Monday, December 31, 2007

Hottest New Year of the Century

In Adelaide, anyway. 42.4, which is about 109 in old money.

The weather forecast says there'll be a change overnight and it will only be 38 degrees tomorrow. Better find my Fair Isle beanie and leg-warmers.

To cool down and to mark the passing of the year, I'm going to find the relevant books and read two of my favourite poems. Both (though I'm not sure this is why I like them so much) contain unforgettable images of breathlessly watchful love and care -- images created by blokes who both got themselves disgracefully wasted on a regular basis, and therefore, when thus wasted, quite incapable of looking after an unconscious sloth, never mind a child or a woman or the world.


*Shakes head sadly*

The poems in question are here and here.

The second one in particular will cool as well as calm you down. Can't do better than linking you to these by way of wishing youse all a happy, and less hot, new year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Births, deaths and marriages

Actually there are no births, I made that up. Unless you count the birth of the baby Jesus which us literary types tend not to have a lot of trouble with. I don't believe there was once an old man called King Lear who had three daughters, either, but that doesn't mean it's not an incredibly powerful story about the human condition or that it has nothing to teach me. Quite the reverse.

I am being forced at the moment for various reasons, some personal and some less so, to think about death quite a lot. I am not happy about this, as you might imagine. There's only one bloggable aspect to this preoccupation (the rest is matter not mine to divulge), and that's the death of Benazir Bhutto, which is obviously going to destabilise further a region already terrifyingly chaotic and make the world an even less safe place to live in than it already is.

But for me there's also the fact that Bhutto was five weeks younger than me, and the death of any direct -- in this case almost exact -- contemporary is profoundly unsettling in a subterranean personal way no matter who it is. There's a deep, gut-level empathy one has with people who, no matter how wildly different their histories and cultures, know what it was like to be in the world at a particular age at a particular time.

Bhutto's Western education would have brought her closer to me culturally than she might otherwise have been, but there's still that unfathomable east-west difference in women's lives. And yet I was looking at photos of her last night and found a shot from 1972,

when she and I were both nineteen, and another from 1985,

when we were both 32 and at the top, I now think, of our respective games. (And certainly, for what it's worth, of our looks).

And in both cases -- again despite the wild differences in our lives -- I thought: I know that hair, I know those clothes, I know the quality of the photograph and the requirements in that particular year of performing femininity in public (it changed between 1972 and 1985, but not enough, and I always dug my heels in about it, which Bhutto manifestly did not). I know the feel of being a woman exactly that old in the world, exactly then.

And now she's dead. Thinking about what we have achieved in life, much? And as if the New Year, which I have always disliked, were not quite bad enough in that regard already.

So it was with a rush of instinctive pleasure that I opened the not-immediately-identifiable envelope in the mailbox yesterday -- late Christmas card, I thought, but from whom? -- and found an invitation to the wedding of P and L, both also in their fifties, as though to defy whatever the world has in store.

Onya, both of you. I shall buy a new frock.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Eleven things I've learned over the last few days


1) Buying a new Christmas tree ornament guarantees that you'll break one of the old ones while you're decorating the tree.

2) The unexpected sight of your mother's handwriting,

also while you're decorating the tree, can still bring tears to your eyes eight years after her death. (I expect this to go on indefinitely.) It says 'Pearly bells & icicles'. You can see a few of the icicles and one or two bells in the tree photo if you look hard enough.

3) Even if you don't put the tree up

till Christmas Eve, you'll still be really glad you did. Especially when you see that for the second year in a row, the presence of a non-organic stylised metal Christmas tree suggestive of Leunig's Mr Curly has excited no interest from the cats at all, and it is therefore still up and uninterfered-with.

4) If you are making custard from eggs and cream and have the heat up any hotter than a small candle while you stir and wait for it to thicken, you will end up with a suspension of scrambled eggs in cream. If you attempt to remedy this with a sieve, you will end up with a suspension of finely pulverised scrambled eggs in cream. I had already learned this and forgotten it several times. New Year's resolution: buy shares in Paul's.

5) I can still remember (as I learn from singing along with the carols from St Paul's on the teeve) the first two lines of Silent Night in German, from lessons at Adelaide Girls' High in 1966.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft; einsam wacht ...


6) No matter how much seafood sauce you make to dip the prawns into (homemade mayo + Beerenberg Hahndorf Tomato Sauce + Tabasco), it will be perceived as not enough.

7) In a family fight, presenting the assembled multitudes with a solution to the problem -- even if it is a solution that all of them accept -- is a waste of time. They don't want a solution to the problem. What they want is to go on fighting.

8) If a cat is given a special present by one of her servant's doting sisters,

there's a slim chance that she might accidentally play with it by mistake.


9) The alpha tortoiseshell is a mighty hunter before the lord.

She can manage with one swipe of an elegant yet powerful paw what it took the Australian people over eleven years to achieve: rodent extermination.

She didn't eat it; she is pictured here nudging the already quite dead varmint to try to make it get up and run around so she can chase it some more.


10) Taking a week off is dangerous. Last week was the first week since Boxing Day last year that I did not read and review four novels, and now I'm having hell's own trouble getting up into fourth gear again.

11) One of the boys I was at school with 40 years ago (a category that includes former Senator Nick Bolkus and Greig Pickhaver aka HG Nelson, among others) has not lost his sense of humour.

I learn this while getting the email up to date and reading the December newsletter of my old school's Old Scholars Association. I've written on this blog and in various other places about the crucial importance to me when I was at school of being surrounded by European fellow-students, particularly my Greek mates, from whom I learned that there was a world beyond the Adelaide suburbs. The aforementioned newsletter contains the text of a speech given by Dr James Katsaros, in 1967 the Head Prefect of Adelaide (then Boys') High and now a distinguished plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and Patron of the Adelaide High School Old Scholars' Association. And I'm fairly sure he won't mind me quoting a bit of his speech to Adelaide's Lord Mayor and the assembled Table Captains at a planning gathering, in the Town Hall, for next April's Adelaide High School Centenary Dinner, at which I have already secured my seat:

"When I read ... that our old scholars hold positions of prominence in business and society in South Australia and Australia, I could not help thinking about the likes of Greig Pickhaver, better known as HG Nelson. I wondered how did he develop that passion for Greco-Roman wrestling which we enjoyed so much during the Sydney Olympics? And the answer is, of course, that he feasted daily on the sight of a seething, brawling mass of boys with names such as Koutsamanis, Kari, Finocchio, Zacharoyiannis and Zinghini."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Away with the dog in the manger

'Tis the season of the anguished op ed and blog post either bewailing the commercialism of Christmas or, to my mind more interestingly, asking the question 'What does an atheist do for Christmas?'

Some of us non-Christians devote a certain amount of thought to this question every year, for it needs to be negotiated annually by any citizen of any Christmas-celebrating country who has any kind of inner life at all. One feels the ache in one's feet as one stands at the stove stirring the custard with one's late mother's favourite wooden spoon and waiting patiently for it to thicken, or sits motionless through three changes of traffic lights in the CBD on Christmas Eve, or shuts the door against some neighbour's full-volume CD of some twelve-year-old pop star doing violence to one's favourite carols with that horrible melismatic yowling the young call singing (you can see I'm feeling my age today, can't you) -- and one thinks Hmm: why, exactly -- given that I am not now nor have I ever been any kind of Christian -- am I doing this?

Most religious people understand religious festivals, so I think those who argue that Christmas alienates people from other cultures and/or religions are kind of missing the point. I'm guessing that one reason people complain about being obliged to observe Christmas (apart from feet, custard etc, as above) is that most of us like to think of ourselves -- our selves -- as independent, self-made, self-determined, free and sui generis generally, but Christmas is one of those things that forces us to contemplate the vast extent to which we are, in fact, familially, socially and even nationally constructed as 'selves'.

For imagine the energy it would take and the ructions it would produce for all but the most solitary person to ignore Christmas, much less resist it. You'd disappoint your mother and make your children cry. You'd affront any friend or neighbour who dropped in with chocolates or champagne. If you went to work as per normal, the place would be locked up. If you wanted to read the paper you wouldn't be able to ignore the photos of Santa (or, as he was universally called in Australia until a few decades ago when the Americans definitively took over the world, Father Christmas).

In fact I'd go further than that and say that not only would you set yourself at odds with the family, your friends, the neighbours, the country and the entire western world (plus some of the eastern as well), but in setting yourself forcibly apart from an event so very tightly and powerfully woven into the culture, you'd do yourself internal damage as well. To go all Bah Humbug about Christmas is to alienate yourself from your own memories of childhood, which is one of the most violent things you can do to your own nature.

