Amazon’s sales growth slows

Amazon南京夜网’s willingness to gain customer loyalty by shouldering the costs of nationwide shipping and access to online movies has its limitations.
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After a 20 per cent jump in operating costs led Amazon to miss analysts’ fourth-quarter profit estimates, the company said that it’s considering raising the price of its $US79-a- year Prime membership for the first time.

That service, which includes two-day shipping and endless video streaming, may increase by $US20 to $US40 a year in the United States, the company said.

Amazon’s expenses have been climbing as chief executive officer Jeff Bezos pumps money into new initiatives like warehouses to speed shipments and research on home-delivery drones. While Bezos continues to tout “world-class customer service” — a phrase he used in Thursday’s statement — there are limits to how much he’s willing to subsidize users.

“They are launching drones for delivery, but when you miss earnings, investing in risky technology like that gets put on the back burner,” said Gene Alvarez, an analyst at researcher Gartner.

Net income was $US239 million, or US51c a share, Amazon said. Analysts on average had projected profit of US69c a share, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Operating costs climbed to $US25.1 billion from $US20.9 billion a year earlier.

Sales in the holiday quarter increased at the slowest rate since 2008. Revenue rose 20 per cent to $US25.6 billion, trailing the $US26.1 billion average analyst estimate. The company’s dominance of US e-commerce isn’t translating globally, with international sales growth slowing to 13 per cent in the quarter from 21 per cent a year earlier.

“What we see is continued growth, but a slowing rate of growth,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

Tom Szkutak, Amazon’s chief financial officer, said on the conference call with analysts that the potential increase in Prime is the result of higher fuel and shipping costs. The company hasn’t lifted the price since introducing the service nine years ago, he said.

“Customers like the service and they are using it a lot more,” Szkutak said. He also said additions to Prime such as access to online movies and television shows, which the company must pay to acquire, is adding to the cost of the service.

Amazon, which sells everything from high-definition televisions to toy trains, is still taking market share from brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy Co.

The e-commerce market is expected to climb 15 per cent this year to $US300.6 billion, according to researcher EMarketer Inc. Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, was the heaviest Web-spending day on record, with consumers shelling out more than $US2 billion, according to ComScore Inc.

The record holiday season brought some snafus as well. Amazon and other retailers issued rebates after United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp., overwhelmed by demand, were late in delivering some packages to customers.

“It’s entirely possible that they have trained consumers to just buy Christmas presents at the last second, and weren’t prepared for the logistical issues,” Pachter said.

Amazon’s net shipping costs in the period jumped 19 per cent to $US1.21 billion. Fulfillment expenses surged 29 per cent to $US2.92 billion. Technology and content costs — for research and development — increased 38 per cent to $US1.86 billion

Sales in North America jumped 26 per cent in the period to $US15.3 billion. Operating margin, a metric of profitability, rose to 2 per cent from 1.9 per cent a year earlier.

The company’s loyal band of investors is betting on Bezos’s ability to deliver continued sales growth as Amazon adds online video options, bolsters its line of Kindle devices, wins business customers for its cloud servers and expands its grocery-delivery service. Amazon doesn’t disclose sales of individual products.

Washington Post / Bloomberg

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Last roll of the dice for paddlesteamer

Source: Border Mail
Nanjing Night Net

ALBURY mayor Kevin Mack has conceded the Cumberoona paddlesteamer is entering a make or break phase of its existence.

Albury Mayor Kevin Mack checks out the spot from where the PS Cumberoona steamed from 1987 to 2006 before a low river grounded the vessel. Picture: DAVID THORPE

Trying to find someone to run the boat next summer is “the last roll of the dice”, he said yesterday.

The council is seeking expressions of interest from suitably qualified operators and is targeting other Murray River centres, Echuca and Mildura, in the search.

The successful party will be offered a three-year lease with an option to extend by two years.

Cr Mack said the search would hopefully flush out a suitably qualified paddlesteamer operator, who also had experience in the tourism industry.

But he said the council also had to prepare itself for the possibility of an operator not being found.

“We’ve got it repaired and we are now sounding out the marketplace,” Cr Mack said.

“The worst case scenario is we don’t get any satisfactory applicants and we then move to stage two.

“Stage two I suppose is what we do with it.

“We have to progress these things and they have been a legacy of previous councils for the last 10 years.

“It is fair to say this is probably the last roll of the dice.”

The Cumberoona last operated just before Christmas 2006, due to low river levels, and was then taken ashore.

Subsequently, 90 per cent of its hull has been replaced and works carried out to help prevent future corrosion.

