Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Marcus turns 5

Today is Marcus's fifth birthday! Some sort of milestone for him and us.

We had a pretty challenging first year when he came along in 2002. He wasn't a happy eater, and we had lots of reflux and spent many hours coaxing him off to sleep on the couch, or walking endless circles. Up the hall, around and through the lounge room, out the door and up the hallway again. Bouncing and singing. I would do ten laps and then try to set him down in the cot. Ten more laps, and try again. I would say now that we made life hard for ourselves in some ways. We were still cuddling him off to sleep when he was almost too big to fit on our laps.

He has grown up and passed some of the kids who have always been bigger than him. I think now he's probably going to be in the 185-190cm bracket. He is having a terrific time at prep, although suddenly being at school five days a week is taxing him a bit. One wierd side-effect is that there are all these clothes he never gets to wear. Two days a week is not enough to exercise his non-school wardrobe.

Neither Elf nor I had bought a computer game in our lives, but for Marcus's birthday we bought him Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures as he loved the movie, and will do anything to get on a computer. We have a ration of about half an hour per week of computer time, but as he learns to do more and more things I can see there will be a need to expand this. I have been sitting with him while he plays for about 18 months, but increasingly I am wandering off and coming back when he calls for help.

Michael likes the computer, but he has a very imperious attitude - essentially he gives the orders and I do the mousework.

Boys miscellanea

Marcus: How did Christmas happen before Jesus was born?

Michael with pins and needles: There are bees buzzing in my foot.

Marcus: Did someone invent languages?

Marcus: Did someone invent God?

Marcus explaining a situation at prep:Isaac wasn't sulking. He was just... grim.

Michael often takes a book to bed - usually a picture book or a little pocket dictionary or something like that. I found him this morning snuggled up with the Modern Medical Counsellor by Hubert O. Swartout (c. 1950), leather-bound and running to about 300 pages.
Me: Did you have that in there all night?
Michael: Yes. It's called Duck the Chick.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sunflowers (obviously)

Not long after we moved in at Kingston Beach, Elf and Marcus planted sunflowers. They grew like gangbusters, flowered brilliantly and now are on the wane. The bees are still pretty fond of them though. There's not much room for improvement with sunflowers is there?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Geelong 139 d Richmond 96 , NAB Cup

So, footy season is underway. The Tigers were thumped and Richo did a hamstring. Marcus commiserated - how often do Richmond win Dad? I told him about half the time, these days, which is not enough. "Yes, they don't often get in the carnival do they?" He meant the finals, but I think I'll call it the carnival from now on.

In Sunshine or in Shadow by Martin Flanagan

I bought this for my Dad a couple of years ago. Because Martin Flanagan is my favourite writer I broke the unwritten law and read it before I wrapped it. I have just got around to borrowing it back and reading it a bit more carefully.

He writes about his life and the people he has met. He writes about growing up in Tasmania, and travelling the world alone and desperate, then coming back here. He writes about his life now, as a journalist with The Age, as a kind of thoughtful football scribe and interpreter-at-large of aboriginal Australia for its white counterpart. His columns frequently appear in the football section of the paper, but they encompass so much more than the increasingly homogenous world of Australian Rules.

I can't think of any other sportswriter who paints a picture of their subjects as human beings, as well as Flanagan does. You can imagine the subjects of his stories being afraid, being sorry, having weaknesses, falling in love. Even if they are a niggling tagger, or a mean back pocket hard man.

He loves to write about aboriginal footballers. Through this initial connection he has met and talked with an amazing cross-section of aboriginal Australia. It is an education to hear their stories through him. I envy him his contacts, his journalistic skills and his tenacity that has enable him to gain such insights.

His father Arch won the Devonport Gift, and later was in Hintok prison camp in Burma with Weary Dunlop. Martin accompanied Dunlop when he returned to Burma. Weary Dunlop was an immensely gifted man, a surgeon who represented Australia in rugby. Arch had one word for Weary - "kindness".

My only reservation about this book is that it might be too honest. Martin is at heart a poet, and sometimes describes himself doing things that poets are supposed to do - speaking to the wind, that sort of thing. You wouldn't catch me admitting to that sort of flim-flam.

However - this is a very fine book, written in an honest and very engaging voice, and drawing together many things I find very interesting - aboriginality, politics, the environment, Tasmanian history and sport. Martin's work has always left a deep impression on me, so much so that whenever I write, I imagine it as a letter to him. If its not good enough, I keep at it until it is up to scratch.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Uses for the intestine of the yak

This short quote comes from The Albert Coates Story, by Albert Coates and Newman Rosenthal. Coates was an Australian surgeon in World War Two, who was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. Here it is 1943, he is in a camp in Burma, and a Dutchman named Captain van Boxtel has recently arrived. In civilian life van Boxtel was a chemist - and he is able to prepare some cocaine in the correct concentration for anaesthesia, from some pills Coates had been carrying for years.