Habitual listeners to Radio National will know that the Book Reading a week or two back was Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I know this story very well, but I'd never heard it read before, and I was reminded anew, as if I really ever needed to be reminded, what a staggering genius Dickens really was. Never mind Tiny Tim (Dickens was at his least effective in the sentimental depiction of children), look at the brilliant metaphorical effects of the the three Spirits -- the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come -- who take Scrooge on a guided tour of his own soul, cunningly disguised as the streets of London.

Dickens saw Christmas -- at least as it's represented in this story, and certainly as he emerges from his various biographies -- as a site not only for human generosity and love to manifest themselves but also for human failings to heal themselves, and nowhere is that more perfectly expressed than in this allegorical Christmas tale. To the grim and foreboding Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge (who may be a misguided sausage with Issues, but is definitely no fool) cries chillingly "Ghost of the Future! I fear you more than any spectre I have seen."

As well he might, unless he mends his ways sharpish; the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley, suffering in the afterlife because he was a bad bastard on earth, has made sure he understands that.

While the nativity narrative does get an occasional mention, Dickens here as elsewhere is interested in Christianity mainly as a driver of human behaviour and character; in A Christmas Carol the day provides the best opportunity of the year to make other people's lives more pleasant if we can possibly manage it.

Which is why I must now go and do things with custard and mustard (not together). And a happy, peaceful Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Frank innocence and mirth: some thoughts on Christmas

* 'Frank innocence and mirth' is how a gypsy in one of Canadian novelist Robertson Davies' books hears 'frankincense and myrrh', a creative mishearing I remembered while listening to the local ABC radio's Saturday Quiz in the car the other day (Saturday, in fact; fancy) when one of the questions was 'What were the gifts the Three Wise Men brought to the manger?'

The first person who was asked this question got it right, but while everyone knows what gold is, no definition of either frankincense or myrrh was forthcoming. FYI, both are resins obtained from trees native to Africa and/or the Middle East, used in incense, aromatherapy and perfumes.

* The Robertson Davies gypsy mishearing is a version of the mondegreen. There are a number of well-known Christmas-carol and Christmas-song mondegreens, among which my favourite is 'Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names'. Others include 'Holy imbecile, tender and mild', and 'Frosty the Snowman / is a ferret elf, I say'.

But the other day, also on local ABC radio, I heard a new one; a woman rang in to say she'd been singing carols to her granddaughter, who kept saying 'Sing the one about the zebra, Granny, sing the one about the zebra.' After much discussion, the penny finally dropped: she was talking about Silent Night. 'Christ the zebra is boooo---ooorn, Christ the zebra is born!'

* Memo to this year's wrapping paper manufacturers: pink, blue and lavender are not Christmas colours. Christmas colours are red, white, silver, green and gold. Sheesh.

* 'Tis the season of casually-employed checkout chaps, who were either not trained or not listening while they were trained, and who therefore put the Harpic in with the bread, and then put the raspberries at the bottom of a bag containing several 400 gram tins.

Even without training, you'd think some sort of native intelligence would kick in at some point. But then, if I were more organised and less overworked, I would never have been buying either raspberries or bread at the supermarket in the first place.

*Those inexplicable people who are not berry fanciers might like this variation on the theme of Christmas trifle. I haven't tried this yet, so don't blame me if it doesn't work, but I do plan at some point to try a sort of Trifle Tropicana variation (NB no pineapple or coconut, so if the idea of either was putting you off, do read on) on this recipe, thus:

BOWL: a pretty, transparent bowl with a wide bottom is best for trifle.

GROUND FLOOR: A layer of Savoyardi (sponge finger) biscuits. Break and crumble a few in order to fill up all the spaces; you want a firm foundation of stodge. Slosh at least half a cup of good dessert wine (I favour Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora) (hi there, Devil Drink) over the biscuit layer and let it sink in. If it doesn't look wet enough to you after ten minutes or so, put some more wine on it, but don't forget there's passionfruit pulp to come.

SECOND FLOOR: Mango, bananas and passionfruit in whatever quantities you fancy. I'd be inclined to go one, two and three of each respectively and then layer them, starting with banana and ending with passionfruit: cut up the mango into pieces about the size of a cherry, slice the bananas, scoop out and (if you're like me and a bit squicked out by the seeds, and yes I know they're part of the point of passionfruit) strain the passionfruit pulp. If you do plan to strain the pulp, maybe chuck in an extra passionfruit. Don't let the sliced bananas lie around uncovered for more than a few minutes or they will go brown and icky.

I don't recommment pineapple as it is chemically odd and might react badly with the custard. I suppose you could use custard apples, if you don't mind custard with more custard.

THIRD FLOOR: Um, custard. Enough to blanket (I believe the correct culinary term is 'mask') the fruit layer and give yourself a flattish surface to decorate. If you make it yourself with cream and egg yolks it'll be lovely. If turns out lumpy, just strain it. Otherwise, Paul's do a good ready-made cucky though it is a bit thick for trifle purposes. Bought 'pouring custard' is probably a bad idea for the opposite reason -- too runny. At this stage, let everything bed down together in the fridge for at least five or six hours and preferably overnight. Glad-wrap on the custard surface will stop it forming a skin.

FOURTH FLOOR: Decorate with whipped cream and little cocktail umbrellas, or plastic parrots, or whatever you think looks tropical.

Serve. Devour.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Meme for the Middle-Aged

Deliver me, Lord, from the threat
of heaven ...

-- Peter Goldsworthy, 'Mass for the Middle-Aged'

As previously threatened promised, I have composed a meme for the middle-aged in order to offset the peculiar psychological effects of doing memes that were written for backward American teenagers. It even has some serious questions in it. If you are under 37, you will not understand some of these questions. If you a blogging beginner, this post will bewilder you -- better scroll down and read the the Christmas carols one instead.

UPDATE: I've just realised I haven't done this meme myself, so will use it as an excuse for some avoidance behaviour instead of tackling the next task on the list.

1) Which part(s) of your body is/are hurting as you read this? List all that apply.

Feet, head. I am bracketed by middle-aged aches.

2) Which of the following is/are no longer working properly? List all that apply.

a) feet
b) ankles
c) knees
d) hips
e) back
f) neck
g) brain
h) digestive system
i) blood pressure
j) memory
k) idealism
l) compassion
m) optimism
n) other (please specify) (NB -- if the answer is 'bits', and it may well be, that's on a strictly a need-to-know basis)

(a), (c), (d), (f), (h) and (k).

3) Has your hairline receded? (For both sexes.)

No, it's always been this high.

4) Is your hair the same colour it was ten years ago?

Not quite.

5) Is your hair the same colour it was ten days ago?


6) Do you know what colour your hair would be if you grew the colour out?

Yes -- a less tabby-cat-like version of what it looks like now.

7) Are you still content to have your photo taken?

What do you mean, 'still'?

8) Do you think that Brazilians and/or back, sack & crack waxes are ridiculous?

Not quite; some of my own 'beauty' practices are a bit odd, too. I mean, I own an eyelash curler. (Which I can no longer use without thinking of that scene in The Boys.)

9) Or have you had one (or more than one)?

Hell no.

10) Did it hurt more than childbirth / falling off a ladder / root canal work / being attacked by a shark? (If not applicable, write ‘Not Applicable’.)

Not Applicable.

11) Have you had root canal work?

Not Yet.

12) Have you had surgery on any of your intimate parts?


13) Were you evasive about it with your friends and relatives?

No. Only with readers of my blog.

14) How long have you known your oldest friend?

Since we became friends in Year 9 after having been enemies in Year 8 -- 40 years.

15) How often do you have to grope around for a particular word before you remember it?

Too bloody often.

16) When you travel, do you take a special separate toiletries bag exclusively for your medications and other first aid supplies?


17) Does the thought of starting a new relationship

(a) fill you with horror
(b) make you giggle
(c) make you want to run away into the desert
(d) other (please specify)

All of the above.

18) What have you found to be the most reliable mantras, slogans and shibboleths to get you through life’s bad moments?

'This too shall pass.'
'Think of it scientifically.'
'You're not being napalmed.'
'My heart is pure, I have the strength of ten.'
'Let it go, Indy.' *

* Much of the appeal there is in the visualisation and imagined hearing of Sean Connery.

19) What makes you cry?

Music, injured animals, news items about lost children who have been found safe, music, funerals, and music.

20) What makes you laugh?

My friends, bless them.

21) Who were your musical gods and heroes when you were in your late teens/early 20s?

The Joni Mitchell of Blue and the Elton John of Tumbleweed Connection, which to this day I'm proud to claim.

