy Elizabeth Harmon, from her humble beginnings to a jet setting life taking on the best chessmen on the planet.     

Orphan

The show examines the troubled home life of Harmon. She ends up at an all-girls orphanage where she becomes friends with Jolene, a tempestuous black teenager. The latter admits that she is too old to be coveted in adoption. At the orphanage, Mr Shaibel – the custodian – teaches her how to play chess. In no time, she outclasses him. At the home, they give them pills which quickly hooks Beth. At night, she indulges her chess move on the ceiling as a result of the pills. A couple finally adopts her – after she lies about her age. She then attends school, where she is not one of the popular chicks.  

Chess prodigy

She enters a chess tourney after securing a loan from Shaibel. The table people immediately count her out, given she’s a girl and has no ranking. Her first opponent tells her about the comp rules: using the clock and tallying each move. Beth makes light work of her foe and the rest of the field. She advances to the final where she meets Harry Beltik, a much more seasoned adversary. She refuses Beltik’s offer of a draw and soundly beats him. Harmon always employs the Queen’s gambit, one of the oldest opening moves.

Winning the local tournament became her foot in the door. She hires her foster mother as her manager, accompanying her to glitzy hotels and managing her finances. Early on, she nicked a Chess magazine and doctored a script for the tranquilisers. As she kept on winning, her reliance on the pills grew. She sets her sights on Benny Watts, who was the American champion. Though their chessboard tussles were brutal, Watts eventually becomes her mentor and friend. Every chess great needs an eidetic memory, and this is standard across the characters.

Facing the best

Mrs. Wheatley, her foster mum, also has her demons. She eventually succumbs to them, leaving an abyss in Beth’s heart. Soon, her life becomes erratic. Returning to town, she begins cancelling appearances. Harry drops in and lives with her for a while and soon discovers the pills. They talk about Morphy and Capablanca, two Chess titans. Harry tells her that the former ignited fast and fizzled out just as quick. At age 22, he retired. He was said to walk the streets alone at night. Upon leaving, he tells Beth to ‘be careful.’ When she beats Watts, Harmon prepares to battle the Russian, Borgov. He is the current Soviet champ.

They first meet in Paris, where Borgov overwhelms the challenger. Their next encounter was in Moscow. The date with Borgov wasn’t without drama. She was tardy for the match, having spent the night drinking with an old friend. With her crew urging her on, she went toe-to-toe with the tactician. Play was halted to be resumed the next day. Unlike in all her prior matches, she was pill-free for this one. For a change, she had the chance to nab a victory without help. This was much more than a chess match; the fifties were the height of the Cold War. To beat the Russians at their home soil was unheard-of.  

High praise

I can see why this production rated so highly. The period feel was well-constructed. The retro fridges and ballrooms, the vintage attires and cars, added charm to this drama. The chess moves weren’t excessive so that even casual enthusiasts could keep up. The series was adapted from the Walter Tevis novel. The late American writer also penned The Color of Money, itself also made into a major film. Aside from Anya, Marielle Heller also gives an inspired outing as Mrs. Wheatley. Harry Melling, formerly Dudley Dursley, is convincing as Beth’s confidant. Thomas Sangster is a long way from the lovestruck boy in Love, Actually. He is also known to younger audiences as Newt in the Maze Runner trilogy. The series is obviously chess-centred but it likewise vital social commentary. For instance, when Beth was studying, the popular girls bullied her. Once she turned into world beater, they invited her into their sorority. Beth would later find one of them pushing a pram. She noted the bottle in the stroller.

Wistful thinking

I feel nostalgic as I watch this drama. Chess was popular in school and a couple of my colleagues could even be labelled great. During intervals such as morning tea and lunch break, we would cram a match in between. Frank and the late Chico were the best on campus. They had some epic battles. Early on, I noticed that having an eidetic memory was key to a remarkable chess mind. You almost have to be like Amos Decker, the hero of David Baldacci’s recent series.

Knowing merely all your opponents’ moves is not enough; you have to recall the ones that inspired the classic matches. Both Frank and my classmate Chico had that in spades. A few times, they even played blitz matches and the younger Frank did not back down. Unlike Harmon, Frank was formidable – even during quickie matches. Frank lived and breathed chess and Bobby Fischer was his idol. I was in the audio-visual room together with my club-mates when I heard Frank’s voice next door. He was part of the speaking chapter. I almost tittered upon discerning his remarks on Kasparov. His chess hat is always on.

Record breaker

Audiences love a good underdog story. While as a child, Beth could do little right. As a teenager, she could do no wrong and had the world at her feet. The charismatic leads, period pieces, and winner storyline all merge to create a feast for the eyes. In addition, the imagery from spots around the globe likewise add flavour. Gamble is also a cautionary tale of the perils of excesses. Beth was lucky to have the backing of Jolene and other friends, who lifted her in her dark hours. The show may be all of seven episodes, but the sum was more than the parts. Netflix has revealed that Gambit has pulled off a record: the most-watched scripted mini-series to date. I must admit that the opening sequence didn’t really enthral me. As they say, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

Rating: 5/5

Watts v Harmon
Posted in Books, reviews, TV | Leave a comment

The Last Hair Bender

Having hair obliges us to have a haircut. From the moment we wailed in the delivery room, we are subject to hair maintenance. As usual, your mileage may vary (ymmv). Boys and girls, men and women will have different due dates for a hair trim. Whether as kids or adults, ours tastes and hair preferences will diverge. The same applies to our trips to the barber. Some men prefer their hair very short to save money. These misers think it’s twice a year or it’s extortion. Ex-US President Obama had a haircut every week, similar to a schoolmate. Hair is a very mundane investment, being our ‘crowning glory.’ By all means, most haired people who could afford it would spend money on a haircut.  

