Incident at Chappaquiddick

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Looking back with the 20/20 vision of an Oxford historian, it’s pretty clear July 1969 was a firecracker month in American antiquity on at least a number of counts.

On July 8th the very first troop withdrawals were made from Vietnam. 13 days later Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first steps on the moon. And the Manson murders, the crime that many attribute to killing off forever the carefree flower-power era of the 1960’s, were only a few weeks away. Somewhere wedged amongst all that upheaval and horizon-transforming change was the incident at Chappaquiddick.

This post is mostly intended as a film review of the movie CHAPPAQUIDDICK which has just been released in cinemas here in Brisbane this week. To pull that off effectively however, a brief history lesson, like it or not, must accompany the price of admission.

The events which occurred on Friday night July 18, 1969, and became known as the Chappaquiddick Incident, involved a single-vehicle car accident that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts.

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The major difference between these two photographs is that today the bridge sides are protected by parallel-fenced guard rails. In July 1969 these were not yet installed.

CHECK THIS VIEW

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A little after midnight on this date, a car driven by 37-year-old Senator Ted Kennedy (youngest brother of John F. Kennedy – the 35th President of the United States – and Senator Robert F. Kennedy) plunged off a narrow, single-lane wooden crossing known as Dyke Bridge into tide-swept Poucha Pond. The car sunk to the bottom of the water channel with the occupants still inside. Ted Kennedy, who was married at the time to his 1st wife Joan, was able to swim free but his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne was trapped in the submerged vehicle and drowned. 

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Deepening the tragedy and scandal of the incident was the fact that Kennedy did not report the accident to police until ten hours after it occurred and the prevailing view at the time was he could have done more to try to rescue the life of his passenger. Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury, and later received a two-month suspended jail sentence.

The Chappaquiddick Incident became a nationally known controversy, and likely influenced Kennedy’s decision not to campaign for President in 1972 and 1976. Ted Kennedy went on to  have a long and successful career in politics, serving in the United States Senate for over forty years until his death from brain cancer in 2009. His memoir True Compass was published three weeks after his death.

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 At the inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne held in January of 1970, John Farrar, who was the captain of the Edgartown Fire Rescue unit and the diver who recovered Kopechne’s body  alleged that she died from suffocation rather than from drowning or from the impact of the overturned vehicle.
He hypothesised that Mary Jo Kopechne had survived for at least one hour after the crash by breathing in air that formed in an air pocket inside the submerged vehicle. He further concluded that had Ted Kennedy alerted authorities immediately after the crash happened instead of waiting ten hours to do so, Mary Joe Kopechne could have been removed alive from the car. This is the theory of the accident depicted in the movie.

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I saw the movie CHAPPAQUIDDICK at Indooroopilly cinema last Saturday afternoon with around 16 other people in the theatre. ‘Engrossing‘ is one superlative that comes to mind when I search for how to recount the experience of this film. ‘Masterfully authentic’ and ‘sublimely nuanced’ are two others.

Australian actor Jason Clarke (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, TERMINATOR GENISES, EVEREST) who cut his acting chops on HOME AND AWAY back in the early 2000’s, perfectly portrays the detached, born-to-privelage senator Ted Kennedy in a hairs-stand-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck-it’s-so-real Oscar-worthy performance.

Ps. Wanna travel back in a time machine?

Capture Then CLICK HERE or HERE or if you’re a conspiracy theorist HERE

Pss. A selection of the many, many books written on the subject over the years..

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Psss.  This week’s bonus read is an article written under the headline

Kennedy Clan Tries to Sink Chappaquiddick Film

detailing how pressure was placed on the producers of the movie from very powerful people not to release the film.

READ IT HERE

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Letter from Her Maj – Again!

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I truly feel like my ship – alright, under the circumstances, better make that royal yacht – has come in.

A letter from the Queen will do that to you.

Then again, once you’ve had one letter from Her Royal Highness the others after that tend to be a bit ‘meh’. Right?

Wrong!

Like popping bubble wrap or running your fingers through your hair after getting a haircut or even opening your eyes in the morning and realizing it’s Saturday, some things never lose their appeal.

Last time I received a letter from Queen Elizabeth II (HERE) (not to be confused with Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533 -1603) was back in October of last year on the occasion of SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK recording its 100th follower.

This time she’s bestowing her royal congratulation for  SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK notching its 200th follower. And while there’s nothing that can quite beat the feeling of that very first time, may I say that, like tennis ace Roger Federer recording his 20th Grand Slam career title back in January with his victory in the Australian Open Final, it’s a thrill you never tire from.

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I’d like to show it to you if I may…

Dearest Glen,

It seems like only yesterday all the blessed here at Buckingham Palace were gathered around the royal fireplace warming ourselves with the news that SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK (is that how you say it?) had gathered, like goji berries in a blue ribboned basket, 100 dedicated and true followers.

And now to hear you have summoned 200 loyal subjects to your breast is indeed heartening news of the finest virtue. To mark the occasion I have commissioned a special certificate for you which you may place in your Throne  Room  Trophy Room, if you have one of those.

You may have heard that I have plans to retire from official duties sometime in the near future and hand over the daily slog reins of power to my son Prince Charles the Duke of Cornwall.

What you have heard is true and so I say that by the time you reach your next landmark of 300 loyal servants it is very possible that it is he not I who will give regards to your achievement. I would like to take this opportunity therefore, to again personally wish you every success for the future of your little endeavour.

