Sunday, August 29, 2010

Round 22

I have kept my silence about football since May 2009, when I was so fed up with my team I decided to just put them on ice for 12 months. Exactly one year later, after round 6 this season, I sat down and looked at the pros and cons of going back to supporting the Richmond Tigers.

(Er - I just checked and I did in fact blog both the AFL and SFL grand finals last September. But those were more cultural event than football matches, right?)

After Round 6 they had lost every game, and were fielding a side that was being called "the worst AFL twenty-two to take the field since the days just before Fitzroy folded". I made some notes, and my expectation was that they would somehow win one game this year, and would actually never make the finals before 2020, when the club would be merged or relocated and cease to exist. That was my prediction.

So I decided to come back to Richmond and stick with them to the bitter end. I'd had my blissful 12 month holiday, where their problems weren't my problems. It was the respite I needed to build up my strength.

After 10 rounds we had still not won a game. My prediction was looking pretty accurate. The former drug addict big news recruit was suspended by the club for a week for punching a drunk teammate, then was hospitalised with "stomach problems". It all seemed to be sliding downhill as per the script.

Then the Tigers cracked their first win, and followed it up with four more over the next five weeks. After that they only managed one more win, but generally were competitive. Today was their last game of the season - after a valiant comeback from 54 points down, they fell short by 10 points. Our young full-forward Jack Riewoldt came good so spectacularly that he won the league goalkicking award. Our list which looked dismal in May now looks incredibly promising. The former drug addict recruit finished his footy career today, so the club will be all about youth and the future, rather than a sideshow to his smugness.

To be honest - just about everyone at the club has been unstinting in their praise of his efforts on and off the field. I have never liked him, didn't want him, and am glad he's gone. That's just me though.

As the Tigers never make the finals, Round 22 is the end for them. Each year on one weekend eight clubs bow out, and a number of champions are farewelled from the game. (The sad truth is that old players who aren't champions are usually elbowed aside earlier in the season, and make their last appearance playing in the Ballarat Bombers or the Preston Bullants in front of a crowd of 1377). The smug one has pulled a lot of focus this year, but it's really wonderful to see the warm and generous tributes that all these guys get from opponents as well as team-mates.

And I am optimistic for the Tigers next year. Will I never learn?

Zero gravity chinwag

Yesterday, Marcus spoke to an astronaut! He and nine schoolmates had the opportunity to talk to Colonel Doug Wheelock (above) on board the International Space Station, in orbit 350km above the Earth.

About 12 months ago South Hobart Primary applied through some kind of NASA/international amateur radio initiative - there was a lot of paperwork and negotiations. I think all the kids in the school wrote a question to ask and ten were selected. Marcus's question was "Which countries are involved in the ISS and where are the astronauts from?" Other questions included "How long does it take your mind to get used to zero gravity?" and "Is it frightening doing a spacewalk, and how many have you done?"

We crowded into Marcus's classroom with about 30 other parents, kids, some people from the local paper. One of the dads named Justin is an amateur radio aficionado, and he was running the show at our end. Up on the Smartboard he had a graphic showing the Earth's surface, the areas in night and day, and the current location of the ISS, indicated by an oval on the Earth about the size of South Australia. At 4.15 it was over Hawaii - by the time of our scheduled connection at 4.43 it was over the US midwest. The relay station that was contacting the ISS for us was Goddard Space Centre, near Washington DC. From there the link was coming via a radio operator in Kingston, South Australia. We listened to a lot of chit chat about the weather and so on while waiting for our astronaut.

The kids lined up and one by one Justin had them come to the mike, say their question clearly, then say "over". Colonel Doug gave long and detailed answers to the questions, and said to each kid "that's a great question!" (Marcus afterwards said "he should have varied what he said to each of us a bit, so it sounded more like he really meant it")

Listening to him addressing Marcus, I was just thrilled. He mentioned an astronaut from Australia, Andy Thomas, and then said "Maybe one day Marcus you will be an astronaut, and you'll be up here where I am now". Andy Thomas had to become a US citizen to get up there, though.

For the record, the ISS is a collaboration between the Space Agencies of Europe, USA, Japan,and Canada. The astronauts there now are from Russia and the USA, but previously there have been Canadian, Japanese, German, French and Belgium astronauts. Colonel Doug said yes, it is frightening to be out in space on a spacewalk, but you have a job to do out there and that takes your mind off it. He's done six of them. He also said the body gets used to zero gravity before the mind does, but that the transition is much easier than than going back the other way. After six months in space, once back on earth your feet and your back find they are unused to carrying such a load and can take three months to adjust.