Zeitgeist

The zeitgeist plays a role in hairstyles. I remember when the Brazilian football player Ronaldo sported a unique ‘do, even Asian kids would copy his look. Moreover, FRIENDS star Jen Aniston was known for ‘The Rachel’ cut though she herself wasn’t a fan of the hairdo. Dreadlocks and afros are common, especially in pro sports. These days, a shorter cut with little hair at the back has become commonplace. I remember as a senior in school, we had this military-style drills in school. Our teacher, Mr Elepante, asked me to join him at the front. ‘This is the ideal haircut,’ he told the class. ‘You should all emulate Topher’s look.’ I spoke to a couple of my batchmates and they said they intend to duplicate my style.

Back in secondary school, I applied a lot of hair gel. I couldn’t leave the house without going through the routine. I did not feel like myself without the hair gel. I recall watching Edward Scissorhands with my class a couple of times. The Tim Burton movie featured real-life couple Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder. In the movie, the oddball Edward, refuses to have a haircut. He instead does topiary for his neighbours and uses his Scissorhands to give them makeovers. He also romances Kim Boggs (Ryder). After watching the film, Victor – one of my classmates – said ‘Edward Scissor-dick.’

One time while going to the hairdresser here, I saw this kiddo and his finished noggin.

‘What do you think?’

‘Your hair’s still quite long’, I almost interjected.

Thorough and fulfilling

No offence, but barbers back home do a much thorough job than those here in Sydney. Once I settled in, I knew I would be fulfilled. These stylists have constant practice and are not afraid of making it short. They value every customer and do not hasten their work at the expense of their current customer. For the job they do, their pricing is very reasonable. While waiting, I usually browsed their newspaper or flicked through my magazine. Sometimes, I spotted people I know among the clientele. Like in the US, barbershops are the place to be. Hot topics like Manny Pacquaio and politics are talking points. There are even television sets where you can watch some blockbusters.

Oz style

Here in Oz, a crew cut is cheaper than a style cut. The latter involves using a clipper, scissors, and razor. A wash and a beard trim are added extras. I used to go for number four on top and three at the sides. Meanwhile, early on in the pandemic, with wholesale restrictions, the salons were empty. Social distancing has been practiced but spare a thought for the smaller shops. Language barriers has seen things lost in translation. For instance, I asked for them to make the back short. I ended up with a crew cut. The same applies with food, where I was asked if I want chilli. When I answered, ‘a bit’, our sandwiches were flaming hot. My chiropractor, Jeff, goes with the usual, a sixty-dollar service from one of his customers. He complimented my hairdo. I told him that I was paying fifteen dollars, up from ten bucks.  

Importance of hair

Hair is such an important accessory that some people would buy toupees just to score some style points. This is not just true for those with no hair, but even with those who are balding or have bald patches. World leaders are not exempt. On the high side, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has some nice locks, and so does French President Emanuel Macron. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-Un of North Korea headlines the bad side. There’s no doubt that he’s had atrocious hairdos through the years. The problem lies in his do’s incongruity with his image. With his trims, he ends up looking even bigger. His baggy outfits also don’t help his cause. He needs to change his stylist.

A kid’s ‘do

When I was little, I did not look forward to my barber trips. I wasn’t a fan of close-cropped hair but that’s what happened. Even in high school, I did not like my hairdos but understood that my shock of hair grew too quickly. My hair also tends to grow quickly on the sides. Observing people, most of them just don’t remove the excess. Shaving off the surplus has become a habit, as going with the flow would look untidy. I remember as a fifth grader I had a classmate who showed up with a full blond coiffure. Turns out he was only after some highlights but ended up mirroring Brad Pitt’s locks. This was a blatant violation of school rules and he had to go back and find an antidote. At least his initial ‘do got some compliments, even from a few teachers.  

My kind of barber

I admire barbers who are artful, who are not afraid to gamble if it is in their client’s best interest. I like it when they give a round illusion. Having a flat cut can leave you feeling discontent. I likewise salute those hairdressers who are unencumbered by time and who live to satisfy their patrons. These kinds are rare. More demand means more cash, often at the detriment of a good job. The routine might be the same. Sitting on a chair facing a mirror, putting on a poncho, receiving a clipper. Then, they use a pair of scissors, use some water, and a razor. Finally, the finishing touches are applied, with powder and a brush, maybe some gel. A good barber makes you feel at ease and impels you to come back. A great hairdresser does all that, and makes you feel at home.

 

Barbershops need not be just the parts but could be ‘the sum of the parts.’ It sure doesn’t just end with some shearing or razoring. They could be agorae or your window to the world. When I was in school, people used to say, ‘You look like a human’, after someone got a haircut. I had a friend in uni who had a short cut that made his face look a few times bigger. I sniggered a little though I could not admit that his hair was the reason. Looking back, I was sure my hairstyle wasn’t much different. For your info, short cuts generally won’t work on bigger people. Conversely, long cuts make thinner people even scrawnier. Know your number.  

Posted in culture and politics, movies, Sport, TV | Leave a comment

US Election 2020: You don’t know Joe

Someone told me that this is the most boring US election ever. We know who’ll win, they reasoned. If Hillary couldn’t beat Trump, then how can Joe? For the current President, losing was never an option. He repeatedly claimed that he did not know how he could handle defeat, especially to someone as lowly as Joe Biden. Anyhow, the same brain told me that Trump has never known losing. Throughout his sheltered life, failure was never an option. He was brought up on a silver spoon and acted like an insufferable brat all his life. He was the proverbial Tracy Flick, a fictional character from the movie Election which a young Reese Witherspoon portrayed. His win-at-all-cost mentality was very reminiscent of Flick. That Tracy was only a challenger (and not in power) was the main difference. Another contrast was that the fictitious know-it-all was conned while there was probably no cheating involved in this election. By the way, the title of this week’s post was culled from a documentary on the legend of two-sport All-Star Bo Jackson.

