Sunday, December 31, 2006

On the seventh day of Christmas

Not much to report this morning. Did some more housework yesterday, and went to the movies to use up my last discount Hot Cash before the coupon expired (ie. today). I saw "The Queen", which stars Helen Mirren, in an excellent, thought-provoking docudrama about the reactions of the Royal Family to the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales. These days, this kind of movie usually turns up as a telemovie or mini-series on TV, but it was refreshing to see this on the big screen. Fascinating!

Here are today's Christmas tree ornaments:

1994white1993

Above left: For 1994, the (very heavy!) ceramic, church-shaped stable is hinged, so it can open up to reveal the Nativity scene. Baby Jesus is in a water-filled glass ball on one side and the onlookers are on the other side, reunited only when the stable is closed up. Purchased from David Jones' city store. The little raccoon inspects a bag of Christmas gifts. This cute little ornament was purchased from Grace Bros. in Roselands.

Above right: For 1993, this decoration celebrated that year's big animation movie, Disney's "Aladdin". When a cord is pulled, Genie raises his arms. From Grace Bros. in Roselands. The silver plastic Tin Woodsman, from "The Wizard of Oz" was found in a local "Two Dollar Shop" and was good timing, since there was a great stage show version doing the rounds at the time.


Happy 2007 everyone!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

On the sixth day of Christmas

While cleaning up some file boxes in the garage this week, I found a batch of my "Star Trek" movie scripts, which I haven't seen since I moved house in 2000. I'd forgotten that I owned three versions of the ST III script, in addition to Harve Bennett's slim bootlegged premise, ST III: "Return to Genesis".

But in the so-called FIRST DRAFT script of "ST III: The Search for Spock", dated March 23, 1983 - well after the Romulan crew of "Return to Genesis" has officially morphed into a Klingon crew - Bennett has this to say about the controversial makeup change from TOS:

"Present are the 1ST LORD of the Klingons, and his command staff. The variety of Klingons will be fully explored. Elders have been seen in STAR TREK I. Forehead bumps are marks of age and wisdom, not common. What is common is that they are a dark race of large and frightening appearance."

The "elderly" Klingon idea has been nixed by the REV. FINAL DRAFT of September 13, 1983, because Valkris wears a half-veil to hide her bumps, and Kruge is described as a "handsome but frightening presence, and relative youth".

(Since those early days, of course, we've seen Alexander, Worf's son in "The Next Generation" series, as a toddler with a matching bumpy forehead to his Dad's. Then we had Worf's enigmatic comment in DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations", and a two-part explanatory episode about the origins of smooth-foreheaded Klingons in "Star Trek: Enterprise".)

The early script also specifies a flotilla of Klingon heavy cruisers, and Kruge's cloakable Romulan Bird of Prey that "Trek buffs will recognize" from its "distinctive bird & wing motif". After they watch the Bird of Prey turn visible, the script goes on:

1ST LORD: What is this? None of you knew?

3RD LORD (hastily): It is his toy, sir. A Romulan prize. He has perfected their Cloaking Device.

1ST LORD: Commander Kruge, I want you here... Now!

INT. BIRD OF PREY BRIDGE - ON KRUGE

KRUGE: Always your servant, my Lord.

(He turns and CAMERA reveals his CREW, the most awesome collection of large, cruel and piratical men since the Pittsburgh Steelers of the Seventies. We will see more of them later.)

KRUGE: Well, my jolly lads, a few more triumphs like this and we'll all be back in prison.

(then turning)

Try to behave yourselves while I'm gone.


I reckon Kruge probably should have had a Klingon parrot on his shoulder, too (but perhaps the lizard/dog from the REV. FINAL script ate it?).

A major character difference is the addition of vulcanoid (Romulan?) defector, Galt, who essentially fills the role taken by Maltz the Klingon in the final film. Galt is welcomed back to Vulcan by Sarek at the end of the movie.

Towards the end, instead of the REV. FINAL DRAFT and FINAL SHOOTING script version of Kirk saying to Kruge, "I... have had... enough... of you!" the FIRST DRAFT script has Kruge saying, "The last face you see, Kirk. The last face you ever see."

He then grabs Kirk in a choke hold, they struggle, and Kirk seems doomed - but when the zombie-like Spock grabs Kruge from behind, Kirk is able to break free, retrieve. Kirk is able to reach the Klingon dagger and throw it into Kruge's back. Then he asks Galt to beam them up, abandoning several remaining Klingons to their fate on the doomed Genesis.

Bennett also says "The writer suggests to the producer and director that no acting credit be given for the role of SPOCK until the END CREDITS. (And that's what they actually did. There's a blank space in the opening credits of ST III, where Nimoy's acting screen credit should normally be.)

Cool, eh? Anyway, here are today's ornaments:

1996white1995

Above left: For 1996, the Coca-Cola polar bear mascot, sitting in the stocking to chug down his Coke straight from the bottle, was bought just after that Christmas, from a countertop display in a roadhouse (on the way to wherever I was holidaying in January 1997). Marvin the Martian, from "Looney Tunes", was a Hallmark boxed ornament. He has a Santa sack of (Acme?) dynamite over his shoulder and is, no doubt, trying to clear his view of Venus for Christmas. As Marvin would say, "Isn't that lovely?" Purchased from Grace Bros. in Roselands.

Above right: For 1995, the cute mouse on a swing has a hard head and a soft, stuffed body. He's actually standing up on a swing, and the swing's rope is what attaches to the tree. Another purchase from the Lakemba pharmacy/newsagency. The haloed angel cow is made of some form of clay and looks like it's been homemade, but was from Grace Bros. in Roselands.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On the fifth day of Christmas

Yesterday, my friend Leonie and I went to see the new Ben Stiller movie, "Night at the Museum". Based on Milan Trenc's children's picture book "The Night at the Museum", this movie is a lot of fun, with some great special effects that are seamlessly incorporated into the story. (Why should toys be the only things to come to life at night?) this film should make anyone eager to take a stroll through the New York Museum of Natural History. By day or by night...

