Saturday, September 13, 2008


Time for a little facelift and detox, methinks. The semiotics of pink have changed a lot since October 2005, and not in a good way. The feline ubiquity is misleading. And I think this blog has just gone over its baggage allowance.

I am aware that this is akin to moving to Mars because we have messed up Earth, but wotthehell and toujours gai.

While Blogger still has fairly limited options, I like it, especially its 100% effective spam filters and the fact that it costs nothing. I could redesign a little, but rather than risk obliterating some or all of the last three years here by pushing the Blogger equivalent of the big red button in a fit of absentmindedness or technobabysteps, I'm just going to start a new Blogger blog.

The pink is gone, the title is no longer eponymous (though I retain the online PC ID), and the cats will be less ubiquitous than of yore, but it's really just Pavlov's Cat 2.0 -- over here.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I'm in the middle of writing a review of Amanda Lohrey's new book Vertigo but I'm finding it heavy going. Not the book, which I really like, but the writing of the review. I'm over 600 words in, which usually means a canter to the finish line, but not this time. And of those 600 words, the only ones I'm really happy with so far are the ones in the two opening sentences:

Vertigo is to dizziness what a migraine is to a headache, or the flu to a cold in the head. You don’t really grasp the difference till you’ve had the nastier one.

Giddy with the difficulties of composition and awed by the responsibilities of reviewing -- I once gave a seminar paper about reviewing that consisted entirely of an amplified list of the many different people (and things) to whom (or which) the responsible reviewer has, erm, responsibilities -- I've come over here where I can say whatever I like however I want, surely one of blogging's main attractions, to consider this health-related factoid a little more.

The older you get, unfortunately, the more likely you are to have experienced the cold/flu, headache/migraine and dizziness/vertigo distinctions for yourself. I knew I was irredeemably middle-aged the day I caught myself having the apparently insane thought 'Oh thank God, how lovely, it's an ordinary headache', but that was nothing to my first experience of vertigo, during which I would have thought 'Oh I do so wish this were just a migraine', except that vertigo renders one incapable of rational thought. It was, thank God, a fixable inner-ear disorder going by the majestic yet hilarious title 'Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo', a condition infinitely more paroxysmal than benign. And if a certain rural mate is reading this, she will laugh herself stupid at these hypochondriacal magnifications of relatively harmless, minor and temporary conditions involving disorientation and neurological brouhaha.

But since I currently don't even have so much as an ordinary headache and the review is now two days overdue, there's no excuse not to get back to work.

*girds loins, not a pretty sight*

(I might be back shortly, though, because the Large Hadron Collider has just given me an idea for a meme.)

Just as well he didn't mention silk purses

Apparently last year John McCain used the 'lipstick, pig, still pig' trope in reference to Hillary Clinton's proposed health care policy and nobody said a thing.

This was probably because everyone understood that it's a figure of speech, referring to policies not persons, and that McCain was not in fact calling Clinton a pig.

The Republicans know Barack Obama wasn't calling Sarah Palin a pig either -- if anything, he was sort of calling her the lipstick -- but it is in Republican interests to convince the US public that he was.

Given that he's black and she's a woman, if people continue to carry on in this demented fashion every time someone uses a concrete noun then the next eight weeks are going to be honeycombed with linguistic pitfalls, if not actual abysses, down which some unwitting candidate, speechwriter, administrator, journalist or gofer is going to fall about once every two minutes, some of them never to be seen again.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy Fathers' Day ...

... to any fathers reading this; I'm just off to the family get-together myself. But to those who no longer have fathers, I hope you are remembering them kindly and not too sadly. I remember the first Mothers' Day after my mum died and it was a complete crock, so I've got an idea how you may be feeling.

Champagne is good, either way.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Request for information

Could someone please explain to me exactly what a 'hockey mom' actually is? Has it got anything to do with that Holly Hunter Texas chainsaw cheerleader mom thingy?

The horses are back, or, Why I never get anything done

Today is an absolutely beautiful, perfect, blue-and-gold Adelaide day, much to the pleasure and relief, I'm sure, of everyone involved in the Royal Adelaide Show, which is currently on, and is the reason why it took me at least fifteen minutes longer than it usually does to get home from morning coffee. Last year's had a huge hole in it: the outbreak of equine flu meant massive quarantining, and that meant no horses at the Show at all.

This year, they're back. And as someone freshly reminded by the Olympic equestrian events of how much I love these beautiful animals and what a solemnly horse-mad little kid I was, I am going to make time to trundle down to Wayville next week and watch some of the gorgeous beasts in action.

What's made me think of this is the Saturday arvo task I've just been doing, a fifteen-minute module (the only way I can bear it) of cleaning up the great mass of paper and other junk in the study, which included coming across one of the more maverick choices of book for review that I've been sent over the last few years: Wild Horse Diaries by Lizzie Spender.

Ripping out all the yellow Post-Its as a prelude to putting it in the Red Cross shop box, I came across a passage I'd marked that made me think again of the recent Olympics events. Both the precision and delicacy of the dressage and the combination of control and recklessness required by the showjumping and (especially) the cross-country showed up how crucial the relationship between horse and rider really is. It's like watching couples ice-dancing: one small wrong move, one tiny moment of miscommunication, and you are stuffed, if not savagely maimed. 'A horse is no household pet,' says Spender,

their size alone can imbue an edge of danger, and so there is the challenge of reaching an understanding with an animal that is powerful enough to trample you to death. Dogs are privy to every facet of home life and give unconditional love, while horses are infinitely less available. They don't sit in your lap, lie on your bed, or jump up and down when you suggest a walk; nor are they as independent or capable of disdain as a cat, and they never sharpen their claws on your furniture.

Horses are wonderfully attentive, even when putting on a show of bad behaviour they always remain somehow connected. [This bit in particular spoke to me; remember the several horses in Beijing that got spooked and carried on like pork chops when planes went over? You could just see them communicating protest and displeasure to their riders and the crowd.] It's as if they enjoy hanging out with people -- sometimes I get the distinct impression that we amuse them. It's a sincere, strong connection of the senses, centred around touch and constant interpretation of each other's body language. ... Horses have a sense of fun which I will not even attempt to describe, but anyone who has spent time with them will know what I mean. There are horses that seem to be always smiling.

Naturally, writing this post has made me wonder what I actually said about the book in the review, and since it's no longer online I went looking for it in my records. For those of you who may be wondering who Lizzie Spender is, here's the first paragraph:

Privilege is a weird commodity, stemming sometimes from things other than wealth. There are one or two moments in this book that make you want to ask Lizzie Spender who she thinks she is, but you already know what the answer would be: she is the daughter of Sir Stephen Spender, god-daughter of Sir Laurens van der Post, childhood friend of Anjelica Huston and wife of Barry Humphries, and furthermore she is a gorgeous half-Russian five-foot-ten blonde, so yah boo sucks to you.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Her petite pussy lips, his bulging trousers, and the immemorial magnificence of mystic palpable real otherness*

*All genuine quotations, verbatim

I should like to nominate newbie novelist Kerry Reichs, daughter of the more famous Kathy, for the annual Bad Sex Award offered by London's Literary Review.

Here, from Reichs' debut novel The Best Days of Someone Else's Life, is the nominated entry:

I savoured remembering the First New Kiss, knees touching on the couch at Russia House right before last call, and felt a trail of sparks shoot down my hoo-hah highway.

You have to really work on prose like that.

Yes yes, it's chick lit. But still.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Enough already

When I was a kid my sisters and I spent years being chucked out of Religious Instruction in primary school because my father had firm views on the subject and had instructed the school, probably in colourful language, that his children were not to be exposed to such a thing. I can't remember when this eventually let up; my mother probably intervened, not because she was any more Christian than he was (except in her values; he's more your rugged individualist), but because she didn't want to expose us to the humiliations of being thus singled out, especially in such a small town.

Not that I cared; it meant I got to sit under the pepper-tree, reading my book of choice, rather than listening to the tedious dronings-on of the RI teacher. If we'd had a good teacher who concentrated on the music and the stories, it might have been a different matter.