22) Is/are he/she/they still alive?

Elton (age 60) is still touring his butt off and Joni (age 64) has a new album, an exhibition of paintings and a new ballet based on her music all showing/touring/on sale as we speak. I've seen them both live and they are both great musicians.

23 Which of these is no longer what it once was? List all that apply.

a) your ability to metabolise alcohol or other drugs of choice
b) your desire to metabolise alcohol or other drugs of choice
c) your desire to dance
d) your ability to dance

All but (c).

24) Have you now been to enough funerals to have definite and detailed ideas about how they should be organised and run? If yes, please elaborate.

Yes. Good music, good flowers, carefully chosen speakers and readers, and minimal crying if possible.

25) Have people started trying to help you across the street?

No, but give me time.

26) Could you get up on karaoke night and sing 'Non, je regrette rien' without bursting into howls of hysterical laughter?


27) If not, please explain.

I can sing in tune, and my French accent is passable, but I regret almost everything.

28) What about 'My Way'?

Hmm. Wouldn't opening with the lines 'And now the end is near' provoke sarcasm in the ranks, at karaoke?

29) When did you last have a drink?

Last night.

30) What was it?

Fox Creek Verdelho, my fave.

31) Can I have some?


No tagging, just do it, if you feel it speaks to you. And please let me know here so I can go and have a look.

Friday, December 14, 2007

'Need a tissue?'

When we sing 'The Shepherd's Farewell' from Berlioz' 'The Childhood of Christ', we think privately of our own children leaving us: 'God go with you, God protect you, guide you safely through the wild.' We hope that if we can sing right through to the end without crying, the music will act as a blessing.

-- Helen Garner, 'A Scrapbook, An Album'

I'm early, because I've magically found a parking space in the middle of the CBD on a Friday night in mid-December, but when I walk into the church I see that M's mother, father, grandma, auntie and auntie's partner are all already there. They shove up to make room for me.

In the late 1970s M's mother D and I shared a house when we were studying. On Christmas Eve 1987, when M was three months old, D left her with me while she went and did a bit of emergency family lawyering, of the kind that habtually arises at Christmas. When M got restless, I rocked her and sang carols.

It must have been early in 1999 that we established the habit of meeting regularly for coffee on Saturday mornings. M at eleven would come too, bringing her Harry Potter books and reading while we talked. One morning, when she was about thirteen, she arrived without a book, and never brought one again. Now she's a seasoned 20-year-old Aerospace Engineering student singing with the Adelaide University Choral Society, whose Christmas concert we have come to hear.

D opens her program and holds it so I can see it, and I see there are two items with soloists. D points to the Coventry Carol -- 'Lully lulla, thou little tiny child' -- under which it says 'Soprano: M.B.' My stomach lurches in sympathetic alarm -- not for M, but for D. Watching one's child perform on stage -- no, no, let me not get into it. D leans over and whispers: 'And she's got the world's worst cold.'

Fortunately it's quite early in the program. Kenneth Leighton's soprano solo for this carol is very high and bloody hard, but, through her cold (and it is indeed a monster, as I observe afterwards), M produces every one of the clear, ringing, bell-like notes. You can see that it's an act of will, but all is exactly as it's supposed to be. At the end, D leans over and whispers 'My little tiny child has lived through it!'

They sing 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter' and I am reminded of the years when I was knee-deep in the huge, wild ocean of nineteenth-century scholarship and reading a lot of Christina Rossetti, a poet at once medieval-sounding and weirdly modern.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago.

They sing 'The Shepherd's Farewell' and I think of Helen Garner and her sisters thinking of their children, trying not to cry. I remember a story she told once of trying so hard not to cry while watching a children's concert that her nose began to bleed.

Tonight we get to join in with some of the carols. D and I sang together all the time when we shared a house. She'd sung competitively in her convent choir; she was the person you could hear, in university revues, anchoring all the full-cast production numbers. Singing beside her now I don't think her voice has changed, though she says it has. I know mine has: after four years of singing in a choir here, my voice is much more reliable than it used to be. But I left the choir a couple of years ago, and I'd forgotten how exhilarating it is, having a sing.

On the way home, feeling elevated, I drive past a boy dancing about at the side of the road. He is clearly affected by some mind-altering substance. It's not alcohol; he's far too co-ordinated and graceful. He's about M's age, handsome and dark, wearing jeans and a black singlet and waving his white shirt in operatic flourishes at passing cars, as though playing matador to the oncoming traffic's bull. Cars thunder past, missing him by inches. Behind him the West Parklands loom darkly. Neither God nor anyone else, it seems, is guiding him safely through the wild.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

So much to blog about, so little time

Here are some of the things I wish I had time to blog about:

1) Hot on the heels of extended blogospheric and other discussion about excessive banging on in the meeja and elsewhere regarding the Acting Prime Minster's looks, hair, voice etc, we now have a huge kerfuffle about the new Member for Bennelong's skirt length.

2) Helen Garner has a new novel coming out next year. It will be her first book of fiction for over fifteen years.

3) Kangaroo Island is on fire.

4) December is impossible.

5) Having gone off Patricia Cornwell quite a while ago and therefore having missed the last two or three books, I liked the look of her new(ish) novel Book of the Dead enough to finally give in and buy it the other day. If I have read the first half aright, it is among other things an extremely damning commentary on the US presence in Iraq, with specific reference to Abu Ghraib. It's very heartening that such a widely read writer can reach her millions of readers with the grisly image of what can happen to a soldier's psyche, especially in such a dubious war.

6) There seems to be yet another uprush of nonsense in various op eds around the place along well-marked 'Why feminism has failed' lines. I plan a longish blog post entitled 'Why feminism has succeeded' and a very short one entitled 'Why all attempts to educate the public as to the correct meaning of the term "begging the question" have failed.'

7) I have a new Christmas Tree ornament:

Texture and perspective 101: Pav's back yard

Friday, December 07, 2007

Not to be confused with the Rosary Expo in Tasmania or the Yarmulke Market in FNQ

My head is currently full of sand and fog for reasons best known to the mind gods, so it was with less surprise than you might expect that I heard someone on ABC radio today mentioning 'the Burke affair in Western Australia' and was absolutely sure she'd said 'the burqa fair'.

Surely a heightened awareness of the Other, to the point where one's subconscious is affecting one's auditory function, can only be a good thing, right?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I found this meme at Sorrow at Sills Bend, to where it had been imported from Lorraine Crescent. There are all sorts of urgent things to do, but they can wait a bit. Haven't done a meme for yonks.

It is, of course, a meme designed for American teenagers, which means that some of it is incomprehensible.

1. Are you dating the last person you kissed?
The last person I kissed was my dad. Ew.

2. Pretend you've had 10 beers. what you would be doing right now?

3. What do you want?
Legalised amphetamines.

4. Who was the last person you shared a bed with?
That would be the Bloke.

5. Do you talk to yourself?
Yes, quite a lot. Mostly to upbraid and criticise, unfortunately.

6. Do you drink milk straight from the carton?
Ew, again.

7. Who knows the latest secret about you?
If anyone knew, it wouldn't be a secret, would it.

8. How long is your hair?
All kinds of lengths.

9. Do you like Batman?
No, I think Batman is lame.

10. Who was the last person who told you they loved you?
That would probably be the Bloke too.

13. Do you like anyone now?
All kinds of people, yes.

14. When was the last time you lied?
Can't remember; I'm quite a truthful rodent as a rule.

16. Is your birthday on a holiday?
No, but it is quite euphonious and therefore tends to turn up in lugubrious traditional English ballads from time to time.

17. What instant messaging service do you use?
Oh, please.

18.Last thing you cooked today?
Coffee, in one of those silver things with a waist.

19. Did you have a nap today?
Yes, and it's still only 1350 hrs.

20. Who's house did you go to last?
That's 'whose' house, you dill. The answer is Judy and Graeme's and a very fine evening it was, involving rack of lamb and freshly cooked apricots, Part 2 of Jane Eyre, some truly excellent conversation* and an adorable dog.

*Judy had just finished writing this.

21. What do you wear more, jeans or sweats?
'Sweats' is a disgusting term for an item of clothing.

22. Why is the sky blue?
Because this is Adelaide. Hooray.

23. Do you like green beans?
Yes. And the yellow ones, and red ones, and white ones, and red and white stripy ones. I also like broad beans and butter beans. NB: the original line in The Silence of the Lambs was ' ... with fava beans and a big Amarone' but they downmarketed the wine for the movie.

