Friday, June 29, 2007

Anyone living in Melbourne and free at 4 pm today?

If you are, try to get to this.

Don't be fooled into thinking the 'medieval' tag makes it too specialist and academic for general interest. Merlin is a topic that most literate people have a passing interest in anyway. And anyone who has ever had anything to do with Prof Knight will know that he could sit and read out his shopping list and it would still be clever and funny.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I am at once deeply honoured and completely freaked to have scored a mention in today's 'Bias-O-Meter IV: The Blogosphere'.

On the pretty red and blue fan with Marx at one end and Maggie T up the other, they've put me halfway round the red side, scoring five Marxes out of a possible ten, along with The Road to Surfdom. (Perhaps it's an Adelaide thing, though Surfdom is no longer as Adelaide-identified as it was of yore.)

It's hard to know quite what to think about this. Is it true, I wonder. I would never, for example, have scored myself leftier than the redoubtable Tigtog, though in some things I suppose it's possible. But I do have certain shameful, nay, freaky beliefs in things that would get me hung, drawn and quartered by some of the more hard-line elements of the left. I think, for instance, it's a terrible shame that Noel Pearson has just cornered the Australian market in the term 'personal responsibility'; I *whispers* have quite a lot of time for this concept, but I regard Aboriginal people as a special case (what with the whole hopelessly-disadvantaged-for-generations thing), and for the moment, at least, the phrase has become publicly associated with them in ways I wouldn't use myself.

There is a great deal of pressure in the blogosphere to define one's beliefs, but as a lifelong sceptic about prescriptive (and proscriptive) belief systems as such I have always resisted it, so it's quite disconcerting to see oneself quantified so schematically.

Very entertaining, though.

If that is the case then I am clearly neither

One 'J_P_Z', a regular commenter at Larvatus Prodeo, has opined in the course of a bit of incomprehensible sledging of the great Leonard Cohen -- J_P_Z is clearly deluded -- that:

Leonard Cohen writes lines that belong on the intellectual’s equivalent of a refrigerator magnet, or a poster with a cute kitten on it (though I suppose in LC’s case, they would be brooding, inconsolable kittens). The funny part to me is that so many intellectuals think that only dim people own refrigerator magnets.

To which I answer:

I am disappointed in this photo, though; you can hardly see anything. The small square magnet reflecting the camera flash is actually an excellent reproduction of Klimt's The Kiss, and the boring-looking triangle near the freezer handle is a beautiful chunk of amethyst crystals wth a magnet on the back.

My favourites among these exhibits include the one that says 'BEWARE OF THE DOG: The Cat is Not Trustworthy Either', and the chimp saying 'I would like to use one of my lifelines.' In the yellowing Judy Horacek cartoon, the woman at the counter is saying 'I'd like a new lease on life, please' and the young man is replying 'I'm sorry, Madam, you're not allowed to break the old one.'

The cutting along the top edge of the fridge and over to the right, held in place by a flower magnet, says 'Kerryn queen of world drivers' and only the people who have driven with me know how funny this is. The other cutting, further over to the left, is one I have had on my last three fridges and saved through four moves, which is how much I love it: it says 'Sometimes the devil comes and helps women.'

There are three cute kittens and one terrifying cat, the one in the mise-en-abîme cat-and-fridge photo.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The year's midnight

Suse at Pea Soup and Stephanie at humanities researcher's mentions of the Winter Solstice have reminded me that I too celebrated the solstice, which coincided with the return home of one of my oldest friends from foreign parts; she stayed with me while recovering from jet lag, and on the night of her arrival home we made some mulled wine.

They say you have to do something 27 times before it becomes a habit, which explains why I forgot to take photos for blogging purposes.

Take one (1) bottle of decent red, something not too bossy that will accommodate additions, and pour it into a saucepan over low heat. Shake the cinnamon jar over it a bit. Tip the honey over the pan and squeeze till you think that's enough. Chuck in six or seven cloves.

Heat gently, stirring. Don't let it boil, just get it nice and steamy. (Actually you are supposed to heat it with a red-hot poker but that presupposes an open fire, which I could, but do not, have. The alpha tortoiseshell's tail would be on fire before you could say 'Too perverse to come in out of the rain', quite apart from the labour-intensiveness and the cost of firewood.)

