Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Everybody knows Tasmania is supposed to be cold, wet and miserable. And for a few weeks every year -- let's be honest -- yes, you get that.

They're not weeks-on-end sort of weeks. They're more like two days here, three days there, a day or two of brightness in between, then another three days. That kind of thing.

But when they happen around now, in the darkest part of the year when the sun doesn't even show his bastard face until 0730 or so... yep. Doldrums.

Cold, wet, grey and miserable yesterday. Elder Son and I extended his studies of poetry and poetic technique by going over Edgar Poe's "The Raven", which fit the mood of the day nicely. Changed my opinion of the poem, too -- I always thought it was an extraordinary work in terms of rhyme, rhythm and structure, but going over it closely has made me recognize the alliteration, imagery and symbolism in the piece as well. It's very, very clever writing -- still too mannered to make me feel the grief and depression it is intended to embody -- but such a carefully structured, minutely thought-out piece of work is remarkable and admirable in its own right.

Couple of visitors in the evening -- a fine young medical student that the Mau-Mau instantly adopted as her Flirt Target for the evening (it's scary to watch a three-year-old do that. How instinctive is this stuff?) and Dr C. We killed the odd bottle of wine, ate a hearty tomato and veg soup with pasta and spiced meatballs, finished off with home-made profiteroles (chocolate and coffee liqueur sauce), played a few games...

... but it was still wet, cold, grey and miserable when it was time to get out of bed this morning. And I've got a long afternoon and evening of martial arts to come.

Only one thing for it: order another twenty litres of bulk port from Grant Burge Wineries!
(Hint: the trick is to order twenty litres for about a hundred bucks, then put it into your own oak cask with maybe a half-litre of brandy as a what-the-hell addition. Six months later, it's brilliant. Three years later, if your port consumption isn't too brutal, it's absolutely astonishing.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Teeth And Stuff

Younger Son emerged from the schoolyard today clutching a ziploc plastic bag, and sporting a gappy kind of grin. Unlike his brother, who worried at his first loose tooth for at least a month, Younger Son tolerated this dental dereliction of duty about five days. Today he got sick of not being able to eat apples, and just yanked the thing out.

Of course, now he's planning to save all his baby teeth, put them under his pillow in one fell swoop, and score megabucks. I've suggested it's probably safer to put the teeth under the pillow as they happen, and then save the actual dollars... we'll see what he thinks of that.

Got some useful writing in today. It's hard going. The Mau-Mau is home on a Monday, and so is Natalie. She had an online fiddle lesson, so I couldn't just disappear into the study. And we had a visitor for a while too. Plus I had to dig up a chocolate chip biscuit recipe so Natalie could cook with the Mau-Mau. And there were phone calls. It all adds up.

And of course, there's the grocery shopping. I'm really crap at shopping for a week's worth of stuff at a time. I got into the habit of buying fresh fruit and veg daily well over ten years ago, and with three kids who power through the fruit like nobody's business, I don't really think there's much chance of changing that habit -- so I try to make a virtue of it, buying things when they come on special, trying to get local and seasonal stuff... you get the idea.

Thing is, that makes me a familiar sight to the staff of our local supermarket -- me and the kids. I think most of them, if not all, know us by sight now. And yet they're still friendly, kind and forbearing. How cool is that?

More seriously: I've seen enough badly behaved kids and stressed parents in supermarkets to know I never want to contribute to the statistics there. We've got solid rules. There's a bench at the front of the store which serves as our 'time-out' zone, but it's very rare I have to use it. On the other hand, it's not as though I'm marching the kids through there like death-row prisoners, either. We've been known to play pirate up and down the aisles, for example. And in winters past, on the long, dark days, Elder Son and I have had more than a few laser-tag gunbattles ranging from Fresh Produce down through Dairy into Tinned Goods.

I do ask for certain things from the kids. No shouting or screaming. None of this full-tilt running stuff. No pushing in front of people, bumping people to get past, and definitely hands off the merchandise at all times. I feel that's a reasonable minimum standard, and on the rare occasion the kids cross those lines, they get reined in quickly.