Democrats win

On Saturday evening (US time), news broke that Biden had won the 2020 Presidential election. The latter had even given a victory speech, together with his vice-president (VP), Kamala Harris. The latter becomes the first person of colour and the first woman to be VP. The streets of America were divided. Some rejoiced in the Democrat win, while others renounced the election result, saying that it was rigged. This is real vindication for Biden, marking his third attempt at the US Presidency. His first bid was in 1988, then in 2016. He served as VP under President Barrack Obama from 2008-2016. He also lost his first wife and his son to a car accident. He then lost his other son – to cancer. Thus, he is no stranger to failure.

Comedy King

For those pondering Trump’s reaction, he went on live TV following polling day. Sensing potential catastrophe, he went on record at the White House. He prematurely claimed victory and maintained that the votes were tainted. He argued, without evidence, of mass electoral fraud. He proclaimed that his team would wreck heaven and earth to prove this cheating. He and his team have maintained this stance for all of this past week. Trump spent the next couple of days far from modernity, playing golf in Virginia. Yet despite the distance, he could not avoid the backlash from protesters as he was driven around. Trump’s behaviour during his term has inspired countless parodies. Saying that he’s the most lampooned American President ever is not a stretch. After Biden’s moment, there was still 74 sleeps before inauguration day. The world is wondering what could happen in those days.

For all purposes, Trump has well worn out his welcome. He had four years of borrowed time. Most Yankees worth their salt would know that Hilary probably won the prior edition. In four years, he has spent his time undoing the progress of his predecessor, Obama. He has run the White House like a reality show, replete with firings and unnecessary drama. He has manned the ship with a fury, removing those who dare challenge him. Meanwhile, he expects the rest to quietly bow to him. This is true not only among his people, but also with other world leaders. Throughout his tenure, Trump has been a lightning rod for controversy. His comments over the late Senator John McCain swayed Arizona voters against him. Who could forget the Trump blimp which flew over London? Donald personifies someone who cares little about others’ feelings.

Election Day

The showdown was closer than predicted, with polling numbers at a record high. This election was decided among the so-called battleground states. Regardless, Biden was ahead after the first day of ballots. To win the White House, both combatants needed to amass 270 electorates. It seemed like Trump was stuck at 213. Four days later, he garnered just 214 electorates. Meanwhile, Biden was slowly pulling away. It got to the point where he needed merely Pennsylvania (with 20 seats) to reach the magic number. When that finally occurred, Trump’s re-election hopes were foiled. Even before the decision, Trump launched recount requests across the nation. While a couple were successful, others were rebuffed. A few were still pending.

Many commentators have argued that Trump won’t go out quietly. Some have gone so far as purporting that Donald wouldn’t surrender the White House and would have to be forcibly evicted. Apparently, Trump doesn’t listen to anyone and hates almost all media outlets. He even unleashes his attack dog, the fiery personal lawyer who launches his missiles. While he retains his cronies and sycophants, he has lost the confidence of more than half of the Americans who voted. He continues to shine in the eyes of hardliners, as seen in the anger and bitterness among his rank and file. Like their skipper, these followers will fight to the end. Anyhow, the minorities will never embrace Trump as a result of his tough policies. This plebiscite reveals that America has had enough. The record voter turnout is a testament of a country willing for change.

Legacy

After four years in the Oval Office, Trump becomes the first one-term American President in almost thirty years. He remains a polarising figure: some gush about his aura while many despise him. He fancies himself a bridge of peace, striking deals between countries in the Middle East. At the same time, he also advanced Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, angering the Palestinians. During his time in office, there were only a couple of state visits. In this regard, he could not stop criticising the Obama administration but there is no doubt that the latter had more allies. One could avow that Trump was making the wrong friends. He sought out Kim Jong-Un, making headlines around the world. However, his inner control freak ignited a trade war with China and tensions between the two superpowers have never been higher.

He has made sweeping changes to America’s foreign policy that has seen them retrogress instead of moving forward. The gap in the States’ social strata has become even more pronounced. People are losing their business, their livelihoods, their necessities. Due to the coronavirus, the country is in a bad recession. The road back to black seems like an improbability that will not happen in the next Presidential term. Black lives are more precarious than ever, a big talking point that Trump has avoided. When issues are of little benefit to him, Trump has consistently shown his apathy. Thus, the spate of injustice endures.

Overconfidence

Trump clearly underestimated his opponent. At various times, he ridiculed Biden for being ‘too old’ and for his stuttering. He called him ‘Sleepy Joe.’ He seemed blind to his own gross negligence, his appalling treatment of the American public. He ignores the fact that 240,000 of his constituents have fallen asleep as a result of him mishandling the coronavirus response. While he is busy Tweeting and planning his next assault on democracy, various insiders have reportedly asked him to concede and hand over the reins. Donald acted as if this election was his to lose. Trump has lambasted the media for declaring the Biden win. The outgoing leader believes that the news media has cooked up this victory and insisting that we should not trust them. The media in turn has responded, reminding Trump that there is no evidence of vote tampering whatsoever. Trump’s refusal to accept defeat has been labelled a sad day in American history.

