Monday, May 30, 2011

The fruits of my research - some small giggles

Everyone loves the old "f instead of s" don't they?

This is the "pay car" of the Emu Bay Railway - looks like 1940s or 1950s. I am guessing it drove up and down to where the workers were on payday, handing out wage packets?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The neverending song

I talk a lot of football nonsense at work. We have a very bloke-heavy workplace, and it's a lot easier to get through the day chatting about who you would pick in an all-time AFL Enigmas XXII (Bruce Doull, captain), than it is actually talking about feelings, hopes, fears etc.

Anyway. We were talking about the Melbourne club song. It's a grand old flag, it's a high flying flag etc. Just near the end it veers off into 8 bars of Auld Lang Syne, before finishing "keep your eyes on the red and the bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue". I thought it would be great to just keep throwing in 8 bars of different standards, and actually never end. Here is my new version.

It’s a grand old flag, it’s a high flying flag,
It’s the emblem for me and for you,
It’s the emblem of the team we love,
The team of the Red and the Blue.
Every heart beats true, for the Red and the Blue,
And we sing this song to you,
Should old acquaintance be forgot,

Keep you eyes on the Red and the Blue
Way down upon the Swanee River, far far from home,
My old man's a dustman, he wears a dustman's hat,
Knees up Mother Brown, knees up Mother Brown,
There'll be bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover,
Zippedy doo dah, zippedy ay!
Camptown races sing this song, doo dah, doo dah,
Yankee doodle went to town, riding on his pony,
If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
They say the neon lights are bright, on Broad-way
I said hello, Dolly, well hellooooooo Dolly
Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas today,
Lets get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let's get-a physical...
If you knew Susie, like I know Susie, Oh! Oh! Oh, what a gal!

And so on. Suggestions on the back of an envelope please, or use the handy comments window.

Go full glitz

Today in the local paper a lady was complaining about all the Facebook hate mail she gets for encouraging her 5 year old to participate in beauty pageants. She says “I just don't understand what I am doing wrong!”, as her daughter cavorts in a $600 rhinestone bodice that Nan bought over the internet. They love watching a show I had never heard of called Toddlers and Tiaras.* Her kiddie copies the walks and smiles of the girls on the show. Also Mum says “with her lovely olive skin she'll never need a spray tan, though I often catch her playing at spray tanning, using our hair dryer.” I don't have daughters, so maybe I just don't get it, but the idea of a 5 year old copying smiles from TV shows and being encouraged to do so, freaks me out.

*Synopsis of a typical T & T episode: Tiny Miss USA is in Mississippi. Kragen, 8, has something to prove this time, vying for the elusive Tiny Miss crown she calls "the one that got away." Bayleigh, 5, is excited to go full glitz for the first time, while McKenzie, 7, is hoping to win big as well.

A recipe for a fool

What do you call a baked savoury flan with a cigarette hanging out its mouth? Quiche Richards.

[Pause for birds chirping, tumbleweeds etc.]

Tonight I made quiches. We have Mum and Dad on board (until their new house is vacant) so I had to make a couple. They were OK, but I was delighted with what I did with the spare pastry. I don't know what a raspberry fool is, but I called this a pear fool, as it was ridiculously small (and contained one pear). I put the pastry into a small pyrex bowl, threw in the chopped pear, then whisked up an egg with a little milk and caster sugar, and poured that over it. Then I put some butter on top because I like butter. Baked it for a while, then took it out, it was all runny with melted butter still floating on top. Ahem. So I stirred everything around, put it back in the switched off oven and went for a walk in the dark with Elf and the kids. We saw six wallabies and three possums. By the time we got back it had set beautifully into a small pear and custard tart. I waited until the kids were in bed so I only had to cut it into 4.

Rhubarb is underrated as a lightweight building material

Michael made a sailboat out of rhubarb yesterday. Rhubarb leaves for sails and hull, rhubarb stems for mast, held together with gaffer tape. It looked a little bit Tom-Hanks-in-Castaway-ish. I am nominating this as the world's first rhubarb yacht.


