Thursday, December 30, 2010

My beautifully ugly retaining wall

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conversation in a bath

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

Recycled oregon table tennis table

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A very colander Christmas

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas pics

A WW1 style christmas truce
The demolition crew move in

Richo by Martin Flanagan

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

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

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

© Matthew Richardson Promotions and Martin Flanagan 2010

© Matthew Richardson Promotions and Martin Flanagan 2010

Boxing Day - just like Christmas again but with less surprises

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dean - excerpts from the eulogy by Steve Thomas

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

A-frame gingerbread hippie house

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Great news - parents are chucking money at tat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What ho, young flathead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Little aths news

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

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

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

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

I crack the case wide open

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

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

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

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

Standing on one leg, wobbling slightly, to accompanying bagpipes

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

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

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

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

Funeral / Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darndest things Nº 106

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From a Japanese map of the world, 1914

Why do I find this so unsettling?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The fishmeister

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

Monday, December 13, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brazilian/Mexican Street View of the Week No. 4

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

Thursday, December 09, 2010

His Grace, Bishop Michael


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


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

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

OK - panda up, everybody

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

Friday, December 03, 2010

Crime fiction

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

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

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A cardboard turntable, as used by missionaries

INGENUITY 9·5 / 10

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