Game of Thrones – Song of Ice and Fire Adaptation

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Characters and how they are conveyed on the screen. 

I’ve been making my way through the various books in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series recently. It would have been remiss of me to not take a look at the ‘Game of Thrones’ series while I was at it, so I downloaded seasons 1, 2 and 3 on iTunes.

One thing that typically intrigues me about adaptations is the way characters are conveyed on the screen. They don’t need to be 100% authentic for an adaptation to be effective, but the adaptation must at least capture the essential qualities of each character it portrays.

So, as I have been watching and reading, I have been mentally compiling a list of which characters have been effectively conveyed in the television series, which have been less so, and which characters have failed dismally to meet the depth of characterisation in George ‘R R’ Martin’s epic fantasy work.

Well, here it is.

Firstly Peter Baelish. I think in the novel he was a minor character with some quirks and interesting motivations. He was largely a secondary character who became more important as the other main characters kept getting killed off. I feel he was one of Martin’s less effective characters and his story arc seems to go nowhere, despite the author’s obvious intent to keep promoting a man characterised by his quick wit and machiavellian scheming. The actor who plays Lord Baelish is actually quite good, but the character is nothing like he is in the novels. He lacks the sarcasm and the wit, and comes across as dour and intense. So the depiction of Baelish is one of the many weak points where the TV adaptation fails to live up to the excellent characterisation of the novels.

Another one in the category of underwhelming page to screen transformation is the so-called Lord of Flowers, Loras Tyrell. No disrespect to the actor, but the character is described as impossibly handsome (an Edward Cullen type) and an epic sword fighter. He should be oozing with charm and ruggedly handsome, more like Heath Ledger from A Knight’s Tale. The actor in this role looks to be barely a teenager, effeminate and lacking in any sort of screen presence. His role in the TV series is marginalised and he wafts in and out of a few scenes here and there. Then again, he was another character in the novel who hardly lived up to the hype and expectations of Martin’s exposition. Not sure if that was a deliberate ploy, but many of the interesting characters were hyped up in ‘Game of Thrones’ (the novel), then virtually discarded, or killed off, for the remainder of the novels.

I’ll come back to some of the other very poorly adapted characters shortly, but I wouldn’t want readers to think that I hate the series. It’s like chocolate: it may not have any nutritional value, but it sure is addictive.

In the average category, those characters which don’t quite live up to their namesakes in the book we, first of all, have Joffrey. The scriptwriters in the series must have time to fill in order to generate hour-long episodes. Joffrey is hardly quoted in the novels; he is a simpering, half-crazed, sadistic twerp. He is well and truly under the thumb of his mother, uncle and Grandfather. Whilst some of this is conveyed in the show, he has far too much dialogue, is too domineering and has actually strategic and military knowledge. This flies in the face of his character, an incompetent boy, plagued by insecurities. The actor does a passable job, but this screen Joffrey does not do justice to the original character.

The next one on the list is Robb, the so-called king of the North, though he is never an official king and his reign is so brief to hardly warrant the title. The actor in this role is a perfect casting choice, one of the best in the series. He perfectly embodies the character, who in many respects, due to the unusual point of view utilised in the novels, is essentially a minor player. His role is well fleshed out in the show and the actor brings this to life.

Jaime Lannister is a masterwork of characterisation. Martin has repeatedly avowed his love of shades of grey in characters, and Jaime is his best character in the novel (Tyrion is a close second, though becomes something of a bore by the fifth book). The actor (Costa- Waldo?) is another perfect choice, and the adaptation faithfully renders this character, despite several plot omissions from the original.

His lover and sister Cersei falls a bit flat in the TV series. She is pure evil in the novels, a scheming, merciless woman in the same vein as Lady Macbeth. I would place her in the average category: not too bad, not too good. She lacks the same fire in the show, losing too many exchanges with her son, Joffrey,  and lacking the hint of madness and cruelty she displays in the books. The actress does a passable job, but much more could have been brought out of this role.

Catelyn Stark was a major surprise. She is hands down the worst, most annoying character in the novels. Nothing she does makes any sense; she is impulsive, irrational and makes blunder after blunder, leading to the war and senseless loss of life. Somehow, the directors of ‘Game of Thrones’ have managed to make her one of the most interesting, well-rounded and pivotal characters in the whole series. The actress is perfectly cast and does a sterling job. She brings such emotional depth to a simpering, weak character. Well done!

Daenerys Targaryen. What can one say? So many other blogs have put it better than I could. Irritating, annoying character in both the film and the novels. There is almost no redeeming feature about this character and the actress brings little depth to the role – Emilia Clarke seems fretful and indecisive most of the time she is on screen. At other times she conveys arrogance, but brings no real emotional depth to the role. I have a feeling that Martin went out on a limb in creating this character and the dragons and, once he had created them, he battled for thousands of pages to make them relevant. Perhaps he will succeed by the last novel.  They just don’t fit into a supposedly medieval fantasy novel.

Tyrion was another masterful creation from Martin. His wit is legendary and he is filled with both nobility and craftiness, despite his reputation as a lecherous imp. I guess Peter Dinklage was the logical choice for this role, so there is no benchmark to compare him to. That being said, he does a sterling job and almost lives up to the status the character achieves in print. Much of his dialogue is cut and at times the transitions are messed up, leaving him awkwardly staring into space, but he does a fine job as does the director with this one.

I might as well cover Shae, Tyrion’s lover. This is where they go way off track. They have taken far too much licence with this role, and the results are disastrous. She plays too strong a role, is too influential and nowhere near as lascivious and playful as she should be. The accent and the backstory are ridiculous and the intimacy between the two is all wrong and never seems credible.

Another one in the disastrous category is the prostitute from Winterfell, a character invented by the directors and thrown into all these influential scenes. They keep trying to make this irrelevant pointless role valid and one squirms in each scene she is in. I realise that they condense characters in adaptations, but sometimes it is better to omit them, rather than create characters that don’t link to the original story. Ultimately Joffrey kills her off, probably because the director had no idea what to do with her next.

Ygritte, Jon Snow’s lover is in the average category, neither good nor bad. And what’s with all these British accents by the way? Harry Potter used English stars because the story was set in England.  This story is set in Westeros, a fictional place, so why are they trying to make it seem like medieval England?

Jon Snow is another masterful choice, the ruggedly handsome Kit Harrington. Look, he’s not as great as they are all saying; after all he just stares around in this kind of sullen way for most of the time. But he has a lot of screen presence and his story arc is faithfully rendered, despite cuts to dialogue, scenes etc.

