Monday, December 31, 2012

Some assembly required

The end of year assembly at school is always a big gig - its taken me several weeks to recover to the point where I can write about it. This was also the new principal's first EoYA, so we all waited to see how she would go. Past editions have been long and windy with unnecessary amounts of Scottish country dancing.

We had been asked to attend which usually means Someone Is Getting Something. I knew I would be presenting the inter-house chess trophy, so I was going anyway.

 [A quick digression on the chess - Rodney and I agreed that we needed a trophy but that modern trophies are yuk. I was casting around for something simple, inexpensive but ingenious to serve as a perpetual trophy, when Mum suggested a sandblasted-glass chess board she found cheap at a jumble sale. I bought a plate stand for it and bingo, we had a trophy good for the next 32 years of winter and summer competitions. Then, just two days before the EoYA, Elf and I were standing in the hallway at school by the trophy cabinet when she said "Look - there is already a chess trophy!" It was inaugurated in 2008, and only awarded once before being forgotten. It's a standard modern trophy ie ugly, but it exists, and so we gave back the glass chessboard and went with it. Derwent made a stirring comeback on the final day to beat Wellington. In all about 52 kids took part, which was huge.] 

Elf was called to the front for a thank you for running the Saturday Sausage Stall for 4 years, and awarded a fine box of chocolates. Rodney and I presented the ugly chess trophy to "a representative from Derwent" who turned out to be Tully, who had in fact been tricked into playing for Wellington. Then it was time for medals. Here's where it starts to get braggy.

The school does very well in the various academic competitions. This year both our boys got High Distinction certificates in the UNSW Competitions for Maths and Science. Last year Marcus got a medal at the end of the year for being in the top 0.3% (or smidgen) nationally in the Grade 3/4 Maths competition. This year Michael was called up and given a medal for being in the top smidgen in Grade 3/4 Science - and he's not yet 9! Then Marcus was called up for a repeat of last years' effort - another Maths medal, this time for being in the top smidgen in Grade 5/6/7, and he's not yet 11!

The loot
The boys are undoubtedly gifted in Maths and Science, and it's worth remembering what gifted literally means. They are lucky kids to be able to achieve on this level without any visible effort. But it's to their credit that they love learning and long may it continue. I refer to them for now as The Medallists, eg "Have you brushed you teeth yet, Medallists?"

Eleanor in Grade 6 also won a medal in spelling, and that was it - Reeses provided 2 of the 3. I was probably puffed up like a bullfrog, I was feeling so proud. Karri won the Grade 6 Principal's Award, for her excellence in ALL AREAS. All three grandparents were there, which was even better. Bill would also have been very proud, but fortunately he had plenty of opportunity to see the boys and Karri and Miah succeeding in music, sport, and academically before he died in mid-2012.

The golden glow of the boys' success was enough to carry us through the Valley of Darkness that was the senior brass ensemble's performance. Parp. Wah wah waaaaaaaaaaaaah.

This year the Grade Sixers had written a song with 2 lines for each leaver, to the tune of Gangnam Style (of course), and after that they marched out of the life of the school to (strangely) Aussie Jingle Bells. And, another school year was over.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Quiet day at the cricket

Marcus and I went along to the last day of the Sri Lanka test match last week. As the Lankans battled to last out the day, the Australians put every single fielder around the bat. I've never seen anything like it. At one point there were four Australians fielding in helmets, including Matt Wade the keeper (seen above in this pic from The Age). The Aussies ended up skittling the visitors with about 8 overs of the Test left to play - it was great to be there in the moment of victory. With about 200 other genuine spectators and at least 250 ground staff, police, TCA and CA people, security, media and catering people.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012

Arthur and Winston found a comfortable quiet moment on the floor

Marcus and Arthur find the way in


Eric in Switzerland and Michael in Hobart compare their pillowcases from Aunty Imp

A bike! A bike! A bike! A bike! A bike! Giver and givee confer.

He's off!

Winston received a squeaky bone, which he carried around gently for an hour. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nelson Mandela makes a cup of tea

I have a lot of respect for Nelson Mandela, of course. He is pretty much the No.1 respect-worthy person on earth. I also have a lot of respect for Phillip Adams, although he has regularly annoyed me since I started reading his column in The Bulletin in about 1980.