‘Pass the flame’

When Trump finally leaves the White House, what happens then? His debt is a staggering USD 300 million. While he claims that he will re-contest the 2024 election, that will be a long shot. The Republican party will not pin their hopes on someone who already lost them the last plebiscite. By then, he would be 78 years old, the same age as Biden. Furthermore, some women have accused him of making unwanted advances towards them. The worst-case scenario is he ends up like disgraced Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. That’s not even mentioning all the other perks. The Secret Service, Air Force One, limousines, chauffeurs, a full ministerial cabinet, and the whole of the armed forces were at his command. Presidents are the biggest stewards of America. Now it’s time to turn over the page and pass the torch.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) interjects as President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a reception for the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics at the White House in Washington, October 15, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTS4NUZ
Posted in culture and politics, Travel, TV | Leave a comment

My updated reads

Another three books knocked back; it’s time for an update. This list includes books 35-37 of the year. With my 36th read (Picoult), I’ve bettered last year’s total. This batch is another pair of fiction must-reads and, of course, a nonfiction title. Jodi Picoult’s output is a long-awaited page turner. The author reinforces her knack of exploring tricky family issues even as she incorporates the uncertainty of death in her narrative. Meanwhile, Gary Jubelin shares the life behind the uniform and the sacrifices that a homicide detective has to make. Finally, Matthew Reilly’s latest represents my last addition to this list. Reilly fans will love his fast-paced action, use of mythology, and endearing characters. As usual, the catalogue is in chronological order. Thus, I Catch Killers is the first read and so on.

  1. I Catch Killers (Gary Jubelin). This book is more like a catalogue than a memoir per se. Maverick detective Jubelin shares his experiences behind the suit as he chases and catches the evildoers. He relates on his childhood, where his disciplinarian father taught him how to be strong. He used to be a happy-go-lucky surfie until he found his calling. He joined the police academy and paid his dues before climbing the ladder. Right after his graduation in 1984, he enlisted on the force. From a lowly trainee in Hornsby, he would also work in Chatswood and set base in Port Macquarie. For most of his time, he was with the elite Homicide Department.

Justice

He would make it his mission to attain justice for his victims. In his time in law enforcement, there would be open-and-shut cases and there would be others dragging on for years. Moreover, the Bowraville murders would never be solved in his watch – although he tried his best. Technology would made giant strides since his genesis, specifically forensic analysis and computer use. Throughout his tenure, he always travelled a long way to work. His commitment to his job was to a fault, consistently burning the midnight oil. As a result, his marriages and relationships collapsed. However, he found his peace in qigong, meditation, and boxing.

He worked on the biggest investigation in state history: the aforementioned Bowraville debacle, the Lindt Café siege, and the disappearance of William Tyrell. Often, he was juggling multiple cases at a time. He talks about the sustained bureaucracy, lack of resources and empathy in solving these crimes. He became even more renowned after a TV series in 2009 that featured his work. The programme was a telling insight into his work ethic and his ruthless determination to serve justice. The show likewise revealed his strained connections with family and workmates. Killers is divided into three parts: Round One, Round Two, and Round Three. Each bit is further partitioned into smaller sections with titles.

The missing

Jubelin retired amid an inquiry on his handling of the Tyrell case. Thirty-four years after coming onboard, the detective has left a potent impression. His tireless campaigning ensures that two vital laws on murder cases have been ratified, benefiting scores of victims. Furthermore, his efforts secured the institution of the million-dollar reward in the state. I believe this is my first true crime read this year, a well-written and informative account from a justice crusader. The lack of an index is one problem though of this book. Given its length and the scope of names involved, an index would have been helpful.

Rating: 4.35/5

  • The Book of Two Ways (Picoult). I’ve been looking forward to this one for months. When I heard that Jodi had a new book, I was intrigued. This latest effort wasn’t as captivating as her prior reads but is still incredibly well-researched. You couldn’t fault Picoult for the factuality and preciseness of her work. The story alternates between two dream locations: Land/Egypt and Water/Boston. The novel opens with Dawn Edelstein having a near death experience as her plane crashes. A death doula by trade, Dawn edges to the precipice herself and makes a stunning decision: she would head to Egypt and her former life. Fifteen years ago, Dawn was a grad student who was part of contingent to dig mummies. There, she fell in love with Wyatt, a Pom charmer who calls her ‘Olive.’

A tale of two halves

However, having survived the first hundred fifty pages, the book rallies. Whereas before quantum physics permeated, the rest of the text was tofu. They were the best at deciphering hieroglyphs and the lost symbols made the first third of the book quite cumbersome. The Boston bits were well-coordinated. We see a couple trying to work through a marriage. Furthermore, we witness her daughter, Meret, grapple with teenager issues, from fat-shaming to the fear of losing a loved one. Dawn’s calling as a doula presents a third layer. She sees death and is there to make it as easy as possible: for them and their carers. During her time with her clients, she addresses their dying needs and lends an ear. Her mother’s battle with cancer convinced her to change her life path. Fifteen years later, she tries to reconcile missed opportunities and find some answers from her former life. There is a reason though for Dawn’s sudden trip, even as this appears entirely spontaneous. 

The rest

Picoult’s writing is witty and sentimental. The rest of the story is really page-turning. However, some readers have commented that she tries to juggle too many subjects: Egyptology, death, family, fat-shaming, and quantum physics. However, the sections are well-spaced. I like the twist though near the end. The surreal nostalgia reminded me a bit of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. The plot device involves the protagonist returning to their old life and finding that nothing has changed. True, the technology may have levelled-up and the characters may differ, but their loved ones will always welcome them back. In spite of the juggling act, this solid effort earned Picoult another Times bestseller.

