Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wave ski encounters actual waves shock

Today we took the ski down to Kingston again, and this time, we braved the tiny waves. Elf and I both took it out into the drink, and both found it very stable and fun to scoot about in. I was dinking Marcus at one stage, when we were just drifting and watching a surf club event - a race for kids about Marcus' age. The kids paddled out, we watched, then I was distracted by something else. Next thing I knew, a horde of children were paddling right at us, as we had drifted onto the course. Ulp.

My best time for strapping the ski to the car is now down to about 25 minutes.

Return to the golf ball graveyard

Rob and I went back to the scene of our crimes against golf, the Forcett Lakes course. Last time the "lakes" were low and swampy - yesterday everything was looking more established, and the lakes were genuinely lakesome.

Each time I play golf I try, just once, to tee off with a wood. And as I retrieve the ball from up a tree, or the carpark, or pull out a new ball, I reflect that, no - I still can't do that. I teed off at the first (long straight par 4, small lake right in front of the tee) with the 1 wood, and blasted the ball at worm height straight into the lake. Considered throwing the clubs in after it but pulled myself together eventually. On the other hand Rob successfully teed off with a wood for the first, second and third times in his life.

The club now has a Snack Wagon - the management jump in a little unit and motor out to wherever hungry or thirsty players might be. They brought us chocolate bars out on the 5th fairway. Bloke said he's planning to rename it the Tucker Truck.

We both played some nice shots on the way round - just often enough to leave us keen to do it again this summer. But generally, and I have to be honest, we were rubbish. Utterly disgraceful. I just can't keep my head down, and I think my wrists are a little floppy. But I did just edge out Rob by 2 shots, so that was something.

Friday, January 29, 2010

WW1 dazzle ships

From an exhibition at Rhode Island School of Design (documented here).
The father of camouflage, Abbott Thayer described animal coloration as a way to conceal or disrupt an object. Dazzle is disruptive (think of a zebra). French artists developed military camouflage in World War I. Ships were hard to camouflage against U-boats because the sea and sky were always changing and of the smoke they produced. Norman Wilkinson, a marine painter who was in the Royal Navy, is credited with being the first to develop dazzle camouflage for ships. The Royal Navy allowed him to test his idea. When the test went well Wilkinson was told to proceed, however, he was given no office space. So he went to his alma mater the Royal Academy and was given a classroom. Wilkinson hired Vorticist Edward Wadsworth to be a port officer in Liverpool, England and oversee the painting of dazzle ships. In 1918, Wilkinson came to United States to share his dazzle plans. 1,000 plans were developed through this partnership.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Word cloud - last three months of blogging

No surprises really. Looks like I am overusing the word "just". Make your own clouds here at Wordle.

Stuff I learned from podcasts #5

"On every British nuclear submarine, there is a safe. Inside that safe is another safe. And inside that safe is a handwritten letter from the British Prime Minister, to be opened only if the country has been decimated by nuclear war."
From a BBC radio documentary called "The Human Button" (click to download/listen). Should the sub commander retaliate if Britain is annihilated? Surrender? Sail to Australia or America and operate under that government's direction? The letter will provide the answer. Totally fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Salty sea dog

Today was the Australia Day holiday. This morning I spent over an hour experimenting with tying down the wave ski and paddle. We were not actually going anywhere, so I didn't feel any pressure to get it right straight away. After workshopping it for a while I have finally mastered state-of-the-art ratchet technology, and I feel I am now a proficient user of my tie-downs.

Once it was all trussed up and not going anywhere, we had a chat about maybe all going to the beach. But we were all enjoying just flopping about at home, so we didn't.

I then fell asleep reading a book and generally slipped in and out of consciousness for an hour or so. My inner Solo Man took over and I decided to take the wave ski down to Browns River... alone!