Anaesthesia below the groin was perfect and my first amputation under a cocaine spinal injection was accomplished. It is not to be recommended under civilised conditions, but any port in a storm, and we got off to a good start with the amputations. In the next few weeks one hundred and twenty legs came off; many a toe was removed without anaesthesia and with scissors only. We made ligatures of catgut from the peritoneal coat of the intestine of the yak and sterilised the skin with alcohol prepared by van Boxtel from Burmese brandy and waste rice

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Denzil Don footy

I found an old leather football on our lawn the other day, "Denzil Don" brand, with some signatures on it. I asked our elderly neighbour Judy if it was hers - her grandkids live down the hill, and I thought they might have had a kick in her back yard. It was Judy's, and she had put it out for the garbage Someone must have thought it belonged to our boys, and lobbed it over.

I gave it back to her and she was on her way back to the garbage pile with it when I felt sorry for it, and asked if I could keep it. God knows we have too much of this sort of stuff already, but its just not right to throw out an old footy that meant something to someone once.

It turns out the footy is from King Island, home of Australia's only three-team football comp [Currie, Grassy and Norths]. One part of the inscription that is legible says "presented to Brian Mather, Currie Captain". Maybe it was a grand final ball.

What makes this all more interesting is that the same week I found the ball, my company Roar Film got the green light to make a TV series about country football. Filming starts this week. One of the five clubs/leagues featured is King Island. My footy is going to be a prop, and the crew might take it over with them when they are shooting, to see if any of the signatories are still on the scene.

On King Island footy is only for the very hardy - it's probably the windiest place in Australia. Apparently one character called Beany generally plays in his jeans and swaps jumpers each quarter, so that he doesn’t have to change ends.

I have found there is a Denzil Don kindergarten in West Brunswick, Vic. Investigations still pending on the full D.D. story.

Monday, February 19, 2007


It's finally cooled down. We had a very hot weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Its very unusual for the temperature to stay up that long in Tasmania. The change finally arrived about 9pm last night. We went to the beach early on Saturday, but avoided it completely on Sunday. Like all people who live near beaches, we look down our nose at daytrippers, and they were hanging from the trees yesterday.

Hobart has some very nice beaches, and one of the great things about them (usually) is the lack of people. You can go there on a very nice day, but unless its 30° you won't see many people. Suddenly when it gets that hot, everyone jumps into the 4WD and gets down to a beach to fight for a parking spot. The hotter it gets the more people arrive. Around 5pm I had to to post some things, and the shortest way home from the PO was along the Esplanade - it was like the Royal Hobart Show in swimwear. Sunburned people stepping in front of cars. Erratically parked hoonmobiles. Six people hanging off a jetski.

Emergency services have reported that they were as busy as an average New Years Eve. Some heatstroke I suppose, but mostly people who have sat in the sun, tried to "cool down" with beer, then done something silly.

We were at the Big Hardware Hangar yesterday around midday, and the boofheads in front of us were buying one of the those split-cycle air conditioners that comes in two very big boxes. The sparky "team member" on the register said to them "are you setting it up yourself?" Yeah. "How long do you reckon that'll take?" Dunno. "Be a shame if you get it all set up and its already cooled down eh?" Er, yeah.

Friday, February 16, 2007

My new favourite cow

The watusi! Not just a groovy dance, also a breed of cattle that "can easily trace their ancestry back more than 6,000 years". That is if they understood geneology and could read.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jerry explains how to grow smooth loofas

Grow them as an unusual gift because they are always appreciated. OK friends and family, you've been warned. When you see the tell-tale squishy conical shape inside the giftwrap, get ready to express your appreciation for a loofa. (Note - Jerry spoils the fun a little by calling them luffas.

Turns out you can eat them. Heh!

Bowling Shanes 13ish d Foxy Morons 7ish

I had to rush off at the end of this match, so I didn't quite grasp the final score. We won, hooray.

We had a guy named Adrian filling who works at Clemenger, an ad agency where I worked for a short time. He asked me if I was an art director. I explained to him at that art directors don't really exist any more, they are an anachronism and like all right thinking graphic designers, I think up the designs and execute them myself, I don't stand around telling minions what to do. Of course it transpires Adrian is an art director. So we spent the rest of the evening justifying ourselves.

