Thursday, March 21, 2019

DOUG: A tribute to a fine gentleman

I cannot really remember when I first met James 'Douglas' Cunningham. He just seemed to have always been there.

There being Swansea, and for me one of our most favourite customers at Swansea Library. He was a fixture in Swansea and indeed in Swansea Library. Once you knew Doug - as he was known - that was it, you were his friend for life. He was kind and considerate and interested, always interested!

Doug, a kind smiling face, always dressed impeccably, the ultimate English Gent, his backpack on his back, and stories at the ready.

As I got to know him, and him me, our conversations moved from chatter to deeper, longer conversations. 

He asked me about Facebook when he was in his mid 90s, and I organised a lesson for him. I was unsure how he would go, but nothing was out of his reach. He was computer savvy and picked it up quickly and well, and was excited about being able to be in touch with his family who did not live that close.

During that lesson he started to tell me some of the stories of his life.

Anyone who even remotely knew Doug, knew he was a splendid storyteller. Sure he probably embellished these stories a little, but he knew how to hook you in. Over the years I have heard so many stories, sometimes some on repeat, but they always interested me. Some were very dramatic and sad, some incredibly funny, others a little bawdy, some just plain ole regular stories about life.

My favourite was his meeting Richard Burton in a local pub after seeing him on the stage and having a beer with him. You read about that one here. 

In time, I started a writing group with the assistance of 1233 ABC Radio. They had a 500 Words online writing group with ABC Open. Anthony Scully came out to assist with how the program worked and then I continued to facilitate a  monthly group, and asked Doug to join us. The 500 Words were on an autobiographical topic, and it was just perfect for Doug.

Initially he wrote and put them online himself but then his computer crashed and in his late 90s he didn't want to get a new one. So he would then write up each story in the most beautiful long hand cursive writing. Always on the 500 words limit and never needing editing. I would type them up for him and upload them to the ABC Open site.

His stories were a hit, as you can see from his section of the site, and also within our group that met monthly at Swansea Library.

I knew Anthony would love Doug, as he was a great interviewer and finder of interesting characters for his work at 1233 ABC Radio. And so I introduced them, and he made this wonderful video of Doug in his glory, holding court with others, and visiting our lovely library. It is one of my proudest moments of being a Librarian. This is our job, to make sure the community feels included, and with Doug, he sure did.

During the time of our writing project, our group was invited to read a story each at a special 500 Words session at the 2nd Newcastle Writers Festival. A huge coup for the group and indeed our library. We were all very excited, but none as much as Doug. He taped his story, and whilst he attended the day, we felt it was easier to play the tape than put the pressure of performing on him. He was very excited during the trip from Swansea to City Hall, Newcastle. He was incredibly proud to be invited and we wondered about our reception. 

Would anyone be there??

The session was inundated with people, standing room only and spilling out in the corridors of City Hall. Doug was front and centre and applauding and supporting all of us who had to stand in front of the large crowd and tell our story. His story got the biggest applause and he took part in the Q and A session at the end. Actually he took it over, had much to say and stole the show, it was hilarious and wonderful. People had come especially to meet him, from reading his stories online. So many people wanted to hug him and shake his hand. I was overwhelmed by the love in the room and he took it by his stride.

He spoke about the importance of documenting your life and the importance of libraries. I couldn't have been prouder.

Later that week he visited me and thanked me for helping him. Totally unnecessary, it was all part of my job and I loved him so of course I would help him! He said the day was so inspiring but also tiring, he slept for a few days to recover, lol. But he had loved every minute of it!

For those that knew him, he was an incredible man. He always looked decades younger than his actual age, most people wouldn't believe he was in his 90s. He regaled me with stories of taking the 'oldies', from the retirement village he lived in, to Sydney on the train on excursions to the theatre. I am fairly certain these oldies were about 2-3 decades younger than him.

He loved ladies, in that lovely old-fashioned English way. He was very charming, and the only customer I would allow to hug and kiss me. He was a beautiful and gentle soul.

Doug lived life large, this is obvious from his stories. He had suffered hardships, his father dying when he was very young, his wife passed from cancer, an earlier love suiciding in later life, and so on. But he always gravitated towards the joy and beauty in life.

He was always active physically, and more importantly mentally. I firmly believe that (and probably good genetics) was the reason he lived to be 102.

His 100th was a magnificent celebration, with the local pub inundated with people of all ages. He was visibly overwhelmed but loved every single minute of it.