Marcus ran in the inter-school cross-country race on Wednesday, and did really well. He finished 11th out of 195 runners. There was a huge pile-up at the start and he was snarled up in that for a while, but steadily moved through the field and seems to have paced himself well over the 2km. He says he passed a lot of people in the last few hundred metres. He's now been invited to go to the champions race next term, somewhere a long bus ride north.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Launch loop

This is a frame from a little Flash animation I did last night, for Loop de Loop. Go and have a look at it there, comment on it and rate it if you like!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Egypt Day

Michael's Grade 2 class had an Egypt Day today. As usual he is miserly with the details, but we do know that we made him an Anubis costume, and there were 2 other Anubises. Or Anuba. He is the jackal-headed god of the afterlife. I turned a black baseball cap into Anubis with some black cardboard, staples, and a black-painted ping-pong ball for a nose. Elf made a kind of capey-robe, and the ensemble was completed with a staff (stake from garden) and a large cardboard ankh.

The most popular character was Cleopatra - most of the girls and Mrs Sellers all went for the black bob and gold bling. Our last words as we dropped off the god were "Don't wave your staff around and hit anyone - hold it upright LIKE ANUBIS WOULD!!".

Parents find a house in The Bay

Mum and Dad have finally found a house after months of searching. They have been driving down from the north west coast each Thursday, and back up each Monday, spending just about every waking moment down south house-hunting, and up north packing.

At last a place has come up that fits their price-range, has a flat walk to the shops, and is reasonably near the water. The only problem is that it's in Geilston Bay and none of us can agree on how to pronounce it.

I favour Jeels-tun. Elf prefers the hard G of Geels-tun. Then there is the (never heard but equally likely) Gails-tun, as in the J. Geils Band (you may remember their 80s hit Centrefold [My baby is a]). It would be exaggerating to say that its tearing the family apart, but it is certainly an issue we never needed to worry about before.

The old house at Turners Beach is now empty, and Mum and Dad are staying with friends nearby for a couple of days, then they will come and stay with us for probably the last time. Then they will drive over the river to their new home in The Bay, as we had best call it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Stain (3) - Oh dear, more convicts

Last night Dad and I had a look through the family tree and found two more convicts- Dad's great-grandfather David Rees, and David's father-in-law George Oliver. To recap - one of Dad's ancestors on his mum's side, Beni Griffiths, was transported for murder in 1841.

Today I found the transcript of George's court case. In 1824 he was 13 years old, and working for a mangle-maker in London, when he stole a £5 note from the cashbox. He took it to the pub to get change, then bought himself an ass. An officer found him nonchalantly riding his ass through Smithfield, and took him to the watch-house. He asked George what had happened to the rest of the £5. "He said he had bought a saddle and bridle for 16s. 6d.; also six trusses of hay, and had paid a month's rent for a stable for the ass". Thorough.

He was sentenced to death, but the prosecutor recommended mercy. It seems he remained in jail for four years, then was transported to Van Diemen's Land (now called Tasmania) in 1828. George was assigned to a landowner in the Fingal Valley. He married a free emigrant, Eliza Southwell, while still a convict. He was pardoned in 1840, and stayed in the area until he died. George and Eliza had ten children, and their eldest, Ann, married David Rees.

My dad had heard that his dad's grandfather was another convict from Wales, and last night we found his record.

 David Rees' trade is listed as "puddler", a skilled craftsman who manipulated pig iron in a furnace to create wrought iron or steel. In 1843 he was transported for "manslaughter of John Bolan in a row in Swansea". That's about all his record has to say about it. Like all the convict records, it is particularly detailed in describing his tattoos. One said "David Rees Sarah Gill". He was listed as single.

Once in Van Diemens Land, David was also assigned on the East Coast, first at Steiglitz then in the Fingal Valley in 1850. In 1854 he married Ann Oliver. William, the first of their twelve children, was born on the first day of 1856. David's record shows he was granted a conditional pardon two weeks later.