It was a beautiful evening, and as the sun set behind the North Hobart Football ground I thought again how funny it is that the most comfortable place to sit in that ground is named the Plaister Stand.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Giant spooky jellyfish weekend

I thought we should take the Regatta long weekend to go north to Mum and Dad's place at Turners Beach. The last time we were there was the same weekend last year. One of these days we'll go to the Regatta, but it hasn't seduced me with its charms yet.

We took off early on Saturday. Everyone stops at the park in Campbell Town when driving up the Midland Highway, and we nearly always bump into someone we know. This time it was Mel, Rob and Olivia, who were on their way up for Festivale in Launceston. No-one knows what Festivale is for, except to cock a snook at Hobart because Launceston has no Regatta.

We got to Mum and Dad's with plenty of time to draw, kick the footy around the yard and explore. They have a great vegie garden with a very tall corn crop, excellent for hiding behind. In the late afternoon we walked along the beach. Marcus collected. Michael dug. Marcus did a page of wonderful drawings of his beach collection. He has a fine eye and might follow in the family tradition as an artist.

On Sunday we went on the Don Railway. Usually its drawn by a steam engine but due to bushfire season they are only operating diesels. It suited me fine - its not the romance of steam I love, its the ambience of the time around when I was born. I can dimly remember meeting my grandmother Ibey at the train station when she came up from Launceston.

When I looked around the interior of the carriage I thought of days when a journey like ours was commonplace, in fact dull. On rainy winter days the carriage would be full of the smell of wet wool - no polar fleece. Supporters would have gone along the coast by rail to watch their footy teams play away. And country mums would have gone home with their new babies by train from the big new Burnie or Mersey General Hospitals (now both taped-off shells with asbestos problems).

Later on Sunday we walked on the beach again. Dad is 71, has had trouble with both legs lately, but is still keen to get to the drop of the ball if you hoof a football towards him. Capering around kicking the footy with my father on a broad beach with the tide out, I felt very happy. The flies were pretty terrible and the jellyfish were many and hubcap-sized, so we didn't go in the water or hang around too long.

On this visit the boys slept together on a sofabed. The first night was a bit windy, and the sound of twigs and leaves blowing on the roof spooked them a bit. None of us got much sleep. The next night we all stayed in our own beds, slept like logs and awoke on Monday for the drive home feeling more fully human. I had enjoyed seeing Mum and Dad very much. Sometimes it is very nice to be a guest, to be fed delicious food and to be amused. Although it is not my childhood home, there is a lot there that is comfortable and familiar.

On the drive home we stopped at Campbell Town again. This time we met one of Marcus's South Hobart classmates on the swings. The boys were great all the way - they co-operated, shared and behaved remarkably well. Grandma Ruth gave Marcus a Spotto type game to play on the way home, and he took it very seriously.

Later in the afternoon, after we had picked up Hattie and arrived home, Marcus and I put together a family tree, or at least as much as we could from memory. He had asked "How many people are there in our family?" - so we wanted to show him that depending on how far you go, there can be plenty. He is asking a lot of excellent but difficult questions at the moment.

Travelnote: At Latrobe there is a Trout and Platypus Experience. So what we saw a few weeks ago at Salmon Ponds is obviously part of a wider trend.

Supermarket ambience

The supermarket is a groovy place. I was there last night, and at least three shoppers were singing along (some with a little bit of hip-swinging) to Don't You Want Me, Baby by The Human League. Terrific stuff. There are regular spots between the music where a professional voice-over artist (recorded in Sydney probably) urges you to go and buy some fish. They are plugging this new kind of fish called basa very hard. It comes from Vietnam - that's all I know about it.

What amused me was the tone of voice. Great girlish excitement when she mentions you can win a trip to Vanuatu if you buy $10 worth of fish. A bit of pacific music. Whoosh of palm trees. Then, as required by state government legislation, she has to read out the permit numbers. Suddenly she is all business. No palm trees. This is a national competition, and they can't be bothered recording the voice-over five or six times, so she has to say, very fast, "ACTpermitnumber0867566456 NewSouthWalespermitnumber0867566456 Victoriapermitnumber..."

Michael kerns

Michael (now 3) continues to be obsessed with letters and numbers. He spends many happy hours arranging wooden letters on the floor. He has just started writing, spelling words from memory. His letter shapes are pretty good, and his memory is phenomenal.

He often comments "That's a funny T" or "That's a funny F" , when he seems something letterlike that he doesn't quite recognise, like a script font, or chinese characters. A couple of typographic things bug him and he regularly mentions them.