Yesterday on Radio National he was interviewing John Carlin, who I think had written a biography of Mandela. Phillip begged him to recount a story from the book wherein Mandela had invited a delegation of sinister Afrikaaner generals to his house. It wasn’t clear when this was, but I guess during the F. W. de Klerk era when democratic elections were not far away.

Mandela asked the senior and most sinister general for a short private chat, and asked him if he would like a cup of tea. Mandela made the tea, then enquired if the general would like milk. Finally he offered sugar - the general is quoted as saying afterwards "All I had to do was stir it!"

I must be missing something. Had no-one ever made the general a cup of tea before? Had he been repressing minorities all this time just because he was a little thirsty? Phillip and John were all misty eyed about Mandela's charisma and tactical genius. Their devotion was religious in its intensity, and I felt like they had just gone a tiny bit over the top.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Catharsis on hold

I have done some work for a local ad agency in the last couple of weeks. Someone that they rely on went on holiday unexpectedly, and they needed someone else to very quickly whip up animated banner ads for an online bottle shop, using Christmas as an excuse to flog beer, wine and spirits over the net. Luckily I have been doing a lot of volunteer work lately so I am in karma kredit.

I was on the phone to them at one stage, when the lady I was speaking to had to put me on hold for about two minutes. It seems they use national youth radio station Triple J for their hold music, so I got a quick window into what’s hot for the 18-25 demographic right now. For about 90 seconds I got this;
DJ: “Wow! Wow. I’ve got chills. That’s so raw, such real pain. Cathartic. Oooh. I’m in tears right here, it’s all so real. Phew. Wow.”

Then “Are you there? Sorry, I'll have to get him to call you - bye!”

Ho Ho Ho!

I got to be part of the magic of Christmas this week. I am a bit of a humbug most years, but nevertheless I was approached to play Santa for the local playgroup’s Christmas party. I know a couple of the parents, but only one of the kids knows me, and we were pretty sure he wouldn't recognise me. (Last year one of the kids freaked out because Santa was his dad, but not his dad, and his dad was Santa, and ... waaaaaah. Hence the need to contract out the the gig.)

I am not a thespian type, and generally avoid being the centre of attention. But I actually loved being Santa! The punters were all 3 or under, in fact Isla (on the left of the pic with her mum Sally) might have been the oldest. They were so sweet, innocent and straightforward (compared to the groups of kids I usually have to wrangle, aged 8-12). I realised afterwards, that for me and all the adults there I was the guy who was playing Santa, but for the kids I really was Santa. Quite a responsibility.

Sally, who is the playgroup coordinator, dropped off the suit to me, a really good quality suit it is too. The beard took some working out, but it actually has a bit that goes over your head to minimise the dangers of beard-tugging toddlers. I put it all on at home, classical pillow-up-the-jumper and all. I felt a responsibility, shared with all Santas (and any other grown-ups called upon to be Mickey Mouse, a Banana In Pyjama etc) to not be seen getting in or out of costume. So I waddled down to the car as Santa, drove as Santa, got out of the car as Santa, changed my dainty driving shoes for serious Santa Boots as Santa, and set off across the soccer field to the appointed spot in the Darcy Street playground, ringing my bell and trying out a few Ho Ho Ho's. Or the old 3H as we call it in the caper.

Sally did a fantastic job planning it all, and making it very easy for me. I sat in the shade of a marquee, next to a small decorated tree that fell over regularly. The parents had all smuggled in gifts for me to hand out, and that went smoothly. Although one or two were very shy they all came and took their gift from me in the end, one or two shook hands and Santa scored a kiss and a couple of hugs. Once the gifts were sorted, it was time for the traditional sit on Santa's lap session. The parents seemed keen to get photos to remember it all by, so I took that as a sign it was going well. Weird to think that I am going to printed and stuck on grandparents fridges all around Australia.

Once everyone had all the photos they wanted, it was time for Santa to move on to his next port of call. Fortunately my initial line of retreat was around a corner, as I had serious pants-sag issues. Santa exited backwards, ringing his bell, ho-ing.

Recent work by Michael

The space shuttle may have retired but Michael has a few ideas for a reboot. 
Mr Birley introduced the class to perspective and Michael embraced it.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


View Larger Map
I have been getting the wave ski out a bit. I am in a pre-christmas fallow period with freelance work, and I feel that on a warm day I might as well be out on the water if there's nothing to do at my desk. (In fact there is always something to do at my desk, but if there is not going to be an invoice at the end of it my motivation is somewhat lower).