Rating: 3.9/5

  • The Two Lost Mountains (Reilly). This work comprises the sixth and penultimate instalment in the author’s Jack West series. I’ve read all of them save for The Seven Ancient Wonders. His collection is among the breeziest you’ll find. This book continues from the events of its predecessor, with the fate of the good guys up in the air. For all of this volume, Jack and his ragtag team have their backs against the wall. The baddies are always a few steps ahead of them. Their mission this outing is to find one of the five Iron Mountains, two of which have never been found. Once there, Jack has to do the Fall, which will be his ticket to the Supreme Labyrinth. The latter must be overcome to ensure the world’s survival.

Plot

The plot hopscotches around the world. For instance, the Vatican and Moscow were some of the earlier sites. Furthermore, the island of Mont Saint-Michel was a key location. The text uses bona fide landmarks such as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and Siwa Oasis in Egypt. This enables Reilly to stretch the limits of the bookworm’s imagination. While some settings may be real, the legends and abracadabra are not. I thought that Zapadny Cosmodrome in Libya was real, as the author had supplied a brief history. However, upon checking, the facility does not actually exist. Prior instalments featured historical figures such as Genghis Khan and Moses to drive Reilly’s point home. This one has references to Napoleon, Imhotep, and Saint Francis Xavier.

Reilly has taken a page out of Michael Crichton. See also: Great Zoo of China. In today’s fiction, Reilly is the cliff-hanger maestro. He loves to mobilise precarious situations before leaving the reader with a dash – only to marshal his heroes out of doom. Some people have even purported that he’s overdoing these thrill rides. While he is a suspense wizard, Reilly is also a techie. He makes sure that his characters board the latest and biggest planes, use cutting-edge earphones, and could access a limited-edition serum unavailable to the public. Moreover, the author lives in putting finality. To take out the massive dome of St Peter’s Basilica and the side of the Temple Mount is pure Indiana Jones. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the writer who pulverised the New York public library in his debut. While the ending of Two Lost Mountains may not be conclusive, it does set the stage for the final book.  

Rating: 5/5

This is my thirteenth list of the year. While I perused eight nonfiction titles last year, I’ve gone through fourteen in 2020. On this list, Reilly and Picoult had a common Egyptian theme. John Grisham’s latest will be next. This is the third in the Jake Brigance series. The first book, A Time to Kill, had a film adaptation starring Matthew McConaughey. I saw that movie and hope this one will live up to the hype.

Posted in Books, reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

Chatswood, NSW: Welcome to the (urban) Jungle

The north shore suburb of Chatswood, New South Wales, represents a major mercantile and residential area. To show just how major the district is, the suburb has three shopping centres. Ponder that for a moment: three malls while others nearby have none. The trio of centres include Westfield Chatswood, the Mandarin Centre, and Chatswood Chase. Furthermore, Chatswood station is a transit hub for both buses and the light rail service. Just outside the terminal, there is a Woolworths Metro store. There are likewise two Hoyts cinemas: one in Westfield and another at Chatswood Mandarin. For good measure, there are three branches of the same pharmacy chain. Restaurants and small retailers line the streets. My friend once told me that the area has become ‘too urban’ for his liking.

Westfield

Years and years ago, I recall the station being upgraded. We came here often. The Westfield wasn’t very developed yet. The mall was smaller and reminded me of the Burwood iteration. While the latter retained its stature, its Chatswood cousin underwent a few major revamps and makeovers. I remember watching Spiderwick Chronicles a lifetime ago at the Hoyts here. I also used to frequent the massive Borders spot before they evaporated. In addition, a family friend lives in this posh area. We sighted her a few times. During our early trips, Target, Coles, Myer, and Food for Less were the anchors. I don’t remember much of the latter; which Aldi has since taken over.

Westfield Chatswood is situated along Chatswood Mall, the pedestrian mall that links the transport interchange to the shopping precinct. Chatswood Mall itself runs along Victoria Avenue, the main thoroughfare. In this regard, the Westfield there bears a resemblance to its Hornsby cousin. The walkaway became pedestrian-only in 1989. Regardless, I recall buying a thin striped henley from Myer during their midseason sale. That item is still serviceable. I also picked up a plain grey Jag hoodie another time, also from Myer. My most recent purchases from the latter’s Chatswood store were a multipack sock and a rugby sweater. They likewise sport a JustJeans, where, some years back, I got a good pair of chinos on the cheap. The Spanish fashion giant Zara entered the scene in 2014.

Facelift

In 2015, the Westfield had a $110 million facelift. The gross floor area was raised from 77,000 square metres to 80,000 square metres. H & M opened shop in the area that Toys R’ Us vacated. This comprised the third H & M store in Sydney. A Uniqlo store was also added. With Topshop also arriving, the centre housed the four global fast fashion retailers at one point, until Topshop departed. Forty new stores came in as part of this redevelopment. Furthermore, the erstwhile two-level entrance fronting Victoria Avenue was repurposed into a five-storey mall. This included the aforementioned Topshop and Topman which has since closed. After this refurbishment, I purchased a limestone-coloured down jacket from Kathmandu. This was good timing as I used the jacket during our skiing adventure.

A Hawker Lane dining precinct was also instituted. However, the old food court shrunk to a few outlets. I recall having many meals in their old food court, which had a Macca’s, KFC, Subway, a sushi place, Asian cuisine, Pizza Hut, Boost – to name a few. Now, the KFC and Pizza Hut are all that’s left. The Maccas has since teleported near the station while Asian gastronomy can now be located in Hawker Lane. This reminds me a bit of their Bondi version. In both instances, the food court had to be diminished to make way for H & M. In the latter’s case, H & M replaced the entire second food court.