With warmest wishes and kindest felicitations,

Her Royal Majesty

Queen Elizabeth II

Ps. Would it be too bold of me to enquire, should SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK at some point in the future reach the right royal milestone of say.. 500 followers, that you may consider upgrading the name to something a little, how should I put this, classier? Like maybe SCENIC WRITER’S PALACE ?  Just asking…

Ps. For this weeks book recommendation we go retro with a funny 1992 novel by English humorist Sue Townsend (1946 -2014) called THE QUEEN AND I. This book was adapted to become a stage play and the author penned a sequel titled QUEEN CAMILLA in 2006.

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Here’s the plot synopsis –

When a Republican party wins the General Election in Britain,, their first act in power is to strip the royal family of their assets and titles and send them to live on a housing estate in the Midlands.

Exchanging Buckingham Palace for a two-bedroomed semi in Hell Close (as the locals dub it), caviar for boiled eggs, servants for a social worker named Trish, the Queen and her family learn what it means to be poor among the great unwashed.

But is their breeding sufficient to allow them to rise above their changed circumstance or deep down are they really just like everyone else?

This book should in no way be confused with another title by the same name THE QUEEN AND I by Edward A. Weiss penned in 1979.

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Pss. Sticking with the royal theme, the other morning I was awake at 1am sharpening my maths skills by attempting to calculate how many hours sleep I would get if I fell asleep ‘right now’, when, in desperation, I did what any normal person would do when they can’t sleep and switched on the television.

Fortunate enough to somehow avoid the info-commercials for exercise equipement and non-stick fry pans, I lucked upon an episode of a send-up comedy series on Channel 7 called THE WINDSORS which hilariously depicts the royal family.  Funny.  Real funny. 

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GET A TASTE HERE

Psss. ABBA back at Number 1 on the music charts? Mama Mia!  With news late last month the 70’s supergroup will be releasing their first new music in 35 years sometime during 2018, this is a definite cellphone-vibrating-in-your-pocket announcement  for the entertainment industry.

To those who say it’s comparable to Arnold Schwzenegger making a return to body building or Bill Clinton attempting to re-enter the Senate (or even one-of-a-kind Cher touring again.. no wait… isn’t she coming to Brisbane with a show in September?) I say – you can damage your washing machine if you put in too much washing powder but is that going to stop you from trying to stay clean altogether? As metaphors go that one’s probably up there with a 1970’s homemaker mixing their clothes whites with their washing tie-dyes – something you would never do – but since the group’s first new song is entitled “I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU” we’ll all just have to wait and see what comes out, as they say, in the wash.

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Pssss. The bonus reads keep on coming and this week is no exception. The good folk at THE BOOK DEPOSITORY have put together a list of  95 OF THE BEST BOOKS OF ALL TIME. (SEE IT HERE) Making it onto the list was Raymond Chandler‘s classic 1953 hard-boiled (as opposed to soft-boiled) detective novel THE LONG GOODBYE. Chandler considered this work his best book and it was made into a film starring one of my favourite actors, Elliot Gould, in 1973.

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And that concludes this week with what has indeed been another long goodbye from SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK.

Weird Gardening Tips (I’ve heard a few)

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On the eve of World Naked Gardening Day this Saturday, hear me when I say I’m definitely no gardener.

About as far as I stray into the horticultural realm is mowing the lawn once a month, and I definitely wouldn’t class that as any kind of  enjoyable hobby.

In fact, the last time I can remember having dirt under my fingernails was probably sometime back as a kid when I used to get paid twenty cents to ‘trim the edges’ with a pair of blunt secateurs.

Yep, wouldn’t know my pumpkin seeds from my petunias, my potash from my perennials.

What I do know, however, is knee-slapping strangeness not to mention priceless quirkery when I see it.

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My wife is the one with the green thumbs in our family. Recently she’s taken to borrowing gardening magazines from our local library in an effort to grow her knowledge on all things soil/fertilizer/compost/organic/garden insect related.

This has afforded me the opportunity, on a few occasions, to casually leaf through some issues as they lay open on the lounge room coffee table and behold some truly wonderous and original gardening tips.

I’m not talking about your standard ‘use crushed eggshells for a calcium rich soil’ type of advice nor your ‘powdered milk and human urine (separately or together) are just the trick for healthy tomato plants order of instruction. Forks in the garden to keep animals away? Who doesn’t do that? And as for the ‘ol aspirin in the vase-water to keep cut flowers fresh? Your Nan was doing that a hundred years ago!

No siree.

What I’m talking about is the hardcore, twilight zone/full moon type of weirdness passing itself off as post-new age botanical genius. Try this little gem on for size for instance –

“Why not scissor the cups out of your old brassieres and set them out in your annual garden as little domes to protect fragile seedlings? It looks wacky but it sure does the trick!”

Then there’s this –

“Calling all Tooth Fairies! Don’t throw away your kids’ teeth. Save them up until you have a good third cupful, then scatter them around your tulip beds come spring, and you won’t lose one bulb to marauding squirrels. Scares the dickens out of them, I guess!”

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There was also a whole page article in one publication espousing the benefits of nude gardening. And the voodoo-science-backed ‘benefits’ listed didn’t extend to just the health and well-being of the person doing the gardening, but, if you can believe this, to the garden itself as well!

I’ve actually clipped this and magnetized it to my fridge. I plan to keep it there at least until the end of this weekend.