Nevertheless, the boys range the store pretty freely, and they play all sorts of let's-pretend games, and they talk with the staff and sometimes with other customers. And in the meantime, I'm not the easiest customer on the planet either. I tend to buy weird-ass fruit and veg that haven't yet been properly coded into the computer checkout system. And I'm never afraid to ask questions: what happened to the chorizo? Is the basil coming in this week? Is there any chance the store could get tamarind paste in stock?

And they're always good about it. Cheery, friendly, and helpful. Stuffed toys dropped by toddlers have been gathered up and held for our collection on return. Access has been granted to a toilet for a desperate two-year-old. Small things, but above and beyond the training of corporate culture.

It's nice. And the folk at the checkout... see, now, there's a job, eh? The one your parents always held up as a threat if you looked like cutting school: you'll grow up to run a checkout at the supermarket!

It can't be easy. I did my time in retail between finishing school and starting university. I'd rather not do it again -- and the place I worked didn't have a hundredth the turnover and throughput of a sizable regional supermarket. But the checkout folk 'round here are always cool, collected and friendly. A lot of 'em know the kids, and always have a nice word for them. And they wave and smile when we see them out in the streets, which is a part of the good side of country living...

...all of which was going through my head when the Mau-Mau resolutely refused to talk to one poor lass at the checkout today. I think they know each other from one of the daycare situations, and apparently, the Mau-Mau is only too happy to talk the young lady's ear off there. But at the supermarket? It's a silence so stony that it embarrassed the hell out of even me.

Ah well. A tip of the tricorn to the patient folks that let me cook a decent mee goreng for the clan tonight... and I'm sure the Mau-Mau will recover her voice sooner or later!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Music Criticism

Spare a thought for the parents of children who are learning music in one form or another. Tonight, I endured my first-ever "concert", and honestly, I wish my mother was still alive so I could prostrate myself at her feet and apologise from the bottom of my heart for every hour she ever spent at orchestra performances, concert band gigs, and all those endless rehearsals.

I mean... for fuck's sake. We buy or rent or whatever the instruments. We engage the teachers and pay for the lessons. We remind the little fuckers to practice, and then lean on them until they actually do it, and then we sit in on the practice to make sure they're actually going in the right direction. We drive them back and forth to lessons and rehearsals, and we sit around like suicidally bored garden gnomes while these go on, because there's never enough time to actually get anything done while they're in rehearsal or class, but it always takes longer than you think. And of course, we keep the other siblings in line through the whole process.

And then, of course, we have to go to the goddam concerts. Is there some weird, psyche-altering endorphin that comes into play when our little darlings play their hearts out up there on stage, making a collective noise not unlike a group of very unhappy cats in a rainstorm? No! There is not. That noise the Junior String Orchestra makes sounds just as fucked up to us parents as it does to you, casual listeners and unfortunate bystanders. Except that YOU can leave. We can't go anywhere until the fat kiddie sings. We sit there, rictuses frozen onto our aching faces, applauding politely at every pause, counting the minutes -- no, the seconds! -- until we get our lives back, and wondering what the fuck we did this for.

Indeed. Why? Because, of course, the kids are acquiring music -- one of the single most marvellous things about being human. For a few years they will practice, and struggle, and rehearse, and argue, and then inflict the most heinous performances on us -- all in the hope that one day, they'll realise just what a wonderful thing they've been given.

And then there's you, sniggering not-so-quietly at us long-suffering parents. You should take a step back, and think again. Because while ninety-nine out of a hundred of those kids will never be more than casual musicians, playing for the fun of it and for the appreciation of their friends (and even that is a very cool thing to be able to do!) the remaining one in a hundred will be part of the next generation of music and performance. And if parents like us didn't drag our sorry arses through the misery of practice and rehearsal and off-key, ear-grinding performances, the rest of you would be fucked for music and dance and the like in short order. Sure, some kids are self-motivated... but they still need encouragement and support, so spare a thought for those of us who have died that The Music May Live.

The concert tonight lasted an hour. It was... less bad than I feared. But the high point of the whole evening occurred in that breathless instant of silence, that penultimate moment of expectation as the conductor raised her arms just before the first note of the very first piece of music.

