Thursday, December 30, 2010

My beautifully ugly retaining wall

Put in the earplugs gang, I'm about to blow my own trumpet. I love my retaining wall! And it's not even finished. You will only realise how accomplished I feel if you have seen my soft graphic designer's hands, or seen me accidentally gash myself using a screwdriver. I simply cannot do this tooly stuff. And yet, there it is.

Sure, its not retaining anything yet. I don't even know what to plant in it. But it feels solid, it's used up a bunch of old timber we've had lying around, and I feel good having just barreled into it with the tools and materials I had, and solved problems that came up as I went along.

My buddy and frequent blog commenter Nobody gave me some sage advice and my dad did a bit of digging, but part from that, its all my own preposterous work.

Michael measures wall with giant calipers
I know, fantastic, right?
I am a "tools all over the place" type of tradesman.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conversation in a bath

I am reading while the boys soak, and not paying attention to their blatherings.
Marcus:  Blah blah water
Michael: Blah blah blah skin on the water!
Marcus: Yes, blah blah skin on the water. It's made of different stuff.
Michael: Is it?
Me (tuning in): Hang on, no it's not. It's just surface tension - the water on top is the same stuff as the water underneath.
Marcus: No, scientists have actually managed to extract the skin of water. Its made of hydrogen and nitrogen.
Michael: That's ammonia!!! Three hydrogens and a nitrogen!!!!
Me: Excuse me I just have to go upstairs now and tell everyone else about this.

Recycled oregon table tennis table

The dinner table is now the scene of more vicious smashing, backhanders, deceit and spin than ever before. I have defeated the visiting Victorian champion, Fred, and am now prepared for all comers. The holes in the table are becoming part of my strategy - if you look for them you can certainly find them.

Winston hangs around the net, shifting his weight from side to side as the rally progresses. He does go after the loose ball, but in a slow, dutiful way, as though he thinks it's expected of him. If he gets there first he just holds the ball in his immense jowls, like a kid sucking a jaffa.

Whereas outside when we are playing cricket, Winston lurks at short midwicket, and pounces on a loose ball with unbelievable acceleration. The cricket (actually tennis) ball gets a good chew and soaks up many fl. oz. of drool. We are much more likely to get a deck splinter or ankle-knack from trying to get the ball first, than from diving to take a catch.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A very colander Christmas

OK, there was a small breakdown in communications, and Elf was given two colanders. Sally documented the ensuing hijinx with her iPhone - which has somehow made it look like a shoot for Wallpaper magazine.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas pics

A WW1 style christmas truce
The demolition crew move in

Richo by Martin Flanagan

For Christmas the boys gave me Richo by Martin Flanagan, a biography of one of my favourite footballers, written by my favourite writer. Both of them and I all hail from the North West Coast. I was a bit dubious when I first heard about this book, but I loved it - I could hardly put it down.

Matthew Richardson is such an ordinary bloke in so many ways. According to his mum, he hasn't changed at all since he was two. Flanagan delves into some Coast football history to explain where Richo came from. He's about 8 years younger than me, but he played with and against guys that I knew at school, and was mentored by guys that my father played against. (In discussing the book with Dad I learned that Dad once played on a 16 year-old Darrel Baldock, and hardly caught sight of him all day.)

There are a couple of priceless photos in there. One shows five Coastal boys in the Richmond rooms after a win; Chris Bond from Wynyard, Ben Harrison and Richo from Devonport, and the Gale brothers Benny and Michael, from Penguin. The other pic is a school portrait from around Grade 3. Imagine trying to teach that!

© Matthew Richardson Promotions and Martin Flanagan 2010

© Matthew Richardson Promotions and Martin Flanagan 2010

Boxing Day - just like Christmas again but with less surprises

My tummy has been full for most of the last 48 hours. Why do we do this to ourselves? I can't walk past a bowl of nuts without having a few, even when I am groaningly full. But enough about my eating disorder. How are you?
Christmas Day started at about six, as usual. The boys emptied their stockings and were both pretty happy with what they found. Michael has been asking over and over for "an empty book with lines to write on" and he finally got one in the stocking. He has been writing a diary in it since, and as you can imagine, it's pretty great.

Elf went off to pick up Imp, Ed and the girls (she later took them to the airport to fly to Canberra). They joined us for breakfast, along with Sally, Matt and Arthur, and my Mum and Dad who are staying for the rest of December. Elf was up early chopping fruit, and we had croissants, fruit salad, and pancakes that Imp brought with her. Everyone was so stuffed by 10 that all of us could have easily fasted the rest of the day - perhaps the rest of the week. Then we tore into the presents.

We gave the boys a 3 meter inflatable pool, and a microscope set. The weather has been too brisk to use the pool, but it is pumped up and filled and ready for aquatic fun. The microscope has been a hit - we just have to convince them not to run around with glass slides in their hands. Marcus particularly cannot walk anywhere at the moment. This might have something to do with his high-sugar diet.

One way we are trying to burn off his energy is with the table tennis set from Imp and Ed. It contains the bats, some balls and a net, and we just set it up on the dining table. It's been fantastic. The holes in the table give the play a slightly anarchic edge, although the ball doesn't seem to find them that often. I have realised since we set it up this morning that table tennis is the quintessential summer holiday activity. The crisp bip, bap, bip, bap of a rally seems to echo with my memories of those incredibly long holidays when I was a kid. On alternate years we'd stay for a month at Mum's parents' in Sydney, but the years when we stayed home we really stayed home. No shack, or relatives down south, or caravan. Lots of table tennis. Tonight we had the quintessential Boxing Day supper - ham on toast, on the bare table with the net still set up. Delightful.

To finish Christmas Day, we planned to have no lunch as such, but have an evening Christmas dinner with ham, turkey, pudding and so forth. What we ended up doing was leftover pancakes and croissants with ham and salad. I stuffed and cooked the turkey just to get it done. I think its the first time I have made stuffing - I used the recipe from the good old Central cookbook, and it came out very tasty indeed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dean - excerpts from the eulogy by Steve Thomas

Few graphic designers in the history of Tasmania have ever been so highly awarded. And none have been more modest. He would often say that awards are a waste of paper and time, and he meant it... At work Dean always drank instant coffee. Over the years the rest of us graduated from instant coffee to plungers and herbal infusions, we even had an espresso machine for a time but while we all waxed lyrical about herbal blends and grinds – Dean stuck with his Nescafe. He was a man of simple tastes, and extraordinary ability... Dean was a force of nature. Even way back then he had sensitivity and taste beyond his years. And a capacity to churn out the work. The astounding thing about him was that everything he did, he did without ego. He was always grounded enough to know that no matter what happened there would always be another design job – it wasn’t brain surgery we were engaged in.
Thanks to melinda who put this up on Roar Educate's FB page.

A-frame gingerbread hippie house

Elf has been knocking out these terrific gingerbread houses. The kids decorated the first one, with unrestrained baroque abandon. This one is a bit more formal, almost Georgian. Note that the grater is delighted, as ever.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Great news - parents are chucking money at tat

This story was printed in the local paper this week. I was wrong-footed by the headline into thinking it was bad news.

[Hmm, that's no good. Another glum story about financial difficulties.]

Australian parents will blow their budgets buying presents for their kids this festive season, spending an average of $390 per child, researchers say.  
 [Tsk. Those researchers must be quite concerned about the parents making ends meet]

When it comes to buying Christmas presents, Queensland parents are the most generous while South Australians and fathers are likely to spend the least money, according to Bankwest research released today. Bankwest Retail chief executive Vittoria Shortt said the research was a glimmer of hope for retailers who have complained of a flat shopping season in the run-up to Christmas this year.
 [Ah. My mistake, This is a good news story! Those researchers were employed by Bankwest Retail, and were in fact delighted with their findings!]