As to the first Saturday in May being World Naked Gardening Day, no, I’m not making that up. Can you believe its been a thing internationally since 2005!?

Ironically, not what you’d call one of your garden-variety awareness days that’s for certain.

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Ps. This week’s recommended read is THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN – a 2008 mystery novel from best-selling Australian author Kate Morton (Explore her website here) Since graduating from the University of Queensland in 1999, Kate Morton has gone on to sell more than 10 million books in 42 countries.

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The plot synopsis for THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN reads –

A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own.

On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, “Nell” sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family.

But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled.

This book reputedly simmers with secrets and is cleverly structured like a Russian doll, with stories within stories, histories inside histories.

Pss. More recently published (last month) is the satirical novel BOB HONEY WHO JUST DO STUFF penned (sorry!) by Hollywood actor/director Sean Penn. The story centers on a man named Bob Honey, who after his wife leaves him, becomes an international assassin who kills elderly people with a mallet.

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Reviews of BOB HONEY WHO JUST DO STUFF have been decidedly ‘mixed’. This week’s bonus read is from a Canadian book reviewer who explains in detail why he considers Penn’s book ‘the worst novel in human history’.

READ WHY HERE

Psss. Spotted in traffic this week (if the definition of the word ‘traffic’ includes the bottom end of my street) was a car sporting a SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK rear window sticker. As far as car accessories go, surely this has to be right up there with the iPad car headrest mount, moisture-sensing windscreen wipers and an in-car mini pizza oven.

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Images of War

 

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Sometimes you have to scratch your head and wonder

What are the chances on a battlefield hosting opposing armies that two bullets fired through the air at the same time from rival soldiers would hit mid-air, one becoming lodged in the other?

The two enmeshed bullets in the photo above were found in 1916 in Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli which raged for nearly ten months during World War I.

On Wednesday of this week Australia commemorated ANZAC DAY. In recent decades this day of remembrance has been used to pay tribute to those who have given their life in the service of their country in armed conflicts and wars around the world. ANZAC DAYS’ original meaning was intended to honour Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had died in just one battle – Gallipoli.

Australian school children are taught that this decisive conflict of World War I, in which an estimated combined total of nearly 400 000 soldiers on all sides died, was a defining ‘coming of age’ moment in our nation’s history (as it was in Turkey‘s).

All wars are extreme experiences that shape and test the will of a country as well as altering its trajectory into the future.  Quotes about war abound but who ever first said –

“War does not determine who is right, only who is left.”

was definitely punching above their weight in the philosophical stakes that day. To mark the occasion from Wednesday I’d like to chronicle this collection of personally curated memorable images from major armed conflicts over the last seven decades.

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A line of soldiers march in British Columbia on their way to a waiting train as five-year-old Whitey Bernard tugs away from his mother’s hand to reach out for his father.

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Flames and smoke surround the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral which was left unscathed during the start of a German incendiary bomb “blitz” on London.

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Mass paratrooper drop in the snow during WWII.

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British troops examine captured Nazi mini-tanks. The allied troops nicknamed these German weapons ‘Doodlebugs’. They were run with a joystick operated by a controller. Each mini-tank had coiled within its compartments 650 metres of cable leading back to the controller. ‘Doodlebugs’ were meant to slide under Allied tanks and deliver their explosive payload to the vulnerable undersides of their much larger machine cousins.

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Using overhead targets, a North Vietcong militia company practices firing ahead of speeding aircraft in Thanh Tri. Even using antiquated WWII rifles such as these, the Vietnamese were able to cripple or down many U.S. aircraft.

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An improvised operating room in a mangrove swamp on the Ca Mau Peninsula in South Vietnam. Ethnic Cambodian guerrilla Danh Son Huol is on the stretcher.

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Activists meet in the Nam Can forest, Sth Vietnam, wearing masks to hide their identities from one another in case of capture and interrogation.

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After spending more than five years in a North Vietnamese POW camp, Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm is reunited with his family at Travis Air Force Base, March 13, 1973.  This Pulitzer Prize winning photograph came to symbolize the end of United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and the prevailing sentiment that military personnel and their families could begin a process of healing after enduring the horrors of war. Three days before this photograph was taken the Airforce Colonel received a letter from his wife saying she wanted a divorce.

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Combat boots litter the road on the outskirts of Saigon, abandoned by ARVN soldiers who shed their uniforms to hide their status. “I’ll never forget the shoes and the loud ‘thump, thump, thump’ sound as we drove over them,” recalled the photographer.

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British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher poses with troops during the Falklands War.

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A British Royal Marine from 42 Commando fires a Milan wire-guided missile at an Iraqi position on the Al Faw peninsula, southern Iraq.

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Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein moments after his capture by US forces in a farm house outside Tikrit, December 14th 2003.

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Heavy artillery fire among low-lying mist in Afghanistan.

Thankyou for visiting the SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK War Memorial.

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Ps. Not often does SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK willingly dip it’s pasty-fleshed toe into the troubled waters of controversy (ok, there was the not-too-distant-past headbutt directed at ParkRun and we probably shouldn’t forget last year’s outrageous McDonalds worker meltdown either) but this week’s hoo-ha surrounding the timing of the release of the new Marvel Studio‘s movie AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR has prompted some serious Billy Idol style involuntary lip twitching on my part. (Not sure who Billy Idol was/is? Then CLICK HERE)

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The noise and fist-shaking has all been over Event Cinema‘s decision to bring forward by one day the release of AVENGER’S: INFINITY WAR to coincide with the public holiday for ANZAC DAY (Cinemas in Australia release new movies on a Thursday).