Before I turned off Beach Rd to get to the river, I saw flocks of proud Australian youth, with Aussie flag sombreros, cloaks, bikinis etc, walking to and from the beach. Recently Australia Day has become an over-the-top nationalistic beano, with a booze-fueled anti-social aspect that just makes you want to spend the day at home. Most of the kids were just having a good time, but there are always those aggressive over-revving hoon units cruising around as well.

I was pleased to see the wave ski was still on top of the car when I got there. I got it off and in the water, worked out a nifty way to leave the tie-downs on the car with the ends locked inside and squished safely by the back windows, and paddled happily up and down the river for about an hour.

On one side is a golf course, but on the other is a series of houses backing onto the water. Some are fancy new places, some are older and done up, some are pretty much untouched renovators' delights. Their various attitudes to the river were interesting - some are very engaged with it, with jetties and boats or kayaks pulled up - others have just fenced it off.

In the distance the pub's PA thumped as a cover band murdered Centrefold by the J. Geils Band. Between the riverside houses I could see cars and kids streaming up and down Beach Rd. I imagine the beach probably looked like Bondi, with a towel every three feet, umpteen games of cricket, volleyball and beach soccer, and record levels of horny teen perving.

Meanwhile the serenity on the river was blissful. An old bloke watering his plants on the back porch wished me a good afternoon. Some kids up on the road saw me and yelled "Happy Australia Day". I did not see another soul on the water.

The river here is tidal, and pretty salty. By the time I got back to the car and got the ski back on top, I was feeling very much the salty sea dog. Now, the next step is getting Elf off with the wave ski on her own so she can have a good long paddle too. It's a different business entirely when you are not hurrying back before the kids get bored.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wave ski ahoy

After Michael's party was over, we took the Elf's wave ski out for the first time. We went to Browns River, a quiet stretch upstream a bit from Kingston Beach. This is where we did some rowing in the Tub a few weeks ago. Elf had a go, disappeared around a bend and seemed for a while to be gone forever. When she came back she took Marcus for a dink.

Then I had a turn. It is very easy to balance and easy to paddle, and I really enjoyed it. I'm sure it could get uncomfortable after half an hour though - I bought a backrest to go with it but we haven't bothered with that yet. I would happily have paddled away for longer but the boys were amusing themselves in the sticky mud by the river, and I thought it would only be a matter of time before someone cut their foot on a shell. In fact, Michael had already cut himself in a few places but he hadn't noticed. Felicity then took it off for a go, to prove that even Canberra grandmothers can do it.

Then we loaded the wave ski back on the car, had a quick swim at the beach and headed home. I had to take this pose-eriffic pic below - here is our watersports equipment on our expensive roofrack at the beach - we are the complete leisure kings! The sandy wave ski pulled up on the grass at home is also a good look. We are going to get some 2nd hand wetsuits and hang them inside out all around the yard, then start putting lemon juice in our hair for the full effect.

We have yet to master the whole tie-down business. It was bit of a blight on the afternoon, to be honest. With practice I hope we will just be doing it in our sleep and spending all that time paddling serenely, rather than sweating and swearing while wrestling with ratchets.

Michael turns six

Yesterday Michael turned six and we had (another) party at home for him. Last year was his first birthday that he actually seemed keen on - although even then he took some time to warm up. Yesterday he was on song right from the start.

He actually slept in. When we snuck in to check on him, he threw back the covers and said "Aha, I am six!" Due to our busy night on Friday we had not really organised anything, so we had to get presents opened and breakfast into everyone with a bit of haste. Elf (our presents-meister) had got him a book on Egyptian archaeology, and a book of very detailed classical paintings, where you have to find particular things in them. (Elf's mum Felicity pointed out that in general, no-one bothers with detail in paintings these days).

Around ten, visitors started arriving - we had six of Michael's schoolfriends with their big and little siblings and parents. We had a treasure hunt which somehow involved making animal noises - that seemed to go off OK. While Elf was hiding things around the garden for that, I supervised the destruction of a dinosaur piñata. I am not a big piñata fan to be honest, but this one went off reasonably well. Apart from that everyone just amused themselves. There was loads of very low-effort food, although Felicity made a beaut strawberry volcano cake to a design dictated by Michael. In a minor brain-fade I ordered 2 doz sausage rolls from the bakery, even though I KNEW they were the big ones. $48 worth of sausage rolls.

