Tag Archives: Mary-Lou Stephens

Reasons to Love Spinal Tap

I’ve never had an amplifier that went up to eleven. I’ve never played in a band that had an exploding drummer, let alone a drummer who died in an unfortunate gardening accident, nor even a drummer who choked to death on someone else’s vomit. Although you could never be sure whose vomit it was, you can’t dust for vomit you know. Sorry if you’re eating right now but I’ve just waded through over an hour of out takes from This is Spinal Tap and it’s had rather a strange effect on me.

I first saw the film in a small independent movie theatre in Melbourne when I was an earnest young acting student. I think it was a dead give away that I’d rather be watching a mockumentary about a fictional British rock band than yet another Shakespeare adaptation set in a typewriter factory. I spent most of my three years in acting school yearning to be a female Nigel Tufnel or failing that a pretty good likeness of the lead singer David St. Hubbins. Not a very well-known saint, Saint Hubbins, but a vital one. He was the saint of quality footwear.

I spied the special edition DVD of This is Spinal Tap at my local and thought, “What have I got to lose, it’s Tuesday and it’s only going to cost me a dollar for the week.” I know my memory is pretty bad, especially after the years of rock and roll lifestyle I pursued as soon as I graduated from acting school, but I’d completely forgotten that Billy Crystal played Morty the Mime from the catering company Shut Up and Eat at the pre-tour party. I hadn’t realised that Fran Drescher played the record company PR rep. And Angelica Huston, as Polly Deutsch, was the one responsible for the 18 inch Stonehenge, the one that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf on stage.

Should I be embarrassed to admit that I related more to the film now than I did when I first saw it in the eighties? Back then I was the veteran of only three bands, having had the silly idea that I’d rather be an actor. As soon as I got over that misapprehension, as Nigel would say, I spent the next ten years getting lost on tour, playing for audiences who’d rather be watching the dog races on Sky TV, going deaf in rehearsal rooms, eating pizza in recording studios, and winding up as second billing to a puppet show. Well okay, I made that last one up, but some days it felt like that. What a delight then, to watch the absurdities of the music business played out in such fine form, while safely sitting on my couch, cup of tea in one hand and banana muffin in the other. To quote David St. Hubbins himself, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”


Paradise is a place where the sun always shines and the rocks are red. I know this to be true because I’ve been there. It was my five-year old nephew who led the way.  Elliot had been to paradise before and was keen to show me the beauty he’d discovered. He described a magical, secret place where the grass was green, there was a waterfall and sparkling waves lapped gently on the shore.

I was spending the day on Bruny Island, a smallish isle just off the coast of southeast Tasmania. One of my brothers had a weekender there and it was the perfect place to get away from the hurly burly of mainland Tasmania.  We’d been to the southern most part of the island where the lighthouse stands proudly looking south. The only thing between it and the Antarctic are a couple of small islands that look as though they’re covered in snow but no, it’s guano.

On the way back we headed off the main road, where we’d seen a total of three cars all morning, and veered down a rutted road towards Jetty Beach. It is here that paradise lies. Elliot led the way down to the end of the beach where the ruin of the old jetty leans lazily against the rocks. We had to clamber over difficult terrain and avoid the foul stench of rotting seaweed. Sometimes we came perilously close to slipping and plunging ankle-deep into slimy weed and algae. The road to paradise is never easy. But the result was worth it.

Almost at the end of the point, Elliot stopped and said, “Here it is, this is paradise where the sun always shines and the rocks are red.”

I looked at the muddle of rocks stained red by algae and half covered with slimy
sea grass. I examined the wreck of weathered wood and hand-made nails that was the jetty. I saw the trickle of tannin brown water seeping through the matted undergrowth. And I watched his young face full of joy, taking in the wonder of this little patch of heaven that he’d discovered all on his own.

He was right, it was paradise.

Shoe Vixens

What are they thinking, those people who design shoes? Setting aside glass-heeled 7 inch stilettos, Lady Gaga art shoes and ankle-breaking platforms, what goes through the minds of those who decide how ordinary woman-in-the-street shoes will be made? I’m imagining a conspiracy of shoe designers sitting around at morning tea time, laughing so hard that bits of Iced Vo Vo come flying out of their mouths. How else do you explain the humiliation of the airport security shuffle?

I’m quite fond of my high-heeled black boots. They’re simple and stylish and much
better suited to flying than walking. After all, there is a lot sitting involved in flying; at the cafe, in the departure lounge, and when finally on the plane, obediently belted-up like eggs in a carton. I like wearing my boots when I’m being a jet setter. I enjoy being just that much taller, sophisticated and invincible. But that’s when the Iced Vo Vo spitting vixens of the shoe-designing world come in to play.

Vigilance is my watchword when it comes to airport security checks. I take my Chinese penknife with the bean slicer and tiny fork out of my handbag and leave it at home, even though I know I’m going to miss it when I’m presented with a bowl of fresh beans to slice. My innocent-looking, but incredibly dangerous, hair clips are packed in my suitcase. I could take an eye out with one of those, most likely one of my own. My watch and any loose change goes into a plastic trays and through the X-ray machine. Confidently I stride through the machine that goes beep knowing that it won’t. I’m wrong. It does. Very loudly. Security wave a squeally wand around me and ask all the usual questions. Watch? Jewellery? Belt buckle? Coins? No, no, no, no. Then the words I dread. “Please take off your shoes.”