In that incredible stillness, there in the performance hall, the Mau-Mau squirmed briefly, and let fly a truly epic fart. I did not know a three-year-old's digestive tract was capable of producing such volume and tone without tearing itself to shreds. It was an eye-watering, sinus-searing, ripsnorting barbarian of a thing, and I swear it echoed around the entire hall, followed by a wave of giggles.

I have never before been so pleased that the Mau-Mau prefers to sit on her mother's lap.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Et tu, Triple-J?

Yeah, I know. Michael Jackson has croaked. Shuffled off. Yipped his last yipped, hooted his last 'woo!', moonwalked into the great darkness without a curtain call. Fine. Yes. I get it.

I even accept his place in the pantheon of modern music.

But I never actually liked his stuff. Not when he was the only thing on the airwaves. Not even later, when it became trendy to retroactively appreciate his ouevre. I'm sorry if you're a big Jacko fan, but his greatest ventures were in the pop realm, and they always seemed like over-produced crap without real substance behind them to me. Jacko's spiritual and musical successors are people like Britney Spears.

So... I guess I'd better stop listening to the radio for a few days. Because even goddam Triple J was full of nothing but the Wackster this morning. And for fuck's sake: they wouldn't play his stuff while he was alive, so how come now that he's dead it's all they wanna put to air?

...normally I'd just switch to the classical station when the Jays start spewing crap. Today I'm too frightened. Last thing I wanna hear is an orchestral Jackson marathon.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Beginning Of The End For 'Scary Dad'?

There's a personal trade-off in raising kids that I find enormously difficult. I'm not the only one; it's apparent that Natalie finds it even more confronting, which isn't surprising given the nature of her work and her personality. I've been carrying this one for nine years now, and it's never for an instant grown easier.

The problem is that small children don't think ahead very well. For example, one is likely to come around the corner to the bathroom and discover that the Mau-Mau (age 2) is trying to shave her legs like mum, with a little two-blade disposable razor. Okay, that one's not life-threatening, but it did result in a stinging cut to her leg, to match the one she gave herself on the hand on a previous occasion.

A more crucial example: heading down to the chook-pen with Younger Son, then aged just barely four. He spotted the tiger snake before I did -- it slithered onto the path between us, basically. He did the right thing and alerted me, and I told him in the scariest voice I own to "Freeze!"

And he did. Solid. Didn't move a muscle. The snake wasn't interested in either of us at all, and without any motion to attract its attention, it went on its way harmlessly. But it passed no more than a metre in front of the little guy... and he stayed perfectly still.

With small children, sometimes you absolutely have to have immediate, unquestioning obedience.

Now I'd be absolutely delighted if anybody offered me a reasonable alternative, but the best I've been able to come up with for nine years is simply being scary when necessary. Big, angry, fierce, and scary - the kind of thing that immediately shuts down small children's desire to inquire and rebel and play games.

It's been important on many occasions. Smaller Son messing with electrical outlets. The Mau-Mau trying to climb the protective grating around the wood fire. Elder Son reaching up to grasp at the top of the stove -- every time, I've played Scary Dad at them and potential disaster has been warded off.

There are lesser occasions aplenty, too. Natalie is having a lot of trouble with the Mau-Mau lately - which one expects from a three-year-old. The little one is refusing her time-outs under the stairs in the laundry, and refusing orders to curb her more egregious tantrum behaviours -- but only when those orders come from Natalie.

The reason is simple: when the Mau-Mau took her little wooden chair and started pounding it against the inside of her bedroom door in a fit of rage, I yanked the door open, took the chair away from her, swatted her backside and roared at her.

Scary Dad is emphatic when small children really misbehave. He acts immediately, first by ending the offending behaviour, and then by ensuring the child in question understands the behaviour is absolutely unacceptable and not to be repeated. Grrr! No more! Grrr!

The Mau-Mau hasn't tried the chair thing since. And if I send her to her room, or under the stairs -- off she goes. But that doesn't make me feel any better about the tears and the sobs and the looks of horror.

I'd like to believe in an alternative. But Natalie is a natural-born listener and negotiator. It's the thing that makes her a top-notch GP. And she can't bring herself to be sharp-edged and emphatic -- so the Mau-Mau knows that after the first request to stop, there will be another, and perhaps another. And even once the order to go under the stairs is given, there will probably be a second order, and certainly there will be time for a cranky small girl to stamp her foot and shout rudely and declare I'm not going!