24. Do you swear a lot?
Yes, but I think it sounds dreadfully naff when other people do it so am trying to stop.

25. Where did you get the shirt you're wearing?

27. Do you use an alarm clock?
On the rare occasions when I need an alarm I use my trusty if ancient Nokia mobile.

28. Where was your default MySpace picture taken?
Does the expression 'begging the question' mean anything to you?

29. Do you ever snort when you laugh?
Jesus, I hope not.

30. Whats the first thing you notice on the opposite sex?
What a bizarre question. Probably aberrant or daggy clothes, like socks with sandals.

31. Is cheating ever okay?
Heck no, I always cover my exam paper with my arm.

32. Do you want someone you can't have?
Not at the moment, no, but 'twas not always thus.

34. Do you wear underwear?
I deduce that 'underwear' here means 'underpants'. Yes indeed; I think going commando is strictly for those under three. And what's more I often favour what Zoe calls 'nanna pants'.

35. Do you wear a bra?
Yes. Several different ones, in fact. There's a cheap red lace number I particularly like.

36. What Size?
Mind your beeswax.

37. Are you a social or an antisocial person?
Half and half, often at the same time.

39. Do you have a tan?
My mother was a flaming redhead. My driving arm is usually a bit tinted by the end of summer, but apart from that, no.

45. Are you afraid of the dark?
I grew up in a farmhouse down a 200-metre dirt track from an unsealed road leading to an extremely small town. Nope, not afraid of the dark.

[Questions 40-44 missing, who knows why.]

47. Do you miss someone today?
Not really. I miss my mum all the time, but I'm guessing that's not what you meant.

49. Do you still have pictures of you & your exs?
Two or three, lying about somewhere.

50. Who's always there for you no matter what?
My sisters. And my dad. Hence the kissing (see #1).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Germaine Greer in her home town

Not having had time or other resources to blog about it till I got home from Melbourne yesterday afternoon, by which time I was too knackered to put one word in front of the other, I have almost missed the boat on the subject of Germaine Greer's opening address to the Jane Austen conference that was put on by Laura from Sills Bend and her La Trobe U colleagues at the end of last week. Balcony Helen, Another Outspoken Female and Laura herself have all Greerblogged in detail already. But I have the odd bit and piece to add.

I was very struck by the precision and detail with which Greer had prepared her argument, for argument it was: a proper literary lecture, with a characteristically contrarian bent. Greer chose the least popular and most maligned of Austen's novels, Mansfield Park, to make an argument about a particular genre, the Bildungsroman (or, as one of Elsewhere's students recently called it, the Blundingsroman). In this kind of novel, a young person proceeds with a certain amount of incident through her or his adolescence and young adulthood, acquiring formal and informal education, and learning by trial and error - mostly error -- how to be an adult and function properly in the world.

Greer then, in quite an audacious move, linked Mansfield Park to the Australian novelist Henry Handel Richardson's The Getting of Wisdom. (Richardson, for those unfamiliar with her, was a woman writer who used a masculine nom de plume for the usual reason, writing as she was in an era when a woman's name on the cover of your manuscript or novel would automatically make it harder for you to get published or read.)

Both Mansfield Park and The Getting of Wisdom, argued Greer, are a kind of anti-Bildungsroman; in both, the process of growing up for the young heroines Fanny and Laura consists of learning to be less than themselves. Socialisation for young women of their eras (for these novels were written a century apart) consisted of bland obedience and conformity, keeping their mouths shut and their emotions in check. Fanny in particular, Greer argued, far from being the mouse that many dismiss her as, is actually a little ball of resistant, watchful muscle and a rumbling volcano of determined passion.

Young women's love in Austen's novels is in fact, argued Greer in an aside, 'implacable', and Austen herself was by no means uncritical of it as a force. Around this point Greer also pointed out that learning not to wear your heart on your sleeve is indeed an indicator of being grown up, or at the very least a survival tactic, so she wasn't running any kind of simple line.

This argument made me think of the way that young heroines in literature of a certain era who cannot or will not be properly socialised into womanhood are often savagely punished for it. Jo in Little Women misses out on world travel because of her awkward manners and loud mouth and is fobbed off at the end with a homely, threadbare, middle-aged husband. Katy of What Katy Did is punished for swinging too high and too enthusiastically by falling off the swing and crippling herself; Pollyanna gets the same punishment for tree-climbing.

And Judy in Seven Little Australians, of course, is punished for her passionate and courageous nature and its manifestation in saving her baby brother from being crushed by a falling tree when she is crushed and killed by the tree herself; Seven Little Australians, indeed, is the ultimate anti-Bildungsroman, wherein the heroine doesn't get to grow up at all. Professor Greer might have argued that, by comparison, Mansfield Park's Fanny and The Getting of Wisdom's Laura get off very lightly indeed.

(None of this seemed to mean anything to journalist Pamela Bone, who appeared to have sat through an entire lecture on literature simply so she could stand up at question time and demand to know why Greer wasn't in Darfur interviewing raped women. She seemed to be implying that the fact that she wasn't meant that she was a hypocrite, or that feminism was bullshit, or something. You all know the argument from articles, columns and blog posts by right-wing boys, I'm sure. It's hard to know quite how one is supposed to 'interview a raped woman', I must say; stick a microphone under her nose and ask her 'How did you feel?')

What struck me most about Greer's lecture, however, apart from the fact that at a few months short of seventy she is still straight-backed, energetic, lively and graceful [UPDATE: I've aged her before her time here; she is still only 68], was the way she talked about her students and about the profession of teaching. She illustrated various points she made, both during the lecture and in question time, with a number of anecdotes about her life as a university teacher and she spoke of her students with great affection, and of the profession of teaching with passion.

It wasn't that this came as a surprise, more as a reminder of something I had forgotten. Public representation of Greer is and has always been so distorted and so coloured by masculine fear and loathing that even people who have been following her work for many years tend to forget that she is, first and last, an educator: an explainer, a guide, a putter-together of new ways of thinking, an opener of eyes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


For those who, like me, don't find the new Prime Minister (elect) as radical as we wish he were, think about it this way: it's not so much that we've gained a Kevin, it's more that we've lost a Rodent.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Politics as if it mattered

There's been some talk lately around the bloggy traps, from Mark at LP and others, about the regrettable nature of psephology's tendency to reduce election-time politics to horse-racing metaphors and mindsets, at the expense of more complex things.

One way of responding to this, and many bloggers (and good journalists) do it on a weekly if not daily basis, is to examine those developments and trends and trajectories in individual lives that are determined by government policy and practice: to see whether this or that person's life is better or worse than it used to be, and whether that's measured in terms of money or peace of mind or something else altogether.

After eleven years of a Howard government, business-minded Caucasian males are doing very well. Who'd have thought.

Workers, women, asylum seekers, Aboriginal children and such, however, maybe not so much. Those of us who value ideas, egalitarianism of class and gender and heterogeneity of thought and belief aren't doing all that fabulously well either, although that's more the effects of repressive tolerance; it would be stupid and wrong to deny that we have, in Australia, been fortunate enough to preserve (despite our various national failings) a kind of independence and scepticism of mind and heart, and that that has been possible partly because even our conservative governments have been relatively liberal. Not only are we are not Myanmar or North Korea or Zimbabwe, we are not even, thank God, the US.

But we've now had eleven straight years of a government that has stayed in power by shamelessly playing to our weaknesses and our worse natures: self-interest, literal-mindedness, mean-spiritedness, fear and greed. And after eleven years of fear and greed being indulged, reinforced and rewarded by policies (and their accompanying rhetoric) in, especially, economics and immigration, you have to worry about what it's done to us as a people: positive reinforcement is a powerful thing, for better or worse. We all take it for granted that it is we who create the government, but that relation is actually a complex two-way street, involving the re-calibration of personal assumptions and the re-setting of social norms.

Politics really matters, all right. And one of the things about it that matters most is what it does to you as a human being. How amazing, if for once we were to stop asking ourselves 'Am I better or worse off than I was eleven years ago?' and ask ourselves instead 'Am I a better person?'

UPDATE, 22/11: Or, to put it another way ...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Experience is the best teacher, part 4,594: washing instructions

What they say: 'Handwash separately in cold water.'

What they mean: 'Handwash separately in cold water.'

If God had meant this to happen, he would never have invented sub-editors

From the Adelaide Advertiser's TV liftout:

Judge John Deed: Silent Killer.
Deed is asked by the wife of a former Iraqi minister to help her sue the British government for the deaths in her family. (Includes Lotto draw.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Through a glass darkly, or do I mean smoke and mirrors?

As we crawl groaning through the eighth day left before we can finally trudge down to the ballot box and get it over with, does anyone else have the feeling that this runup has, on both sides, been so comprehensively air-brushed that there's really nothing much to look at, apart from the meta-campaigns?

