Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Michael turns 3

Michael's actual birthday was Thursday the 24th. We had homemade cherry icecream and three candles on a plate for him to blow out. We sang Happy Birthday and he looked genuinely tickled pink. Till then he had been totally unlike Marcus at this age - couldn't give two hoots about turning 3 or being the centre of attention. In fact, Michael actively denied being 3.

We had small party on Sunday. Michael had been very lukewarm and evasive about party details, so we left it very free-form. No games, no treasure-hunt. No huge guest list or toy library ride-on stuff.

Bill and Felicity came down from Canberra to be there, so we asked my Mum and Dad to miss this one and let B and F be the rostered -on grandparents. Michael has no friends yet that are specific to him. He loves playing with all our friends' kids, and all Marcus's friends, and gets on well with the kids at daycare without any being extra special. We decided to invite just a few families we havent seen for a while, and Allison, who's been Michael's carer at least one day a week for nearly his whole life.

We hobnobbed very lazily with Michael's people. Most of the young guests were girls. Marcus monopolised Tom Vickers, so that left the three girls to gad about with Michael. He held his own very well, and was a gracious host. For someone barely three he has a good command of the basic niceties, such as "Would you like to...", "This is my friend Marcus" and "Well done!"

Michael's haul of gifts included a chunky kid-size magnetic poetry set, an unusual body parts game, books, a growling plush anaconda, a lavalamp-type drippy oil thing, a large and varied art set and a talking Scoop (of Bob the Builder fame) who shouts "No prob, Bob!".

Double beetroot

Continuing Saturday: after the Salmon Ponds, Car A containing Elf and her parents travelled down to Carlton, so they could see our old house in its new riverbank setting, under new management. Car 2 (boys and I) came home. Sharyn, Lana and baby Millie dropped in on us at the beach house - they live next to the hole where said old house used to be. It is still a hole, but hopefully the slab will be poured this week. Things are moving s-l-o-w-l-y.

Anyway, its was great to see them. Millie is very cute and alert. Lana and the boys had a whale of a time on the trampoline and digging in the dirt.

Later that afternoon, Marcus devised a game involving bouncing a ball off the back steps. If you got it up one step, you got one point. Two steps, four points. Three steps, nine points. Nine points was called "double beetroot" for some reason.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Trout v Monotreme

Bill and Felicity arrived from Canberra via Launceston on Friday. We took them out to see the Salmon Ponds on Saturday morning. The weather was a bit bleh unfortunately. We didn't get as wet as the fish but almost.

We arrived about tennish, and the rainbow trout were not hungry. On our last visit they were leaping about majestically. The albino salmon, while only perckish, at least had the advantage of being easy to see. The brook trout seemed to be doing some kind of yogic mind exercises. Things were generally on the quiet side. Still, Bill and Felicity thought it was very pleasant. We got in from the rain and had a few pancakes. When we came out again the trouts had livened up their act a little.

We roamed up and down and enjoyed a bit of interspecies food-based communication. Michael was just starting to crack up a little tiredly, and Felicity had just finished exploring the riverside walk, so we'd decided to call it a day.

Suddenly a playtpus appeared in the long rainbow trout pond. Sunning its tummy like the otter in Ring of Bright Water. Then, it was gone. Bubble. Bubble bubble. Massive trouts loomed about. Pop! Platypus again. I thought they were incredibly shy - but this fella was practically signing autographs. He was actually diving and swooping down through the trout. Amazing. He was still performing when we left, while some tourists from Yorkshire were filling every digital storage medium they had with footage.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Discover the power of carrots!

Have you ever wondered "Where in the hell can I see some jewellery made out of carrots"? I know I have. Our long search is over. Click on the title above to explore the World Carrot Musuem.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My kitchen pal

We all know that sometimes, things don't go right in the kitchen. Wherever you turn, there is heartache. Cakes drop, milk scalds, tofu explodes in a shower of sparks. We've all been there. The kitchen can be a valley of darkness. Yea, though we feel we walk throught it alone, there is someone there with us. Always smiling, always encouraging. Believing in us. The grater. Look into his eyes. Can you not feeel his love?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mr Magic wants you to say "woo."