Michael scored some more nice loot; everyone seems to shop at the same two or three shops. Renee and Sophie made a great card - it featured two of Michael's favourite things: scorpions crawling up a volcano. Scout brought Michael a pot of carnivorous plants - they have already started taking their toll on our flies.

Bashed neeps

Our friends Cam and Sarah invited us along to the Robbie Burns Dinner and Céilidh on Saturday. Cam is a piper in the Highland Pipe Band, and they have this dinner annually to raise money.

The MC was a bit of a clown, and not very Scots, but I admired the way he had read up on the whole thing on Wikipedia and was happy to read bits out to the gathering. He also revealed that the City of Hobart Highland Pipe Band wear the Brodie tartan. I assumed this would be on account of its patron or founder being a Brodie. He went on to say that in fact a job lot of Brodie tartan had fallen off a truck some time back in the seventies. Excellent.

Some Brodie tartan, yesterday.

There was a great deal of kilt action, a few swords and plenty of dancing. The haggis was piped in, then Burns' Address to a Haggis was declaimed, during which the haggis was stabbed and sliced with a dagger. According to the menu, the entree was "Haggis warm reeking, rich wi' Champit Tatties, Bashed Neeps". I'd never had haggis before but I really enjoyed it - I am a big fan of sausages and meatloafs and I suppose its a distant cousin of such things. The main was basically roast everything with a tiny space left on the plate for beans. The whole night was very enjoyable - we even got out on the floor for the Eightsome Reel. We didn't stick around long, as we actually had to get to the supermarket on the way home, to get a few things for Michael's birthday party the next day.

I can honestly say I love the sound of a good pipe band. There was a lot of talk last night of how the pipes were banned by the English as a "weapon of war" - everyone is very proud of that. They certainly do get your blood up - I would have happily fixed bayonets and gone over the top, after a few tunes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The zewort unellral

Drawing by Marcus, with (of course) long winded explanation:
The zewort unellral is like a butterfly whose wings tell a story. Its nose has a zapper in it. You go and find it if you have a problem, and its wings will show the answer to a "which one" type question, eg "did this happen or did that happen". When you ask, the zapper shoots out a zap of ziner power cells which point to another zewort unellral, then it will ask you a different question. This will keep on a going until a zewort unellral points to tree, whose markings will tell you the answer. The drawing on the right is a close-up of a ziner power cell.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Four wonders of the world

Michael had drawn the orange and yellow thing but not yet labelled it, so I asked him what it was. He couldn't remember what it was, or which book he had seen it in. I ran him through a few obelisk-y possibilities, and he settled for the Washington Monument.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Marcus and Michael news

The boys have not had much of a run in the blog lately.

The nephews went home on Tuesday - our boys were pretty much in their thrall for the full two weeks. Often they paired up thus: Marcus (7) and Malachy (6) playing Monopoly, cricket or trampoline soccer, while Brinley (17) and Michael (5) played tickles, chasings or trampoline soccer. But they all spent a lot of time in other configurations.

Brin generally acted as foreman for the littles, while Elf and I (the management) put food on the table, washed clothes and drove the car. Now the boys have gone back to NSW it's actually nice to be our boys' first choice (well, second at least) grown up.

Marcus and I are now playing backyard cricket on even terms. Last summer he scored double what I scored for the same shot. He was very keen to have parity this summer, and is continuing to improve. He does not have much of a range of shots, but he has a very good eye and gets to the pitch of the ball very well. He then tends to play a falling-over-sweep shot and often ends up on all fours, but Rome wasn't built in a day. I myself like to play a forward defensive shot pretty much straight out of the MCC textbook. This garners very few runs but feels great, and I generally keep this up until nightfall.