Scary Dad doesn't allow those options. You do it the first time, or the consequences get worse.
I do not like having to be Scary Dad. I believe rewarding good behaviours works better than punishing unwanted behaviours. I believe in talking things through. I believe that the best means of extinguishing undesired behaviours is simply to give them no reward at all, understanding that even angry attention can be a 'reward' to a child seeking notice.

But sometimes, you get a three-year-old smashing furniture against the walls and doors. And I worked too fucking hard stripping that door, sanding and varnishing it, and plastering that goddam room. And more: sometimes it's not a chair and a door. Sometimes it's a tiger snake on the path.

I still don't like being Scary Dad.

Today is Elder Son's ninth birthday. Yesterday I had to bawl him out for his behaviour in the morning, and I found myself putting on my Scary Dad face, and it bothered hell out of me. Today I sat him down and we had a long talk. I told him I didn't want to be Scary Dad any more. I told him why I still have to do it sometimes with his brother, and a little more often with his sister -- but I told him that I really, really don't want to do it any more with him.

He's nine. I find it hard to believe that, to be honest -- save that the bone-weary tiredness I feel can only come from nine years of childrearing, I think. He's nine, and he's smart. He's still careless, and he can still act thoughtlessly, but he can be reasoned with, and negotiated with, and for at least a year, probably more, it simply hasn't been necessary to play the scary bully.

Elder Son listened carefully. I think he understood. I don't think he either wants or needs the apparently scary dad any more, and hopefully, in sitting down and acknowledging that and in discussing what I need from him in terms of responsibility and co-operation, he'll recognize that he's being treated with respect -- and maybe he can return some of that. At least, to the limits of nine-year-old capacity, and that's as much as I can ask.

I really want to stop being the scary guy. It's not fun. It never was.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Vegetarians of the world: you may now gnash your teeth and weep tears of purest rage. For lo -- Science has at last discovered the Cure for the Hangover, and IT IS BACON!

Yes. That's right. Greasy, fat dead piggy. Grilled, fried, whatever. And... look, you Jewish folk, I'm terribly sorry, but this is Science, and it brooks no argument. God has, I'm afraid, played a cruel and unpleasant joke upon you. At least those of the Islamic faith are forbidden to do what it takes to get a hangover in the first place, so they're not behind the eight-ball on this one.

As for the rest of us -- well, I don't know what everybody else has got planned, but I'm about to crack a bottle of brandy, and set sail for a big, big bacony breakfast on the morrow. Hooray!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I believe I may have mentioned that my beloved has a habit of 'organising' things into existence, and then discovering at the crucial juncture that she has commitments elsewhere. Case in point: string orchestra for the boys. Elder Son is studying - and enjoying - cello, while Younger Son is doing pretty well with a violin. And so, Natalie felt they should be given the opportunity to play in a group.

Okay, yep. Except the only group for their age and skill level is in Launceston.

That's okay, says Natalie. It's her idea. She'll take 'em to practice. Yep.

So far, there have been two practices and two full rehearsals for the upcoming concert with the youth choir. Oddly, Natalie had to work on the afternoon of the first practice, so it fell to me to locate (largely by instinct and blessed good fortune) the practice site, in the middle of the worst of Launceston's (admittedly not too bad) peak hour traffic.

I did that, yep. Collected the kids from school. Drove like hell for nearly an hour to Launceston. Drove around for twenty minutes following the worst, vaguest, most fucked-up instructions ever (didn't even have the name of the practice hall right. It turned out to be a fucking church.) until I found the place. Dragged the Mau-Mau away for an hour to keep her from creating pandemonium. Collected the boys afterwards. Took them to the food courts for dinner for an hour or so. Drove another hour home, etc.

But that was okay, because Natalie was going to get the next one.

Except the next one was a dress rehearsal on a Saturday, and she was on call. Whoops! Ah well. I wasn't using that Saturday.

The second practice was last night, and to be fair, Natalie did indeed handle it. But of course, she was off to Hobart for the weekend in the morning at 0630... so I had to find us all a room where we could overnight in Launceston because yes, they had another dress rehearsal today. That Natalie couldn't attend.