Critics adopted the moral high ground and attempted to paint the picture that this decision was a blatant cash grab that was somehow disrespectful to the memory of fallen Australasian soldiers that ANZAC DAY is supposed to commemorate. The objection was based on the idea that (A) AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is a war movie and it is not appropriate to present war as entertainment on a day such as ANZAC DAY  (B)  making money on ANZAC DAY that does not directly benefit war widows or veterans organisations is somehow contrary to the spirit of the occasion.

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The objections to the timing of the release of the movie came from numerous quarters including the host of Channel 9‘s TODAY show, Karl Stefanovic. While I somewhat agree with Karl when he says parents would have been better off explaining to their children the significance of ANZAC DAY and maybe taking them to a service or a parade marking the occasion, is there any reason why parents could not have done that AND taken their children to this movie on the same day?

As to the notion that this Marvel Studio film can be legitimately classed as a war movie, that is surely stretching the definition of what can be considered a ‘War Film’ beyond all reason.

Films that center their events on World War 1 or World War 2, the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan Wars or any of the other major armed conflicts of modern times are to most people what is generally understood to be a war movie. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR most obviously belongs in the superheros science fiction camp and to suggest otherwise is deliberately misleading.

Pss.  Staying on the war theme, comes this week’s book recommendation – DEAR MRS BIRD by first time English novelist A.J Pearce (Find Out More Here) published earlier this month.

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Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to make the most of things in Luftwaffe-strafed 1940 London, putting their best feet forward and all that.

In Emmeline’s case she’s desperate to become a lady War Correspondent. But with those jobs thin on the ground, instead she finds herself typing out the woebegone letters sent to Henrietta Bird, an agony aunt type columnist in the pages of Women’s Friend Magazine.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have gone too far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding.

As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

DEAR MRS BIRD has been described as hilariously funny and a moving tale of friendship in a magically recreated London-during-the-Blitz era.

Psss. QWEEKEND MAGAZINE is a weekly insert in the Saturday edition of The Courier Mail newspaper. The magazine claims a readership of 275 000 people. Taking out a double page advertisement in it will set you back in excess of $42 000. Capture 2

Each week the magazine runs a caption competition. Winners names and their winning captions are published two weeks after each contest. You’ll likely recognize the name attached to this one –

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Pssss. And in the tradition of SWS celebrating success wherever it finds it, final words this week go in the form of congratulation to the Sydney based St George Dragons NRL Club who have successfully tendered to have a team included in the inaugural 2018 Women’s Premiership sponsored by Holden.

The Dragons will be joined by the Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors in an elite four team, month-long competition that will be played during the NRL finals series.

The AFL kicked off their women’s competition last year.

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Ranking Planking

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As a wise person once observed, if you think 60 seconds goes by fast you’ve never tried planking.

My affair with this flavour-of-the-month abdominal muscles exercise was short-lived but intense, strained but powerful and most definitely for a brief time bordering on the fanatical. Like most affairs everything was going merrily until (A) someone found out and (B) someone got hurt. In both cases that ‘someone’ happened to be my lower vertebrae.

Over the weeks and months I’d gradually levelled up to the point of being able to hold my ‘plank’ for around three and a half minutes (a so-called ‘feat’ experienced plankers will take knee-slapping amusement in), body shaking all the while like a Tokyo skyscraper trying to hold it together during a 9.5 Richter scale earthquake. Having achieved this career high, it was then time to suffer the backlash. And I do literally mean back-lash.

For though my abdominals (as they call them in the world of squats and lycra) were (sort of) thanking me for tricking them into believing they were 21 again, my back was waving the coconut-white flag of surrender and appealing in an unmistakably not-to-be-ignored tone – “What in sweet apple sauce’s name of abuse are you doing to me?”

Planking and I waved goodbye to each other that same day, promising like two parting friends to stay in touch but knowing deep down that would be the last time we would ever see each other.

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Enter then the lightbulb moment of inspiration: like Sly Stallone in Rocky 5, (the movie where Rocky trades in his boxing gloves to become a trainer for the marvelously unlikable ‘Tommy Gunn‘)  an idea washed up on my shore that would allow me to continue to breathe in the sweat-stained air of the planking universe minus the geriatric-inducing  wear and tear on my non-gravity defying lumbar.

I would seamlessly morph into, not a coach (like Rocky) of an on-the-rise fellow planker, but a promoter of an organised and sanctioned ‘All Comers Welcome’ Planking Event. And so it was that SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK elbowed its way past all other competing aspirants who were unashamably waving all manner of cash and inducements to compete for the honour of being named chief sponsor of the GASS STAFF PLANKING CHALLENGE. 

Exactly here is where I was supposed to insert the publicity photos of the event that took place on the polished wooden floorboards of my school auditorium a few days back. Due to a malfunctioning camera that’s now been flung face first onto concrete from a great height (ok, that’s what I felt like doing) that isn’t possible. Instead you’ll just have to imagine eight education staff trying to outplank each other in front of a 100 strong audience of cheering, woo-hooing teachers, deputy principals, support staff and curriculum heads. See it-feel it now? Kind of?

And what’s someone have to do to earn the title of ‘sponsor’ I bionically hear you wonder? 