I can see them, those fiendish shoe designers, cackling over their tea cups. This is their moment of triumph. All their careful plans and devious designs have come to fruition. Somewhere in my simple black high-heeled boots they have implanted a device that makes the machine go beep. It may be a metallic strip, a secret sliver of foil, a tiny wad of beeb-creating substance. Whatever it is, I am forced to take my boots off and instantly become short, dumpy and decidedly dorky. Not only that, I then have to shuffle back to the end of the queue with the bottom of my trousers flapping around my feet. The boots go through the x-ray machine and I silently waddle through the machine that, finally, doesn’t go beep.

Shoe Vixens 1, Short Dork 0.

Chocolate Comfort for a Cold Winter

My grandmother was an excellent cook. Thin as a rake, she lived on lettuce and sherry. Perhaps that’s why her meals were works of art. She wouldn’t eat them but she could admire them. Christmas was picture perfect, Easter was a Baroque classic and afternoon teas were pastoral scenes. Every time she lit her gas stove with a long wax taper we knew we were in for  treat. Even something as simple as a self-saucing chocolate pudding turned out light on top, dense and rich below and with the special touch of being studded with walnuts.

My own cooking is much more purposeful. A blunt instrument compared to my grandmother’s finesse. In my early twenties when my best friend left town, I consoled myself by baking self-saucing chocolate puddings and eating them with tubs of ice cream. Everyday. I can still remember the recipe off by heart:

Mix 1 cup of self raising flour, 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of cocoa. Add 1 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Pour into a baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 cup of brown sugar mixed with another 2 tablespoons of cocoa and pour 2 cups of boiling water over the top. Bake for about 45 minutes, or less if you can’t wait that long. It’ll still taste the same.

No walnuts. No light touch. No oil painting. Just easy, quick, comfort food that’s meant to be eaten, not put on display.  A pudding to be your best friend on these cold winter days and nights.

A Laugh of Your Own

I know what it’s like not to know the sound of your own laugh. Some people have distinctive laughs; the snorters, the guffawers, the gigglers but I was never brave enough to have a laugh of my own. I used to try on other people’s laughs to see if they would fit. I’d choose people I admired, copy their laugh and practise it till I got it right.

Sometimes I still hear the echo of a long ago friend or colleague in my laugh.These days it makes me smile but back in those days my own laugh sounded like a cynical shrug. I was too scared to laugh in case I was wrong to think something was funny, or in case a trick was being played on me and I’d look foolish. In such cases cynicism is by far the best attitude to take. But if I copied someones else’s laugh I had no need to feel vulnerable. I could hide behind it.

It seems that I’m not the only one who’s been too scared to express myself in my own unique way. I was listening to an album called Poet, a Tribute to Townes Van Zandt. Townes has been described as a self-destructive hobo saint and the greatest American songwriter of his day. His day ended in 1997 at the age of 52. He was a poet and a drunk, and fully committed to both.  I put the album on and without having to look at the cover I could identify the singers; Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams. All of them with distinctive, individual, brave voices.

What’s happened to brave voices? Where are the Janis Joplins and Van Morrisons of today? Frank Sinatra’s voice was beautiful but it was still distinctly his. Even with the onset of age and toupees he still sounded like Frank. Now there’s just a bunch of wannabes who try to emulate Old Blue Eye’s vocal chords. Why don’t they find their own voice? Too scared or perhaps too cynical, wanting to go where they think the money is.

And what of the endless stream of popstars and idols? Where are their voices? They blend into one homogenous vanilla ice cream soft serve. None of them have enough face or faith to front up and be themselves. Where are the voices that will be remembered, that will travel through time because of their strength and their truth?

Ray Charles tried to sound like every other artist of the time before he found his own voice. It wasn’t until he was brave enough to be himself that he became truly successful.

I can understand that, I can relate to it. When I stopped being scared of what other people thought, I found my own laugh. And funnily enough, I started laughing a lot more.

When life gives you lemons…..

I made an emotional purchase. A  jar of home-made lemon butter made fresh the night before. It looked so enticing. I took it home and put it on the kitchen bench. There it stayed for a few days. The Hubby and I don’t eat lemon butter, no matter how enticing it looks. Then I was struck by  a bright idea. Lemon Coconut Slice. I doubled this recipe, to use up all the lemon butter, and took the slice to work. It disappeared in a cloud of “ooh”s “oh”s and “yum”s.

It’s lemon season. If life gives you lemons…. make Lemon Coconut Slice.


125g unsalted butter, melted, cooled

3/4 cup caster sugar

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour, sifted

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/3 cup lemon butter

Coconut topping 

1 egg white, lightly beaten

3/4 cup caster sugar

1 1/2 cups desiccated coconut


1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan-forced. Grease a 3cm-deep, 18cm x 28cm  pan. Line base and sides with baking paper.

2. Place butter, sugar, flour and egg in a bowl. Stir to combine. Press into prepared pan. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until light golden.

3. Meanwhile, make coconut topping Place egg white, sugar and coconut in a bowl. Stir to combine.

4. Spread lemon butter evenly over slice base. Sprinkle with topping. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until coconut is golden brown. Cool in pan. Cut into squares. Serve. Accept praise and plenty of it.