"Kids' bedrooms these days really are a treasure trove, with everything from the latest video games to Ben Ten and Bratz", she said. [Those scamps!]

"It's no surprise the bills add up and carefully laid budgets go out the window".
[Rueful chuckle and shrug.] 

I thought banks had some sort of role in encouraging people to stick to budgets and live within their means. I'm so 1950s sometimes.

What ho, young flathead

In preparation for a fishing trip today, I spent about an hour last night up the hill practicing my casting. I chose a nice clear area, but I still had to retrieve my leader (like my fisho jargon?) from various bushes and shrubs. My casts always sliced to the right. Once I twigged that I had to watch the tip of my rod all the way over my head, I was casting straight out in front.

This morning I took the boys down to Margate Jetty to try our luck. Our lines hit the water before 10, and we were still at it at 12.30, so that's pretty good going. We did get some bites, honest we did, but the sole fish we got out of the water was an undersize flathead. Thank God we got something, though. We were operating under the steady and unimpressed gaze of about two dozen cray fishermen, and I felt moderately justified when I was able to unhook and throw back a flattie, albeit too small for a kitten's dinner.

I was very proud of Marcus, who had the rod most of the day, and was casting magnificently. He snagged 31 couta at his last outing, so this was a bit of a comedown for him, but he took it well. Linguistic note: after a not-so-good cast, Marcus used the term "epic fail".

Michael did not fall in, and was still amused by the whole "drop something in the water, pull it out again" routine 2 hours after we started. So, a big thumbs up there. He did a few pretty good casts with his handline. He talked and/or sang the entire time. (His repertoire includes a number of Christmas carols at the moment. Yesterday Elf gently suggested he might consider the school choir next year - this was met with towering scorn.) He spent a lot of time today arranging crayfish antennae and legs on the jetty, and trying to work out a way to use them as bait.

I had the big handline most of the day, and only did one of my famous homicidal mis-casts, where hooks and lead fly about at head height for 3 - 5 seconds. Mostly I was getting it out there OK, got loads of nibbles but couldn't hook the buggers.

The jetty mostly serves the crayfish fleet, who are doing it a bit tough at present. China unilaterally banned Australian and NZ crayfish, for reasons that have not been explained. Your average cray man is up to his neck in debt on his boat and license, so they are desperately trying to sell their catch to anyone. Your average Tasmanian (if they are anything like me) has forgotten what crayfish tastes like since they have been priced out of our reach. This boat was selling live crays - I couldn't imagine taking one home and boiling it alive. But they were doing a fair trade.

We wrapped up the session after I decided I had unsnagged my last snag, but we'll go again soon I hope.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Little aths news

The last Little Athletics meet of the year is always at the Domain Sports Centre, for some reason. It's a proper athletics venue with the proper reddy-brown running track and proper run-ups for the sandpits etc. I still prefer the usual venue down by the beach though. The centre is very concretey - it's a bit like being at the East German Under 10 National Championships.

The lady who loves being on the PA was on the PA, talking about an exciting Visitor. "In three minutes the Visitor will be here, so could all Under 6, Under 7 and Under 8 athletes stop competing and gather in the middle of the field" Next, "The Visitor is now arriving boys and girls!" Cue a fairly fit-looking Santa in the back of a ute to enter, do a few laps around the kids, and then disembark and distribute lollies.

Despite the obvious white-bearded, red-suited jolliness and Christmas-like gift-giving, the lady who loves being on the PA kept up the air of mystery. "Could the Under 9s and tens now go out to see the Visitor please". It was taking on a sort of science fiction feel. "The Visitor will be leaving in five minutes so any 14s, 15s and 16s that would like to should go out now to see Santa, um, the Visitor. Thank you."

Michael refused to do the triple jump, as he is too worried about getting the hop, step and jump sequence wrong. I have decided to flatly bribe him with chocolate next time. He did well in his races, despite rubbernecking all around most of the way. Marcus made the most of the professional facilities, with four Personal Bests out of five events. His running style is gradually straightening up, and he's getting better times as a result.

I crack the case wide open

Yesterday morning Elf noticed a big scratch on her antique bureau. Maybe it's an escritoire. A desky thing. She was given it for her 18th birthday, but she has never liked it much. She has hauled it around out of duty.

Someone had scrawled on it what looked like a large figure 4 and a small M. The boys both denied involvement. Elf was furious enough to cancel Christmas and ban TV until someone owned up. No-one did. The day continued grimly. We promised that punishment would be reasonable if the confession came soon, but the longer we waited the harsher we were planning to be. Elf decided that enough is enough, and called a local dealer to come and give us a valuation, to get rid of the blessed thing. By now she was furious about having to stay furious.

We were both pretty sure it was Michael, but in the face of his flat denials we started to wonder if the neighbourhood kids (occasional visitors) should be called in for questioning. Lana dropped in, but didn't stay long after being lightly interrogated. When Michael started floating theories about how the dog could have done it, he started to look very, very guilty. I was getting sick of the whole thing by then, so I said to the boys generally "You don't seem to have taken on board that it is school holidays now, and you have days and days stretching ahead, at home, with no TV".

Michael said "OK - I did it". He had just been bored, and scratched it with a metal screw. His punishment is to pick up all the dog poo in the yard. If it ever stops raining.

Standing on one leg, wobbling slightly, to accompanying bagpipes

The next day after the funeral was the end of year school assembly. I am prone to silent tears at various inappropriate times, and as we walked in a grade five girl was playing the piano so beautifully I was struggling for composure. All it takes is 20 kids finishing their primary school years, and some well chosen minor chords, and I am like a limp rag.

If you have ever sat through something like a final assembly you'll know they go on forever and always feature a) endearingly bad trumpet playing, b) Scottish country dancing and c) a Village People song reworded to mention everyone in the graduating class. This is true everywhere from Utah to Uganda. Fortunately this one was a daytime thing, so the spectacle of tired dads asleep with their mouths open, drooling, was averted. Just.

We knew we had one thing to look forward to at least. We were forewarned that Marcus had won a medal in one of the maths competitions. We don't know how many medals are given out, whether this means he topped the state in Middle Primary or what, but the principal said in his speech that it was the only one he had ever seen awarded in 30 years. Marcus was bursting with pride and we were too - it was good. He got a tiny medal, a certificate, and a book voucher - entitling him to any of the books published by the Australian Mathematics Trust (sample title: Chinese Mathematics Competitions 1981-1993)

I must mention again the Scottish Country Dancing. One finishing grade 6 girl is the daughter of the SCD's valiant matriarch. The bonny lass had choreographed a special graduating dance of excruciating slowness. It was like watching someone riding a bike too slow - someone had to fall over soon. Just as the tension was becoming unbearable, they sped up. Elf and I compared notes later and we had both looked out the window because we just couldn't bear to watch.

Funeral / Facebook

We had a very strange week at work - our last for the year. My first job on Monday was making an 8-minute video montage of photos of Dean for his funeral on Wednesday. Steve asked me to not make it chronological, which meant I had to somehow blend "Little Dean in a bassinette" with "30ish Dean on the turps with hairy mates", tastefully. Of course I wanted it to be good for Dean and for his family, but I tried not to spend ages on it - I had so much other stuff to get done by the end of the week.

I heard Dean in my head saying "Just grab a dozen pics, chuck some zooms and pans and fades on it, and get on with something important!" I wondered what font I should use. Again I heard Dean in my head saying "Geez, what does it f#$%& matter - just letterspace it so people can read it." I hope it did whatever these montages are supposed to do - touch people I guess. I had a lump in my throat all the way through making it. Steve previewed it and could only take 40 seconds before he started choking up and had to stop it.