It is to this singular childhood that I attribute a paradoxical respect for other people's religious practices and beliefs, though not for the organisations to which they belong. And when I say other people I mean all other people, all over the world. Growing up secular means growing up with no barrow to push and no bone to pick about any religion over any other. Some of my best friends really are Christians, not to mention the Buddhists. And, unlike various other friends I've discussed this with, I have no problem with the concepts of the numinous, the spiritual and the sacred. It's organised religion I have a problem with, and even then I can tolerate it as long as it leaves me alone under my pepper-tree.

If the Assemblies of God, for example, want to turn up the lights and turn on the giant closed-circuit screens when they pass around the money buckets (one for each row) so that everyone including the pastors on the stage can see exactly how much money you're putting in the bucket, then it is the devotees' choice and the devotees' right to be thus manipulated, surveilled and conned. And if parents want to send their kids off to be sexually abused by priests, then nobody can say these days that they haven't had fair warning and it's no business of mine.

But in the spirit of 'Your right to swing your arm ends where it meets my eye', I draw the line where religion starts to influence politics. And as far as Australia is concerned, it's not too much of a stretch to say that John Howard's term as Prime Minister -- not his own colourless, constipated Methodism, but his vote-grabbing open collusion with religious loonies and his barely-concealed hatred of other cultures -- opened up a space in which Kevin Rudd's own much-publicised Christianity became far more acceptable to Australian voters than it might otherwise have been. We're living in a country where the doctrine of the separation of church and state is no longer, even in theory, a given. Naturally the cultural domination of the US has had a lot to do with this, although those who remember anything about the history of the DLP in Australia will know it's not new here.

Now, I've been unduly preoccupied over the last few days with Sarah Palin because the silly woman has invaded my darkest nightmares. I think she is more terrifying than anything the Americans have so far come up with, and that is saying a great deal. If they don't dump her, and the Republicans win the election, and then McCain drops dead of a heart attack that night from the strain, the most powerful person in the world will be someone who is not only dumb enough to believe that the war in Eye-rack is 'God's plan' and that fighting in it is 'a task that is from God', but is also dumb enough to say so in public. Not even Dubya, to my knowledge, has ever gone quite so far.

Yesterday I was mulling these things over in the supermarket carpark, as you do, when I heard a loud female voice behind me. 'PRAISE THE LORDJESUSCHRIST, THE SUNNAGOD!'

Turning to see where this exhortation might be coming from, I saw a large blonde woman in a strange and exotic assortment of clothing. She seemed quite mad, and was glaring straight at me. Why, no thank you, ma'am, I don't believe I will, I muttered -- well below the audibility line, for engaging with the mad in a public place is even more foolish than engaging with them online. But it shook me up a bit. Maybe she wasn't mad at all. Maybe this kind of stuff has just made its way across the Pacific and is infesting the suburban car parks of small Australian cities, and in five years we'll all be doing it.

If we're still here in five years.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

They must be grinding their teeth

Having scaled back their convention plans in deference to what looked like becoming the second Louisiana mass tragedy in three years, the Republicans must be a tad annoyed that Hurricane Gustav turned out relatively harmless. Which, of course, they can't possibly say.

Little wonder then that the Convention seems to lack a certain sparkle, at least according to Guy Rundle as he reports back to today:

Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin's baby-daddy was a good place to start, a dude in a football jersey with a haircut that screams 'roped in to a year 12 production of Footloose' and a MySpace page that reads – I kid you not – 'in a relationship but I don't want kids'.

Bad luck dude. ...

By now the whole thing has become well-meta with the main story being the pitiful failure of the vetting process, the suggestion that McCain dug his heels in so long ... and [was] facing the invidious choice of either saying 'yes I was bamboozled I didnt know any of this stuff' or 'no I was aware of it all the time and I selected a 44-year-old mayor of a place with the population of 40 blocks in Manhattan, who publicly suggested the job is pointless, is currently under investigation for misuse of power, and all that other crap as well. Next question. Hey let's put sugar in the tank of the Straight Talk express.'

Would team McCain actually ask Palin to resign? Would she resign of her own accord, given the heat now coming down on her family? The fact that this sh-t is even possible is a measure of just how unbelievably dumb this choice was. Hang on to her, or drop her out the bombbays. Either way, it's a helluva choice. This may be the worst executive choice since Aaron Burr, who actually tried to kill his boss. ...

Laura wrapping it up now, and we're seguing into a film tribute to Reagan who HAS BEEN DEAD FOR TEN YEARS. Or so.

The fundies made him do it

According to this report on the ABC's website, Sarah Palin was a last-minute second choice after McCain's first pick as running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, was rejected by the fundie lobby. The evangelical Christians threatened a revolt at this week's Republican Convention, saying they would overturn the decision on the floor, as the saying goes. Picture the scene. Oh never mind.

Without the support of 'the conservative Christian base of the party', McCain was told, he would certainly lose the election.

Lieberman is an Independent Senator and a former Democrat. He is Jewish. And he is pro-choice.

I particularly like the punch line of the ABC's report:

[Palin's] selection by Senator McCain immediately excited the evangelical base and his campaign received around $US10 million in donations over the weekend.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Yes, she's gorgeous; now can we talk about something else?

Predictably, depressingly, talk in certain sections of the blogosphere has already turned to the looks of mooseburger-eatin' VPILF Sarah Palin, John McCain's surprise choice of running mate.

Other possible talking points (always with the caveat that what you read online, and certainly on Wikipedia, might not be accurate):

-- Of all womankind, only Geraldine Ferraro has ever got this officially close to the presidency until now.

-- Palin is a pro-life, pro-death-penalty gun nut who loves to kill animals. (Are we confused yet?)

-- The various nicknames and titles earned in the course of Palin's interesting past include Mayor, Sarah Barracuda, Governor, and Miss Congeniality.

-- Palin is a member of that strange organisation Feminists for Life, and props to her for not shying away from the word 'feminist', which indicates to me that unlike many of the right-wing men, um, dribbling over her image as we speak, she actually knows what the word means and understands that there's more than one way of being a feminist.

-- She has visited precisely three countries outside the US: Ireland, Germany and Kuwait.

But never mind what she knows or thinks about the world, life, death, gender, family or any of that stuff -- because lo, she is fuckable. And as we all know, that's all that matters.


The closest thing I have to a goddaughter is M, the soccer-playing soprano and third-year Aerospace Engineering student who has made occasional appearances on this blog before, and of whom I stood in awe even before she reported earlier this year that she'd scored a 95 for a subject called Space Vehicle Design.

Her birthday is on the last day of winter -- I remember the first one well; I have a vivid memory of sitting on some hard institutional seat in the maternity hospital with her late father, handing him the hip-flask of brandy that my own father had thoughtfully provided for his use -- and yesterday she turned 21, an occasion celebrated with an afternoon tea party.

As she floated down the hall of her auntie's house to greet me I was dumbstruck by what she was wearing --

-- not only because of its perfectly-preserved beauty as a piece of vintage clothing but also because the last time I'd seen it, her mother (above right, and below) was wearing it at my own 25th birthday party, 30 years ago:

I don't get a lot of opportunities to observe the young en masse, but there would have been about 60 people there yesterday, of whom only ten or fifteen were my generation or older. Most of the more-or-less-21-year-olds would have been from either the soccer team or the Adelaide U Choral Society, though in their tea-party clobber -- there were some very pretty floral frocks, waistcoats, bow ties and so on -- it was impossible to tell these two groups apart right up to the moment, not long after that photo was taken, when it came to sing Happy Birthday, which was the most brilliantly tuneful and certainly the only eight-part rendering of Happy Birthday that I've ever heard in my life. Having warmed up with that, the AUCS members present -- at least 25 of them -- sang several other things, most of them through mouthfuls of cake or champagne, and were magnificent.

To a person, the younguns were friendly, sociable and courteous, some of them showing a degree of social adroitness that I don't even have now, much less when I was their age. I saw a great deal of thoughtful behaviour, particularly towards M. Nobody was rude, nobody got drunk, nobody whined and nobody behaved like a prat. Perhaps young persons who join choirs and soccer teams are not necessarily representative of their generation, but I'd like to think they are. Watching and listening to them made me very happy.