For sake of brevity, I will summarise the rest:

Ned Stark: utterly brilliant. Well acted, almost too well.

Sansa Stark: Adequate without being compelling.

Arya Stark: This is another character Martin perhaps should have killed off; her story arc becomes less and less plausible as the events progress; the actress plays the role convincingly.

Theon Greyjoy: Very good.

Tywin Lannister: very good portrayal by Charles Dance, though the storyline is a little ridiculous. Surely a man as sagacious as that can discover the identity of Arya Stark. I guess they had to add bits for him, given he is a known actor, and must command a certain amount of screen time.

The dragons: brilliant CGI, or whatever was used to create them.

Those are probably the main ones, if I have left out anyone, please let me know.

Eating your way through literature

I don’t know if this ever happens to you guys, but reading always makes me hungry. Whenever an author mentions a person eating something that sounds like it would taste good, immediately I crave that sort of food. Then when they mention someone drinking something, say for example a beer, I start to feel like drinking beer.

For example, I am reading East of Eden at the moment and there is a character called Lee, who, other than dispensing sage advice to the hapless family for whom he is a servant, he seems to be perpetually brewing coffee. I can’t tell you how many superfluous cups of coffee this character has prompted me to drink! In fact this character trait of offering other characters coffee is almost a cliche as the narrative is riddled with this humble service.

If you are reading Hemingway things get even worse because, as he wrote in his autobiographical work, A Moveable Feast (the title of which gives away the point I am going to make), he talks about why he inserted so many eating and drinking scenes in his novels. Just about every scene has someone drinking some unimpeachably delectable alcoholic beverage or eating copious amounts of food. This was all because Hemingway was starving at the time and could barely afford to buy lunch, so when he wrote, his thoughts drifted to the food he dreamed of eating.

So it’s interesting the way we as modern readers can be influenced by the cravings that motivated the authors initially, even though these cravings were unfulfilledbruce-lee-suit-sunglasses by the authors at the time.

 

 

 

“Would you like some coffee?”

Clothes shopping

I just read another reference to the ‘consumerism’ which is running ‘rampant’ in our society. It’s grating that this term ‘consumerism’ has been so readily integrated into the public consciousness, primarily no doubt through hypocritical left-wing writers, who want us to feel bad about our ability to buy nice things. Today, I saw the term in an opinion piece in today’s Herald Sun by Alice Clarke, which is a comic piece about the many bizarre ways people might die. She glibly lists consumerism as one thing that might kill us, as we might be ‘crushed’ by the weight of our ‘possessions’. Sure it’s humourous, but it is also a thoughtless use of a term which hasn’t been properly explored before it has been thrust on the public consciousness.

The word ‘consumerism’ first came to prominence in the book ‘Affluenza’, where the authors, whose names not surprisingly escape me, suggested that the ability for citizens in modern western nations to purchase an abundant supply of consumer goods was akin to a disease. On the one hand, if you look at the use of the terms, ‘consumerism’ or ‘materialism’ you could be sickened by the bleeding heart writers who are so desperate to point out that our society is evil that they would turn that which is ‘good’ or beneficial into something we should all feel guilty about. However, you might then fall into the same puerile trap of simplistic reasoning, which these writers have used to avoid any kind of intellectual thought on the issue. It would be good if we could at least move away from such terms and really explore what it means to buy or to own an item or as economists so coldly call them, ‘commoditities’.

But, suffice it to say, there is something troubling about our modern society when we invent a hypothetical ‘disease’ for something that all third world nations of the world would gladly contract.

I went shopping for clothes yesterday and it caused me to reflect on the process of purchasing, which presumably was simpler in former times but now seems to be bogged down in a myriad of psychological elements that give it a sort of transcendence beyond its true significance. Now when I enter a shop, I not only have to check the size and colour of a garment, to consider whether it will match the other items I have at home or whether it will be suitable for work or family gatherings, I also have to overcome the massive guilt foisted upon me by the dogooders who see buying clothes as not essential but consumerism, a sign that I am unhealthy, depressed and in need of retail therapy to attempt to fill a void in my life. The idiots who coined the term ‘retail therapy’ are little better, as this is a simplistic, glib attempt to show that we human beings can be afforded happiness by walking into a retail store, buying some clothes we don’t need and may not even wear.

I think the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes.

Clothes buying is a transaction, an interaction between people, which creates psychological stress, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of victory to the successful shopper. So when I walk into the store, I am thinking of how much money I can afford to spend. I am thinking whether or not this purchase is ‘essential’ or whether I am wasting money or buying simply to satisfy a temporary urge. There is also a myriad of brands, sizes and styles to choose from, which becomes bewildering. At the end of the day human beings must wear clothes in a civilised society and despite the trend to pay more and more to wear less and less, a certain degree of propriety is required in purchasing clothes for work or for all social situations other than lounging around at a beach resort. So when you find a garment that fits you well, for a reasonable price you justifiably feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s not that easy to do, particularly when there are so many poor quality, ill-fitting garments on display. When you purchase an item of quality you are not only incorporating that quality into your life, you are reflecting the excellence in the workmanship and the excellence used in producing the garment, something that according to our free-market economic system is called creating value.

The other element that complicates matters is the salesperson. In many stores, sales people are just so bad, and make the purchase of clothes much more difficult than it need be. Because we as consumers are very wary of ‘being sold’ an overly pushy salesperson can actually talk us out of things that we really want to buy. Having trained in sales myself, I can see the telltale signs immediately, the wrong questions, the officious tone, that impression you get as a customer that the sale is more important to them than your interests. So many times I have walked out of a store I would be happy to browse in or buy from due to the approach of the salesperson. You have to speak very clearly and state exactly what you want, avoiding the ‘games’ that buyers and sellers often get into. There is nothing worse than the feeling we have been trapped into buying something, so we avoid this strenuously when shopping, often missing out on items we genuinely want to buy.

Buying clothes (or other consumer items) is not always essential. We might have a full wardrobe but want something else, a new colour a different style. Clothes do wear out, so it is stingy and miserly to continue with the same clothes year in year out unless you are spending well beyond your budget and means. Buying clothes and items is pleasureable. You do feel good about owning new items (not necessarily paying for them, which is downright painful!) and this is why these left wing clowns are calling affluence a disease. They don’t want us to have fun with anything and they want the rest of the world to live in Stalinesque poverty while they live in their inner-city apartments sipping lattes with their mates from Greenpeace. But it is both pleasurable and essential. You cannot survive long in the workforce without quality clothes, quality computers or quality communication tools such as smart phones. At the very least, you will likely be overlooked for promotion.