The council has continued maintenance work, including repairing floorboards and stairs, sealing leaks and holes.

The Cumberoona has cost the council more than $2 million over 20 years and has never returned a profit when operational.

“It hasn’t been a great business venture,” Cr Mack said.

“This is the starting point and if there are any operators interested in running it as a going concern we will do what we can to assist them.

“But we need to know what the business plan looks like.”

Expressions of interest will be done in two stages with initial submissions shortlisted before going on to the next stage.

Submissions close on March 4.

Ten-man Heart stun Sydney FC 2-1

The revolution may have begun at Melbourne Heart, and establishing the new world order might not take as long as some people thought.
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The red and whites have been basking in the sort of attention they have rarely enjoyed in the past since the news of the Manchester City takeover broke just over a week ago. And on Friday night at AAMI Park they proved themselves worthy of all that attention with a hugely gutsy effort to beat high-riding Sydney 2-1, even though they had to play the bulk of the game with 10 men.

Substitute David Williams’ brilliant individual effort two minutes from time capped off a tremendous performance by the hosts, who had to come from a goal down and do without one of their most experienced players, former Dutch international Orlando Engelaar, who was sent off after 33 minutes for a late challenge on Sydney midfielder Hagi Gligor.

This was a game in which it seemed that  two goalkeeping blunders, one at each end, would prove decisive until Williams’ late, memorable intervention in the 89th minute when he ran from the halfway line,  skipping past two defenders’ challenges to fire home from just inside the penalty area.

Sydney were a workmanlike outfit rather than the inspired ensemble that took Melbourne Victory apart 5-0 last Sunday, and can have few complaints about this result.

Engelaar was late in his challenge on Gligor, but most observers felt the send-off was harsh.

It appeared as if it would be a turning point of the game as it forced Heart to rejig  but John van’t Schip’s side, which had barely been able to pick up a point in the first half of the season, showed courage and commitment to upset the odds.

Up to Engelaar’s dismissal the hosts had dominated proceedings, playing with verve and confidence, moving the ball around well and denying Sydney and their key man, Alessandro Del Piero, any time or space in midfield.

Van’t Schip had surprised by sending out a back three and pushing Engelaar into a more forward  midfield role, using energetic Argentine Jonatan Germano as a shield for the defence alongside the hard-running Massimo Murdocca.

It worked well as a confident Heart took the game to Sydney, playing with fluidity and movement.

Germano, making his first start in a season ruined by injury, gave them aggression and bite as they harried and pressured Sydney in a way that Victory hadn’t a few days earlier.

But for all their possession they didn’t create any clear-cut openings and were vulnerable on the break.

Sydney, not surprisingly, came into the game after Engelaar’s dismissal, and took the lead some six minutes later.

Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne failed to deal with an Ali Abbas cross, which deflected off Heart defender Jason Hoffman, spilling what should have been a regulation take, allowing Corey Gameiro to pounce on the rebound.

Heart had the first of a number of penalty shouts ignored when Iain Ramsay went to ground in the dying moments of the first half, and then just after the restart had another denied when Harry Kewell’s goal-bound drive struck Del Piero’s hands. The Heart deservedly got back on level terms through Germano in the 52nd minute, although poor goalkeeping, this time by Vedran Janjetovic, played a part.

Germano looked like scoring when he hooked the ball over Janjetovic but Sydney stopper Matt Jurman got back to clear. Janjetovic fumbled the clearance, and it fell to Germano again, who slid it home.

Sydney looked  a shadow of the the team that had humbled Victory last weekend, but still had their chances. The Heart, however, finished the stronger and refused to settle for a draw, playing a man down. Williams’ wonderful run and finish showed that was the right attitude.

Heart might be out of finals contention, but in this form they will be the sort of opponent no finals chasing team will relish coming up against in the next few weeks.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Good morning Bendigo! 01/02/2014

Good morning Bendigo!
Nanjing Night Net

To begin the first day of February, Bendigo is expected to hit a top of 42 degrees.

Phew! That’s hot!

Remember to wearsunscreen if you are heading to the pool or beach.

For more detailed weather news click here.

No reported delays.

‘Bear’ hug crushes England

AUSTRALIA beats England by eight wickets at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the second match of the Twenty20 series, last night.

– The Age

Man faces court over Rochester tent death

A MAN charged with dangerous driving causing the death of a woman in a tent in Rochester has faced court for the first time.

BDCA calls off weekend play

THERE will be no senior or junior playin the Bendigo District Cricket Association this weekend because of the heat.