Safety and danger

If the name of the chap who was chatting on Friday afternoon to ABC Adelaide's Carole Whitelock about security is anywhere on the ABC website then I can't find it, but he made for riveting listening. He was an Israeli who'd been involved in high-level international security for a very long time, and he was giving a few tips and hints to improve the lives of the mostly safe and innocent citizens of Adelaide, who for the most part are a very long way indeed from the kinds of things he's seen.

But a couple of things he said made a lot of sense to me, as things that an ordinary citizen in a small city in a relatively safe country might well be moved to do. If there is some unforeseen disaster or attack, he said, the first thing that will happen is that communications will go down, which will mean you can't contact your family or any of the people who are important to you; it's therefore a good idea to prearrange a meeting place that everyone will make their way to, especially if your house isn't there any more. This, as Carole Whitelock pointed out, will have struck a chord with Adelaide Hills residents who have been through some of the worst bushfires, and for whom the idea of a prearranged meeting place is a very familiar one.

The other thing he said that was simple common sense, really (though have I ever been sufficiently organised to do it myself? Of course not), was that it's a good idea to make copies of all your important documents and keep them together and waterproofed in one envelope, somewhere they're easily retrievable. Ideally, he said, they should be in the small bag you've packed with emergency supplies of muesli bars, water bottles and anything else that might contribute to your short-term survival when the sky falls in.

It's easy to make fun of this kind of apocalyptic imagination. Peter Cook et al did it in Beyond the Fringe ('Have you got the tinned food?' 'Yes.' 'Have you got the tin opener?' ' ... ') -- but they did it, as they well knew, at a time when what was comedy sketch one day might well have become autobiography the next. And I couldn't help thinking of my friend R, who was living in Manhattan and working at the UN when the planes flew into the towers, and who for months afterwards carried around with her, as instructed by the authorities, a bizarre assortment of survival-oriented stuff. I also couldn't help thinking of the contemporary fiction I read for review as it comes out, and how much of it tells stories of utter ruination, destruction and disaster from the Second World War.

That might be part of the problem. Most Australians think of such events as the stuff of fiction and movies, stuff separated from our sense of ourselves by its packaging as cultural artefacts. Australians who live in the line of natural disasters, say the coastal North Queensland folk or those in the habitual paths of bushfires, have some sense of their indifferent and inexorable destructiveness. But with a handful of exceptions -- people with military training and experience; elderly European-born citizens -- I doubt very much whether any of us has a realistic sense of what a political attack would be like. Even the people fleeing the Gulf Coast in droves as Hurricane Gustav heads north-west have at least had a little bit of warning, but the people at the World Trade Center seven years ago, like the citizens of Dresden and Hiroshima in 1945, had none.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Reasons why a blogger might suddenly not be blogging

It would be comfortable to think that the reason I've not had much of substance to say here over the last week or three is that life has been particularly busy, intense and fraught; several major tasks and crises have coincided, some of them not of a bloggable nature and/or in any case more likely to produce a thoughtful silence than anything else.

But I think the main reason is probably this thread and all that it implies. Regarding the original post, there are good arguments to make, and IRL in conversation with the author of the post one would probably at least try to make them. But any post about rape, abortion, breasts or any other area of contest and incomprehension between men and women is always going to bring misogynists, extremists and full-on florid nutters out of the woodwork and into the comments thread, and that is where you need to stop and ask yourself what on earth you think you're doing. Such is the charm of blogging that you sometimes forget how much precious time you're wasting in engagement with people you'd normally walk five miles through waist-deep mouldy custard to avoid.

Not always, though.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

AFL's little ironies

Now that it is much, much too late to matter, my team are belting the Kangaroos all over the park -- particularly the Burgoyne brothers, the Motlop cousins, Toby Thurstans, Brendan Lade and Domenic Cassisi, by the sound of the commentary. Peter Burgoyne when last heard of had 45 possessions, and the game's not over yet.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm so proud that she comes from my home town

From the ABC's online news:

Ms Gillard mocked Mr Costello for appearing indecisive as he has failed to spell out whether he is staying in politics or retiring.

She noted the company publishing Mr Costello's book, Melbourne University Press, has the motto "books with spine".

"We await this great entry into the literary world - a book with spine from a politician without one," she said.

Housekeeping: notes and queries

Can anyone explain why it is that kitchen implements, if shoved promiscuously and willy-nilly into an overcrowded drawer, appear to breed and multiply (giving forth in the process such nightmares as what seems to be the bastard offspring of a butter-curler and a melon-baller), but that socks and underwear, kept in a similar environment, do the opposite, so that you end up unable to find any clean bras except the itchy red lace one?

Inquiring minds want to know.


'Don't make any long-term plans.'

It really does say that.

And I'm telling you now, if every Taurean gets wiped off the face of the earth in the next little while then every restaurant, every orchestra, every half-finished building and every bank on the planet will collapse.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

LOLcat of the month, or possibly even of the year

Memory loop

This morning after I'd dropped off the car for its regular service, I wandered down to the nearby Hutt Street Precinct for a protracted mooch and dawdle in flâneuse mode till the garage should call and let me know the car was ready to be picked up.

Some time later I found myself passing a narrowish restaurant frontage: old black-painted wooden door, delicate little old-fashioned door-knocker in the shape of a little wreath, ancient art nouveau leadlight panel above the door. All incredibly familiar. I peered inside and recognised it as the restaurant that four of us went to for dinner the night our English Honours results came out in 1976; we'd hung out as a gang all year, and had planned the dinner as an act of solidarity no matter how well or badly each of us turned out to have done in the exams. And we did.

The restaurant was Neddy's, which had been opened by the now-legendary Cheong Liew the previous year, and was already one of the earliest signs that Adelaide was about to transform itself into a city of excellent restaurants, with radically new fusion-style cooking and an equally radically new emphasis on fresh local produce.

I found a near-empty cafe in an old and not-too-tarted-up building, ordered a hot chocolate and had just sat down with my novel when the music started up: Jimmy Barnes, another Adelaide boy, singing 'Flame Trees'.

... and I'm just savouring familiar sights
We share some history, this town and I ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A message

Two of my dearest friends lost their husband and father last week and the funeral was on Friday. I wasn't going to blog about this at all, but the friend who "MC'd" the funeral said he had a message for us from the dead, and since I think S would want his message disseminated as widely as possible, I shall do my bit here to help.

Don't smoke.

Just don't.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Olympic coverage whingeing

How can it be possible, given its well-publicised infamy and the number of times we heard not just any old North Americans but actual Texans pronouncing the name of the place at the height of its fame, that Bruce McAvaney -- a man well old enough to have been watching the news in 1993 -- thinks the Texas city of Waco is pronounced 'wacko', as in 'wacko Jacko'?

I mean, you can see the association of ideas. But still.

Two ways of seeing the glass


When you accidentally dislodged the small decorative basket that sits on top of the bathroom cabinet and contains dozens of small items pertitent to female grooming and titivation, and said decorative basket fell off the cabinet, there was a mighty clattering and smashing on the tiled floor.


Only one thing actually broke.


It was nail polish.


It was clear nail polish.


Because it was clear shiny nail polish, you couldn't see all the clear shiny tiny shards of broken glass lying in it.


So you had to clean up with the dustpan and brush before safely proceeding to the nail polish remover, and now you've got an excuse to nick up to the shops, because you need to buy new broomware.


Inspired by Sophie's image, which I can attest does in fact look very like her within the limitations of the application and without really doing her justice, I went over there to make my own dolly.

Although it allows you to put lines on your face, unfortunately it only allows one set of lines at a time, so the possible variants go pretty much straight from fresh-faced 25-year-old to dessicated crone. While I am undeniably nearer the latter than the former, I wasn't quite ready for the crone set of lines, so ended up with this:

It was only then that I remembered that I've played this game before, with an application called 'Simpsonize Me!' that you can use to turn yourself into a Simpsons character, who by happy chance is wearing my exact reading glasses:

Those who know me will be aware that this second one is a great deal closer to the truth. I bet you're all laughing yourselves stupid. And rightly so.

