French chanteusse brings taste of The Lido

Caroline Nin sings a Hymn to Piaf in Paris last year.

Caroline Nin sings a Hymn to Piaf in Paris last year.

French songstress Caroline Nin served up a exciting slice of  songs from the Lido, the world-famous cabaret venue on Paris’s Champs Elysees at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June.

Nin presented as a quintessentially French performer with her sexy personal style and glorious sensual voice intoxicating the full house at The Space.   She had selected a repertoire of songs from the five years she spent performing at The Lido in Paris, which easily transported us into the City of Lovers.

She told the audience she had not performed in Adelaide since 2007 when she treated audiences to a rousing tribute to Marlene Dietrich during the Cabaret Festival.

My French-born husband Olivier and I had front row seats for that riveting performance. Last year, when I was in Paris,  I attended a special performance in a cosy, if somewhat claustrophobic 13th century cellar to hear Nin commemorate Edith Piaf on the 50th anniversary of her death in October.  Henceforth, I declare that I am a devoted fan.

Her appearance in Adelaide could not be missed, but my friends and I had to be satisfied with Table 23 this time at the Matinee – both Friday and Saturday evening performances booked out early.

We were not disappointed, and like the whole audience, we were enthralled as this Chanteuse presented a variety of songs from the biggest cabaret venue in the world, the famous The Lido on the Champs Elysees.  However, for an encore, Nin presented Je ne Regrette rien  Piaf’s most famous song and the audience loved it.

“I am so thrilled to be back in Adelaide because this city really celebrates the true cabaret artist,” she said after the show.





Child-bearing, birthing, bonding & back-to-work.

One thing that fascinates me about the current feisty debate around  Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “signature” Paid Parental Leave proposed policy is that women, themselves, are not hailing this initiative as the best thing since sliced bread.  The hoo haa from men was always expected, because the vast majority simply continue to go off to work each day once children arrive.  Their superannuation upon retirement is big and fat after a long working life.  But it is the mothers who suffer the financial deprivation if they drop out of the paid workforce for any length of time.  And it is mothers who need to manage the domestic scenario in order to return to paid work. Which means arrangements for paid child care and weighing up the costs.

From my experience of following this issue for many years as a women’s news writer and editor, I see no losers here if this policy passes the Senate.   And women, particularly low paid women in menial jobs, will be big-time winners.  They will be paid for six months at their usual salary – as a work entitlement – and I say Hoorah  to that.  It gives these women integrity as valued workers – and fortifies their sense of independence and equality. Importantly, it also validates their important role as mothers-to-be bearing, birthing and raising children.  We have created a two-income society and in doing that, this country can no longer afford to provide middle-class welfare for women to stay at home.

Fierce American feminist Betty Friedan interviewed French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex during the Women’s Lliberation Movement about giving women choice – to either work or stay home to raise children. Bearing in mind that de Beauvoir chose not to have children, she still said that women should not have a choice because they would invariably choose the easier option. (Her words).  However, the Federal Government is on the right path to insist that once the last child is at school and reaches the age of 6, that it’s time for women to return to paid work.  Fomrer  Prime Miniister’s mantra that women needed choice, has run its course and because of the enormous debt the country finds itself in, tough decisions need to be made and implemented. It is madness to think that social policy does not yet fully underscore women to maintain their role in paid work as well as have children – the next generation.

One of the saddest states of being for a woman is to find herself in her 60s, often alone and with very little superannuation of her own.  When freed of her family responsibilities and able to enjoy retirement, she is reliant on the age pension, which leaves no fat for simple fun let alone a fancy lifestyle.   It delivers poverty for many older Australian women, who never worked or if they did, they did so sporadically.

There is no need for this scenario for women of child-bearing years in paid work today, and it does require a long working life where regular contributions are made to a woman’s own superannuation.  Paid Parental Leave will make it easier for women to build an uninterrupted career life as well as raising a family.  Disposable income drives our economy and also provides the funds to ensure the nation’s children enjoy their fair share of activities such as sporting activities, artistic endeavours and school outings.

This policy is designed to encourage women to return to paid work after six months maternity leave, which allows them time to bond with their newborn babies and enjoy mothering for the crucial first half year. It endorses women’s place as part of the fabric of the nation’s working life and builds an expectation that they will returning to their existing jobs. Figures support this with 69 per cent of women now in the paid workforce. Of course there can be no gaps or obstacles  in women’s smooth transition from paid work, maternity leave and then returning to work. Which means government also needs to closely examine the issue of paid child care. Accessibility is still a problem and now, added to this is the much higher costs of childcare than when I was writing about it as a critical issue in women’s lives.

Imagine any other aspect of our life styles where costs rose by 44 per cent over a five year period.