Chatswood Chase

One would be mistaken for thinking that the suburb revolves around Westfield, as is often the case. Indeed, Westfield was not the first major mall to spring up in Chatswood; that title goes to Chatswood Chase. The latter was born in 1983, three years prior to Westfield. Prior to the centre materialising, the local council developed the ‘Chatswood Plan’ which would highlight the suburb as the centre for infrastructure and advance the council’s retail focus. The council aimed that the town axis would remain as the heart of regional retail. David Jones (DJ) and Grace Bros. initially pitched to establish a shopping centre. However, cat fights between the two saw Grace Bros. drop out of contention and David Jones flying solo.

Pre-development began in 1981 prior to Grace Bros.’ final challenge. The centre came to fruition after fourteen months. Upon opening in ’84, the mall had a Coles, Kmart, DJ, and the only Myer in the state at the time, before this converted to a Grace Bros. This ensured that Chatswood was the only suburb in NSW at the time to have two Grace Bros. When the latter said sayonara, specialty shops and the food court took up the void. In 2003, the mall was bought by Centro. A considerable makeover took place in 2007, with an additional 10,300 square metres of retail space. The revamp includes relocating Coles, undergoing a large-scale extension to lower ground retail, a new food court, additional parking, and an entrance upgrade. Work was completed in 2010 and included a name change. After this facelift, I bought a mud-coloured leather wallet from Rodd and Gunn. I liked the big coins compartment and that I got it at half-price. We also bought a bag from Esprit, before they closed down. The centre has 63,619 square metres of floor space.

The third centre

The third and final major mall in Chatswood is Mandarin Centre. The food court is the mall’s main drawcard. There are a lot of options from various Asian cuisines. There is even a Korean smorgasbord. In general, the prices are lower than Hawker Lane. Given the flurry of options, there is more variety. The mall also has a number of variety stores. Downstairs, there is an Asian grocery. There used to be a Trade Secret on level one, which T.K. Maxx has since replaced. I was able to grab a blue baseball cap from them. I’ve never tried their cinema, but for some this may be their main allure.

I understand my friend when he says that the area is too urbanised and has such a city vibe. Buildings, shops, apartments, and concrete dominate, much like Bondi Junction. The elevation of the railway into a transit hub clinches this argument. More journeys mean more people. The trio of malls make the suburb unique. There are only a handful of areas that are lucky to have two major centres. Make no mistake though: there are enough stores in Chatswood. There are tea shops, ice cream parlours, private health offices, banks, fast fashion, department stores, sporting stores, food courts, electronics stands, and shoe stores. The various retailers cater for different budgets. However, while Chatswood is a shopper’s haven, nature lovers may be disappointed. 

Victoria Avenue
Posted in reviews, Travel | Leave a comment

‘2020 NRL Finals Series’

There are just a few more sleeps to go before the much-awaited NRL (National Rugby League) Grand Final. The championship match marks the culmination of the current league calendar and will see the rising Penrith Panthers square off against the mighty Melbourne Storm. This weekend’s face-off will be the fourth and last of the NRL’s postseason tournament. Through four October weekends, we’ve seen eight teams fight their hearts out but there could only be one ultimate champion. In the prior three weekends, the two-time defending titlists (Sydney Roosters) were bounced from the competition. Meanwhile, the South Sydney Rabbitohs fell at the preliminary final hurdle for the third straight year. The Parramatta Eels made a valiant effort, but a depleted line-up was no match to the Bunnies’ firepower.

Some background

Like all other sporting competitions, the Coronavirus pandemic impacted this year’s NRL play. The league managed to play two rounds before the season was suspended. During Round 2, no spectators were allowed in. The suspension of the NRL season was unprecedented in the competition’s history. During the extended pause, CEO Todd Greenberg stepped down after four years at the helm. After two months of uncertainty, the code resumed the action on 27 May. The competition was reduced to 20 rounds while the Grand Final was maintained. Teams will play each other at least once with an extra five fixtures. Points from the first two rounds would be upheld. The State of Origin series (all-star games) will be held in November, subsequent to the NRL season. Anyhow, the Grand Final was slated to be contested on 25 October at ANZ Stadium (Olympic Park). The New Zealand Warriors were the squad most caught up in the lockdown. However, the three Queensland sides were allowed to train and play in their home state. In addition, the remaining matches were vied with only one referee.

Season restart and some storylines

None of the Queensland teams qualified for the finals. The Warriors likewise failed to make the cut. During the early part of the restart, no fans were permitted in the venues. After a few weeks, only a small number of die-hards were allowed in. However, in time for the postseason, more devotees were authorised as long as they adhered to social distancing. The year also saw the retirement of Tigers legend Benji Marshall. Moreover, Mitch Aubusson of the Roosters called it quits. The centre exited having played the most first-grade contests for the club. The return of Sonny Bill was also a talking point in the league. Some insiders criticised his decision to join the champs at the expense of others who needed his services more. There was finally a Sonny Bill sighting in Round 17, when he suited up in a Grand Final rematch against the Canberra Raiders. Even in his limited playing time, his knack at offloading the ball was intriguing.  

Finals format

The Finals series kicked off on October 2, with two qualifying matches and two elimination deciders during that weekend. The current postseason format has been in place since 2012, where the top-four teams enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage, while the top two teams advance to the preliminary finals after a week 1 triumph. The teams with better records host the contests. Furthermore, the bottom two seeds must win or go home at every stage. The Penrith Panthers were crowned minor premiers after blowing the competition away with 37 points (out of forty). As a reward for their excellence, the Panthers matched up against the Roosters. The fixture was close, with the Panthers leading by six late in the second half. Nathan Cleary scored three tries in a span of fifteen minutes before intermission. With the Panthers hanging on to their lead, Cleary hit a field goal with two minutes left, thus securing the win. Being the top seed, the Panthers marched on to the Preliminary Final.