While we are doing this Michael is either digging a hole, reading something factual, drawing a diagram or hopping like an amphibious bandicoot. He is currently very interested in Italy, volcanoes, what it's like when you are dead, and insects.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This Too Shall Pass by OK Go

OK Go - This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

I had never even considered buying a DVD of any band's clips, but last birthday I asked for and recieved Oh No by OK Go. They are visually clever, really likeable guys, and that's before even discussing if the music is any good. This one is from their new album Of the Blue Colour of the Sky.

Fast thick pants

I'm not terribly given to reading poetry, although I suspect as I get older I might take it up. I have heard of Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge but never got around to reading it until last night. I was very impressed with these lines:
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shasta this, Shasta that

I was browsing through a World Book Encyclopedia as I love to do, (volume D), when I noticed a vaguely odd thing. The article on "dam" was illustrated with a photo of the Shasta Dam, California. Two pages later the article on "daisy" was illustrated with a photo of the shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) a hybrid originated by the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank. I confidently expected to find also the shasta dolphin, shasta duck and the beautiful though sadly extinct shasta dodo. But I didn't.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Robin Morrison

I collected some postcards of Robin Morrison's photographs when I was in NZ in 1995. I have only just got around to looking him up on the net and finding some more of his work. I just found out he died in 1993. I love the top pic - the poles marching down the slope to the lake are so wonderful. The second pic is more typical of his work that I have seen - tiny shacks and caravans in very exposed settings.

Return to the greens

I lawn-bowled for the first time in a couple of years on Tuesday. My old team has morphed into a new team called To Be Confirmed, consisting of Dave, Trace, Dean and Scotty. Dave is on a fact-finding mission in Vietnam, looking into the new bamboo bowling shoes I guess, and possibly looking at bringing in a big pho soup kitchen as an alternative to the sausage sizzle. So I got the call to fill in.

My first challenge was getting there. I had not options outside walking so I skived off early and strode across town. I chose the steeper yet more interesting route as I don't get to go for a recreational stroll that often. As a result I encountered customer-of-blog Matt K on his way home, a charming and refreshing coincidence. He could not keep up with my rhythmic stride plus also we went past his house so I continued alone, through back streets of the area I lived BSH (before South Hobart). It was fun, in a this-guy-has-no-idea-what-fun-is-anymore way.

The bowls - well, I was OK for being out of practice and having to use bowls I'd never seen before. We were well down towards the end, but our skip Scotty pulled out the big one, picking up 3 shots with his last bowl to tie. The 7 blokes were all prepared to have a tie-breaker before repairing to the bar, but Tracey set the seal on the scoreboard, shaking hands vigorously with the opponents and leaving the green smartly.

I walked into town to see if there was a bus, but of course there wasn't, so I walked home too. In fact I walked 11km in my clapped out sandals that day, but I didn't have to carry my bowls, so I guess that was something.

Elf marks 40th birthday with daquiri-fest

Elf turned 40 on Saturday. She told me ages ago that she wanted to have a cocktail party for her birthday, as mentioned back yonder. I said at the time, unchivalrously but honestly, that she would have to arrange that herself. I could not organise a function to save myself, and am not a naturally cocktailsy type of guy, I guess. She threw herself into it and I think it came out very well - she had a lot of fun.

Our main headache had been finding a place for 6 kids during the proceedings (Karri, Miah, our two, plus my visiting nephews). Elf finally turned to our family day care stalwart from early days, Allison Winchester, and she supervised everyone in the gracious grounds of Firthfield (Imp and Ed's rented sandstone gracious home).

The Cocktails Facilitator arrived half an hour prior to kick-off, and started taking over the kitchen. We had to surrender the freezer and half of the fridge to her frozen pre-mixed adult slushies. The family were all there from the get-go, including all 4 of our parents, Imp, Ed, and Elf's brother Fred and cousin Grace* who jetted in from Melbourne. My sister Sal and her husband Matt were there and met Elf's siblings for the first time.