Today's ornaments:

1998white1997

Above left: For 1998, one of my favourite ornaments: Pinky and the Brain, two determined mice attempting world domination, and have seemingly achieved it by wrapping up the Earth in Christmas lights and carrying it away. From the "Animaniacs" cartoon series, and bought from the Warner Bros. store in Parramatta. The little troll with Christmas hair, tie and pixie boots, is actually a girl's hair accessory for a ponytail. I bought him from the Lakemba pharmacy/newsagency, back when I lived in that suburb.

Above right: For 1997, the Christmas elf with the Jack-in-the-box just had lots of appeal. It's spring-loaded and came in a display box from Grace Bros. in Roselands. The cat is unusual and wasn't intended to be a Christmas tree ornament. The head is ceramic and the body is a tiny bean bag, made of patterned material. He doesn't actually hang from the tree, but rather reclines on the top of several branches. I bought him from the Lakemba pharmacy/newsagency.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On the fourth day of Christmas

I spent a good chunk of the day back at the school yesterday. The general assistant was on duty, which meant I had access to my old classroom. Tossed out lots of files and old worksheets I won't be needing any more, in my quest to make my room look vacant, yet welcoming for the new teacher arriving to take up my class teacher position.

Today's ornaments:

2000white1999

Above left: For 2000, the first Christmas in the new house! A ceramic camel mask on a long handle, from a floristry and giftware store near Eastwood Station, when I was working at Scan in Ryde; and a ceramic teddy bear in denim jeans and a hand-knitted jumper, and holding a hobby horse. He came from the all-year-round Christmas shop in Windsor. These ornaments were bought many months apart, and I hadn't realised they both had a "mounted on long sticks" theme. 2000 also marked the first year of a new Christmas angel, but you'll have to wait till Epiphany!

Above right: For 1999, two "M & M's" candy tube toppers (from Target). Promoted as "the candy for the new millennium" due to "MM" being the Roman numeral for "2000", so it seemed a natural for turning into an impromptu Christmas ornament. The miniature skateboard-riding Lori Custer sock monkey was bought in an eBay USA auction, and is actually made from baby-sized "red heel" socks. The purchase started out as a joke when I was demonstrating to some colleagues at the
Scan office just how eBay auctions worked, and we all fell in love with this particular one. A few months later, when the creator realised she'd overcharged me on postage, she sent me out a second miniature sock monkey for free: an editor sock monkey, blue pencil tucked over one ear, working away at a tiny computer.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On the third day of Christmas

If you're looking for a fun cinema experience these holidays, and wish to avoid the huge queues for all the latest movies that opened on Boxing Day, you can't go wrong with Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of British television's "Ali G", has discovered within himself an embarrassing new persona, whom I can only describe as a Middle Eastern version of Norman Gunston. I had a great time giggling away to myself. Even the subtitles - and the modesty patches over some of the unexpected nudity - are hilarious. Highly recommended!

Jack's favourite Christmas present has turned out to be his new "squeakie", a gift from my friend Zena. She bought him a "Divin' Dude", a cute pink and green dog made of wetsuit material, which means it might be a little tougher than the average dog toy -we'll soon see - and can even be used in the pool. But I had to laugh at the tag, which has a short essay on "The Importance of Play". It says, in part: "Depriving your dog of play may result in boredom which may lead to behavioural problems such as excessive barking or destructive chewing or digging." Well, I can guarantee some "destructive chewing"... as Jack diligently attempts to remove the squeaker from inside of "Divin' Dude"!

Today's ornaments:

2002white2001

Above left: For 2002, a unique metal mesh Christmas stocking from Grace Bros. in Penrith; and Woody the cowboy of "Toy Story" riding a Christmas bauble while using a rope lasso, purchased from the Disney Store, probably the one in the Sydney CBD.

Above right: For 2001, A reindeer-antlered Snoopy the beagle with little Woodstock from the "Peanuts" cartoon strip. It originally came with chocolates, from Target; I think this might have been a leftover gift I'd bought, and I decided it would make a fun inclusion to my tree. (I also got to eat the chocolate, of course.) The frog with the luscious lips and sparkly crown actually opens on a hinge to reveal a secret hiding place for - whatever! It came from a very cool magic and giftware store, Fantasy Road, which used to be at Fox Studios, Moore Park.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On the second day of Christmas

Okay, this is really weird.

A few years ago, I was wandering through the Christmas Cave here in Penrith, one of those popular warehouse-looking retail/wholesale outlets that had just opened up in Penrith for the first time. The place had some very reasonably priced, larger-sized plastic Christmas baubles, especially made to go on outdoor Christmas trees, ie. because the garden had lots of blue flowers in it at the time, I bought a package of metallic blue balls.

It was a bit of a challenge getting enough baubles up into the higher sections of the huge pine tree in the backyard. Essentially, from chair height, it entailed grabbing a fist full of foliage, pulling it towards me, looping the bauble into place, then letting go. Unfortunately, I managed to launch at least two baubles, as if on a Medieval catapault, over the back fence and into the neighbouring yard. (The neighbours did eventually toss them back over.)

The decorated tree looked amazing but, after a few weeks of the hot Penrith sun, most of the baubles had lost their metallic sheen on one exposed side, so the next Midwinter Christmas, I had to place them other side out. Of course, whenever the wind blew, they'd rotate around to expose their faded sides. By the time of the next outing, the were more plain aqua than shiny metallic blue and I needed to purchase some glittery gold plastic shapes to supplement the decore. These new ornaments have lasted surprisingly well over the years, although last year I seemed to be missing one faded blue bauble and one glittery gold bonbon shape when packing everything away.

