{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

May 23, 2018

Just Read || Artworks in Jeffrey Archer's False Impression

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After reading Jeffrey Archer's False Impression, I was eager to search for images of the paintings Archer mentioned in it, since I had not recognised some of them. Imagine my surprise (and then my "Well, duh" moment) when I discovered that many of the paintings mentioned did not exist and were part of his artistic licence. Obviously he would invent artworks to go along with his imagined world and people.

The events take place during and after the chaos of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the setting makes an ideal situation for a sneak attack by lead character Anna Petrescu. Anna works for Bryce Fenston, a man with an assumed identity, a love for Impressionist masterpieces, and a lack of sympathy that allows him and his bank to take over rich estates (who happen to have impressive and valuable art collections). Petrescu fails to work with Fenston's plan to swindle the Wentworth Estate out of its collection and just after she is booted out of the company - the sole person with the knowledge of what Fenston is planning to do with the Wentworth Van Gogh - the first plane flies into the WTC, where the bank's offices are located.

Petrescu manages to escape relatively unscathed and while everyone thinks she is dead manages to come up with a convoluted plan to allow the Wentworth Estate to sell the Van Gogh to cover the debt owed to Fenston Finance. What follows is a rush of an adventure as Petrescu travels into Canada, Romania, Japan, and Britain to rescue the Wentworth Van Gogh from the slimy paws of Fenston. Of course, she does have to dodge a hired assassin and an FBI agent who has been following her for months. But that's an easy task for a woman of Petrescu's talents.

This is the first Archer novel that I've read and once I made it through the introductory exposition, I could hardly put it down, mostly because I wanted to find out if my ideas about the twists would follow through. Which they did, a little disappointingly.

I enjoyed the art references, though, especially since Impressionism is one of my favourite fine art styles. I recognised the artists mentioned, but not the paintings, as I've said before. It turns out after some (I lie - a lot) of Googling, many of the artworks are simply made up or altered titles of original artworks by the artists concerned.

For your viewing pleasure, below is a list of artworks referenced in the novel that do exist, and below that, artworks I think may have served the basis for the names Archer references in the novel.

True Artworks:

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Van Gogh [21]

{Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

Geishas in a Landscape [28]


Black Marilyn, Andy Warhol [41]

Study of a Mourning Woman, Michelangelo [52]

{By Michelangelo Buonarroti (Getty Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

This piece was auctioned in 2001 for a final bid of 6 million British pounds.

Guernica, Picasso [192]

{By Moleskine - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons}

The Polish Rider, 'Rembrandt' [276]

{By Rembrandt - The Frick Collection, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Titus, the Artist's Son, 'Rembrandt' [277]

{Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

Sunflowers, 'Van Gogh' [277]

{By Vincent van Gogh - Digital photo by User:Postdlf, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Vincent van Gogh did many paintings of sunflowers. See the works here.

The Madonna of the Pinks, Raphael [278]

{By Raphael - eostour.co.kr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

The Scream [361]

{Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

Fictional Artworks (with possible inspirations)

Sunset over Plymouth, Turner [20]

{By J. M. W. Turner - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by RHaworth using CommonsHelper. (Original text). 3 March 2009 (original upload date). Original uploader was Dino at en.wikipedia, Public Domain, }

Dancing Class With Mme Minette, Degas [28]

{The Dance Class By Edgar Degas - http://www.allartpainting.com/dance-class-p-3307.html, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Shot Red Marilyn, Andy Warhol [41]

Rothko [92]

In reference to Mark Rothko, an abstract expressionist.

{No 61 By Mark Rothko, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Fair use, Wikimedia Commons}

Willows at Vetheuil, Monet [245]

{Water-Lily Pond and Weeping Willow By Claude Monet - flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}
However, when it was described in the novel, I actually pictured this one:

{Water Lilies and the Japanese bridge By Claude Monet - the-athenaeum.org [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Madame Duprez and her Children aka The Reading Lesson, Renoir [246]

{Mme. Charpentier and her children By Pierre-Auguste Renoir - http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/438815, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Dinner at the Cafe Guerbois, Manet [246]

{The Cafe Concert By Édouard Manet - GgEZL0iu5Gl9FA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

The Beresteyn Family, 'Rembrandt' [277]

{Portrait of a Man, probably a Member of the Van Beresteyn Family By Rembrandt - Metropolitan Museum of Art, online collection, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Satan Devouring His Children, 'Goya' [277]

{Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco de Goya - [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Rosetti mistress Jane Burden [345]

View from the Bedroom, Matisse [376]

{Landscape viewed from a window, Tangiers By Henri Matisse PD-US, Wikimedia Commons}

The Dancing Instructor, Degas [376]

{Dance Exam By Edgar Degas - repro from art book, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Street Sweepers, Caillebotte [376-7]

{Les raboteurs de parquet By Gustave Caillebotte - ibiblio.org, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Reapers in th Field, Van Gogh [377]

{Wheat Field behind Saint-Paul with Reaper By Vincent van Gogh - repro from artbook, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

The Marriage at Cana, Caravaggio [399]

The below painting is by Paolo Veronese, but Caravaggio was a contemporary and possible competitor, so it is plausible that this might have been a subject he was interested in, too.

{The Wedding at Cana By Paolo Veronese, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}

Perseus and Andromeda, Tintoretto [400]

Tintoretto never attempted this subject, but he lived around the same time as Titian, and his version may have been similar.