With temperatures forecast for 40 degrees, the BDCA board made the decision on Thursday to postpone Saturday’s start to round 11.

1. What happens tothe rows of letters when reading down an eye chart?

2. Pevez Musharraf was president of which country?

3. Cassata is which type of food?

4. Which side of a ship is starboard?

5.Which zodiac sign of Gemini, Pisces and Taurus represents a human shape?

The colour of a chili pepper is no indication of its heat; usually the smaller ones are hotter.

If today is your big day, happy birthday!

You share a birthday withVictor Herbert, US composer (1859-1924); Feodor Chaliapin, Russian opera singer (1873-1938); Anastasio Somoza, Nicaraguan dictator (1896-1956); Clark Gable, US actor (1901-1960); Ray Sawyer, US singer of Dr Hook fame (1937-); Terry Jones, British comedian (1942-); Normie Rowe, Australian singer (1947-); Billy Mumy, US actor-producer-writer (1954-); Princess Stephanie of Monaco (1965-); Sherilyn Fenn, US actress (1965-); Lisa Marie Presley, US singer (1968-); Pauly Shore, American comedian (1968-); Michael C Hall, American actor (1971); Graeme Smith, South African cricketer (1981-); Jodi Gordon, Australian actress and model (1985-).

1587 – England’s Queen Elizabeth I signs warrant for execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

1884 – First volume of the Oxford English Dictionary is published.

1908 – Portugal’s King Carlos I and Crown Prince are murdered in Lisbon, Manuel II becomes king.

1946 – Trygve Lie, Norwegian socialist, is elected United Nations Secretary-General; Hungarian Republic is proclaimed.

1998 – Miguel Angel Rodriguez wins the presidency in Costa Rica.

2009 – Gunmen abduct American UN worker John Solecki in Quetta, Pakistan, and kill his driver.

2011 – President Hosni Mubarak announces he will not run for a new term in September elections but rejects protesters’ demands that he step down immediately and leave the country.

2013 – Former New York mayor Ed Koch, who helped re-energise the city in the 1970s and `80s, dies of congestive heart failure, aged 88; Hillary Rodham Clinton formally resigns as US secretary of state, to be replaced by John Kerry.

What do you call an illegally parked frog?

Toad.

Got a better joke? Any tips on what we should be heading out to today? Email [email protected]南京夜网.au

Have a great day,

Maddie

Daily quiz answers: 1. They get smaller, 2. Pakistan, 3. Ice cream, 4. Right, 5. Gemini

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Dubbo Centrelink locked down after alleged threats

Wingewarra Street in Dubbo was closed on Friday morning due to an incident at Centrelink. Photo: LOUISE DONGES Wingewarra Street in Dubbo was closed on Friday morning due to an incident at Centrelink. Photo: LOUISE DONGES
Nanjing Night Net

Dubbo Local Area Command acting superintendent Mark Minehan speaks to the media outside Dubbo Police Station. Photo: LOUISE DONGES.

Source: Daily Liberal

Police blocked off a Dubbo Street and placed Dubbo Public School in lockdown after receiving a call about a man who was allegedly verbally threatening staff and telling them he had a gun at Dubbo Centrelink office on Friday morning.

About 9.15am the man entered the Centrelink building on Wingewarra Street, and allegedly became involved in a verbal argument with staff.

Police were called and the building was evacuated. Following negotiations the 28-year-old, who was unarmed, was arrested and taken to Dubbo Police Station where he assisted police with inquiries.

NSW Police have released a statement and held a press conference following an incident at the Dubbo Centrelink office on Friday morning.

A woman who stood just metres from the man responsible for the siege at Dubbo Centrelink yesterday said she never felt threatened by the man’s behaviour.

The woman was on one of the Centrelink phones near the man when he began to get agitated. She said he threw the phone and approached a staff member.

She said he then went and made a barricade for himself out of chairs and signs.

Despite the man’s behaviour, the witness said she was not aware of his claim that he had a gun and said the man actually attempted to convey that he didn’t have a weapon.

“He went off because he wanted an urgent payment and they wouldn’t give it to him. He wanted money for his blood pressure medication. He was on the phones there and they kept asking and asking what he wanted the money for. He threw the phone, got up and stormed over to one of the blokes who walks around and started swearing at him.

“He then went and created a barricade for himself, he was leaving everybody alone.

“He said ‘I can prove I haven’t got a gun. I will empty my backpack but then I would have to effing pick it up’. He went and put chairs up and signs and kept going on about wanting an emergency payment.”