That was also the year I stepped back from my chair to admire my work after decorating the tree, only to end up in the pool: clothes, watch, wallet and all. I limped about with a sprained ankle for the rest of November, all of December and most of January. The things we do in an attempt to celebrate Christmas with a little flair.

Anyway, after last year's soggy debacle, I was rather reluctant to go climbing for my Midwinter Christmas in July, and I still didn't find time to paint the round baubles with some strong, outdoor-resilient glue, and smother them in new glitter, in time for this Christmas, either - and then we had one day where it absolutely bucketed down with rain for most of the day - so it looked like the backyard was going to be decidely less festive this year.

Then, yesterday, as I was making breakfast, I looked out to my decoration-free yard - and, hanging high in the tree, was a lone glittery gold bonbon ornament glinting in the morning sun! It was one of the missing trinkets from last Christmas season. Hidden for an entire year, the massive downpours of rain we had on Christmas Eve had exposed it from wherever it had been, lost inside the tree. Another miracle of Christmas, I guess!

Outdoor tree

I had an immediate urge to race out with the chair - or maybe a stepladder this time - and put up the rest of the outdoor decorations, but I noticed the pool smirking at me, and recalled the pain of my ankle the year before.

But wait, there's more! This morning I went out into the yard and my eye was distracted by a flash of blue: sitting beneath the pine tree is a single blue Christmas bauble! It, too, has spent at least a year, lost in the densest part of the tree, and had chosen Christmas Day to drop back into sight.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and bizarre coincidence is alive and well in Penrith... Either that, or it really is a sign that God has a sense of humour. (Some of my crueler "friends" have told me that the vision of me falling into the backyard pool while decorating my pine tree last year was the real proof that God has a sense of humour.)

2004white2003

Above left: For 2004, the goofy-looking horse (left) came from a specialist Christmas shop, probably the one in Leura in the Blue Mountains.. At right, a miniature picture book of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr Seuss (bought from Angus & Robertson to use in class that year), plus a last minute addition: a Grinch-as-Santa ornament, found at the Parramatta Collector's Fair - several years after searching for one (especially popular after the Jim Carrey movie came out). Better late than never.

Above right: For 2003, a tiny teddy bear ornament, originally attached to a Christmas gift from my cousin, Christina. The glamorous giraffe in the shoe, seemingly inspired by "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"(?) is applying lipstick. She came from the specialist Christmas shop in Leura in the Blue Mountains.

Monday, December 25, 2006

On the first day of Christmas

I was very slack/busy this year and almost didn't get my Christmas tree up in time. The school year went right up to the Thursday of last week (21st), a week later than we used to experience in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s - and soooo inconvenient for doing Spring cleaning, decorating for Christmas and relaxed shopping. The last few years, in order for the Easter break to be longer, we break up later and it seemed like I was still writing comments for students' report cards when I shoulda oughta been tidying up around the house.

Last night, I was still decorating the tree and it occurred to me that I can relate many anecdotes about my Christmas ornaments. In the early 80s, I'd read an article in one of my Mum's old "New Idea" magazines, of a young married couple, so short of money after their wedding, that they had no money left to buy many decorations for their first Christmas together. They ended up pooling their cash and buying just one single ornament, which they dated - and thus began an annual tradition: of buying one, perhaps fairly expensive, unique ornament. Over the years they built up a Christmas tree full of important memories, and the cumulative effect of such a, um, well-hung(?) tree is infinitely more special that one covered with the contents of a bag of el cheapo baubles from the local Two Dollar shop.

The idea really appealled to me, especially because there fashion and decorating trends are even reflected in Christmas ornaments - certain styles, colours, glittery effects, commercial tie-ins, etc that firmly root a particular ornament to a time and a place - so when I knew I was about to buy my first home unit, I used a trip to the USA (December 1983) to start my hunt for unusual ornaments, to scrawl dates upon and perhaps to imprint some favourite memories, for my own tree. Of course, I couldn't restrain myself to two ornaments that first year, and I've usually try for one expensive, and one el-cheapo-but-cute, ever since. Watch this space over the twelve days of Christmas!

2006white2005

Above left: For 2006, a Hallmark "Superman Returns" over the Daily Planet; and a Homer Simpson as Santa, complete with stolen candy hidden behind his back. The Superman came from a local Target store and Homer from "The Simpsons" was a souvenir of the recent staff shopping trip (the Christmas Cave at Alexandria).

Above right: For 2005, a silver and frosted glass snow ballerina from a Christmas store cut-price sale in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains; and Spiderman carrying a webful of toys, purchased from The Phantom Zone comics collectibles shop in Parramatta.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

'Twas the night before Christmas...


Santa's Aussie Boomers

Merry Christmas everyone. Santa is on his way to Australia. Don't forget, the Aussie boomers do the first shift, then the reindeer take over for the northern hemisphere.

Jackelf

Yes, it's Santa's little helper! Smile Jack, it's almost Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New beginnings

Yesterday morning, I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies at the retirement dinner for our school's outgoing teacher-librarian, which was held last night. It was quite a thrill to be asked, as I am essentially stepping into the guest of honour's shoes next year. I've only known her, and worked with her, since July 2002, and there were people at the function who had known her for much, much longer. It was a chance to show a side of me that my work colleagues rarely see. And from next year, in my new (old) role as teacher-librarian, they'll all have a chance to work with me in collaborative team-teaching situations.

