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".)