Buying clothes is not an antidote to a disease, nor is it a symptom. Yet it can provide pleasure and it does, like all aspirations, result in less happiness than it promises. When I bought me suit, I was happy. It was a good fit, and I purchased it for a reasonable price. It will not be a lasting happiness, which can only be accomplished by living according to one’s innermost values, but to deny it is a pleasure and to say it only has a utilitarian purpose is to belie what the experience of shopping really is.

Review – The great Gatsby

downloadDirected by Baz Luhrmann

What can one say? I approached the Luhrmann version of Gatsby with mixed feelings. Having read several reviews it was a film that clearly polarised audiences – people either loved it or hated it. It was difficult to come to this adaptation with a fresh perspective having read the novel and seen the Redford version; as I watched I found it impossible not to make comparisons. Thus, I found myself constantly evaluating each scene in terms of whether it captured the essence of Fitzgerald’s narrative, or how effective it was by comparison to the other film version. Suffice it to say there were moments I hated and moments where I could appreciate which aspect of the narrative the director was emphasising. Trying to be as objective as possible I would say, if you hadn’t read the book or watched the previous film version you might just enjoy this film as a stand-alone achievement. Not being in that category myself, I could not bring myself to like it.

Firstly, of course there was the over-the-topness of Luhrmann, his trademark style. This was hit and miss as usual, but his style enhanced certain scenes, particularly the instance of Tobey Maguire’s character Nick Caraway getting drunk in New York. That scene had a certain theatricality that made sense.

From the perspective of an adaptation, the film had many flaws, particularly in misrepresenting characters and as a result, making some of the plot twists not making sense. Whilst The Great Gatsby was a ridiculous book in many respects, its one iconic feature was the man Gatsby himself. He was suave, sophisticated wealthy (‘I have my shirts sent over from London’) and a paragon of politeness. In the novel he is godlike, a man who Nick Caraway, the novel’s narrator idolises. Gatsby, is a self-made man, who made his wealth through bootlegging and mob connections. Despite this he remains a figure of awe in the narrative as he rises above the sordidness of the past through his idealism. His dream is that of rekindling the love of his sweetheart, Daisy. In rewriting parts of the script in this overlong film version, Gatsby’s aura is watered down, and even Leonardo DiCaprio’s iconic style and mannerisms cannot save him from appearing weak, indecisive and ineffectual. Hence Nick Caraway’s final line to Gatsby, ‘you’re better than all of them’ does not make sense as he is not presented that way in this film.

This film is too long by far and, unlike the Redford version, which was more faithful to the novel, there are some very (and I mean very) clichéd and repetitive bits of dialogue that simple make parts of the movie tiresome and tedious.  If they went to such expense with the quality of actors (it is a very good cast) and the glitzy cinematography, surely they could have spent a bit more and hired a better script writer. Let’s give you a few examples. Gatsby’s often quoted expression ‘old sport’ is quaint and charming, lending an ironic whimsy to a youthful man who employs such an old fashioned expression. It adds to the air of mystique and the aura of this self-made man  who, like Hamlet is spoken of before he makes his entrance. In this film he uses the phrase ad nauseam as though it is a nervous tick and it makes you cringe after a while as though the man was a bumbling idiot rather than a smooth talking debonair. Then there were these additional little bits here and there that did not appear in the novel but were so clichéd. Fitzgerald’s narrative, aside from being laboured, was remarkable for its original taut dialogue. Lines such as Gatsby’s ‘of course you can’ when told he could not ‘repeat the past’ were memorable and articulate examples of human pathos and idealism. Even Daisy’s lines ‘what will we do with ourselves’ hints at her near madness as she is torn by Gatsby’s impossible love for her whether to leave her unfaithful husband. Daisy was much much better portrayed in this film than in the Redfern version, which was a bizarre performance by Mia Farrow. But even in respect of this relationship, one of the main impediments to the love affair between Gatsby and Daisy was downplayed, that being her child. The scene where Gatsby meets her child is equivalent to Macbeth seeing the forest marching from Birnham Wood. He realised for all his idealism, the wealth and the strength of his dream, it just wasn’t going to happen – reality set in and the shock on his face was palpable. This scene was not even included in the Luhrmann production.

Another thing that really bothered me was the repetitiveness. One only has to watch the start of Strictly Ballroom to know that Baz loves repetition. He does the same shot and uses it over and over again as though audiences are not savvy enough to realise it is exactly the same thing. He needs to more rigorously edit his films and boy would he sharpen the impact. This ties in with the symbolism of the film. The novel, for all its tedium was laced with potent symbolism, in particular the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg, from the faded billboard. These were symbolic of God watching the characters of the novel, particularly in juxtaposition to the sordid ash heap and the sordid morality of the characters. Symbolism requires subtlety and boy the use of this symbol was a subtle as a supersized McDonald’s meal. They must have run that shot at least 7 or 8 times, to the point it lost its significance as a symbol. The film maker is treating his audience as incredibly dumb, having to repeat a ‘symbol’ so many times in order to make it clear that it is somehow ‘important’, which in this case it wasn’t, because it lost its significance.

Just one more gripe before I finish. Toby Maguire. Great actor, perfect for the role. This is actually the sad thing – the cast were perfect – who could think of a better Gatsby than Leonardo DiCapprio? (Then again, it was testing the bounds of incredulity that he was trying to portray himself as 32, even with that baby face). As Nick Caraway, Maguire he is confiding in a doctor (Jack Thomson) who advises him to write his thoughts down about Gatsby. This was the director’s way of getting around the fact that his film was based on a first person narrative and to include as much of the narration as possible. This was laughable. There was no clear explanation or rationale for Thomson’s character. One minute he was Nicks doctor, the next minute his friend, then his gardener? This was lazy storytelling. It is a film not a novel, why do we need this voiceover at all. They should have used the medium of film and shown us this information, rather than narrating it to this loveable uncle type person.

Overall, a film for those new to the Gatsby idea. Not one for the purists.

One more game

final_fantasy_2One more?

 The writing on the screen glared at me. It was a message from a gamer in the United States.

I placed my hands over my face, trying to relive the tension in my eyes. I looked at the clock, and paused trying to find the restraint and self-control I knew I would never manage to summon. I typed my response:

Sure. Why not?