It all went off very well - although, as I told the gathering, most times I MC a function, I'm usually dressed as an Andorian, or some lycra-clad superhero or another and wearing a mask. So, as our teacher-librarian starts a new journey, literally anticipating the commencement of a series of caravan holidays around Australia with her husband, I'm starting yet another part of my journey through my career, which may well be the last major change before my own retirement.

We've had several teachers making farewell speeches. The teacher-librarian last night, a former deputy principal last week (who's been doing casual work for a few years) and several classroom teachers today. they've all talked about the uniqueness of the school, and the many qualities that make working there such a great and rewarding experience. I feel very blessed to have ended up there.

As I was sorting my files today, in preparation for vacating my Year 1/2 classroom to move into the library, I found a wad of hand-scrawled diary entries and "incident reports" concerning a difficult class I'd had several years ago. The numerous, um, "challenging experiences" reminded me of my very first year of permanent teaching, but I guess you have to have years like that, every once in a while, so you know when you've got the next great bunch of students. I was feeling a little low, when one of my current students handed me a Christmas card, written by his mother, which said (in part):

"... I have watched him grow and overcome learning obstacles while he has been under your guidance. You have always been so approachable and have always offered me the information and answers to my worries and questions. Like every parent, my child is my pride and joy and I only want the best for him, so that he can be the best he can be. He got that with you.

"He came home the other week excited. He stated that 'Mr McLean is going to be the librarian [next year] and that means that he is still going to be my teacher on Library Day. I still get to have him!'

"What more could a parent ask for in a teacher?"

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ghosts of Christmases past


Xmas 1961whiteXmas 1986

The colour shot above recently dropped out of one of my many old photo albums, while I was looking for something else, and I was stunned to realise that it had been taken (at a 1986 ASTREX Star Trek Fan Club Christmas function)... 20 years ago! Sometimes it seems like only yesterday. Actually, I remember the night quite well; it was a "Whodunnit?" murder mystery, held at Sydney's Mortuary Station, back when it had been revived as a pancake restaurant - on a train! That's me, as Mister Fantastic, of the "Fantastic Four", back when I was able to get away with wearing stretch lycra. Interestingly, the signature white in my Reed Richards sideburns was sprayed on, from a can. These days I can do a pretty mean Mister Fantastic impersonation without any hair enhancement whatsoever.

Piggy Claus (Steve Simpson) was a rather gruff and feisty "Star Trek" Tellarite. ("Piiiiigs iiiiiin Spaaaaaace!!!!!") Steve had gone to a lot of trouble to surprise everyone that night. He was supposed to be Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, also of the "Fantastic Four" superhero team, but he turned up a vision in paunchy red and white, with a Tellarite nose pilfered from my Star Trek makeup box, and the obligatory bottle of Saurian brandy.

The photo made me determined to find a much earlier shot. Even though my mother has all the other annual "family w/Santa" pix in a shoebox, this one was lent to me to put into a teachers college media assignment (in 1978), and somehow it stayed in that assignment album. Until a few years ago, when a box of precious stuff narrowly escaped getting permanently saturated in a garage flood. I thought the black and white photo I'd remembered might have been from 1966. But no, it was 1961, making me - only just - three years old! It features me (at far left), wearing a shirt I still remember quite vividly; my younger brother, Keith, on Santa's lap; and my older cousin, Bruce. This was the only Santa photo in which Bruce accompanied us, so I assume my mother and grandmother organised to meet up with my aunt for a rare combined shopping expedition in Bebarfalds' department store, now long gone, of course.

Most of the other old Santa photos we had taken were at various Grace Bros. stores (now Myer), and my brothers and I had a particular preference for the (quite famous) Santa who frequented Grace Bros' old Broadway store, now the site of the Broadway Centre. I once had an amazing deja vu incident when I went to the Guild Teachers College, just around the corner from that Grace Bros. During the rest of the year, it seemed that the same guy we had known as Santa Claus worked on the microphone as the daily store announcer. Each festive season, he'd often receive a lot of television and newspaper publicity: as a trainer of professional Santas. Obviously, even as little kids, we recognised quality! We used to tell ourselves that he was the real Santa, and all the others we saw around the traps were "Helpers".

Ho, ho. ho.

Time magazine's "Person of the Year"!

And the winner is... :

Me.

And indeed, you. According to a blog entry over at KRAD's page, Time has given the title of Person of the Year to "anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web".

So congratulations to KRAD. And me. Oh, and you!

Time

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Save the penguins

Okay, I already have way too many stuffed toys - and, indeed, even too many stuffed penguins - but this weekend I assisted one lone, frightened-looking, stuffed penguin from having a very rough Christmas this year.

Penguin

The penguin toy is rather well made, but he's meant to be a dog's chew toy - the type my Jack Russell would have had mostly consumed by Christmas Day afternoon. The penguin's legs are made of the same cotton "rope" as other rope-pull toys; although they always look strong, and are meant to act like dental floss, Jack tends to just eat the rope, and pay for it for days and days, straining desperately in the yard to pass wads of multi-coloured cotton.

This sighting (of the penguin, that is, not Jack straining) occurred during a quick trip through the pet section of Big W, while supposedly helping a friend look for Christmas gifts. (He'll be too busy to do more shopping in the coming week). The only one who actually bought anything was me, and most of what I picked up was for Jack, anyway: a new ant-free dish at last (please don't tell Jack it's actually a cat bowl!), and various festive munchies, such as smoked pig's ears, for putting under the Christmas tree (if I ever get around to putting it up in time.)

What was of most concern regarding the poor penguin: the manufacturer had tied another length of the cotton "rope" around the penguin's neck! Other animals in the series had four limbs made of "rope", but to compensate for the penguin having tiny wings, incapable of flight, they put a noose around his neck. I mean, why not look like you're going to kill yourself when your whole purpose in life is literally "going to the dogs"? Such a great Christmas message!?

