Times are hard. No wintering in Monte Carlo this year. Any brightness in the future seems to hang on the weekly disposition of five coloured and numbered ping pong balls blown around by a hair dryer. In fact times are so bad I’ve been forced to remain in employment to keep my Honeybee in hair rollers and coffee-flavoured Tim Tams.

I recently saw something described as being in ‘mint condition’, which got me thinking that I’ve never really owned anything in mint condition. Whereas some items in my childhood stamp collection were ‘near mint’, there was always a small piece of crenelated edge missing from a rare stamp, while storage in damp conditions gummed a whole block of unused Penny Blacks to the album. In spite of thousands of dollars spent restoring and sprucing up an old sports car, it never reached mint condition (or concours condition as the car enthusiasts say). Every bibelot, trinket and art-work I own is cracked, stained, has a finger missing or has been repaired with superglue or Scotch tape. My first wife had already lost her dust-jacket when I met her and my second wife had the name of her first husband etched in biro on her title page. My Honeybee, by contrast, was in near-perfect condition, with only a slight foxing on page 3, which merely added to her considerable charm.

I have no idea why the word Tishomingo came to me this morning on my way to the bathroom. Anyway, exploiting that sense of liberation that old age confers, I said it out loud a couple of times just to savour its pleasing ring. The last time Tishomingo passed my lips was over 50 years ago when buying a 78rpm recording of Ken Colyer playing Tishomingo Blues, a jazz standard written in 1917 by Spencer Williams.

‘I’m goin’ to Tishomingo
Because I’m sad today
I wish to linger
Way down old Dixie way’

The original Tishomingo was a Chickasaw Chief who served with Andrew Jackson in the war of 1812. The town of Tishomingo in Mississippi is named after him but I doubt you’d want to linger, it has 316 inhabitants and sounds pretty grim.

Anyway, to the point. Shortly after my Tishomingo moment I received an e-mail from a friend with an article about the recently deceased American writer, Elmore Leonard. The obituary listed many of his famous novels like ‘Hombre’, ‘Get Shorty, ‘3.10 to Yuma’ and…..‘Tishomingo Blues’! Amazing, that odd word coming up twice in the same day n’est ce pas? No? No. Well, I thought so.

Reading Elmore Leonard’s obituary I was drawn to his 10 rules of writing, which make outstanding common sense:

  1. Never start a book with weather
  2. Avoid prologues, introductions and forewords
  3. Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the word ‘said’
  5. Keep you exclamation marks under control
  6. Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell let loose’
  7. Use regional dialogue and patois sparingly
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. That would be the ‘writing’, the stuff we learned in ‘composition’ at school, the part that William Faulkner called ‘Hooptedoodle’

Next time you feel unhappy with the novel you’re reading, I’ll bet the writer has disobeyed some or all of Elmore’s rules.

And Lo and Behold, it was Springtime and I went forth to tidy up the Garden for the Sun was shining and our Firstborn was coming to lunch. And I called out saying ‘Has anyone seen my bloody secateurs’ and I heard a Voice from the kitchen window answering ‘Are they not where thou left them, under the Pear tree’. And I found the secateurs under the Pear tree and alas they were rusted and an abomination to my sight and I cursed mightily. And I heard the Voice from the kitchen window again, saying ‘I hope you have not left the secateurs out all winter to be ruined for they were a Gift unto thee on Father’s Day and I travelled far into the Land of the Cardealers to Bunnings to buy them on behalf of our Firstborn that he might find favour in the sight of his Father’. And I said ‘God Almighty, cannot a son buy his own gift for his Father.’ And the Voice from the window waxed wrathful, likening me to a cockroach and telling me to get my own dinner. And I went forth from the Garden and changed into Sackcloth and watched television and no Voice spoke to me from the window for forty days.

