Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crowded Hours

I don't catch up here as often as maybe I did. Part of it is that the day-to-day stuff is just that: day-to-day. I probably need to make a few more notes about it all for the sake of the kids -- assuming this whole blog thing goes to plan, and they read it when they're older and maybe actually interested -- but in general, who the fork needs to know that it rained Tuesday, and I planted ten more raspberry canes and put a fence around the new raspberry patch?

But another part of it is the just-plain-busy factor.

I'm trying to write more. Finished a first draft of a short story last week or so. And I'm 1200 words into the next one by now. And of course, I'm redrafting the original Red Priest novel MS into two novels, after the advice kindly provided by the ROR mob in March. On top of that, I've bumped into someone else locally who actually writes, and means it, so we had a sit-down on Sunday and spent two hours going over one of her manuscripts, and chopping into one of mine, and so forth.

I'm trying to exercise a bit more. Not just the simple rowing machine stuff. Not only is it dull, but simply, there aren't enough hours in the day for me to do rowing-for-fitness plus martial training plus sword training, so I'm incorporating more of the latter two, and ramping them up a bit to keep the heart rate going. Of course, the sword training doesn't usually burn a lot of kilojoules, but I've got to put the time in anyhow.

Why? Well, firstly because they graduated me to a fully edged weapon: a genuine, very damned sharp, spring-steel, slightly over-sized katana style blade. The iaido style I'm with, they train with heavier blades, following the advice of Miyamoto Musashi who advised that such training makes the use of the modern-style (rather light-weight!) katana very easy indeed.

You see, after Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan by finishing off old Hideyoshi, there weren't a lot of armoured battlefield fights any more. Not like there used to be, anyhow. So the big, heavy, armour-crunching blades weren't so vital. And your Edo-period Samurai generally got around in silk and cotton, you see. It wasn't battles any more: it was duels. Hence the lighter, quicker modern style of katana.

Personally, I like working with the big-ass old-style blade. It's fearsomely sharp, sure, but the added reach and heft means that when the zombies come knockin', I'll be able to decapitate three or four at a single swipe. (And for the record, folks -- I'm a very safety-conscious sword guy. The big, sharp blade stays in the very heavy, locked gun-safe when not in use, and during practise sessions, I'm isolated in the shed/dojo with the doors closed and NO CHILDREN. I don't think viciously sharp swords and small children are a particularly good mix.)

Anyway, besides the upgrade to 'sharp', I'm also facing another probably grading in iaido, sometime around November. And I've got a lot of work to do to clean up my technique so's not to embarrass myself in front of the Australian head of the school. More time in practice, less online.

What else? Oh, there's the gradings coming up for all the ju-jitsu students, yep. And the introductory martial arts classes I've agreed to deliver for the primary school starting next month or so.

Plus, of course, it's spring. Which means pruning like a mad bastard... heh. Actually, that was the first bit of 'cutting practice' I did with the new sword. My instructor put the thing in my hands, and told me to 'go home and cut something'. So I brought it out, fronted up to the old pear tree, and began removing unwanted new growth. Swish! Slice! Die, vicious ninja tree!

Natalie spotted me on the job, and stuck her head out to ask what the hell I was doing. I told her I was pruning, and that she should go back to watching cartoons with the kids, and that the kids should DEFINITELY not come outside to help.

It was an interesting exercise, and it paid off in the dojo. The instructor brought in a whole bunch of tree-dahlia stems for us to practice cutting, the other night. Cutting, in iaido, is a pretty big deal. Traditionally you use water-soaked, tightly rolled straw mats posted on a stick. Apparently the texture roughly parallels a human arm or leg or neck or something... I dunno, and I prefer not to think about it. Thing is, though, the traditional straw mats are hard to get in Oz, and bloody expensive. So there are a lot of different vegetable substitutes, including bamboo, and these tree dahlia things.

You've really got to concentrate if you're going to get the cut right. You want to pass cleanly through the target, leaving a nice, crisp edge, so you've got to hit at just the right angle, and you've got to hit right where you want, and you've got to have complete control over the weapon as you do so. Apparently quite a few people have troubles with it at first. However, it seems that cutting individual branches from within the tangle of new growth on a pear tree gave me a decent primer in accuracy and control, or whatever: my tree-dahlias died very gratifyingly, thanks.

It was a fun evening, though. There were a lot of tree-dahlia stems to be cut, and by the end there was vegetation every which way around the dojo.

So what else is keeping me busy? Oh, yes -- I mentioned that spring involves pruning. But it also involves planting, mowing, weeding, digging, and fencing... and really, we've only just begun to taste springtime weather. It's still cold at night. The soil won't warm up properly for a couple months yet. But we've had plenty of rain lately, and things are turning seriously green all over the place, and if I don't get ahead, then when the real growth kicks in I'm gonna be losing small children in the chaos...