We tried something new, and took the boys to the Clarence Pool on Sunday.The kids pool is all pretty much the same depth, and Michael can't scamp in and out of it like he does at the Aquatic Centre. It was really quiet there, only one other family in the kids pool. The boys liked it a lot. Michael hopped right around the perimeter of the pool, like a little Vietnamese water puppet.

On the way to the pool driving down the Southern Outlet (which I suppose makes it an Inlet), I had noticed the big top of Silvers Circus poking up from the Domain. We decided on the spot to go to the circus in the afternoon. We went home for a snooze after swimming, then back down the Outlet to the Domain.

It had rained earlier in the day, but was now very hot and steamy as we parked on the grass and walked into the big tent. Even though the tent was just about half full, our designated seats were behind a pylon. Once we realised no-one was coming to take the better seats, we snudged along a bit to where we could see the action.

The main man, ringmaster and magician, looks like a Ricky Gervais character - portly, with a ridiculous sharp "magician" beard. His schtick was way over the top, in fact he would make Ian Turpie look dry. He said his stuff portentuously, then raised his hands (allowing his spangly cape to flare), and waited for us to applaud.

This was "Silvers Grand Magic Circus" - so Mr Magic and his leggy assistants filled about half the running time. Disappearing into cupboards, folding themselves impossibly into drapes, turning into doves - they did it all, very impressively.

Clowns came, clowns went.

Michael found it all too loud and a bit overwhelming. Marcus loved it. At intermission he shouted "It's amazing! It's all amazing!" A boy came on sweeping the stage with a wide broom. "Wow! That broom's amazing!"

What really was amazing was the weather. An equatorial downpour had arrived during the first act. As I went out to get a coffee, I was puzzled to see people coming back looking like they'd been doused with a firehose. There was a gap between the tents of about an inch, and anyone walking between them came out sodden. Looking out from under the catering tent, I could see the whole town copping a once-a-year torrent.

Back under the big top, in the second act there were various jugglers and acrobats. I might be a bit spoiled, but I think they were about the standard of the average street busker. The circus acts obviously have a big advantage in props, costumes, stage space, not-being-shat-on-by pigeons etc. But in pure "that's amazing" terms, they were just OK. At the end of their stint every one, without exception, gave the crowd a big wind-up or hand-to-the-ear as if to say 'I want more than just applause, I want to hear "woo"'.

The one standout act I thought was the Hoop Lady. She had hoops comin' and goin'. She hula'd on the ground, she hula'd standing on a big disco ball, she hula'd ten hoops, she hula'd thirty hoops. She really showed those hoops who was boss.

At the end Mr Magic laid it on thick again about how their best publicity was word of mouth, so go out there and tell your family and friends. Well, I just want to tell you all I give it a C+. The + is especially for the guy who spent most of the second half digging a canal with a mattock to let the water backstage drain away. Well done son.

Cascade Brewery tour

Elf and I have finally done a brewery tour, and had a good look inside our nearest neighbour. It's been pumping out beer up the road there for about 175 years. It has evolved and automated along the way. Until the mid nineteen-eighties there was open bar for staff on breaks. It takes far fewer people to produce far more now, so there wasn't much in the way of bustle. There are a lot of very attractive industrial scenes - here are a few.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lean times down at the blog

I have finally seen off the Veterans' Affairs CD-ROM I have been working on since September. It ran overdeadline, so I have been going flat out on it, and there has been no time for blogs. The next job was waiting with the engine running, and now I have jumped into that. The blog outlook is bleak.

I can offer you some screenshots from the CD, at least.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Modes of transport, by Marcus

We have here, clockwise from top left; helicopter, plane, bus, car, ship and train.

Bird in a tree by Marcus

Peacock, giraffe and friends

The little character bottom centre is a snow rabbit, the long orange chap below and to the left is a frill-necked lizard, and the big brown guy on the right is a meerkat.