UPDATE -- found a few extra options manga-wise. The first one was just an idealised decades-younger "self" but this one is just starting to move into the realms of the very slightly uncanny:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shock! Labour leader lists to left

Apparently 'left-wing' is now an insult, though whether it is being spun as such by this journalist or whether the Australian government (which was Labor last I looked) really does feel embarrassed by having used 'left-wing' to describe a Labour leader, to the point of feeling the need to apologise, is something I will leave you to decide.

Clearly we are going down the absurdist path of such North Americans as regard the beautiful word 'liberal' as something to frighten children with. George Orwell, where are you when we need you?

The only person who comes out of this story not looking like an idiot is Helen Clark herself. "I thought it was a hoot and I don't propose to release the one I have on Mr Rudd."

I'm so proud that he comes from my home town

H.G. Nelson (aka Greig Pickhaver) in this morning's

Suddenly a green and gold silver eldorado has been unearthed in Beijing. At this stage of the international school sports carnival we will take anything that glints.

There is a funding crisis across every theatre of sport. Australia is simply not spending enough. Figures analysed today indicate that we tip 40 million large down the spout for every gold medal. The question to pose is: does any of this lolly tipped in at the top trickle down to getting fat, unfit kids on the move?

There is bugger all evidence to suggest that up top investment is paying off slimming on the nation’s bottom end. Australia bats well above its weight in the world’s obesity tables. This is something for politicians to ponder as the bids for funding filter in.

Disgraceful Olympics commentary: update

From this morning's Adelaide Advertiser (online version):

Almost knocked off her bike by the hulking Chinese in the collision ...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Separating the men from the boys

Unlike many bloggers I've been enjoying selected parts of the Olympics, especially the equestrian events which are always beautiful and exciting to watch -- the horses are wonderful, graceful, powerful creatures and the riders are incredibly gutsy and smart. My benchmark for watching horses and riders is an unforgettable afternoon once in Vienna when I went with my friend Helen to watch a training session of the Lipizzaner Stallions, in the indoor arena of the Hofburg palace where these horses and their riders are based.

Because it was a training session, of course some of the horses were only half-trained. They're stallions (duh), and everyone knows what that means. And because they originated as war-horse training, the elaborate, unnatural 'dancing' movements of these horses were originally designed to kill and maim, or to set up the rider to do likewise. Watching the strong, sweating, white-faced riders, some of them hardly out of their teens, as they controlled these horses without hurting them, was the second best lesson I've ever had in what it actually takes to ride a horse properly. (The best was when I fell off a cantering horse onto some rocks at the bottom of a dry creek bed and heard my mother's voice clear as a bell from 750 km away saying in ringing tones 'You get back on that horse.' I did.)

I've also been enjoying the swimming, which was my favourite sport as a teenager. What I have not been enjoying is the commentary; while I appreciate some (not all) of the commentators' knowledge and expertise, I've been depressed if not surprised by the way that the overwhelmingly male commentariat refers to male competitors as men and female competitors as girls. Several people have blogged about this over the last few days.

But I've had it on all afternoon and evening while pottering round the house and I've noticed something even more sinister. There are not two categories, but three. They're calling the women 'girls', the white men 'men', and the black men 'boys'.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blue and yellow

I grew these, from bulbs my sisters gave me -- the daffs from C this year as an Easter present instead of chocolate when the family came down here for a hot cross bun arvo tea, the hyacinths from W for my birthday in May. The vase is green alabaster from San Gimignano in Tuscany, a town made famous by E.M. Forster, bought there and brought home in a little backpack, heavily wrapped in soft clothes.

Given that I had a black thumb till I was 45, I think our mother would be proud. Not that I did anything but bung them in pots and forget about them.

For me this picture is both nothing but itself -- flowers, perfect and powerful, with intense and brief and burning lives -- and also immediately about an accreted mass of memory from a life spent mostly reading. Wordsworth. Ovid. Forster. A.S. Byatt. My mother chanting 'daffy-down-dilly'. The perfume I wore circa 1981, whose name I now can't remember, but which smelt of hyacinths, dense and ever so slightly bruised, not exactly sweet.
There were two lemons amongst the plums, to intensify the colour. How would one find the exact word for the colour of the plum-skins? (There was a further question of why one might want to do so ... It was a fact that the lemons and the plums, together, made a pattern that he recognised with pleasure, and the pleasure was so fundamentally human it asked to be noted and understood.)

... Language might relate the plum to the night sky, or to certain ways of seeing a burning coal, or to a soft case enwrapping a hard nugget of treasure. Or it might introduce an abstraction, a reflection, of mind, not mirror. 'Ripeness is all,' language might say, after observing 'We must endure Our going hence even as our coming hither.' Paint too could do these things. ... Van Gogh's painting of the Reaper in his furnace of white light and billowing corn said also 'Ripeness is all.' But the difference, the distance, fascinated Alexander. Paint itself declares itself as a force of analogy and connection, a kind of metaphor-making between the flat surface of purple pigment and yellow pigment and the statement 'This is a plum.' 'This is a lemon.'

... Alexander ... became obsessed with a small painting of a breakfast table, on which Van Gogh painted the household things he had bought for his artist's house ... held together by the contrast and coherence of blue and yellow. Vncent described it to Theo:
A coffee pot in blue enamel, a cup (on the left) royal blue and gold, a milk jug checkered light blue and white, a cup (on the right) white with blue and orange patterns on a plate of earthenware yellow-grey, a pot of barbotine or majolica blue ... finally two oranges and three lemons: the table is covered with a blue cloth, the background yellow-green, thus six different blues and four or five yellows and oranges.

-- A.S. Byatt, Still Life

Any sighted combination of blue and yellow has immediately evoked these pages from Still Life ever since I first read it, and the date I've written on the flyleaf is 1985.

I can haz intertubes?

My internets, they sick. For a whole 48 hours.

Cold turkey city.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Language police corner

To flout something is to disregard or ignore it with some degree of brazen ostentation. Flout is used almost exclusively to refer to 'the rules' or 'the laws' in any given context.

Beyond this primary meaning it also has connotations of blatancy, theatricality and general drama-queen carry-on, though I may be spinning this a little through its phonetic similarity to flounce. Which would make a good mnemonic when you are trying to remember the difference between flout and ...

... flaunt. To flaunt something is to show it off, wave it about and generally rub people's noses in it, so in a sense it's the opposite of flout which is to do with the act of ignoring. Again with the connotations of blatancy, theatricality and general drama-queen carry-on, however, which may be where at least some of the confusion arises.

You could, for example, flout the school rules by flaunting the sparkly thong under your little tiny skirt as you flounce about. If you do this, your flouncing will be a way of flaunting the fact that you are flouting the rules.

This is possible but not attractive. I wouldn't recommend it, especially if you are either a teacher or a boy. Or both.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Homage to Ampersand Duck

I loved Ampersand Duck's LOLcat Report so very much that I haven't been able to resist compiling one of my own, so here is an illustrated summary of recent activities.

Because of the protracted nature of the Rubbing the Lotion on its Skin episode (NB skin cancer all gone and disgusting mess on face also almost completely cleared up, hooray), I have not inflicted my close proximity on my hairdresser for far too long, so there's been plenty of this:

I have one of those peasant-survivor metabolisms that need to eat almost nothing simply in order not to gain weight (in order to lose it, I would have to *shudder* go to the gym as well. Hah. Ew), so there has also been quite a lot of this:

Unfortunately, especially in the blogosphere, there's lately been rather too much of this:

As usual there's been far too much of this

and there's also been more and more of this:

But there hasn't been anywhere near enough of this

or this

or this:

And there definitely hasn't been enough of this:

'The music of true forgiveness'

My literary goddaughter, a sometime soloist in her university choir, will turn 21 shortly and my gift to her (as soon as I've picked it up from BASS) is a ticket to accompany me to the opera in November; I offered her the choice between Rigoletto and The Marriage of Figaro, which starts here on August 30, and after deliberation she chose Rigoletto, as I was rather hoping she would.