PHOTOS: The Dubbo Centrelink incident as it happened

The woman said she has seen worse behaviour from people on other visits and never felt she was in danger.

“He left everyone there alone to do their business and didn’t go near them. I was on the phone not far from him. They told me to leave but I told them I wasn’t going until I had finished talking to the person on the phone,” she said.

“The only people he said he was going to punch was the staff.

“The cops turned up and said we had to get out and by then I had finished my business so I left.”

Again, the witness said the man made no attempt to stop them leaving.

“Everyone trotted out, he didn’t try to stop anyone. As I left the police were coming around the corner. They wouldn’t let them in until everyone else was out,” she said.

Wagga wrap-up, February 1

Wagga has enjoyed another big week of news – from Australia Day fun and honours, dramatic rescues and heading back to school.
Nanjing Night Net

To make sure you haven’t missed anything, check out the biggest stories of the week.

MONDAY

The Aussie spirit came to life over the weekend as the city celebrated Australia Day. Twenty-eight people from 14 countrieschose the day to become Australian citizens. Celebrations in Waggastarted with a big breakfast at the Wollundry Lagoon.

We also covered events from across the region, including Tumut, Junee,Temora, Urana, Gundagai, and Hay.

Check out all the photos here.

Group Nine will hold off on adopted new NRL policies until 2015.

TUESDAY

A family of seven were finally reunited after a harrowing night on the Murrumbidgee River when a river float went wrong. The leisurely float became a nightmare when the group, including four children, were separated. A significant land and water search began with the final members of the group found at 2.30am, some 25km from where they began.

The operator of Wagga’s mobile speed cameras have been told to move to ensure the safety of cyclists following a push by local residents.

AsNSW PoliceOperation Safe Return came to a close, aman in his late 30s was killed in a single car accident near Cowra.

Ladysmith triplets Izabelle, Charlie and Maggie get ready for their first day of Kindergarten.

Wagga is getting ready for the Gumi Racewhich will be held on Sunday, February 16.

Wagga Rugby League has revealed the Equex Centre is in prime position to host two major NRL promotions in 2015.

WEDNESDAY

Motorists could be driving on a sub-standard surface on Edward Street withWagga City Council and the RMS at odds over funding the works.

Plans are revealed for a $30 million upgrade of Wagga’s Sturt Mall.

Wagga City Council reveal they hope to buy back a piece of “strategically useful” land next to the State Emergency Services headquarters.

School’s back! Primary and high school students across the Riverina return to school after six weeks break.

Player registration fees for soccer in Wagga have been slashed to help out families.

THURSDAY

Could former deputy prime minister Riverina-born Tim Fischer be the next Governor of NSW? Word is he could be.

The heat is on. Wagga gets set for scorching temperaturesas high as 41. For Riverina Water County Council, it means all hands on deck to ensure it can cope with increased water consumption.

Motorists carrying trailers are reminded to ensure wheel bearings are well greased after a overheated wheel bearing started a number of fires on the Burley-Griffin Way.

Wagga-based apprentice jockey Anthony Boyd shares his life-changing transformation losing 26kg and moving interstate to pursuit his career.

FRIDAY

Wagga has been rated as the most family-friendly city in Australia.

A woman who stole an urn holding the ashes of a Cootamundra woman’s mother has been jailed for eight months.

Buildings at Charles Sturt University’s south campus will be pulled down later this year as a part of the university’s plan to sell off the land.

Wagga preschool students learn how hot cars get during a heatwave – it’s hot enough to bake cupcakes.

Temora’s Jake Barrett settles in to his first AFL pre-season with Greater Western Sydney.

SATURDAY

Meet the Ryczak family- a Wagga family who raised their own three children, then adopted another three, two of whom have profound physical and intellectual disabilities.

More than 100 walkers, including NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell will set off on the annual Tumbatrek today.

Wagga police say the use of ‘ice’ is rising. Parents have been warned to keep an lookout for methamphetamine, which looks like crushed ice. Health experts say substance abuse associated violence is a serious problem in the Riverina.

Police are hoping to identify a man they wish to speak with in relation to alleged attempted abduction of a 16-year-old in Coolamon.