We logged into the game queue and I settled into another gaming session. I had agonised over the decision to play as it meant almost certainly my writing would not get done and I would be extremely tired the next day. But I knew too that whatever disaster would befall me, the thrill of the game would be sufficient to salve any of life’s disappointments.

Everyday millions of people play video games. Many fall behind in their studies, others are taken away from friends and family and many play games addictively. I am one of those people. Gaming addiction, or as psychologist call it is pathological gaming, is not classified as a medical condition.  Though several studies have been conducted over the past ten years, and it is clear there is a negative correlation between excessive gaming and an orderly life, psychologists refer more to the ‘interference’ that may result from gaming, rather than the pathological nature of the behaviour.

It is hard to pinpoint where my passion for video games started, where ‘interference’ truly kicked in. All males have some sort of addiction. Many men are addicted to gambling, drinking, smoking or sex. I have always loved playing games, whether it be the games of Monopoly we used to play as children, or the hours spent in the casino, trying out my harebrained Blackjack strategies. With video games, unlike other forms of entertainment, there are no arbitrary limits. You can play for hours, game after game.

I never would have considered gaming an addiction; rather just something fun to do. When I was studying at university, I played Tekken 3 in the evenings, rationalising this pastime as the recreation requisite to expunge the system of lectures about the theories of Foucault and Derrida.

I make myself another drink and I choose my champion. I stretch my legs and drink hastily from the glass, easing my parched throat. League of Legends is one of many Massive Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, which are free to play and at any given time. It attracts millions of people from around the world.  It was the advent of multiplayer games online that opened up the possibility of hours of online gaming, higher excitement levels in competing with people across the world.

I suppose where I really should have seen the warning signs was the year 2003. We owned a PlayStation console and I was introduced to Final Fantasy VIII, which had exquisite graphics and an immersive storyline. One felt as much empathy for the characters and the world of the game, that it was every bit as engaging as reading about Jane Eyre’s relationship with Rochester. I was moved emotionally, psychologically and spiritually by the characters, the storyline, and the experience. Research into patterns of gaming behaviour suggest that one aspect of addiction is thinking about a game a lot while not playing it. Yet this may also be a sign of engagement.  In a game, as opposed to a novel, you feel a certain degree of control over the world of the game. It is a godlike experience – the equivalent of being a protagonist in the narrative as well as the reader (such as in Calvino’s On a winters night a traveller). Your actions can determine your character’s life or death.

I stayed home often, rose late and played Final Fantasy for hours, becoming angry at myself from my sloth and indulgence; my anger manifested itself in hostility to those around me, increasing the tension in the home. This is the idea of interference, where gaming impacts one’s work, social life or study. Gaming can have this negative impact, yet the euphoria experienced in gaming can also have positive benefits. The vocabulary my seven year old nephew has developed from gaming is incredibly mature as he confidently uses words such as: treasure chest, annihilate, installation, upgrade and inventory. His cognitive skills and sensory motor skills are likewise highly developed and his maths and reading at an above average level. Plus, most important of all, he is happy.

Real time strategy (RTS) games have always been one of my favourite forms of game and I have played these games frequently over the years. In RTS games, you move creatures so that they collectively or individually mine for gold, build structures or more typically wage war on an enemy power. I’ve never been so much into first person shooters (FPS) such as Call of Duty, which are insanely popular across the world. In 2003 I heard of the first death by video gaming. A man died of a heart attack after playing Diablo II for twelve hours. As a reflection of my then foolishness and a sign of my increasing addiction, I rushed out to buy Diablo, chuckling to myself the game must be good if someone was that passionate about it. How sick I was back then, and have I really improved at all?

I pushed my chair in, turned off the computer and looked at the clock. It was 2 am and I decided to go to bed. Our ‘team’ had lost the game badly and I knew I would not sleep well; images of the little cartoon character I controlled frequently perishing would filter in and out of my mind, not letting me rest.  My back was sore. Once a game begins there is very little that will move a gamer from his seat. As one of my students said, ‘teenage boys either have a back problem, or they don’t have a computer’. I made my way to the room. I was filled with guilt for having played so late, a guilt I knew would prevent me sleeping.

About two years ago, I discovered World of Warcraft, the War and Peace of gaming. It is a game that millions of people can play simultaneously online. It is a magical Tolkien-like fantasy-world, where even the most emaciated pimply kid is thrust into the role of the hero, cutting a swathe though a series of adventures in Azeroth, a world rich in colour and breathtaking spectacle. I played for countless hours each evening after work.  Incidentally Blizzard, the manufacturers of the game also made StarCraft, an addictive online competitive game where professional gamers (yes there is such a thing as a professional gamer) can earn up to $100 000 and which was responsible for the death of a Singaporean man.

One reason video games are not as addictive as they could be is because of something called ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ ̶  the disconnect between what a game’s story and its gameplay are about. For example in World of Warcraft, after you have dispatched one of the evil beings as per your quest, they ‘respawn’ (resurrect) almost immediately, ostensibly so that another player can kill them. And there are many things of this nature in video games where the storyline does not match the gameplay. Likewise, because so many games are about your character killing the other characters, it is just beyond credulity that you can mow down so many opponents and still be standing. These sorts of contradictions wear down even the most avid player.

Similarly, because video games are repetitive, every game, no matter how great, can become tiresome, allowing the gamer respite until the next addictive high. Game designers even manage to get around the ‘obstacle’ of a player’s avatar dying by allowing all characters to respawn, which defies logic and one needs to suspend ones disbelief to enjoy any game. Respawning only fuels the gamer’s addiction, as the game can essentially be an endless progression of killing, dying, respawning, and dying. You get the drift.

IPhone technology must also be held to account, not only in my own gaming patterns but in hooking millions of others. Like many others, I played Chaos Rings and the phenomenon, Angry Birds on my iPhone, so I essentially had hours of gaming at all times of the day and night.

All this was nothing compared to the juggernaut that awaited me. It was only a month or two after downloading World of Warcraft that a student alerted me to League of Legends, which according to some statistics is the world’s most widely played game.

I woke up the next morning, and as often was the case I was late for work. I pulled my car into the car park and made my way up the steps of the college. I had only three classes today. On occasions such as this I regretted being a gamer, though there are much worse habits I suppose. I reflect also that on occasion, having something to look forward to enhance my productivity. I would reward myself with a game after completing a round of marking, or after working on an essay.

