December 12

5 reasons to like ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ (film)

I’m assuming you know what the film is about. If not, go read a synopsis and come back to this listicle.

It also helps if you know some things about the Potterverse and don’t mind spoilers.

Jacob Kowalski Newt Scamander bowtruckle
No-maj Jacob Kowalski and magizoologist Newt Scamander with a bowtruckle © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

1. Eddie Redmayne

Eddie is a great actor in the right role. Let’s pause a moment and consider that he won an Oscar for portraying Stephen Hawking, a real person, in The Theory of Everything, and also that he can belt out a tune as he did as Marius in Les Misérables although Marius is a ponce for running off with Cosette (yes, I’m Team Eponine). Also consider his catastrophic turn as the elder Abrasax sibling in the glorious mess that was Jupiter Ascending (“I. Give. Life!” is unforgettably bad but so utterly quotable, bless).

The Edster is perfect as Newt Scamander, a wizard who we discover was very close to being kicked out of Hogwarts (it’s complicated) but who seems to have an affinity with magical animals. The role calls for a certain level of diffidence when it comes to dealing with other people that never strays into meekness and Eddie traverses this fine line very skilfully.

The filmic Potterverse hasn’t cast so perfectly since sending Kenneth Branagh in as Gilderoy Lockhart.

2. Effects of repression

We get to find out what happens to a witch/wizard when they don’t get their [insert magical school] letter and are left to a world that doesn’t want them to be magic because magic is scary to those who don’t understand it and also sometimes no-majs (muggles) are jealous they don’t have any powers.

Turns out if your powers are repressed it forms a deadly force called an obscurus, which the witch/wizard cannot control and may kill its host. A powerful metaphor for so many other things the world tries to repress.

3. More than what it seems

Those of us who were impressed by Hermione’s handbag with the Undetectable Extension Charm in HP7, love the way Newt’s suitcase becomes different temperature controlled environments for his various beasts. (By the by, the production values for the animals were top notch, from the cheeky shiny-thing-seeking, havoc-causing niffler to Newt’s pocket bowtruckle.)

And just like Newt’s suitcase, the movie is about more than what you think it is. On the surface it’s a sort of fish-out-of-water chase escapade designed so children can understand it but actually it touches more mature issues.

As I mentioned before, the effects of repression is a key one, but there’s also politics, as evidenced by the tension around magical folk having to go underground because no-majs want to lock them up (the most obvious antagonists are the Salemists in this regard) and a throwaway line you might not have caught in relation to maj/no-maj pairings with Newt mentioning the US has “rather backwards laws about relations with non-magic people” as they are not allowed to befriend, let alone marry them.

Newt’s mission, in essence, is to encourage understanding between species—whether wizard/beast or maj/no-maj—to reduce hostility and perhaps even foster bonds.

4. Love is complicated

Too often we get the story of high school sweethearts marrying and having children who then go on to the same school (er herm, all of HP). I’m not a huge fan of romance and romance tokenism but I like the two love stories in the film, the first between legilimen Queenie and no-maj Jacob, an unlikely pairing but very sweet. Through his interactions with various no-majs we get to see that Jacob is rarely understood and Queenie, who can read his mind, understands him perfectly and likes what she reads.

Then there’s the awkwardness of Newt and former auror Tina whose relationship from the outset is built on conflict, Newt being a lawbreaker and Tina resolved to regain her position, before realising they are after the same thing—keeping New York safe—albeit for different reasons.

After noticing a picture of a girl in his suitcase, Queenie talks to Newt about his past love Leta LeStrange. We discover they used to be close at school but there was hurt there. Queenie reads Newt and then says “she was a taker, you need a giver”. When Newt is about to depart New York Tina asks, obliquely, after Leta. Newt mentions that he doesn’t know what Leta does these days, suggesting he hasn’t seen her for some time. Both of them make it very clear they want to see each other again. They do not kiss. Perfectly in character for both.