The other day I did my first fairly serious Derwent River paddle - from this spot at Marieville Esplanade, right around Battery Point to the CSIRO corner. I went out far enough into Sullivans Cove to see the GPO clock in town. Then I got a bit nervous about being on the water equivalent of a major road, piloting the water equivalent of one roller skate.

On the way back I hugged the coast and had a good and envious look at the homes of the Hobart super-rich that back onto the water, with starfish at the bottom of the garden. Private jetties, boathouses and so on. Saw an actual watergate. I had a little rest in the sun on a boat ramp on the way back, and ate a banana. I'm no Sir Francis Chichester, but it was good exercise and very good fun.

A couple of days later I set off from the same spot and went the other way, heading for the little beach beyond Wrest Point Casino. But it was pretty choppy and quite hard work, so I satisfied myself with getting to within sight of it, then turned around and had an easy ride back with the swell. (Note how I am talking all boaty now.)

I had an excuse to go down towards Dodges Ferry on Thursday, as Marcus was at a school camp there and parents were invited to a midday beach frolic. So I took the wave ski, and on the way found a lovely little ramp just where Lewisham peters out into the start of Dodges Ferry. Across the channel there is a long sandspit with big sandhills on it, which is the "back" of Seven Mile Beach. I paddled across and back very easily. I had the sandspit to myself for a time and went through the usual desert island fantasies, spoiled somewhat by people coming over the hill and saying "how are you going?" and the like.

I have been going barefoot, but have found that a lot of places where I would like to make landfall are not so foot-friendly. So today I snapped up some boat-bootees for fifteen bucks.(I did continue on down to the surf beach and see my first-born son but that's not what this blog is about now. Me. Me and my bootees.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fire-walk for 75.6 metres

Michael's just bought home this year's creative writing exercise books. One piece is called Setting: Regruba's Tower, 1476. A sample sentence;
The forest is dark and to get through it you have to run throwing All-Dirt Dino-Head traps at lightning speed and fire-walk for 75.6 metres across burning bones and flesh and then kill a monster called Olleh, whose teeth are filed to extremely nasty points.
There is a poem called Winston. The teacher's only comment at the end was OMG.
You're a piece of garlic
Smelling very nice
But if you were some garlic bread
I'd have another slice
If you were spaghetti
I'd spin you with a fork,
but if you went outside
you'd get snapped up by a hawk.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Another plug for 52 Suburbs

52 Suburbs is a beautiful travel photoblog, well worth a look. Louise Hawson and her 9-year-old daughter Coco, have left Sydney behind and so far have explored the suburbs of 9 cities. Pics below are from Tokyo (of course all © Louise Hawson). I do believe these coloured links I copied/pasted actually work.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Winston F(?) Society

A devious plan from Michael, a few months ago. This is a sketch map of the school and environs.

Middle 2012: Start WFS
Late 2012: First Expantion
Early 2013: First Coat of Arms
Middle-Late 2013: About three times as big
2015: First “bit-by-bit” conqering
Start 2016: Piracy to A on the Rivulet Track (RT)
Late 2019: I give orders to invade the principal's office.

SSJ - Day 2 PM

We arrived at Tasmania Zoo, and piled in at a jog to see the famous meerkats. They are right at the entrance, in fact their glass-fenced enclosure opens on to the zoo cafeteria. You can sit at a table, enjoy meerkat activity and have a Slushee or a fisherman's basket at the same time. The radio is also on, and while we were there the meerkats enjoyed some Midnight Oil, Counting Crows and Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen.

They are completely loveable. They are a bit smaller than I thought, but very active. They were nibbling on scattered bits of stuff when we arrived, so we thought the "feeding" would probably not be a big deal for them, but they jumped to attention when the keeper went in with a bucket of grubs. They did quite a lot of the sitting-up-on-hindquarters thing that we all know and love. One of them was up on a little central perch, keeping a perky weather eye on the primates, Tasmanian devils and the Tasmanian masked owl. As those guys are all also in cages and pens, I don't think he really had much to worry about.

The rest of the zoo was pretty good, although quite bird-heavy. And I don't think I am much of a bird person. The blue and gold macaw thought it was pretty funny to make an appalling beak-squeak on the metal struts of her enclosure. You could tell she thought it was funny as it was followed by a frightening "HA HA HA HA HA HA!" remniscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

The Tasmanian devils were in a good mood - well, mostly asleep, but I did get a photo of one looking quite friendly. I think she was just working out how much of my arm she would be able to take off if I just leaned a little closer.

