Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brazilian/Mexican Street View of the Week No. 3

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Labrador hat, and other Michael work

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

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

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

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

Marcus's first triathalon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic world

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grubby stormtrooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

About halfway between Ham and Sandwich

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I've Been Up To

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Knackered 14 d Head 11

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

Athletics boast-athon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

7 kids and 7 grown-ups to dinner

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

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

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

Brazilian Street View of the Week No. 2

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

Situation report: its very wet and very green

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Radio snob

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Harbinger of the End Times

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

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

Room swap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


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

Friday, November 05, 2010

Michael escapes from school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday is pyjama day

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

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

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

Mammal workshop

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

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

Curry, the Musical

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

Thursday, November 04, 2010

7 years bad luck

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

So now I look like this.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


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

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