{Perseus and Andromeda By Titian, Wallace Collection., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons}


I hope you enjoyed this journey into the art world with me! Have you read Jeffrey Archer's novel? Which of the paintings above are your favourite? I'd love to hear your opinion in the comments below!

May 9, 2018

Disturbing Disney || Toy Story, or The Abuse of a Child

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Toy Story is Pixar's flagship animation, having changed the terrain for animated films forever. Its genius is based on its ability to appeal to both parents and children, and make a s**tload of money. Who couldn't love affectionate yet jealous Woody, clueless and self-absorbed Buzz Lightyear, and all the other loveable characters?! Well, me, obviously.

The film has never been one of my favourites. I think I'd only seen it once until my daughter showed interest and wanted to watch it. Needless to say I have now seen it more than a couple of times, but it has still not grown on me. I used to think it was because of Tom Hanks, but I actually like him, as an actor...

I simply don't like either of the main characters. For toys who claim to be in existence simply to make Andy happy they're terribly self-absorbed and way too focused on politics and status. Sure I understand Woody is at the top of the food chain because he is Andy's favourite toy and the hero of his imagination, but his desire to stay at the top is unappealing. Especially because he claims to have such an altruistic view of life with Andy. That Woody is so ready to confront the new toy and tell him he is in Woody's 'special' spot on the bed indicates to me that this is not the first time Woody has enforced his tyrannical rule over the toys. Why do I get the feeling that when Andy ever had a new favourite toy, Woody would have claimed the top spot for himself, even if he were no longer the favourite? Mr Potatohead's snide remarks about Woody's fear of being replaced reflect Woody's feelings and I sort of picture Mr Potatohead quietly witnessing Woody expelling the competition from under the covers (and perhaps out of the window - hey, if he was so comfortable doing it to Buzz...) once Andy is asleep or has left for school, and he sort of holds this over Woody for the rest of his life. Everything may have been different had Woody not been forced to find Buzz.
With Buzz, I feel like he is pretending to be unaware of his status as a toy: why else would he also become still when Andy is in the room? Is he really just following the other toys' lead, as though Andy is some all-powerful god? Or is it more sinister? It would make a lot of sense if Buzz was actually a device planted by an alien race on Earth to monitor its children with a view of invasion, especially since Buzz's personality is so specifically defined by his default language, and he happens to be a Space Ranger. I just feel like his character arc didn't change much for him. He starts off confident and self-assured, and despite the climax of his growth seeing him withdraw into despair, he ends off confident and self-assured, albeit he now has a friend. Hell, Woody's character arc parallels his: he starts off confident and self-assured, realises during his climax that he should make space for new toys, and ends up being confident and self-assured, albeit he now sees Buzz as a friend. Neither have actually given way. Both now share a leadership position. I get the point, that they are now 'sharing' top position, compromising and what have you. But this does not reflect any reality any child will grow up into.

So like I get that Toy Story is really Friendship Story, and it's about how two people who at first dislike each other are thrown together in a manner that makes them understand and thus empathise with each other, opening up the way for a friendship. It is about not judging a book by its cover (or a toy by its box), as seen by Woody initially thinking Buzz was 'pretending' to not know he was a toy and even by Sid's mangled toys who are all simply misunderstood. It is also about accepting change. So I get that the film has a moral message for our innocent children.


I just can't like it.

There's the making fun of the emasculated dinosaur.

There's the speed at which Woody was able to turn evil when he was faced with a little competition.

It's the gloating and self-important manner Buzz has around him, which yes I know is part of and necessary to his character as a Space Ranger but which just grates me as a hero of a story. And really, how could he not see it was freaking momentum driving his first flight?! As someone who's familiar with space he should know the basics of physics.

It's the whole mob mentality of the toys who claimed to be Woody's friends but suddenly turn on him when he's no longer the favourite.

It's the fawning over Buzz Lightyear and the toadying, you know, reflecting our current society's predilection for over-appreciating glamour and beauty and fake lasers and gimmicks and selfies and setup social media photos.
The biggest thing for me is the whole revenge-on-Sid-the-toy-abuser scene because I can't help but think of his creativity and his imagination as he's playing with these toys, and how their revenge on him will affect his imagination and creativity going forward. Sure, he is destructive but the purpose of the toys is after all to aid in growing these two skills and when they scare him, I can't help but imagine that where he had seen himself as a doctor saving a life by transplanting a head or as a rocket scientist launching a rocket into space, he will now be too afraid to do anything like that ever again. The poor kid was likely sent away for medical and/or psychiatric treatment and would be afraid of everything for the rest of his life. I mean, seriously, after starting out with all that imagination and ambition, he straight up ended being a garbageman. So I know that the idea is to show that since Sid was such a nasty piece of work he only became a garbageman - it was what he deserved for torturing toys - but I am certain it is because of the psychological damage he suffered and not because of character flaws. Sid, after all, did not know that the toys are 'alive' and in my opinion an actual indication of a character flaw would be, say, Sid abusing his actual living dog. Or maybe it's because it feels weird that the villain of the film is a child. A child.

And then there's the fact that they break their contract to interact with Sid. If they really loved their boy, why wouldn't they actually interact with him? That would make more sense - toys gaining confidence and trust in their children and then really playing with them. Not taking revenge on a child and scarring him for life.

And I didn't enjoy the music.

But maybe that's just me.