Almost nobody believes Howard now, not even his own side, when he desperately promises to throw money around on things we all know he doesn't believe in. As for Kevin07, so successful has he been in his refusal to be wedged (and I'm not blaming him for that; it was the only intelligent response) that we don't really know what he actually thinks about anything much -- although as a secular feminist, a South Australian, and a profound mistruster of people who seriously want to make a lot of money, I'm not fooling myself that Kev is exactly my man either.

The liveliest conversations have been about the campaign itself: the Overington/Ecuyer/Newhouse circus; the Garrett and Abbot jokes and quotation marks; the Coalition's ill-hidden determination to get rid of the only electable potential leader they have; the bloody endless graphs and polls and number-crunching, the obsession with which which strikes me as partly a symptom of the popular but narrow- and literal-minded belief that 'science' trumps everything else and can provide all the answers; and, finally, the question of whether or not Julia Gillard owns a skirt.

(I can't decide whether this is more outrageous or less outrageous than the fruit bowl incident or the ongoing fuss about her hair; really it's all part of the same nauseating sexist mindset. Guy Rundle had a very funny Byron parody on the subject of Julia's trousers and the preoccupation therewith in Crikey's early election edition this morning, though I can't believe he missed the more obvious and, in its own quiet way, profoundly erotic Herrick poem.*)

I don't care about any of these things. I want something done about Iraq, water, hospitals, education and grass-roots social reform with a view to a healthier society with fewer crims in it. I don't give a rat's about any of this other stuff.

*Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
Oh, how that glittering taketh me!

Said it before, say it again: Red Symons is a genius

I think this is the best one so far. But be warned: it's incredibly depressing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More wrongful detention: some wondering

I wonder how hard the government has been trying to suppress the story of Tony Tran. (UPDATE: quite hard, apparently.) Here's the transcript from Lateline, which broke the story on Monday night.

I wonder what Tony Tran was thinking while the Vivian Solon and Cornelia Rau stories were in the news.

I wonder what kind of bafflegab and b*llshit Kevin Andrews has/will come up with this time, and whether this story will make his nose and ears go all red on the teeve, as telltale a sign with Andrews as the shoulder twitch is with Ratty. You'd think Makeup would be Awake-up by now.

I wonder where most people would rather see their taxes go: to compensation for Tony Tran and his son -- or to the subsidy of other people's "choice" of private schools for their children?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Election notes

1) News Ltd journo Glenn Milne, he of the unbuttoned physical attack on Stephen Mayne at the last Walkley Awards presentations, hit a new low in barrel-bottom scraping and general insinuendo yesterday when this snide little exercise in violently subjective, connotative language dredged up some tenuous, nay, gossamer fifteen-year-old scuttlebutt about a former lover of Julia Gillard's, hinting that she was complicit or worse in said former lover's irregular financial dealings.

Memo to Ms Gillard: stay away from men called Barry, Brian or Bruce. Just ask me.

Memo to Glenn Milne: which part of 'desperate' don't you understand?

2) I just saw a lovely bit of footage of Ratty wittering on today about 'Australian families' during which Cossie was caught on-camera yawning without even bothering to cover his mouth. Is this a man (loyal, well-mannered, sophisticated, alert ... not) we want in charge of the country?

3) And speaking of Australian families, personally I'm a self-employed independent. And if I hear the idiotic and meaningless phrase 'working families' one more time, from either side, I'm voting Green. I swear.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lying Rodents: What They Say and What They Mean

'I beg your pardon?' = 'I don't care what you said, you wanker'

'Excuse me' = 'Get out of my way'

'Thank you' = 'Ew, what's this rubbish?'

'Please' = 'Hand it over before I rip your arm off'

'How do you do?' = 'I don't care if you're bleeding from the ears'

'Lovely to meet you' = 'Someone get me away from this psycho'

'Peace' = 'War'

'Black' = 'White'

'Sorry' = 'I'm not sorry, and this is not an apology.'

UPDATE: Stephanie has sent me this wonderfully illustrative Nicholson animation.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wednesday Claytonsblogging

Lest anyone (employers past, present and yet to come, this means you) get the wrong idea, let me begin by saying that late last night as I waited for the beta cat to finish her dinner so I could let the alpha cat out of the bathroom and go to bed -- they have to be fed separately, as alpha-cat bolts but beta-cat eats hers in instalments, three or four dainty snacks stretched over half an hour; if they are fed together, alpha-cat simply eats her own and then bumps beta-cat away from the bowl and eats that as well -- as I waited, I flicked through the current Women's Weekly's massive survey on women's lives deciding what my answers would be if I had the energy to get up off the sofa and get a pen.

There are pages and pages of multiple choice in this quiz and my answer to every other question was NONE OF THE ABOVE, but then I found a question with an answer option that exactly fitted my case:

Q. If you are currently employed, which of the following statements most accurately describe your feelings about work?

A. I love my job; it gives me great personal satisfaction.

It's not exactly a job qua job, since I'm self-employed and much of my work involves regular or one-off tasks of various magnitude. But there is an unprecendented number of said tasks on concurrently at the moment, a situation it's possible to survive only if you work on each one in strict rotation for an hour or two at a time, thereby not getting irretrievably behind with any of them. ('If it's 1 am, this must be the proofreading.')

Which means that blogwise I am resorting to the very last, erm, resort of bloggers (and, before them, columnists) everywhere: write a blog post about why you're not writing any blog posts.

I'd blog about the garden but at the moment I'm not spending any time in it and thinking about two major problems out there gives me panic attacks but there's no time to do anything about it.

I'd blog about politics but I don't have time to read or watch the news.

I'd blog about music or theatre, but I don't have time to go to any.

I'd blog about work, but I'm too busy working.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Gotta love spell-check ...

... which has just "corrected" a slight misspelling in the title of J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians in order to re-title the entire thing Waiting for the Birdbrains.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Live by the boot, die by the boot

Couldn't help snickering this afternoon as I listened to radio reports of today's health debate debacle, particularly the tape of Tony Abbott -- who had arrived 34 minutes late for this crucial and nationally broadcast affair -- muttering at the end to his Opposite number Nicola Roxon, even as he shook her hand, that in making the most of his lateness (in what I thought was a rather gently witty way), she was 'being deliberately unpleasant' and that she 'couldn't help herself'.

So. Had the boot been on the other foot, had Abbott arrived on time and Roxon been over half an hour late, how would the government's chief attack dog and head-kicker have behaved? Would he have been deliberately pleasant? Or perhaps accidentally unpleasant? Would he have been able to help himself?

(There is no tape being played, at least not on any news broadcasts I've heard/seen so far, of Abbott apologising for his lateness to Roxon herself, which, as any student of basic good manners will know, should have been his first priority.)

Spinning the questions

I've never had any media training myself but I'm guessing that every Federal Minister I've heard being questioned by the press over the last few days is faithfully following a simple question-answering formula, strictly in this order:

JOURNALIST/INTERVIEWER/DEBATING OPPONENT: [Insert question here. Any question at all.]


1) The Opposition is worse.

2) Look at all these good things we've done and are doing and intend to do.

3) Have you all forgotten what the question was yet? Good. Next question.

[Repeat as necessary.]


Here on the Eve of All Hallows I am reminded by the Weatherpixie's pumpkin, which I probably wouldn't have noticed (being too focused on the lovely lovely rain) if Elsewhere hadn't mentioned that her own Weatherpixie is also accompanied by a big orange veg of the gourd persuasion, that I am likely to be constantly interrupted watching House and Criminal Minds tonight by local children and, alas, mid-teenagers (if the last few years are anything to go by) out bashing on the neighbourhood doors demanding chocolate with menaces.

I'm a bit torn about this. I have gone so far as to buy a couple of supermarket bags of so-called 'fun size' Mars Bars and things to distribute to such small ghosts and witches and skeletons as may happen by at dusk, but anyone who knocks on my door after 8.15 pm will be told that if they're old enough to be out cruising the streets after dark then they're too old to be bludging chocolate from strangers. I might even seriously torture them by giving them a lecture on the evils of cultural imperialism and the details of the original Samhain.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

La chanson des vieux amants

I have been asked to remove the spider from the front page, so here is something much prettier: James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, performing together in 1970 as new lovers when he was 22 and she was 27.

And here, 30 years later, they are at the Joni Mitchell Tribute concert in 2000.

If you're in your 20s and in the middle of a hot love affair, here, if you're lucky, is how you'll feel about each other thirty years from now. And ladies, you may find this hard to believe, but if he's still this attached to you and still singing your songs, you won't mind at all about what's happened to his hair.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Missus Pav's Almanac

If the guelder roses are in bloom and there's a huntsman spider in the mailbox, this must be the fourth week of October.