However, I would also argue that subsidising child care fees on a sliding scale of need would be an equally important move by the Federal Government. Availability of child care was also a vital women’s issue along with the quality of child care and importantly, its cost, especially for women with two children under five. These women are the ones who need to be encouraged to retain their links with work while establishing their two-child domestic world.  Having money in the bank at the end of paying child care fees is a great incentive to take on those 3, 4 or 5 day working days. Jessica Irvine in her opinion piece in The Advertiser says low-income women are “much more price sensitive to childcare costs when deciding whether to return to work”.

So let’s help them. Irvine states National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling figures which show only 43 per cent of childcare subsidies got to families in the bottom 60 per cent by income. I agree that the current dual system – a means tested benefit and a universal rebate – needs to change to provide one payment which is means tested. This will ensure a higher percentage rebate goes to lower income workers.

One thing which would help households justify the woman’s return to work would be for husband and wife to share the cost of paid childcare so mothers can pocket more of the money they earn and fathers can have half the cost of childcare skimmed off their usually larger take-home pay packet.  Why should it be considered only the mother’s expense. Daddy should also bear the financial load fairly.

The long-term benefits for women of staying in the work force through their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s manifest in their 60s, 70s and, hopefully 80s and 90s, when their little nest eggs of superannuation can ensure a quality of life for them, either with their partners or alone.


Footy culture flavours family life

Angus at footy practice

Angus at footy practice

AFL football has gained new-found interest in my life since my team – Port Power – reached top of the AFL championship ladder and this elation has been a great conversation booster over the past few months. Allegiance to a footy team adds colour to family life, too and I notice on my grandson Zachary’s baptism invitation that this bare-chested  little fellow  – at two and a half months old – is wearing only his Port Power beanie!  It seems my son Tyson has won the right for his son to wear his footy team’s colors, because Zachary’s mum, Vanessa, is a staunch Crows supporter.

Meanwhile, grandsons Samuel and Angus, who live in Brisbane are supporters of the Western Bulldogs and were joined up by their dad, Jon, within weeks of being born.  Which is interesting because now they live in Brisbane and Angus is shining as a potential star in his  junior footy team, Cooperoo, which is  sponsored by the Brisbane Lions. The lions provides top coaches, prizes and incentives.  Angus is only 10 years old, but was best “man” of the match last week.  My grandson, who wears Brisbane Lions’ logo on his footy top, is still wearing his red mouth guard after winning a match.

A flurry of happenings make life a joy

From left Samuel, Josephine and Angus - my grandchildren in Brisbane

From left Samuel, Josephine and Angus – my grandchildren in Brisbane

Some days simply need to be endured, such as today which is my late husband’s birthday – the third since he died two years ago last month.

Yes there is sadness on such an anniversary, but it is also important to acknowledge that simple things have become pleasurable again.

Yesterday, for instance, my friend Sheryl and I took our three dogs for a walk in Belair national park and here I found many mushrooms thrusting themselves up amongst the green winter grasses.

My mind was filled with such pleasant memories of how Olivier would take me mushrooming to his favourite spots, that I feel the sadness of grief is behind me. He is with me in every activity, but he dwells in my thoughts as a warm presence rather than a well of despair of the past two years.

When people say “Time heals’’, 2014 has brought a flurry of happenings to make life enjoyable once more.

An exceptional Australia Day, for instance, where Sydney friend Jane and former Adelaidean, Sue Mapp and I watched the celebrations at Sydney Harbour from the corner window of the Contemporary Arts Museum.  There is not a better spot in Sydney to watch the ferry race, or the flotilla of yachts, or the parachutists floating down into the water, or the sky-writer above. A marvellous hot summer day celebrating our marvellous, democratic country with women friends brought such joy.

However, nothing brings as much joy as the grand-children. Joyful after the birth of grandchild, number 5, grandson Zachary, I flew to Brisbane to attend Grandparents’ Day at Redeemer College, where my three older grandchildren attend school.  This was such a special experience as the school children presented songs, musical performances and skits to reflect their lives – and also their thoughts on their grandparents. I had lunch with my oldest grandchild,  12-year-old Samuel and my other two, Angus, 10, and Josephine, 7, escorted me around the campus in the afternoon.  They made me feel very special, showing me their work and introducing me to their friends.  I was elated for the whole five days I spent with them.  My daughter, Serena, has a busy life, too, and I was happily deposited in coffee shops to read and write while she went to the gym or conducted her own deadlines. Son-in-law Jon was away in South Africa – so my daughter and I managed to snatch some mother/daughter time each day.

Returning home to Adelaide when your adult children live interstate is never easy when you are a widow. However, I step into my garden and listen to the birds who seem to rejoice in song at my homecoming.  Finally, after a few days of “adjustment’’ (loneliness) I embrace anew, my independent life with my dog, Oscar.