The cage I really couldn't tear myself away from was full of these guys. 

This is a pic from the zoo's facebook page - all my photos were kind of blurry and cagey. They are some kind of ape - I never managed to find out what kind on the day, and looking at the zoo map now I still can't work it out. They are tail-less, so i don't think they could be macaques. Whatever they are, they were eyeballing us very closely, and the message I was getting from that look was "get us out of here and take us into town with you so we can go shopping". They were so human-y. They kept reaching through the wire for handfuls of particular rushy grasses, and failing to uproot them. Marcus would pull up a few and try to share them out equally, but one guy was getting them all. When Marcus held them back out of his reach, he gave him the full teeth-revealing hiss of anger. It was pretty confronting, speaking as a fellow ape.

The cotton-eared marmosets were very engaging - one of them spent a lot of time millimeters from me, hugging his side of the bars. I felt like he really, y'know, understood me? He looked deep into my eyes and also asked me non-verbally if we could get him out of there and perhaps get him a skateboard and some sugary snacks. (I feel like I have just foretold the kids movie blockbuster of the summer, Las Vegas Skatin' Cotton-Eared Marmoset).

The croc house was disappointing. Crocs might be quite happy to have a concrete basin of water and a stretch of fake grass each - they might love it. But I was expecting some mudflats, some vague stab at a natural-ish environment. Maybe this is temporary.

I am merciless with typos. Fatastic indeed - they are thinking of the wombats.
My big gripe applies equally to all zoos and wildlife parks - if an exhibit or cage or enclosure is out of action or empty - put a sign on it. No-one wants to be the kind of zoo visitor who impatiently blows past a whole bunch of enclosures because there doesn't seem to be much happening. But when you have limited time to get around a big zoo, its maddening to find you have been patiently waiting for ... nothing. The nocturnal house, as far as I could tell, had one occupied enclosure out of about 20. I am sure there were at least a few more furry friends in there, but the majority of those glass boxes could have had a standard card in the window that just said "Sorry, nothing to see here right now".

Yellow bucket = mandrill food. Metal bucket = something dead for the devils.
Having had our fill of fauna, we went back into town to suss out the caravan park. How bad would it be? The caravan smelled pretty stale but that didn't last long once we opened everything up. Marcus and I went off to get dinner. After sausages and salad we broke our "no-buddies" rule and went to visit Joe and Jill and William. As usual William, Marcus and Michael had anarchic fun with a lot of ear-splitting laughing from William - again, a bit The Shining-esque. After a few beers, some school talk and half an A-League game, we had to let William get to bed. We went back to face the music at Glen Dhu Treasure Island caravan park.

Glen Dhu is the part of Launceston where my Dad grew up. That was before the expressway cut it in two. Dad's old primary school is now hard by one side of the Southern Outlet, and his father Didds' old workplace Coats Patons woollen mill is hard by the other side. I had never had a close-up look at Coats Patons before - it is really very, very big.

As it happened we had a terrible night, and none of us really slept. We just drifted through the next day in a group mind-fug. The road was so noisy, and the kids in the next caravan had a drunken revel until 3 or 4. I tried to make myself sleep by going through the nations of Africa and putting them in alphabetical order, then singing every Billy Bragg song I could think of to myself. To no avail. 

Sigh. We live and learn. Cheap is not always everything.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spontaneous Spring Jaunt - Day 1

We have just had a little 3-day trip up to the East Coast and Launceston. Elf decided we needed a holiday, and we gave the boys a couple of days off school so it wouldn’t have to be done in a big rush.

We set off on Thursday, stopping at Raspins Beach, Triabunna, Mayfield  Beach and arriving at Bicheno, where we stayed at the Silver Sands Motel. I would describe it as “agreeably shabby”. It’s got a great location, right on the headland at one end of the main beach. But the main sign fell down a while ago and hasn’t been replaced, and reception is actually in the White Dog Café which is hidden when you drive up. All that could do with some tidying up. Our room had a feeble plywood door to the outside world - fortunately we are not super security-conscious. All around one side of the motel is a labyrinth of blackberry, heavily populated with rabbits. One the plus side the beds were really comfortable, it was clean, and we were able to stroll from our room onto the beach in two minutes.

