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.