It’s not Little London, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen

In Hollywood, when anybody is pitching a project, they have to brace for the inevitable question from the bean counters: “Yes, but what’s it like?”

And by that they mean that they want to know that the “new” thing is reassuringly similar to a film or television show that was popular and made  money. Now, it seems, that attitude is creeping into the way we view our cities — with negative consequences for residents and tourists alike.

Continue reading It’s not Little London, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen

The show’s the thing

People take cruises for many reasons. So, apart from the niche players in the market who cater to very specific interests, cruise companies have to design their ships to provide something for everyone.

That means paying close attention to the menu, the shore excursions, the amenities and, crucially, the entertainment program.

Continue reading The show’s the thing

Feeling free at sea

The interior stateroom I had on my most recent cruise could fit at least four times into the apartment I currently call home. But in many ways, the apartment is smaller.

That’s despite the fact that the windowless cabin barely had enough room for a double bed and a desk, and had a bathroom in which one, even if so cruelly inclined, could not swing a cat.

Continue reading Feeling free at sea

Breaking free at sea

I broke one of my own rules. I decided this time that I would not spend money while at sea when I’m cruising.

4Ever plus one

The idea was to pay for everything in advance — and get the applicable discouts — then pretend to be having a free holiday (Hey, it works for me. I certainly got a good deal on the internet, paying about $5 a day less than I would had I bought it on board).

But I found one thing I couldn’t resist. Well, two actually.

Continue reading Breaking free at sea

Stream while you fly

Is this the beginning of the end of dedicated in-flight entertainment? Some airlines have already announced plans to remove seat-back screens since almost everybody has their own mobile device.

(Qantas Newsroom)

Now Australian airline Qantas has announced that its onboard Wi-Fi will enable passengers to stream Netflix, Foxtel and Spotify content on domestic flights.

Continue reading Stream while you fly

The Greatest Show is over

Update: the final show on May 21, 2017 will be live streamed. Details at

The Greatest Show on Earth will soon be no more. The Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which has been touring the United States for more than 100 years, will soon fold up its big top for the last time.


Many will feel a tinge of nostalgia at this news; others will say it’s about time.

Continue reading The Greatest Show is over

It’s show time in London!

Many travellers to London like to include a theatrical experience in their holiday itinerary. If you’re one of them, you might be wondering what the hot shows are.

( / Disney)

Well, wonder no more. Here are some suggestions based on various authoritative sources. Many of these shows are long-running, or revivals, and I can vouch for quite a few of the shows (if not necessarily the productions).

Continue reading It’s show time in London!

Brisbane’s cultural corner

Update: The closure of GoMA, as addressed in this blog post, was the topic of a spot on radio station 612 ABC Brisbane. Hear Brett Debritz talk to Spencer Howson here.

When I was a child growing up in Brisbane, the Brisbane River was the big divide. If you were born on the north side, as I was, you rarely travelled south of the river. If you born on the south, you never went north.


The emergence of the Cultural Precinct in South Brisbane changed all that. By building a new theatre complex (the Queensland Performing Arts Centre) and relocating the State Library, Art Gallery and Museum to the southside — along with setting World Expo 88 in the grounds that are now known as Southbank Parklands, the state government created a reason for northerners to venture south and southsiders to feel a little smug.

Continue reading Brisbane’s cultural corner

Travelling north

The thing about being an Australian with a taste for travel is that it’s all too easy, and extremely tempting, to jump onto a plane tosee the world without first seeing your own country.


Although I’ve done a lot of travel within the great big, broad, brown land, there are parts I’ve missed or neglected — including northern and far north Queensland, in my own home state.

Continue reading Travelling north

Dancing Diadema

For many travellers, cruising is about dancing. From the couples of a certain age who still like to cut a rug the old-fashioned way to the professionals who perform for the rest of us to watch on in awe, it’s all to be seen on the high seas.

Here’s some video I took on the Costa Diadema of the ship’s animation (entertainment) team and dancers, and some of the passengers, getting into the spirit.

Shakespeare celebrations

As  I write, it’s the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare — playwright, poet and man of enduring fascination to tourists.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of England’s (and perhaps the world’s) greatest writer, is a major draw. Few packaged tours exclude it. His birthplace, his mother’s house, the church where he was christened, the school he attended and the theatres where his plays are still performed attract many thousands of people every week.

Continue reading Shakespeare celebrations

Riddle me this, Batman


Bat Cave from TV Series
The Bat Cave from the 1960s TV series


It seemed like good idea at the time. I woke up about 1am with an urgent compulsion to write down a brilliant idea for a blog post.