My life for one whole year revolved around League of Legends, which, as I indicated is set in an online battle arena, where individuals are placed in teams of five to destroy the members of the other team as well as their base. It sounds so simple, but the mechanics are such that thousands of websites and thousands of YouTube clips are dedicated to advising players to improve their game. Some even play this game professionally in tournaments established by the game’s software designers, Riot games. Last year I tried to do a calculation of the time I spent playing the game and I worked it out to be 84 days out of 365, or 2016 hours in total. That was a conservative estimate. Either my gaming has become an Achilles heel or it is like the pebbles in a jar, the important part of my day that inspires productively in all the other areas.

Over the past year, I have been promoted, I have earned more money than ever before in my life, I scored distinctions on my university coursework and my students scored higher than expected on their VCE and NAPLAN tests. I read Hemmingway, Melville, and Marquez among others. All of this was peripheral. I kept fit and I remained active. Through all this the gaming was not what I lived for. It was to me like Hemmingway’s bullfights, my central theme and focus, around which all other passions, pursuits and desires revolved. Julia Cameron once said words to the effect that artists must spend time on the things they are passionate about. They are not to spend time on reading books or work alone. It is when we live according to the passions of our heart that our desire to create emerges. Likewise I think it was Goethe who said the man who has not lived should not write.

I took my coffee, my third for the day at around 11 am. The bitter feelings of the loss had subsided but were still strong in my mind. I had given competitive cycling to pursue my obsession with League. If we fail to follow our passion, our passions were not strong enough in the first place as la Rochefoucauld wrote. Gaming may not be an addition, but it is a passion and a strong one at that.

Whilst Hugh Mackay laments that we spend on average twelve minutes a day talking to our partner, and hours in front of the television or social media, how much time can you really spend talking to someone? Men need to be doing things, that’s the way we are. According to research findings published in Journal of Psychiatric Research (Ferguson, Coulson & Barnett Griffiths, 2011), experts cannot agree that such a thing as video game addiction exists. Experts refuse to declare it either a mental illness or a disorder. Likewise, studies have revealed that time spent playing games does not negatively affect academic achievement, yet engagement therein may lead to enhanced educational outcomes. The jury is still out, but when I see a happy, intelligent child like my godson it makes me happy.

I left work that evening and as I started the car, the feeling gripped me again, that familiar sensation of burning desire, the same sort of desire that saw Paris steal Helen away, that sees politicians cling to power despite broken promises, a path of lies and deception. I wanted nothing more than to return home to forget the day, to remember the night, to be in the game. To be in the game is to be in life. When I no longer play, I no longer live.

references

Mackay, H 2005 ‘Is TV violence all that bad for kids’, The Age, 3 April, retrieved 6 May 2013, http://www.theage.com.au/news/Hugh-Mackay/Is-TV-violence-all-that-bad-for-kids/2005/03/04/1109700674787.html

Ferguson, C.J, M. Coulson, J. Barnett Griffiths 2011.  ‘A meta-analysis of pathological gaming prevalence and comorbidity with mental health, academic and social problems’ Journal of Psychiatric Research 45 (12): 1573–1576 retrieved 15 May 2013, http://www.tamiu.edu/~cferguson/Video%20Game%20Addiction.pd

Made to measure

The Brian Ferrari story

For many, the name Ferrari is synonymous with formalwear in Australia. Whilst the arm operating in Victoria is no longer under Brian’s control, after establishing the company in Victoria, he went on to set up retail outlets in South Australian and Western Australia. I’ve always thought that Brian embodied success, but rather than simply project an image of success onto another human being, it’s helpful to understand their criteria for success. Many who appear successful on the outside consider themselves failures, or feel they do not measure up to the arbitrary standards of the world. So I thought I would ask Brian Ferrari, whether he met his own standards of success.

‘Well, there is no sense in being coy about the success I have enjoyed,’ he said to me, anything but coy. Brian, a childhood friend of my father’s, was always one of those very direct blokes, whose confidence radiated from him and who could command the attention of a room with his presence, voice and self-assured manner. However, rather than boast about his accomplishments, which are legion, he ascribed much of it to luck: ‘I am not saying that it is all due to luck but in my case to get into the formalwear business was lucky.’

Brian’s operation started small. He had been working as a sales representative but his ultimate desire was to run his own business. It was also the 1960s, when young men and women’s social lives comprised of attending balls and dances. The idea struck him to hire suits to the young socialites, something which potentially had low overheads and strong profit margins, given that he could easily undercut the leading suppliers of the day. Whilst clothes don’t always make the man, as Brian points out ‘every young man likes to look his best, whether it is to impress members of the opposite sex or just for his own self-image.’ Through drive and initiative, he capitalised on this fact of human nature and on the trends of the era. However, with little capital of his own, it seemed unlikely he would ever get the venture off the ground.

Young and brimming with self-confidence, Brian was driven by the goal of getting his ‘own business’ with his ‘name over the door’.  This was where the luck came in to the story. By choosing to enter the hire business, it allowed him to start up with only a small outlay and grow the business, redeploying the cash flow it generated. Funded in part by an entrepreneurial aunt, and beginning the business from his mum’s front room, he established a thriving dinner suit hire company. ‘Many businesses fail because they grow too quickly’ reflects Brian wistfully. He saw it as another stroke of luck to have got into the business at the ‘right’ time and that it was an operation that could run with few overheads so that he did not have to take out additional loans, without which many businesses find it  ‘impossible’ to operate, and which can destroy them in periods of economic decline.

Brian has an ebullient smile and his face is full of life, exuding the confidence that comes across in his words. He reflects that the ‘timing’ for when he entered the business was not only luck but a ‘blessing’. And it is Brian’s talk of faith and luck, his deep spirituality, which is both endearing and surprising. His ego is not such that everything happened at a particular whim of his.  ‘Again, I got into the business at the right time,’ he maintains.  He humbly accepts that everything did not come down to his own brilliance. Brian Ferrari, however, is enough of a straight shooter to evaluate his own efforts. ‘Enough about luck.’ he said, demonstrating his plucky, determined nature. ‘You cannot live on luck alone.’ He relates how he ‘honestly just loved’ his work, the striving and the world of business.

Brian contrasts the exhilaration he got from making a sale or closing a deal with the ‘unpleasant’ experience that characterised his school days. As an asthmatic boy who missed many lessons, the stinging rebuke he received at the hands of a school master: ‘You’re a fool Ferrari! What are you?’ seared his memory, poisoning him against education.  Instead of caving in, Brian found a new lease of life in the world of work. Despite having no qualifications he not only received praise for what he was doing but money. That he was ‘appreciated’ motivated him greatly, and who can blame the man?