Marcus was buzzing afterwards for hours. He had been anticipating the radio link for days and it lived up to his hopes. Unfortunately by the time Colonel Doug had given his extensive answers to seven questions, the ISS had moved out over the Atlantic, heading down towards Portugal, and reception started breaking up. The last three questions were answered by the man at Goddard. Then we had an extended farewell session where everyone thanked everyone on behalf of everyone they could think of plus a few others. It sounded a lot like when you are trying to get off the phone after a call to your deaf-ish grandma.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Duck in a basket

Pato is a game played on horseback that combines elements from polo and basketball. It is the national game of Argentina. Pato is Spanish for "duck", as early games used a live duck inside a basket instead of a ball.
 Thanks Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another hung parliament

Our nation voted on Saturday. As of dinnertime Wednesday we don't know for sure who our government is going to be. It's a hung parliament, with something like 72 seats going to the Labor Party incumbents, 73 to the Liberal/National Party coalition, 1 Green (the first ever) and 3+1 independents. I say 3+1 as three of them are talking about voting as a bloc and the other one wants nothing to do with them. The conventional wisdom is that the three will back Labor, and the Green has already said he will do so, so they will retain power - for now.

Some countries (more flibbety-gibbet than our own, obviously) deal with this sort of thing all the time. We haven't  had a hung parliament since 1940 or something, so its a big deal. Record numbers of newspapers are being flogged to a populace desperate to hear the latest, and news sites are logging record visits.

There are two schools of thought about all this. One is that it is Uncertainty that will be bad for business, scare off investment etc etc. There is a grain of truth in that, but I think it also presents an ideal excuse to anyone looking for a reason to postpone something. "I know I said we would employ 1000 new people on this project but in the current environment of uncertainty we just can't take the risk, so we are only hiring twelve people and a robot".

The other school of thought says "Hooray! The big parties have been given a backhander for their lame policy-free election campaigns. Now some people from outside that shallow pool have the balance of power. They can not only influence decisions but make some fundamental changes to the way decisions are made."

Something that has not really been mentioned in the papers is that the recent Tasmanian election produced a hung parliament. After a cagey 3 or 4 weeks of talks, the Greens and Labor put together a working arrangement that seems to be going along fine.
One irritating aspect of the national campaign was the major parties deciding to blithely ignore the safe seats. We live in Denison, which has been a safe Labor seat for the last 7 or so elections. The long-serving member is retiring, and it was assumed by both sides that his replacement would just slot in - so they didn't waste any energy talking to constituents, or bother trying any pork barreling. Their candidates were no-names.

I decided to vote for the independent candidate Andrew Wilkie -  a guy of great integrity with an interesting background in the military, then civilian intelligence, who resigned in protest when Australia joined the war in Iraq on the basis of some fudged-up fakery. He moved to Hobart, got married and had some kids, and bought an antique rug business. It now looks like he has outpolled the Labor heir apparent. I am thrilled that we will have a voice in Canberra who answers to Denison voters and his own conscience, rather than to a party platform that has been triple-tested and focus-grouped to be popular on talkback radio.

As it happens, he is the one independent who is determined to go it alone. It will be a big challenge for him to have the eyes of the nation on him, without even some fellow travellers to share the burden, but I think he can do it.

On Monday some colleagues and I were walking back to work from the bakery when the local stringer for The Australian stopped us and asked if anyone voted for Wilkie. I said I did, and was interviewed for my trouble. At the end, as a throwaway line, I said if my vote for Wilkie resulted in the Liberal leader Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister, I would feel pretty sick. In the next day's paper it came out as "I would be sick" - ie vomit on the spot. Which is a bit strong, but there you go. Next time I will type up a press release to make sure they get it right.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Robot Fight 2!