A few months later, I asked him to be a guest of the library for our conversations series, Share the Story with Carol Duncan. Carol was excited to meet Doug, and Doug thrilled to meet her and be centre of attention. It was a fabulous Saturday morning with a full house. He was nervous when I collected him, and couldn't find his favourite bow-tie, I helped him find and attach it. But once he settled into the interview at the library he was fine. He told all sorts of stories, and had everyone in the palm of his hand. There were many tears from his stories, but also many laughs. I have never seen so many smiling faces leaving the library after the event. Everyone had thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Carol asked him at the end, the secret to life. He paused and looked at her with a little bamboozled look. "It's life, and you've got to enjoy it" he said. And no one would disagree with him, a man who knew how to enjoy life remarkably.

Less than a year later, as he was coming up to his 101st birthday, he was hospitalised and no one knew what was going on, but it sounded grim.

I tracked him down at Belmont hospital and visited him...with much trepidation.

I just didn't know how i would cope if he was in a bad way. I needn't have worried. He was in fine form. He looked great and was very chatty. The nurses told me that he'd had a few visits from women and he was quite enjoying himself. Sounds about right I replied.

So he told me he had a stroke. And to be honest i didn't believe him. Always a storyteller and all. He looked and moved so well. But I noticed a few minor things as I was there and I think he was telling the truth!

How bloody remarkable.

He wanted to know all the library gossip before telling me some stories. So I sat and held his hand and listened. And he told me a story I had not heard before

He loves talking about his beloved mother. A single Mum and feminist way before her time.

He said she approached him with a very sharp knife when he was 7 and told him it was time he took the cut. He had no idea what she meant but the knife looked daunting. She told him it was very important, he had no choice and he should close his eyes. She said I'm going to cut some joy into you. Here is the spot and it'll hurt but you're brave and you'll be fine.

To which end she put the point of the knife on his chest just enough for him to feel it. She wiped something on his chest and said he could open his eyes. He asked if he bled and she said only a little, but I put a cream on it and it's gone. But now you have joy in you and you must remember never ever to forget that. Use that joy everyday and your life will be long and happy.

He looked at me and said and i have always remembered that Cathy and she was right. I'm so happy here right now. I'm meeting new people and being looked after. And I'm full of joy.

And if that's not the meaning of life I really don't know what is.

My favourite memories will be his impromptu visits. I'd hear him enter the library, he knew how to project his voice and speak with authority, but still in a kind way. You'd hear him before you saw him, greeting everyone in his presence. Of course, almost everyone knew him, and those that didn't soon would. He would stop at the front desk and chat with the team, he loved them all and loved to chat with them. Then I'd hear him ask if the boss was in, lol!

I then knew I would lose at least half an hour of my day but I never cared. No matter how busy I was, I always considered it a privilege to spend time chatting with him. He would give me a hug and a kiss, take off his back pack and sit in my office. He always had plenty to tell me, about a trip, the theatre, friends, events, he was busy!!! Then there would be something that reminded him of an old story, so he would tell me that. Once he had gotten everything off his chest that he wanted to tell me, he would ask about me, the library, and what was going on in Swansea that I knew. We chatter back and forth and then he'd give me a list of topics and books he was interested in for me to find for him. It was always something historical or political or just plain fascinating. Sometimes they were for stories he was writing, to get the facts correct, other times, just things that had come up since he last visited that he wanted to know more about.

What brilliant intellect, and what a brain!!!

He loved the library and was a firm supporter of it. Not only did he attend the writing classes, but Movie Book Club, and Movie Nights.

He would turn up to Movie Night dressed in a tuxedo, it was a night out! He loved the films. We scheduled Raising Arizona, and I was worried as there was a bit of language in it. The crowd was mostly elderly, as the movie finished I was waiting to hear what people thought. There were a few unsure faces, I asked Doug. He replied to me, "it's the Coens Cathy, I love them. They're great!!" and then no one else was really game to say anything negative, cause if someone in their very late 90s wasn't bothered why should they be!

And I should have known better, never under estimate Doug!

Although his cheekier side would keep you on your toes.

I was working the front desk one afternoon, when he popped by, and sat down for a chat and started to tell me a story.

'You are going to love this Cathy, you would never guess who I met the other day.' Oh I said, tell me!

And he started this story with a twinkle in his eye. A lot of his stories had elaborate beginnings involving him catching varying transport to his destination, usually an event with friends and he would go through who was who and why they were there. So he told me all about that, and once it was over he was in Beaumont Street, Hamilton, walking for a bus, when he fell over. A young gentlemen helped him up and he thought he looked familiar. He thanked the young man for helping him and offered to buy him a drink, so they headed for the pub for a drink. 

The man was English, and very good looking, he said to me with eyes twinkling and grin sharp. He told me after some chatter he asked him his name, to which he said, Colin Firth. I cracked up laughing, and said Colin Firth!?! Yes, Cathy, you know, the young chap from Pride and Prejudice. I couldn't stop laughing, Doug, I know him well and I think if he was in Newcastle I would know about it. He laughed and said I know, but I knew you'd enjoy the story so I made it up for you! It made me smile for days. 