The funeral was OK - which is the best you can hope for with funerals isn't it? I did think that I don't want someone speaking at my funeral who didn't know me from a bar of soap - it does feel a bit wrong. If none of the friends and family can speak without cracking up I suppose there is no alternative. Steve gave a beautiful, and brief eulogy, which is how Dean would have liked it. He had a drawing pin to stick into his hand to keep himself focussed every time he started to blub.

Dean's mum went out of her way to meet and talk to the people there she didn't recognise, which was amazing of her. The celebrant told us that Dean would ring his mum every night at around seven, just for a talk. Then he would ring his brother, just for a talk. Every night. And they only lived half an hour's drive apart.

Since he died I have realised that I would have got to know him so much better if only I was on Facebook. I'm not being facetious or trite - he really was so much more open and at ease online than he ever seemed to be in person. One workmate says she would have long chats with him on Facebook through the day, while he sat with his back to her three metres away.

I have been smugly superior about not using Facebook. My attitude has been "I say what I want to say on the blog, and if people don't want to tune into that and talk back through the comments or email, well - pftui (as llamas say)".

But I think I need to come crawling back to FB, answer a bunch of friend requests and make some of my own. The blog posts will come up as Facebook "notes" so if you are an FB person you may prefer to consume the blog over there.

Darndest things Nº 106

Marcus: OK, tell me something you're scared of.
Michael: Egyptian mummies coming alive.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From a Japanese map of the world, 1914

Why do I find this so unsettling?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The fishmeister

On the weekend, Marcus was invited to go out fishing on a boat, to celebrate his friend Ned's birthday. He had a fantastic time, and he caught 31 fish! In my whole life I have caught about half that - in fact my Order of Australia medal was "for dedication to increasing fish life expectancy". Here he is showing off part of his barracouta catch. He did catch a gummy shark, but "they had to throw it back because it fell on the, um, you know, floor, and got dirty".

Monday, December 13, 2010


My workmate Dean died in his sleep on Wednesday night. A couple of weeks ago, he'd had a heart attack. He managed to call the ambulance, which got him to intensive care in time to save him. He recovered in hospital, then had a few days rest at home. On Wednesday he was back at work for the first time, but he said he was feeling pretty tired. He didn't appear at work the next day. I was pretty busy and thought about him a few times, but I guessed he had gone back to hospital or something like that. No-one could raise him on the phone. Our boss Steve was pretty concerned, as Dean lived alone.

I had the day off on Friday. I played tennis early, then got a call from work on my way home to say that Dean's ex had found him. I went in to work to see if there was anything I could do. We only have about a dozen staff; Dean, Dave and I are the only designers. Steve, Craig, Jeff and Kath spent the morning calling people who knew Dean to tell them, and also calling clients to try to reschedule work. They were all pretty strung out after a few hours. It was very strange to hear them say "OK - can you come in on Monday and talk to Chris who will be taking over your project? ... I'm afraid Dean died on Wednesday."

We had a mini-wake for him at work that evening. I could tell that everyone was having trouble coming to terms with it. Because he was away for ten days already, his really-gone-ness will take time to sink in for everyone. People chatted about this and that, then someone would say something about Dean, then the conversation would move on. I didn't feel like there was any real acknowledgment that he wasn't coming back.

I sat diagonally opposite him at a group of tables in the middle of the room. (I'm having trouble getting the tenses right as I type this). He was a meticulous guy, very methodical with how he put things together and filed everything. He was quiet - worked with his headphones on a lot (like I do). He was a very, very good designer. I had worked side by side with him since the mid-nineties, and always aspired to have the sure hand with type and colour that he had. He was the most unpretentious guy - his best mates were all people he'd known for 30 years; fishermen, farmers and bikies.

Although I knew him a long time (and even went to his wedding way back), we only did one thing just together in that time. About six weeks ago we went to a careers evening put on by the professional association (that neither of us have ever joined), and spoke about what it's like to be crusty old graphic designers. We had a few beers and enjoyed each others company in a low-key blokey way.

He leaves behind 3 kids between 8 and 16, and a kelpie pup. He was only 48. I will be one of many at the funeral wishing I had taken the time to really get to know him better.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brazilian/Mexican Street View of the Week No. 4

This week's sleepy Mexican town is Yautepec de Zaragoza, Morelos State. Again, the street is pretty clean - note the broom. Netzahualcóyotl Street, just spell it like you say it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

His Grace, Bishop Michael


Last night I dreamed that Michael was a bishop. A six year old bishop. This wasn't particularly remarkable to the dreaming me. There were a series of stories where his bishopicality just happened to come in handy, the way that Felix's underpants just happened to come in very useful in every Felix's Amazing Underpants strip in Viz. I recall saying to Elf (in the dream) "... well, Michael is a bishop, so why don't we just ..." I don't recall his denomination.


The eldest son of the French king, in days of yore, was known as the Dauphin (literally Dolphin). In 1301 Edward I of England named his son and heir the Prince of Wales - a tradition that stands to this day. One is entitled to ask - "Hey kings, what's with the cetaceans?"

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

OK - panda up, everybody

If you want to work at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Centre in Wolong, China you have to be prepared to panda up. "The researchers wear panda costumes to ensure that the cub's environment is devoid of human influence."

Friday, December 03, 2010

Crime fiction

Crime novels are pretty much all the same aren't they? Mostly murders, and most of those always turn out to be serial killers, who taunt the investigators by leaving clues. Yawn. Lots of loose-cannon detective sergeants who don't do things by the book, but get results. They have to hand in their badge and gun after one too many controversies, but they solve the crime and clear their name. Double yawn. Police procedurals. Heists. Capers. Audacious swindles by international criminal masterminds - with lots of luxury brand names dropped in for good measure.

Well, forget all that. I am going to start a startlingly original stream of crime fiction, featuring mostly parking offences, vandalism and infringements of municipal noise-pollution bylaws. Look out for book one, Bin Kickers, in airport bookshops everywhere, this Christmas.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A cardboard turntable, as used by missionaries

INGENUITY 9·5 / 10

Simply put a pencil in the hole near the edge of the record label, and start spinnin'.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brazilian/Mexican Street View of the Week No. 3

This week we have shifted north to Mexico, specifically Ejutla de Crespo, in Oaxaca State, down south. I like to say the word "Oaxaca" since I heard someone say it properly. It's something like "Wahahka". What an adorable town to Street View around, am I right? Much less chance of being actually beheaded by drug lords than if you were really there, but unfortunately also you miss out on the chili and the riding a burro. And hearing "Dark Floyd", the grupo musical.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Labrador hat, and other Michael work

Michael just made this (ridiculously small) hat for Winston. What he's written on it is classic Michael, and makes me smile to an almost painful width.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Marcus: That's a really interesting podcast about zoos, Dad.
Michael: About Zeus, the king of the greek gods?
Marcus: No, zoos where you can go to see animals.
Michael: Oh. And there's also that tunnel in Egypt. In northwest, no, northeast Egypt. The Suez Tunnel.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Some Jokes
What do you call a cat with eight legs? An octo-puss.
What do you call a cat with one leg? A uno-leg cat.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Michael's idea for an unsinkable ship
"You take off one metal plate and fill the whole insides with ice. Then you put the plate back on. Then it will float. And if something hits the metal and goes through the metal, you'll still have lots of ice."

Marcus's first triathalon

After K-mart I had half an hour to put my feet up and see the start of Day 1 of the Ashes. [For the uninitiated, since 1877 England and Australia have played test cricket for a trophy called The Ashes. There are five matches that each go for 5 days, and the whole business happens every 2 years or so.]

Being able to watch the start of an Ashes series is pretty special - sometimes they start with a bang. This one did, with the England captain out for 0 in the first over, caught off the bowling of Ben Hilfenhaus, whose dad installed my dad's new taps. How about that, eh?