TOP 10 MOST READ

1. River float almost ends in tragedy

The week that was…

Monday, January 27

Monday, January 27

Tuesday, January 28

Tuesday, January 28

Wednesday, January 29

Wednesday, January 29

Thursday, January 30

Thursday, January 30

Friday, January 31

Friday, January 31

Saturday, February 1

Saturday, February 1

2. Critics question work for the dole scheme

3. Count down the Triple J Hottest 100

4. Speed camera shifted but still in focus

5. Three Chefs closes without warning

6. Fatal Tumut house fire: woman on the run

7. Soccer stars’ conduct shameful, says magistrate

8. Wagga rated most family-friendly city

9. Australia Day attack leaves man, 30, with serious facial injury

10. Alleged bikie back in Wagga Local Court

TOP 10 COMMENTED ON

1. Critics question work for the dole scheme

2. Riverina MP takes hard line on work for the dole

3. Wagga rated most family-friendly city

4. Council newspaper put on hold

5. Stretch of Sturt still among state’s worst

6. Speed camera shifted but still in focus

7. Gumi races set to be the biggest yet

8. Lack of information clouds freight hub

9. Commuters swelter in carriages without aircon

10. 10 ways to keep cool in a Wagga summer

TOP 10 MOST CLICKED ON

1. Mega gallery: Australia Day in the Riverina

2. Photos: Australia Day Races

3. Photos: Weekend sport, January 25-26

4. Photos: Australia Day in Wagga

5. Photos: Out and About, January 22-28

6. Mega gallery: Australia Day in the Riverina

7. Bubs of 2013

8. River float almost ends in tragedy

9. Photos: Footballers on the move

10. Critics question work for the dole scheme

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

A Tale of Two Cities: The very Dickens of a play

Laura Dawson as Lucie Manette, Daniel Greiss as Charles Darnay and Calen Robinson as Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Photo: Lauren SadowA TALE OF TWO CITIES. Adapted by Terence Rattigan and John Gielgud from the novel by Charles Dickens.Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher. Produced by Queanbeyan City Council. Recommended for patrons 12 and older. The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, February 5 to 15. Tickets $49/$44. Bookings: theq.net.au
Nanjing Night Net

An adaptation of one of the world’s most popular books by two giants of 20th century British theatre is having its Australian premiere in Queanbeyan. It’s being directed by a former Canberran who is working here for the first time in a decade.

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities has sold more than 200 million copies and is often cited as the world’s bestselling novel.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who directed the play’s world premiere in Britain in 2011, says the book is no stranger to adaptation.

‘There have been countless film and television adaptations and musicals and now we have this stage adaptation,” he says.

This stage version was written in 1935 by John Gielgud – he was already a well-established classical actor and it was his only play – and Terence Rattigan. It was the latter’s second play; his big successes like The Browning Version and The Winslow Boy were in the future. The play was ready to go into rehearsal when an impassioned plea from the elderly Sir John Martin-Harvey, who for may years toured in his own version of the story titled The Only Way, led to it being shelved.

”It was seen as taking bread from an old man’s mouth,” he says.

The play lay unpublished and unproduced for nearly 80 years until Spreadbury-Maher heard of it and became intrigued at the prospect of a ”new” work from two 20th-century British theatrical giants. He edited the play from four hours to 2½ and reduced the cast from 30 actors to nine; ”There’s doubling, tripling and quadrupling.”

Spreadbury-Maher says that rather than focusing on spectacle, the play’s focus is on the ”human heart” of the story: a love triangle taking place in Paris and London that involves dissolute British barrister Sydney Carton (played by Calen Robinson), former French aristocrat Charles Darnay (Daniel Greiss), who changed his name to protest against his family’s treatment of the poor, and Lucie Manette (Laura Dawson), who is loved by them both, set against the turbulent, treacherous background of the French Revolution.

There’s revolution around in the world as there was in the 18th century and Spreadbury-Maher wants to combine the 18th-century story and setting with a modern, East London aesthetic: antihero Carton is reimagined as a member of the 27 Club, all of whose notional members- including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse – died at age 27.

Spreadbury-Maher, 32, was born in Canberra and studied singing at the ANU School of Music. He was also a performer in plays and musicals with Canberra Rep, Queanbeyan Players and other companies, but his real interest lay off stage.

At the age of 20, he produced a Free-Rain production of To Kill A Mockingbird, directed by Rhys Holden, and at 21 made his directorial debut with the play Beautiful Thing at the Street Theatre with the encouragement of Stephen Pike, now program director at the Q. He received an Australian Critics’ Circle Award and the Canberra Area Theatre Award Gold Cat in 2004.