5. Don’t worry

As Newt and his no-maj offsider Jacob set off on a madcap midnight adventure to recover all the escaped beasts, the magizoologist adopts a rather casual tone about the increasingly high stakes affair. Don’t worry, he urges Jacob: “My philosophy is that if you worry, you suffer twice.” Best.

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December 4

An unfortunate series of decisions

Once upon a time I fell in love with chess. I was never very good at it—because I was too lazy to practice and didn’t have the patience to study it in any depth—but I loved the romance of it and appreciated its place in history, art and culture such that I began collecting chess sets.

On a recent visit to Singapore, I played my (then 7-year-old, now 8-year-old) niece. I hadn’t played in about 15 years and she had highly suggestive coaching from my brother (who once beat Australian grandmaster Ian Rogers in a simultaneous match when he was at high school). She won, but not before I’d made a couple of silly moves, followed by incredible solutions that turned out to be not to my advantage after all.

I was reminded of this match recently when I decided on a whim that I hated my desk. As a freelancer who spends both working and non-working hours with this piece of furniture, liking one’s desk is an integral part of both the creative process and ergonomic sanity. It had to go.

The desk in itself wasn’t offensive. It was an IKEA Micke corner workstation with a couple of small shelves, file drawers and nooks to keep business cards and the like. It was just that suddenly I noticed how my 27-inch Macbook Pro screen only barely fit in the corner and that the vertical struts of the shelves were constantly in my periphery. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t help but notice it all the time.

I was due for an update anyhow. It’d been years since I’d bought office furniture and now that I’d become a full-time freelancer it was all gloriously tax deductible. I set aside a budget of $500 for a desk and a chair but then decided I didn’t want some shitty chipboard construction of a desk. Unfortunately it turns out that the reason shitty chipboard constructions exist is because they are cheap and solid wood is, well, not.

Queen Anne folding desk
Serena—isn’t she beautiful?

Goaded by Google I stumbled into Gumtree where there were dozens of solid wood desk options well within my budget. Buoyed by this, I contacted a handful of sellers to gauge availability. I was particularly taken by two. The first was a large solidly constructed number with practical shelving and drawers. The second was a vintage folding bureau in Queen Anne style, far too small for my purposes but beautiful for writing on. They were both $100, far below my budget. And all I could think was: ¿por que no los dos?

Regrettable decision #1: buying two desks when I could only fit one in my office.

No matter, I thought. I could have the serious, practical one for the office and stash the Queen Anne one in my tea den, which would thus become my creative writing and correspondence desk on account of it being in my garage and out of wi-fi range and therefore immune from internet-fuelled distractions.

Regrettable decision #2: not having the desks delivered.

There’s a GoGet van down my street called Tanzi and I employed the services of Tanzi twice that week to pick up Emmanuel (serious desk; location: Anzac Parade, Kensington, a hella busy road) and Serena (creative desk; location: Pacific Highway, Lane Cove, a hella busy road) at a cost of something like $28 for each two-hour session + whatever the kilometre charge is for my GoGet level these days.

While $80-ish doesn’t seem like a lot to pay for picking up these bargain desks (recall I paid $100 for each of them), the opportunity cost from not working had now reached four hours, not counting the amount of time spent searching for furniture and liaising with the sellers.

I then encountered another problem: my partner and I did not have the muscle between us to carry Emmanuel (length: 130cm; approx weight: 70kg) to my office. It’s three stories up, which is six flights of stairs and five turns, plus we had to bring Micke down first. If I’d had the desks delivered instead of enthusiastically picking them up myself, I could’ve avoided this scenario.

I turned to Airtasker for help, offering two people $35 each for the task of bringing one desk down and hauling one desk up—a half-hour job, I wrote—which somehow spawned a bunch of people offering $230 for the task. Confounding.

After Airtasker failed, I started ringing around some local removalists I thought might be interested in the tiny job that could be done before or after another in the area. The best offer was $150. I then hit on one that advertised ‘no job too small’ and was quoted $60, which I took. For the record, the job took 15 minutes.

Regrettable decision #3: not measuring the right thing.