{Lead Image Credit: Facebook/PixarToyStory}

April 26, 2018

Popular Culture || The Star Wars Toys Controversy

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Watching YouTube for me leads to a recommendeds list filled with Star Wars videos. Lately there's been a trend of slating Star Wars toys, because they are not selling, because the sequel trilogy is terrible, and the toys are, too. I did some reading and discovered that, though these reasons may be a contributing factor, they aren’t entirely the reason: it all boils down to business.

Note: This post was originally posted on my Tumblr, which is unashamedly FILLED with Star Wars stuff (Reylo in particular).

If YouTubers are to be believed, it’s because of:

1. Poor quality of toys. Many of the movie tie-ins have basically been called pieces of drutash castings.
2. Lack of innovation. The Force Link brand, for example, contains tech that isn’t a new concept, and also does not perform well in practice.
3. The poor storytelling and character development in ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’, even in ‘Rogue One’. Arguments include that Rey has no depth, for example, and that Disney is depending on her role as a ‘strong female character’ to inspire loyalty, or that Rose Tico is a whiner and no one would look up to her, (Many times they criticise the latter’s supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. Because, you know, that’s important in a toy.)
4. No one can invest in these characters because they don’t capture children’s and fan’s imaginations, nor are they compelling.
5. The movies are just so bad no one wants the toys.
6. The push for diversity and representation has hurt the franchise, because, you know, the original trilogy was super diverse.

Some of these reasons are the same for why fans (supposedly) dislike the new films: the push for representation and diversity, the introduction of social justice issues, poor storytelling and character development…

There are also many who say the films have ‘bastardised’ favourite legacy characters.

Now I’m not saying that some of these concerns aren’t valid for a lot of fans out there. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just wanted to find out if these could be considered the 'business’ reasons for the supposed decline in Star Wars toy sales. It turns out there are a lot of environmental factors at play.

According to a Forbes report at the end of 2017, Star Wars toys were the top-selling brand in 2015 and 2016. It seems 2017 is where a snag came along. The article suggests that Toys'R'Us filing for bankruptcy could hold some blame. ‘Rogue One’ could also be to blame: it was a darker film, possibly not endorsed by a lot of parents as it resulted in the death of all the main characters, which may have made the toys less appealing to children (who wants to play with a dead hero, right?). This also meant that a lot of these toys were still hanging around, translating to poor retail orders by buyers who may not be Star Wars fans or aware of the different films at all. The toys were also not amazing, as there were some material issues making the figures’ faces less realistic. An AT-ACT Walker was released but was too pricey, meaning it’s likely Hasbro decided not to make any similar toys. Also, ‘The Force Awakens’, released in 2015, was the first Star Wars film in a decade, resulting in a lot of excitement and a lot of purchases, a purchase rate that certainly could not be maintained.

It adds that the character design for ‘The Last Jedi’ vs ‘The Force Awakens’ sees the core group of characters wearing basically the same outfits, so there's not really any impetus to purchase a toy from the new film that looks the same as the one from the last film. The new ships and vehicles are also arguably too big to sell as figure toys (think of the Dreadnought and the Finaliser).

Another interesting problem is the spoiler issue. Disney is simply afraid of our spoiler-culture (I mean, we seriously can’t even wait for the next season of ‘Game of Thrones’ without someone leaking the script), which means toy designers have very little to work with ahead of a film’s release if the toy's design may reveal a potential plot point. Basically, it resulted in Finn being marketed as the lead for ‘The Force Awakens’, and no toys of Snoke or Luke Skywalker were available before the plot was common knowledge.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that movie-tie-in toys were suffering across the board. Consumers are possibly just tired of all the memorabilia that can be had. Called it movie-tie-in-fatigue. Think of all the massive franchises currently in the mix: The Avengers, Justice League, at least two major Disney animations a year… and the list goes on. After all, we can’t all afford to purchase every single item from all our favourite fandoms. Bloomberg even says a problem may be that children are tuning in to YouTube, Netflix, and even social media for their entertaining fixes instead of actually playing with figures. Even movie attendance has dropped.

I would personally just like to add though: the toys are for children, first of all, so they aren’t going to match impossible collectors’ standards; the toys may be cheap to make them more accessible - not every child gets a lovely allowance, and if they do, they’re likely spending most of it on data; and, some people will never be happy.

The. End.

{Lead image credit: Facebook/StarWarsMovies}

April 15, 2018

Movies || My Favourite Disney Villains

Walt Disney movies are in my blood. Well, really animated films are, because I only became familiar with Disney when I was six and it was anime films like Nausicaa (my favourite anime EVER - if you haven't seen it, you simply MUST!) and series like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, Brave Starr, and even The Smurfs that were my bread and butter. One of the things I love about animation is that they have the most inventive villains; villians you can hate, villains you empathise with, and villains you can just laugh at. I will stick to Disney films for this piece, because a) let's face it, Disney is a monster, and b) they have created my favourite villains of all time.

"Now, my dear, you're going to find the big shiny, diamond for your Auntie Medusa, aren't you?"
Posted by The Rescuers on Thursday, December 10, 2015

1. Madame Medusa

The Rescuers' title song always makes me cry. I knew because of this film that I was lucky to have a family, that I would never be as lost and alone as poor Penny. And the film also has a truly memorable villain: Medusa.

She is based on The Diamond Duchess from Margery Sharp's novel Miss Bianca, but the character design was also inspired by Cruella de Vil, from 101 Dalmations. The original idea was that Cruella de Vil would come to Devil's Bayou for some reason, but the plan was scrapped and Medusa came to life, some initial sketches showing her with alligator skins like Cruella. She and Cruella have a lot in common, including vanity and anger, but Medusa was made unique with her sagging breasts, extravagant makeup, and pet alligators.