After about 4 overs of cricket it was time for me to go over the river to watch Marcus compete in a triathalon. He was the runner in a 3-man team, with Caleb (cyclist) and Ned (swimmer). There were umpteen different events - with individual and team races in all age groups, girls and boys. The school sent quite a big team. The venue was Bellerive beach, and the park alongside. I didn't realise how huge the whole thing would be until I got into Bellerive and realised that I would have to park about 10 minutes walk from the course.

When I got down there it was somewhat organised chaos. There is no vantage point where you can see even a third of the course - which made it hard for the kids to concentrate on cheering on their schoolmates. The park is broken up by stands of scraggy tea-tree, and to get from one spectator spot to another you had to clamber through these, sneak across the actual track, walk through marquees and dodge impromptu games of chasings, gumnut fights etc.

When it was time for their race, Marcus was pretty nervous. The race started with a swim of about 200 metres, then the swimmers ran ashore and into the "transition zone" of bike racks, and tagged the cyclist. They then had to run with their bikes to a point down the track where they were allowed to mount and pedal off, for a return journey of maybe 1 kilometre. Then they ran their bikes back in and tagged the runner, who ran uphill 500m then back downhill 500m to the finish.

I think there were about 30 or 40 teams. It turns out that for the Grade 3s the swimmers really only waded - the buoys were that close to shore. Unfortunately Ned stood on one of the anchors of the buoys, and the sore foot slowed him down. He was in the last third of the field when he tagged Caleb. Off he went and Marcus went to stand by the bike rack - very nervous. By the time Caleb came back he had moved the team up one or two places. Marcus steamed off very determinedly - he has a very expressive way of running, that leaves you in no doubt he is trying very hard. The course announcer was impressed enough to say "making up lots of ground there is, er, MARCUS REES of South Hobart".

He found running uphill pretty hard, but so did everyone else. Only one boy passed him, but Marcus caught and passed him back, and about four others too, including one just before the finish line. The team came 13th, a very good result for their first attempt.

Plastic world

I have had the last two days off, blissfully free of any mechanical farm equipment. I have still not really got the knack of enjoying these days off. There are always things that need doing that break the free time up in to small chunks. I guess it's good to get those things done, at least.

Yesterday I did some Christmas stocking-filler shopping at K-Mart. It is close to Elf's work, so after I dropped her off it seemed like the best place to go for inexpensive instant-fun style things. I don't go there much, and I was reminded why: K-Mart is awful.

I started by trying to find an ice-cream maker, which is Elf's request for Christmas. I covered the whole electrical goods area in vain. I hate asking for help in big shops, as in my experience the person you ask is always from a different department, and is actually less of an expert than you, as you've just combed the area twice. I asked the nearest staff member, a quite pleasant woman, and she said she would have to check with someone. My question was "do you stock ice-cream makers?" She relayed this to two invisible women having a whale of a time down a different aisle, unpacking stock or packing stock or something. She had to ask a couple of times to cut through the hilarity.

1st voice: Nah. Raincheck.
2nd voice: Na-ah-AH! We don't have em! Did he see it in the catalogue?
Pleasant woman: Did you see it in the catalogue?
Me: No. My wife rang to ask and was told you had them.
Pleasant woman: His wife rang to ask and was told we had them.
2nd voice: Well someone lied to 'er. Tell him someone lied to 'er!
Pleasant woman: Someone l...
Me (walking away): Great, thank you.

The other thing about K-Mart (same with Big W and anywhere else that sells $10 shoes) is the plastic smell. It just pervades everything. I go there, like everyone else, to buy cheap stuff, so I can hardly complain about this. But ... wow, it's just SO plasticky. I wonder if at some point these places will start getting hit with class actions from people who've worked there for years and breathed in heavy doses of poly this and ethyl that.

As I went through the checkout with my lego, crayons, notepads, torches etc, everything was put in a huge, unbranded white plastic sack. As if to say "We give up. Our identity is unimportant - just remember us as 'that plastic place'".

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grubby stormtrooper

Some years we find ourselves at the Christmas Pageant. This year we were there with Rob, Mel, Olivia, and Colleen. Without meaning to, we have become Parade Buddies. I often find myself next to Rob making up a commentary on the Anzac Day march, or at this somewhat lame pageant in mid November, which is ostensibly about Christmas.

It certainly has Christmassy features ; angels, people driving vehicles while wearing elf-hats, Santa as a finalé (no longer throwing lollies like he did once).

But there are plenty of head-scratchers. Some kind of Christian youth group pranced by dressed as non-specific "heroes" with capes. Then some Star Wars characters. Rob asked me at the end - so what was your favourite? And I was pretty stuck for an answer, so I went with the brass band that had gone by recently, wearing Boer War era spiked helmets. They were doing a kind of slightly dancy march as they played, which I thought captured the "neither this nor that" feel of the whole shebang. Their backs were straight and they were looking straight ahead but there was a bit too much knee flex and some hip swinging.

But now that I think about it, my enduring favourite is the Grubby Stormtrooper. Three or four stormtroopers went past, alternately waving gaily and taking up "put your hands up" stances, aiming their stun guns at the more grown-up members of the crowd (less likely to burst into tears). Three of them were all present and correct - very shiny and white. One of them looked like he had been asleep behind a shed for a month - just grubby and dusty.

I have honestly never seen more than a few bits of Star Wars - so maybe someone can fill me in. Did the stormtroopers ever get grubby? Or was there perhaps one particular ST who got around in this state? Was he perhaps credited at the end (just after Man Eaten By Sand Worm*) as Soiled Stormtrooper?

*Yes, wrong film, I know. That was in Bridges of Madison County

About halfway between Ham and Sandwich

Sandwich, Kent, UK. Where you will find Sandwich Mowers, the Sandwich Technology School, the Sandwich Bookshop and my favourite, The Secret Gardens of Sandwich. And just out of town along Sandwich Road you come to Ham.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I've Been Up To

I have been knocking myself out to get this animation done. The whole thing runs for about 2:45, and it has just taken me months to get it looking like this. I never intended the farmer to be a recognisable character at all, he was just supposed to be a shadow under a big hat bouncing along. Then I was asked to humanise him a little. Now he looks like Senator Barnaby Joyce.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Knackered 14 d Head 11

Our first win in three months! We are now back in the lower division. Last week we had a close loss, but this week we did everything right, passed pretty neatly, finished off accurately, and got the result. Nice.

Athletics boast-athon

The boys had a great night at Athletics on Wednesday. Michael threw himself into it and competed in everything, while Marcus set new personal bests in triple jump and turbo javelin.

Last week Michael was very reluctant to even do the warm up properly, but this time he joined in the swarm of kids and looked really at home. He is very confident socially and is always happy to invite himself into a group he doesn't know. There is one boy in his age group that he knows from school, that probably helps. He competed in everything this week - I was delighted.

I now have to try to keep an eye on both of them as they compete. It was easy at first the other night as they were doing jumps in adjacent sandpits. Marcus's personal best for the triple jump was a little under 6 metres - all three of his jumps beat that easily. Meanwhile Michael was leaping amazing distances in the long jump - he came second and beat the qualifying distance for the state finals!

Michael went from there to the 70 meter sprint, which he won. He was still in his school uniform, and wearing a badge that said SPELLING LEADER. "Hmm - bit of a running leader too" said the man who handed him the timing tape (the 1st placegetter always takes the tape from the official timer to the official recorder).

Shortly after this, while Michael was running the 200 meters (2nd) Marcus was winning the turbo javelin - he improved his personal best from 10 to 13 metres. I missed seeing it but it must have been an impressive throw.

Marcus got his first ever qualifier a few weeks back, in the walking race. He is now much more aware of qualifying standards as something to aim for. He's about 2 metres short in the turbo javelin, but he feels like he's got the knack now, and it might be do-able.

