Monday, December 30, 2013

Mr Careless

We are now doing our biggest ever deep-down house clean. We are just two days away from heading off to Perth for a 19-day house swap. Strangers will be living in our house, so of course the back of the TV needs to be dust free and the stray fluff removed from the 3rd drawer down in the back bedroom linen cupboard. Etcetera. Crumb tray of the toaster? Check. Springs on the trampoline? Polished.

Yesterday I was a bit over-zealous about cleaning down the sides of the snugly fitted-in gas stove. I rocked it forward, and saw a flexible hose, which I guessed was the gas line. I slid it towards me a little and ... smelt gas. I had broken or dislodged something. The flexible hose was the exhaust outlet, while the gas comes in via a rigid copper pipe. GAH! I must have been studying cloud formations when the ironclad rule NEVER MOVE A GAS STOVE was announced. I have been living with this one for 6 years, but only now had I felt the cleaning urge to the point that I was moved to move it.

So today we had a visit from a very nice gasfitter named Ben. He was polite, thorough and tidied up after. I heartily recommend him. People who know Tasmanian footy might know him as a stalwart defender for years for the Glenorchy Magpies. A safe pair of hands with the gas appliances or bringing the ball out of the back half.

His name? Careless, Ben Careless.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Kentucky governors

I am by now well-established as a world authority on US state governors. I think it’s time to mention a couple of Kentucky’s finest.

Gabriel Slaughter
Lazarus W. Powell
Ruby Laffoon
Happy Chandler who defeated Republican nominee King Swope, and won a 2nd term in 1955 with the slogan “Be like your Pappy and vote for Happy”.

I'd also like to squeeze in a special mention for another Kentucky politician, Marvel Mills Logan.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Highs and lows and a surprise trip to the sub-tropics

Thursday was one of the most emotional days I have had for a long time. It was Marcus’ last day of Primary school, and I was expecting to have a bit of a quiet blub at the end of the final assembly. Turned out the blubbing happened a bit later on.

This year there was a certificate assembly a few days before the final one, to get a lot of the long lists of names and lengthy ovations out of the way. Marcus and Michael both raked in a great deal of certification for maths, science, spelling, chess and so on, to the extent that the principal said “they won’t need wallpaper at the Rees house”. She’s not given to jokes so by her standards that was a ripper.

Now to the final assembly. The senior marimba group were divided against themselves and struggled to agree on a tempo. As ever the junior marimbas showed them up. The brass ensemble were very bad, sure, but possibly not as bad as last year. The best thing musically was during the getting-settled period right at the start, when small girls took turns to sit at the piano and play a variety of things from memory, as we all filed in. It was lovely and refreshingly competent.

Each grade had one or two Teacher’s Prize winners. After one of the grade 1 or grade 2 winners were announced a mum behind me blurted “Jesus!”

Most subject areas had a prize, and there were others for environmental awareness, social justice etc. Elf was quietly disappointed that Marcus didn’t win the PE prize, as he has been a bit of an all-round star and is famous for his fairness and encouragement of others. No good at swimming though.

Michael was called up and won the ICAS gold medal for outstanding performance in the international maths competition. While he was up he also received a book voucher from Rotary, a prize for all round academic excellence. He was very happy and fairly gracious - there were no fist pumpings or brief mime performances as we have seen in past years. He’s just a lot less self-conscious.

Then Marcus was called up to get the same gold medal as Michael - amazingly the fourth year running he has won one. The first time in 2010 we were all told how rare these medals are, but it doesn’t seem that way now. He also won the same Rotary prize as Michael (I believe they spent their $50 gift vouchers yesterday). (And while I am doing asides, I just passed through a train station named Fassifern).

Marcus was asked to stay standing, as he had also won the ICAS gold medal in Science. Then, as it is apparently outrageously rare for one kid to win two medals in one year, he was presented with a special plaque in honour of his two medals.

Next, he was given a trophy and certificate for his effort in the Maths Olympiad, where he got 24 out of 25. Then came a special framed testimonial the school had put together listing his five medals and various other academic gongs he has won over the last four or five years.

We were all completely agog by this stage. We had got the nod that there would be some awards but the sheer number of dignitaries and teachers all standing beside Marcus at this point was staggering. He was a little stunned. Each time the principal said “but stay there, Marcus...” the crowd gave a little gasp, mixed with a cheer and a good-natured mock-moan.

Finally, a vice principal from Taroona High was called up, and she presented Marcus with a bursary towards next year’s school costs. This has never been awarded before, but they are giving onset at each of the five or six feeder primary schools.

So about fifteen minutes of the final assembly was all about Marcus. Soon they moved on to the a farewell to the leavers, this year it was done as a series of short filmed statements from the kids projected on the big screen. Then they went out to ... Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. So no chance of a good cathartic cry with that. They really need to consider Bohemian Rhapsody or The Rose by Bette Midler or something by Johnny Cash or Edith Piaf.