Why she is a favourite: She is truly cruel. My little five-year-old heart couldn't imagine being treated as badly as Penny: told no one would want me, thrown into a watery cave, have my favourite teddy bear (my only friend) held for ransom, and having to depend on wild creatures for my salvation instead of the authorities who I had once had faith in. Heartbreaking stuff.

Interesting fact: She has a similar facial structure to Ursula. Which leads me nicely to -->

Feeling Friday fabulous.
Posted by The Little Mermaid on Friday, May 20, 2016

2. Ursula

I think Ursula from The Little Mermaid may be at the top of everyone's list of Disney villains. She is frightening and creepy, half octopus and half witch, squeezing the blood out of poor sea creatures for her lipstick and turning mermaids into seaweed. She also has a theatrical demeanour, making her utterly charming, and if it weren't  As a villain, she is manipulative of necessity, but she cheated when she used Ariel's voice to enchant Eric. She is vain and power hungry but also so smart that she knows exactly what her victims want, how to get it for them, and how to take it away.

Why she is a favourite: I really liked her songs :) I'm a simple gal. Her theatrical demeanour makes her so charming, and if it for those asides to Flotsam and Jetsam during Poor Unfortunate Souls, we may have believed she was truly interested in helping Ariel.

Interesting fact: She only has six tentacles. Although add her arms and she would have eight limbs...

Watch this exclusive Robin Hood clip featuring a deleted storyline: http://di.sn/dHM
Posted by Robin Hood on Tuesday, August 6, 2013

3. Prince John

Robin Hood is not one of my favourite Disney films for nothing: Prince John is hilarious, and Peter Ustinov was the perfect choice for his voice. Like all Disney villains, he is vain, but he is also self-indulgent, doing whatever makes him happy, even sucking his thumb when he thinks of his mother. His immaturity is a wonderful character flaw and I can't think of another villain who pulls it off so well, making it tragically funny.

Why he is a favourite: He is unforgettable. I think of him and immediately think of the scene where Robin Hood is pulling a money bag away from Prince John as he tries to keep his thumb in his mouth, or his wriggling toes teasing Hiss, or wrapping Hiss around a pole. He's just the funniest, meanest villain.

Interesting fact: In the early stages of character design, there was a plan to make Prince John a tiger, which was scrapped because obviously a tiger couldn't be a brother to King Richard the lion. Some say this may explain his lack of mane.

“These are NOT Joanna eggs!” -McLeach
Posted by The Rescuers Down Under on Thursday, August 23, 2012

4. McLeach

McLeach, from The Rescuers Downunder is an absolutely horrible person, there is no doubt about it. He poaches animals for a living, selling them or their hides on the black market. He is cunning and manipulative, and even sadistic and abusive. I think he even suggests he may have had something to do with Cody's father's disappearance. I think he may be Disney's most evil character. Well, I am biased when I say that: I've always been interested in nature conservation, so seeing someone disrespect wildlife and plan to kill of an entire species for monetary gain always sickened me.

Why he is a favourite: He is truly hateful. Those are the best villains. The ones you can really hate.

Interesting fact: His full name is Percival C. McLeach.

"Uh, guys...Olympus would be that way."
Posted by Hercules on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

5. Hades

Voiced by James Woods, Hades is the best thing about Hercules. The actor jumps at every chance to play Hades, and he actually changed how the character is portrayed in the film after the filmmakers saw his audition: Hades was meant to be a threatening villain, but Woods' rendition changed their minds and he turned into this sort of salesperson that is excellent at manipulating people.

Why he is a favourite: He's a real personality. I also feel as though you can empathise with him to some degree, more so than any of the other villains on my list. He just wants absolute power, to be appreciated like his brother. What sibling doesn't want that? Sure, he goes about it the wrong way, I mean he is the villain after all, but through it all he never gives up and takes the positive out of any situation.

When your boss asks you to work over the weekend:
Posted by The Emperor's New Groove on Friday, March 16, 2018

6. Ysma

Now Ysma is a rare jewel. She is villainous because she covets Kuzco's throne, because when she does sit on it she doesn't really care about the subjects who come for assistance, and because she tries to poison the Emperor (who is accidentally turned into a Llama). But she is in a strange position in relation to Kuzco because he is just like her: vain, uncaring, selfish. Her villainy in fact aids in Kuzco's personal growth. She never truly does anything evil, and often offers more of a position of comic relief as she clearly has no understanding of how to deal with people.

Why she is a favourite: I am a bit biased, I'll admit, because The Emperor's New Groove is (also) one of my favourite Disney films, and I just love how off-the-wall everything about it is. From Kuzco's narration of his life and the squirrel popping a balloon in a den of jaguars to Kronk's squirrel language skills and jumping rope while Pacha's wife is picking up a cup, it is so ridiculous and so memorable. I cannot help but love her. And Yzma's interaction with her minion is just hilarious.

Who are you favourite Disney villains? I'd love for you to let me know in the comments!

{Lead image sources: Facebook/DisneyTheRescuers; Facebook/DisneyTheRescuersDownUnder; Facebook/DisneyTheLittleMermaid; Facebook/DisneyHercules; Facebook/DisneyRobinHood; Facebook/EmperorsNewGroove}

April 11, 2018

DIY || Make a Quilt from Your Baby's Old Clothing

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What to do with all those baby clothes? Well, you could give it away to a worthy cause, or you could turn it into something of a talking point!