It was this willingness to do well, to provide value to others, that motivated Brian to establish the formalwear stores and to pour so much time and effort into getting it right. His fastidiousness is a hallmark of his, and he ensured his franchise stores were immaculately presented, with brand new clothes on display in a spotless store. Even the dry-cleaning plant, which he purchased rather than outsourced, was kept tidy, something unheard of in dry-cleaning outlets. Brian would meet with his dry-cleaning staff for coffee at five in the morning, which was their start time, in order to have plenty of stock in his stores. He did lots of things like this that seemed to be common sense, but which were anything but common. Unlike many people today, who are motivated simply for material possessions, ‘trinkets’ were never Brian’s main motivation. Whilst he won’t deny his cars and mansions give him pleasure and represent earnest of success, they are also a potential Achilles’ heel for those continually keeping up with the Jones’s. Rather, ‘achievement is the key to happiness’.

Whether it was going out individually to measure up sixty young debutantes for suits personally or ensuring that all items of stock were displayed precisely, passion was always a strong driving force.  Money was never Brian’s main object but rather what he saw as ‘a by-product of doing things properly.’ Such is his drive for perfection, he will only wear a pair of trousers once before having the professionally dry-cleaned.  Passions run deep in the Ferrari veins, translating into competitive sporting triumphs as a football coach and competitive golfer, so when he describes the role of money in life, the sporting analogies slide off the tongue: ‘It’s like playing any sport you like to name. Don’t keep looking at the scoreboard, keep your eye on the ball and stay with the game plan. The scoreboard will keep ticking over if you are doing the right things.’  The fact that Brian was able to ‘continue in the same field for many years’, where his innate common sense has led him to make ‘good decisions’ at the ‘right times’, enabled him to consolidate his wealth and experience over time.

Something you don’t hear too often from successful business men is their reliance on their faith in God. A devout Catholic, despite the guilt inducing torture of a Catholic education, Brian is quick to emphasise the extent to which he relies on ‘faith’.

‘It is difficult to explain because one cannot touch it or paint it or put it in one’s pocket but the gift of faith is super important to me. I draw on it in times of stress and self-doubt.’

More a ‘realist’ than an ‘optimist’, he sums up his attitude to faith with the scripture: ‘faith without works is dead’ to indicate that faith is not an excuse for lethargy and moral turpitude. He is overflowing with gratitude, which is characteristic of man of the wealthy people with whom I have been associated, and instead of bolstering his ego further, he emphasises he did not make it alone. Likewise, his love of family is evident in the way he talks of his great love, his wife Marie, and their three children, two of whom are currently running the formalwear operations.

It was family and faith that helped the great Ferrari to pull though the hardest moments in his life. In 1976, after having already made a fortune in menswear and formalwear, the Ferraris almost lost everything. Through some overcapitalisation and a general economic downturn, Brian’s five stores were forced into liquidation. He almost lost the family home as a result in what he refers to as, ‘the most stressful part of my life so far. I had five beautiful menswear stores one day and lost the lot the next.’ Hubris can occur to almost all people, no matter how great. ‘Basically I got too big for my boots,’ admits Brian regarding why this situation came to pass.

‘Because of the success which had followed me I thought I was invincible. I genuinely felt that all I had to do was put my name over the door and all would be well. I took my eye off the ball and immersed myself in pleasures far removed from the day to day life of a businessman.’

It was a trying time and they lost a lot of money. Forced to tighten their belts, they resorted to a much less lavish lifestyle, essentially starting from scratch. Brian returned to work full time and wife Marie worked in the store to keep overheads low.  Despite the strain on the finances, the family actually became closer as a result. He credits Marie with putting in a huge effort to turn things around. Through her faith and encouragement, Brian rebuilt not only his business but his shattered sense of self-worth. He and Marie were able to rebuild a successful menswear and formalwear business and while hard work, goal setting and frugality were essential components, ‘faith played a big part.’ At this point in the interview Brian struggles to explain the importance of faith seeking to put the transcendent into mere words: ‘I don’t know how it works, it just does.’

Nowadays Brian devotes himself to golf and travel, while his sons Anton and Bevan run the company he started and which bears his name.  ‘I do not play an active role in the business these days.’ Whilst he has every confidence in them, he does occasionally oversee, ‘the figures that they produce’. He jokingly dismisses getting seriously involved again indicating that no one over fifty can be taken seriously in fashion: ‘to convince a young bride of a trend when you look like her grandfather is a difficult proposition’.

Incredulity in the time of cholera

One thing I have learned in my course of studies in writing is that the great authors can make us believe what they write. Just recently I read Lord of the flies and whilst the premise is as simple and ridiculous as any invented by a high school student, the way the narrative is written evokes credulity, and one can visualize the terror Ralph experiences on the island as he is being chased by marauding teenage savages.
On the other hand I’m struggling to believe anything Marquez writes in his Love in the time of cholera . A fourteen year old girl for whom an affair with a geriatric man is a Sunday paradise? The same man with a crush on another man’s wife that has lasted fifty years. Seriously? It’s a labour just to get to the end of this tediously written book and the implausible storyline makes it all the more
difficult.

The Artists’ Trail

The artists’ trail. It looked straight forward enough in the brochures. Along the beaches at various points were representations of paintings from famous painters who had painted the landscapes of Sorrento. By calling the scenic attraction ‘the artists’ trail’ the implication, in my mind at least, was that it was one attraction, a walk connecting the various representations and their inspired settings which one could comfortably do in a day.
I discovered that it was not so much as a trail, but several isolated attractions. There were fourteen different vantage points from which one could view impressions of famous paintings, all marked on the map we picked up from the tourist information centre. It was my goal to walk the whole distance in one day and rather than start at number one, the painting by Albert Tucker, we would start at the last of the sights, a painting by John Percival at a place called Diamond Cove. Well, it took a good hour or more to get to see Percival’s Ocean Beach Sorrento and on the way we had passed paintings thirteen and twelve. At this rate, to view all of the paintings and their scenic vistas would take more time than we had allocated for our holiday.

We trekked onward and finally got to number fourteen, not before I had discovered that one of my toenails was cutting deep into another one of my toes, causing pain with every step. Shortly after this a blister appeared on the big toe of my right foot. Along the way, on this artistic trail with views that inspired these artists to bring along their easels, their Beaujolais and their strumpets, you would expect to be overawed by the beauty of the natural surroundings. Rather I found myself making furtive, cursory glances at the sea when it ducked above the ridge of shrubs that fenced in much of the trail and only staying briefly at the lookout spots on top of cliffs and promontories, the sight from which the painters had drawn their inspiration; for the most part, however, we kept trudging on, one foot after another, as I tried not to land too heavily on my blister or my nail-incised toe, both of which were heavily bandaged with the tissues I had packed. The view became only what was ahead of me and my focus was taking one step at a time on heavy sand, trying to avoid rolling my ankle on the rocks that were protruding from the trail at various intervals.

