Sunday, September 26, 2010


Robert Graves, that great epigrammatical balladeer of twentieth century English poetry, once critically summarised Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822) with “voice is too shrill”. Certainly, while Shelley and his friends Keats and Byron have often been referred to as the rock stars of nineteenth century Romantic poetry, one would not fairly refer to Shelley as a Meatloaf, but more of a John Lennon. 

Born into the family of a baronet, the young social campaigner, pamphleteer, and voice for the oppressed Irish, inevitably found himself in conflict with the powers that be, was “sent down” from Oxford after the distribution of an atheist pamphlet, and cut off virtually without funds. 
He left his teenage wife Harriet Westbrook - who subsequently drowned herself in the Serpentine - to elope with Mary Godwin, the daughter of libertarian thinker William Godwin and pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. While Shelley went on - despite any perceived shrillness of poetic voice, to become one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era, if not in all of English literature - during a sojourn on Lake Geneva in 1818 Mary wrote an all-time literary classic, the gothic novel Frankenstein

But the latter years of the Shelleys in self-imposed exile in northern Italy were dogged by financial woes, the heartbreak of infant death, and eventually by Shelley’s own. 

He loved the sea, and was sailing with two friends from Livorno to his home in Lerici when their boat was swamped in a storm, and all three men drowned. There was an outbreak of disease in Italy at the time, and local authorities insisted the bodies be cremated without delay on the beach. 

Stories abound about that day, including that Shelley had raged on to his tempestuous doom under full sail in the storm - and that Mary kept his heart. She is said to have reached into his chest as it was burning on the funeral pyre, plucked out his heart and kept it, sleeping with it under her pillow for the rest of her life. 
He was certainly never far from her thoughts, and she spent her own remaining decades editing and collecting his poems and plays, and ensuring major publication. Although he died a minor poet, by the time she died, 33 years later, his name was set to become one of the greatest in English poetry. Ozymandias remains one of the best known works of his enormous poetic legacy, along with his Adonais, his elegy to Keats, composed at his friend’s graveside in Rome. 

Shelley even made it back to Oxford, where his guitar and a lock of his hair are displayed. Not even Jimi Henrix, Jim Morrison or John Lennon got that kind of treatment. Like them, he too died before he got old. He was 29.

          People can die of mere imagination.
                                                                  - Chaucer 

From my book "Dead Famous: Deaths of the Famous and Famous Deaths".

My music film clip of Ozymandias

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Hart Crane (1899-1932) was a rising young star of the American literary world when he vanished in unusual circumstances, from a passenger ship sailing from Mexico to New York City in 1932. As the S.S. Orizaba steamed up the Florida coast, Crane was on deck taking the air with other passengers, when he removed his coat, straddled the railing, said “Goodbye everyone”, and stepped off into the Atlantic.  
Crane was born into the affluent family of a successful Ohio confectioner. He worked briefly as a reporter and advertising copywriter in New York before the publication of his poetry collection White Buildings in 1926. Stylistically eclectic and innovative - critics drew comparisons with Eliot and Pound, among others - White Buildings brought him attention. His second collection, The Bridge (1930), a modernist elegy to the city of New York which had started out as a grand American epic, garnered even greater critical acclaim, and he was becoming acknowledged as a master of the longer poetic form, and the prose-poem or proem. 
At the time of his disappearance he was returning from a stay in Mexico, where he had travelled as the recipient of one of the first-ever Guggenheim Fellowships. He had intended to write an epic poem about the Spanish conquistador Cortes and the downfall of the Aztec civilisation, but had little to show for his time away beyond the debilitating effects of an alcoholism that saw him fall into fits of rage, horrifying his friends. 
As the ship sailed on toward New York, other problems might have clouded his mind too. Heir to a fortune in the confectionary business, Crane had never had to worry much about money, but the death of his father the year before, and financial concerns from the Depression, then at its deepest, affected him profoundly. The Orizaba had also sailed near the Isle of Pines off the Cuban coast, where the family had a holiday home, and where he had written some of his finest poetry. Sailing back to New York, he might well have worried that the best of his life was already behind him. 
Yet another set of problems might have vexed him as well. He had reportedly made advances to a crew member, and was bruised from the beating he had received from crewmen in return. Crane had had his first homosexual experiences in adolescence, but despite one or two promising relationships, by his late twenties cut the figure of a lonely man. Some critics have suggested that The Bridge referred to the Brooklyn Bridge, and codified a well known homosexual beat beneath it.
After Crane went over the side, the ship’s commander, Captain J.E. Blackadder, gave the order for the Orizaba to turn and search the area where he had disappeared, but there was no sign of the young poet. That night Captain Blackadder cabled the news: “Hart Crane went overboard at noon today. Body not recovered.”
One of Crane’s New York literary contemporaries, M.R. Werner, was later quoted by writer Robert Creamer, in a letter to the New Yorker (27 November 2006) as having said of Crane: “He was such a faker, always on stage, always acting a role. I’ve never believed he jumped off that boat to kill himself. I think it was an act, and that Hart expected someone to jump in and rescue him. It must have sobered Hart up when the ship kept going.”
An irony about the man who stepped off the S.S. Orizaba is that the confectionary his father invented, and which made the family fortune, was the Life Saver. Even more ironic, for years it was widely believed that Clarence Crane had invented Life Savers because his daughter had choked to death on a solid sweet, so he invented “the candy with the hole”. While this story was not true, it is the truth that his son perished because no-one threw him - or knew how to throw him - a life saver. 
Hart Crane was 32. The cable sent by Captain Blackadder was delivered to his family in the Ohio town of Chagrin Falls.