Week 1

In other matches, the Cronulla Sharks did not hold a candle against the Raiders. They lost their best player, Shaun Johnson, prior to the elimination tilt. They were also playing in Canberra. While they led 14-10 at the half, the Raiders simply outworked and outmuscled them, flipping the script after the break. A similar story unfolded at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, where the Storm played their home games. Melbourne was too good against the Parramatta Eels, with their experience and star power overwhelming the latter. They outscored the Eels, four tries to two, in the payoff period. Meanwhile, The Rabbitohs thrashed the Newcastle Knights, 46-20 in the other elimination final. This was in spite of the Knights’s star, Kalyn Ponga, and his bravura output. The youngster seemed undaunted by the tall task. Interestingly, this matchup was contested at ANZ Stadium. Souths hooker Damien Cook was named Man of the Match after his impressive performance.

Week 2

The second week of action involved two semi-finals with the victors marching onto the prelims. The first matchup was held on 9 October and featured the Chooks against the Raiders, a rematch of last year’s championship. It was a low-scoring affair with the scoreboard hovering in the teens for most of the second half. Josh Papali rushed to the try line within the initial five minutes. After twenty minutes, the Green Machine was ahead 16-0. Roosters star James Tedesco (Teddy) scored a try before halftime, making the line 16-6. The Roosters attempted a spirited comeback after the break. However, they seemed to falter when the time mattered most. Teddy himself made a few miscues that could’ve saved the Chooks. However, the Roosters wouldn’t come close without his scoring. Unlike last year, they seemed to have lost their composure under duress. Forward passes, rushed throws, missed assignments all contributed to the Roosters’ demise. The Raiders escaped, 22-18.

In the other semi, Parra faced the Bunnies on the following day. On paper, it was a mismatch. The Eels had lost winger (and prolific try-scorer) Maika Sivo to injury. They were likewise without Blake Ferguson, who was also hurt. With the suspension of Michael Jennings, many pundits had already written off the Eels. However, captain Clint Gutherson scored two tries before setting up another in the first half. Parra capitulated after intermission following another Damien Cook show. Souths ran away, 38-24. This set up a date with the waiting Panthers at ANZ Stadium.

Prelims  

Melbourne met Canberra in a tussle featuring the last two grand finalists. The Storm trounced the Raiders in front of 37,112 fans at Suncorp. This one was never close, with three tries by Melbourne in the opening nine minutes. Their defence was stifling, as they only allowed two Raiders tries all match. The final score was 30-10, Storm. Raiders coach Ricky Stewart was crestfallen after the match. In the other prelim, the Panthers outlasted the Bunnies in a close encounter. While Souths struck first, Penrith will have the next three tries. Cleary had a perfect kicking night, going four of four. Adam Reynolds had a shot in the last five minutes. He seemed to have gotten off a 40/20 kick that would have allowed his squad to gain valuable metres at the close. However, replays showed that his foot touched the line, negating the chance. The attendance at ANZ Stadium was 30,116.

The last shogun

When one of the commentators was asked whether Penrith could topple the Storm, he said that he had ‘serious doubts about it.’ The Storm have been a permanent fixture in the finals. In the last few years, they have even won (and lost) some Grand Finals. They have the right mixture of savvy veterans and hungry young guns. They have big-game players who relish these opportunities. For them, it’s just another testament to their greatness. Meanwhile, history would look kind towards the young Panthers. Their past victory laps reveal that securing the minor premiership was huge. This fixture could be either of two things: a changing of the guard or the continuation of shogun rule. On Sunday, who will win the august Clive Churchill medal for best on ground? In spite of the pandemic, border closures, leadership shakeups, and empty stadiums, the NRL will not be deterred. ‘The show must go on.’

Posted in Sport, TV | Leave a comment

Latest reads

Another few weeks have passed; it’s time to collate. I’ll be serving another dose of the usual: three books comprised of two novels and one nonfiction read. Once again, I’ve included two crime novels. The Silent Wife (Slaughter) marks my seventh read from her Will Trent series this year. This is also her latest release. Meanwhile, The Leopard is the sixth Harry Hole novel of the year. He keeps his instalments riveting by introducing new characters and themes. Finally, Mary Trump’s revelatory account rounds out the trio. Too Much and Never Enough is an enlightening portrait into the Trump family, a timely vivisection into the man currently occupying the White House.

  1. The Silent Wife (Slaughter). As mentioned in a prior post, this represents my seventh Will Trent read of the year. This instalment has the familiar Slaughter brushstrokes: a serial killer on the loose; women murdered; a dramatic opening; the GBI scrambling to contain the killings. There is also an unusual touch: the plot alternates between a turbulent past and bleak present. The narrative divides between Dr Linton’s two great loves: Jeffrey Tolliver (past) and Will Trent (current). Of course, other regulars such as Amanda Wagner and Faith Mitchell. Lena Adams and her lost notebooks remain the secondary antagonist.

A woman is murdered in the woods. Two more killings occur six months later. A man is incarcerated for the slayings. Eight years later, he offers the cops a deal. He points out that the murders have not abated since his imprisonment. Spread over eight years, there have been seventeen killings. The GBI is invited in to unmask the matador. The original case was a Grant County investigation, the area where Sara Linton grew up and where her ex, Jeffrey, was the chief. Having just divorced, they were not on good terms at the time. However, the former couple have to work together to bring the perp to justice. I recall Broken (Trent number four) as also being set in Grant County. This one varies from Grant County and Atlanta, with a Macon quick aside.