I wondered if the artists whose works we were traipsing up and down the coastline to see suffered similar or worse privations than the ones we were. Suffice it to say we did not even make it back to London Bridge to see what would have been painting eleven in the series. Our walk had taken us from our apartment to the extreme edge of the Sorrento ocean beach and on to the Portsea back beach via meandering trails, walking over heavy, cascading sands in increasingly severe sunshine. I had realised by now that to visit all of the paintings in one day was not necessarily the intent of the tourist attraction and indeed I noticed that in the listed directions contained in the brochure, for most sites, instructions were given as to how to access the sites via the motor vehicle.

On becoming a writer

The task of writing is not easy. It is a creative, artistic venture with little guarantee of success. The impact on my writing this trimester can be characterised by three main themes: firstly that the unconscious mind is of paramount importance in the writing process; secondly that, although it is important to read the works of other authors and to read them critically, a writer must pursue their own path. The course of reading and writing has also caused me to reflect also upon an aspect of the craft I had possibly been neglecting, that of paying attention to concrete details, which is crucial for starting out and for producing lasting works of fiction.

The unconscious plays an important role in shaping the artist’s work, particularly in the formative stages of the work. Prior to undertaking this course I had used a number of the strategies outlined by Kate Grenville (1999) to develop my writing. Grenville advocates the use of diary entries or choosing random dictionary words to use as a springboard for ideas from which the artist might improvise a passage of writing (1999). These methods are useful to start the writing process and to ensure the writer is not ‘blocked’. Likewise, Julia Cameron (1994) advocates writing what she calls ‘morning pages’ (p.9), a form of free writing that is not concerned with the appropriateness or accuracy of the material but rather forces the writer to write quickly so as to get used to writing and using the unconscious mind to generate ideas. Dorothea Brand (1934) refers to this process as ‘free writing’ and her invocation to ‘rise half an hour or a full hour earlier than you customarily rise’ (p. 47) in order to write down thoughts, recollections or stream of consciousness prose is a helpful and invigorating suggestion. Applying this to my writing has enabled me to write without self consciousness or critical appraisal and has contributed to an abundant output.

The unconscious mind filters information taken in from the outer world through our senses and can be trained to create artistic interpretations of what we perceive of our reality. As writers we need to overcome the blockages to the creative flow by renewing or refreshing our storehouse of treasures (experiences), which we can process, evaluate and use as material for our creative undertakings. Brand (1934) considers the genius as one who can view the world with the eyes of a child. Writers must have a dual self, in that they must look at the world carefully, sharpening their perspectives through acute observation. As if I was not burdened with guilt prior to this, upon reflection that we writers must not be caught up in the trivial problems of humanity (Brand, 1934) but rather soar above them like benevolent eagles, who do not contend themselves with trivialities, I am now self flagellation to an even higher degree. Particularly as I consider how frequently not only am I preoccupied with these so called trivial thoughts but so too is my writing! I am more encouraged by Julia Cameron’s instruction to take an ‘artist date’ (p. 18) or to take a weekly walk a means by which we artists fill the ‘well’, our collection of experiences and perceptions that we use when composing our art. It certainly is important to open up our perceptions, to watch life more carefully and to focus our attention. I have begun to deliberately pay more attention to what is going on around me, noticing little details, which will be stored away for a later date and included (possibly) in a creative work.

This idea of developing a bank of resources in the unconscious mind which will later be translated into fictional sketches illuminates another aspect of writing; the double life of the writer. On the one hand there is the author of the work, which as Margret Atwood (2002) suggests, is ‘the only part that may survive death’ (p.39). It is not the real human being in a sense but the individual author who fashions from life experience a world of apparent reality. Then there is the individual themselves ‘when no writing is going forward’ (p. 30) who is locked in a ‘symbiotic’(p.32) relationship with the author, as it is from their actual lives the material is drawn to create their writing. My own life often feels like a dry run for my fictional writing as I often find myself looking at a person or a situation to see whether there is something I would like to write about them. Brand (1934) contemplates this dual nature as on the one hand, adult, being ‘the artisan, the workman and the critic’ (p.39) and on the other being the author of ‘genius’ who lives spontaneously and responds ‘freshly and quickly to new scenes (p. 38). The latter phase she refers to as the unconscious aspect of the writer, which she believes is from whence the ‘story arises’ (p.47). This is encouraging to me as I have little attention to detail and love working from my unconscious. I am learning to apply my critical faculties to my work so as to produce work of better quality.

In order to commence any piece of writing an artist must use a variety of strategies to lead into the writing. As well as the free writing (Brand, 1934), an assortment of other efforts can be made to play around with language so as to coax our thoughts onto paper. I found Hazel Smith’s word exercises (2006) invaluable in developing ideas for a story and in shaping characters and situations from the ether. For example her task of using a referent, which she defines as a ‘specific idea, or event’ (p.18), which can form the basis of a piece of writing, enabled me to work on a short piece based on the idea of a map, some of which is as follows:

It was hot and all he had in his hands were the compass and the map. What he hoped to accomplish was uncertain; he wanted to get to the creek, after which his hopes were a little obscure.

He wandered for an hour before he collapsed, head in his hands. As he gazed up, he saw water, pristine, blue and diaphanous. He ran forward, immersed himself in the clear, crystal lake; his map was discarded, crumpled on the sand and the sun, strong overhead, burned his flesh. With no plan for the moment beyond now, no prospect of salvation, he felt alive.

Smith advocates the use of other strategies such as ‘word pools’ (p. 17), which force the writer to choose words randomly and place these in order as they occur to you. Many of these strategies are great at not only getting a story rolling but also enabling one to progress even in a more advanced stage of a narrative when the author may feel constrained. I will incorporate these strategies into my writing so as to handle the various situations I will encounter.