We were all keen to see some penguins come ashore in the evening, and the rest of the family thought we might see some before dinner. We found a likely spot, but it was still much too bright, so we went off to look for food instead.

We had an OK seafood dinner at the pub, but Elf’s caesar salad was pretty forgettable, and the “Bad Boy Fries” were just bad. 

We returned to the search for fairy penguins. They are officially called “little penguins” these days but I am stuck on the old name for now. It was still too early for them so we walked the length of the beach. Diamond Island is joined to the mainland at low tide, and we were able to scurry out to it, touch dry land and then get back to the main beach before we got our feet wet. By the time we got back to the car it was quite dim, but still no sign of Eudyptula minors. 

We agreed to sit in the car for another ten minutes, but saw nothing until I started the engine and began to leave - there they were in the headlights. So out we got and enjoyed the company of 6 or 8 or so for the next 20 minutes. I have lived in Tasmania nearly all my life but had never bothered to hang around burrow sites at dusk, so I had never seen them before. They are pretty cute.

Stone houses in Charles St, Triabunna

Marcus wearing Maria Island as a hat.
To take a photo of Michael I have to pretend I am doing no such thing.
View from Room 22,  Silver Sands,  Bicheno. 
Shabby Chic
Startles me how much that looks like my dad on the left. It's me.
¿Donde estas los pinguinos? Where are the penguins?  

Little penguins at Bicheno - a mum and her chick

Monday, November 12, 2012

Box city

On Saturday we took the kids to an activity called We Built This City - (I just want to apologise up front for putting that terrible song by Starship into your heads). A vacant block next to the Theatre Royal was piled with about 5000 boxes, and the kids invited in to build whatever they wanted. It was put on by Polyglot Theatre who have done this all over the world.

The boys both enjoyed themselves a lot, but Michael felt he wanted another crack at it, so I took him and the camera back there on Sunday. He is a bit glass-half-empty lately. Although I have documentary evidence of him having a whale of a time, he needed a lot of cajoling at the end to agree that it had, on balance, been fun.

Dianthus "Rebekah"

One of my new workmates at PMA is Joe Chelkowski, who takes most of the photos. And as you can see, he is pretty damn good. Images like this are a joy to work with.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Baltic Dirty Tanker Index

Like me, I'm sure you are pretty puzzled about what is going on with the Baltic Dirty Tanker Index. It's going through the floor!

The BDTI is "a compilation of international crude oil routes". The plunge
"reflects the terrible pricing tanker companies receive for leasing their vessels. Clearly some of the oil tankers problems have to do with more vessels coming on line, weak capital access and decreased demand. But not all. Dry bulkers face the same issues. It's hard to see how the index can stay down in sharp contrast to a rising demand for the transport of iron, grain, and coal as evidenced by the BDI. After all, oil tankers do participate in a global economy. This last week, the BDTI has seen a fledgling increase. A more sustained strengthening in the BDTI would propel Nordic American (NAT) and Frontline (FRO). If the dry bulking industry is returning, can the BDTI be far behind?" Stephen Rosenman, 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

If you aren't changing minds, you are wasting your time


I remember having a race between two wooden blocks I called "Labor" and "Liberal", on the carpet in Ibey's hallway. I think that was in 1975 when there a lot of talk about the dismissal of the Whitlam government. So, I think i can say I have been following Australian politics for 37 years.

I have never known a time when the vast bulk of what is said (and there has never been so much being said) is aimed squarely at the already converted.

If you think Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones is a disgrace, as I do, then it's pretty comfortable to listen to other people also saying "the man is a disgrace". [For overseas readers, he is on record saying our Prime Minister should be "sewn up in a chaff bag and thrown in the ocean". Then last week a recording emerged of him at a fundraising dinner saying that her recently deceased father "died of shame" over her policies and conduct as PM]. Looks pretty damning. And my preferred sources of news (The Age and the ABC) have been predictably and rightly scathing.

But if you had a quality national half hour current affairs show, would you bother bringing on a high profile sworn enemy of the bloke, in John Laws, to reiterate that yes, he's still not a fan? I can't see what that achieves. Local radio actually did a better job, getting a well-known Alan supporter in Senator Eric Abetz to try to defend the indefensible. He found a tweet that a union official retweeted, that essentially said 'Cool it - Jones is old - he'll die soon'. Abetz claimed that that was basicallly equivalent. Abetz sounds like a robot, but he had the grace to sound (robotically) embarrassed by own his pissweak argument.