But in the meantime I think I'm going to have to go to The Marriage of Figaro as well. Because I've never heard the transcendent 'Ah tutti contenti' sung live on the stage, and there's always the chance that one will be run over by a bus before one gets to do things one has always wanted to do. (Should that in fact happen, I hope I'll be hearing this in my head as I lie bleeding in the road.) The music at this point just is not separable from the Shakespearean quality of the drama; as Salieri says in Amadeus, 'Ah tutti contenti' is 'the music of true forgiveness'.

Music, 'whose manifestation is a displacement of air' (Helen Garner), is demonstrably a matter of maths and physics. But I once had a conversation with a hotshot young plastic surgeon on duty in Casualty at the Royal Melbourne, while he was sewing the tip of my left index finger back on after I'd cut it completely off with a vegetable knife the morning after Bob Hawke won the drover's dog election and it (the finger not the election) had been saved only by the quick thinking and take-charge good sense of the man I was living with at the time, about whether the Art/Science divide, by which our respective educations had been brutally shaped at fifteen, was in fact a false dichotomy. We agreed that it was, and that Mozart is the proof.

Serendipitously, here's a bit that made me smile from a novel I was reading this morning for work:

We talked about music, without which, we agreed, life would not be worth living ... He was composing his first mass, for four voices. On a theological note, he observed that some people had been inspired to believe in God by the simple fact that Mozart had been in the world. And he was convinced that Van Morrison was in direct communication ("unmediated communion") with the divine.

Anyway. Here, so.

Mozart - Le Nozze Di Figaro - Ah Tutti Contenti via

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dear John

My darling,

I still remember that fateful day in the northern summer of 1993, when I first laid eyes on you as I cruised that beautiful store in Edinburgh and knew at once that we were destined to be together. You kept me warm in the treacherous climes of Scotland and England for a few weeks and then travelled home with me to Adelaide and took up residence with me in the chilly wilds of Melbourne, where, in the depths of winter, I continued to snuggle up with you as often as I could.

Over the years you have been faithful and low-maintenance, all a girl could wish for. You have been flexible and ready to fit in with whatever else was happening on the day. You have covered up for me on numerous occasions, softening, if not quite hiding, a multitude of my sins.

But I took a good hard look at you today, and I fear, my lovely one, that we have come to a parting of the ways. In the harsh fluorescent light of the underground meeting room with the malfunctioning heating and room temperature of -3 degrees Celsius, you looked thin, and old, and worn out, and for the first time ever, you failed to warm my heart or indeed any other part of my anatomy. You can no longer fulfil the role for which I made you mine on that lovely sunny day in Scotland, fifteen years ago.

You remain, however, beautiful in my eyes. And for that reason, I cannot bear to throw you out of the house. You are charged from now on with the important household duty of looking after the tortoiseshells and keeping them warm and snuggly. I know you will perform this task well, and I will be glad to know you are still near me.

With all my love,


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Friday, August 01, 2008


I just caught the last hour or so of Bridget Jones #2 on the teeve, a movie so undistinguished I couldn't remember whether I'd seen it before or not, but I did enjoy the sight of Hugh Grant and Colin Firth having a refreshingly messy, non-macho, sub-Queensberry set-to in a London fountain (I love it that the Hugh Grant character fights like a demented schoolgirl -- kicking, clawing, pulling hair and running away).

Now this is seriously mediocre film, but it reminded me that the thing I love movies for is the actors. The more things you've seen someone in, the more a sort of palimpsest effect builds up and provides a subtext that the director, if she or he is smart, will take advantage of but will know is ultimately beyond his or her control.

Thus, refreshingly, just enough but not too much was made of the fact that Colin Firth was reprising his clingy wet white shirt, here half hidden under a suit. I enjoyed this all the more because the wet white shirt was referenced much more obviously in Mamma Mia, which I saw a few weeks ago and was of course made only recently. I love it that the chronology of these layered reference points in an actor's career gets all mixed up, especially in the eyes of the movie-watcher as one gets older and watches more re-runs, and that Colin Firth has enough of a sense of humour to go with it.

The other joy in that movie is watching Renee Zellwegger and remembering what she was like in Cold Mountain, which I thought was one of those magical performances when actors go right outside themselves and do something uncanny that makes you shiver a bit. It's for this reason I plan to sit through The Dark Night, which mostly doesn't interest me a bit*, so I can watch Heath Ledger put in what looks like the same order of spooky transcendent performance, and map it onto what I remember of him in Brokeback Mountain.

*As you can see, it interests me so little I can't even get the title right.

600 words a day, every day

Well. Given that I only decided to do a post-a-day for the whole month on the second of July and therefore missed a day from the get-go, I think it's rather good that I only missed three days altogether. Clearly do-able. So now I am going to mix two dead metaphors: I'm going to take a leaf out of someone else's book and up the ante.

Because I recently saw someone else in the blogosphere, and I now can't track down who it was, committing herself (I think) to writing 300 words a day, ie no cheating with LOLcats and such. So, since I finally started my novel a couple of weeks ago but, as so often, got stuck almost straight away, I'm going to try for a minimum of 300 words on the blog and another 300 on the novel, every day for the month of August, and see how I go.

But not now, because there's an all-day meeting. Later.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

... and two hours later, more liveblogging reading Annie Proulx: how to keep it up

Just in case you weren't convinced by the opening sentence (see previous post) that Archie and Rose are headed straight for grief, or that Annie Proulx is a fabulous writer, here's the bit I'm up to now:
Some mornings the wind stirred the snow into a scrim that bleached the mountains and made opaline dawn skies. Once the sun below the horizon threw savage red onto the bottom of the cloud that hung over Barrel Mountain and Archie glanced up, saw Rose in the doorway burning an unearthly colour in the lurid glow.

Great opening sentences: an occasional series

Archie and Rose McLaverty staked out a homestead where the Little Weed comes rattling down from the Sierra Madre, water named not for miniature and obnoxious flora but for P.H. Weed, a gold seeker who had starved near its source.

Not counting a short epigraph about how many pioneers simply failed and were forgotten, and the subheading 'Archie and Rose. 1885', this is the first sentence of 'Them Old Cowboy Songs' from Annie Proulx's new book of short stories, Fine Just the Way It Is.

An alert reader -- and this is the kind of exercise we used to do in university English Departments while they were still called English Departments and before capital-T Theory took hold -- would be able to have a bash at identifying the date of composition and possibly even the writer.

For example, if you were to set this sentence as such an exercise today, any student lucky enough to have read a bit of Proulx already -- especially if she or he knew there were two different mountain ranges in North America called the Sierra Madre (I've just had to Google this, myself) and one of them is in Wyoming, a state closely identified with Proulx and her work, especially after Brokeback Mountain -- might be able to identify the writer from the setting, from the style, or from the detailed, focused attention to landscape and the inextricable relationship of landscape to character.

(In fact, this is precisely the sort of passage that used to be set in exams as a trap for young players who might confidently mis-identify it as having been written in the 19th century. In the Adelaide U Eng Dept in the mid-1970s they used to do this tricksy business a lot, setting us things like a chunk of very early D. H. Lawrence that nobody had ever actually read, from a time when his style was not yet fully formed, or a poem containing the classical name of a major character in one of the four plays in our Shakespeare course but actually written in 1840, which almost everybody fell for and identified as Elizabethan, a mere two and a half centuries out. In Adelaide we called this kind of exercise Practical Criticism; in Melbourne they called it Dating, which South Australians and Americans thought was hilarious.)

Anyway, the one-word answer to 'What makes this a great opening sentence?' is 'Grammar', but talking about grammar always gets me into trouble so let's look at some other things.