Cassowary and Sloth by Marcus

The Bowling Shanes 25 d Tryhards 3

We were supposed to play Hijacks, our conquerors in last season's final. They bloused. So we had a pickup game against some nice mature-age nursey types called Tryhards. One of them is Ben Hilfenhaus (new Australian one-day cricketer)'s girlfriends mum. So that was nice. The Tryhard's skip Ruth was sending down licorice allsorts, including one that bent both ways.

We didn't play that well, but still managed to take nearly all the points. It was extremely balmy and humid. Robbo filled in well for an absent Dave. A low key start to the new season. Hopefully next week our competition show up.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Some weasels you may encounter

Tropical Weasel, Mustela africana
Colombian Weasel, Mustela felipei
Indonesian Mountain Weasel, Mustela lutreolina
Malayan Weasel, Mustela nudipes
Siberian Weasel, Mustela sibirica
Black-striped Weasel, Mustela strigidorsa
Mountain Weasel, Mustela altaica
Long-tailed Weasel, Mustela frenata
Yellow-bellied Weasel, Mustela kathiah
Least Weasel, Mustela nivalis

For people interested in minks, stoats and polecats - sorry, you've got the wrong blog. I don't know what you think this is.

Christmas beetles two weeks late

The christmas beetles suddenly appeared on Sunday. We met some friends at the beach - Marcus' buddy Ruben and his family. I was standing shin deep in the water with Ruben's dad Ron. Something whirred past in my peripheral vision. I stuck out my hand reflexively and knocked a fat, iridescent orange beetle into the sea. I rescued him, and in no time he had been adopted by the kids as a pet. He had beautiful furry-looking antennae. Before we left the beach, Ruben's sister built him a lovely sunny platform in the sand, to sit on and dry out.

On our way back up the hill we found two green christmas beetles (one alive and kicking, one trodden on and deceased). The tinsel might have been packed away, but the beetles are carrying on regardless.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Smug about meeting

I had a satisfying day at work. I arranged a meeting. That's all it takes for me to feel satisfied with my work. I actually arranged for some other people in Canberra to be on the end of a phone while I asked them questions and told them answers. It doesn't sound like much but it is not comfortable territory for me. I have been in speakerphone meetings-of-the-air before but never alone and outnumbered. They are odd events, as you all feel like someone should be offering someone else coffee. I'm sure there is networking software that already makes this possible.

Trying to finish this project has been driving me batty. We missed the deadline yesterday, for which we were perhaps 20% culpable (client 30%, other studio 50%). Since it became obvious we would fail, I have been asking our client to spell out what happens next. The project now has a new definite deadline, which we can meet. I am feeling at peace, and plan to go and fly a kite for an hour or so tomorrow while the progammers pop the code in the oven until brown, or whatever it is they do.

The sea

We live close enough to the sea to grizzle about jet-skis. On a hot afternoon with the back door open to let in the breeze, the dominant noise in the neighbourhood was those dirt-bikes of the sea. While annoyed, I had time for a moment of snobbish pride that I lived in a neighbourhood with such a classy plague.

Monday was the first day of reasonably big surf and high tide since we've been here. As the homeward bus came around the corner from Beach Rd into the Esplanade, the passengers all said "ooo-aaaaah" in unison, at the sight of big breakers thumping. Someone said "My God - look at the pontoon". The little pontoon was leaping about fit to brain any surfer that got close, and quite a few were. The person who said "look at the pontoon" went on to say "They reckon its going to be 39° on January 22nd!" This was on January 8th.

"How the hell do they know that already?" said her mate.
"It was on the blah blah".
"Yes, but how do they know it ALREADY
"Well blah blah... [inaudible].." and we were at my stop. So I don't know how they know that already.

That night when I got up at about 3am, there was a roaring noise coming in through the toilet window, from the backyard direction. In a woolly 3am way I thought "bloody council truck road work bull dozer angle grinder chainsaws!" and I was back in bed and three-quarters asleep before it occurred to me that it was the sea.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Annual kitefest outing

We had a big day on Sunday. Once again, the Kite Festival and the Big Day of Mooing, Baaing and Ice Cream in The Park were on the same day, We managed to cruise through both, dash home for a snooze then back up at Huon's 5th birthday party in the pm.