He's been really encouraging to Michael, and thrilled with his early success. He is quite proud of Michael generally. One of Marcus's age group who is a bit of a loudmouth, saw Michael's badge, and sneered "Spelling Leader? Huh - can you spell 'idiot'?" Michael just replied " I D I O T". Marcus stepped in and said "Michael - can you spell 'windscreen wipers' backwards? Michael did, at about the usual speed I would recite the alphabet. The loudmouth was silent. "He could do that when he was FOUR!" crowed Marcus, triumphantly.

Monday, November 15, 2010

7 kids and 7 grown-ups to dinner

The delightful Yuen-Smith clan from Melbourne are on an extended tour of Tasmania at present, and came by to have dinner with us last night. Vincent and Andy now have baby Tristan in addition to the 3 year olds Isabelle and Alistair (seen above looking nervously at Marcus's audacious constructions).

Fred was also over from Melbourne for the weekend, so we had thought we might as well have Imp and Ed and the girls over too and make it an all-in 14 person foodfest.

I think everyone had a grand old time except perhaps Winston - he spent a bit of time on the chain so he wouldn't freak out the twins. They had graduated to giving him cautious pats and then running away giggling, by the end of the evening. He was very good considering all the stimulation. What a top fella.

Brazilian Street View of the Week No. 2

This is in the backblocks of the same town I posted last week. The tiny place in the centre is a Pentecostal church.

Situation report: its very wet and very green

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Radio snob

Lately, when Lana comes over from next door to visit, she and Marcus go into his room, shut the door, and she puts on the radio. She favours a hits 'n' memories commercial station. Wierdly, I associate the muffled sound of radio ads and Whitney Houston with car workshops. When I burst through the door to find out what they are doing, I half expect them to be degreasing an engine block or spray-painting panels. So far, no luck.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Harbinger of the End Times

I was killing time leafing through an electrical catalogue, looking at the coffee machines.  DeLonghi make one that is so expensive, they are throwing in a free 60cm flat screen TV. Yes - you buy a coffee machine and they give you a TV. I only wish I was joking. Of course, it does have four different frothing settings.

On reflection, I'm pretty sure this is mentioned in the Book of Revelations as one of the omens indicating that the Apocalypse is at hand. The lion will lie down with the lamb, birds will fly backwards, the sea will join with the sky, and TVs will be given away free with small kitchen appliances.

Room swap

Fred is here, our first guest since Elf and I relocated to the former guest room at the front of the house. It's the nicest room really, but the computer desk and my drawing board are still in there so it's a little squeezy.

Fred's room is carpeted and has less traffic noise. Unfortunately it does have quite a bit of dog-romping-on-the-deck-at-dawn-with-a-plastic-milk-bottle noise. So the hound and I have just returned from a 1 hour walk around the hills. It is now 6.40am.

Our usual walk is up to the park behind the house, home to many rabbits. We started and finished up there this morning, and saw more than usual, due to the early hour. Winston's relationship with the rabbits is cordial. He takes a long time to notice them. They notice him and don't feel the need to act. If he is off the lead, he might swerve towards them a bit as he trots around, whereupon they skippity hop down a hole in a leisurely way. I imagine they'll exchange cards at Christmas.

Yesterday I had my weekly Economic Downturn Day at home. Just after everyone had left for school and work, as I was setting up Fred's room, I suddenly heard my boss Steve's voice. They were interviewing him on the radio about his plan for a new Tasmanian film/screen media body. It was quite strange. I half expected him to say "we have to get rid of the funding bottlenecks that have resulted in my staff spending one day a week at home tidying up their spare rooms".

This morning Michael is going to come along to Little Athletics to compete for the first time. That's the plan, anyway. Since his escapade we are trying to make sure he gets more exercise, and engages more with other kids. Elf has been taking Marcus and Michael to tae kwon do, and they are both getting into it. So far they have learned to block. They come home on Monday afternoons, blocking the house down.

POSTSCRIPT: Michael got cold feet once we arrived at Little Aths, but we made a deal that he would choose one event from the four and just do that, for starters. He chose the 100 metre dash, lined up happily when the time came, took it casually at about three-quarter pace and just missed out on first place by a nose. (21.2 sec for the record) He was delighted and did a lot of victorious arm waving. Hopefully next week I can negotiate two events.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


It's quiet on the blog. Sorry, I have been alternately busy and totally, totally drained. But in fantastic news, I have just realised that parts of Brazil are now on Street View. Such as, Ibirité, Minas Gerais state. I actually found this lovely corner using MapCrunch which throws up random locations in the nation(s) of your choice.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Michael escapes from school

We had a pretty mad day on Monday. I was at work at about two in the afternoon when Michael's teacher rang to say he had walked home, on his own. She had spoken to him on the phone, he was safe, and the school principal was in his car on the way up there.

Mrs P had noticed him missing when the bell went after lunch and asked around if anyone had seen him. One kid said something about an escape capsule - which sounds like a typical Michael make-believe lunchtime game. But he escaped alright. Mrs P was very shaken, thinking he might be hurt and maybe unconscious, around the school grounds somewhere. There is the rivulet just over the fence, and a busy road not far away.

She thought to ring our home number in case one of us had taken him home. Michael answered. At first he naively said he was hiding in the school grounds. Then he said Elf was home, but he couldn't find her. He told a number of lies. But at least he answered the phone and Mrs P knew he was in a (relatively) safe place. We never leave Michael at home alone, and he certainly is not allowed to walk around the suburbs on his own.

I was completely flummoxed when I got the call from Mrs P. I caught a cab home and found Michael out the front with the principal Mr T. I took Michael inside and quizzed him about it. I was fairly calm - I hadn't known he was missing until he was safely found, so I didn't have that adrenaline that can cause you to actually spank your kid out of sheer relief that they are OK. He was also calm, and showed dismay at being caught lying, but no indication he really felt bad.

I asked him to tell me how he had got home. He walked out the front of the school quite easily. There is no fence or gate. (I actually really like the openness of the school - I would hate a culture of fear to arise resulting in high walls and security guards or ID cards). He had walked up the main road, staying on the safer side of the street with less big side streets to cross. He had crossed the main road up near our house, where the visibility is good. He said he watched the traffic for two minutes before crossing.

When he got here he climbed in through the cat door. He has done this before and it would have been an integral part of his plan. Once in, he let Winston in, fed him (for some reason), and then settled down on the couch with a book, with Winston at his feet. The very picture of the six year old contented homebody. Then the phone rang.

By 3.15 Elf had picked up Marcus and heard all about it, so she came and picked up Michael and I, and took us all back to school for a conference with Mrs P and Mr T. Michael was told the error of his ways, particularly in breaking school rules and worrying everybody in the school. Elf and I felt dreadful for them because we had been spared the nerve-wracking worry, knowing nothing about it until he was safe.

What could we do as punishment? He's such a funny kid, relying on his internal resources so much. There is nothing much you can take off him or deny him, because it's just all up here [taps head]. We just made him go to bed on time, rather than sit up to watch Masterchef like Marcus. He went along with it, then when I went down a little later his light was on and he was on the floor reading a book. Not examining his conscience, resolving to be a good boy tomorrow - just reading a book. I did my block at him then.

On Tuesday he had to spend recess in the principal's office as his school punishment. After recess he was extremely naughty again and was sent back to the principal, who kept him in his office over lunch. This time he had poured a lot of expensive food dye into a box, ruined the box and wasted the dye. Beside his effort the previous day, it was probably the worst thing he has done in his 3 years of school, but he got off lightly because it now seemed comparatively minor.