To the Rocks on Saturday for a visit to Parkers, a wonderful art supplies shop, second only to Zecchi in Florence for the range of its products. Before loading up with gum turpentine, hogs-hair brushes and tubes of Cobalt Blue, my Honeybee suddenly collapses from hunger. Conveniently, we are outside a Wine Bar and Restaurant. The place is very smart – exposed stone walls, minimalist furnishings and unsmiling waiters in black. Cristina chooses the fish of the day (or ‘carpe diem’ as I have seen it called), which, as I correctly predict, is Barramundi (two certainties in life: fish of the day is always Barramundi and there is always a clearance sale in a Persian Carpet shop). I select a Salade Nicoise (‘Tuna, olives, French beans, rocket and quail egg’), which arrives in what appears to be an art deco dog-bowl. Inspecting the contents of the bowl’s shallow depression I am able to tick off the beans and rocket but there’s no sign of an olive or quail’s egg and what’s more the tuna, in fat-lined, rectangular slabs, has been no more cooked than if it had been left out in the sun for ten seconds. I summon the waiter. He appears pleased to have something to do (my Honeybee and I being the only diners) but baffled when I ask him to point out the quail’s egg and the olives. I also point out that the dish’s description in the menu is misleading – a classic Salade Nicoise is prepared with cooked tuna, but I think this was missed by someone who grew up in Ethiopia. A five minute wait until our waiter reappears with one quail’s egg in a ramekin. This, together with a couple of string beans, constitutes my whole lunch; still, I do have a couple of kilos to lose. Failed to note the name of the restaurant and so cannot deter others from making the same mistake.

I’m finding a troubling lack of my brand of pulchritude in the current crop of Hollywood leading ladies. I’m not sure how or when one acquires a preference for certain physical features in the opposite sex but it would have to have been influenced by the cinema of one’s youth which, in my case, consisted of mainly black and white films. Monochrome, with its focus on light and shade, might have flattered the appearance of actresses in the 1950s, whereas, in ultra high-definition, today’s mob has nowhere to hide. Screen Divas of the 50s dressed like fashion models because they wanted to look like film stars; today’s film stars feel they are too important to dress like fashion models and, off-screen, look like jobless surfers from Manly. I mention Kristen Stewart (a petulant waif, drained of blood by vampires), Cameron Diaz (small breasts), Angelina Jolie (over tatooed), Kate Winslet (suet-faced) and Julia Roberts (a set of dentures). Now, I give you five stars of the fifties that leave the aforementioned for dust:

Dorothy Lamour, a dusky, dark-haired beauty from N’Awlins, known as the ‘Sarong Girl’ or the ‘Bombshell of Bombs’ (because of her success in promoting the sale of Government Bonds during WW2);

Jane Russell, ‘Mean, moody and magnificent’. Bob Hope once defined culture as being able to describe Jane Russell without moving you hands. Remember the scene in ‘Paleface’ when she kisses Painless Potter (Bob Hope) and the roundels of his spurs start to spin? When he loses consciousness Jane picks him up and hangs him on a coat hook. When she kissed a man he stayed kissed.

Lana Turner, peroxide perfection and known as the ‘Sweater Girl’ for obvious reasons (Bob Hope called it ‘cruelty to cashmere’). Lana kissed a few in her day including Johnny Stompanato, a mafia hoodlum who was stabbed to death by Lana’s daughter, Cheryl. She also got through 8 husbands, number 1 being Jazz musician Artie Shaw who was the second husband of the ravishing….

Ava Gardner – billed as ‘the world’s most beautiful animal.’ Her first husband was Mickey Rooney (‘the smallest of my husbands but my biggest mistake’).

Lastly Olivia de Havilland the romantic Maid Marion in the non-plus ultra of cape and sword films, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’.

The Bible (King James edition) was part of every child’s education in Britain in the 1950s and the story of Christ still never fails to interest, even if it’s a sub-plot in Ben Hur, which astonishingly, was written by Lew Wallace, the Governor of New Mexico Territory in 1878 while heavily engaged with range wars and the pusuit and capture of Billy the Kid. Even more astonishing is the film ‘The Passion of Christ’ by Anglophobe Mel Gibson, whose own life could so easily become a film script.

And Mel awoke as from a dream and went down into Babylonia. And after he had journeyed ten days he came upon a damsel gazing in a mirror. And she was an Actorine and her name was Kylie. Her hair was stained with henna, and upon her fingers were many rings. Of rouge and diverse unguents had she used ten measures. And Mel said unto Kylie: Lo, thou art a pomegranate, thy form is exceeding nice, thy perfect garment fitteth thee and thy feet are smaller than mice. There is none like unto thee.

And he put his arms around her and gathered her in, saying: Do we not both worship the Golden Globe; here are gifts of gold, pleasure gel and myrrh and yea, before she was aware, he kissed her upon the lips mightily. And she smote him upon the face saying: Lo because I am an Actorine shalt thou not respect me? And if I wear tights on stage, is there no virtue in me?