Rope

So I weakened - and, if I can manage to keep his delectably consumable legs out of harm's way, he now joins a flock consisting of Opus the Penguin (of "Bloom County" and "Outland" comic strip fame), a little Christmas penguin that I was given last year from a student, a wooden Christmas ornament of a family of penguin carollers, and a handmade felt penguin (at least 45 years old) which I'm still minding for my friend, Scott, who emigrated to England about 20 years ago.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Birthday blog

Happy birthday to me. Luckily, I don't feel any different. Nothing else to report yet, 'cos I just got out of bed...

Captain's Log: Supplemental
A rather uneventful day. The morning was spent finishing off the snowman, as mentioned in yesterday's post. And much of the rest of the day involved snatches of time to rehearse the class with their lines for Friday's assembly. I even tried a little blackmail to keep them calm: "Now, it's my birthday today, and I'm sure no one wants to spend my birthday in Discussion Time at lunch." Okay, I know it made no sense, but it did seem to work. A bit.

The students were very charged up about the play. We haven't had time to practise with a live microphone yet - and probably won't - but they've been drilled to go slowly and loudly, since stage fright and the sight of their parents in the audience is bound to make them too fast and too quiet in their delivery of the script. I'm hoping to over-compensate now and solve a potential problem.

The afternoon was spent on my regular "trip into the city" on the train. Thursday nights have become a ritual, since 1977, when I first started travelling into the city daily to go to teacher's college in Broadway. I discovered the joy and convenience of visiting all my favourite bookshops, toy shops and comic shops all on the one night, and I can't imagine a Thursday night without new "Star Trek" items, or "Starlog" magazine, or other exciting things to buy and/or read on the way home.

It would have been nice to share my birthday evening with someone in the city, but I didn't really put any thought into who might have been available, until I found myself trudging around alone, feeling peckish and realizing some company would have been cool. Oh well, I commiserated with a Krispy Kreme donut (or two), from the tiny outlet which has opened on the site of the juice bar where I used to buy my non-fat fruit smoothies. Oh well...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Midsummer snowperson

I've spent the last few days making a life-sized snowman for use as a prop in my students' long-awaited annual class item, to be held during next Friday's assembly. Each class gets a turn, and we got the short straw, I think, as we've had to wait for the very last Friday in the school year.

It seems ludicrous to be making a snowman in December here in Australia. This particular one's made of white nylon wadding wrapped over a donated prop Bar Mitzvah drum, and, as the head, my hastily-made Humpty Dumpty prop from much earlier in the year. The snowman is almost finished and is looking pretty, um... cool! ;)

I've only ever made one real snowman before: Ann Arbor, Michigan, late December 1983, with the assistance of my US penpal, Olivia. Naturally, our snowman had a "Star Trek" theme; Andorian antennae, an authentic Enterprise insignia on his chest and a Starfleet phaser attached to one of his tree-branch hands. Actually, come to think of it, he was probably the first ever Aenar snowman. The final year of "Star Trek: Enterprise", the prequel series to TOS, introduced a blind, albino, psionic subspecies of Andorian in its final season.

The snowman for our class item will be unveiled at the climax of our readers' theatre performance, There was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow! by Lucille Colandro & Jared Lee. It's based on the higher profile children's rhyme, There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly! Except this woman eats a range of wintery ingredients (snow, a pipe, some coal, a hat, a branch and a scarf) - until she hiccups out a snowman!

Not only did it seem a festive dramatization for December, without being too Christmassy, the book allows almost every child to have something to say and do. The worst thing about school assemblies if that, traditionally, some students get shy and deliberately pull a sickie on The Big Day - but The Show must still go on. Even though they are only six, seven or eight years old, all of the students need to be able to be last-minute stand-ins for any other vacant role. Wish us luck!

I shall try to get images of both snowmen for the blog.

Captain's log: Supplemental: Well, here's the skit's snowperson, anyway.

Snowperson

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Good and the Baaaaaaad

Today, at work, we had our annual Christmas staff luncheon. With the odd mid-week ending of Term Four next week, and several inservice courses running offsite, we had a tough time selecting a day where almost the whole staff will be at the school on the one day.

As it is, working in a school, a roster of playground duty has to be worked out on these special days, so that the students are not left unsupervised while we are feasting away in the assembly hall, far away from the 350+ sets of gazing, greedy little eyes. It's real eat 'n' run stuff; I was fairly lucky in that I scored a late shift and only had to delay dessert by ten minutes.

A highlight of our annual Christmas function is the distribution of the "good taste" and "bad taste" Kris Kringle gifts. Over the years, and after a few embarrassing gaffes where the last person would get two "bad" presents, we've perfected the art of ensuring that there isn't any last-minute mix up of the "good" and "bad" boxes. As each person brings in their contributions, in the days leading up to The Big Day, he or she is responsible for attaching raffle tickets (from two colour-coded books) to the gifts, and the ticket stubs are given out at the entry door.

The "good" present has to be of at least $5 value, and the "bad" gift just needs to be something totally tacky/embarrassing/useless - and there has evolved quite a catalogue of oft-recycled "bad" items. I pray that I never manage to win the well-endowed naked plastic monk-in-a-barrel, the regifted packet of mothballs (with attached flashing "I am a virgin" pin), or the $5 worth collection of already-scratched $1 scratch lottery tickets - non-winning, of course.

This year I was finally ably to get rid of the incredibly tacky table lamp, with garishly-painted fruit on both the base and the shade, which I received last year. (I haven't yet gotten rid of the real wooden Dutch clogs - size "Small" - but one year they shall be passed along to some deserving recipient.)