We kited well. It was a perfect morning for it, warm and humid, relieved by a stiff cooling-and-kite-lifting breeze. There was not actually enough wind for some of the really big kites but we didn't care. I love the regatta ground, its one of my favourite places in Hobart. Just a big grassy common really, overlooking the Port of Hobart. We don't have "commons" in this country, but that's what it is.

We jumped in the car and relocated to St Davids Park. The Mercury sponsor a free day of farm animals and kids' entertainment. The stuff on stage is quite uneven, and not really up our kids' alley. But they enjoyed patting furry beasts, pretty indiscriminately. After ice cream and a bit of bouncy castle exercise, we wandered home for a rest.

Huon's mum Abby had organised his party for 3.30. We half woke up the boys, and had to finish the job when we got to Huon's house. Once he realised we were there Marcus was wide awake. He and Huon are made for each other. They just love to crash and bash. At one stage, they were both up an apricot tree. Huon said "Let's fall out of the tree and wrestle!"

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Festival of Wise-ass Animals 2 and 3

Today we watched Madagascar. I have had to endure the DVD games that go with it enough times, so I was determined to watch the actual film before it went back. This was much more fun than Happy Feet. Sacha Baron Cohen as Julien, King of the Lemurs, was a hoot. At the end he gave away his crown to the lion (I forget his name) played by Ben Stiller. Lion: "You can't give away your crown!" Julien: "Its OK, I've got another one, its bigger and its got a gecko on it."

Finally (it rained a lot today, OK?) we all sat down to watch Curse of the Were-rabbit. I have always been a big Wallace and Gromit fan. I saw The Wrong Trousers and The Great Day Outin 1995 and I was hooked. C of the W is fabulous and has many side-splitting moments. To solve a nasty lawn infestation, Wallace builds a vacuum cleaner for rabbits. Dozens of surprised but not unhappy rabbits orbiting in the transparent collecting tank was pure plasticine magic. So much is communicated by a tiny eyebrow movement - the finesse of director Nick Park should be a lesson to everyone else having a go at this genre.

I would give Happy Feet one and a half stars, Madagascar three stars and Curse of the Were-rabbit four stars.

Festival of Wise-ass Animals 1

Elf thought the boys would both enjoy Happy Feet, so we went to see it last night. It has been getting some good reviews, and the shorts looked pretty good. I had heard one negative comment which I'll come back to.

I was offside right from the word go, when I realised it was a musical. Yes, I should have done some homework, I know. To quote the BBC film reviews site "At first glance, this looks like your regulation kiddie fare: cuddly animals, big star voices (Elijah Wood, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and so on). What you actually get is a bewildering combination of anthropomophic perversity and environmental polemic, all scored to cheesy pop hits."

I actually loathe musicals, because it offends me when friction between two characters has been set up a certain way, then suddenly all bets are off when the music starts. A and B both want the same girl, then she falls for A who starts singing a song about how blue the sky is etc while C, D, E and F sing backing vocals. And also B. Hang on - why is HE singing? Because its a musical.

The penguins are too real looking for the things they are asked to do and say. One talks and sings like Elvis. Mumble, the main character, does incredible tap dancing, but it's motion-captured from some human celebrity tap dancer. All I ask is that someone imagine how a penguin would tap dance, and animate THAT.

All the other penguins constantly break into song, but Mumble can't sing. He dances instead. The religious fundamentalist elder penguins think his hot-foot behaviour is offending the Big Penguin in the Sky (or something) and that's why there's no more fish. Mumble goes off to human land, shows them his fancy moves, gets dropped right back where he came from with a radio implant (this takes about 8 minutes in movie time) then he saves the colony by showing all the other penguins how to dance. Suddenly people notice them and all fishing in the Antarctic is banned.