It's all so weird. He has obviously done the wrong thing. He said he did it for no other reason than that he doesn't like school and he wanted to be at home. But it has to be said he did it with aplomb. He had a plan, he followed it carefully - and he did answer the phone. It could all have ended so dreadfully in so many different ways. He does really not understand the dangers, and the fears he struck in the hearts of everyone at school. And because he doesn't understand I don't think there's really any remorse.

At least Wednesday was a quiet day with no reported dramas or mutinies.

Friday is pyjama day

Due to some minor cash flow problems, my work has opted to put everyone on a 4 day week for the forseeable future. I will not actually sit around in my pyjamas - I'm going to try to make it a productive day at the drawing board, and I'll still go down to school and do Chess Club. I'll probably add a dressing gown for that, and perhaps a cravat and pipe.

Over the last few years our small business has come to depend on sales of our online learning activities to school boards over in the UK - since the election in May we haven't sold a single one. The new government halved the education budget.

Losing 20% of my work was a bit of a shock, but better than if they sacked three people, which was the alternative. If it hasn't turned around by the end of February I will have to go back to go-go dancing in clubs. Lucky I didn't throw out the spangly pants.

Mammal workshop

This evening Hattie and Winston and I had a mammal workshop. As senior mammal I facilitated, and both the others really took on board what I was asking of them, stretched themselves, took ownership of their dog/catness and made some meaningful steps, going forward.

Essentially I sat next to Hattie on the bed, Winston came over, and without them realising it I rubbed Winston's ear with Hattie's tail for a while. It was awesome. I guess they both thought "Hmm - that must be some other furry part of me".

Curry, the Musical

One day I will get around to writing my hit Bollywood/Broadway crossover musical about curries, featuring the showstopper I'm Only Human, I Used Too Much Cumin.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

7 years bad luck

Elf has an ornate silver hand mirror. I was moving huge armfuls of stuff from room to room on the weekend, and the mirror was on top of one of the armfuls. "Hmm - that's probably not a good idea" I thought, and carried on anyway. It fell, it broke, a wide crack straight across the middle.

So now I look like this.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


You've got your No-Break Space, your Ogham Space Mark, your Mongolian Vowel, and my favourite, the Zero Width Non Joiner.

Space - it's the final frontier, y'know.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A regular afternoon

Some people, such as astrophysicists and parents of school age children, live in a world where, at any time, someone might exclaim "I have a perfect idea for a space probe!" and then rush out of the room. I am happy to be living in this world.

Marcus' script outline, 2-7-2010

If I could make a movie it would go like this. Once upon a time in a land far far away there was a monkey. Monkey was this monkey's name. Monkey got drunk and placed a bet of 1000 monkeyroos that he would fly to the moon in one year. So he built a spaceship, and flew to the moon but the suckion pads got stuck fast and Monkey sufforcated as well as lost the bet.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dog heaven, nightmarish forklifts

Thursday was the Royal Hobart Show public holiday, so we decided to skip Friday, call it a 4 day weekend, and drive 5 hours north to Mum and Dad's. For added companionship, laughs and dribble, we decided to take the largest labrador with us.

We made our first stop at Brighton, just 20km from home, to give Winston a run around and some fresh air. We don't have a trailer or one of those roof-pods, so our luggage was squashed in on one side of the boot, leaving the rest for him. We were pretty keen that he not get any bodily fluids on the bags.

In fact he was a terrific traveler. Apart from chewing through two leads, he was an angel back there. We didn't need to stop nearly as often as we had imagined. We did get a better idea of the good places to stop with a dog. News Flash - these are not necessarily places that will also do a good macchiato. Think "empty football ground with a tap".

Mum and Dad were glad to see us all. It's been a while since we were up there. After a cuppa we headed for the beach with Winston. He just loved it to bits. He has only been to Dog Beaches, where the primary activity is walking dogs - there are too many dogs, too many people, and he's not allowed off his lead. On Turners Beach the tide always seemed to be out, so there was acres of flat sand, a nice warm tidal lagoon to splash in, our boys to romp with and occasionally other free range dogs to be doggy with. He was very happy.

Despite this, he was also pathetically keen to go home. He has never in his enormous life jumped up into the back of the car before. After we had been away about a day, he saw someone open the boot, and in a flash he was in it, and ready to go home. We had to drag him out.

On Friday we all went along to Ulverstone where Mum had lined up hiring some pedal cars. We had a four seater which was really fun, and a one-seater which the boys both had a go on. Then we all went into Burnie, walked Winston up and down the boardwalk there, and ate chips for lunch. I had thought at one point there would be fish, but the chips were so good I didn't mind. Nightmarish giant forklifts heaved shipping containers about on the wharf. I thought of the "Stevedores Advice" that used to be read out on the radio - a long string of numbers to tell the dockers who had a day's work. The workforce would be down 90% now on those times.

Dad took Winston for another walk while Mum showed us around the Makers Workshop, of which she is a bit of a star. Her life-size Paper People are featured exhibits, and she was hugged by half the (real) people in the place.

Burnie has outlived its manufacturing past, and now its major industry is tourism. There is a valiant attempt to use the relics and legacy of the paper industry as an attraction. As manufacturing dies out across the country, its novely value grows, I guess. The Makers Workshop is terrific, inside.

I grew up in Burnie and can get very nostalgic there. I was tempted to arrange a half day off on my own nostalgicising around town, but wistfulness is fairly unproductive. The Makers Workshop opened in the refurbished building that was once my kindergarten. That burned down almost immediately after, and has now been replaced by a blank-faced piece of work, that actually compares unfavourably to the 1960s orange brick highrise flats opposite. My old primary school was knocked down and replaced by a Harvey Norman. Since then the hospital where I was born has been knocked down and Harvey Norman has opened there.

We scurried back out to Dad and Winston before the chewed-through-and-knotted-back-together lead came apart.

On Saturday we left Winston with his grandparents, and drove west to visit our secretve friends X and Y and their girls, at their new home in the tiny country townlet of F. The 4 kids just swung into things as if they see each other all the time. X and Y have a back yard the size of a footy field, with a cow paddock over the distant back fence. It was blustery and cold, and the kids' sideways hair and red cheeks and ears reminded me of my family's photo album documenting our childhood outings to similar windy up-country places. They were all happy though, talking to the cows, then coming in and playing board games, then going back to the cows.

The family are loving being back in Tasmania. X is a very interesting and opinionated guy, fun to toss ideas around with. He would be a terrific teacher for bright kids. He found teaching at a private school on the sunny Queensland coast hard going - the kids just didn't see what they had to gain from school. It was keeping them from their jet-bikes. Y is one of the kindest people I have met - she just radiates goodness. And she makes awesome brownies.

The following day we hit the road after breakfast, got home around 2-ish, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing to re-enter the real world. We had missed soccer, Little Athletics, Milo Cricket and puppy school. but it was certainly worth it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lego God

By Michael.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Late nite lawn bowls

We have just had an excellent long weekend away staying at my Mum and Dad's at Turner's Beach. There was dog-enhanced beach romps:

and there was lawn bowls on TV in the evening. Dad has been promoted to skip of his bowls team, and he was boning up on tactics and strategy by watching the Ladies Queensland Open final, between a 50ish Filipina lady and a 17 year old emo chick from Yallourn.

I am mentioning this mostly because the young lass was a bit of talker. Some players talk to their bowls after they have delivered them to encourage them into the right spot. Some times it can be a little bit fruity, like "Get in, you bugger!" Or "Stop, stop, STOP dammit!"

She just said "Come on, lawn bowl!" a few times. And it worked - she may be the first ever Queensland Ladies Champion to go out and get a celebratory tatt.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Trashy is a style

While Marcus and I played soccer and Michael and Winston climbed about up the back, our 8yo and 9yo girl neighbours were sharing the headphones on an iPod.

8 yo: Her music is good but she's kind of... trashy.
9 yo: Yes. Trashy is the right word. But... I guess trashy is a style.
8 yo: Yes, trashy is a style.