So what did Good and Bad Santa bring me in 2006?

My "bad taste" gift was... deja vu! An item I put into the prize pool about four years ago has finally homed: a pair of fabric Rudolph the Reindeer antlers, complete with attached nose-piece. Definitely worth saving up for my December 25th blog entry portrait - just watch this space!

My "good taste" gift is a funky, very science-fictiony, metallic blue Massage Mate, as illustrated here:

Massage Mate

Aren't you jealous?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Purple and gold in 1975

Okay, so I was searching through my old photograph albums and this Polaroid fell out from its position on a page marked "At home - 1975".

Bedroom 1975

It's the bedroom of my teenage years, when we lived in Highclere Avenue, Rockdale. Thankfully, you can't see the purple chenille bedspread or the gold net nylon continuous curtains. But you can see: my then-newly-purchased b/w portable television set (for watching "Number 96" and all-night Saturday movies); flocked creature from the Sydney Royal Easter Show; a souvenir temperature gauge from Canberra; Mickey Mouse poster (also featuring much purple and gold); a little flocked purple cow; a larger flocked gold bull money box; matching flocked purple bull money box; and (barely visible at the bottom) a glow-in-the-dark Kooky Spooky finger puppet from Christmas 1969. Her name was Grandma Macreak! (Grandma is still with me, and worth a small fortune on eBay, I understand.)

KookySpooky
"Grandma Macreak"

Kooky Spooky (1968) retailers ad
Kooky Spooky (1968) retailers ad

With thanks to the gang at the Universal Monster Army BBS.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Star Trek movies: then and now

Over on TrekBBS, someone asked for our pocket reactions to each of the "Star Trek" movies, our first reactions and whether the movies had stood the test of time:

ST: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)
My age then: just turned 21
Where seen: the beautiful retro-art deco Paramount Theatre, Sydney
Note the age above: this film was very much my "coming of age". I'd managed never to have seen "Star Wars" and had just finished up three fun-filled years at teachers' college - including writing and performing in skits, making teaching aids, critiquing kids' TV shows, etc - and along came TMP, a reunion movie of characters I knew mainly only from breakfast television reruns of Filmation's animated Trek series (TAS)!

So TMP, based on a friend's review (at my 21st birthday party) of then-recent gala opening night, became a fascination to me. During that week, the newspaper had carried a serialized "My week on the Star Trek set" item by Aussie journalist Jim Oram.

I encountered the novelization in the local supermarket (read it in a weekend), bought the soundtrack with a birthday gift certificate, and finally went (by myself, when its general run finally started) to see the movie - and was blown away by it. I have since worked out that it had to be a daytime session on Christmas Eve, and I came home with second hand copies of several Blish and Foster adaptations of TOS and TAS episodes. (I recall showing my grandmother my already-expanding collection of Trek stuff on Christmas Day!) With TMP, I felt like I was on that starship; thanks to director Robert Wise, whose direction made the whole film so real to me. I needed to see the movie about four times before finally spotting the cool, new aliens I'd seen in the program book, the LP inner sleeve and Starlog.

Later, discovering organised ST fandom via the monthly ANZAC House episode marathons, I was shocked that most diehard TOS fans hated the movie and called it "boring". For me, I was ready for the sequel the next week, and how did I scream when I realised TMP was originally to have been "Star Trek: Phase II", a weekly TV show! Oh well, I spent the next few years reading ST novels, catching up on old TOS and TAS I hadn't seen and researching details on ST II.

It's still my favourite ST movie (now equaled by the 2009 film), and perhaps my favourite movie of all time.

ST II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
My age then: 23
Where seen: the ornate State Theatre, Sydney (preview and gala premiere)

A very solid TOS movie-era outing. I was thrilled this one got critical acclaim, though I really missed the costumes and cinematography of TMP. Saavik (Kirstie Alley) was very cool - and yay, Mr Kyle (John Winston)! - but where were Rand and Chapel? Khan was a very impressive guest villain. Loved the Ceti Eels, but missed McGivers, whom I'd enjoyed so much in "Space Seed". On opening night, they deliberately had no "II" in the title, avoiding the memory/stigma of negativity about TMP as much as possible. Sad to read about Nimoy's directives to Robin Curtis (in ST III) which seemed so intent on blotting out Kirstie Alley's interpretation and popularity with the fan base.


CaptTherin

My fan club friends all made new costumes for the premiere of ST II and we booked out a large block of the cinema. This was the beginning (for me) of ST fandom at its most interactive and creative, with plenty of time to build excitement for the next sequel.

ST III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)
My age then: 25
Where seen: Pitt Centre (aka "the pits centre" by some), Sydney (two previews and the gala premiere). This alternative venue was due to the fact that there was still a giant hole in the ground where they'd torn down the Paramount and Rapallo Theatres in 1983.

I loved all the "will he or won't he" publicity about Nimoy returning as Spock (not to mention directing and, as "Frank Force", the voice of Excelsior's elevator voice) - and it was fun seeking out all the gossip. My friend Jill was a set visitor on the very day (the new) Saavik and David opened Spock's casket, and she came home to tell us that the torpedo tube had been... empty! And that Merritt Butrick, whom she'd hated in ST II, because he was a Kirk wannabe, was actually very cute in person. I was then in New York in January 1984 and saw Paramount's Eddie Egan give his ST III slideshow at a Creation Convention.

Then the agonizing wait: Australian cinemas elected to delay ST III by almost six months, whereas the previous ST films had been an almost-simultaneous release. Although I found the "live on set" planet FX to be rather hokey (fibreglass texture on cactus plants, chunks of earth on hydraulic lifts, falling trees rigged to fall again, multiple shadows from overhead studio lights), the film was exciting, funny, sad, nostalgic and satisfying.