The local paper had sent a photographer, and he arranged Marcus and all his loot then took about 200 photos. (The article was terrific). Finally he was allowed to go, and I went off with Elf and Mum and Dad to have lunch at a cafe near the school and digest everything that had just happened. 

Now, important background to this bit is that my brother-in-law in NSW has been suffering from leukaemia for a couple of years, and has been going downhill. The news had been generally poor and we didn’t expect him to live very long, maybe two or three weeks. On Wednesday we got some good news, that an operation to put a stent in his throat had gone very well, and he would be heading home from hospital. During lunch I sent a ‘hooray’ text to my sister Jacki, but then got a very sobering reply that things had suddenly changed, he now had only days to go and may not survive to Christmas.

I went out and called Jacki and got the details, had a bit of a weep and went back in to break the news to the happy and celebrating family. This is not something I have a lot of experience with. My mum has been the news source and the link between us and Jacki and Tim. 

Elf and I and the boys are going to Perth for three weeks from Jan 1, and suddenly I had to think about going to a funeral. Jacki and Tim live at Smiths Lake, two hours drive north of Newcastle. Getting there from Tasmania is a complicated business. And not knowing when you need to go, it is very hard to plan.

I am usually guided by my mum and dad as to what is the right thing to do in family dramas, but I thought this one I had to work out for myself. So I decided to go and see Tim while I could, right away. And Mum, Dad and my younger sister Sally decided to come too.

I had a meeting on Friday so we made it Saturday. Less than two days after we got the news of Tim’s downturn, we were in Sydney on our way up. I had booked a car in Newcastle but after walking to Budget from the train station in the baking heat, I found they had closed a couple of hours earlier. (Fortunately I did not buy the 2kg of prawns I was tempted by on the way).

I found a cab, went back to the station and collected everyone, and thankfully Sal found another car hire firm on the phone who were just closing but would wait for us to get there. So huge thanks to Thrifty Newcastle and also to Harry the cab driver.

When we finally got to Smiths Lake in time for dinner, the news was good. Tim had held court on the front verandah all day, was feeling better and had just gone for a rest. He got up and met us at about 9, and I think we we all relieved to see him able to walk with a stick, have a conversation, and still his old self inside. He is self-administering morphine but doesn’t need it so much that he’s away with the fairies.

So, we spent the evening and yesterday, and a brief time this morning, just enjoying each other’s company, telling stories again that we have mostly heard before, getting drinks and pillows for Tim, and mostly doing all the usual weekend-at-the-shack things people do. His drama on Thursday was the result of a bowel obstruction which seems to have sorted itself out, and he is confident of being around for Christmas. We will do a family skype and try to keep talking every day or two so we are in touch with what’s happening.

Tim is really looking forward to the Boxing Day test on TV too, just propping in front of it with his family and mates around him.

We took the car back to Newcastle this morning, and we are currently on the train back to Sydney. Tonight before the kids go to bed I should be back home. There were no tears or deathbed confessions, not too much deep analysis of what it’s all about - that would be out of character for Tim and for us too. There were a lot of shared beers, laughs and plenty of hours of just quietly sitting together on the verandah while the cicadas shrieked.

I am very thankful we got the chance to do that.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Jellies in town

Today we had a visit from fellow blogger and Richmond Tigers man Dugald Jellie of Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, and his lovely family Clare, Alistair (Ali) and baby Marcus. I got to know Dugald over the interwebs through the 2013 season, and enjoyed his writing very much. His passionate and thoughtful writing was always supportive, win or lose, and articulated the feelings of the regular folks in the outer. He did not have any special access to the players, and made a point of respecting their privacy, but at the same time he was able to get insights into what makes them tick, and their relationships with one another.

Dugald was actually at Presentation Night #2 but although I thought I covered the room pretty thoroughly, I didn’t track him down. He had long planned this visit to Tasmania with his family, so at last we had a chance to meet. His main purpose in visiting Hobart was catching up with VFL legend Brent Crosswell. 

“Tiger” Crosswell played in nine VFL Grand Finals, winning two each with Carlton and North Melbourne. He was a unique character in footy, quite the intellectual. And he was Dugald’s geography teacher! He suffers from Meniere’s Disease these days, and is quite reclusive. I understand that Dugald had a few ups and downs trying to get a visit organised, but it did finally happen the day before we met, and was a great success. I am sure Dugald will write about it in time.

When they arrived, Ali (who is 3) made a beeline for the boys’ corner, and was very happy there playing with our Marcus and with Michael. We have regular 3-year-old visitors in Finton and Arthur, and still have plenty of cars, trucks, blocks etc that a knee-high person usually enjoys. Marcus Jellie is a very well-adjusted baby, who seemed to spend most of the visit just beaming and chuckling.