In a wierdly recursive way, Jones' power lies in the perception among politicians that he is powerful. He has a deep hook into a particular segment of the electorate - older males. But they only have one vote each - I have never understood why this particular niche is the holy grail. The perception peddled by Alan and his employers is that he is a kingmaker and also a wise elder of the tribe. Listen to his wisdom gained from his close affinity with the regular Aussies on Struggle Street, otherwise you will lose touch with them, to your detriment. Offend him and you may as well have offfended the gods themselves, for the amount of plagues, smitings and flag-cape-wearing pitchfork mobs he calls down on your head.

But who are ‘Alan's people’? I would love someone to sit down with a representative group of his listeners, and go through the established facts of who Alan is, what he has done and said in the past, and the contradictions therein. And try to change their minds about him.

There is a subject on the national curriculum called Persuasive Writing. It seems to be a dying art, so I am glad they are trying to address that.

My work colleague

"I assume you are here about the silly games? Come this way."
Winston (and Hattie) are my constant companions when I am working at home Tuesday-Friday. Sometimes I will go upstairs to make coffee or grab a piece of toast. I am always keen to get back downstairs and keep working, but it is hard to pass up the invitation to play chasings around the couch with this foolish, foolish, soft-faced dog.

The sheer freedom of my lance is breathaking

I began last week with no work to do after my regular Monday gig. Practically nothing lined up in the future even. And - I was OK with it. Weather is warming up, got some fat books to read. Put the feet up, kick back and live mostly on instant noodles. Nice. But then the phone started ringing and I was run off my feet all week. One of the jobs was some fix ups on a big project that I had worked on at Roar, Founders and Survivors: Storylines. I mumbled about the project back in 2011 and about our family story that was going to be a part of it.

I don’t think I have put any of it up for show and tell before. Here is an animation I did to accompany an original song by Adam Gibson, based on the Beni Griffiths story.

And here is the Griffiths home page, featuring Marcus and a picture of me as a grumpy toddler.

The site is not live yet but I will advise when you can go and look at the whole thing. There are about twenty detailed Storylines like this one. I have put up some more of the home pages I designed here.

Chlorophyll Club

This is one of those stream-of-consciousness updates. You have been warned.

Just been mowing the lawn. Often while I do that Elf is simultaneously vacuuming inside. Then comes the delicate point that I, covered in grass clippings, want to come in to the now spotless house. I brush myself down throughly but still feel that wherever I go I am going to leave a trail of grassiness. (Feel obliged to note that I also vacuum sometimes though I am generally more of a sweeper).

Michael likes to form clubs at school. He likes to do his own thing, and will almost never be found joining in something started by others. But he is always happy to have followers, and the latest crazy scheme is Chlorophyll Club. He and others collect plants, grass (and sometimes small insects) and crush them into a mush. I found a list of members in his schoolbag. He is President and Leader. A girl named Madison is responsible for “Waste Removal”. The last organisation he founded was Ice Club, back in winter.

Marcus currently has all his medals around his neck and just announced to the visiting neighbours “I’m a bro with some blingggg” with an appropriate homeboy hand signal. The boys have been watching a terrible cartoon lately with a character voiced by B Grade celebrity and rapper Flavor Flav, and have picked up a few things. Flav is currently doing a stretch for domestic violence, but I suppose you can’t go pulling a cartoon off air on that basis. Unsurprisingly, his character ‘Father Time’ finds plenty of opportunities to say “Yeaaaaaaaaaah booooooooooooy”.

Marcus scored a new medal today, coming 2nd at a chess tournament. This is the first one he’s attended as an individual, not representing the school. The more seriously chessy kids played in a 2-day tournament, but there was a 1-day alternative and that’s what we went for. While he played I read a fantastic book.

Hilary Mantel just won her second booker prize, for Bring Up The Bodies. It's more or less a sequel to the first prizewinner, Wolf Hall, which is what I am reading now. It's fantastic - an historical novel set in Tudor England, full of bloody treachery, cunning and pragmatism. The main character is Thomas Cromwell, who usually gets written up as a bit of a rotter. In A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt he is a bloodthirsty rat-cunning survivor. The hero of that play is Sir Thomas More, but Mantel is not a fan.