The negative comment I heard in advance was that the movie starts with an "accepting difference" angle, and ends with everyone else having to be just like Mumble to save their bacon. This is spot on. Also I don't buy an environmental message from anthropomorphic animals having any impact on viewers. I found myself thinking, as a shapely young girl penguin scoffed down a fish - "What's the fish's name? Does he sing? Is he a loveable rogue? Will he have a Brooklyn Jewish accent?" But no - he was just a fish. Like the old "Goofy talks/Pluto doesn't" conundrum, there is always a line drawn somewhere.

When we came out Marcus asked "What would we have done if we didn't come to this movie?" I said probably played some games then gone to bed. "What games?" He was already trying to get back his 109 minutes.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Mike Stocks latest

Further to the note below about White Man Falling I can also add that the author, Mike Stocks has a lovely website. He runs a poetry magazine called Anon, where all poems are submitted anonymously, and printed on merit rather than the poet's reputation or connections. A great idea. So if you've got a poem in you struggling to get out, perhaps you should set it free and send it to him.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Recreational falling-over

Michael has been doing elaborate fallings-over for some time now. He has a good look behind for any difficult obstacles, then topples backwards gently with arms windmilling. He can fill hours with this. Sometimes it is silent and sometimes accompanied by "Whoa, whoooa, whooooooa!"

I think it was originally inspired by Captain Feathersword of The Wiggles, who also does a lot of falling over with elaborate flailing of the arms. Now Michael has taken it to a new level. Marcus used to sometimes arrange himself in elaborate tableaux on the theme of "tricycle accident" without there ever being any real mishap. Michael has taken this idea and run with it.

He can arrange his Big Red Car, his Dog, his blue letters and some clothespegs for a good five minutes, then he completes the performance by "falling" backwards into the arrangement and dragging a small bike on top of himself as the piece de resistance. He then looks around for witnesses.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

This book came out about ten years ago. It's got a charming cover by Jeffrey Fisher, and was made into a film with Nick Cage. For some reason this combination of factors put me off reading it all this time. I knew it was a kind of funny tragedy, that was all.

Well, I just want to be the 11,678,102nd person to say - it's brilliant. Its' cast of diverse and passionate characters is the equal of any I have encountered, even better than Annie Proulx's books. The setting is Cephallonia, a Greek island in the Ionian sea, during World War II. The story swings wildly from idyllic village life to the horror of the short but brutal German occupation.

Captain Corelli was an Italian lover of music who found himself commanding an artillery batallion. The Italians occupied Greece first, fairly benignly. When Italy surrendered in 1944 the Allies ignored Greece and invaded Sicily. The Germans moved into Greece and betrayed the Italian troops. This part of history was unknown to me, and the big decisions and small details together were appalling to read.

At the same time this book was the funniest thing I have read for some time. When Corelli took it upon himself to blow up a rusty World War I mine, he makes a hash of it. There is a huge, spectacular and dangerous explosion.

"Aira!" cried the exhilarated Greeks, and "Figlio di puttana di stronzo d'un cane d'un culo d'un porco d'un pezzo di merda!" cried the soldiers.

Corelli has a group of soldiers of all ranks who can sing opera. In the opera club they have their own ranking system - they are semi-breves, quavers and crotchets. One day they meet a young German officer who cannot sing but impresses them enough to be admitted to their group, La Scala. He is given the rank of dotted demi-semiquaver rest.

I love this book and will have to shove something out of my all time top ten to make room for it.

White Man Falling by Mike Stocks

This book made me snort with laughter. It also made me think about what it means to just be. When you aren't doing, you are just being. Sub-Inspector (retired) R.M. Swaminathan of the Mullaipuram police, south India, has already had a stroke "while administering a mild custodial beating to a Very Guilty Suspect". Then one day a white man falls from the sky and lands on him. He goes further downhill, but in his state of doinglessness, he finds he is a guru with thousands of followers.

The pearls of Indian English are superb. "Look at the boy! He is complete nervous wreckage!" "His wife is 100% full of the crazy nonsense-making!" "That is very best and very lowest discount taxi fare in Mullaipuram for dead people" etc. I don't know anything about Mike Stocks but his writing is full of wit and fondness for India.