William Rees married Martha Tapp in 1878. They also had a neat dozen children, and the youngest was my dad's father Elliott (known as Didds), born in 1902. I don't remember Didds, as he died when I was a baby. I know he started his working life as a clerk at the Cornwall Coal Company in the Fingal Valley, and ended up as a successful accountant for a large woollen mill in Launceston. 

In 1934 Didds married my grandmother Ivy Enid Stubbings. Ivy's grandfather John Griffiths was born aboard the Ocean Child in 1855 as his father David and family sailed out to join his father, the bloke we started with - Benni Griffiths.

So to sum up; that's a manslaughtering puddler on Dad's father's side, and a murdering poacher on Dad's mother's side, with an additional ass-riding thief contributing to the gene pool. There'll be more criminal family revelations as they come to hand. So far Mum's side of the family are looking pretty pristine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Michael's next assignment

Meanwhile at the other end of the family tree - 
here are the latest intercepted orders from Marcus to Michael.

The Stain (2)

Hmm, that pretty clearly says "Transported for Murder" doesn't it?

The little guy knows his Auroras

Michael's class presented their work on the Arctic in assembly yesterday. We were sadly not present but have heard about it in detail from everyone but Michael himself.

All the class except Michael had chosen an animal - the arctic fox, the snowshoe rabbit, the polar bear etc. There were apparently life-size paper examples, and students each read a brief spiel about the animal.

Michael spoke about the Aurora Borealis. We are told that although he didn't speak for a long time, he spoke in great detail, and managed to pack in enough references to ionised nitrogen atoms, solar winds, particle collisions, and magnetic fields, to have some parents staring at him slack-jawed. He is only little, and at times like this appears to be some sort of advanced puppet.

Elf said when she picked up the boys and the cousins, the other three were all agog about it. Michael has declined to repeat the spiel for us but is happy to scoff and correct anyone else who tries to recount it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Stain

I had a really interesting day at work yesterday, sitting in a meeting beside historian Hamish Maxwell-Stuart. He has been working on a massive project called Founders and Survivors which we are now joining. If you are interested in convict history and genealogy, it's worth a look.

The records of the 73,000 convicts that came to Tasmania are so thorough, and so dense, that they are actually one of the best sources in the world for doing comparative research about populations. Although it is from a time before photography, the convicts’ appearance was noted in detail, together with any scars and tattoos. All of this is fascinating to dig through.

One of the things that had never occurred to me before is that any convict story found by tracing back from the descendants, is going to be an atypically happy story. Generally only successful convicts lived long enough to have children, so if there are defendants living today, they will usually be able to trace back to a convict who served their sentence, got some land and kept out of trouble.

Hamish spoke a lot about "The Stain" - the stigma of having convicts in the family, which only started to fade in the 1970s. It was a perception reinforced by the colonial government - that the convicts were here primarily because they were wicked people. The fact that they were an essential labour force for getting the new colony off the ground meant that emancipation and rehabilitation could only be allowed to go so far - it was necessary to maintain a workforce in servitude. Before 1822 freed convicts and especially their children were given land grants. After that it was realised that with their own land these people would not be a pliable and controllable workforce. Wide-ranging limitations were imposed on ticket-of-leavers. Hamish says that you can argue the thesis that today's Tasmanian working class is essentially made up of the descendants of the convicts. While people now have a different attitude to their ancestors, the effects of 150 years of shame and silence are still felt today. To quote Hamish "The stain is real. It does its job and keeps people in place".

Despite this, some families made the climb out of the despised and feared convict class astonishingly quickly. Tasmania's first premier, Sir Richard Dry, was the son of a convict. Another surprise is the density of convict ancestors. It is not unusual for a current 6th generation Tasmanian to have 30 or more convict ancestors. One of the key things Founders & Survivors is doing is relating the convict records to the data from enlistment in Tasmania at the start of World War One. One bit of research has found that of the 100 men with memorials in Soldier's Walk, Hobart, 52 had convict ancestors - mostly great grandparents.