When I expressed interest in Emmanuel, I asked the seller for the dimensions of the footwell. I also took the time to measure its length to ensure he’d fit in the smaller space vacated by Micke. What I failed to measure was the height and depth of the upper shelf. In effect, it meant that either my monitor had to sit too high or too close to me. I tried working both ways and was rewarded with headaches and a sore neck.

What I needed was an underdesk keyboard drawer. Officeworks seemed to be the only major retailer selling them and it came at the lofty price of $109, internet purchase only.

(There is a minor interlude here that involves me buying the drawer on a ‘Click and Collect’ basis, dashing the 15-minute route from Chinese class at USyd [finishing time: 8:30pm] to Glebe Officeworks [closing time: 9pm] to pick it up only to find I hadn’t actually bought it.)

The arrival of Emmanuel prompted a blog post and the purchase of a brand new keyboard drawer.

Regrettable decision #4: setting up the desk.

As soon as Emmanuel arrived I went about filling his drawers and arranging all my accessories on him. When I finally received the drawer (thank you Officeworks, for the next-day delivery) I realised that it was going to have to be screwed in upwards, which is to say I’d have to lie down under the desk and make sure the screws went in perfectly vertically against gravity into solid wood while also holding the keyboard in place. Now, I’m not much of a handyperson at the best of times so this to me was like being asked to paint the Sistine Chapel.

All of this would have been avoided had I not set up the desk. If he’d been naked, I could’ve flipped him upside down and finished the task the easy way and we’d all be happy.

During these two days, I got sick and weak. I was too lazy to unpack Emmanuel (and clear a space in my office behind him big enough to accommodate flippage) and whenever I lay down under the desk, I began to wane.

Eventually, brushing aside pride and several decades of feminism, I employed my partner to do this task for me. His method involved screwing things out of order and using a drill to make guiding holes, two things I would never have thought to do having too much faith in the technical copywriter of the instruction manual and too little in my ability to avoid drilling a hole right through the desk.

So now Emmanuel is complete.

Cost of my folly

Emmanuel = $100

Serena = $100

GoGet fees = $79

Removalist fees = $60

Keyboard drawer = $109

(+10 working hours lost, unaccountable)

TOTAL = $448

Only $188 of which is tax deductible. And I still have to buy a chair.

(P.S: Does anyone want a free Micke workstation?)

Lessons learnt

I don’t employ strategic thinking for small things in my life and I rarely employ it for big things either. Somehow, though, fortune smiles down on me. What I lost when my niece beat me at chess, I won back in spades in bonding with her. Accordingly, whatever I lost in time and money on this stupid deskapade, I still ended up with two beautiful, functional pieces of furniture I’ll treasure for a while yet.

So there are no lessons learnt, really, I’m incorrigible like that. Except for an iteration of a lesson I forget sometimes, that things will work often out in the end.

Category: Work | LEAVE A COMMENT
November 21


I found myself pacing the Health & Beauty aisle at Coles looking for shampoo, perhaps the worst kind of Saturday night to have after what was a fairly good day. I’m not loyal to any brand in particular but I do like to pick the most eco-friendly product on offer that isn’t wildly expensive, a weird legacy inherited from my mum after she joined a multi-level marketing scheme selling beauty and cleaning products without sulphates or parabens long before the current enviro movement.

The least evil shampoo there cost $23.99 for a 500ml bottle and it still had sulphates in it. Since when was shampoo worth $24?! I decided I could probably make do temporarily with soap and conditioner.

 As a last resort I headed to the baby section for a bottle of Johnson & Johnson ‘no more tears’ baby shampoo. I don’t remember where it sits on the evil shampoo scale but I do remember how awesome my hair looks when I use it, which I discovered by accident one time when I stayed over at my parents’ place and found a third of a bottle that a previous guest had left behind.

‘No more tears’ was no more, but I did find significantly more not-evil shampoos there, also at exorbitant prices. I left Coles without shampoo, but I also cried a little for ‘no more tears’, for it was like the end of an era. Grown-up shampoo from now on, Ads, the world – Coles’ new world – seemed to say.

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