Initially the CF lined up a set of Peach Bellinis, followed by a set of Strawberry Daquiris, etc. After a while she was taking requests. We had 38 guests, and I was too trying to talk to everyone to actually drink much. I must apologise to some regular readers who were there, it was very hard indeed to get in more than "hi" and "bye" with a lot of you. I am not adept at party strategy and the easy slip-n-slide from one conversation group to another is a skill I have yet to master.

We turfed everyone out at about 7.30 and started moving the family in groups down to the restaurant for dinner. It had been a pretty humid sticky day, and around the end of the party a cool change swept down the mountain and over us, accompanied by a bit of thunder. The colour of the light changed in a way I don't recall ever seeing - a very blue/white light, with all the warm tones completely drained out of the landscape. Freaky and beautiful. Just as it was my turn to go out to the car the heavens opened with big Singapore-style raindrops.

Dinner was at a Thai/Indian/But Mostly Thai place called Infusion. The food was excellent but I didn't enjoy the meal that much as we were split across two tables, and the kids were all at the other table. I was feeling stressed about whether they were eating, were they going to spill stuff, should I let the nephews have Coke when my kids aren't, etc etc. I was overtired and that didn't help.

Eventually it was over, everyone was carted home, beds were organised and I crashed into bed myself. Although Elf did all the organisation somehow I felt like I had run a marathon.

There are still 12 litres of adult slushie mix in the freezer if anyone wants them.

*Actually - Grace arrived mid-party. We were expecting her on an 8am flight. She rang about 7.30am just after Elf had left to pick her up. She was now due at 5.15pm. Elf doesn't have a mobile so we had all all sorts of larks trying to find a human at the airport who would pick up the phone and take a message to page her.

Important list! #09 - kinds of duck

  1. dabbling ducks
  2. freshwater diving ducks
  3. saltwater diving ducks
  4. wood ducks
  5. eider ducks
  6. ruddy ducks
  7. tree ducks
  8. domestic ducks
My favourite kind of duck is the Wandering Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arcuata).
There are three subspecies associated with this bird. D. arcuata arcuata (Indonesian Wandering Whistling Duck), D. arcuata australis (Australian Wandering Whistling Duck), and D. arcuata pygmaea (New Britain Wandering Whistling Duck).

Important list! #08 - Things that ladies used to do on TV

  1. When a man said something that might be suggestive (usually by accident), slap him and exclaim "Fresh!"
  2. Jump on a chair at any suggestion of mouse activity
  3. Come through the door with a lot of hatboxes and sing "Honey, I'm ho-ome"
I am not suggesting that ladies ever did these things in real life. But if they ever did, they don't anymore. I say bring them back. Someone start a Facebook group.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Spending a day at square leg

Today my dad and I took Marcus, Malachy and Brin to the Test cricket, Australia v Pakistan. I had never seen a Test live, so I was quite excited really. This was day 2 of a (possible) 5 days. At the end of day 1 Australia was cruising so we were hoping to see more of the same, and we did. The chaps who made centuries yesterday went on with it, with Ricky Ponting actually getting to 209.

I was quite pleased with my packing; I put in loads of food and we ate nearly all of it, we ended up briefly wearing the just-in-case jumpers, and all the technology I squeezed in (binoculars, little radio, Marcus's iPod for the not-so-lively bits) came in handy.

At one of the drinks breaks Malachy and Marcus and I had gone around the back of the grandstand to look at the various kiddie attractions they have, such as Wii-style game booths and so on. Since they have banned bringing actual balls and actual bats into the ground, they obviously feel obliged to provide something else to help the whippersnappers pass the time.

While we were gawping a smart looking young official with dynamic hair and a laminate swinging came up and asked if the boys would like to play Milo cricket on the ground in the lunch break. And... meet the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. They both said yes, although I don't think Kev was a big factor.