Something that is counterintuitive – and perhaps harder to grasp, but at the same time liberating – is the idea that artists should not slavishly follow the methods, style or career of other authors. Indeed there may be pitfalls to the approach and it may be counterproductive. According to Krauth (2001), writers must read the works of others who have gone before them from whom they will discover a ‘passion for seeing the world, and for writing about it’ (p 168). Ultimately the work they produce must be their own. Krauth cautions would be writers that ‘the road already taken by one individual may not be the pathway forward for another’ (p. 169), suggesting that a degree of individuality and a search for one’s own unique voice is an essential part in the success of the emerging artist. Brande (1934) also stresses the importance of studying the ‘masters of English prose writing’ to an exacting standard, but to avoid slavishly modelling one’s own style on their works. Writers must avoid the temptation to ‘imitate’ by discovering one’s own tastes and preferences’ (p.84). Often writers can feel too overwhelmed by their predecessors or feel that their favourite author is the ideal artist to emulate. It is refreshing to hear that our own voices can emerge strong after we cultivate these tastes and the experience of putting our thoughts on paper. Often, upon hearing the advice of other writers I have experienced a sensation would be a feeling akin to being shackled. Whilst these authors are no doubt well intentioned their advice has left me cold, believing they have little fresh insight into my own writing or that I have to go back to basics and relearn everything and hence all of the work I have done over the past few year is wasted, a dead end. However, the thought that I am free to pursue my own path is liberating.

Another important element of fiction writing is the noticing and recording of concrete details, rather than abstract concepts. In fact writers use characters, actions and descriptions to reveal more nuances of meaning than the mere description of concepts could. This is an area of weakness in my writing I hope to overcome and will seek to notice more and record more of the myriad of details I notice around me. In ‘good’ stories, according to the writer, Flannery O’Connor (2006), the ‘characters are shown through the action, and the action is controlled through the characters’ (p. 523), enabling the reader a glimpse into the surface and deeper meanings of the text. She feels it is a failing of many authors that they wish to write about problems or thematic concerns rather than about people or about clearly defined situations. Whilst an author may maintain their moral framework, she argues that ‘fiction operates through the senses’ and, hence, the reader must be made to ‘feel’ in order to be convinced by the story (p. 524). Use of detail is crucial in capturing essential ‘human truths’ according to James Wood (p. 71, 2008). We need to be careful in including details as they might give us insight into a character’s thinking and ‘palpability’ rather than abstract ideas are enticing to a reader (Wood, 2008). Once again this causes me to reflect on the importance of observation and to be more careful with the symbolic and literal meaning of the details I include.

The process of how a story unfolds is also fascinating in that the author does not often have complete control over the direction the narrative is heading in. The writer should be surprised by the journey they are taken on by their writing, as the plot or characters develop in ways they may not have planned or foresaw. Kevin Brophy (2003) suggests the writer is drawn ‘forward by curiosity about where the words might lead’ (p.142) and it is our ‘passion’ that excites us as authors to keep writing until we arrive at the end of the story. When Kate Grenville started a project that would become Lillian’s Story, she started out with no clear direction of where she might take the story (2006). Using whatever time she had at her disposal she started with ‘free association’ (p.144). She continued to write believing that it was better to have questions in her mind about where the story would go rather than a clear idea or ‘answer’. These examples have allowed me to explore ideas in my writing that I may otherwise be afraid to tackle. I am able to invent characters and allow my unconscious mind to determine what happens to them and how a particular story will evolve, rather than be constrained by a definite plan at the outset.

Writing is a painstaking process but obliviously a worthwhile one for the way that it enables readers to be transported into a place of fantasy, where they identify with characters and feel part of the story of humanity as it struggles with ambiguous morality and immense challenges. It is also a craft which requires the adherence to certain skills and strategies such as free writing, referents and sharp observations of the world around us. What I take away particularly from my experiments with writing and the expert opinions on the art form is the fact that the form is always changing and this allows fledgling artists such as myself to carve our own niche without self consciousness or the need to implicitly follow the masters before us.

References

Atwood, M. (2002). Negotiating with the dead: A writer on writing. London: Virago Press.

Brophy, K. (2003). Explorations in creative writing. Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Cameron, J. (1994). The artist’s way. London: Pan Macmillan.

O’Connor, F. (2006). Writing short stories. In L. Anderson (ed.), Creative writing; a workbook with readings (pp. 523-32). Oxford: Routledge.

Grenville, K. (1999). The writing book (2nd ed.). Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin.

Grenville, K. (2006). Searching for the secret river. Melbourne: Text Publishing.

Krauth, N (2001). Learning writing though reading. In B. Walker (ed.), The writer’s reader: a guide to writing fiction and poetry (pp. 167-71). Sydney: Halstead Press.

Smith, H. (2006). The writing experiment. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin.

Wood, J. (2008). How fiction works. London: Jonathan Cape.

The night to be much observed

Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honour the LORD for the generations to come. Exodus 12:40

We kept the tradition handed down for generations. We observed the special night which for the Israelites acknowledges their passage from slavery to freedom and which for Christians marks the date when Christ was crucified in order to free us from the slavery of sin.
It was a beautiful occasion. Simple, but full of the abundance the Lord has provided. Our meal consisted of two lamb roasts – perfect, without fat, like the Passover lamb. I was excited to be able to cook with my mother again as we created a sumptuous feast of lamb, scalloped potatoes, salad and dessert. Working together we put the meal together in about an hour and everything was cooked within two hours.
We made everything without yeast, as the night marked the transition into the first day of unleavened bread, where for Christians this means not only removing leaven from our homes but symbolically reflecting on the sacrifice of Christ, which has removed the leaven of sin from our lives.
As we sat down to eat our roast potatoes, the lamb – which was cooked to perfection in rosemary and olive oil and sliced expertly with mum’s electric knife ‒ we read scriptures, we shared the communal wine; and the blending of the Church of God and Catholic traditions, which was probably a first for humanity, had never seemed so sublime.
Everything about the meal was perfect: the potatoes were cut into thin slithers, covered in onions and bathed in a cream before being cooked in the oven. The pumpkin was melt-in-the-mouth good and the salad, which I made even with my limited experience of putting together salads, was the ideal accompaniment to the hot food.
Then the desert was another blessing from the Almighty. We used unleavened bread, the rice mountain bread from my beloved Coles to make bread and butter pudding. Not just any bread and butter pudding. This one was laced with generous servings of butter and jam to give it extra sweetness and was served in separate ceramic dishes for each diner.
The fellowship between us was also convivial and most of the discussions theological. For me this was slightly less engaging than the political discussions I am accustomed to but it suited the occasion. Fellowship, brilliant food, a reverence for the Lord. This is what we can expect and look forward to in God’s Kingdom. Praise be to heaven that we received our taste of this on Friday.