I used some of my favourite of Emma's old baby clothing and turned them into (hopefully) an heirloom piece.

What you need:

Iron-on interfacing
Baby clothes
Ruler and scissors
Backing fabric to fit the finished quilt

How to do it:

First off, you'll have to come up with a layout for the quilt, so that you have the correct measurements.

Mine looked a little like this:


So let's begin!


Cut the baby clothing up into squares and strips according to your layout. Make sure to coordinate colours.

Iron interfacing onto the back of every square.


If you'd like to make a square with the baby's name on it, print out the letters in a font that you like. Cut them out from paper and use them to cut the letters out of fabric.


Applique them onto the square. If you like, you could iron interfacing on before cutting the letters out to keep them stable on the quilt.

Sew all the squares together one at a time, ensuring that you iron the seams open with every square.
If you have motifs from some of the clothing, applique or straight stitch them on to blank squares.

Lay the quilt onto a flat surface and cut the backing fabric to fit. Place the pieces together front sides facing and pin them together, sewing all the way around but leaving a 20cm section open so you can turn the quilt inside out.

Once you have the quilt right sides out, lay it on a flat surface again and pin all four sides of every square to the backing fabric. Top stitch around the edges to keep the quilt in place.


If you have any motifs that you'd like to save as well, you can straight stitch around them on the plain squares.

Top stitch all the way around the quilt.

And you're done!

This is the full quilt:


I'd love to see your end-result! Please share it with me in the comments below!

March 31, 2018

Children's Theatre Review || Disney's Alice in Wonderland Jr. at Peoples Theatre

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I've loved theatre ever since studying it as an undergrad and while I unfortunately don't get many opportunities to attend shows that deal with more adult themes, family-friendly shows are, in a way, more fun. We've attended the Peoples Theatre's shows three times now, including the show today, and it's truly mesmerising how the actors devotion and passion for their work shows through, and how immersed the children (well, some of them, at least) become at the display and music on stage.

The shows are always well-presented with impassioned performances by all the actors, and especially lovely is the addition of children as main characters. The stories are simple and dotted with slapstick that is always greeted by laughter from the young audience members, while they are sometimes quite interactive. The props and costumes are bright and fun, and the backgrounds and story implementation on the stage is entertaining and original.


Alice in Wonderland Jr was certainly all this, bar perhaps one thing. The props and scenery were amazing, and the stage centrepiece was a Tim Burtonesque twisted tree with bright colours and rose vines trailing up the walls. There was a giant mushroom pillow for the caterpillar, giant teapots and tea cups for the Unbirthday Party, and flamingo mallets during the croquet event. Excellent use was made of a transparent curtain and projector: As Alice fell down the rabbit hole, a spinning image conveyed the idea of falling, and the door Alice cannot get through was projected onto the curtain and changed size to show that Alice was shrinking and growing. I was personally most excited by the giant biscuit dangling from the ceiling!


The acting was on-point, with some actors taking on several roles and excelling at them all with the help of stunning costumes. The casting for Alice was perfect, and the little Ace card/Dormouse was absolutely adorable. My favourite sequence must be the Unbirthday Party, with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter quite hilarious. The show stars seasoned actors Luciano Zuppa, Roberto Queiroz, Alida Senekal, Marvin Molepo, and Thokozani Jiyane.

But for me the world of Wonderland was overtaken by music numbers that, while entertaining, didn't really match with the subject of the current scene. There is also not as much dialogue, with the exception of the Unbirthday Party and trial scenes and I felt there was a great dependence on the song to recover from a loose and sometimes strange storyline, a scene with Duchess Pepper and her pig child serving as an example. This is not to say that the show wasn't thorougly enjoyable, just that afterwards I was sort of left with the feeling that I didn't really know what was going on. I suppose it got the premise of being lost in Wonderland perfectly!


Regardless of my criticism, it certainly makes for a fun morning or afternoon out, offering something different for your children other than run-of-the-mill movies and it sure beats sitting at home watching the cricket. Tickets can be purchased from Webtickets at R142 per person, but if your child belongs to the Kidz Club, you can get a discount by booking directly with the theatre. There are morning and afternoon shows and Alice in Wonderland Jr runs until 29 April 2018.

{Image sources: Facebook/PeoplesTheatre)

February 20, 2018

Book Review || The Spiritual Tourist by Mick Brown

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I took Mick Brown's 'The Spiritual Tourist' out of the library hoping for a sort of introduction to the Asian spirituality with which the Western world has been obsessed with. I have always considered myself a spiritual person, always planning to meditate and do more Yoga but I never seem to get around to it, lacking the motivation that such practices are purported to inspire in those who are regular practitioners.

After last January's trip to the Nanhua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit for its Chinese New Year festival, I was awed by the level of reverence in the quiet spaces of the temple. At the reception, you were welcomed with a stick of incense, which you could take to the altar of 1000 Buddhas and deposit in a massive holder with your own short prayer or devotion. But I found myself unsure of what to ask for and what to say thank you for. Which is not a very good situation to be in.

So I perused the shelves of the library for something to lead me and, while I'm not sure 'The Spiritual Tourist' was the appropriate selection, it ended up in my book bag heading for home. The autobiography was first published almost a decade ago, so it is a little outdated, particularly since some of the spiritual icons he managed to meet or attempted to visit have passed on, including Share International's Benjamin Creme and Sathya Sai Baba, and the Western reincarnation of revered Lama Thubten Yeshe, Lama Osel, rejected his destiny to become a filmmaker instead. But Brown's journey is a reflection of all of those who yearn for there to be something more than the day to day drudgery of faith - something that reaches within us and consoles us in our humanity, fragility, mortality.