Here is some footage and pics from Sunday's robot workshop. At this point Marcus had a very clear vision for what he wanted to do, and Nicholas and his dad Kim's suggestions were being politely rebuffed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

That's Super-Duper

Here is a list of various good things, to balance out my somewhat whingey list from the other day.
1.    Marcus is officially Australia's 12th ranked under 8 chess player. He is practically unbeatable at school now.
2.    Today I bought the Assassination Vacation audiobook with my iTunes voucher from my birthday in March (thanks Sal and Matt). It is John Wilkes Booth-tastic.
3.    In related news, the World Book encyclopedia (1979 edition) calls confederate general Stonewall Jackson "the bible-quoting lemon-sucking infantry genius". How much work do I need to do before I die, to earn a description like that? Lots.
4.    I like the quiet moment when you drive under a bridge in a rainstorm. A hiatus.
5.    There She Goes by The Las - perfect pop song from 1988
6.    The Devil With the Green Eyes by Matthew Sweet - perfect pop song from 1993
(I have tried and failed to embed little samples of these tracks - I'll try again when I am not doing it over dial-up).
7.    Hattie is a very predictable miaow-er. If she hasn't seen you for a while, you get a miaow. Pat her on the head - another miaow. Pat her again - another miaow. This goes on for about another 4-6 pats, with diminishing returns. Lately I have been taking advantage of her predictability, and dueting with her on Downtown by Petula Clark.

8.    I like the fact that "cyborg" sounds a lot like "sideboard". I can see a day when I have a long, low cyborg, maybe with beautiful walnut veneer. When someone asks 'where are the salad servers?' I will say "top drawer in the cyborg there" - and they probably won't notice a thing until the cyborg's drawer opens automatically, and it maybe does a bit of a dance.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

That's Ridiculous

Some things that have got my goat.
  1. Encore Edition. Tonight on ABC1, before the start of Foreign Correspondent, a little disclaimer came up saying "Due to our election coverage, tonight's Foreign Correspondent is an Encore Edition". Come on ABC - if it's a repeat, just say its a repeat.
  2. Faux Republican. Julia Gillard, supposedly a republican, says that the time to talk about an Australian republic is when this queen has passed on. But, ahem - then there'll be a new monarch. Possibly a younger, more exciting one. There'll be dancing in the streets, bunting, a big coronation, new coins and stamps throughout the Commonwealth. The tradesperson with the paintbrush will just be heading out to re-do the monograms on all the letterboxes, when Julia will say "Excuse me - can I have some shoosh - sorry everyone. Hello? OK. I'm ready to ditch all this anachronistic rubbish now! Who's with me?"
  3. Hazard lights. Quite often in traffic I see a truck by the kerb indicating, and I think "I'll just help out that fellow by letting him in" - then I see that the fellow has actually just run into the shop for some fags, and does in fact have his hazzies on. Is there any electro-mechanical reason why the same lights that go "blink... blink... blink" to indicate, couldn't go "blink blink.... blink blink.... blink blink..." to say "look out -  I really just needed some fags" or "I have broken down" or "I think I just ran over a quoll, I've gone back to check"?
  4. My new phone. I lost my mobile some months ago and have just got around to getting a new one. The cheapest handset you can get with 3G coverage cost about $65, and includes a video camera, still camera, audio recorder and MP3 player. Which is pretty amazing really - even cheapskates like me are now carrying around the equivalent of a radiogram, a telephone, a Betacam, a tape deck and an Instamatic, in their pocket. That's why whenever Paris Hilton, a fatal earthquake or any other hideous phenomenon happens, everyone in sight gets out their phone and points it at the action. I have started using mine to take happy snaps and, yes, OK, I have shot a bit of sub-Dad-with-a-borrowed-Betacam-in-the-80s footage of the dog, sure. Yesterday I tried to get all that stuff off the phone onto the Mac, using the included Mac-compatible software. Wasn't happening, so I emailed tech support to ask why their "How To" bore no resemblance at all to what I was seeing on screen. The answer today: actually, the Mac version of their software doesn't do any of those things. I think it lets you back up your phone book, full stop. All that other "media" is there on your phone forever! Although I can send it to other people, so if you want grainy footage of a substantial labrador, let me know.
  5. Trivial Medical. I had to have a medical today - all fine BTW. I have been trying to get an appointment to see this guy for months. My appointment was definitely for 10, but when I arrived, reception told me to come back at 12. Never mind, I had a nice walk. At 12 I was back - doc took my blood pressure, all good, then asked me my height and weight. And that was it. So, two nice walks.
  6. A cafe write-up in The Australian last weekend. It's a vegetarian organic cafe, and the article talked about their winter comfort food. Restaurateur: "People often cry when they try our food - the flavours remind them of when they were little". People often cry? I simply do not believe you, sir. Someone, slightly imbalanced, may have cried in your cafe, once. At the end of a really bad day. Your polenta may or may not have had something to do with it.
  7. Flag proportions. The US flag should correctly be in the ratio 19:10. Come on - is 2:1 really too long, America? Meanwhile, if you don't mind, Denmark would like to be 37:28. Well I'm telling you now, Denmark - it looks ridiculous. (Even though I can go to jail for saying that, since Princess Mary is actually in town as I write, visiting her Dad. I like to think he's cleaning out the garage and is making her take back home a carton of old Dolly magazines and mix tapes).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Talking toast

Michael has been inspired by an activity at school, where they had to design a poster promoting the good food in the canteen. He did one poster at school that we haven't seen, and has knocked out a few at home featuring things that I'm pretty sure they don't actually stock, such as hamburgers and cans of Coke.