It was a nice night, sure. We had dinner out, and had some wine, and watched a DVD back in the hotel, and it was fine. Yep. But of course, at 0630, Natalie cut and run.

So I ran up a minor breakfast for all three kids while packing to leave. (Cold cereal, toast and vegemite or marmalade, depending on the kid.) Found all stuffed toys and books, reloaded the car. Checked out on time, took the kids across to Kmart for some shoes for Elder Son, because he's outgrown everything except his cheap Croc knockoffs (don't blame me; it's his mum what does stuff like that!) and his blue vinyl wellies. Tracked down a rather nicer and more substantive breakfast at a little Greek cafe. Then I took the kids afoot to a little T-shirt printery I've used before -- on a mission.

No T-shirt printery. Now it's a Real Estate Agent. Damn.

Checked my watch. Still the better part of five hours to the rehearsal. Now what? No way I'm driving home (nearly an hour) to spend a couple hours there, then driving back for the rehearsal, then home again.

Check the cinema guides. Ohhhhh fuck. There's only one movie that falls into the Venn Diagram intersection of "Kid Friendly" and "Approriate Time Slot." And so it was that I wound up watching "Night In The Museum 2".

Meh. It was marginally funnier than the first, yep. Oh, and that Amelia Earhart actress... she was nice to look at. But not enough to make me actually interested in the film.

At least the kids liked it. Which was useful, because the thing I thought was a minor sore throat was blowing up into something weird and ugly -- some kind of hideously painful inflammation at the back of the base of my tongue. Is this some kind of salivary gland thing? It hurts like five kinds of ugly fuck. Talking hurts. Swallowing hurts. Thinking about it hurts.


Movie finishes, time for another attempt on T-shirts. Having acquired an address via the helpful yellow pages, the kids and I cruise up and down Wellington St trying to spot street numbers. Yeah, I know: exercise in futility. What the fuck are street numbers actually for? I don't know a single city in Australia that actually uses them except maybe once per block, just to taunt you and fuck with your head.

We finally tracked the address of the T-shirt place down. Except it wasn't a T-shirt place. It was a security firm. Evidently printing T-shirts is really not a lucrative field in Launceston.

Okay, so we're getting close to rehearsal time. Park the car near-ish. Take the kids out, walk around until we find some more food. (Kids need a lot of feeding. It's irritating, but unavoidable.) Finish the food, back to the car. Unload musical instruments. Kids into uniforms. Walk to the rehearsal hall. Funny... nobody's there. We're only ten minutes early.

Fine. I'll give the bastards eleven minutes, and no more. I'm tired. The kids are tired...

Nine minutes: someone shows up with keys.

Load boys into practice hall. Back to car for Younger Son's chin-rest, which he has dropped. Back to practice hall. Discuss uniforms with conductor: I've been all the fuck over Launceston looking for button-down white shirts in kiddy sizes six and nine, and I've found jack shit.

Have you tried Target's School Wear?

Yes, helpful conductor. I have tried Target's School Wear. And K-mart. And every rinkidink fucking clothing store within cooee of Launceston.

No -- Targett's School Wear!


Turns out there's an obscure schoolwear specialist a few blocks away. And they may well have the Elusive White Button-down Long-Sleeved Shirts.

Okay, fine. I grab the Mau-Mau, and we go for yet another lengthy walk around the CBD. And indeed, we locate the furshlugginer place but guess what? We've missed its opening hours by exactly one hour and three minutes.

Happy happy joy joy happy happy joy joy...

The Mau-Mau and I execute a $100 raid on a secondhand bookstore to fill in time. We refuel the Mighty Earth King. We put air in the tyres. We trundle around the CBD some more... poor little Mau-Mau has now been walked around the goddam city more times than either of us can comfortably recollect, and she's showing signs of wear...

And at last, the boys finish. We pack the instruments into the Mighty Earth King and fark off home, where in a flurry of action I build the fire, put away the luggage, set up the bath and prepare a nutritious dinner for all...