I would have thought the answer to that was pretty obvious – cough up the prizes like a good Sugar Daddy does… of course! Overseas holidays, rare sports memorabilia, vehicles, and high tea experiences with a celebrity of the winner’s choice never rated a thought in this competition. No siree! Scenic Writer’s Shack chose to lavish its male and female title-holders with riches of the calibre –

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which even the most mean-spirited critic would have to agree is still a step up from a packet of trail mix and a mackerel fish cotton tie (and probably two steps up from back in 2015 when the US version of The Price Is Right tv game show awarded a treadmill to a contestant in a wheelchair).

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Before we leave the subject of planking altogether, time briefly to dust off the history books to distinguish between the two different forms of the practice.

The original ‘lying-face-down-in-public-places-like-a-stiff-plank-of-wood’ incarnation took on throughout the world around the late 2000’s. The term “Planking” was coined by South Australian man Sam Weckert in the summer of 2008.   Weckert created a Facebook fan page to share “planking” photos. After reports of the practice started appearing in the Australian media, it grew rapidly and the meme became a global phenomenon.

 After reports of the craze in the British media in 2009, the lying down game spread to the rest of the world. Worldwide it has also been known as “extreme lying down” and  “facedowns”.

In more recent years, ‘fitness planking’ has evolved which requires the practitioner to elevate their torso off the ground via use of their elbows, forearms and toes.

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Ps.  This week’s BONUS READ  is about a BBC Radio program called DESERT ISLAND DISCS. The Sunday morning show has been running for 76 years and currently has a listening audience each week of around 3 million people. Celebrity guests are asked what one song, one book and one luxury item they would take to a desert island.

          WWW. DESERT-ISLAND-DISCS.COM

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Pss. Continuing in our series of previewing books with interesting sounding plot synopses (which may or may not be as interesting to actually read in full) comes the 2017 crime fiction novel AND FIRE CAME DOWN from Melbourne writer Emma Viskic.

Here’s the summary –      

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic used to meet life head-on. Now he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. And the trail leads straight to his hometown, Resurrection Bay.

The town is on bushfire alert and simmering with racial tensions. As he delves deeper, Caleb uncovers secrets that could threaten his life and any chance of reuniting with Kat. Driven by his demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?

AND FIRE CAME DOWN has won a host of awards and received acclaim from critics and readers alike. Apparently the prose sprints along and is sprinkled with enough Australian colloquialisms to make even Kath & Kim proud.

Psss.  AND FIRE CAME DOWN  made it onto Brisbane City Council‘s 2018 list of TOP 40 Book Club Reads. Read the complete list (the new novel from Richard Flanagan shown on page 32 also looks armed to the teeth with interest) here –

HERE

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Pssss. Can’t leave without devoting a parting thought to the 21st Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast (Australia) – the much criticized closing ceremony of which was held last Sunday night. Attended by athletes from 71 nations competing in 19 different sports, these games marked the first time a major multi-sport event achieved gender equality by having an equal number of events for both male and female athletes.  The complete integration of the para sports with the able-bodied events (instead of them being staged as a separate spectacle following the regular games) was also a first.

If I had to choose a viewing highlight from amongst many, for sheer memorable strangeness, it would have to have been the sight of Nigerian female wrestler Blessing Oborududu engaged in an overly long, wild and mat-rolling victory celebration after winning the 68kg freestyle women’s wrestling category, while her defeated Canadian opponent looked on completely unimpressed. 

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JOIN THE CELEBRATION TO END ALL CELEBRATIONS HERE!

For those into comparative medal tallies, starting with a flashback to the 2014 Scotland Commonwealth Games, here ya go –

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Do You Feel (un)Lucky?

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The standard joke about Friday the 13th  is that people would dread it a lot more if it fell on a Monday.

And for people who think their luck generally couldn’t get much worse anyway,  Friday the 13th isn’t going to have them reaching for the overthecounter / under thetongue antianxiety spray anymore then they usually would.

Whether you’re superstitious, just a little bit stitious or a solid non-believer in all that notsteppingonsidewalkcracks or walkingunderladders guff, you’d have to think these days that degree of flapddodle would have far less (if any) a hold over the average punter’s thoughts than compared to say two hundred years ago.

The old superstitions (bad luck comes in threes, cross your fingers, don’t open umbrellas inside a house, stirring your tea or coffee counter-clockwise is bad luck etc.) and the stick-your-head-in-the-sand irrationality they represent thankfully seem to fade with each passing year and exist now only in bad screenplays and first novels.

On another thought, I’m compelled to ask if anyone actually watches any of the FRIDAY THE 13th horror films on Friday the 13th? (They’ve made 12 so far with another due out at the end of this year) That’s pretty similar to asking does any one watch any of the HALLOWEEN movies at Halloween.

Lots of folk watch Christmas movies at Christmas so perhaps its not such a wacky question afterall. These days I’m probably a little embarrassed to admit I still have ten of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films and six of the HALLOWEEN films (they’ve made ten of those) in my polished timber DVD cabinet. There’s no accounting for taste as they say.

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The origin of Fridays that land on the 13th of the month being considered unlucky is thought by some scholars to date back to the time of Christ when his crucification is thought to have taken place on a Friday (Good Friday) combined with the fact there were 13 people present at The Last Supper the night before.

It’s quite possible the publication in 1907 of Thomas W. Lawson‘s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth, contributed in more recent times to spreading the superstition. In the novel, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th.