Chessfest 2010

That rant below about music started out as an account of our day at the chess tournament. South Hobart was represented by Marcus, Avon, Angela and Oscar. We arrived at nine, and after some kerfuffle things got going at tennish. The kids each played nine games (plus a few practice games before hand and at lunchtime) and the whole thing wrapped up around four. It was quite intense.

There were maybe 200 kids involved from all over Tasmania. There are two parallel competitions in the same hall - Open High School and Open Primary. Some of the high school kids were just enormous, quite a bit taller than me, and I am 6 foot. I remember from last year how strange it is to spend a whole day in the same room with kids that age.

Last year South Hobart came 14th of 18 schools, so we certainly weren't going in to it feeling any pressure to perform. I was very pleased with the goals Marcus set for himself and the team - modest improvements on last year. He won 3 games and drew 2 in that tournament.

Yesterday he won his first two, and I think that set him up to enjoy the day, even though he lost the next three. After five rounds Oscar had a win and a draw, and the other three had two wins each - a very even contribution from everyone.

The event was hosted by Launceston Grammar school, the same as last year. My Dad actually attended back in the fifties. Although it is a swanky private school, its located in the working-class suburb of Mowbray. Marcus and I went for a walk in the sun during the lunchbreak, and the difference in culture once we left the gracious grounds was significant. On the corner next to KFC is Dave's Noodles, and just across the road, the Dilligaf Café. Noice.

The school is on a hill, overlooking the broad mudflats and marshes of the Tamar river. It may have many fine qualities but it is not a handsome waterway. Closer in to the city there has been a lot of development around the old river port, with an attempt to work with the maritime theme. I was very amused to see a fine dining restaurant there called Silt. I'm pleased to see they are embracing the unavoidable.

After lunch the team really finished the day off well, getting seven points from a possible 12. Marcus and Oscar improved on their results last year, and Avon and Angela did very well in their first efforts at this level. Although we had an extra player last year, our team score was slightly better this year.

One thing that is ridiculous at all tournaments I've been to is the way the playing rosters are put up. After all matches in a round are completed, the organisers do some calculations, and work out who should play next, and on which table.

Then, in a large hall full of 200 kids ranging in size from tiny Grade 2s girls to lads with beards (who row in the first eight and drive cars) the organisers put up ONE a4 sheet at each end of the hall - often on the doors. Cue the stampede. At one stage I was coming in from outside, and as I opened the door about 20 young people staggered forward into the light, as though magnetically attracted by the roster.

Rather than calming the situation, the organisers then get up on the stage while the smaller and more timid are still trying to get a look at the roster, and say "Get a move on please, the next round will start in 2 minutes! If your opponent has not arrived by then you can start their clock". Cue mild panic attacks and some light shoving.

To their credit the organisers did try to wrap things up quickly this year. We stayed to see the big trophies and medals handed out, then drove home. On the way we stopped at Campbell Town for dinner at a new place called Burger Me. 1/10 for the name but the food was actually very good.

The sound of the square root of -1

Yesterday Marcus and I went north to Launceston with the school chess team, to compete at the State Finals. Rodney and Avon picked us up at 6am. I had practically no sleep, due to my DTCR sleep disorder - known to the layman as Don't Trust the Clock Radio. At some primitive crocodile-brain level, I have to wake up and check the time about every twenty minutes.

Rodney is a very nice and interesting guy. We listened to music on the way up, and on the way back, he and I subjected the boys to a quiz which turned into a maths lecture from Rodney. After each bit petered out, Avon would actually say "Dad, can you give us another lecture?" By the time we approached Hobart he was expanding on the nature of unreal numbers, such as the square root of -1.

I enjoyed Rodney's taste in CDs on the 3 hour drive. He's into primitive blues and the White Stripes. He actually took his 3 kids and partner Beck to see the Stripes. Which made me wish I was a rock dad, pogo-ing to The Dirty Three as my admiring family look on, thinking "Dad is the coolest".

I am keen to introduce my kids to the music I like. When I was a kid, I could go through my parents' LPs and learn something about music without even listening. By the age of 11 if someone said "Dave Brubeck", I could namecheck at least four albums. On a much less cool level, I was an admirer of the packaging design exhibited by Mum's Nana Mouskouri boxed set. I didn't know much about the music itself, its true. Of course you could fake it thanks to liner notes. Albums then had a whole essay on the back. Especially jazz CDs - without actually putting the record on, you knew that on track 3 "Bones on alto and Red on tenor kick it off in 3/4 with a solid backing from Jackie, who then moves up front with one of his smoking solos. Joe takes over with alternating bars of 7/8 and 4/4 before Bones brings it on home in 3/4, riffing on Tiger Rag and the theme from Huckleberry Hound".

My CDs are not hidden away, but they are still up out of easy kid reach, where they were moved when Marcus was about one. I have put some music on his iPod, and he has favourites, but he tends to use it more to play games than listen. In any case, having someone select an "appropriate" playlist for you is a far cry from just being let loose in a lifetime's collection of vinyl. Marcus may have heard Slop by Charles Mingus, but he hasn't pored over his album sleeves, seen his funny little beard or wondered at his penchant for crazy titles.

I think Rodney is doing a much better job than I in communicating his love of music to his kids. The music I like has a similar status in our house to that which Dad's pipe smoking had in when I was little - it's a weird, hard to explain and somewhat secretive indulgence. Just now Elf came upstairs and caught the last minute of Leave Them All Behind by Ride. To my ears, those sixty seconds are a triumphant culmination of one of the great thumping noise-fests of the longhair shoe-gazing Brit guitar era, circa 1995. Maybe the sound of the square root of -1. Whereas Elf thought there was something horribly wrong with one of our appliances somewhere.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dirt expert

On the subject of research, yesterday Michael asked me "What atoms are in dirt? Is there ... soilium?" And that's why he's actually a cartoon character. Someone is writing this kid's material.


Michael discovered, named and documented the above particles, during a sustained period of research over a couple of days. Using the usual mixture (cocoa beans, white rice, dog hair and dust) and the usual method (looking at it through the wrong end of the binoculars) he has come up with some really stunning results.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Trouble on the panel

There have been a number of resignations this week and it's put a dent in the panel, I can tell you. In the recent federal election one panellist stood for a seat, and got up. Last time she attended the panel, she had the floor and she announced that she was taking concrete steps. Incredibly she's already sitting in the cabinet and earnestly supporting the PM's platform. I am now considering her for the board, and assuming her seat is safe it's possible she may end up as Chair.

We lost another who was recently called to the bar, and very quickly promoted to the bench. Of course, once on the bench he could not continue to sit on the panel. He's far too busy now, with a bookcase full of casebooks.

In my absence last week my deputy, the Pole, sat in as Chair. His English is a little strange and it took hours to sort out the minutes. When I moved that we accept them no-one would second. I said I felt strongly that this was a bit weak and roused the panel out of their daze. I do try to be a firm chair, but things became uncomfortable, so I couched my views in gentler terms and got some traction.

Although things are unstable currently, hopefully as Chair I will have legs.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My word for the day is: panel

Now, it's hardly breaking news that words are kind of funny. Certain winsome evening local radio hosts seem to think they invented this concept, and I want to stress that I am under no such illusion. But I think I have something to offer nevertheless.

I'm on a panel. I'm sitting on the panel. In fact I am the chair of the panel. The panel is electing the board. I am the chairing the panel to elect the board. I cannot sit on the board because I am sitting on the panel. I may have mentioned that I am the chair. If someone wants to know who's chairing - I am. It's me. Who will chair the board is not for me to say.