Time to bury a lamb's fry at the roots of the passionfruit vine while muttering Shakespearean incantations under the full moon. (Better still, time to chop down the passionfruit vine and plant another one that actually fruits after it flowers.)

And if there's a huntsman spider in the mailbox this week, then next week will be the week that two huge fat blue-tongues will come rustling up onto the doormat outside the back door looking for water and frighten the bejesus out of the cats.

I can step over the blue-tongues, but if anyone knows how to get a huntsman spider out of the mailbox without either [EEEWWWWW SHUDDER] touching it or killing it, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The things you find out when you're fact-checking your book reviews

Pav knew she had cousins in Sydney, but this is ridiculous.

I'm in the middle of doing a final copy-edit and fact-check draft of my SMH weekly fiction review column, which this week includes a short review of a novel called Natural Selection by New Zealand writer Neil Cross, the lead writer on Series 6 of the BBC's Spooks and clearly one of nature's storytellers.

There is, in this novel, mention of the Beast of Exmoor and it's quite important to the story, so I thought I'd better Google it rather than relying on my memory. (Yes yes, I know one's memory is often more reliable than Google, but this is where training and experience as an academic come in very handy, as with, I should think, being a detective: if one is to survive in the profession, all one's natural gullibility about truthiness must be bashed out of one sharpish.)

So I Googled the Beast of Exmoor, followed a few links and ended up here.

Eek -- and I've been in western Sydney within the last ten days. Good thing I'm a cat myself.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Debate: the first four minutes

In his highly focused and content-packed two-minute opening statement Kevin Rudd made clear promises of the following:

Abolish WorkChoices -- check
Ratify Kyoto -- check
Take responsibility for hospitals -- check
Implement an exit strategy from Iraq -- check

Ratty wallowed on his laurels, misrepresented Rudd, harped on at Rudd about something he hadn't actually said, and went over time.

First blood to Kevin.

Pink Tim Tams and other offences against nature

Stephanie from Humanities Researcher has a must-read article on the multilaterally dubious pinkness of the breast cancer awareness campaign in today's Sunday Age.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Satire, the crevasse at your feet

The standard of debate around the traps on the subject of Andrew Hansen's infamous 'eulogy song' on Wednesday night's episode of The Chaser's War on Everything has been pretty deplorably low, with most people apparently unable to get past the 'for/against' dichotomy and expressing their positions, either way, in unattractively primitive terms.

[UPDATE: apparently this song was actually written by Chris Taylor -- my bad. Auto-correct as you read.]

As with so much expression of public opinion, much of this has been not about the subject in question but rather about thinly disguised self-aggrandisement. Either you proclaim your own respectability by saying loudly and indignantly that trashing the dead is icky, or you trumpet your own honesty and fearlessness by savagely attacking people who are no longer in a position to defend themselves, regardless of how ruthlessly they may have done so before they carked it.

I'm no fan of the Chaser boys as a rule, and must be the only person in the country who thought the APEC stunt was puerile and dangerous, but I admit it: when I watched Hansen singing his song, I laughed. Not least because he actually understands how to scan verse lines and what a real rhyme is, and the cleverer and more precise the scansion and rhyming, the funnier that Tom Lehrer-style song always is.

I'm in the camp (see self-aggrandisement and respectability, above) that says there is something uncivilised and savage, something pathetically cowardly, even something a bit evil, in the trashing of the newly dead. It reminds me of that 'Teenage King of Werribee' caught last year on video pissing on the head of an intellectually disabled girl, simply because he could do so without fear of repercussion. But I wasn't 'for' or 'against' the song. I thought it was funny, which is a different thing. (Although, having said that, one saw far more brilliant and subtle satire about Kerry Packer back in the 80s and 90s when he was still alive and richly equipped to wreak revenge, and did.)

One defining characteristic of satire is its profound instability of meaning. In good satire, you know that something is being sent up, mocked, savaged, traduced -- but, try as you might and using every tool of literary criticism that you have ever met or heard of, you just can't ever quite put your finger precisely on the word or moment that pins down the satirist's meaning. Think of Edna Everage, or, even more so, Sandy Stone. Think of Swift's 'A Modest Proposal', a savage essay on, among other things, English-Irish relations in which a straight-faced projector proposes (modestly) that the solution to the problem of the Irish poor would be for the Irish to farm their richest resource -- their children -- out for food.

(I thought of this great Swift piece during the Adelaide Festival of Ideas before last when economist Clive Hamilton got up on stage and, also with a straight face, proposed that the solution to the over-population of Kangaroo Island with disease-ridden and habitat-destroying koalas (given that the SA government refuses to allow culling on the basis that it would harm the tourism industry if the news got out -- particularly if it got as far as koala-loving Japan -- that people were shooting koalas out of the trees) would be to develop organised koala-hunting tourism packages and market them to Americans. It would, he predicted, be so popular that they'd end up deliberately breeding more koalas on KI in order to provide enough targets for the sporting shooters of the US.)

But back to the eulogy song. As many have already commented (including, after a fashion, the Chaser boys themselves), the Belinda Emmett moment was the song's self-deconstructing mechanism, making the double point that (1) yes even satire needs to draw the line and (2) anyway, more importantly, Belinda Emmett was, in fact, a sweetheart, so there was no satire-inviting hypocrisy involved in the modest public mourning of her death.

So far, so good.

I maintain, however, that the song had a second and more important self-deconstructing moment, and this brings me back to the point about satire's instability of meaning. For what are we to make of this?

... her dress was wet with Arab semen stains. / Stan Zemanek was a racist jock ...

Regarding this crashing non-segue from racial profiling of hypothetical semen stains (and all that that implies) in one line to scornful accusations of somebody else's racism in the next, there are only two possibilities: either Hansen did this on purpose, or he didn't.

If he didn't do it on purpose, then it reveals a staggering hypocrisy all its own, far outstripping the mild and culturally understandable hypocrisies involved in eulogising the newly dead that were the ostensible target of the song's satire: an even-less-than-skin-deep racial problem that smacks very nastily indeed of the classic white male fear of miscegenation, of 'our women' being sexually appropriated by men of other races.

But if he did do it on purpose, then it means that he was satirising his own song, which would then call its entire message into question. And if he was calling its entire message into question, then what was it really about?

And the sun rises in the east

Today's horoscope: 'You're easily irritated today.'

"Easily irritated"? Me? What the f*ck do they mean by that?


Friday, October 19, 2007

Pro-business = anti-worker, as everybody knows

Is it just me or is everyone else also finding the Coalition's saturation union-hatin' bogeyman's-gonna-getcha TV ad campaign intolerably crude and stupid? I've only watched an hour of commerical television (House, Wednesday night; does anybody agree with my best mate that House has jumped the shark?) since the election was called and by the end of it I was already climbing up the walls. The idea that this is going to go on without respite until November 24 (or whenever the blackout starts) boggles the mind.

The 'reasoning' behind these ads appears to be as follows:

1) All them Labor types are 'union officials' or at least used to go out with one which as we all know is the same thing.

2) Unions are there for the support and protection of the workers. That is, they are pro-worker.

3) As everyone knows, if you are pro-worker then you must be anti-business and vice versa, because, as everyone knows, the relationship between business and labour is always simply and precisely adversarial.

4) We haven't actually realised yet that running this argument makes it crystal clear that we are, in an absolute sort of way, anti-worker by definition.

Not being likewise a seer in black and white, I'm not all that thrilled about the unions myself. But that is strictly from a feminist viewpoint and based on bitter experience of masculinist values and tactics observed over many years -- values and tactics exercised mainly by those who have shouldered, bullied and bludgeoned their way into union officialdom in the first place. If I were in charge of an anti-union campaign, it would be run from a viewpoint even more horrifying to the current regime than that of the unions themselves.

Queen Pavlova the Abrupt, c'est moi

I found this over at Helen Cast Iron Balcony's place and just had to have one.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Imperial Majesty Pavlova the Abrupt of Nether Wombleshire
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Thursday, October 18, 2007

October 18th 1947

My mum and dad were married 60 years ago today.

She died in 1999. He's still physically and mentally fit enough at 80 to do an unscheduled speed run to the airport to pick up a sick daughter.