Elf made a highly-praised flourless orange cake, and we all got on like a house on fire. Clare works as a historian at Monash Uni where she specialises in Black American history between the wars; the Cotton Club in Harlem and the like. I am very interested in American history. After the bicentennial in 1976 I was completely sick of Paul Revere and George Washington (who popped up in everything from the Brady Bunch to Archie comics) and generally felt like American history was something to avoid. Whereas I am now addicted to a podcast on the Civil War, and one of my favourite authors is Sarah Vowell who writes popular American histories such as Assassination Vacation.

Dugald and I talked about all sorts of things including but not limited to footy. We ran through the footy cards and discussed one of my favourite aspects; the mechanics of taking the photos, which I have rabbited on about enough here.

When it was time to move on to their next engagement, lunch at Snug, we all looked over and Ali was horizontal on the floor, drowsily driving a truck back and forth. When roused he said “But I haven’t played with this car, and this car. And I haven’t played outside!” So we took them out for a bit of a bounce on the trampoline before we waved them goodbye.

Dugald in his TTBB outfit. I love his typography.

South Hobart go to the Chess Nationals

Marcus and I had a couple of days in Melbourne with the school chess team, at the National Schools Chess Championships. The team was Marcus, Fergus, Joe and Tom. The Ed Dept rules say that all interstate school excursions must be accompanied by a teacher, so the principal Cathy Franz decided to come with us. She reasoned that she could do a lot of her work remotely, unlike class teachers. Cathy actually paid her own way to Melbourne as well as personally donating to help cover the families' costs. Our former principal Greg Turner also donated.

Cathy picked up Marcus and I and then Fergus at 4.30am. Joe's dad Andrew dropped Joe and Tom off at the airport shortly after we arrived. All aboard with no problems. I sat with the Grade 4s Ferg & Tom, who played iPhone games. Cathy sat behind with the Grade 6s Joe and Marcus, who had a couple of games on the magnetic chess board as we crossed Bass Strait.

Last time I was at Tullamarine I waited half an hour for a cab, but we had no trouble getting a taxi van to Queens College, our home for the next 2 days. A nice fella named Ross intercepted us on our way in and showed us the ropes. Magnetic keys etc. Rooms were small but fine, with very high ceilings. The college is quite fetching, castellated buildings in classic Oxbridge style. Our rooms were just a short walk across the quad from the dining hall which was also the competition venue.

We had a bit of settling in time, then Day 1 of the tournament kicked off. The day panned out like this;
  • Marcus: win loss win win
  • Tom; loss loss loss win
  • Joe: loss win loss loss
  • Fergus: loss win loss win
Tom’s third game was one he should have had no trouble with - but he was very tired and a bit headachey. He had a panadol and came out very well in his 4th game. After winning his first game, Marcus was sent to the Nº 1 table to play the top seed, Kris Chan. He aimed to hang on for 20 moves and just managed it. (Marcus is rated about 940 and Kris about 1550).

Joe and Fergus (both mid 600s) lost a couple of games against high 800 rated players. Considering our early start to the day, it was great to finish off strongly with three wins from the four final round games. In all we scored 7 points from a possible 16 and were placed 17th of 23 schools at the end of the day. Our boys were all hoping to get at least one win in the tournament, and they had all achieved that by the end of Day 1.

Cathy paid for a wristband to have access to the "VIP Suite", where one-on-one coaching and seminars were offered. Marcus went through his games with a coach; later Joe took the wristband and listened in to some seminars on strategy and tactics.

We had penne bolognaise for dinner, floppy penne but good chunky sauce - needed black pepper though. Boys all seem happy with the food, apparently it is superior to that dished up on the recent Canberra trip. After dinner we just took a walk around the University area, then put everyone to bed by 8.30. The boys each had their own room; we considered pairing them up with mattresses on the floor but they were all content to be on their own. Neither Cathy or I heard a peep all night.

Day 2 of competition turned out to be very tough. Tom improved on his Day 1 effort, getting a win and a draw. The other boys only mustered two draws between them, for a return of 2.5 points from a possible 12. We slipped to finish 22nd - which was disappointing after such a good Day 1, but reflected our position as equal 5th in Tasmania. The boys were not downhearted and showed excellent sportsmanship.

We walked them down to Lygon Street for ice-cream, and a visit to Readings bookshop, which was our only off-campus excursion of the two days. On the way we talked about the differences between Carlton and South Hobart – I think the preference was for South Hobart. When we got back to Queens it was time to head to the airport. Although worn out, the team were well behaved and I was proud to be out in public with them.

It was a great experience for the boys and hopefully will have good spin-off effects on the rest of the school as well. Thanks to the parents, the School Association, staff and students and especially Greg Turner, Cathy Franz and school business officer Bev Thomas for supporting our trip.