This one was further inspired by us running out of milk this morning. Marcus was put out that he'd only had one bowl of cereal, then Elf suggested some honey on toast.

The message of this motivational poster is:

It Dosen't Matter! (just have honey on toast.)
Bakers Bread: Put me on a plate!
Bakers Bread (afterthought): But put me in a toaster first!
Soft Butter: Spread me on Mr Bread!
Golden Bee Honey: Spread me on Mr Butter!
Knife: Use me!
Spoon: Use me too!
Toast: You herd em! Man!
Mouth with legs: Yum!
I am thinking of nominating this as the best thing ever. Seconded?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Damned Utd by David Peace

This is a novelisation of real events in the world of English football, in the late sixties and early seventies. It's told in the first person by Brian Clough, who in these years managed (coached) Derby County successfully, then Leeds United very unsuccessfully.

Leeds are the "Damned Utd" of the title. Clough had a seething hatred of Leeds Utd, and especially their manager over fifteen years, Don Revie. Revie and Leeds were the dominant force in football, and widely reviled for their "anything to win" attitude. Revie once brought a deliberately weak side to Derby for a match, saving his better players for a more important match a few days later. After Derby beat them easily, in front of a thunderously booing crowd who had come to see the champions play, Revie refused to shake hands with Clough.

Years later when Revie was chosen to manage the England team, Leeds asked Clough to replace him, and incredibly, he accepted. The Clough character in this book moves in, chops up Revie's old desk with an axe, then takes it out to the carpark and burns it. He addresses his new charges:
As far as I am concerned, the first thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and your caps ... into the biggest f***ing dustbin you can find, because you've never won any of them fairly. You've done it all by bloody cheating.
44 days later, with only one one win from six games, he is sacked.

That's the background. I found the book unputdownable, gripping, in spite of the writing style which is painful. The tension in the telling of the story is remarkable, and it may be that it is actually thanks to the style. The first two words in the book are "Repetition. Repetition." You could say that professional sport is intrinsically repetitive - each week you do the same things. David Peace winds the repetition up to a level where I suppose it's meant to be a bit like a mantra. But I was always just flipping the pages maniacally to see what happened next.

Although I was alive in these years, its seems like an era I have never given any serious thought to. The scene as set here, the English Midlands and Yorkshire in the early seventies, seems incredibly grim. Poor people had nothing else in their lives but football. Rich people had no better way to express their wealth than football - as chairmen or directors of clubs.

Clough is an alcoholic. He spends days in the claustrophobic world under the grandstands, a world of corridors and offices, changerooms and lounge bars. He seems to be constantly walking down corridors and around corners. Constantly drinking and smoking and swearing. Cup of tea, bacon and eggs and chips, swearing at Jimmies and Johnnies and Alans, Jags and Vauxhall Victors, bottle of scotch, a week in Majorca, sideburns and ducktails and Brylcreem, Match of the Day on the telly, then more tea and cigs and a couple of pints and eggs, beans and chips, champagne, brandy, more swearing at Johns, Billys and Roys. Then sack a tea lady or two for laughing when the team has lost.

Clough is such a bastard, but I found myself willing him to succeed, even though I know what really happened and that it must also end in tears in the book. (Years later he was astonishingly successful with another club, Nottingham Forest).  Unlike Australian Rules football, players are bought and sold every week of the year. After months in the reserves they might be given a game just to showcase them to potential buyers. Everyone has a price.

I haven't had a book in a long time that I have read so avidly, yet couldn't really imagine anyone else enjoying.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

I first encountered Sarah Vowell on the This American Life podcasts. She is scholarly, interesting, wry, quirky and has an amazing sort of 11 year old girl/munchkin voice. You may well have heard it - out of the blue she was called up and asked to do the voice of Violet, the daughter in The Incredibles movie. If you haven't heard her, she's a little bit Lisa Simpson-y.

Which would be relevant if I was consuming this work in its audiobook form - one day I would love to do that, as apparently its got all sorts of guest stars doing cameos as famous dead people. Now though, I am merely reading the printed book.