When this wedding photo was taken, she'd spent four years in the workforce and a year in the WAAF. He'd matriculated, learned how to run a farm, done some accountancy training and spent two years in the Navy. They were both 20.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Not a well person

Before I succumbed completely to whatever virus or bacterium it is that currently has me in its icky clutches, Stephanie from Humanities Researcher and I went out to the University of Western Sydney's Bankstown Campus last Friday as guests of Professor Ivor Indyk's Writing and Society Research Group to talk about blogging and writing and literary criticism. Judith Ridge, who was there, has written about it here at Misrule (found via Matilda).

Stephanie and I are old friends and regular readers of each other's blogs, so it was a different sort of occasion from the usual more formal academic presentation -- something I don't think, after ten years away from the academy, that I could convincingly do any more in any case. (Though it does appear to me that in terms of intellectual influences and fashions, of new habits and modes of theory and critique, time has stood still while beleaguered academics everywhere instead spend their time being forced to do endless, pointless administration, sit on committees, find new ways of raising funds, and get dragged down by the never-ending nightmare of the compulsory ARC grants application cycle as by a giant squid, so perhaps I could.)

Giving a joint presentation with a dear friend is something I recommend highly, and I think it's probably fun for one's listeners as well; it adds an extra (and extra-benign) dimension of performance dynamic and a light blanket of warmth to what can otherwise be quite a challenging situation.

But the session was further complicated for me by the intermittent spinning around of the seminar room as I attempted to deliver my spiel and respond to questions. I'd been flat out meeting deadlines, having assorted dramas and doing various bits of organisation before I left for Sydney and I figured the week of early-warning momentary room spins was just the effects of tiredness and stress, but alas, it wasn't.

Apart from a lifelong predisposition to motion sickness that sees me permanently stocked up on medication for it wherever I go, and a very good thing that has often turned out to be (or not; at least one regular reader of this blog will not have forgotten the unfortunate flight over the Swiss Alps to Florence in 1993), I very rarely catch anything infectious or indeed get sick at all, so the opportunities for pathographyblogging here at Pavlov's Cat have always been thin on the ground.

The last two weeks, however, have been quite something. If you see an infection approaching that appears to include a virulent sore throat, head cold, chest cold, headache and apparent middle/inner ear thingy involving attacks of vertigo lasting, at their height, up to five or six hours and involving violently nauseatingly spinning rooms, and that seems to go on and on and on and bloody on with ever-new and more charming symptoms, tell it you don't want it and to please go away.

Especially if you are alone in a hotel room in a city not your own.

Alternatively, you could try very hard not to get so run down that not even your normally very resistant immune system can repel this little charmer. At least, having checked in with my GP, I'm now at the entertaining stage where I can feel the bug and the drugs fighting it out in my bloodstream.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

'Writing & Society' blogging seminar: Friday October 12

Stephanie has (as usual) been better organised than I about publicising this, but we are doing this joint gig at UWS in Bankstown next Friday afternoon.

Please note that this is part of a writing program, so I expect there'll be little or no discussion of the more usual things -- politics, influence, so-called 'citizen journalism', the American blogosphere and so on. Stephanie and I are both literary types to the core, and the focus will be on writing, scholarship, criticism and literature.

Friday 12 October

"The Uses of Blogging"

with Kerryn Goldsworthy, literary critic & author of
the blog Pavlov's Cat

and Stephanie Trigg, medievalist & author of
the blog Humanities Researcher

University of Western Sydney, Bankstown campus
Building 23, conference room 1
(via the Henry Lawson Drive exit of the M5)

All welcome - lunch served at 1pm.

Monday night gardenblogging

Here are a couple more things I can't believe I actually grew; my mother would be proud. And it looks like next year will be raked Japanese pebbles and maybe the odd cactus, so I'm showing these off while I can.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How to live your life

With extraordinary courage, a desperately and incurably ill friend of mine trundled halfway across the country two weeks ago, supported by his devoted family, in order to give a conference paper.

I think he did this partly in the spirit of 'ride it till the wheels fall off' and partly to continue his life's work as long as he could, in accordance with the ethos of service by which both he and his wife have lived all their adult lives. The paper contained research results that will be of immediate practical use in his own field and also in court cases and legal judgements. It will also give a couple of his junior co-authors a refereed publication to add to their CVs.

I saw him today and he is very weak, breathless and permanently exhausted. He finds talking difficult, though he is still making jokes. I can't imagine what torment the travelling must have been, never mind delivering a conference paper to a national organisation -- not even with the support of the rock he's married to, who's been a dear friend of mine since we were in our early 20s.

Looking at him today, I had no idea how he could have done it. Often barely able to walk or speak, he's continued to be active and productive for as long as he possibly could. I was reminded of stories I'd heard about the late and much-lamented John Iremonger, publishing legend, charming dude and general force of nature, still sitting up in his hospital bed reading manuscripts in the last days of his life.

This is the second time in eight years that I've watched a friend my own age dying of cancer and have had to take, willy-nilly, the role of useless, helpless bystander. As experiences go, there are two things I can tell you about it:

(1) It is a complete crock.

(2) It doesn't get any easier with practice.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Today is my second blogiversary, but I'm feeling very muted about it.

At the moment I'm not at all sure whether this blogging caper is any kind of good idea, and am wondering whether the several friends who pour scorn on the whole notion might not, after all, have a point.

And at the moment I have nothing to say, so instead might take a leaf out of Elsewhere's book and celebrate the day with some linkin' to a few ghosts of postings past, over the last two years.

On Latham and Beazley, 2/11/05: of historical interest. Note no mention of Kevin, who at that point was the merest speck in the distance.

On Kathy Reichs, Dorothy Dunnett, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, the Rolling Stones and Tolstoy, 16/12/05

On Brokeback Mountain, 31/1/06.

On A.S. Byatt's Possession, 22/3/06.

Anzac Day Ode to the Grandfathers, 25/4/06.

On gardening and memory, 29/8/06.

On education and the Howard government, 7/10/06.

A recipe for Christmas trifle, 23/12/06.

On French, 21/3/07.

And finally the obligatory meta-post, 12/7/07.

Monday, October 01, 2007

They all look the same to him

Today at, Mungo MacCallum summarises a recent monstrous bingle in the Coalition's Clayton's campaigning:

'Even [Howard's] shameless attempt to duchess the Chinese community went wrong: his staff produced a glossy invitation lauding the achievements of Chinese Australians, but through either blind racism or pig ignorance sent it not only to the Chinese, but to their sworn enemies, the Koreans and Vietnamese as well – after all, they all look the same and they all have funny names.'

Three questions:

1) What does he mean, either blind racism or pig ignorance?

2) Was there really no minion anywhere in the process of formulating and disseminating this message who heard alarm bells? If the answer is yes, then the Rodent has one or more, erm, rats in the ranks.

3) Does anyone plan to point out to Howard that if only he knew a little more about the postmodernism and/or the multiculturalism against which he so tirelessly rails and legislates (or even just about the history he never tires of talking up as though the rest of us didn't know any), he and/or his People would never have made this grotesquely insulting and, one hopes, fatal mistake in the first place?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Liveblogging half the AFL Grand Final

1.53 pm (SA time)

The teams have just come onto the ground. The Power are full of beans, leaping around like kids on speed, couldn't wait to get out there; Tredders led them out like a warrior expecting to kick butt. They burst through their banner as if it wasn't there.

Geelong by contrast looked as if they were about to get off the boat on the beach at Gallopoli. Some of them appeared to be praying, others to be trying not to vomit. They ran under their banner. Every one of them was wearing a tragic expression except for inspired feral redhead Cameron Ling, who looked like he couldn't wait to sink his teeth into something teal.

Port Adelaide Magpies legend Tim Ginever predicted yesterday on the radio that the first goal would be kicked by Port's Brett Ebert. We'll soon know.

2.09 pm Well, Ebert had two chances for it: the first was a point and the second a spray, and the first goal has just been kicked by the favourite for it (8-1 apparently), Geelong's Cameron Mooney. Geelong's Matthew Stokes has just been carried off the ground with a very nasty-looking knee injury.

2.19 pm Stokes is clearly not as badly hurt as he looked, as he is back and warming up to get back out on the ground. The Power's first goal has just been kicked by its captain; considering Tredders had just had his head pounded into the turf by an overnthusiastic Geelong tackler it's a wonder he was conscious, much less able to kick a goal. OTOH, judging by the volume and quality of the noise coming from the teeve, I fear Geelong may have just replied.

In other predictions, Gavin Wanganeen said earlier this week that he thought if the Indigenous players were in form then the Power would win. ('Maybe it's something to do with the spiritual side of things, who knows?' he said, thereby using a word I don't think I've ever heard a footballer use in my life before and probably never will again.) They're certainly doing well so far, especially Danyle Pearce and the magical Peter Burgoyne.