Strain into pretty mugs.



Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Drama Queen

An hour or two ago my computer screen started to go all shaky.

OMG the computer is about to blow up, I'll have to get a new computer, and as for backing up ...

Then when I tried to heat something in the microwave, it made a very off noise. The bathroom light wasn't as bright as it ought to have been. When I switched on the electric kettle to try the new chai teabags, which I thought might calm my escalating jitters, it dimmed the light from a lamp.

OMG the house needs rewiring. And is about to burn down.

Then I heard revving engines and loud male voices close by.

OMG someone's stealing the car, and I'm already thousands of dollars in debt after the new computer and the rewired/burnt-down house.

Then all the lights went out.


It wasn't long after that that the nice man from the electricity, in his shiny neon yellow safety gear, knocked gently on the front door to let me know they'd fixed the fault in the power pole directly across the road.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Notes towards a comments policy

This is my personal blog, not a public forum. Any comment that's aggressive, hostile, barking or boring will be removed.

Comments policy draft: 'If you don't like it, don't read it. If you do read it and then spray all over it, I will clean up.'

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Miles Franklin Literary Award 2007

Even as we speak, they will be getting stuck into the $120-a-head gourment nosh (it had better be gourmet, at that price) at the Miles Franklin presentation dinner. It's 8.35 pm in Sydney; I imagine the announcement is being made about now.

So here's a last-minute prediction, except that my psychic powers are getting a lot of interference and static from my wishes in the matter: I really, really, really want Alexis Wright's Carpentaria to win.

And I do actually think it might be going to.

Now I'll check the ABC news site (they were first with the news last year) and see whether I was right or not. Watch this space ...


2.02 am ...

... and I've written 3,000 words, about eight different books of fiction, in the last two days. 3,000 down, 260 to go, and then I can go to bed.

Also, this Amberley 2006 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc is very nice. You heard it here.

Speaking of which, ThirdCat, I bought a bottle of that Lake Breeze Bernoota Shiraz (though not the same vintage, of course) when I happened to notice it at Dan Murphy's the other day, in your honour. I have stashed it to keep for a few years, as recommended.

Back to work.

It's not called a deadline for nothing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gunman schmunman

I see that, yet again, some faux-macho psycho who has been spraying bullets around is being referred to exclusively in the news as 'the gunman'.

What's this about? What makes a man a gunman? Carrying a gun? Firing one? Killing someone with one? In the case of yesterday's tragic events in Melbourne, what's wrong with the good old-fashioned word "murderer"?

I'm not sure quite what my objections are to the word 'gunman', but I do know that they are visceral. Perhaps I despise the undertones of admiration, the 'lone and misunderstood hero' connotations of a word like 'gunman'. Remember Chuck Norris in Rifleman on the teeve, the lone hero striding the lawless landscape like some colossal law unto himself? (No, most of you probably don't, you're too young. Never mind.)*

You never see the word 'gunwoman', though, do you.

And there's a reason for that.

*UPDATE: Connors. Chuck Connors.

Obviously I don't remember him either.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pavlov's Law

The lost gold earring will always turn up. But it will only turn up after you have gone out and bought a new pair.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Paul Capsis

This has been a demented work week (and it's not over yet by a long shot) in which I have been too busy to blog, except to make a few manic comments on other people's blogs in little five-minute blogging time-outs from the making-a-living thing, but I want to say something quickly about a show I saw on Wednesday night.

We're in the middle of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which is always great -- for me there was not only Paul Capsis on Wednesday night, but there'll be Eddie Perfect in a work-in-progress version of Shane Warne: The Musical on Sunday afternoon, and if I'd been better organised I would most certainly have gone to hear Issa, formerly Jane Siberry, of whom I have been a breathless fan since about 1990 when I first heard 'The Valley' and 'The Life is the Red Wagon' and 'Something about Trains' and 'La Jalouse' and and and, on the album Bound By the Beauty. (If you don't know who she is, think of k.d.lang's version of 'Calling All Angels' - Siberry wrote it, and is the voice singing the high harmony.)