Except that it wasn’t that brilliant and, as I should’ve expected, it certainly wasn’t original. Still, I think it’s worth sharing.

I must have been dreaming about Batman and how it was that his alter-ego Bruce Wayne could’ve built the bat cave  under Wayne Manor without anybody knowing it was there.

Even if it was a natural cave in the first place, somebody would have had to build the access slides/lifts and fit the place out with all the tech equipment and furniture. Not to mention the expertise needed to design and build all the bat gadgets and vehicles.

Certainly it was too big a job for Wayne to undertake,  even if he had the help of his elderly butler and only confidante Alfred Pennyworth. More recent tellings of the story add Lucius Fox to the Batman circle, but even if you throw in him and Robin, the boy wonder, that’s hardly a construction crew.

A quick Google search revealed that I was not the first person to have this thought, nor was I the first to speculate that Wayne had copied a page from the Pharaohs’ playbook and had the place built by slaves who were then entombed and left to die so they could not share its secrets. (Cracked addresses the details here.)

A few other theories are floating around. One that’s vaguely plausible is that Batman, rather than Bruce Wayne, commissioned the bat cave, and ensured that the workers were blindfolded on their way to and from the construction site so they didn’t know where it was.

Or, then again, maybe he got Superman to build it for him.

Whose (Doctor) Who?

Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who (BBC)


I stopped watching the American sitcom Two and a Half Men just after Charlie Sheen left the show in 2011.

Sheen may have been a pain in several body parts at the same time to the show’s creator, cast and crew but, to my mind, his character was the heart of the show. And Sheen is, in my opinion, a much better actor than Ashton Kutcher who replaced him in the series.

I also felt that the scripts had deteriorated from diverting, above-average sitcom fare with plausible plots into excuses for stringing together a series of crude jokes.

Anyway, as I say, my solution to not liking the show was to switch it off.

My favourite program right now — in fact, my only “must-see” TV — is the British sci-fi drama Doctor Who.

While the occasional episode makes me cringe, I’m generally enjoying the show, the characters and the direction in which it is going.

Others disagree.

I understand that long-time viewers of Doctor Who, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, feel some form of ownership over it, and have quite fixed ideas of what it should be about, how the central character should be played, what sort of stories should be told, and whether those stories fit into the canon.

Most of the online criticism I see — and some of it is quite venomous — is directed at showrunner Steven Moffat. Clearly a some people don’t like the direction in which he has taken the show, and they have taken to social media to say so.

Week after week, they deconstruct the latest episode and spell out exactly where Moffat has one wrong and why they hate them so much.

It would be much simpler for those people to stop watching. Unless you are paid to do so — as increasingly fewer people are — watching a show you don’t like is a bit like continuing to hit your head against a brick wall long after you’ve established that it hurts.

I know this is not particularly sophisticated advice, but it seems to me that some people just don’t get it.

Forgive and forget?

Rolf Harris self portrait 2001
Rolf Harris self portrait 2001

The subject of forgiveness has been much on my mind over the past few days. Specifically: when  a person is deeply wronged by somebody they should be able to trust, is there any way back?

To make my point, I’m going to use some examples from the world of celebrity– but the principles apply to us all.

Director Roman Polanski  was found guilty of the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, but fled to Europe before he could be sentenced. Now, a court in Poland says it will not extradite him to the United States, where the offence occurred.

London-based Australian musician and television host Rolf Harris, whose funny records and exaggerated persona I loved as a child, was jailed at the age of 84 last year for sexual offences against four female victims stretching back 40 years. The court heard, among other things, that Harris had had a long-running relationship with a teen-aged friend of his daughter, and that it had ruined her life.

Woody Allen, one of my favourite filmmakers, stands accused or molesting his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow. But  police, the Connecticut state attorney and child-abuse experts decided there was insufficient evidence and that the girl appeared to have been “coached” in giving evidence. That was in 1993, yet there are some people today swear that Allen is guilty.

Three well-known cases — and all of them different. In the Harris case, the court found him guilty and he is in jail; in the Allen case, due process was followed and charges were not laid, yet allegations remain. Polanski, meanwhile, seems to have escaped justice altogether.

In any case that is serious enough to go to court, the legal system plays its role in determining innocence or guilt and, in the latter case, setting an appropriate punishment. Sometimes the police, prosecutors, judges and juries get it wrong; usually they get it right.

Beyond that, the rest of us just have opinions. We can boycott films or rant on our blogs and social-media sites, but that won’t get us any closer to the truth. And, at the end of the day, when it comes to strangers, it’s really none of our business.

But what about an incident of actual harm or betrayal that involves somebody we know?