The studies with Elder Son are going ahead nicely. I have another meeting with the school folk next week. They've devised an Education Plan for him in the wake of the formal assessment. It will be interesting to see what they've got in mind. Things have been changing for him: they're letting him do more typing at school, and apparently they're lining up a laptop for him to work with. That's good - handwriting slows him down and frustrates him, just as it always did to me. The nature of the work they give him is changing a bit too: he was delighted, the other day, to be asked to survey his class, find out their 'favourite flight destinations', and set up an Excel file to display the results.

I think that's pretty cool, actually. It's a nice exercise, linking data-gathering to tabulation and then to creating some kind of meaningful, easily interpreted output. I might have a word with his teacher -- see if maybe we can't do a similar exercise, but perhaps instead of just asking about flight destinations, we can make weather/temperature observations, or something similar.

In the meantime, I've got him working a big project here at home, in our 'history/society/the world' stream. We picked up a tin of baked beans at the supermarket, and asked the folks there exactly how it got onto their shelves. They were very helpful: introduced us to their shelf-stockers and the bloke in charge, who told us all about the transport company which delivers the beans... The ultimate goal is to trace our tin of beans back to raw materials: through the retailer, deliverers, wholesalers, manufacturers -- and thence to the bean farmers, and the producers of the actual tin and the label, and the metal and the paper, etc.

Hopefully, when we're done, the lad will have a better awareness of just how complex is the task of feeding a world. When you think about it, a single tin of baked beans draws upon a vast, world-spanning system -- and just how small a thing is a single tin of beans, eh?

So that's another project underway, yep. Oh, and I'm trying to score (in the sense of 'compose musically') a few simple bass-lines for some nice Irish pieces, so Elder Son can jump in with his cello and play opposite his mum, and maybe his brother too. It's not too difficult, but finding the time isn't easy, and I don't read bass clef as readily as I do treble.

And what else? Oh, that's right. Younger Son got a bunch of plain tee-shirts while we were on holiday, and I promised him I'd help him decorate them. We've got these nifty fabric crayons: you draw your pattern on the shirt, you iron it, and hey -- instant shirt.

But you know me. That kind of thing isn't sufficiently interesting. (Because, of course, I'm moderately crap at drawing.) So I've got this plan to print off interesting images, then laminate them with the little home lamination thingee I've got, and then use a craft knife to cut them into nice, firm stencils. And once we've got groovy stencils, then we can really go ape-shit with our nifty fabric crayons, right? Yeah!

I'll take photos of the results, okay?

Meanwhile, this weekend is gonna be interesting. Tomorrow afternoon, the boys are off to orchestra training in Launceston again. And for a change, Natalie can take them. But she wants to go from there to a folk music evening out at Liffey, which is an hour or so into the hills south-west of Launceston. Which means I'll have to drive in, collect the boys from Natalie, maybe stop for a feed at a decent take-away sort of place, and then head home. But the good news is that if Natalie's off to Liffey, she won't be back until late -- so the boys and I can watch one of the Zatoichi movies my sword instructor loaned me.

And on Saturday, I catch a flight from Launceston to Melbourne. If all goes to plan, Barnesm will collect me from the Melbourne airport, and we'll gird our loins appropriately before catching up with the redoubtable Mr Strugnell, and going to a showing of Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell. Then - well, I hear there's a bottle of Bushmill's crying out for help, and I expect B'rer Barnes and Comrade Strugnell and I have a certain amount of bullshit to swap... and I'm even hoping to be sound enough of mind in the morning to check out the Salvador Dali exhibition before I fly back home... maybe some photos and the odd entertaining blog note coming up. Or maybe just a hangover. Who can say?

Edited to add: hey, I meant to include THIS LINK. Geez. Talk about stereotypes, eh? Do those poms really hate bathtime that much?


  1. You are definitely a Renaissance man!

    And I didn't realize you wrote other things besides your blog. I love to write and I completely understand how time conspires against you. If I could, I'd write 8 hours a day instead of being boxed into this cubicle crunching #'s mindlessly. It's maddening.

  2. I think Heidi re-enforces a point I may have made before - a little website where someone who is a fan of you writing can get links to buy all your stuff :)

    Also, say hi to Struggers for me and enjoy Melb!

  3. Heh - I got a new sword recently too - one of these. Started going along to practice with a group who study the German longsword tradition, a style which seems pleasantly relaxed, straightforward and lethal in a direct way that the fancier styles I've seen often skip over. Not that I've seen a lot, of course.

    Maybe one day a sharp blade for cutting practice... though in the absence of pear trees, some sort of target is probably warranted.

  4. I worked in an office attached to a cannery in my last job. Bloody fascinating things canneries. Even ones for the rather mundane manufacture of petfood.

  5. I probably should build some sort of "you-can-buy-stuff" website, shouldn't I? Trouble is, I'm across a few different publishers. More likely what I should do is go back through, see how many of my bits and pieces are mine for electronic rights, and then set up a place to pick up downloads - PDF, whatever.

    Can't be that hard, surely?

    Damian -- that looks like a nice, solid, robust and practical longsword. I wasn't altogether excited by their range of katana, though. It isn't easy to find katana in the long-but-not-No-dachi sort of range!