It sets the scene by answering the questions Who, When ('staked out a homestead' points to the time frame) and Where. It comes up with names that manage to sound natural and convincing, a problem all writers wrestle with (though this is easier if you're writing about the 19th century and names like Alice, William, Jeremiah and Mary Ann are there for the taking). It subtly predicts the likely fate of Archie and Rose (look what happened to the last guy), and it suggests the sinister but all too likely possibility that P.H. Weed decomposed into the river: a river poisoned at its source, a powerful metaphor for all things that are doomed from the beginning.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nine out of ten orthopedic surgeons recommend ...

... a dog ...

... or a bookshelf ...

... but probably not a box.

Hat tip to grow-a-brain.

Clean air would be nice, too

And furthermore ...

... as though to fan the flames of the undifferentiated ire I seem to be suffering from today, as gestured at in that last post -- don't you have days when general pissed-offedness just seems to pour itself thickly and stickily all over everything, like chocolate sauce? (No no, not like chocolate sauce. Over-used motor oil? Green slime?) -- one of my sisters has just sent me an email pointing out that if you think petrol is expensive, you should see how much some other well-known liquid commodities cost per litre.


Evian Water, $7.86 (hah, tap water must cost nearly as much as that by now, all up)

Red Bull, $11.80

Bundy Rum, $40.80

Robitussin cough mixture, $199.00

Visine Eye Drops, $379

Britney Spears Fantasy Perfume, $580.00 (to smell like Britney??)

L'Oréal Revitalift Day Cream, $599.00 (uh oh)

Printer ink, $1,040

Actually, that makes me feel kind of better. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

*Walks off whistling*

Autobiographical Wednesday Mogblogging

Monday, July 28, 2008

I just hope it's in the genes

My indefatigable 81-year-old father got up this morning at what my friend D calls dawn's early crack, hopped into his little 18-year-old Holden Astra and drove 200 kms, up one coastline and down the other, to attend the funeral of a man who lived on the next farm up the road when they were both children in the 1930s. No doubt at the burial he did a bit of surreptitious checking-up on the state of his own grandparents' and great-grandparents' graves.

Somewhat to the relief of his wife and three daughters, he's opted to stay the night in a coastal town about a quarter of the way back and drive the rest of the way home tomorrow morning, rather than drive a total of over 400 ks alone in one day with a funeral and fair amount of social catching-up in the middle. And an hour ago I got a text message: 'Good trip, excellent socialising, now propping up the bar. xx'

La séduction, la tendresse, la jalousie et la passion

Looky here at this gorgeous thing, Les Animaux Amoureux, found via grow-a-brain. The music is by Philip Glass (but it sounds an awful lot more like Michael Nyman to me).

Hands up whoever intends to fly Qantas ever again

A couple of weeks ago I made a vow never to fly Qantas again (an empty threat or at most symbolic, as I don't travel very often; I don't have any shares in Qantas either, but if I did I would at this point have sold them) when it was revealed that after a ten-year ban, Qantas were once again selling duty-free cigarettes in-flight. Someone at pointed out how swiftly this development took place after a former tobacco company executive was appointed to the Qantas board. What was the defence of this indefensible development put forward by Qantas? "Customer demand." Which I assume translates as "We'll make more money."

Now they seem to have moved on to "Black is white, and two and two make five."

The reason the pilots (= heroes) of the Qantas plane that started to fall to bits in mid-air over the ocean the other day had to get the plane down to 10,000 feet was so that the passengers could breathe. One reason the passengers couldn't breathe was that, according to passenger reports, some of the oxygen masks weren't working properly. One passenger reported that the mask didn't drop down the way it was supposed to, another that the elastic on his mask was perished. There were stories from passengers of people having to share their masks with two or three other people, and of whole rows of seats where the masks weren't working.

Last night on the ABC TV news they showed interviews with several different passengers from the flight vividly describing their difficulties with the oxygen masks. And then the camera returned to the admirably straight face of the newsreader, who said 'Qantas says there is no evidence that there was anything wrong with the oxygen masks.'

No evidence? What do they call the first-hand eyewitness (and lung-witness) testimony of the victims, chopped liver? How much "evidence" do they need?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

About reading

It's 18 months since I began writing weekly short reviews for the Sydney Morning Herald so that means I've read 304 new novels, not counting other reading, since the beginning of last year. They come from everywhere, translated from the French, German, Turkish, Danish, Italian, Swedish, you name it. (A lot of the novels out of Asia that find their way to Australia are written in English to begin with and arrive via the big Western publishing houses.)

If what arrives in parcels and boxes on my doorstep is to be believed, the fiction currently being written is mainly either chick lit of wildly varying quality, or novels about some aspect of the Second World War; the quality of the latter is more even and overall much higher. More than sixty years after it ended, WW2 is still coming out of the national and international consciousness of its heroes' and victims' children and grandchildren in the way that a vast, deep bruise will show up and blossom horribly on the surface of your skin over a long time in the wake of the original injury.

And so it was that today I found myself finishing a book I'd read by force of will, holding my nose: a bit of strident Noo Yawk chick lit in sub (very sub) Sex and the City mode. I'd struggled through more than 350 rambling pages peopled with incredibly annoying characters whining about lerve and how hard it was to find and men and how awful they were, all in the rowdy, fake-bright voice of a narrator whose values could only be described as diseased.

With a small prayer of thanksgiving, I put this book down and picked up the next one. 'As for me,' I read on Page 2, a mere handful of paragraphs in,
I don't know yet either that in ten years' time, I will recognise, in a heap of pairs of spectacles almost five metres high at the Auschwitz Memorial, the frames that my father slipped into the top pocket of his jacket, the last time I saw him ...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why they do it

Gardening mystery solved

Damn, I might have known I wouldn't get right through to the end of July posting every single day, but I have done for over three weeks and it's been quite revelatory in a number of ways. Never mind, here's a gardening post for today, and in a moment I shall select a LOLcat to make up for yesterday.

A few posts back I asked for helpful suggestions about what garden pest might have been eating my mint. With the help of a clear day, the trusty digicam and my reading glasses, I have finally found the malefactors.

At first I thought this chameleonic little dude here,

a lover of other herbs besides mint as I already had cause to know (they also like sage, another herb that mostly gets left alone by pests, and as with mint they blend in beautifully with the green) was the only culprit.

BUT NO ... the tiny woolly bears were in on the act as well. I know it looks like a giant monster here, but that is a small mint leaf, as you can see from its size in the previous photo relative to the tip of a modestly sized index finger.

Bastards. No prizes for guessing what happened to these creatures after they'd had their portraits taken. It's all very well trying to be Buddhist-like about living creatures and so on, but there are limits.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The post below promising an espresso and a free kitty to unattended children caught the eye of ThirdCat, who has also been seeing interesting child-related signs, which in turn reminded me of something I saw yesterday at the supermarket checkout.

You know those little recipe booklet thingies, maybe 5"x7", often put out by the Women's Weekly, on very particular themes and with maybe 20-30 recipes in them, one per page? There was a rack of them at the checkout yesterday and the title of the most prominent one had obviously been inspired by textspeak, specifically the practice of using numbers to signify words and/or phonemes, as in, say, "L8er, dood" or "Luv 2 ur mum", etc.

And several different people -- the writer, the editor, the designer, the publisher -- must have all had a nasty case of 3.30-itis, like the dude in the Continental Soup ad who lets the drug packages go through. Because the book was called

4 Kids To Cook

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Homage to Peter Cundall

I try not to do too much of this kind of thing, but since Peter Cundall of the ABC's Gardening Australia has announced his retirement, I thought I might put up, in homage, a condensed version of a piece I wrote about him for The Monthly in 2006.

‘But that’s what this program’s about. It’s about action, and the sheer beauty of it,’ said Peter Cundall recently in his introductory segment of Gardening Australia. For Cundall, gardening is simultaneously a form of activism and a form of contemplation: a way of self-sustenance, of landcare, and of eating good food that hasn’t been either literally or figuratively adulterated by the elaborate processes of capitalism, but also a means of recovery and regeneration. ‘If you’re in a world that’s a bit crazy, a bit mixed up, racing ahead,’ he said to the ABC’s Peter Thompson in a 2004 interview for Big Ideas, ‘no matter what you do in a garden, things still happen at the same rate. You sow seeds and they come up within ten or fifteen days … If you plant an apple tree or a lemon tree, you know it’ll be in fruit at a certain time ... And it’s that assurance and security about gardening. And there’s also a wonderful timelessness about it.’