2.36 pm and as I was writing that remark about Burgoyne he kicked a goal, but it's now the end of the first quarter and the score is Geelong 5.7 to Port Adelaide 2.2, which is pretty seriously not good. Mark Williams will be having a few harsh words about now, I should think.

Matthew Stokes is back on the ground and not even strapped up or anything. Academy Award city.

The Burgoyne brothers and the Cornes brothers have seen a lot of action already, while Nathan Ablett has also been in the thick of things (no kicks but lots of hard work) but nary a peep out of Gary Jr to date. Chad Cornes just took a very nasty bump to the head so I hope he is all right. Brownlow winner Jimmy Bartel has had a hard time getting away from Kane but when he did, about a minute before the end of the quarter, he put it to very good use and kicked himself a goal.

Peter Burgoyne and Warren Tredrea appear to be the only Power players on the ground.

3.13 pm Half time and it's Geelong's 70-something points to Port's 20-something points and I'm going to stop now. It's too embarrassing.

Never mind. I mean, Geelong need it a lot more than we do.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Power Cream Kangaroos

It's a little one-line poem, isn't it.

And if the bloody Victorian commentators on Channel Ten's disgraceful telecast of Power v Kangaroos at AAMI Stadium this afternoon think that their sullen, dull-witted, mean-spirited, grudging and hopelessly biased commentary (or the way the afternoon was presented at the end as having been all about Glen Archer's final game) in any way spoiled South Australians' pleasure in the spectacle of the Power giving the Kangaroos an absolute bath, then you can forget it. It didn't.

Quite the reverse, in fact. We're glad we made you sulk.

September 29, Power v. Geelong: the Burgoyne brothers, the Cornes brothers and the Ablett brothers. Can't wait.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Force Nine Why-ning

* Why, when I decide I really must do a load of washing, does it immediately begin to rain?

* Why does it never rain all the rest of the time?

* Why do people not actually read the emails in which I have taken such trouble to explain as clearly and simply as possible what the problem/issue/question is, thereby creating completely unnecessary confusion and wasting yet more time?

* Why do so many people want things finished and delivered by the end of September?

* Why, on a day when one cat heaves up a gigantic furball on the sofa and the other one escapes out into the street to play with the trucks and the Rottweilers, do they do those things at exactly the same time?

* Why do strangers ring up begging for money just as I have started a complicated sentence, thereby dooming me never to finish it?

* Why do the delivery people think that the small space in my driveway between my car and the gates is an appropriate place to leave a delivery for next door -- a huge, unwieldy parcel three-quarters as tall as I am and almost too heavy and awkward to lift if one heeds the This Way Up sign -- without knocking on my door or leaving any other kind of notification that that is what they have done?

* Why can I never convince my hairdresser that I do actually want my fringe about an inch and a half shorter than that?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I need three TVs, each with its own DVD recorder or equivalent

Monday September 17

7.30-8 ABC -- The 7.30 Report
7.30-8.30 Channel 10 -- Australian Idol: Monday Night Verdict
8.00-8.30 ABC -- Australian Story
8.30-9.20 ABC -- Four Corners
8.30-9.30 Channel 7 -- City Homicide
8.30-9.30 Channel 10 -- Law & Order: SVU
9.20-9.35 ABC -- Media Watch
9.30-10.30 Channel 7 -- Criminal Minds
9.30-10 SBS -- World News
9.35-10.35 ABC -- Enough Rope (with Robson Green -- *swoons*)
10.10-10.35 phone call from a beloved
10.30-11.30 Channel 7 -- Boston Legal
10.35 -- 11.10 ABC -- Lateline

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Show with No Horses

This year's Royal Adelaide Show was hamstrung by the enforced ban on horses in the wake of the equine-influenza outbreak. No blacksmithery and farrier displays; no horses in the Grand Parade; none of the obsessive, cult-like manifestations of the subculture that is show jumping.

Show jumping is something I knew a great deal about when I was a little kid and devoured all available pony-club and show-jumping books (I was never allowed to have a pony on the farm, partly because my father had and still occasionally does have nightmares about being expected to lead his uncle Ross's prizewinning Clydesdales

around backwards when he was a very small child and has stayed well away from horses ever since).

Even my own adoration of these beautiful, powerful, graceful and intelligent animals took a bit of a beating in 1988 when one particularly unprepossessing specimen executed a tricky simultaneous gait-changing and direction-changing manoeuvre at a canter through a steep creek bed somewhere hilly north of Melbourne and dumped me on some rocks, but I'm still very sad there weren't any at the Show. The alpacas nearly made up for them, but not quite.

This little black alpaca was knackered.

Other animals I would have liked photos of: the gigantic bulls, peacefully lying in the straw with their hooves tucked under their chests like cats and the farmer's little kids climbing all over them. (Camera out of batteries by then.) The racing and diving pigs (didn't have enough energy left to wait, much less walk, around for another 20 minutes till the next race). The strange-looking people trotting their dogs around the dog-showing ring, straight out of Best in Show (batteries again).

This was supposed to be a photo of the upside-down roaring tigers, but it seems to have turned into one of those pictures of festively primary colours that look like children's doona designs.

Again with the violent colours. I liked all this raffish sideshow dazzle and noise with the soft colours and contours and the stillness of the Adelaide Hills in the distance.

This hi-tech ferris wheel is definitely not the same one I remember breaking down in 1963 with me and my sisters and my Scottish grandma up at the very top of the ride.

Meanwhile, in the handcraft hall and bakery section, someone named Susan Rabbitt had won first prize for these fabulous-looking passionfruit and lemon butters.

Shrek wedding cake, considerably more tasteful than some of the wedding cakes I've seen.

Fascinators are back, if they ever went away.

Young Elyse (this is the Primary School division) definitely deserved this blue ribbon: these are the best Chocolate Crackles on display by a very long way. No icing, coloured sprinkles or cutesy printed paper patty case thingies, just lots of chocolate and no mucking about.

And the thing I'm saddest I didn't get a photo of? Legendary Adelaide broadcaster and columnist Peter Goers, whose OTT-quirky gift for radio I have never heard equalled, striding along the path to the ABC tent clutching a gigantic Dagwood Dog dripping in sauce.

Don't think it doesn't happen here

I missed her on At the Movies, where actor Veronica Sywak seems to have told the same story, so my blood ran cold (really, it did) yesterday in the car when I caught her on local ABC radio talking about the Australian indie film The Jammed, currently on in Adelaide at the Palace Eastend and getting very good press, in which she stars as a more or less innocent bystander who gets caught up in the deadly world of human trafficking.

The chill came partly from the fact that I happen at the moment to be reading a novel, The Nubian Prince, about this very subject; it's chillingly narrated by the 'scout' who travels the world sniffing at the aftermaths of financial, political and geological disasters in the sorts of places that Christophen Hitchens has described as 'armpits of the world', in order to 'save the lives' of whatever exceptionally beautiful children and adults -- the more racially exotic the better -- he can find to take home to the Barcelona branch of an international operation and get groomed for the luxury end of the sex worker trade.

God knows that most of us are all too prone to think of our fellow human beings as commodities at the best of times (witness Kerri-Anne Kennerley's blisteringly intellectual analysis of Catherine Deveny's recent spray about women who take their husband's names: 'She probably can't get a man') but this open, naked trading is beyond understanding. Like most bottom-feeders, the narrator makes it worse by constantly thinking up justifications for his behaviour and trying to represent himself to himself as someone with more than the moral sense of amoeba, which of course he does not have; one would have more respect for the sort of criminal who says 'I'm a bad bastard: now stand aside or I will atomise you.'

Anyway, Sywak spoke to an audibly gobsmacked Carol Whitelock about the realities of human trafficking in Australia, and about her experiences bravely knocking on brothel doors to try to talk to sex workers and find out how much they knew about this trade and how much they were prepared to talk about it. And here, from the At the Movies transcript, is the story that nearly made me drive off the road; I knew the Cross was seedy (and indeed have known it for the decades since I read Dymphna Cusack and Florence James's Come In Spinner, in which something very similar is going on in wartime Sydney) but I will never look at it, or walk up it, the same way again.

'And when I was speaking with one girl in a suburban brothel,' says Sywak, 'I think in Burwood in Sydney, I was speaking with her about the issue of human trafficking and this was just - I have to clarify this was a legal brothel and the girls were there on their own accord and I was talking to them and they said - I casually mentioned that I was going to go up to the Cross to learn - to discover more about human trafficking and try and contact or try to come face to face with some of these girls who have been enslaved.

And this woman said to me, she stopped, she said, "Sweetheart, if you go up to the Cross and ask about human trafficking, you're going to be dead by this afternoon."'