Star Trek III: The Search for Spock premiere

It was a great movie to see on premiere night in a cinema packed with diehard costumed fans. (I took in a box of champagne flutes, after seeing the "absent friends" scene at the first preview, and my whole row clinked glasses with the onscreen heroes and we got a roar of approval from the whole audience. A magic moment, repeated each time we went back that week.) I'd moved into a new apartment only days earlier - and, as the Genesis planet went down in flames on opening night, I remembered I'd left the iron on! Another agonizing wait till we raced back.

ST IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)
My age then: 27
Where seen: Paramount/CIC Theatrette, Sydney (preview: work print!); State Theatre, Sydney ("Buspak" Awards and gala preview); Greater Union Centre, Sydney (finally), on the site of the former Paramount and Rapallo Theatres (opening night)

A very fulfilling film, although a risky first few minutes with yet another giant probe heading to Earth. Great comedy and use of all the main characters, and I thought most of the whales stuff was great. Wonderful to see ST being widely accepted by general audiences, and the renewed interest in licensed ST tie-ins.

I helped to organise a huge gala preview for ST IV that had Sydney "A List" celebrities, the first annual "Buspak" advertising awards, a disco after-party and free alcohol. The awards night section was terrible but the ST film was enjoyed by people who'd never seen a ST episode, although I had several diehard friends who felt ST IV "dumbed down" its ST messages for the populace. And it was a shame that Saavik was seemingly shunted aside and forgotten.


Buspak

ST V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)
My age then: 30
Where seen: ConQuest '89, Brisbane (gala preview); Hoyts complex at Westfield Eastgardens Shoppingtown, Pagewood (opening night)

I'd have been more accepting of the plot had Sybok simply been a mentor/teacher of Spock's rather than a son of Sarek, since Shatner worried little about flying in the face of complaints from Gene Roddenberry and DC Fontana. However, I did appreciate Shatner's attempts to recapture the format of a ST episode, and I actually liked some of his more unique directing contributions. The "field of holes" scene ("It's all I have...") was so poignant, and the approaching unicorn in a dust cloud.

I have had many belly-laughs reading "Captain's Log: The Making of ST V" by Lisabeth Shatner; an excellent insight into the ego of Shatner. A book which often says much more by what's between the lines. ST V was a disappointing follow-up to ST IV; a very much "contractual obligations" deal. TNG was already doing better FX on a weekly TV budget. Even more ironic: the pre-release poster of the seatbelt on a cinema chair.

ST VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)
My age then: 33
Where seen: Paramount/CIC Theatrette, Sydney (preview); Ann Arbor multiplex, Michigan, USA (feature)

To think we almost didn't get this film, or almost got a "Starfleet Academy" movie instead. This was a fun experience in many ways, and the many blue-sashed UFP aliens at the end paid homage to TOS aliens we'd seen before. I loved the film's ties to "Unification" (TNG double episode, guest-starring Spock). However, although I'd have been devastated by Saavik being revealed as a traitor, as was originally planned, the Valeris subplot was no surprise at all... because Valeris was the only newbie in the team. (I tried to avoid all spoilers, for the first time. When a big Cinefantastique article came out, I decided to save the article till after the movie. I just read the captions - and that's where the editor chose to reveal that she was part of the conspiracy. Drat!)

Loved Sulu and Rand working together, and loved the big sign-off by the cast at the end. Some minor annoyances: spelling "Uhuru" in the closing credits was bad; forgetting which ship had been cataloguing gaseous anomalies; the phaser in the kitchen; books for translating into Klingon, etc. The local premiere night experience was bittersweet, as a new faction had taken over our ST club, most fans turned up in civvies, and I then went off on a US trip a few days later and missed out hearing about everyone's opinions. Watching the movie with my US penpals was fun, though, but it had been out a few weeks by then and the US Cineplexes were running so many sessions, each tiny cinema was almost empty. Hard to build atmosphere in such a tiny space! Loved photographing Mann's Chinese in Los Angeles (below), decked out for ST VI, although I didn't see it there.

ST GENERATIONS (1994)
My age then: 36
Where seen: Greater Union complex, Bankstown Square, Bankstown (premiere)

Almost the entire script, and most versions of each draft, were being leaked onto UseNet, and a friend used to print it all out for me. I wasn't sure I liked the idea of Scotty and Chekov parroting lines originally written for Spock and McCoy. Malcolm McDowell, whom I'd loved so much in "Time After Time" seemed too much like a bully - and he seemed to keep the silver haircut and angry face for every movie appearance ever after. I'd have loved for the film to explore the alien differences in El-Aurians. After seven fun years of TNG on TV, this movie seemed to have many missed opportunities, not to mention killing off Picard's Earth family, then not even using the same René for the "Christmas in the Nexus" scene.

I admit to feeling underwhelmed by "the franchise" after all the fun and excitement generated by TOS movies every few years and the launch of TNG on TV. The premiere night I attended was run by a fledgling ST club recovering from all the old, long-running big ST clubs being obliterated by an Australian version of the Official ST Club, who were holding a rival screening in a different location. Although the movie was fun, I'd enjoyed "All Good Things" much more, and I think TNG on the big screen might have been more compelling if the characters had been unseen in all-new adventures for a longer chunk of time, a la the TOS crew in TMP.

ST: FIRST CONTACT (1996)
My age then: 38
Where seen: Greater Union complex, Parramatta (premiere)

People certainly came out of this movie feeling like they'd gotten plenty of bangs for their bucks. It was an excellent grafting of: personal drama with SPFX space battles; TNG with its TOS roots; and use of popular themes (time travel and Borg) in fresh ways to maximise opportunities of pleasing audiences.