I didn't get a chance to buttonhole Hamish about our ancestor Beni Griffiths but hopefully over the duration of the project I might be able to winkle out of him some insights into how he managed to be transported for murder - usually a straightforward hanging offence. It's interesting that although I am pretty sure this is him in the Probation Book below, his crime is listed as housebreaking.

Holiday suggestion

This year, why not holiday in picturesque Holes Hole, Devon?
Thanks for the tip off (in an email from March 2010 which I just found) from a man
who claims to be Hamish McOffal of the Edible Organ Society of Victoria.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I just thought up that name for my new greengrocers shop: purveyors of black carrots, blue tomatoes and tattooed pumpkins, maaaaaan.

Again I am going to gather my thoughts about the last week and get them down in blog form. It will be scattered and patchy - sorry in not-quite-advance-anymore.

So - I saw a man walking a large cat through the light bushy fringe of suburban Mt Nelson this morning. It was right at the edge of my vision, and I realised that what I had taken for a dog was too slinky yet self-important. The man had a newspaper under his arm. At first I thought (with joy) he had walked to the shop and back with cat at heel. In fact I think the cat probably roams through this bit of bush near his home, and appeared to meet him as he was almost to the spot where the general bush turned into his backyard.

I was at a soccer clinic with Marcus at the time. All the boys in his team were invited to come along to a "Regional Development Squad". At Under 9 I don't think there is any selection process. Any kids motivated enough to front up for more soccer on Sunday after playing on Saturday are welcome. Marcus really loved it, and made the perceptive comment, "That was really training, because we learned something. Our soccer practice is practice but it isn't training."

His team won 14-0 yesterday, against a team that was fielding some Grade 1 kids. It was obvious from the start that it was going to get lopsided. David takes the corners, and he is one of the few under 9s around that can actually get the ball up in the air - then its just a question of getting it to bounce off anyone, and a goal is pretty likely. Marcus and Felix however both scored impressive intentionally-headed goals. One of the smaller kids was carried off with an injury towards the end. We scored our fourteenth as the ball rolled between the goalie's legs. Groan. Not very good for anyone when it comes out like that. I asked around at the clinic today to find out why that team is playing such little kids, when they seemed to have enough big kids (they had 3 or 4 subs). The answer just seemed to be that the little kids wanted to do it.

To work then. Although I am a designer I like to do the proofreading as well. Anything I am typesetting, it just comes naturally to read it, and fact-check as well as spell-check. I think it's important that we get things right. Sometimes I am accused of being pedantic or some kind of quizmaster freak. A few things got on top of me this week and by Thursday I was fighting the urge to thump particular workmates, who wanted to interrupt my work to discuss particular corrections I had made.

On Friday afternoon the directors called up from one of the bars downstairs for us all to knock off and come down for a drink to celebrate finishing this particular project. They were a few drinks ahead of us, and love was in the air. We were all terrific, indispensable etc. One said "Heyyyy - congratulations, you're our first employee to make it to long service leave!" Apparently I am qualified for 3 months leave with pay. This is odd, because before we got our fridge-sized dog I enquired about LSS. We had half a mind to take the kids out of school for a term, and drive around Australia. At the time I was told it was 5 years away. So on Friday I asked if they were sure. The answer was "Um, pretty sure?"

I had two exciting invitations in the last week. One is to Government House for a reception to honour Amnesty International's 50th anniversary. I was pretty surprised as I volunteer on AI's market stall, but that's it. I'm not even a financial member. Still, I will climb into the suit and hopefully not let the prisoners of conscience down by using the wrong fork.

The other invitation was from a new online parenting magazine, to write blog posts for them. Once that is up and running I will put up links here. I warned them that parenting advice appears less in my blogs than, say, zebras. They seem unfazed.

OK, one last thing. I was invited to go to see Dave Graney last night but passed, as I thought I needed a quiet night. Then Elf announced we were going to My Friend The Chocolate Cake, the veteran acoustic combo. Imp and Ed came as well, and we all enjoyed it immensely.