Anyway, there I was with friends at the short but extraordinary show being put on by singer, actor, 'female impersonator' and diva channeler Paul Capsis, and he was superb. We didn't quite realise how superb until he went into a sort of ballerina spin, gathered up and fastened his wild long Greek-boy hair on top of his head in a lightning-fast haute-feminine gesture, turned up his collar, did something mysterious with his eyes and mouth, and there, I swear, was a recognisable Judy Garland. And that was before he started to sing.

Doing Judy is standard, I know, but I've never seen her done as well as that, including by Judy Davis (who came in for a drive-by serve, in the best boy-bitch tradition). Two of his other 'channeling' standards were Marlene Dietrich and Janis Joplin, the former very funny and the latter terrifying, both performances quite stunning bits of mimicry.

Like most men who impersonate women, he was working with over-the-top, pre-feminist (and certainly pre-Queer) Les Girls type gestures and images of femininity; in the case of his Garland and Dietrich turns he was not just performing femininity but performing those particular women's particular performances of femininity, all with a deliciously obvious awareness of what he was doing and how he was doing it.

And it was a familiar form of theatre, brilliantly done. But what I found most riveting and magical was the straight (hah) part of the program, the songs he sang just because they were songs and he was singing them, songs he sang simply as himself. His third and final encore was a beautiful, exposed performance of Kate Bush's 'The Man with the Child in his Eyes', which he sang to simple piano accompaniment as though telling an old friend in private about his broken heart.

He also sang, of all things, the old Cher single 'Bang Bang'. Yeah yeah, I know, hard to believe, even after the Kill Bill revival. He sang it as a slow ballad and the effect all round our table was for us to shake our heads at each other in wide-eyed disbelief and say 'Well, Sonny Bono was a great songwriter. Who knew.' Capsis sang sweetly 'Music played and people sang, just for me the church bells rang' and transformed it into a story of the high point of somebody's life, and it was a wonderful example of how a good performer can transform a song you've known forever and never properly heard.

Given the degree to which the whole rationale of his act relies on the treacherous, shifting signifiers of sex and gender, it's amazing to see him take it up a notch to drop them so abruptly and so utterly, and sing those songs not 'as a woman', not 'as a man', but simply as an exposed human creature, where the emotions and images predominate, sexual identity seems a bit beside the point, and the role and image stuff falls away. Even his voice, used straight, is almost impossible to identify by gender, and he must have a range of at least four octaves counting the falsetto register, possibly more.

His impersonator mimicry is masterful, of course, and oscillates, as all good parody does, between the hysterically funny and and the creepily uncanny. But the straight stuff is just exceptional musicianship and performance, something I felt very lucky to be seeing.

Image: Queensland Government

Thursday, June 07, 2007

2007 Adelaide Festival of Ideas: 'Which way to the future?'

The fifth biennial Adelaide Festival of Ideas takes place from July 5 to 8 and Festival Chair Mark Cully has asked three Adelaide bloggers -- Tim Dunlop, Gary Sauer-Thompson and me -- if we would participate in a kind of bloggy engagement with the Festival. This is not so much a formal report as an on-the-ground punter's overview and thoughts: I'll be going to things that interest me and talking around them and the ideas they raise, rather than providing straight, or comprehensive, reportage.

(For anyone new to this blog who is bemused by the catblogging and other domestic preoccupations indiscriminately mixed up with the posts about politics and culture and ideas, this kind of heterogeneous reportage is one of the most pronounced manifestations in the blogosphere of gender difference, and in my case at least is a deliberate if very mild bit of feminist activism. Never mind the women from Venus and the men from Mars; my equivalent book on the subject would be called Male Bloggers Compartmentalise and Female Bloggers Don't. Now read on ...)

The Festival of Ideas began in 1999 and takes place in the years when there is no Writers' Week; unlike the writers' festivals in other Australian cities (Adelaide WW is the oldest one by more than 20 years), WW is biennial, as an integral part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts. It seemed logical to the organisers to run the Festival of Ideas in the alternate years.