Slaughter uses a few interesting literary devices. Firstly, she has a curious way with words. She takes terms from popular culture and wedges them into the plot and dialogue. Secondly, she creates a weird habit in the early victim’s roommate: the use of question marks in every other sentence. Third, she does a Connelly in recycling olden technology to sell the feel of a bygone era. Of course, these are all in addition to the clever use of twists and side stories. She establishes the killer as someone versed in human anatomy, with access to a workman’s tools, unafraid of the spotlight, and who drives a van. The pacing was classic Slaughter and the matador’s identity remains a mystery until the end. The lack of progress in Will and Sara’s relationship is off-putting. For the last three or four books, it’s like they’ve been frozen. I guess the author needs this to buy more time for future instalments. The conclusion was disappointing.

Rating: 4.25/5

  • Too Much and Never Enough (Mary L. Trump). This is an eye-opening account from a Trump insider. Mary Trump, a licensed psychologist and the President’s only niece, sheds light on a turbulent family history. That Donald tried to block the publication of the book only added to its mystique. Although only 211 pages long, the title packs a lot. At times, it resembles a psychology reading – especially the prologue, last chapter, and epilogue. However, for the most part, the book is an easy, if sad, read. Mary argues that her family enabled ‘the world’s most dangerous man.’ To illustrate her point, she goes way back and provides a rare family history. She examines her grandparents and their children, debunking the myth that Donald was a self-made man.

She traces the Trump story from Germany and Scotland, the Spanish flu, and the Great War. She talks about the House, where the real Trump story unfolds. Mary even reminisces on her earliest memories in the House. The author scrutinises three main entities: Fred (her grandfather), Freddy (her since-deceased dad), and Donald (her uncle). Fred was the patriarch, the man who built an empire and put the Trump name on the map. In spite of his business sense, Fred was difficult – especially to his children. Though he was a very wealthy man with connections, Fred lived frugally. Unbeknownst to many, Freddy (being the oldest son) was being groomed to take over Trump Management, the lucrative family business. However, Fred’s narcissistic and overbearing tendencies precluded Freddy from ever spreading his wings. Though he became a commercial pilot, his father’s abuse led to Freddy’s alcoholism. Freddy died without ever having his family’s support.

Donald quickly learned from his brother’s failings and became his father’s favourite son. He benefitted from his dad’s largesse but had none of Fred’s business acumen. Mary’s revelations shocked me. Her family treated them like pariahs. They were cut out from Fred’s will, repeatedly told that they deserved nothing because their dad died with nothing. They had to settle for peanuts due to a gross undervaluing of their late grandfather’s estate. Even as Fred adored Donald, dementia marred his final years. Since he was now a liability, Fred was treated with contempt. In the final chapter, Mary makes her case as to why Donald is unfit to serve as the leader of the free world. He has been getting away with it for too long, she says. His responses to natural calamity, racism, and COVID-19 have cemented this claim in her eyes. It took Mary a while to finally act and call out her uncle. However, the end result is a polished work that provides much insight into the Trumps.

Rating: 4.35/5

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
  • The Leopard. (Jo Nesbo). Detective Harry Hole returns in the eight book of this bestselling crime series. After the events of The Snowman investigation, Harry decides to quit the force and intends on seeing volcanoes in the Philippines. However, during a stopover in Hong Kong, he decides that the place isn’t bad and spends his time betting big on the horses and eating glass noodles at a hole in the wall. His boss, Gunnar, sends a newbie cop, Kaja Solness, to fetch Harry as another serial killer stalks the streets of Oslo. This is an epic novel and at 740 pages (mass market paperback), is the thickest read of the year so far. Interestingly enough, the next-longest one for me was 695 pages, also a Nesbo work.

While most of the text is set around Oslo, a significant portion transpires in the Congo. The author unpacks noteworthy concepts such as trust, colonialism, and the third world. Like Nesbo’s other work, there is more than enough twists and turns to keep readers rapt. The mobilisation of new characters adds some spice to the thrills. In particular, the addition of overzealous Mikael Bellman is the perfect foil to Hole’s methodical ways. A mole is handing over information from Harry’s small team to Bellman’s outfit. Though this is revealed soon enough, the matador’s face remains a mystery. Like The Snowman, this one is set in midwinter, full of skis, snowstorms, and snowmobiles. There is even an actual avalanche in the middle.   

The title refers to the Leopold’s apple, a torture device that the slayer employs. Said device was bought off a Belgian in the Congo. The apparatus was responsible for the deaths of two women. The book sees Harry’s personal life in tatters. Rakel, his former flame, has fled the country in the aftermath of The Snowman crisis. His father, Olav, is on his death bed. His position in the force is again being scrutinised and the future looks bleak for Crime Squad, his employer. Early on, the killer’s clean crime scenes left them befuddled. Once again, Harry manages to keep his demons at bay and does not succumb to the bottle for most of the case. He also gets ample help from Katrine Bratt, who is battling her own demons. Like all good crime novelists, Nesbo makes sure to leave sufficient clues and suspects while keeping the reader guessing till the end. Unlike Michael Connelly, all of the chapters are titled.  

Rating: 4.5/5

Voila! Three books in three weeks. I currently have a true crime book from a retired Aussie detective. I also hold an older Grisham read from the Master of Legal thrillers. Anyhow, Jodi Picoult’s latest is my current read. The book is a challenging read with hieroglyphics and quantum physics, but any text by Picoult is worth perusing. Skal!

The House (Trumps)
Posted in Books, reviews | Leave a comment