The BETTA milk logo. Michael feels the two Ts should not be touching. He has several times asked me to get a biro and draw a blue line to seperate them. I work with Dean who designed this logo about six years ago. When I mentioned this Dean said I can blame the flexographic print process and ink bleed for the letters joining together. Its a cop-out and he knows it, but I will try it on Michael next time he complains.

The other regular one is the 4 on a letterbox near our house. "It's got a bit missing" says the junior typographer. I can't for the life of me work out what he thinks is missing. I will have to photograph it, print it, and get him to draw in the part he thinks it lacks.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Here for the Beer 17 d The Bowling Shanes 11

The HFTB lads made a very sharp start and before we knew it we were down 10-1. We have never made a big comeback, so we weren't confident. Then we suddenly came good and picked up 6 points on one end. The only two bowls of ours that didn't score were mine - I bowled all night like a dog who is not good at lawn bowls.

Hunter was skip, and he instructed me to take the mat way down the green and keep the ends short. I felt a bit foolish, as I could just about shake hands with the skips down the "far" end. It seemed to work though. We keep sneaking back, picking up one point at a time.

With one end to play we were down 14-11, with an outside chance of stealing it. Sadly, I continued to bowl rubbish and the other Shanes were powerless to resist the HFTB juggernaut.

Here is my pickled ear

Under the 1729 Treaty of Seville, the British had agreed not to trade with the Spanish colonies. To verify the treaty, the Spanish were permitted to board British vessels in Spanish waters. After one such incident in 1731, Robert Jenkins, captain of the ship Rebecca, claimed that the Spanish coast guard had severed his ear. Encouraged by his government (which was determined to continue its drive toward commercial domination of the Atlantic basin), in 1738 Jenkins exhibited his pickled ear to the House of Commons, whipping up war fever against Spain. To much cheering, the British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, reluctantly declared war on October 23, 1739.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Big Walk

I went for a big walk last night. I was determined to walk for two hours. I went up the hill in front of our place, and down through a pathway I had seen but never used. Over Roslyn Ave and down Powell St to the clifftop. Saw the old open-topper bus in a paddock. Some little backwoods weatherboard and clapboard houses. Not many trophy homes around here. Paddocks. There was a gate in the fence across the top of the cliff, inviting you to plummet to destruction. I walked around the cliffs and along Blackmans Bay beach, then up through the residential streets to Roslyn Ave again, along the start of Tinderbox Road.

I went up to have a look at Sherburd Park, my home ground when I came to Kingborough Soccer Club after five or six years playing at University. Sherburd was the scene of my only hat trick, about 10 years ago. I played almost all my life as a fullback, so that was a pretty memorable day. The club shouted me a jug of beer.

I wandered out again along Tinderbox Rd for a bit, but it was dark, narrow and pretty dull walking. I headed down Wells Parade towards the beach, the better lit streets and home. I was listening to the cricket as I went, a thrilling run chase as Australia tried to overhaul New Zealand. I was close to home after only an hour and a half, and with plenty of cricket still to go, so I walked past our place, along Kingston Beach to Browns River.

As I went I was wondering about an orange glow on the horizon - I couldn't think of any large towns over the hills in that direction. I turned my attention elsewhere then looked back to see it was the moon rising. When you have an immovable thing to compare it to (like the horizon) you can appreciate how fast it moves. I turned around and strolled home, thinking about living on a large ball that is spinning in space.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Found Magazine

A fantastic site/magazine entirely made up of stuff found on the ground / down the back of the couch / written in 2nd hand books etc.

Could you spell "clavecin"?

We watched Spellbound last night, a really well made documentary about the 1999 National Spelling Bee in America. It followed eight of the children, as they won their local spelling bees, and prepared for their big trip to Washington DC for the final. The final was agonisingly tense, I had to stop the movie and get a stiff drink towards the end. I am emotional putty in the hands of any story like this.

Some of the words the kids were asked to spell were incredibly obscure. When one of "our" kids got a curly one incorrect I found it very hard to take. One of the eight, Nupur Lala, was the eventual winner. Her last word was "logorrhea". I was very happy for her, but felt devastated for some of the others who had come so close. I don't think I could ever put my kids or myself through this. I told Elf that if the boys ever get involved in spelling bees, I will need to go away to a hut in the bush for the weekend.

Kids from South Asian backgrounds seem to do particularly well, there were quite a few of them. They are very assimilated - everyone including Nupur herself called her "Nooper".

This is a terrific doco, it deserved its Oscar nomination in 2004. I gave it an A.