There was of course a huge amount of indoor faffing to do beforehand, which meant missing about an hour of real grown-up cricket. Kev came in, flanked by Daves; Premier of Tasmania, David Bartlett, and legend of cricket David Boon. He clowned a little in front of a backdrop of kids that looked great this evening on the news. He did a little of that "laughing" thing his people have taught him where he closes his eyes, tilts his head back a little then opens and closes his mouth and nods. While he and the Daves laughed, his slim, tanned people infiltrated the parents, and also smiled, with their mouths only.

The boys then ran out onto the ground and had about 20 minutes in the sunshine, playing a modified kind of backyard everyone-gets-a-turn type cricket. Marcus was a little annoyed that he was not allowed to bowl fast. He also regretted that when he was batting he was stuck at the non-strike end while the smallest bowler came and went. The kid at the other end tonked the little fella for six, three times in a row.

After the resumption we stayed and watched until Australia declared at not many for heaps; then watched our bowlers tear in at the Pakistan openers for half an hour or so. That was enough - tired but happy we wandered out in search of our car.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dadjoke #14

Chicken wire: does it come in any other flavours?

Back-at-work January Schnippettes

  1. I have got a new follower, who appears to actually be two people, and their own blog is in Spanish. This has prompted me to add a Translate button over on the right there, which will translate the whole blog into a variety of languages from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Here is a recent post in Hebrew - the words that are untranslated speak volumes don't they?

  2. We all went to the beach yesterday. I went for a walk at one stage and saw what I thought was a crab heading for me, a comfortable sort of size to hold in a large hand if you were so inclined. As I got closer I realised - holy heck, its a huntsman spider! At the beach! I changed direction pretty quick. As I continued on down the beach I heard people one after the other behind me also sucked in by the crab-that-turns-out-to-be-a-house-spider. I guess if a huntsman has got all its scaring people and eating mice done for the day, there is nothing wrong with it just clocking off and heading down to catch some rays and maybe do some bodyboarding.
  3. Celebrity ToolWatch! Sam Newman was seen this morning, lost in South Hobart. Work colleague explained to him how to find Cascade Brewery, missed opportunity to send him instead to Cockle Creek or Clarendon Vale. He was in a left-hand drive white stretch convertible. If you do not know of Sam, substitute your favourite love-to-hate TV waste of space.
  4. Elf and I went to our first wedding in ages on Saturday. My art school pal Ado was marrying Elf's former work colleague Lou, so we knew quite a few of the guests. Ado and I met when were both 17 and are now both 41, so there were years and years of mutual friends there to catch up with. It was a stand-up reception which was a bit challenging, with small amounts of deep-fried food circulating on platters. Wore my throat out yelling conversation over the loud music. Ado's mum is terrific, we had not seen each other in nearly 20 years but she was great to talk to and remembered a lot that I had forgotten.

My Dad's Irons

Which he has just given to me. Since I was little I have loved the elongated numerals. I haven't had a chance to get out and play with them yet.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Cousins go alpine

Brin and Malachy, my nephews from NSW arrived last night, to much excitement from Marcus and Michael. Their flight was nearly 20 minutes early, which is unheard of. We were killing time driving around the Seven Mile Beach area when they flew overhead, so we turned and hightailed it back to the airport.

Today we had a long and draining game of Swiss Monopoly. I kept throwing threes and fours, getting Free Parking, Chances and Community Chests that said "go back 3 spaces" or "you find 10 euros on the ground". By the time everyone else had hotels I think I had the Swiss equivalent of Trafalgar Square (mortgaged) and a handful of chump change. I came last.

This afternoon we went up to the top of Mt Wellington, where I took the following photos of cousins among the ancient lichen-covered stones.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Radio cricket commentary delusion #5a

During a dull patch in the cricket, when Jim is recalling a top feller who played Sydney grade cricket in the fifties, or doing his piss poor West Indies accent that consists of just finishing a sentence with "mon" - and Kerry is saying "he could play a bit, D.G. Bradman" - that's when I imagine the commentary panel are all dressed as women. In a half-arsed, footy-club-drag-night-fundraiser way. Or like Lemmon and Matthau in Some Like It Hot. Lots of big dangly earrings swinging as they turn their heads to follow the ball racing to the boundary. Weathered ex-cricketer faces with a bit of lurid red lippy and maybe some blue eye shadow.