Gardening Australia is now in its seventeenth series and seems to have survived the ABC’s recent decision to move its production from Hobart to Melbourne. Cundall himself, a proud Tasmanian, is the show’s focus and anchor but it also has a strong team of expert presenters from around the country. Unlike many programs that purport to be ‘national’ but are in fact firmly Melbourne- or Sydney-centric with only the occasional token, cosmetic gesture to other states and cities, Gardening Australia really does project the idea of a national presence, with regular features from cities, towns and climate zones all over the country.

Unusually content-rich for contemporary television, it rattles along at a great rate, with no vacuous chatter and no wasted time between the two or three main features and the three or four regular spots that make up each week’s program. With the more instructive segments – how to grow vegies in pots, or recycle your grey water, or protect your lime tree from frost -- there’s a lot of steady and highly illustrative zooming in and out, in close sync with the script.

There are constant shifts of scale, not just in the predictable and sensible variation of topics, but also in a more imaginative structuring of segments so that some are fine-detail examinations of tiny things while others are panoramic overviews of big urban and rural projects stretching over years, from aerial eagle-eye views of entire landscaped parks to magnified close-ups of tiny pods full of even tinier seeds. In one recent program, there was a segment on Brisbane’s Roma Street Parklands that featured sweeping shots of the city with an oasis at its heart, a former derelict railway yard that, over the last few years, has been magically transformed with graceful greenery and spectacular water-features making the most of the uneven ground. The following week, a segment on ‘the fascinating, wonderful world of fungus’ (and there’s a phrase you don’t hear on TV every day) featured lingering close-ups of a minuscule clump of finely-detailed Mycena clarkeana: seven or eight perfect little frilly-edged, dusty-pink umbrella-shapes, looking like a retro light fitting for a particularly funky doll’s house, or some miniaturized form of naughty nineteenth-century underwear.

Peter Cundall was born in Manchester in 1927, one of six children in a family he describes as the poorest in a poor district: ‘I actually thought, as a child, that to be rich meant that your Dad had a job.’ After the family had scrambled through the Depression, Cundall senior decamped to the army in 1939 and with the exception of one short visit on leave, they never saw him again. Peter joined the British Army and trained as a paratrooper, but the war ended and he found himself instead, at nineteen, posted to southern Austria and guarding the captive SS officers who had previously been in charge of the now-liberated concentration camps. Then one day, like a young man in a fairy tale, he besottedly and unknowingly followed a beautiful and mysterious blonde called Angela across the border into Yugoslavia, where he was promptly arrested as a spy and imprisoned in solitary confinement for six months.

After the war he saw an ad for recruitment to the Australian Army and responded as a way of escaping the miseries of postwar Britain; on arrival in Melbourne in 1950 he was immediately shipped out on active service as an infantryman to Korea, where his experience was educational but grim. Finally he was posted in 1955 to Tasmania, and stayed there; since then, apart from gardening, writing and almost twenty years in television, he has been a radio presenter, a foundry worker, and a spectacularly unsuccessful electoral candidate for the Communist Party.

Why do we love him? There’s that voice: the workin’-cluss, north-of-England accent that identifies him as one of Britain’s oppressed and therefore, like the Scots and Irish, oddly in league with Australians. There’s his passion -- for work, for life, for beauty and for action -- which is apparent in everything he does. We love him for his fearlessness, for the guts that got him unscathed through some truly dramatic life experiences and led him to say to himself, as the door of his Yugoslav prison cell clanged behind him when he was not yet out of his teens, ‘This is the first room of my own I’ve ever had in my life.’

We love him for his language about life in general and gardening in particular, and for the way he talks of both as though they were magical and wondrous things. In the July 1 program, he used the words ‘amazing’, wonderful’ and ‘enchanting’ in the first five minutes; they are three of his favorite words, along with ‘magnificent’, ‘beautiful’, ‘marvellous’ and ‘brilliant’. He means them all.

Finally, and maybe more than anything else, we love him for the fact that at 79 he seems still unjaded and unfaded, a cheerful, energetic, quick-witted and supremely fit old man, and as such he’s a walking reminder that old age is not inevitably to be dreaded but can be lived as a happy, useful, influential citizen.

Perhaps strangely for so joyous a man -- much less for one with so finely calibrated a sense of the miraculous -- he remains the uncompromising materialist that one would expect of a former Communist Party candidate, veteran of two wars, child of the Depression and Mancunian hard man. He wants no epitaph: ‘I can’t see the point,’ he said to Andrew Denton last year on Enough Rope, ‘of having a thing on your tombstone saying, here lies Peter Cundall … He died, right, and he lived a life. So what.’ And when asked by Peter Thompson to define the essence of wisdom, he replied: ‘To be able to reflect the world as it exists, accurately, and to be able to do something about it.’

Signs unseen

Can't remember where I saw or heard this but it speaks for itself, even if it only ever existed in the mind of someone who'd exceeded his or her tot quota for the day:


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Simple pleasures

* A mere few weeks ago it was getting dark as early as 5.15 pm. But I went out a while ago just before six and it was still light enough to see my way to the wheelie bin.

* In today's mail there was a copy of the new Annie Proulx, for me to read and review. Pav loves her work.

* For the last hour and a half, the oven has contained a large, dark cherry-red, fetchingly oval-shaped Chasseur casserole, a treasure that I was given as a going-away present by my Melbourne U English Dept colleagues in 1997 and that has seen a lot of action since, in which two lamb shanks are slowly cooking in an onion, garlic, tomato and white wine sauce with salt and pepper and rosemary from the garden, and the smell is wafting faintly all through this little house.

ZOMG!!11!!1 Six figures!

Oh yes, it would be nice if that title referred to my income ... heh ... but ... haha .. I probably wouldn't blog about it .... HAHAHAHAHAHA oh well. Sorry, let me regain my composure for a moment here.

No, the title refers to the number of visits to this site since I first installed the stats counter (the one with the numbers at the bottom of the page, not the country-counting one in the sidebar; that's more recent) in March 2006. I didn't expect to get to six figures for another few days, but a couple of links from well-attended sites yesterday put a positively alarming spike in the visitor stats.

I gather that many bloggers obsess about numbers of visitors and comments but I've given it much less attention than I thought I would when I installed the counter, which remains the very basic freebie one that doesn't do all that much fancy stuff. If one blogged in order to make money, I suppose it would matter more -- but then, if one blogged in order to make money it would be incredibly tedious and dreary and I wouldn't do it, so.

My favourite features of the stats counter are (1) the maps that show you where visits are from, (2) the details about visitors' computers, browsers, locations, addresses and so on that help you to stalk your stalkers, and (3) the often hilarious information about what search terms have led total strangers from Chile and Uzbekistan to finish up at your blog.

I haven't done a 'search term' post for ages, but an odd fact leaps out at me every time I check them out. Apart from the usual variations on the themes of 'Pavlov' and 'Cat', the two search terms that most frequently land people here are, wait for it, octopus tentacle porn and frog cake.

The latter now has its very own Wikipedia entry, complete with cross-section. Frog Cake t-shirts are also available.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another border skirmish in the war between men and women

Over at Larvatus Prodeo there is debate raging on several different threads about various things to do with sex, gender and feminism. Assorted male commenters who have not done the reading are doing what such commenters usually do and instructing the female commenters (who have done the reading) on what feminism is, what women are like, and how to define such terms as 'patriarchy' and 'the male gaze'. Most of the definitions they offer appear to be matters of personal opinion; most of their instructions about what women are like appear to be based on particular personal acquaintances.

The terms 'patriarchy' and 'the male gaze' are cornerstones of feminist theory that have, over the years, built up quite precise yet complex meanings within feminist (yes I'll say it, because it's exactly what I mean) discourse. Those who have been following the debates in feminist and gender theory since the 1970s, or who came to it later but have done the reading, have very detailed understandings of how these terms are used within that conceptual framework.