I read an interview with Mantel which I found on She has had a very difficult and sometimes tragic life, and you have to be happy for her finding success. She said that for a long time it was out of fashion to write historical novels about famous women, you had to write about the ordinary woman in the sixteenth century or in Rome or whatever. 
But she stuck with what was plausible—she couldn’t stand maudlin feminist mythmaking. “There was a time when, truffling around historical fiction for women, I seemed to come across nothing but ordinary women who happened to have a brilliant knowledge of herbs,” she says.
So - I'll do a proper review when I have finished it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spring racing season

Michael models a hat of his own design.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trike trailer

I have been trying to move on this tricycle for about four years now. Michael just loves it and is adept at finding things he can hitch to it. This is my dad’s old golf buggy.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Launceston Cup triumph and a well-earned rest.

Soccer season is finally over. We went to Launceston for the weekend, to see Marcus play for the Central Region again. Having lost the Hobart Cup to the Northern representative side, we were keen to see the boys do well and maybe pinch the Launceston Cup in return.

We drove up on Saturday morning, getting there about an hour before the first game. The tournament was on at Churchill Park by the river. It had been raining for a week beforehand, and I thought the grounds would be terrible but they were surprisingly good. The grassed areas around and between the grounds were saturated though - Michael spent a lot of his time paddling.

Saturday was warm and sunny, and watching the first game I was actually very pleased when I found some shade. Central's first game of four was against Northern - and based on previous results, it was essentially a decider. Marcus played again at right-back, and he was very involved right from the start. Every attack from the home team seemed to come down his side, and he was impassable. After soaking up ten minutes of pressure Central struck on the counterattack to go one up. The boys went wild. There is a lot of showboating in the Central U/10s and the goal celebrations are way over the top.

Shortly after there was a 2nd goal, and they went to the break up 2-0. Marcus was dominating, winning a lot of high balls with his head (you don't see that much in U/10s). He was anticipating and cutting off attacks, then holding and carrying the ball up confidently and passing constructively. More goals came, and by the end Central were up about 5-0. It was a great effort all over the park.

Unfortunately Marcus didn't see out the game. Ten minutes from time he went for a 50-50 ball and limped off in pain with a damaged ankle. It was an hour until the next game, and Atef the coach was insistent he would need Marcus, but Marcus wasn't able to put any weight on his leg at all. (Various people later said they thought he was best on ground)

We consulted the St John's ambulance ladies, who gave Marcus a bag of ice and said that he really needed an x-ray. So I piggybacked him to the car and the four of us went looking for the Launceston General. Emergency was not particularly busy, but we were still there a long time. The doctor who unwrapped the bandages winced when he saw the swelling though, but Marcus was cleared of damage and released. We sped back to Churchill Park to let the team know that he was OK, but sadly would not be playing any more that weekend. In his absence they had won a spiteful game against Western Schools 4-2. The Western U/10 coach is a real problem - I believe Central and Eastern Region have put in a joint complaint about his behaviour and his instructions to his team.

After a quick catchup with the team we went across to Joe and Jill's nearby for a cuppa. Their boy William is 5 now, and he and Michael had a whale of a time on the floor doing something with action figures and Lego. Their renovation is 95% finished - they actually have some insulated rooms now, which make a difference in a Launceston winter. We then farewelled them and went off to our billet for the night, with Lindy, Ellen and Tristan in Blackstone Heights. Tristan was delighted to have boys to bounce around with, but Ellen is now in full moody teen mode, and was on Facebook with headphones on for our entire visit.

The kids and Elf read and watched footy while Lindy cooked and I grilled her about everything going on up there. We went to high school and college together and have a lot of mutual friends around, so it was very good to be able to swap news about what they are all up to.

We had decided to stay and support the team rather than making an early departure for home. The first kickoff was at 9.00 so we had to bolt breakfast and get out of there. Sunday was a darker day with all sorts of weather predicted. Joe had lent us a folding chair for Marcus, so he joined the coaching panel on the halfway line while I did my usual stalking up and down the sideline. The goals were not long in coming, and Central had another good win, fortunately with no further injuries.

The last game was played in steadily worsening weather. It was blowing a gale so umbrellas were useless. We had disposable rain capes, which did a good job of keeping most of us dry. The sleeves are very short though, and I had that horrible uncomfortable wet-sleeve feeling until we got home to Hobart. The conditions were dreadful for soccer, and the boys looked very tired, but they won the last game 2-0. Sam scored the second with a header but was too tired to and wet to even celebrate it.