Hicks gives goss on Hollywood stars

Scott Hicks in Adelaide to edit "Fallen''

Scott Hicks in Adelaide to edit “Fallen”

Oscar-winning Welsh actor, Anthony Hopkins can be “really stroppy’’, Clive Owen brings “a laugh onto the movie set’’, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is “so unpretentious’’, says renowned Australian film maker and screenwriter, Scott Hicks.

These titillating snippets were among tales of Hollywood stars from Hicks in an entertaining Q & A with Dr Nick Prescott at a fundraiser for the Women’s and Children’s Hospital held at the Belair Country Club yesterday (Monday June 23).

However, before the packed audience, Hicks was quick to qualify his quips:

“Anthony Hopkins is a lovely man, and extravagantly talented, but he does have a dark side,’’ he said.

And he heaped layers of praise on Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose skills as a dancer were a bonus on the movie set.

“She is such a hard worker; so unpretentious in her manner and carries no airs and graces,’’ Hicks said.

“She is a real trooper on set, that “roll up your sleeves and get on with it’’, personality.’’

The Oscar-winning film, Shine, had taken Hicks 10 years to bring to the screen, but he believed passionately both in the story of David Helfcott and that unknown theatre actor at the time, Geoffrey Rush was the ideal actor to play him.

But the American studios were not impressed.

“Nobody was interested in making this film; they thought David was a crazy pianist, but he is an extraordinary personality,’’ he said.

Imitating the scenario with an American accent, Hicks recounted the Americans’ reaction.

“Geoffrey Rush was a huge obstacle, because in America they said: “Who is he?’’

“I replied “he is very busy theatre actor,’’ but he has never made a movie.’’

“Then they said “Forty three years old: What kind of failure hasn’t had a film before 43?’’

Hicks believed his “basic element’’ to take actors seriously and tune into them was one of the keys to his successful film-making.

“I have seen a lot of other directors get very bound up with the technology and become removed from the actors,’’ he said.

“I am not hidden behind a big bank of cameras. I am sitting by the main camera watching the actor, even their body language, so they can get feedback on what they have done.

“They get lost in their own world and someone says “cut” and it becomes as if they didn’t exist.

“But with Geoffrey Rush, you say “cut’’ and instantly he is simply Geoffrey.’’

Hicks believed his own experience at acting at Flinders University gave him empathy and respect for actors.

“I found out very soon that I was not an actor, but there were 10 seconds when I got the feel of what it would be like to be in front of the camera,’’ he said.

“I was playing Rupert Murdoch and for my sins I had to sing a song, too.

“It was the one only performance and there was a moment where I actually totally believed what I was doing and it came out as if I was made for it. It quickly evaporated, but in that 10 seconds I understood that is how an actor feels.’’

He said it was “such a precious gift’’ to expose yourself in emotion by being an actor.

Making films was a curious medium. “Film-makers forget that they do have to surprise and delight the audiences..give them that light at the end of the tunnel.

“You want your mind agitated and your emotions activated. People want to take away something that lifts their lives.’’

There were local stories too about young actor Harrison Gilbertson whom he has cast in his latest project – Fallen , a Gothic supernatural romance, the first of a series of four young adult movies based on novels by Lauren Kate. After filming five months in Budapest, he is back in Adelaide doing the first edit before it moves into post production in Montreal, Canada.

The audience followed his stellar career from early failures as a fledgling actor at Flinders University through an early lucky break doing a documentary with China’s Army just prior to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and into feature films such as The Boys are Back and Snow Falling on Cedars.

Meanwhile, the one actor he wished he could work with was Dame Judy Dench.


Security skipped in scramble to leave Paris

Dominique on his last visit to Australia 2013.

Dominique on his last visit to Australia 2013.

My dear French friend, Dominique Bievre, who lives in Valance, France recently visited Paris and then got caught in the crippling SNCF rail transport strike.  As soon as he arrived home, he sent this gem of an email, which sums up French society in a manner which only a native-born French person could.

“I manage to get home OK in a train in which you couldn’t fit another sole! I wonder where were gone strict security rules of SNCF…… We are definitely living in a world of bullshit.

I tried to anticipate the problem and went yesterday night to Gare Montparnasse (not too far from my hotel) in order to change my ticket for another train, I queued for one hour and got the ticket for a seat next morning. This morning arriving at Gare de Lyon I was unable to find my train that was not running…shit…. So I waited for the next one and hop on without any reservation, half of the train was in the same situation and despite our frustration being seated on the stairs we had good laughs and I reached Valence at 14H30.

For the record SNCF unions went on strike when SNCF and VFDF (the rail tracks) were separated a few years ago, they are on strike today because they do not want to be re-united…bloody French, never happy with whatever.”