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.