I like to think its an ABC radio tradition, perhaps started by Neville Oliver, one dull afternoon in 1978 in Christchurch or Manchester or Durban. He liked a laugh.

Maybe they only do it for the morning session of the first day of each First Test. Then perhaps, for the Second test of a series, they all come as Charlie Chaplin.

Adrian next door + Me = George Formby

Adrian (8) from next door spent a lot of time hanging round at our place today. At one stage he was playing Marcus's ukelele, but it's tone was not to his liking, so he went home and fetched his. I was washing windows while all this was going on. We have a lot of windows and some of them are pretty inaccessible. While I stood a little bit further up a ladder than is generally advised, scrubbing, Adrian peeled off either Peter Gunn or the Baby Elephant Walk, and a few other ukelele standards. It has just occurred to me that in the old days George Formby played the ukelele and cleaned "winders" - in these days of specialisation it takes the two of us to cover his skill set.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Magpie family breakfast

The two magpies who visit us regularly brought their baby to meet us last week. We give them a few cat biscuits regularly and they seem to appreciate it, although Hattie does not.

This morning the three of them arrived again, and we got to see the mum feeding the baby, which is hardly any smaller than her. The baby couldn't pick up the biscuits, so mum picked them up and popped them into his gaping beak. Dad stood by proudly, and occasionally popped up into a tree to warble - which is what magpie dads do instead of blogging.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


I am halfway through The Great War by Les Carlyon - it is wonderful, and I recommend it highly as an Australian history of the Western Front. Carlyon believes Gallipoli has received disproportionate attention, at the expense of massive tragedies that happened later in France, such as Fromelles, Poziéres, and Bullecourt. The story is grim but the characters are sketched very clearly and the time is evoked very well. Although the soldiers in the trenches were using all kinds of new technology, the top Allied generals were all old cavalry men. They never stopped hoping that a big gap could be forced in the opposing lines so division after division of cavalry could gallop through gloriously.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I've been waiting ages for a George Saunders book at the libary, and today I picked it up. I tore through it in an afternoon - brilliant sharp funny writing. It's titled The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. That is the name of a novella that takes up half the pages, the rest is a collection of short stories called In Persuasion Nation. His imagination is limitless and his anger is bright and hard - a great combination. Here is an excerpt:
Abe Lincoln stands giving the Gettysburg Address. Everyone is rapt, except for one guy in the front row, who keeps raising his hand and hopping up and down in his seat.

"Did you have a question, sir?" Lincoln says.

"Wendy's GrandeChickenBoatCombo," the man says.

"That's not a question," Lincoln says.

"Wendy's GrandeChickenBoatCombo?" the man says.

"I'm afraid I am unable to discern your purpose, sir," Lincoln says. "I am trying to pay tribute to the brave men who died here."

"Pay tribute to this, beardo-weirdo!" says the man, and presses a button on his chest, and suddenly is transformed into a giant GrandeChickenBoatCombo; that is, a giant synthetic chicken product shaped like a frigate, with oars made of celery, and wafer-thin nacho sails.

Then the GrandeChickenBoatCombo beats its wings and its sails and floats up around Lincoln's head, knocking his top hat off, spraying him with salsa from its Mini-Salsa Cannons©.

"Anybody else think a great-tasting poultry-nautical treat is loads more fun than this old fuddy?" says the GrandeChickenBoatCombo.

"I do," says General Grant.

"Me too," says Harriet Tubman.

"We totally agree!" say the ghosts of several Union dead.

"Sandwiches for all!" says the GrandeChickenBoatCombo. "Great taste is what made America great!"

"Not a bunch of yappin'!" says Mrs. Lincoln.
This is from the short story titled In Persuasion Nation that gave its name to the collection that formed the second half of the book. Sigh. I never said it was simple. For some reason that story can be read in it's entirety here.