They consist of piano, double bass, cello, violin, guitar and drums. The pianist, singer and main writer, David Bridie is one of Australia's great songwriters, and has a very distinctive voice. I don't think he has great vocal range but he is perfect for this music. The highlight for me was to see and hear the interactions between David and Hope Csutoros on violin, and particularly between Hope and Helen Mountford on cello. They just love playing together, you can tell. And they've been doing it for 21 years now. The bassist, Dean, is from Hobart. His Mum and Dad were taking tickets on the door.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Just following orders

Elf caught Michael looking furtive in the kitchen. It wasn't hard to guess that he was up to something, due to his cartoon-style "tippy toes" sneaking technique. On his person she found this note, written in a hand similar to his brother's. Enquiries are proceeding.

[Reminds of me of this note from 2007]

Thursday, May 05, 2011

First chess tournament of the year

The chess thing at school is fraying a bit. Another dad and I are taking turns at running Chess Club on Fridays, and communication is not a strong suit for either of us. The principal is very supportive but he is away at present, guest starring at another school.

This tournament was just suddenly upon us and we didn't really organise things well. Elf and couple of other parents managed to get our team of 7 out to the venue at Sacred Heart (or Holy Pump, I can never remember which it is). But neither I nor Other Dad nor any of the transport parents were able to stay for the day. Of course this was not really acceptable to dump them there with no supervision, so our school dispatched a teacher's aide to keep an eye on things - fortunately one who is keen on chess.

I feel bad about the whole thing, as I am very keen on the whole team aspect of these chess tournaments, and I like to be there encouraging the kids, and trying to use the successes of some to boost the morale of others. All that stuff.

Marcus sets himself goals at each of his tournaments, and they are always realistic, which is admirable. He was going for 4 points from 7 games yesterday, and fell short with 3 and a half. He was a bit upset when Elf got there to collect half the team. One of his mates finished on 5 points, and Marcus felt he should have done better than he did.

One of the tricky things is that Marcus was probably playing tougher games. The top ranked players are on the low numbered tables, and Marcus got as high as Table 4, and had some drawn-out struggles with very good opponents. When you lose you move to a lower table, but by the end of the day Marcus was still at the top end of the hall.

I have just looked up the amazingly detailed stats that they have on for all tournaments. Because of his tough opponents, Marcus' rating has actually gone up a little after yesterday. I just popped in to tell him before he fell asleep - I think that puts a better slant on it for him.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

He is destined for the stage

This might explain why we call Michael 'The Puppet'. (That's one of his schoolfriends I have blurred out behind him)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

South Australia's own Lightburn Zeta - came with four reverse gears!

One day, Mr Harold Lightburn, proprietor of an Adelaide cement mixer factory, decided to start making washing machines as well. Buoyed by his modest success, he decided to try adding seats and wheels, and replacing the agitator with a very small engine. The Lightburn Zeta range of very poor cars was born.

I can still see the washing machine deep within.
"The four speed dog clutch Villiers Engineering gearbox had no reverse so the engine had to be switched off and started backwards which provide four reverse gears. Fuel was delivered by gravity feed from a tank behind the dashboard. The fuel gauge was a plastic pipe running from the top to the bottom of the tank through the dashboard. As a Wheels road test in 1974 put it "it read anywhere from full to empty depending on gradient, throttle and probably Greenwich mean time" - Wikipedia
The Zeta Sports, ideal for the driver with no time for doors, or bumpers.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A fine cricketer, and a fine man - not forgotten by Wikipedia

Although he lacked the pace of Sammy Woods, the guile of Ted Tyler and the endurance of  George Nichols, the name of E. W. Bastard has lived on in the annals of Somerset and Oxford cricket.
Bastard's performances during 1885 saw him selected in two games for the Gentlemen during the Scarborough Festival. The team was a young one, as well as three of his Oxford team-mates from that season, Page, Kingsmill Key and Tim O'Brien, there were a number of players from the Cambridge team chosen. Bastard claimed five wickets in the first innings of the match against I Zingari, but failed to take any against the Players.