Brown's journey begins in London where he suddenly, and perhaps coincidentally, seems set upon by Sathya Sai Baba - he notices portraits of the guru everywhere he goes. The final straw is when he receives a letter from a friend of his with a portrait of Baba inside, but when he tries to find the photograph again, he cannot. He jumps on a plane and heads for Puttaparthi in India, setting off his travels around the world to meet as many gurus and lamas and reincarnations as he can. Lucky him, I say. Not many can meet the people to whom they look for guidance. While he doesn't actually meet Baba, he does meet Lama Osel (still as a young boy) and Mother Meera, the 14th Dalai Lama, and an assortment of people who are more familiar with the search than he is and who possibly give him the most answers. The book is filled with the history of religions and spiritual groups such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and theosophy, so in this way it is helpful to set the different movements apart for those looking for something in particular.

Flickr/Alina Sofia [CC by 2.0]
For whomever Brown met who was familiar with his chosen spirituality, the answers about what our purpose was and how we could transcend the mortal coil were all the same, across all of them: Love of your fellow man, Service to your fellow man, Acceptance of your Own Divinity. A bit tough for many of us to see through as we watch the news, say goodbye to rainforests and animals, and become overrun by the very Western angst.

But what struck me the most in reading this book is the disappointing influence of the West, capitalism, and even the entire touristy experience described. For the latter, the thousands of people who descended on Sai Baba's temple in a single day, placed in lines, praying for the mere acknowledgement of Baba, being disappointed with only a few minutes of just his presence before he leaves, and then seeing the squalor of the local people who live just outside his door, who either beg for help or try to sell trinkets bearing Sai Baba's face - it feels so hollow just reading it. Perhaps it's a different experience being there. But perhaps not:
'In bars and hotel rooms across India you could see the Western ideal being transmitted on Star television, with its shoddy American and Australian soap-operas and glib Hollywood fantasies, its endless cycle of commercials for the products of the global supermarket which few in India could afford, but more nd more now dream of ... with a strident message: 'Your Right to Choose', educating this new, entranced audience in the role of advertising as the lubrican of a consumer society. To the sophisticated eye it had all the crudeness of propaganda. In a Madras newspaper I read an evalutaiton by a government psychiatrist predicting that india would soon be suffering the same incidence of mental illness as the West. The shelves of American self-help books in Madras's largest bookshop, offering advice on maximising the power of positive thinking and contacting your inner-child, suggest the problem was bringing its own 'cure'.
It is a good thing that books like 'The Spiritual Tourist' exist. They give an insight into the world and the thing we seek much more than we could have received and they show us that all the knowledge in the world is at our fingertips, and, possibly, even within ourselves.

February 14, 2018

Popular Culture || What Did I Think of Girls (All Six Seasons)?

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I spent last week binge-watching the entire oeuvre of Lena Dunham's Girls. The series has been highly-acclaimed by critics, being rated 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and 87% on Metacritic as of writing. I am glad I waited for the series to finish up before watching it and while the show has some interesting aspects, I'm happy I didn't waste too much time worrying over it for the last six years, because I can't believe it went on for as long as it did.

If you haven't seen it yet, it's about Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa, four late-millennial friends who live in New York with the hopes of reaching their dreams. The problem is that none of them really know what it is they truly want to do or who they want to do it with. Hannah is the lead of the show. She wants to be a writer but can do nothing but talk about it, and uses every opportunity to show others that she is smarter than they are. She is also perpetually changing her mind. Marnie is Hannah's best friend, a perfectionist who seems self-assured but is just as insecure. Jessa spends the entire series telling everyone what they should be doing with their lives while she is the epitome of insecurity and the first to run away from unhappiness. Shoshanna starts out as an innocent in the games that the three other women play with each other and possibly ends up being the most centred and focused of them all by the end.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the series as much as I wanted to know how it ends (it's the sadist in me). The humour is questionable, depending all too much on stereotypical representations and situations and lewdness to drive the comedy. The tone was also off for me: when an episode attempted to be lighthearted, it was overridden by the selfishness of the characters and the mysterious feeling that a parody of a situation was being made to look serious.

I like the way the series touched on sensitive issues in ways that either revealed both sides of the argument or opened up raw wounds on sensitive subjects, such as alcoholism, consent, race relations, mental illness, and abortion. This is one of the main reasons the show isn't too popular among viewers: it aims to trigger, on everything. But what is popular culture for if not to make us question the status quo, the current politics of the world, bigotry and prejudice, and political issues that often simply simmer below the surface?

One of my biggest complaints is the tired characterisation of the girls and many of the characters around them. Perhaps it is because something similar was done with Sex and the City, making Girls appear to attempt to be the voice of its generation. The character arcs are so slow: throughout the six years, Shoshanna is the only woman who becomes successful and confident, and the only one to recognise the toxic relationships her friends represent. Hannah's growth spurt only happens near the end of the series finale, where it seems all she needed to do was see a self-entitled teenager act like she did to realise she has been immature for all six seasons. While Marnie had the greatest potential for growth, she began and ended the story in her codependent relationship with Hannah, and only realises in the last five minutes that she needs to find herself. The only way I see Jessa having any growth was maybe not running away from Adam when he proposed to help Hannah raise her child.