Buoyed by this success he went to Britain and trained briefly at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama before making made his London directing debut at The White Bear Theatre as the theatre’s associate director, including two world premieres, The Ides of March by Canberra playwright Duncan Ley and Studies for a Portrait by Daniel Reitz. In 2008 he founded the theatre company Good Night Out Presents, which is the parent company of his venues and theatre/opera companies. In January 2009, he founded The Cock Tavern Theatre, becoming its artistic director. Its artistic policy is to stage only world premieres and revivals from world-class playwrights. He has directed revivals by Stephen Fry and Hannie Rayson and produced a retrospective season of work by prolific British playwright Edward Bond.

Also in 2009 he formed OperaUpClose with the aim of bringing opera to a wider audience. Among its productions have been La Boheme, directed by Robin Norton Hale, and a new version of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly retitled Bangkok Butterfly and directed by Spreadbury-Maher.

In 2010, Spreadbury-Maher was associate director on the British premiere of the multi-award winning Holding the Man, adapted by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy from the novel by Timothy Conigrave. The same year, he was awarded the Fringe Report Award 2010 for Best Artistic Director as recognition of the success at the Cock and was appointed artistic director of The King’s Head Theatre.

”I enjoy being part of a big collaborative process,” he says.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Inside Trader book review: A life well-lived on the B-list

INSIDE TRADERTrader Faulkner Scribe, 354pp, $35 
Nanjing Night Net

The title was inevitable of course. After auditioning successfully in 1950 for The Lady’s Not for Burning, the young aspirant was asked his name by director John Gielgud. Told ”Ronald Faulkner”, Gielgud replied, ”Ronald! Oh, God! What a dreary name!” and was elated to learn Faulkner’s ”down-under” nickname was Trader.

His autobiography puns on the idea of what goes on inside the author and the kinds of inside information we get about the great and the – well, not necessarily – good.

It’s hard to be sure how many people, in his native Australia at least, will remember who he is. Not that this need matter too much if the story he has to tell is an entertaining one, as he makes his way from a somewhat messy Sydney childhood to the periphery of the great world of international acting media.

He is probably best described as a jobbing actor. He never really came near the top on stage or screen but blessed, as he modestly puts it, with ”good looks and natural charm”, he managed to stay in work fairly steadily (give or take a stint at house-painting) over a surprisingly long time. Theatre was his chief goal from his time with the Independent Theatre in Sydney, under the directorial hand of legendary Doris Fitton, when the call of nature – the bladder to be exact – interfered with his scene as the messenger in Hamlet.

Luck seemed to be heading his way when he replaced Richard Burton in The Lady’s Not for Burning when it went to Broadway, but this glitter was soon dulled back in England.

He landed a couple of insignificant movie roles, one of them indeed with Merle Oberon, whom he dares to describe as ”aloof” when years later she doesn’t remember him at a dinner party given by Larry and Viv (that’s the Oliviers).

Fortunately he’d learnt how to do a posh English accent and radio work kept him solvent. The 1955 season at Stratford, which first brought him in touch with the Oliviers, taught him ”the theatre’s greatest lesson: if you want to succeed, keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told”, but it didn’t bring very rewarding roles.

Yet it is interesting enough to read about an actor who, without ever establishing a recognisable presence across the acting forums, still managed to have a career. The book’s tone is essentially anecdotal and gossipy. It has a cast list that seems almost too starry for the lightweight narrative that is the story of Faulkner’s life: not just those named already but also Paul Scofield, Judith Anderson, Diane Cilento and Marlene Dietrich.

Nearly everyone becomes, and is described as, a ”close friend”.

So there is almost the relief of contrast when he falls out with producer Glen Byam Shaw at Stratford. Or with Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray when he invites them to dinner on his London houseboat, forgets and goes out, and they are quite displeased, as you would be, to have driven from Stratford for the occasion.

He may well now be best remembered for his biography of Peter Finch, whom he had known in Sydney in the 1940s. He had joined acting classes with Finch, who ”widened my artistic horizon, and became a mentor and an elder brother figure”.

I’m not sure that the gifted but not wholly reliable Finch was the best role model for a young man just embarking on life’s journey, but Faulkner repaid his early debts by writing a substantial account of his mentor’s rackety life and glamorous career.

He is less likely to be remembered for his dedicated work in bringing the Spanish playwright Lorca to English audiences, and for his acquired Hispanophile proficiency in dancing the flamenco.

So what sort of man emerges from the 300-odd pages here? His personal relationships – with his alcoholic father who died when Trader was a small boy, his possessive mother, his wife Bobo who divorced him to go off with Harry M. Miller – were probably more complex than his prose is equal to.

His approach seems to be a matter of ”It’s being cheerful keeps me going” and, apart from a few careless errors that could easily have been checked (you won’t find the encomium ”a lass unparalleled” in Twelfth Night), it’s lightly readable as it steers a path between self-deprecation and self-congratulation. On the whole, the latter wins.