Again, nearly everything got leaked way before time - even preliminary sketches of the possible looks for the Borg Queen. Alice Krige, James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard all gave excellent performances. The cameos were funny (and welcome) too: the EMH, Ogawa and Barclay.

ST: INSURRECTION (1998)
My age then: 40
Where seen: Hoyts complex at Broadway Centre, Sydney (premiere)

I loved this, even though many slammed it as "like a double episode of the TV show". The cinematography and music were beautiful, and everyone gave strong performances, except maybe the development of Ru'Afo. The idea of two subjugated races - the Tarlac and the Ellora - to keep afloat what was actually a very small number of Son'a, was excellent, and would have been fun to explore in other films (or novels).

Once again, the scripts were leaked to the Internet - and I really wish I had not read the part in the script where it's revealed that the Son'a are just very wrinkled up exiled/renegade Ba'ku children, because I may not have realized until the film's Big Reveal. Gates McFadden must be wondering by now why she gets so little to do in these TNG movies.

ST: NEMESIS (2002)
My age then: 44
Where seen: Hoyts complex, Penrith Plaza (opening night)

Oh, so sad. The fans' ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy? This movie was castigated on Internet forums before more than a sentence or two had been written - and then to prove how much a failure it would be, US ST fans joined the general public to go see the opening weekend of J-Lo in "Maid in Manhattan" instead of supporting "Nemesis".

I'm talking about the many thousands of people in the USA who prejudged this movie. They had no intention of going to its first screenings, waiting for friends to tell them whether it was okay or not. Every previous ST movie had queues of fans to see it as soon as they possibly could, whether it turned out to be their favourite film or not. Many fans never even saw "Nemesis" once on the big screen, making their decisions from Internet rumours, or by a reading of the bootlegged script. So it's not just a drop-off in repeat attendees after opening weekend (such as with ST V or "Insurrection"). They didn't go even once! At least "Nemesis" won its opening in Australia, and performed well in the USA on DVD. We see more recent comments like, "Well, I finally saw 'Nemesis' on DVD and it's not as bad as I'd been dreading".

Data is my favourite TNG character and, under a more sensitive director than Stuart Baird, I might have enjoyed torturing myself by watching my favourite character sacrifice his eternal life for his captain, but ultimately the scenes fell flat. The lighting of the sets was dark and gloomy, too, and it would have been fun to get a little more canonical detail on the Romulan/Reman connection, but I actually liked Tom Hardy's performance as Shinzon, and how ironic/cruel the whole thing was turning out for still-lonely Picard. I'd have preferred more links to "Unification", and perhaps the involvement of Ambassador Spock? No big gala opening - just one work colleague who went with me to the local cinema on opening Thursday night...

This movie was no worse than other ST films (esp. ST V), but the whole exercise proved how jaded and bitter a large number of ST fans had become. After "Nemesis", they turned their ire on "Enterprise", and will no doubt lie in wait for JJ Abrams to put (any) foot wrong with his upcoming ST movie project.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Send in the clones: Leslie triplets and Galloway twins


LeslieLeslieLeslie

Someone on TrekBBS asked if it was true that poor ol' Mr Leslie, one of the longest-lived, red-shirted security guards in the original series of "Star Trek", was supposed to return from the dead - seeing how he appeared as Leslie in episodes made long after "Obsession"? That was the episode in which several guards were killed by an evil gaseous monster that sucks human red corpuscles.

The answer is, yes, the guy was more than a little concerned about his character being proclaimed dead, and the director of "Obsession" even promised him there'd be a scene where his body was successfully revived but, of course, it was never filmed.

Extras and two-line extras in television series don't usually get much say when their character is killed off, mainly because they're back next week anyway. We aren't supposed to notice that the same extra in TOS keeps playing unnamed crew in the background (let alone that he also pulls additional duty as an alien, or that he drives the 20th century truck that kills Edith Keeler).

When TOS scripts were being written in the 60s, noone ever knew which extras and which two-line walk-ons would be available for which episode, and the names were often added at the very last minute. Neither was it imagined that, 40 years later, we'd be analysing the episodes so closely that we'd realize that some extras played multiple characters in the one episode.

It was only due to William Shatner that Mr Leslie was even called the same name so often. Shatner dubbed "Leslie" by that name in honour of one of his own daughters (similarly, Mr Lemli was named for all three Shatner girls: LEslie, Melanie, LIsabeth) - and the actor who played Mr Leslie, Eddie Paskey, was Shatner's stand-in, so they did become quite close. Paskey had previously played a Starfleet character named Ryan in "The Naked Time" (and Connors in "Mudd's Women").

I've heard fans try to explain that Edward Leslie survives till the end of the series, but that poor Leslie Ryan, whom Kirk mistakes for "Lieutenant Leslie", due to their similar appearance, is the man who actually dies in "Obsession". Or is it Edward's lookalike twin brother, Ryan Leslie?

GallowayGalloway

Similarly, Mr Galloway dies in his fourth substantial TOS appearance, "The Omega Glory", and yet seemingly returns in the final episode of TOS, "Turnabout Intruder". But he's not named in that onscreen footage, only identified by a misspelt end credit (ie. "Galoway"). The answer there is that lookalike Mr Johnson, the guy whom actor, David L Ross, played in "The Day of the Dove", is the guy who appears in the TOS finale - because Galloway is still dead.

Or did Doctor Phlox the Denobulan (of "Enterprise") leave some notes on cloning human beings for Doctor McCoy to follow?

Other fans have a different explanation. Supposedly, if you place all TOS episodes in stardate order, the two problems of the resurrecting security guards disappear. But I prefer my versions - and production order, very different again to original screening order, for watching my TOS episodes.