Sometimes the circumstances are opaque — nobody knows the truth except those who were there, and they provide different, self-serving versions of events.

When there are two “truths” to choose from, how do we know we have chosen the correct one? Do we have to take sides, or should we sit on the fence? But by doing nothing, do we embolden the perpetrator and betray the victim?

In any genuine case of wrongdoing by one person against another, we can, and should, offer our support. But only the victim can decide whether they will offer forgiveness.

The future is not free

Doctor Who from the BBC
Doctor Who from the BBC

Back in March, 2012, I wrote a few articles on my former blog about how we will consume television shows and films in the future, noting that the free-to-air television stations were living on borrowed time.

Now that was before Netflix and other streaming services  had taken a hold in Australia (which was my specific market of reference then), but there were already all sorts of offerings on cable, satellite and the internet that seemed a lot more interesting to me than what the free-to-air (FTA) networks were offering.

The day after I tackled the subject, I received a confidential message from somebody who worked in the television industry.

Noting that “fatal decay” in broadcast television had begun many years ago, my correspondent noted : “Who wouldn’t rather order from a menu?”

As I wrote then: the food analogy is a useful one, but I’d employ it differently. I’d say, who would want to choose from a limited menu when there’s a whole smorgasbord to be enjoyed? Oh, and not everybody wants to eat at the same time, and no matter how good the chef is, we don’t always want to eat at the same restaurant.

This is why, even with the greater flexibility offered by having extra digital channels, free-to-air television can’t compete with pay-TV, let alone the internet.

This is a global phenomenon. At the moment, network production resources are largely devoted to sport, news and current affairs, and reality TV. That’s a good thing for short-term ratings results but, in general, these programs have a very short “shelf life”, meaning limited returns in terms of repeat fees.

To survive, networks  must focus on being production houses first, and broadcasters second. The BBC, for example, is constantly under threat of having its budget slashed through the reduction (or ultimate elimination) of the licence fee that Britons pay to support it. Its ultimate lifeline will be its vast back catalogue of quality drama and comedy — including the likes of Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, (the original) House of Cards, Bleak House and so many more —  its ongoing role as producer of such shows as Doctor Who and Sherlock, which are popular beyond the UK, and its international news, entertainment and documentary channels.

If other broadcasters are not out there seeking fresh talent — starting with writers who can produce great scripts — and prepared to take a punt on drama and comedy, then they are signing their own death warrants.

Ultimately, even material produced by what are now the FTA networks will appear first on paid-for platforms. FTA TV will be a wasteland of repeats with little or no marketable value, or with some appeal to particular advertisers (think of a supermarket chain sponsoring a cooking channel).

There may be a few people who are prepared to wait until the content they want to see to appear on FTA, but most of us will opt to pay for what we want to see, as long as we can see it now. Right now.

He really likes me!


One of the great delights of social media is the (albeit slim) opportunity of directly engaging with somebody famous.

When I first signed up for Twitter, I followed Stephen Fry and was absolutely delighted that he followed me back — although I later found that, at the time, he followed everybody back and the process was probably automated.

A little while ago, I had a short Twitter conversation with Sally Thomsett, who was my schoolboy crush when she starred as Jo in the British sitcom Man About the House.

And last night, I got a retweet from Danny John-Jules, who plays the Cat in sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf and policeman Dwayne Myers in Death in Paradise.

Is my virtual life complete, or are there other celebs to stalk?

D’oh, nuts

Chief Wigggum and a doughnut from The Simpsons. Copyright Matt Groenig.
Chief Wigggum and a doughnut from The Simpsons. Copyright Matt Groening.


A little while ago, a friend noticed this caption on a picture attached to an Australian newspaper report about overweight police: “No doughnuts: Top cop wants to build a slim blue line.”

My friend asked: “From which comics or TV shows do they get the idea Aussie cops eat doughnuts?”

I guess whoever wrote the caption (or “blockline” as we used to call them in the old days) was thinking of police chief Clancy Wiggum in  The Simpsons, whose fondness for doughnuts has been a part of popular Western culture for the past quarter-century. (Although it probably predates that.)

So an observation made by a humourist in America, and perpetuated on a popular TV show, gets somehow transferred into real life in Australia.

The danger is that it becomes accepted as an Australian stereotype, even though it isn’t true. I would venture to suggest that, if Aussie cops are indeed getting fat, it’s more to do with more popular fast foods such as burgers and fried chicken — all be they also largely American — rather than doughnuts.

In a world full of horror and pain, this sort of thing probably doesn’t matter very much — except that, sometime in the future, what is distinctly American will be mistaken as global, and what is uniquely Australian will be absent altogether.