Pellet Fires - an outing

It’s that time of year again when Elf looks at the blank bit of wall where our fireplace was going to go, and thinks deep thoughts about heating. For some weeks she has planned an outing to a mythical place called Pellet Fires Tasmania, and we finally went there on Saturday.

They actually sell all sorts of heatware (I just made that up, like it?), and we started looking at a portable gas heater. It was running off a little gas bottle, but the salesman said you could get a fixture in the wall and plumb it to a large gas bottle outside. We tossed back and forth a few things - after a while he said "So, you want to take one of these home today?" Elf, (who wears the heat pants), asked if we could look at the next size up.

After we moved on to a large wall-mounted gas heater, our salesman in mentioning its advantages said "and as it has a flue, unlike the portable, emissions aren't a problem". So - um - emissions ARE a problem with the portable you just heartily tried to sell us? "Oh yes, you wouldn't run one indoors for long without a window open. In fact they’re now illegal in all other states". Marcus said in a stage whisper "Can we get anything else but that, please".

We excused ourselves and went to look at the eponymous pellet fires on the other side of the shop. They are pretty ingenious. You pour sawdust pellets into a hopper on top, and it lowers them into the fiery flames by means of a rotating auger (or helical blade, if you will). The pellets are made from waste that has few other uses, and often goes into landfill. So now we are doing a bit of background study on who makes the pellets, and if they will keep making the pellets if we buy one.

We mentioned our lucky escape from the illegal gas heater to the salesman on the pellet fire side of the shop. He said he had read through all the documentation that came with it, and he could only think of three people that it would be possible to sell one to.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Pellet Fires - any good?

I am using (or possibly abusing) the awesome power of the Blog to ask: does anyone have a pellet fire? Good/bad/meh? We had a look at one yesterday, and there seems to be just one big minus - pellets are only available from one outlet in town, and the sawdust pellet plant in Scottsdale might fall over at any stage.

Your thoughts?

Damp grey Sunday

I can make a black explosion with just this ray, this OTHER ray, and this explosion stick!! - Michael, just now. So - this will be one of those Sunday catch-up blogs.

We just had a really great evening with our buddies from Launceston, Scott and Lynn, and their kids Isobel and Tom. We only see them every year or two, but the four kids just light up when they get together. It is one of the things that gives new life to old friendships - when you each have kids and they hit it off on their own terms, without too much enforcement.

Lynn and I met at high school. Isobel will be starting high school next year, and has been having a look at one or two of the local schools to check out the vibe. Her first question to Lynn was "where does everybody play?" This made Lynn and I feel really, really old.

Due to some allergy issues we offered them an unstuffed chicken roast dinner. Just meat and veg with fruit instead of cheese and biscuits, and more fruit for dessert. Terrific people and a lovely evening - we have been very lucky to have a few of those lately.

Elf watched the whole Royal Wedding. I am a republican but still interested enough to watch the bits before and after I had to go out. I think Prince Harry's braid-fest uniform and Princess Beatrice’s Klingon hat made the whole thing worthwhile. As far as I know, the rest of us in the Commonwealth don't put a cent into the Royals, although we still get to enjoy the soap opera. I think if I was British and actually contributed to the Queen's £8 million per annum, I might be more fired up about a British republic than I am about Australia’s.

For some reason, the bit of the wedding that appealed to me the most was Kate's brother's reading, which I believe is from Romans chapter 12. "Do not lag in zeal" - doesn't even sound like English. But I can’t stop saying it. I would like a bumper sticker. I like to think it means "Fill a pillowcase with apricots" in Afrikaans, and "Bring me a hat made of cheese" in Norwegian.

I missed a chunk of the wedding playing indoor soccer. Our team has been promoted again to the upper division, and wins will be few and Farby Tween. This week we were down 7-1 at halftime, but improved a bit to go down 16-5. We only had 4 players and no other strikers, so I played all but about 2 minutes out on the field. 

And now I have just remembered why its best to blog lightly but frequently. Recalling stuff is just too hard.