Christmas overflow bits

Michael is constantly singing or humming carols and other Christmas songs. We know that often when he hums a familiar tune the words he hears in his head are the profane and bloodthirsty ones he has learned at school. Eg:
Dashing through the snow
On a pair of broken skis
Over hills we go
Crashing into trees
One he has made up himself goes to the tune of Away In a Manger, but only has two words:
Tri-angles, pi-i-neapples, la la LA LA la LA
Tri-i-angles, pine-apples, la la la LA la LA
We bought Michael a scooter that is sadly not too suited to our house. When throwing out the packaging I noticed that its recommended for ages 3+ as it is a choking hazard. Look - the scooter is not big, but I think that's going a bit far.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A quick check before bed

While Elf reads the bedtime story, Michael studies Mars.

Fireworks aplenty

Photo © The Mercury, taken by Andrew Moody

We had a great New Year's Eve at home. It got up to 38°C, the hottest day in three years. (That's not the great part). We pretty much suffered through the day. We had organised a small dinner party, so some shopping and cooking needed to happen, unfortunately.

Elf's cousin Mac and family who are visiting from Dunkeld, Victoria came up for dinner, as did Imp, Ed and the girls. Mac and Priscilla are staying with her parents in Sandy Bay.

They have a modish multi-storey house clinging to a cliff. Mac has been put to work in the vertical backyard, raising bales of mulch using a rope and pulley system, and lowering bundles of weeds the same way. (Hobartians pay to dump weeds at the tip, and while we are there we pay for a few bales of mulch for the garden. Made from the weeds we dropped off last visit. Someone in local government is a genius).

Mac escaped from the chain gang to go angling up the Tyenna River, and brought us 4 lovely trout for dinner. Imp and I both thought (separately) - "ah, fish - I will augment this with more fish". I got a kilo of (cheapish) smoked salmon and she brought a fresh salmon about five feet long. We barbecued the trout inexpertly, but it was delicious.

Mac and Priscilla have 5 year old Charlotte and 3 year old Stirling (named after the old family property). Elf had dug out the inflatable pool, and all six kids were tumbling about in and out of it like seals.

About 8.30 the electrical storm started, way back over Mt Wellington to the west. At the same time a big yellow full moon was rising in the north. Hobart is not a thundery sort of place - we might get 2 or 3 thunderstorms a year. This was a big one. The early NYE fireworks were starting at 9.30, so after enjoying the natural variety for a while we all went up the hill behind the house to watch. All the way up there were huge flashes in the west.

When we got up to Wellesley Park there were already a few kids up there at the playground in the dusk. Michael was talking flat out as usual, when a voice from the darkness said "Michael!" and Michael said "Rohan!" "Michael!" "Rohan! It's really you!" etc for some time. meeting a classmate from prep, after bedtime, in a playground, just before some fireworks and during an electrical storm, is about the pinnacle of these kids' lives.

The fireworks were pretty good, they have moved them downriver a little which makes for better viewing from our preferred spot. The lightning behind us didn't let up. The thunder was getting louder. Mac said "There's a drop of rain - let's get going". There was a classic horror-movie style "peal of thunder" that presages a movie downpour, then: crash. We all jogged home downhill in the dark, trying not to fall (terminally) into one of the large aloe veras.

Everyone was happy but saturated. Towels. Coffee. Chocolate. It bucketed down for 20 minutes then stopped. The lightning moved over the city. Ed and I watched the lightning from our front deck - which only ever gets used on the occasional really hot night. It occurred to me that watching an electrical storm from the balcony over coffee after dinner is probably de rigeur in Sydney, Brisbane, Mumbai and Singapore.

Guests started making off about 10.30. By the time we tipped the boys into bed it was worth sitting up, although we had never meant to. (I gave up voluntary midnights around the time we had kids). The storm was still flashing spectacularly in the background as the midnight fireworks kicked off. Elf and I sat and watched it all - it was fantastic.

Happy New Year everyone.