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Am I a person who takes extra care – even a little extra thought – on a day like Friday the 13th?

There was a time in my life when I believed in the idea that life presents the astute observer with ‘signs’ as a guide to the decisions we should make or the path we should choose. These days I believe things happen and then we make up the meaning afterwards.  Most people would label that the pragmatic approach.

One thing I do know is that you can get cheap flights with airlines on a day such as this as many people still try to avoid flying on Friday the 13th if they possibly can.

Is that allowing primitive beliefs from centuries past to dictate your decisions? Probably, but even someone such as myself who considers themselves  immune from such feather-brained and ‘flighty’ thinking might baulk at signing up for the travel deal outlined below.

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*** Hel is a flight destination in Poland ***

Ps. Word of the day is… what else but  paraskavedekatriaphobia  (fear of Friday the 13th).

Pss. This hasn’t got much to do with Friday the 13th but if you’re feeling lucky you may as well     CLICK HERE

Psss. This week’s book recommendation is a YA novel published last year by Australian author (born and raised in Townsville) Crystal Sutherland. Despite the title, A SEMI DEFINITIVE LIST OF WORSE NIGHTMARES is a story about the joys (and nightmares) of falling in love for the first time.

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Pssss.  Uh-oh! Looks like someone might now be taking themselves a little too seriously… Turns out whoever said writing is like prostitution: first you do it for love, then for a few close friends, and then for money – was a truth sayer of the highest order.

CHECK THIS OUT!

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Psssss. This didn’t happen on Friday the 13th but it probably should have. Australian readers will no doubt have heard by now of the road rage incident that occurred in Sydney a few days back involving a chainsaw.

Channelling his best inner Leatherface, an enraged tradie (HERE)  thought he’d do his bit to put Australia at the cutting edge (so to speak) of outrageous behaviour by firing up a chainsaw to up the ante during an altercation in the suburb of Fairfield (Western Sydney) sparked when a car tried to merge in with traffic.

This individual pops the latch on a whole new level of ca-razy and he didn’t even need Friday the 13th to spur him on.

 

 

First Quiz of 2018

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Of the 67 posts published on SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK last year the one which received by far and away the most number of views was a quiz.

Here’s hoping lightning strikes twice.

The thirteen year old girl in the black and white picture above grew up to become listed by Guinness World Records as the bestselling novelist of all time.

Agatha Christie was best known for her 66 detective novels but also published 14 short story collections and wrote the world’s longest running, most watched play THE MOUSETRAP. She also penned six published romances using the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.

So how well do you think you know her books?

Here’s the set-up: Imagine Agatha is travelling on a train with ten of her most famous mysteries. However, ONE of them is an imposter! Can you identify the fake mystery title before it kills everyone on board?

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Soon you shall all be summoned  to the drawing-room (located at the bottom of this post) where all will be revealed and the imposter shall be unmasked. Until then, if you consider yourself in any way a budding Hercule Poirot or fledging Miss Marple, by all means go ahead and point an accusatory finger at the title you consider is the ring-in.

Ps. Here’s a link to the official Agatha Christie website if any of this may have sparked an interest in finding out more about her life or works. If you scroll to the bottom of the homepage you can also sign up to an Agatha Christie monthly newsletter if you wish.

SEE HER WEBSITE HERE

READ THE LATEST EDITION OF HER NEWSLETTER HERE

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PSS. Following last year’s remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS comes news that 20th Century Fox studios are planning a remake of another Christie classic, DEATH ON THE NILE. The original version, filmed in 1978 and featuring a cast to die for (pun intended) – including the likes of Peter Ustinov (Detective Hercule Poirot) – Angela LansburyBette Davis Mia Farrow Maggie SmithOlivia HusseyJane BirkinDavid NivenGeorge KennedyJon Finch – and Jack Warden – is one of my all-time favourite films so I’m naturally skeptical about what any remake could offer in terms of a fresh retelling of the story. We shall see… and no doubt, we shall judge.

PSSS.  Your bonus pic –

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Whodunnit? Agatha dunnit! This is back in the day when riding waves was the privilege of only a few. The only mystery is – is that an old, old school surfboard she’s holding or a plank of wood?

PSSSS. Not sure what Agatha‘s take on this would have been but the following link is to a collection of amusing (hilarious to me) short descriptions posted to Twitter when a Podcast hoster named Whit Reynolds asked her followers to describe themselves how they imagined a bad (meaning hackneyed) male author would see them. 

 PREPARE TO (very possibly) LOL HERE

PSSSSS. The imposter amongst the Agatha Christie book titles is FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT which was a collection of four novellas written by Stephen King and published in 1990.

My Core Beliefs

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There comes a time in everyone’s life when a person feels comfortable believing what they believe, knowing that others around them may not necessarily share the identical view.

Part of this comfort can take the form of a kind of wisdom; a wisdom that freely admits there are things one doesn’t know about a particular subject, or the world in general, but  still happily allows one to cling to what they wish to believe anyway. With me? Sort of?  It’s a feeling that might be bumper stickered to – “I’m the one behind the wheel. I don’t need to know how a car engine is built to drive this thing.”

In case you missed it, that was the philosophically scented portion of the post. I’ll admit it went dangerously close to getting all serious for a moment there, which, if that actually happened, would have spelt big trouble for me. See, I’ve instructed some trusted minders to drop me from a great height the day this blog ever gets to sound too serious (mind, the protest-post about loud music speakers at ParkRun a while back went dangerously close), full of its own importance, or, banish the thought, ‘preachy’.