But, its a cracker of a book. She is a memorial addict - she spends all her holidays travelling around the many, many sites related to the four* assassinated presidents. She is an assassination expert  - at home she has a dedicated book collection in what she calls her Assassination Nook. Apart from reading all the books, she has visited all the sites, talked to the guides, and actually listened to the guides, which probably not many people do. She says she is always either the youngest or the oldest on the tours - which are otherwise made up of either senior citizens or schoolkids.

*Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy. President Warren G. Harding died in office of food poisoning, however it has since been widely rumoured that he was bumped off by his wife.

Two fabulous facts I want to share with you;

1. John Wilkes Booth, who shot Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was from a famous acting family. His elder brother, Edwin Booth, was America's foremost Shakespearean actor. During the US Civil War, years before Lincoln's death, he was at a train station in New Jersey, when a young man fell onto the tracks. Edwin Booth saved the young man's life. The young man was Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest child of Abraham Lincoln.

2. Although Lincoln is widely venerated today (with some scary but interesting exceptions), he was a controversial figure in his lifetime. The current state song of Maryland, describing Lincoln as a "despot", was written during the civil war. Although Maryland stayed in the union, and was notionally on the Northern side in the war, sympathy for the Confederate cause and antipathy to Lincoln ran hot. Incredibly, the song was not chosen officially as the state song until the 1930s, and despite pressure to modify it, it never has been. So now, sing it with me! (to the tune of O Tanenbaum). Some of the nine verses are omitted, but  feel free to look up the whole thing.
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Hark to an exiled son's appeal,
Maryland! My Maryland!
My mother State! to thee I kneel,
Maryland! My Maryland!
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!
I see the blush upon thy cheek,
Maryland! My Maryland!
For thou wast ever bravely meek,
Maryland! My Maryland!
But lo! there surges forth a shriek,
From hill to hill, from creek to creek-
Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
Maryland! My Maryland!
I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Ignoring the cries for help

Every afternoon at about 3.45, the cries for help start. Through the wall behind me, two men yell sporadically, one after the other, things we can't understand. Then after a bit of that, they yell together "HELLLLP! HELLLLLP!" There is a very old firedoor there, and so I guess the sound comes through there rather than through the foot-thick sandstone walls. One of our neighbours somewhere in this labyrinthine Arts Centre is the Terrapin Puppet Theatre, so we have guessed that it is they, rehearsing some ground-breaking whimsical hi-jinks. I can tell by their voices that they have beards and ride old fixy-gear bikes.

Across Salamanca Place there is some heavy construction happening on the Princes Wharf shed. Meanwhile, a very strange ship named the Maria has replaced the Aurora Australis. The Maria has another very large boat on top of it. That's right, on top. The Maria has absolutely enormous cranes, and it seems like it has been trying to unburden itself of the hitchhiking boat, but to no avail so far. There is endless banging, sirens, boops and whoops. Every now and then people down on the wharf shout "Left, left, LEFT, STOOPPPP!! STOP, FOR F*CKS SAKE!"

So every time we hear "HEELLLLLLLLLPPPP!!!!" through the wall it takes a little while to process that no, no-one has been crushed by a boat.

Towel news

Things have been a little busy at home. Elf's parents, my parents, Karri, Miah and Fred have all stayed on and off over the last two weeks. We had 9 for dinner a few times, then slimming down to 7. Last night just 6, and tonight just 4. Sigh.

We have a big house, and we certainly don't have to worry about having guests sleep in the kitchen the way we used to. But one of the main areas where it causes mayhem is towels. We own probably about 20 towels, yet at the moment there are about 47 of them hanging here and there. As we don't have any actual towel rails, this means; the exercise bike, doorknobs, desks, chairs, the typewriter, and the scale model of our old house (which is just big enough for a bathmat).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Net down

The internet has been down intermittently at work today and yesterday. At some stage this afternoon we started doing internet things in real life, for chuckles. I Liked some things. Dave Followed me and started Liking them too. Then I started Unliking them to spite him. Things looked like getting creepy when Nathan came in and I tried to Friend him.

Just walked up to the bakery…

… for a spiced goat and lentil pie. As you do. $4.80 take away (with superb relish). Question: at what stage do they spice the goat?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Some daily rushes from my new documentary

It will be titled I Hear Your Nose (Do You Smell My Ear?)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Snake archery, knot-related putdowns

Michael is very good at a game he invented, using a soft rubber snake. He uses it like a bow and arrow, and gets very impressive range and accuracy. If it goes into a washing basket about 3 metres away, that's a goal. He made it up some time ago, but this afternoon announced that it is called Snarchery. He has also invented Snakenastics - you can probably imagine.