Brian McFarlane is Adjunct Professor, Swinburne Institute of Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Things that Whitehall worries over

THE PRIME MINISTER’S IRONING BOARD AND OTHER STATE SECRETS. By Adam MacQueen. Little Brown. 288pp. $32.95.
Nanjing Night Net

Preserving government archives is a highly important, if not always appreciated, public service function. Archives, particularly in a digital environment, are often vulnerable, especially when governments can quickly remove policy documents of their predecessors, or those which conflict with their present views. Services, such as the National Library of Australia’s Pandora web-archive, are thus crucial in this context.

The documents, highlighted by Adam MacQueen in The Prime Minister’s Ironing Board – and other state secrets, True Stories from the Government Archives, were “kept locked away for decades”. A significant number provide evidence that the Official Secrets Act in Britain could be renamed the Official Stupidity Act.

The book’s title stems from Mrs Thatcher’s arrival in 10 Downing Street in 1979. She was appalled at the household expenses, including that £19 had been spent on a new ironing board. Mrs Thatcher wrote on the file, “I have an excellent ironing board which is not in use at home”. She also complained about replacing the crockery and linen used by the previous Prime Minister James Callaghan, “Bearing in mind we only use one bedroom”.

Other details of suppressed costs, which now seem relatively trivial, compared with the recent British expense scandals, were the price of hearing aids for Winston Churchill and the veterinary bills for the apes on the Rock of Gibraltar. In 1971, the Gibraltar apes were again in the spotlight with a project to list the names and ages of all the apes on the rock.

In 1968, Prime Minister Harold Wilson was horrified that almost £1500 had been granted by the Social Sciences Research Council to a Newcastle University psychologist to study the “communication aspects of clothes”, including the length of the mini skirt, in order to assist the British fashion industry. Wilson wrote on the file, “If this is so valuable to these vast industries why do they not pay for it”.

The next year, Wilson was briefed on plans to slash the budget of the SSRC which Labour had only established three years earlier! He approved and, despite having been one of the highest-marked graduates in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, wrote on the file, “Should we be subsidising economic history?”. Plus ca change in the relationship between politicians, with academic backgrounds, and Research Council grants.

The Royal family often featured in the restricted archives. In the late 1960s fears were expressed that Prince Charles was too much a supporter of Welsh nationalism when a student at Aberystwyth University. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was asked to have “a low-key word” with the Queen’s private secretary. The Queen herself, in the previous decade, had threatened to boycott the Royal Film performance after being underwhelmed by the 1954 choice, Beau Brummell, starring Elizabeth Taylor, but was placated with the choice of a Hitchcock film in 1955.

While most restricted documents seem relatively trivial when read retrospectively, it is clear that the UK archives remain under constant review. Thus, the 1980s correspondence between Jimmy Savile and Margaret Thatcher was suddenly removed, and embargoed for a further 40 years, after the Savile scandal erupted in October 2012.

In early 2014, it was revealed that papers, already restricted for over 50 years, from Lord Denning’s inquiry into Minister for War John Profumo’s 1961 affair with Christine Keeler may still not be released for decades. Professor Peter Hennessy, who has written widely on the inner workings of Whitehall, was recently quoted, in the UK Daily Telegraph, that the Profumo documents were part of the Cabinet Office’s “too hot to handle archive”.

Now that’s one archive worth waiting for.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

A love of Eliot is for a lifetime

George Eliot’s looks caused her some heartache.THE ROAD TO MIDDLEMARCH. By Rebecca Mead. Text Publishing. 320pp. $32.99.
Nanjing Night Net

George Eliot is the literary equivalent to the Masonic handshake. ”You like George Eliot?” someone will say. ”Then I know who you are,” is the instant thought. It’s a recognition of being in love with the same person.

At 17, Rebecca Mead was given a novel featuring a 19-year-old heroine called Dorothea Brooke. The opening line is: ”Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” Miss Mead (non-fictional), born almost 150 years after Miss Brooke (fictional), and a century after the words were written, immediately needed to know more about the already remarkable Miss Brooke. She read on. In knowing Miss Brooke (Dorothea), Miss Mead (Rebecca) came to know herself. Middlemarch is accompanying her through life.

It’s a glorious thing for a writer to be able to formally acknowledge the love affair – often the deepest love affair of their lives – they have had with the work of another writer and to celebrate the sweet coincidences. The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot details how Middlemarch reflected, sustained, extended and disciplined Rebecca Mead’s life.