We had to return the chair to Joe, which gave us an excuse to bring our bags in, and change into every dry thing we had remaining. Then we had one more commitment before we left town: visiting Elf's father's old friend Jill Green. Jill was at our wedding but I hadn't seen her since, and I don't think she had met the boys. Her house in Riverside is amazing - she grew up in it. When she was a girl the West Tamar Highway that roars past her door was a dirt road.

Once we had a cuppa with Jill we hopped back in the car, pointed it south and cruised slowly and patiently home though the rain squalls.

Marcus is recovering now very well, and in fact has to be be reminded constantly to go easy on his ankle. It's a shame he missed so much of the tournament, but if he could only play 45 minutes of it, he was certainly there for the 45 minutes that counted.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Last Days of the Mill by Pete Hay and Tony Thorne

I bought myself a book the other day! Not something that happens very often. The soccer kids gave me a voucher as a thank you at the end of the season, so I went and grabbed a copy of Last Days of the Mill by Pete Hay and Tony Thorne, as it's just come out and I have heard people talking about it. I know both Pete and Tony slightly.

It's about the APPM pulp and paper mill in Burnie, the town where I grew up. (I mentioned it once before when it was the subject of a contemporary opera, for heavens sake) It was generally called the Pulp. Generations worked there alongside one another - grandparents, parents and kids. We were not a Pulp family, although I did have a brother-in-law working there during the dark days towards the end of the mill's life. It was a very unhappy place to work then.

APPM  was the big employer in town, and at the time I was in high school, it was still where the average Burnie lad could expect to spend his working life. My dad was a teacher, and so as a middle-class kid I didn't have as much to do with the place. It stank, and we would wind up the windows when we drove past it in summer. It had a cloying odour that somehow combined bacon with burnt sugar and burnt hair. I could rabbit on more about my recollections but this is a book review.

The book is a collection of stories based on interviews Pete Hay conducted with former mill workers. A lot of them talk about the strike that happened 20 years ago. It was a very nasty strike with a lot of militancy on both sides. Hardline union outsiders and hardline free-marketers on the company side decided to make it a test case, and the locals were caught in the middle having to choose to strike or scab. 

Pete Hay has tried to reflect the way working men of that generation speak, and I think he's done a good job. These are men with dignity and self-respect, who are quite eloquent in their way. Here is an example - this is from a time before OH&S had much real importance on the shop floor.

I went through th machine
Clean through. 13 April 1968.
Four operations.
That was no-one's fault but me own.
I seen a fault in th paper go through
and I look up t'see where th break was
and put th ticket in without watchin.
And through I went.
There wasn't guards and things like there was by th finish
but it were still my fault.
And th company looked after me –
brought me pay in, and when I was back fr skin grafts and that
someone frm th mill come in every week …

In the early days, although safety was pretty rough and ready, the company was very paternal, and looked after it's people. I remember the annual Christmas party for all the mill kids was a big thing in town, although we never went of course.

I really like this bit;

Now, a lot 'f th drives had carbon brushes
and they was bloody high maintenance.
Y'cleaned em with compressed air
'brush n blow' it was called,
shitty stuff, bastard 'f a job.
This bloke, he'd been on th brush n blow and he was filthy.
And here he was, sittin in th canteen eatin cream buns.
And he was black –
th only white on him was th tips 'f his fingers
where he'd been lickin the cream off …

I learned a lot about life at the Pulp from this book. Having grown up there, surrounded by people for whom the Pulp was their life, I suppose I have a deeper understanding of those people now.

I met Tony in about 1984, when he was taking a school holiday cartooning course at the Burnie Adult Ed. He is an amazingly talented illustrator and animator - I believe he worked on some of the Harry Potter films. He arranged to spend time drawing at the mill before it finally closed for good in June 2010. He was supposed to have 2 weeks but ended up having only four days, as different processes shut down forever around him. 

Tony, his father and grandfather all worked at the Pulp or on the docks shipping paper. Tony's mum Pam worked with my mum for years as paper artists. The works in the book are mostly digital prints - which I guess he has done from sketches using a graphics tablet. The 2nd image above is the exception, its a big watercolour wash/ink number. If you'd like to know more, the book has its' own blog here.

I think it's a real treasure of a book, and a model of how this sort of vernacular history ought to be done.