If you think about it, we may think the show is about these women but it really is about relationships, their quality, and also how important communication - both conveying and accepting it - is in maintaining them. All the relationships break down because of the fear that honesty will cause them to collapse. Everyone on the outside of these relationships is happy to point out the girls' flaws and be honest with them in the hopes that they will improve. We are made to believe these people - Ray, Adam, Elijah, Hannah's parents - are being unfairly judgmental, but they have an honesty the girls' relationships lack. The women turn a blind eye to their own flaws and instead focus on each others' weaknesses.

HBO-Girls-Adam-ShoshannaI really struggled to like Marnie, Hannah, or Jessa: they were all pull-my-hair-out annoying and I honestly can't see myself being friends with any of them. The amount of time they spend talking to each other about their own feelings is only eclipsed by the amount of times no one is actually listening to what is being said. Shoshanna is really an outcast in the group, serving as a soundboard for all the other girls' feelings towards one another. The saving grace is, however, how well the characters are performed. Regardless of whether I like them or not, I think the point is that the viewers are supposed to be made uncomfortable; we are not supposed to like these women because they are real and they reflect our own flaws as we watch the show.

Throughout the series, we are forced to take a hard look at how women are judged and judge each other, often unfairly, often harshly, and often behind each others' backs. I recently overheard a man say a male colleague had to rein in his indulgence in 'female' gossip, and while this may be a stereotype it is one I've seen played out in office and social situations myself. In fact, it is interesting that I disliked the characters and it possibly reveals my own psychology as a woman doing battle with other women, since we are practically bred to be compete with each other for men, happiness, success, even motherhood. This also seems to be a favourite theme for Dunham, since her next venture into television, Camping, is also about 'woman on woman' crime. This 'mean girls' psychology often sees women separate themselves into social groups, themselves arranged in a hierarchy, and in order to 'fit into' the group, it is necessary to change who you are or be a pariah. It is part of our innate psychology as humans to need to belong and be accepted. Throughout the series the four friends in Girls seem to be breaking away from the social group they created but do so by systematically alienating themselves and each other from every member of the group. The dysfunctional manner in which these women leave their relationships is quite true to reality, because growing up and letting go is never cut and dry.

I cried during the episode in the final season where Hannah rejects Adam's help to raise her baby. It was spot on in reflecting that strange feeling you have when you realise you simply have to let go of the past and move on, much like the entire season. While Adam and Hannah resonated on a sexual and intellectual level, and the potential for happiness was always there, I think the pair realised they had both grown beyond each other, that it wouldn't be enough in the long run. It was heartbreaking. And that's how the end to a relationship always is. I take this episode to have been the true farewell to the series, because Girls realised it was time to say goodbye.

While I thought Hannah's growth being spurred by motherhood a tired idea, it made sense, as the overall point is not that Hannah, and by implication all her friends, have grown but that they are still growing, like her baby in her arms. The entire series looked at how these women grew apart and attempted to deal with their identity issues, failing dismally, even after six years. But the truth is that many people never know what it is that will make them happy. The final season is possibly the best overall, because we get to see the women without the negative influence they have on each other. The series did not end in a particularly memorable way, but it does end with the feeling that personal growth and success is not something you can ever put a finger on, and sometimes all it takes for you to be happy for the time being is to latch on to something worthwhile.

Have you watched Girls? I would love to know what you thought of it!

{Images: Facebook/GirlsHBO}

January 17, 2018

Book Review || Colour by Victoria Finlay

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Victoria Finlay managed to alternately fascinate me and plunge me into fits of jealousy with her epic journey into the world of paint and art with 'Colour'. Travelling around the world in search of ancient pigments and dyes, Finlay's book is filled with charming anecdotes, wild and tame countrysides, and odd ingredients, all mixed together with a healthy touch of history, both art and otherwise.

As someone who has often dabbled in the arts, this novel has brought a deeper meaning to the colours that I dip my paintbrushes into. Each one comes with a rich history that is connected to culture more than many would like to admit. 

From the sanctity of the Aborigines' ochre and the possible tone of green that may have caused the death of Napoleon Bonaparte to the mystery of the dye used for the corners of Jewish shawls, the purple tint that Cleopatra surrounded Julius Caesar with to impress him, and the scarlet that requires thousands of little bugs to be squashed, the rich history behind mankind's urge to make his mark is one of the most interesting journeys I have made.

There is so much knowledge in this novel that it would certainly be referenced many times, if not for historical facts but also for amusing stories about colours that will stay with you long after turned the final page.

For instance, did you know that prehistoric cave paintings remained so well preserved simply because they had not been discovered yet? The breath of visitors coming to view such paintings disturbs the humidity and airflow, causing the paintings to degrade. Or how about graphite once being used to oil the inside of cannons? At one stage it was a well-guarded resource. Or what about the American Puritans' clothing being blackened by logwood collected by retired pirates? Or cochineal, little white bugs, once forming the source of the most sought-after red dye and nowadays used to colour ham? Or the mystery of Stradivarius' orange varnish for Il Cremonese (a violin called 'The Tiger') and other violins? Or the fact that in ancient times many dyes were set using human urine, and dyers were isolated from the village because they collected it? Or the crocus flower's temporal existence resulting in a red spice that creates a yellow dye? Or Robin Hood and his Merry Men (if they were real) having worn Gaudy Green, a dye that was very expensive and thus served to taunt the authorities? Or Afghanistan's blue mountains that exported lapis lazuli across the world? Or the fact that Gandhi's first peaceful protest was in support of the Bengals protesting against being forced to grow indigo by their British overlords? 

Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) by Johannes Vermeer
 is painted with ultramarine, a natural pigment made from lapis lazuli.
The book is filled with such information, but Finlay also has a talent for creating visions in your mind's eye. One of my favourite descriptions of hers is below:
As we wallked, I imagined where the rock from each section [of a lapis lazuli mine in Afghanistan] might have found its ultimate resting place. The first 20 metres would have given the stones to Egyptian tombs; a little later was where the Bamiyan Buddhas got their haloes. Early on in the blackened section was a little side passage, the contents of which may have gone to Armenia for twelfth-century illuminated Bibles. A few steps later was where Titian may have got his sky from, and where Michelangelo didn't get his robe; farther on was Hogarth's blue, and Rubens' and Poussin's: a whole art history in one little pathway. [343]
The novel ends on a nostalgic note after Finlay visits Pantone, the company responsible for standardising colour.
...I felt glad that I had made my paintbox jouneys when I could still explore worlds of approximation and poetry, before the colours began to lose their words. [437]
I am equally glad, although somewhat jealous at what she managed to experience on her search. Without this book, I wouldn't think twice about the shade of colour I reach for in the art shop. Now the plainest of colours - like Midnight Blue, which used to be called Prussian Blue in crayon boxes - will always have a deeper meaning for me as I include them in my artwork.

January 9, 2018

#GoldenGlobes, #TimesUp So Hollow!

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Golden Globes Awards reporting has filled all our timelines and feeds, not only because of Oprah Winfrey's rousing oration against a system that preys upon those with lesser power when accepting her 2018 Cecil B. de Mille Award but also because so many women dressed in black for the evening in protest of what they and their fellow women have been through in Hollywood's misogynistic and sexist world. But their protest rings hollow for me. I'll tell you why.

I understand that an event like the Golden Globes reaches a massive amount of people as a result of its standing in popular culture. And so it would seem that making a political comment at such an entertaining ceremony would make an impression. The idea is that since the event reaches people, any activism and the reason for it would reach people, too. But my question here is how many people actually get to see this deeply into the Globes? Viewership of the ceremony this year was, after all, down 5% on 2017. How many people understand what's going on in terms of politics and activism at such an event? How many people will have seen only watered-down versions focusing on who won, or on what the stars were wearing? How many people really have access to everything the #TimesUp anti-sexual harassment campaign stands for? For the layman watching late-night news, does it mean anything that certain stars arrived with female activists as their plus-ones, or that the majority of women wore black? And if you're only into tabloids and fashion? Cue articles about hairstyle, beauty products, style...
Here are these ultra-rich people, who spend thousands on a single dress and all their accessories and make-up, attending an event that costs possibly millions of dollars, suddenly attempting to regain relevance after the #MeToo movement exposed men they worked with, admired, loved, for sexual misconduct. They've frantically launched a defence fund that will allow women in plainer professions redress if they run into trouble when reporting sexual harassment, which you can also donate to, and had pins with Time's Up printed on them to show solidarity, even though the fashion and beauty competition is certainly still fierce.
Which leads me to my second issue: they are still dressing up pretty and preening and beautifying their faces, setting the very same style and beauty standards by which women are judged throughout the world, inspiring those same ideas about what makes women sexy and beautiful, merely reinforcing stereotypes that women are only good for fashion and lookin' hot.
While the questions posed to female celebrities on the red carpet this year were much deeper than last year's due to the popularity of the  #AskHerMore campaign, which started in 2014, and because of the protest, how many people will really know what happened? Just think about back pages of tabloids and weeklies, where a dress or look is picked out from an event with almost no context.
Even more disappointing was that some men also wore black and 'Time's Up' pins, but were not asked any pertinent questions about the #MeToo campain or the prevailing status quo in Hollywood. They claimed to support it but yet where were their voices?

Perhaps this all comes down to my cynicism when it comes to Hollywood and privileged activism. The women who pulled the black dress move and then wore a 'Time's Up' pin have nothing to loose. They are rich beyond words and are very unlikely to face any violence as a result of their activism, unlike most women who take a stance against sexual harassment or abuse. They are already in places of power as some of the best actresses in the world. Wearing an LBD would not have been a fashion disaster. They are still complicit in this world of $600 gift bags, of sponsored beauty products and dresses, of style stars. It feels a bit disingenuous, even though I know they are not as separated from the normal world as us.Also, how has Hollywood's dark secret remained so for so many years? I certainly don't wish to diminish their personal experiences of harassment, but why was there this culture of silence? How did some people never hear rumours? Never see things happening?

But I suppose that is the nature of the beast: power begets fear begets silence. Well, I suppose at least their fund intends making it safer for women to speak out now...
My first reaction to seeing the actresses protesting on the red carpet in their expensive dresses was that they would have made more of an impression by not pitching up at all, but then boycotting the event would simply exclude them from the arena. Also, since the gist of my argument is that their complicity in the ongoing system and its beauty standards is problematic, perhaps they should all have made a statement by wearing the aprons and house dresses and blue overalls of those underprivileged workers they purport to wish to defend.

Forgive me for being cynical.

12/01/2018: Seal has claimed that Oprah Winfrey was aware of Harvey Weinstein's abuses. Sure, she heard the rumours but didn't believe they were true.