And Mel departed from that land and shaved his head. And upon his head he cast ashes, and of sackcloth were his trousers. And the Lord said unto Mel: Blessed are the Filmakers for they shall inherit the box-office; Go forth and preach the Gospel in the manner of Filmakers. And Mel brought forth his film and he was crucified by the critics and was reviled and cast out by Harvey Weinstein and all his brethren. But the film found favour in the sight of a great host of Gentiles and was smiled upon by the uncircumcised. And Mel waxed rich and returned to his family and built a great temple in Bel Air and lived in the land of milkshakes and money all the days of his life.

Australia Day, as always, provides an excellent opportunity to recount our nation’s achievements (Hills Hoist, the Boomerang etc.) and redefine what it means to be Australian, which, according to Bob Carr, is our enduring quality of mateship. But this year the barbies had hardly cooled down when my next door neighbour received a visit from the Rangers, (the Boy Scout uniformed local Militia of no relation to the Texan bunch of the same name). Acting on a matey tip-off from another neighbour, the Rangers found two children, aged 6 and 4, hosing each other in a water fight (unbeknown to their parents) on a “jour sans” and duly handed out a $200 fine. Things could have been worse; my neighbours might have been Jewish and living in Poland in 1942 instead of good old present day matey Australia.

This morning I forgot to take cell and house phone into the bathroom with me, a habit I’ve acquired since finding that most of my meagre phone traffic arrives at that time. Needless to say I was seated when the inevitable call came. Nevertheless I reached for the nearest phone just in case it might be about the Lotto prize for which I’ve never entered or news of a deterioration in my mother-in-law’s health, but it was another of those confounded charity appeals, on this occasion for a local charity. I enquired if it was for the poor of Mosman before silencing the caller. I hate these new telephones, you can’t slam down the receiver into the cradle any more.

Talking of ‘phones, I can’t understand this world-wide obsession with cell-phones. Kids, barely divorced from Thomas the Tank Engine, are feverish to own one, encouraged by their mothers who think they’ll have time to ring for help as they’re being abducted on the way home from school. Starving children in the Sudan would swap a sack of UN rice for a Samsung with 6 pixels. I didn’t own one until I was nearly 45 and I soon learned to hate them as they became smaller and smaller and crammed with unusable and unwanted technology.

Responded to a knock on the door to find two pale young men in black suits on the porch. Like the police, these religion salesmen travel in pairs; there’s always a risk of being assaulted by the customer for selling hot air.

These two were concerned about my stress levels and work/life balance. “Listen” I said, “I’m semi retired. My wife works to keep me in Lego and my mother-in-law irons my underpants. We have machines to boil water, clean clothes and wash the dishes and someone comes once a fortnight to mow our 5 square metres of grass. Stress, along with tuberculosis and good manners, was eliminated in Mosman long ago. Unless there’s some divorcee fretting about the choice on RSVP, you’re in the wrong neighbourhood if you’re looking for stress; try Redfern or Cronulla”. Still hoping for a sale, the guys pressed on. Perhaps I was interested in what the Bible says about alcohol? No, not really; wasn’t the Bible written 2,000 years ago before Scotch had been invented?

Dinner with Honeybee at some local Italian eatery where we were shown to a tiny table wedged between a wall and the end of a counter by an eager Manageress. The restaurant was BYO only so I popped out for a bottle of Santa Cristina, which turned out to be corked. Viva the screw-top. A dish of olive oil appeared while we consulted the plasticated menu. This was not easy given the dim lighting and beige décor – I recommend diners carry a small pocket torch. The olive oil dip, now de rigeur for all Italian restaurants, was spoilt by an over-deployment of vinegar. I was intrigued that the oil, which I thought would float on top of the vinegar, was actually pushed out to the perimeter of the dish presenting a large brown stain of balsamic vinegar ringed by a thin green circle of oil resembling a piece of Aboriginal art. Our antipasti of whitebait fritters and beef carpaccio were classically concocted and tasty. In preparing Honeybee’s spaghetti alle vongole the chef had also resisted any attempt to improve on the original and simple recipe and the result was well, if not ecstatically received. My cannelloni, presented in an oval basin, were not immediately visible, being completely submerged beneath a sea of thin tomato liquid. I tried to locate them by probing into the sauce but the immersion had weakened the thin walls of crepe and the cannelloni disintegrated before I could land a forkful of solid food. No desert or coffee so we managed to escape for a mere $120.

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