In further news, my friend John has applied to be chair of the board. I have tabled his application for chair. He would be passing up an exciting opportunity on the Foreign Desk, but he says the Desk understands his passion to be chair of the board. The panel will sit this evening. I may or not chair, it depends if we can get a sitter. The deputy chair (who is a Pole) may have to stand in as chair, with the concomitant language problems.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

In the Shade of the Giraffe

I think that's the title of a lost Wilbur Smith thriller. On Sunday we caught the train into Spencer Street Station [not called that anymore] stuffed stuff into a storage locker, and caught another train to the zoo. A woozy Collingwood supporter who hadn't been to bed yet wobbled on to our train, and addressed the carriage at large. "HOW ARE YERS?"

It was a stunner of a day, actually pretty hot, and we hadn't packed all that well for a day out in the open under such conditions. (As we flew over Tasmania on the way up, the western peaks were still blanketed with snow). We had hats for the boys but not us, no sunscreen, and long pants all round. The zoo was crowded due to the great weather and it being the last day of the local school holidays. We managed to get around all the must-sees, with many rest stops on the way. Any shaded seats or bits of lawn were solidly occupied, so we ate our lunch on a nice pile of bark.

We were lucky to be there only about two weeks after the latest baby elephant was delivered. Still un-named, he was drawing massive crowds, and probably doubled the zoo attendance off his own bat. We queued for about 25 minutes to get a look at him, but then we had a good 10 minutes up fairly close, watching him scamp about with his mum and auntie. Baby elephants look hairy.

Elsewhere, the giant tortoise was sitting with his face resting on the fence. Kids patted his shell and even his head. I thought he might have been midway through a slow motion escape attempt, commenced some time in the Menzies era. Apart from the butterflies who sometimes land on your shoulder, the tortoises are the only touchable zoologicals in the place.

We saw those zany flatmates, the zebras and giraffes. The Melbourne zebras are strangely brown- rather than black-and-white, as if they are photographs fading in the sun. I love the Hills Hoist-style winch for getting the basket of food up the pole to the right height for the giraffes. The lions looked very, very tired, as usual. I shared their sense of ennui - by the orangutans, Michael and I were both just sitting quietly while Elf and Marcus made the most of the critters on show. In fact I was getting a kick out of just watching the people. Tattoos were ubiquitous.

We left a little earlier than originally planned due to simple exhaustion. Climbed on a train back to the city, unstuffed stuff from locker, got to the airport with a few hours to kill, ate cardboardy airport food for dinner, then flew home. My last sight of Melbourne was another happy Collingwood fan, jogging down the concourse and bantering with a group of nuns.

Backlog, belfry, buttered scone

I have a fair bit of catching up to do here. Some days you just don't feel up to relating events in pithy bite-size pieces, and its easier just to skip the whole thing.

The main excitement lately has been a flying family visit to Melbourne for Ash and Trish's wedding last weekend. We flew over on Saturday morning and back on Sunday evening. Saturday was all about the wedding, and Sunday was entirely taken up with a trip to the zoo for the kids' benefit. I apologise to readers in that neck of the woods that we didn't arrange to hook up - it was just not that sort of trip this time I'm afraid.

We used public transport, but it took a lot of fiddling and little pick-ups and drop-offs by our hosts Di and Craig to make it work. Bus from the airport to the city, two trains then a lift from the station to D & Cs, then a lift to the wedding service, taxi back to D & Cs, lift to the reception, lift home, lift to the station in the morning, two trains to the zoo, then train and bus to the airport. Yep, I think we should have hired a car.

The groom, Ash, is one of Elf's favourite cousins, and also Marcus's godfather. Elf has a stack of cousins and Ash invited them all, which was very generous, but probably easier than picking and choosing. The wedding service was in the traditional family church in the eastern suburbs, where Elf's grandad was laid to rest just a few months ago. The minister was young and groovy, and the whole thing went off hitchlessly. Ash looked dashing, Trish looked delightful, and everyone looked pretty happy with them finally tying the knot. They are both in the region of 30 and have been together eight years.

Afterwards there was tea and scones in the vestry (or the sacristy, or possibly the belfry - an adjoining churchy room) and there was a tiny playground to keep the kids from going out of their minds. I was slightly going out of mine as we were all missing the AFL grand final Mark II - after the original finished in a thrilling tie a week earlier.

Digressing into football briefly: in minor finals when the score is tied at full time, extra time is played to break the deadlock. But the Grand Final is the exception - if it is tied the whole game is replayed a week later. This of course causes all sorts of havoc, as events that were carefully scheduled for after football season, suddenly clash with the main event of the football season. At least, having gone past earlier on the train, I can say I have seen the MCG on Grand Final day.

So there I was in the churchy room eating scone No. 3 and wishing I had some slight idea how the game was going. As the reception was not starting until after the football, I hustled the family into a cab and got us back to D & Cs for the second half. As you probably all know by now, even in Arkansas and Mauritius, the Pies had the Saints on toast by that stage, and romped it in by about ten goals.

The boys stayed behind to eat pizza with Di and Craig and their boys Max and Tom, and Di dropped Elf and I at the reception at Wattle Park. It was in a large dining hall. We were all wondering what this big old slightly down-at-heel building used to be, if it was maybe a private home set in enormous grounds or something. It turns out it was actually built in the twenties to be the function centre and tea rooms it still is. It was at the end of the tram line then, and considered to be a day out in the countryside, pretty much. FUN FACT: Barry Humphries says it used to serve the best buttered scone in town. The toilets were called cloakrooms. You can bet Barry would have actually turned up in a cloak, if no-one else.

Dinner was a salmon/lamb/salmon/lamb kind of affair. I had quite a few Prickly Moses boutique beers and don't remember the food all that well, but I seem to have spent a lot of time wishing I'd got what Elf had. The lady on my other side was from Geelong and didn't have all that much to say. I thought the speeches were pretty good, but Elf is harder to please. She gave my speech at our wedding a 4. She's a tough audient. But she gave Ash's brothers 9/10 for their work as MCs. There was a live band who were pretty good. We all agreed that it's strange wedding bands always play 80s music, no matter the age of the couple. I suggested that maybe the 80s simply had the the Best Music, full stop.

We had planned to walk back to D & Cs (and had brought our sturdy shoes in a bag) because it didn't look far on the map. In reality, Wattle Park is huge and the function centre was deep within down a long and windy road. So we called Di and she rescued us. Although she had always wanted to look inside the building, she wouldn't go in as she was wearing trackie dacks.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Seen Pant's new book?

People often ask me, "Who is your favourite author of incredibly heavy Indian cookbooks?" And I always answer "Pushpesh Pant". (To be honest, they only ask me because I ask them to ask me. Because I just love saying "Pushpesh Pant".)

Friday, September 24, 2010

My pregnable soccer team

My soccer team have been promoted after winning the grand final a few months back. However we are struggling in the big league. We have lost every game, and the nadir was two successive weeks when we failed to score. And I don't mean 1-0 or 3-0, try 11-0 and 17-0. Last week we conceded 25 goals, but finally got on the scoreboard ourselves, losing 25-7.

Both my big toes are just about worn out, the joints have only got about 25% of their flex left. On Friday night this guy on the other side twice did an interesting manoeuvre when I was trying to tackle him - he blocked me with his spare foot and managed to bend back my toes. He got both big toes and the toes next to them. They are now purple, and I am probably going to lose one of my big toenails. They were up something like 13-2 at that point, so it's not like it was desperation time.

The team is getting older all the time - our newest addition to the team just turned 45. When we get hurt it takes us a lot longer to get back to playing than it used to. Over the weekend as I hobbled around I certainly thought a lot about retiring. Each roster follows on immediately from the the one before, and that seems to make it harder to get off the roundabout. My bruises have mended enough over the last few days that I have already offered my services to keep goal if required this week. It's really very hard to stay away.