One effect this has had, if largely by default and in punters' minds, has been to somehow hive off 'literature' from 'ideas' and vice versa, but obviously there's no such clear-cut distinction, and the kinds of guest writers who might be sorted into the 'ideas' box have in fact often drawn some of the biggest crowds at Writers' Week -- Robert Fisk last year, Paul Keating at an earlier Writers' Week, Michael Ignatieff (who was really something) at an earlier one again.

The guests who feature at the Festival of Ideas, however, tend not to be 'writers' as such, in the way we usually think about 'writers', but rather scientists, theologians, economists, philosophers and others whose books, articles, essays and broadcasts are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, whether it's to convey information or to argue a case.

Because 'literature' as such is my living, my specialist subject and my main field of endeavour, I always know my way round Writers' Week -- but I feel very much the bemused and humble punter at the Festival of Ideas, and that will be the perspective from which I'll be writing about the sessions I go to. So far, these are the sessions (there's a link to the Festival website at the end of this post, including a complete program with session notes) that I've got a big asterisk next to:

* Everything with Norman Swan in it. Swan is one of my absolutely favourite ABC radio regulars and has an extraordinary gift for making complex ideas accessible without dumbing them down. He's got a lot of work to do: first up he has a session all to himself on the Friday morning, called 'Survival of the Fittest, Survival of the Richest or Survival of the Thinnest'. He's also participating in three panel discussions: 'Before You Eat', also on the Friday morning; 'Lifting the Lid on Whistle-Blowing', on the Saturday afternoon; and 'A Passion for Science', later the same afternoon.

* The Festival has quite a strong emphasis on food and health, on workplace issues, and on Indigenous matters, and those are the sessions at the top of my list. But I'm also looking forward to the opening session on the Thursday evening, 'The Elephant and the Dragon': this is a large panel discussion on the future of China and India and their place in the world economy, featuring Chinese Professor of Political Science Joseph Cheng, Indian historian and biographer Ramachandra Guha, Australian specialist in Pacific and Asian studies Robin Jeffrey, British (despite his name) financial journalist and author Philippe Legrain and Australian Colleen Ryan, the China correspondent for the Fin Review, in a session chaired by the ABC's (and Adelaide's) Peter Mares from The National Interest.

* Other titles that intrigue: 'People Without Borders', 'Mumbo-jumbo, Snake Oil and Other Delusions', and -- especially beguiling -- Jay Griffiths on the topic 'Wild Mind: a manifesto for the essential wildness of the human spirit'. But that's just the beginning. What I'll probably do is what everybody does at such a time: juggle the parallel sessions on the program, make a lot of hard decisions about what I most want to hear, and occasionally get sidetracked when I run into a friend I haven't seen for months or years and goof off somewhere for a coffee.

The thing I love most about the Festival of Ideas is what it says about my city. Not only because I live in a place that could think up something like that, get it going, and support it enthusiastically over a period of eight years, but also because the ordinary punters of the place turn up for it, as they do for Writers' Week, in droves.

For those three days North Terrace is jumping with an amazingly heterogeneous assortment of Adders citizens, from teenagers in school uniform to shrewd-looking and well-wrapped elderly people briskly pushing each other about in wheelchairs. The city of Adelaide was founded on ideas and shaped by visionaries, and at this time of every other year you can still see that inheritance in the eagerness with which so many of its citizens turn up to hear the thinkers of the world expound.

UPDATE: If you'd like to make a comment or ask a question, click on the Comments link; choose the Anonymous option if you want to bypass the Blogger registration process. (But it would be nice to sign your comment!)

The Festival of Ideas website is here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

How to tell when it's time to buy a new house

Through the bathroom window, you can hear the two plumbers, master and apprentice, struggling to navigate the drain-clearing machine through the tree roots in the ancient, mysterious pipes deeply buried under the pavers and the concrete in the back yard when suddenly there's a loud crashy-bangy clunking noise and somebody shouts 'SH*T!!'

Then there are a couple of seconds of deep silence, broken by the same voice saying in a very controlled, quiet, purse-lipped kind of way: 'F*ck.'

And people say swearing isn't effective communication. Pfffft.