The stories are endless from the decade or so that I had the privilege and pleasure of knowing Doug until he passed away this week at the age of 102.
He was a staunch supporter of the library and a breath of fresh air whenever he visited.

I was recently at his 102 birthday party, just a few weeks ago, and he was too unwell to attend. But the party went ahead, as that is what he would have wanted. He was the special type of person who touched everyone who knew him, we all should be so lucky.

I wanted to place as many of my memories, stories, photos, and his stories together in one easily retrievable link, hence this long blog.

So please forgive my indulgence, but it’s not often you get to say goodbye to someone who has lived on this earth so very long with such a passionate and brilliant impact on everyone who knew him.

Saturday, March 9, 2019


February was a hectic month. Mostly due to work, I don't go into a lot of detail about work here, just overviews and positive, but let's just say we are going through a lot of change and it is exhausting.

I went to my first gig of the year at the beginning of the month. Steve Smyth, at The Stag at Mayfield. We had a great pub meal prior, and headed into the gig. The Stag are doing wonderful things for the live music scene and the gig area had a great vibe. Steve, as always was great, but possibly not as great as he could have been. He seemed distracted, nonetheless, a good time was had.

There was dinner twice at the Peacock Palace, a long favourited institution at Warners Bay and always a great meal.

I took time to think about my 1 year anniversary since getting dealt the cancer card.

I also headed to Swansea RSL to celebrate Doug's 102nd birthday, but alas he was too unwell to make the day, we celebrated anyway.

February was Oscar Month. You can read about the films I watched, my predictions, and what actually happened at these links.

There are the usual reviews, markets, and pics.


My wrap-up is a little late, mostly as I have been busy but also I'm still feeling meh about the show.

The Show
I didn't mind no host, but the show generally felt flat and for the most part left me nonplussed. I wish they would pair people that worked, some had no chemistry, others were brimming. This happens every year, will they ever learn. I loved the diversity of the winners and the spread of winners over many different movies. I was feeling ok about it all but not much made me beam. Except maybe Olivia Coleman winning. I was pretty devastated that Green Book won. Look, it is a good solid movie, but compared to that list of could have won, really???? It was about race but it was safe and old fashioned and basically Driving Miss Daisy reversed and i will never understand that winning either. Roma should have won and if not A Star is Born, The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody or even BlacKkKlansman or Black Panther.

Oh and I know he only passed 2 days earlier, but nothing about Stanley Donen at all, nothing??? He only directed one of the greatest movies ever...maybe next year!?

The Highlights
However, there were still hightlights.

The opening act of "Queen" were good, but not great. It lacked something. I use the name Queen loosely as without Freddie they will never be Queen. Adam Lambert is an adequate 'replacement' but his voice is a little too plastic for my tastes.

Presenters like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph; Melissa McCarthy, Michael Keaton, Paul Rudd, Sarah Paulson helped lift things.

All the songs were great, especially Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

I loved Barbra's introduction of BlacKkKlansman.

I also loved some of the winners speeches, especially some of the smaller awards, but also Marhershala Ali, Remi Malek, and Olivia Coleman.

The Winners - how I fared

Here was my predictions.

I got 15 correct (and 9 wrong).

I got both actresses wrong and happily so. The Docos, Costume, Production, Original Score, and original screenplay. AND BEST FILM...GRRRR

The Fashion

The fashion was as always fun!

Here are some faves

Sunday, March 3, 2019


What I've Been Reading

Mirka and Georges: a culinary affair by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan - wonderful coffee table type memoir with recipes. It follows the wonderfully bohemian Mirka and Georges as children until their lives intertwine and they end up in Melbourne. They then set up business in art and food, and take the town by storm. Filled with photos and paintings and recipes and history, this is a remarkable and thoroughly enjoyable story. It made me smile, how I wish to have been around during their heyday.

Look back in Hunger: the autobiography by Jo Brand - covering the early days of Jo's life, growing up, her family, and her entrance into comedy. It was sometimes funny, but mostly direct and matter-of-fact much like Jo herself.

Live Long and...what I learned Along the Way by William Shatner - memoir style stories and essays on things that have happened to Bill with some age old wisdom thrown in. A mix of humour and the dramatic as he is so well known for.

Fashion Climbing by Bill Cunningham - this was a manuscript found after the great fashion icon passed away. It details mostly his younger life as a designer and it fascinating, but ultimately I wanted more. Bill is notoriously private and this was as you would expect, but was a lovely taste of life and fashion and design in the 40s and 50s.