Anyway, here’s a list of my core beliefs, arranged in no particular order, that came to me the other day when I was thinking on this subject for a reason I no longer remember. In fact, best scrub the term ‘core beliefs’, since that could be mistaken for some kind of fake-as-a-$3-note corporate-speak term you might hear from one of those annoyingly upbeat life-coach types, and replace it with the far more low-key ‘things I’ve come to believe’.

Watchout. Possible lifehacks incoming…

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  ♠    Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.

  ♣    Some days ‘people skills’ means not resorting to beating anyone with a stick.

      Never seriously tick off the person who cooks your dinner.

  ♦     There are two reasons to distrust people –

         (1) You don’t know them.

         (2) You know them.

 ♠     On success:  At first they’ll ask why you’re doing it. Later they’ll ask you how you did it.                                                                                                                          

 ♣     Kindness when no one’s looking is as good as it gets.

 ♥     Sometimes you need to dig in the dirt to find the places you got hurt.

 ♦     Drive carefully ’cause 60% of people are caused by accidents.

  ♠    Speaking about core values is a little like watching footy on the couch – a person very possibly won’t truly know what some of their deeply held beliefs are until they’re handed the ball and have to run with it.

♣     And lastly, if you want to stay on speaking terms with your liver, avoid the Mumbai Scotch.                  

That’s it. And now you know.

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Ps. Thanks to singer Peter Gabriel for the one in red.

Pss. THIS SEND-UP VIDEO  brilliantly satirizes people and corporations fond of overly- seriously espousing ‘core values’.

Psss. For all those who’ve ever gone the spray tan, this bonus read is for you.

CLICK HERE  (This story is supposed to be titled AFTERGLOW btw not OVERGLOW)

Pssss.  Meanwhile this past week in Birmingham UK

A filmgoer has passed away due to a freak accident inside a Gold Class cinema.

The man’s head became wedged in the footrest of his luxury seat. Paramedics had to be called after the customer dropped his mobile phone between the new Vue Cinema Gold Class seats at the end of the film and became stuck when the electronic folding footrest clamped down on his head as he bent down to pick it up. The man suffered a cardiac arrest while staff at the cinema tried to free him.

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Gold Class seats at the new Vue Cinema in Birmingham, UK.

I say this without the slightest hint of flippancy – I have never experienced Gold Class cinema and have no immediate plans to do so. Dying from boredom induced by watching certain movies (not trying to be the critic – it just comes out!) is likely a far higher health risk for me.

Psssss. Returning lastly again to the subject of core values (eye-roll ok), SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK pledges it will recognise and celebrate excellence no matter what the field – publishing, cinema, theatre, fine art…. or horseracing. Congratulations go to the equine Queen of Australian horseracing WINX for recording her 17th consecutive Group 1 win (a world record) and 24th consecutive race win at the Golden Slipper Stakes in Sydney last weekend.

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BONUS FACT: Unlike many elite racehorses, WINX does not have a particularly long stride – her stride has been measured at 6.76 metres (22.2 ft) compared to nearly 8.5 metres (28 ft) for Black Caviar and Phar Lap. Instead, her success has been attributed to a “freakish” stride rate that allows her to take 14 strides every 5 seconds, compared to 12 for her rivals. Once again, now you know.

 

A Swing and a Miss

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This little recon didn’t go exactly according to plan.

But I had a lot of fun trying.

The idea was to test the theory it’s easy to start a rumour simply by saying “I’ve heard a rumour”.

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The target was my local golf club. I emailed them asking if they’d confirm or deny stories of ghostly sightings on the 13th hole. Perhaps they saw through (pun intended) the whole cheesiness factor of the number 13 association. Or maybe they were just too busy checking potential member’s bona fides and making sure the irrigation systems were go to worry about otherworldy matters. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get a bite so the experience was less pleasure swollen then it might have been. At best I can put myself down as a prankster of erratic brilliance.

Here’s the email I sent (twice)

Dear Glenn and Brett,

My name is Glen Donaldson and I am a local author living in Forest Lake. Over the last six months I have been putting together a book concerning Brisbane ghost stories. The research phase of this project has led me to hear some interesting and little known tales of unexplained events that, according to some, might allow for explanations involving possible supernatural elements.

One such story which has come across my desk involves the Oxley Golf course.  I am wondering if you are able to shed any light on its veracity. According to the tale, which I have heard from a number of sources including a married couple who are both current members of the club, a woman was shot dead by her estranged husband on what is now the 13th hole sometime around the early 1960’s. Her body was found four days later when a caddie noticed it in thick bush at one end of the course. Now there are claims of people hearing a gunshot and a woman screaming on the 13th green even though there is no one there. It has been so clear it has prompted people to call the police.

Recently I spoke to two dog squad instructors at the nearby Oxley Police Academy who, though they could not confirm knowledge of complaints of gunshot sounds or women screaming having been lodged, did admit that they too had heard the rumours of a tragic back-story surrounding the 13th hole. Both mentioned to me (with little attempt made to disguise their amusement) they were at least aware of the ‘local legend’ of after-dark sightings of a woman in a white dress spotted by motorists using the access road that runs along the back of the course and the Academy.

I understand this is not the type of inquiry you might ordinarily receive. If you are able to provide any information you may be in possession of and willing to share connected to knowledge of these supposed happenings, I would be most interested to hear from you.