     “Get my swan costume ready.”
             last words of ballerina Anna Pavlova, died 1931

From my book "Dead Famous: Deaths of the Famous and Famous Deaths".

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Last December Tony Abbott won a ballot to wrest the leadership of the Liberal Party from Malcolm Turnbull. The margin was one vote - his own.

Seven months later he came within two House of Representatives votes of wresting the national leadership from Julia Gillard - this time his own vote did not quite get him there.

Mr Rabbit ran for our highest office on a platform of abandoning plans to bring high-speed broadband to nearly everyone in Australia, his view being "what's wrong with telegrams?"

He also promised to "stop the boats" - turn away the small number of refugees who manage to reach our shores, and push them back out into the high seas in their sinking boats. He proposed too a "royal telephone," so he could make informed, on the spot decisions on people at risk in the Indian Ocean, from his office in Canberra.

On the basis of these visionary policies, the Australian electorate - whose wisdom must never ever be called into account - put the action figure with the penguin walk within a saunter of The Lodge. 

How did he achieve that, really? Were we dreaming, having a collective nightmare, or were we all placed under some kind of delusional mass hypnosis?

The answer is below. And remember, pictures don't lie - except sometimes, when they do.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


In his bestselling book, In Defense of Food, American author Michael Pollan argues that much of the western world now finds itself in that historical particularity in which large sections of its populations are both obese and malnourished.

Pollan is perhaps best known for appearing in Food, Inc, the Oscar-nominated documentary exposing the industrial production and processing methods of US agribusiness, and for his other bestselling books on food and eating, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Food Rules.

The Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley, Pollan writes with an idiosyncratic mix of biting wit, lucidity, and enormous persuasiveness, about how an unhappy combination of changes in the 1970s to US government policy on food, and ruthless cost-and-corner-cutting by agribusiness, has led to the modern plague of diabetes, heart problems and cancer among increasingly unhealthy and ever more obese western populations.

Labelling the last three decades "The Age of Nutritionism", Pollan exposes the carbohydrate-laden "lo-fat" hi-fad diet as little more than a tragic government mistake and a corporate sham, positing that saturated fats are nowhere near as dangerous as recently considered, and that the real culprits in obesity and dietary problems are the so-called "trans-fats", hydrogenated vegetable oils used in the cooking of fast foods, and pre-packaged commercial foods.

He argues that while the food corporations de-nature food, and then try to "add back in" manufactured versions of what was taken out, there appears to be a synergy operating between the molecular components of real, whole foods, which cannot be replicated by food chemists merely joining the constituents back together again in the laboratory.

His advice is to eat organic wholefoods, his maxim: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

The first meal that dictum addresses is, of course, breakfast. 

Breakfast is our least explored, least considered meal of the day. For many people, breakfast is a piece of white bread toast smeared with margarine, and/or a gulped cup of coffee - in other words, virtually a nutrition-free zone. This is despite the fact that throughout our lives, we are warned that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and informed of the benefits of eating a good breakfast.

I've never been a "let's do breakfast" person. To me, eating breakfast out is a trial. Who wants to make conversation - much less talk work or business - first thing in the day while trying to eat breakfast at the same time, in a noisy cafe with people  at the nearby tables all trying to shout above the coffee grinder? There is often loud music playing too: the whole thing is an assault on the senses.

To me breakfast should be eaten at home, in pleasant quiet, taking as much time as is available, in as gentle as possible start to the day. For some people it may seem impossible to make the time. But the benefits are great, and the time needed not.

Here's the recipe to my daily breakfast, and I highly recommend it. It only takes about ten minutes to prepare, cook and serve. Please note that all ingredients are organic or biodynamic (with the possible exception of the Benedictine).


Rolled oats
quinoa flakes
goji berries
sea salt
guava (and/or other fruits in season)
brazil nuts
chocolate (dark 70% Fairtrade)
yoghurt (home made, see below) *
full cream milk


Pour cold, filtered water into a saucepan and add rolled oats, 1 cup per person. Add a tablespoon of quinoa flakes, a tablespoon of oatbran, and a pinch of salt. Add a few goji berries, and one or two dates per person. The water should cover the contents well:  the porridge is best if soaked overnight, though it is fine too if it's not.

Bring the porridge to the boil. If it gets too thick, just add a bit more water. It will be cooked after a few minutes of gentle boiling. Serve into bowls. Top with almonds and brazil nuts, sliced banana, papaya and guava, and shavings of chocolate. Feeling festive, add a dash of Benedictine. Serve with milk and a tablespoon or so of yoghurt.

It's a healthy, delicious warm breakfast you can eat all year round, and will keep you satisfied until lunchtime.

*How To Make Your Own Yoghurt

It's very easy. You don't need yoghurt mix, yoghurt machines, any of it. You just need milk, yoghurt culture, a saucepan and glass jars.

Pour 2 litres of full cream milk into a saucepan. Heat it strongly until the milk begins to bubble, then take off the heat and leave.

After a few minutes, pour the hot milk into clean glass jars. Allow to cool a little further, until the milk is between hot and warm. (The optimum temperature is learnt by trial and error).

Stir in a tablespoon of your own last batch of yoghurt - or, if making it for the first time, of your favourite plain organic or biodynamic yoghurt.

Cap the jars, and put them in a small cardboard box filled with cornstarch packing material, or, failing that, rags or shredded newspaper. Close the top of the box and put it into a small cupboard and don't disturb for 8-10 hours. When you open the box you will have jars of delicious yoghurt.

Practice will make perfect.

Refrigerate. Enjoy.