Now someone's turned up observing, correctly, that it's impossible to have a discussion en blog about things to do with sex, gender and feminism because people always end up getting heated and unreasonable.

I wonder why that could possibly be.

Anyone would think they were trying to lose Mayo

(It's really hard to blog about the federal electorate of Mayo in SA without making tired old knee-jerk vinaigrette, blue-cheese and Thousand Island Dressing jokes. Oops, I did it again.)

Ahem. It's official; former Foreign Minister, Howard man and sometime Coalition leader Alexander Downer is set to be replaced as the Member for Mayo by a 31-year-old called Jamie Briggs, who according to this morning's online Age is -- are you ready for this? -- 'John Howard's former WorkChoices adviser'.


Apart from anything else, if Howard was using people not yet out of their twenties to advise him at that level of seniority on anything apart from technology, yoof issues and popular culture, much less on something as contentious and as demanding of thorough knowledge about the history and theory of industrial relations as an, erm, industrial relations policy, then whatever happened to him serves him right in spades.

And so now we have an endorsed Liberal candidate for the upcoming Mayo by-election (which Labor is not contesting, much to the well-placed scorn of Bob Brown) who is younger than most of the offspring of most of the Liberal voters in Mayo and I should think, in many cases, than their grandchildren as well. Yep, that'll work.

From the report in this morning's online Advertiser, Briggs has started out in the true arrogant Liberal tradition by ignoring questions from the press, shepherded out of the room and protected from the naughty old journalists by SA federal senator and eminence toxic slime-green grise Nick Minchin, which suggests to me both how Briggs won and whose orders he's likely to be taking.

I saw Briggs on the teeve last night and he looks like a standard-issue boxed-set Liberal politician. It's a private-schoolboy look: bad haircut, smug simper, expensive suit, and plump pink chipmunk cheeks. They keep it till they're into their 50s, usually -- but compared to his predecessor Downer and his close runner-up Iain Evans, both of whom also have this look, Briggs really is barely out of school.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Slice and dice, up to a point

Val McDermid, Thomas Harris and now Mo Hayder are probably the three genuinely creepiest slice-and-dice merchants in my extensive crime library. Patricia Cornwell thinks up some fairly disgusting scenarios but she is simply not as good a writer, or as intelligent, or as able to move far beyond her own image of herself being-a-writer, as any of those three.

But I'm currently reading, for work, a slice-and-dice called Blood Brother or Brothers by someone I'd not heard of before (you can tell can't you, that I don't have the book to hand and don't want to get up from this nice warm chair to go get it). And I was telling D and M over our regular Saturday coffee yesterday that this one is a little bit too icky even for me. The crazed serial killer's modus slaughterendi is very heavily gender-inflected (= wimmin'-hatin') and not in any kind of a nice way.

I've never actually worried before about my interest in icky crime -- I like books and TV shows about messy heads, not boring boys' games of spying and corruption and so on, which is why some Ian Rankins have appealed and others have not. Messy heads, profilers, pathologists. It's something to do with the power of narrative, the strong chain of cause and effect hauling the reader along, and the pleasures of problem-solving. The thing I particularly love about crime fiction is that the plot itself describes what is essentially an act of reading: of interpreting the state of the dead body, working backwards, or perhaps I mean outwards, from the state of the body to solve the crime.

But I was saying to D and M that I have started to worry a bit, for the first time, about the pleasure I take in these stories. I'd always resisted the idea that it's a bit sick to like violent crime fiction but my resistance is beginning to break down.

Coincidentally, Hannibal was on the teeve last night and I was watching it with the morning's conversation in mind. I'd forgotten just how unutterably and yet irresistibly unpleasant Hannibal really is. The novel (the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs) is a complicated story involving a number of subplots, each more awful than the last and all of them featuring Hannibal Lecter rearranging other people's bodies for them. The novel was rather cleverly simplified for the screen, with some subplots left out entirely and whole scenes reduced to highly effective vignettes and replaced in a different part of the story, as with the kid on the plane hopping into Hannibal's Dean and DeLuca boxed gourmet lunch. (One of the reasons I love Harris is because he can be very funny; the original scene in the book is hilarious in a disgusting sort of way, though in the book the food is from Fauchon's in Paris. This is of course partly because in the book he's on a flight going in the other direction.)

I thought it was a better movie than a lot of other people did, though not a patch on The Silence of the Lambs, but it kept reminding me of the pleasure I took in reading the truly gruesome novel, and I'm wondering what other crime-fiction-loving readers think about this. Am I allowed to like crime fiction, or do I need to feel bad about it?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Actually he was saying "cyclonic" ...

... but for a minute I could have sworn the dude on the teeve was saying "psychotic vacuum cleaner".

Not that it would have been any kind of a surprise. I've never known a vacuum cleaner that wasn't.

My current Miele Cat and Dog with Turbo Brush, for example, would vacuum up the actual cats if given half a chance.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Too much information

Darlene's post over at Larvatus Prodeo this morning about the perils of public transport (complete with fetching photo of chocolate sardines, a conceit that always makes me laugh though for the life of me I can never precisely locate teh funny; possibly it's the trompe-l'oeil aspect) has got me thinking about the way people talk on the phone in public.

When mobile phones first began to find their way into common use, anyone talking loudly on one in a public place was probably still suffering from the residual notion that the person on the other end couldn't possibly really hear them and therefore they needed to shout. It quickly became more a matter of 'Look at moy, look at moy, I haz gadjit!'

Since pretty much everyone now has one and is used to the way it works, one would think the loud talking to intimates about private matters -- sex, money, daily-life details that could not possibly be of any interest except to those immediately affected; a malfunctioning toilet, say, or an outbreak of ringworm at kindy -- would be a thing of the past. But it actually seems to have got worse. Darlene tells the story of a young woman yelling in a rage at her mother on the tram and for some reason I found this quite disturbing. The idea that it's perfectly okay to go ballistic in public, assuming you are a person over six years old of normal-range intelligence who is not drunk or on drugs, is one I'm old enough to be still repelled by.

I think the loud-talking-on-the-mobile thing is still something to do with showing off, but has morphed into a kind of exhibitionism about one's emotional life. Look at moy, look at moy, I haz intimates. People self-dramatise and self-expose in Jerry Springer mode on the phone to their friends, lovers, parents and children as a way of advertising, in a tram or train or waiting room full of random strangers -- some holding pen or other of public life -- that they have a life. What I don't understand is the need to do such a thing and force it on the attention of said random strangers, especially at football-stadium pitch.

If people want to conduct their most intimate relationships in public then that's fine as long as I don't have to look at or listen to them. But what always floors me is their oblivion to how appallingly intrusive their conversations are on other people's lives and thoughts and frames of mind. Or is that the point? Is this actually just attention-getting behaviour of the toddler kind?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I can has gardning advices pls?

Does anyone know what's likely to be eating my mint at this time of year? It's ordinary old common (or garden. Boom boom) mint and it lives in a pot that sits on the pavers. The shape of the eaten bits suggests caterpillars, but I can't see any.

If you can tell me what it is, can you also tell me how to exterminate it? All advice gratefully received.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blog post du jour: 'Dead Flat Piece of Dirt of Grace'

This post-a-day business is quite demanding even when one cheats and posts a LOLcat. And tonight it is doubly difficult and delicate, because I know from observing the terrible mistakes of others -- there but for the grace of God, etc -- that if you have had more than two glasses of wine then blogging (or indeed any other form of communication) is potentially a really terrible idea, and I am, well, further on than that.

I mean, hey. I live in South Australia. Temptation finds me. This stuff, for example. Or this. Or, of course, this.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Catholic Big Kahuna calls for more bonking, but not for everyone

Archbishop George Pell, today:
"There is a crisis in the Western world. No Western country is producing enough babies to keep the population stable, no Western country," he said.

23 words, and three of them are 'Western'-- that subtext should be clear enough for even the masses to get the message. Wimminz, on your backs: you owe it to your country. And you non-Western folk, stop reproducing and get back to the jungle at once.