Sincerest regards,

Glen Donaldson

Forest Lake

Ph: 3372 3958

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As you can see,  the email was jointly addressed to the General Manager and the President. This photo gallery of the Board Members (with last names blanked by me) shows what looks to be a bunch of well-red, good humoured (ClICK HERE TO SEE MICHAEL DOUGLAS & SOME VERY HUMORLESS GOLFING TYPES) mostly middle-aged males (it also proves, despite widespread belief to the contrary, that Anglo-Saxon first generation Aussie names are still alive and well in this country)  so I’m thinking that though my email didn’t warrant a response, it may still have raised a mild giggle or at the very least a plucked or unplucked eyebrow somewhere inside the office. And that, if it did happen, makes it all worth doing.

And on the subject of ghosts, I reserve the last word for that most renown French patron of the arts The Marquise du Deffand (1697 – 1780) who once famously said –

 “Do I believe in ghosts? No, but I am afraid of them.”

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Ps. I actually sent a version of the prank email to three different Brisbane golf clubs (including one that’s positioned right next to a lunatic’s asylum  psychiatric care facility which, given the opportunity for ‘strange and unusual’ happenings in that general vicinity, I thought was my best chance of getting a response) but didn’t get a bite from any of them. Who said golfers are serious types?

PPS. Your bonus read this week is a fascinating article about the 1937 futuristic novel SWASTIKA NIGHT by British writer Katharine Burdekin (1896 – 1963).

Click  HERE  to read it.

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PPPS. The creative folk at the Australian Writer’s Centre ran a caption competition this week. They asked their readers to provide a caption, in 25 words of less, to the photo below.

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My bit of bees wax was –

Michelle’s new apartment had next-to-no leg room, gave her spinning migraines and always had dirty laundry lying about on the floor.

Think you can do better?

‘Cause ya can!

Comments box if you wanna play…

 

 

 

Not Strong Enough

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That’s the question I’ve asked myself, given the fact a sizeable portion of the audience for this blog is female and I’m about to talk at length on the subject of war movies, and one war movie in particular.

12 STRONG is a newly released movie starring Thor (Chris Hemsworth) based on a non-fiction book published in 2010 called HORSE SOLDIERS by New York Times bestselling author and journalist Doug Stanton ( www.dougstanton.com ) It relates the true life account of  a small band of Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan following 9/11 and rode to war on horses against the Taliban.  

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The 2010 book on which the movie was based and the Horse Soldier Statue that stands today in Liberty Park in Lower Manhattan, New York overlooking the September 11 Memorial.

 

As a movie spectacle, this film is packed with wall to wall intricately choreographed battle sequences and enough deafening bombs and custom-built assault rifle gunfire to satisfy the most seasoned combat film aficionado. From a technical point of view it’s all very solid.

Yet 12 STRONG ends up being at best an almost-good film due to the presence of extremely thinly drawn characters and the lack of any real tension or twists or turns in the storyline.  A disappointing lack of depth and nuance will prevent most people from engaging emotionally during any point in this film.

Instead, for most of the time the experience of 12 STRONG is like being made to watch someone else play a first-person shooter video game; one in which they’re tasked with blowing away wave after wave of faceless enemy in a pathos-less exercise in aim and shoot.  The bad guys in the story are the tens of thousands of turban-clad, 2001-vintage Taliban fighters. Yet apart from a brief showing of news footage depicting the collapse of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers and a scene where a Taliban leader executes a woman found guilty of educating girls over the age of eight, there’s zero attempt to make you believe the enemy are a force of evil desperately in need of vaporizing and deserving of one’s loathing.

That’s called lazy filmmaking and the result is a strictly by-the-numbers attempt at injecting  something fresh into the 9/11 narrative. If you crave seeing an excellent military flick, one that is equal parts thriller genre as well, get yourself a DVD copy of 2017’s THE WALL, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (KICK-ASS & KICK-ASS 2).

Set during the Iraq War, it tells the story of two American soldiers pinned down in a cross-haired game of cat and mouse with an Iraqi sniper. There’s no Chris Hemsworth but its got rocket-launchers full of something completely missing from 12 STRONG –  tension. Real, nerve-jangling. edge-of-your-seat tension.

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If that’s still not enough to get your cammo ‘n combats on – try any of these beauts for size from my list of all-time fave war films-

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Ps. Military not your thang? Then thanks for waiting patiently. Today begins the first of an occasional series where I relate the plot of a novel that sounds in some manner interesting.

Most of us have had the experience of ploughing through a book we were enticed to read by the intriguing sounding back-cover blurb only to encounter a story much longer than it seems and plots and characters that induce sleepiness.  So I caution… these are storylines that sound interesting, at least to me, while the experience of actually reading the book may be a somewhat different thing –

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A woman wakes up in hospital with no memory but is told she’s been in an horrific car accident and was apparently driving recklessly. Witnesses assume she was out of her mind on drugs; blood tests show otherwise but provide absolutely no clue as to what caused her to be running traffic  lights at high-speed as though fleeing for her life.

Until now she has enjoyed a quietly affluent life in the suburbs with an adoring husband. She seems anxious to recover and regain her memory, but strange things keep happening. 

There’s a neighbour who was once a friend but now is not, and her husband may not be all he seems. Then a body shows up, not far from the site of her mysterious accident.

This novel is reputed to contain multiple twists and apparently the final one is a doozy.

www.sharilapena.com