British-born Mead is an author and New Yorker journalist. Learned, candid and self-deprecating, she shares with Dorothea Brooke celestial humility and admirable discipline. She also has a useful practical charm – an ordered mind. Figuring a way to contain the complex magnificence of Middlemarch, reveal crucial biographical detail about George Eliot and sustain a delicate autobiographical harmony is a task fit to rattle a field marshal.

Rebecca Mead is steadfast and unrattled.

”I couldn’t believe how relevant and urgent it felt,” she writes about her provincial 17-year-old self in 1985, preparing for university exams, aiming to get into one of the ancient universities in Britain, and reading Middlemarch in the cumbersome Penguin edition, the cover featuring a perplexing picture of a Victorian woman out walking through sylvan countryside.

Victorian? ”The questions with which George Eliot made her characters wrestle would all be mine eventually. How is wisdom to be attained? What are the satisfactions of personal ambition and how might they be weighed against ties and duties to others? What does a good marriage consist of, and what makes a bad one? What do the young owe the old and vice versa? What is the proper foundation of morality?”

The 17-year-old missed many of the questions, but she knew that the point of reading is that even if we don’t think we understand, at some level we do, especially if the source of genius in an author is her acute psychological perception.

Virginia Woolf saw this, observing that Middlemarch is ”one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. Woolf, snobbish and malicious, had reservations about Eliot (”the granddaughter of a carpenter,” she sniffs) but she recognised a genius superior to her own in her 1919 essay, when Eliot’s fame was at its nadir. ”As one comes back to the books after years of absence they pour out, even against our expectation, the same store of energy and heat …” Woolf also saw how loss of faith as a young woman was the source of her moral consciousness. There was, too, the alluring, mysteriously feminine aspect of Eliot that colours everything.

Eliot, when she was plain Mary Ann Evans from the Midlands, brilliant, religious, female and ugly, had a tormented young life. As she lost her faith, her beloved father rejected her and her abject letters to him make painful reading. Mead writes about these years with an unguarded and imaginative intimacy that comes as a shock. Then Eliot fell in love with Herbert Spencer, the greatest thinker of the day, only to be rejected because Spencer found it impossible to fall in love with a plain woman. Ivan Turgenev, on the other hand, said Eliot made him understand how it was possible to fall in love with a woman who wasn’t pretty. Turgenev is still read.

Eliot’s life was one long struggle against convention. The powerful men, and some women of her day, esteemed her radiant mind and clamoured for her friendship, but their ambivalent attitude to her as a female had as much to do with to do with her late blooming as a writer as did her loss of faith.

She was 37 when she began her first fiction, Scenes of Clerical Life, and wrote because she had met the man who gave her the love and affection to ballast her generous soul. Physically, George Henry Lewes might have been as unappealing as she was, but he was the model for the incandescent Will Ladislaw, Dorothea’s destiny after her false start with Casaubon. Ladislaw is the most enchanting incarnation of spring in fiction.

Mead suggests the way you have lived your life has the greatest effect on how you read books. It’s an arresting thought that, in her quiet way, she charts through the revealing (but not too revealing) comments about her emotional and moral progress in parallel with Dorothea’s. Like Dorothea, Mead had yearnings ”common to womanhood” and it is a revelation to see the fictional woman from the past integrate with the contemporary non-fictional woman. Mead’s capacity for directness, shared with Dorothea, brings freshness to her words and her own story is the perfect wire on which to hang talk about the infinite glories of Middlemarch; the tragic Lydgate and the terrible Rosamund, the luminous love between Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, the compassion Eliot has for the wicked Bulstrode and her admiration of his interestingly uninteresting wife.

Mead’s perception of Eliot’s use of childhood landscape – not as a site of sad nostalgia, but as restoration of the emotion intensity of childhood is bracing. In the landscape of our youth, Eliot says, there is nothing important – except that is where we learned to be human. Sensitivity to one’s childhood landscape is a sign of moral maturity.

There are deep – the deepest? – pleasures to be had here. All the devastating nuances of human behaviour in Middlemarch surface again, reminding us that Middlemarch, featuring ”a heroine of the ordinary”, is a step into a greater human consciousness, where sympathy for the human dilemma causes egotism to shrink.

Eliot and Lewes had famous ”Sunday afternoons” at their London house, where invitations were chased by the powerful and prestigious and much of their talk has echoed down the century. Rebecca Mead extends this talk. Perhaps this calm, thrilling book will do for George Eliot what Colin Firth did for Jane Austen.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.