Iconic: the master of Italian Fashion by Megan Hess - I love Megan's books, loads of lovely and unique illustrations. This time she is working with the great Italian fashion icons.

Encounters with Peggy Guggenheim by Stefan Moses - a stunning coffee table book of photography of Peggy in Venice back in the day. Mostly from the 60s and 70s it features Peggy and her stunning collection of art. I was transfixed by this wonderful book. What a woman!!!

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia edited by Anita Heiss - a wonderful compilation of stories from Aboriginals, famous and everyday people. A mix of heartbreak, honesty, funny and all of it ultimately uplifting. This is an incredibly important book every Australian should read.

Alone Time: four cities, four seasons, and the pleasures of solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom -  I loved this book about travelling solo. It started when the author was sent solo to Paris for 5 days to explore the city as one person. She loved it and then took 4 separate trips to Florence, New York, Istanbul and back to Paris, each in a different season and explored them all solo. It is a meditation on being in the moment, doing your own thing, loving your self and sitting back and watching the world pass by. Oh if I could do it all right now...

What I've Been Watching

The Good Place S2 - this is a great show, more inspirational and thought provoking than a comedy, but not really a drama. The cast are exceptional, especially Ted Danson. The plot changes more than you can imagine, so it makes it a little difficult to explain, but not difficult to follow when you are watching. This is totally worth it, you will laugh and be amused but also think about the kind of person you are and what you are leaving behind as you move through your world.

Fahrenheit 11/9 - Michael Moore's latest doco about what is wrong with the world...a lot! I love Moore but feel he tackles more than he could manage for one movie. There are a lot of shocking revelations, but it spins around so much, you start to lose focus. I still think this is a great film and worthy of watching, but he should have stuck to a couple of topics. Having said that there are some amazing sequences, and his love for the younger upcoming generation shines through.

McKellen: playing the part - mostly interviews with the great man as he looks back on his life. Honest and funny and full of information, this is a must see, especially for fans

Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy - a filmed version of the stage show he has done, with interviews of all sorts of players in his story added in. This is really excellent documentary. Heartbreaking stories of his young life, with songs added at the right point. Funny stories, musical background stories, and great music. I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this.

Bill Bailey Limbo Land - Bill's latest stand up tour filmed. Hilarious, loads of intellect and humour as he does so very well, and of course music. His anecdote about meeting Paul McCartney had me in stitches.

The Party - -great drama with an all-star cast. Working like a play and shot in black and white. Kristen Scott-Thomas and her husband Timothy Spall are holding a dinner party for friends and to announce her appointment as a minister. There is an undercurrent of drama despite the excitement of her news and things take a turn when her husband has a few announcements of his own. Patricia Clarkson is great as the sharp witted friend, and Cillian Murphy excellent as a friend with an axe to grind...or does he!? There are many laughs within, but it is black in parts and more a drama. However, it is compelling, and brilliant. I really enjoyed this one.

Hotel Artemis - this was an excellent thriller that I haven't heard much about. Set in a Dystopian future in LA, Jodie Foster is Nurse, an older woman, who runs a 'hotel' that is actually a hospital for criminals and underbelly caught up in the riots that seem to be continuing. She runs a tight ship and and there are rules to be played to. But on one heavy night, the rules start to be thrown out the window and chaos ensues. Excellent cast with Jeff Goldblum and Sterling K Brown. I really loved this.

Deadpool 1 and 2 - I rewatched these, cause I love them. 

Breaker Upperers - Hilarious NZ film about 2 women who run a business helping people to break up with their partner. But things go astray when one of them falls in love with one of their clients.

The Keeping Hours - This was a little insipid and only drew my attention because of the leads, the great Carrie Coon and Lee Pace. A divorced husband sees what he thinks is the ghost of his dead son in their old house, which he is getting ready to sell. He becomes obsessed with this and invites his ex-wife back. Their superb acting raises the stakes on what could have been a very sappy film. 

Mr Stein Goes Online - french comedy about a elderly man who needs help with his new computer, his daughter enlists her daughter's boyfriend in the job but he does not know who the young man is. A bit of a french farce ensues, with the elderly man and the young boyfriend getting caught up in mixed up connections but will it all end up ok?

Where Am I Going? - an Italian comedy about a man who somehow keeps managing to miss being sacked from his cushy government job by refusing to take a redundancy and moving to all sorts of weird and strange locations all over the world. Supposedly one of the biggest Italian film, I really enjoyed this, but at times found the main character a little annoying.

What I've Been Listening To

70s Radio


Podcasts - Really loving Unspooled (looking at all of the 100 AFI Films in depth), Chats 10 (Annabelle Crabbe and Leigh Sales) and Alan Alda has one I have just discovered, the first I listened to was a MASH reunion which was a sheer delight.