In the bath this evening the boys traded mild insults while I read a book. I was tuned out. Until I heard Marcus sneering "Michael - you can't even untie a granny smith knot".

Robot fight! Robot fight!

This morning at Lego Robotics, the Mindstorm NX-1s were set against one another in a series of sumo battles. They had to try to push another robot off the mat, which is black with a 2-inch-wide silver strip around the edge. The teams were given ten minutes to modify their bots for combat, by removing any unnecessary parts (if something falls off you lose) and strengthening them with bull-bars and so forth. Marcus and Nicholas had already fine tuned their operating program, so their bot (Nº 10) went full steam ahead on black, but when it reached the silver stopped, reversed, then turned 135°. This turned out to be a pretty good strategy. Nº 10 still looked pretty much as it had last week though - a bit weedy.

They won their first bout, against a stronger looking bot that only went forwards and back. Nº 10 caught it at just the right angle and biffed it off the mat. Next there was a thrilling battle between two very well-matched bots that had hold of each other and circled for some minutes. This sounds boring but it was quite tense. Finally one got the better of the other, and lurched forward, heaving it's foe off the mat.

When Marcus and Nicholas had their next bout they were up against a tank-like arrangement with a sort of shovel nose. The shovel got under Nº 10's wheels and he went upside down - the end.

Next week the robots need to cook a meal for a family of four in under 20 minutes, for less than $10 a head.

Cask wine and tracksuit pants

I am a tightarse generally. I have been for years, but particularly so since we've had a spectacular mortgage. The list of things I don't buy includes books, CDs, DVDs, alcohol, toys for the kids, (of course alcohol for the kids), newspapers, magazines, and clothes.

I am not a snappy dresser - my resources in winter are essentially plain black and white t-shirts, some dark blue flannelette shirts with the collars removed, and jeans. I have one standard grey woolen sock x 12, one pair of shoes that gets worn almost every day. I get by with all that and a strict washing program.

I had one outstanding sartorial problem, and I dealt with it yesterday - I bought a truckload of underpants. I would like to here champion the cause of Alpha brand gentleman's undergarments. It is a K-Mart house brand, and they last a lot longer than a certain fancy brand that rhymes with Schmavenport. I was able to put a bunch of those in the rag bag yesterday.

I am a member of the trackpants-wearing community (I would never go visiting in them, but I am prepared to pop down the road for the milk). While in shopping mode I decided to upgrade my TPs. Unlike, say, a felt hat, academic gown or puffy pirate shirt, the tracksuit pant does not have higher status when it's obviously been through a lot. Mine have started sliding towards the "homeless person" or "recently dumped and mildly depressed" end of the TP spectrum.

Now that I look back, I realise I have been on a little spending spree this week. I have broken the shackles and participated in the cash economy. I think it started when I ran into an acquaintance I'll call The Fewst. I boasted to her that in 4 weeks down at Salamanca, a noted café strip, I have not paid for a single coffee. Her reaction was "Geez, can I give you five bucks?" I mentioned this to Elf, and she agreed with The Fewst, that rather than a straight edged hero of new-age small-footprint economical and simple living, I am in fact just a sad little man.

Since then I have bought myself a book. I bought myself a song (yes, one) on iTunes. I went out to dinner last night and did not order the cheapest thing on the menu. And one night on the way home from the supermarket, I decided I was sick of having an empty wine rack, so I bought four bottles and also two casks to keep around the kitchen and just, y'know, have a glass of wine when we don't even have guests. Wild.

Regarding underpants - I think this is what our prime minister-before-last had in mind when he commented that he wanted Australia to be a "relaxed and comfortable" nation. He wanted us to have good support, stretchy breathable fabrics and long-lasting elastic. A country that is constantly hitching up its daks is not a happy country. A land of people who are having to yank foundation garments out of their buttocks all day, is a land divided in half. Then there is the issue of fashion - how much youth crime is directly caused by low-riding jeans with exposed shiny boxers? I would say maybe three quarters.

So whoever wins the coming election, I think they should start by posting out some underpants vouchers to every man, woman and child in the country. And, once we are all comfortable, then we'll get some progress on the price of carbon, the dying rivers and paid maternity leave. And if that happens, I will celebrate by going out and paying a barista to make me a flat white.