... they're watching an X-men cartoon now. We tried what was supposed to be a Thai chop-socky epic, but it turned out to be all sorts of political with an annoying amount of villager-shooting, which didn't interest any of us. So when this X-men cartoon finishes, it's bed for the munchkins.

And I can finally get to work. Or pass out. Either one works for me.

PS: here's a review of a rather excellent novella I recently read. It was a shitload of fun. Read the review, judge for yourself whether it's your cuppa tea.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dodgy Satellite Stuff II

What the fork is an EsN0?

The techie on the phone was concerned when we talked. My satellite modem system had an EsN0 of 4.4 at that time. Apparently the maximum is 12, but it's supposed to be at least 6. He was concerned by my low EsN0. Very concerned.

I asked him exactly what an EsN0 might be. He couldn't say, exactly, but the fact that my EsN0 was so low concerned him. He was concerned, he told me.

I've just checked it again. My EsN0 is now down to 3.60. So -- I should be more concerned, right?

How concerned should I be? Is this just a generic sort of concern, or should I be stocking up on food and ammunition? Do I need to alert the authorities? Are there any bylaws or regulations regarding low EsN0 that I should be aware of?

I'm definitely concerned.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dodgy Satellite Stuff

Well, the old 'broadband' appears to be leaning towards the unreliable. Signal drops in and out. It got bad enough tonight I went through four iterarations of the whole 'modem off, computer off, long pause, restart, try sending again' routine before it finally went out okay.

I called the techies. They reckon the signal strength isn't what it should be, and they've scheduled a maintenance visit. That won't happen for a few days at least, since there's some gear that has to come from Melbourne. In the meantime, it's anybody's guess as to what kind of connection I'll have. Probably none.

If you don't hear from me for a while, you know why.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

And This Is For You, Mister Fish

Speaking of 'Dad jokes' and everything... soon-to-be-nine-year-old Elder Son unleased a joke on his mother and I yesterday. It was a bit of a 'moment', because for the first time, the joke worked properly. Not as in "it was funny", but as in "it has a punchline and it makes sense."

Happily, Elder Son didn't think it was all that funny either. I think he was offering it simply to show that he's understood the nature of the Crap Riddle Joke, and can manage the genre as well as any. And to be fair, I think his new creation could easily stand up for itself in any collection of Crap Schoolkid Riddle Books.

It is as follows:

What is a cannibal's favourite lunch?

Hand sandwich!

...and the hilarity just never stops, does it? Heh.

By the way: I've been having trouble with Firefox lately. I use the latest stable version, to maximise browser security. But something in the interface with my XP machine and possibly the satellite so-called "broadband" system has been really kicking Firefox in the nuts. It's been sucking up system resources like crazy. Not memory -- this isn't the infamous Firefox memory leak. No, it's been eating CPU cycles like crazy. Open two or three tabs at once; maybe one of them hangs on a site that has too many bells and whistles and bullshit (I'm looking at YOU, Yahoo) and suddenly all of them stop receiving data, and just sit there.

The only way to fix it has been to turn off Firefox and restart, which is incredibly irritating. Of course, I discovered that if I gave it a serious nut-shot by stopping it with Task Manager instead of simply turning it off, then when I restarted it, Firefox would ask me if I wanted to open the same set of tabs. And if I said 'yes', why, usually it would load all of them without hesitating.

But that's a stupid fucking way to browse the web. So I looked for an alternative. Not Internet Explorer: I have no desire to bend my poor computer over and spread its cheeks to every secondrate skrypt-kiddy and trojanator on the Web. Figured I'd try out Google Chrome.

Guess what? I'm using it right now. It's fast. Simple. Clean. And it's not hanging up on me all the time.

I won't get rid of Firefox. The ability to customise it by adding plug-ins and the like is far too useful. But I'll be using it only for very particular purposes from here on. Chrome is excellent for everyday webwork.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This One's For You, Angela!

Elder Son trying to remember how his face is supposed to work...
Snowbound plants in the morning sun.

Elder Son, the car, the mountaintop - and in the distance, Mighty Ben Lomond, Tasmania's internationally reknowned ski field. (Okay. We have one slope.)

Barbed wire, thick with ice -- television facility atop the mountain.

There was snow on the mountaintop on Wednesday, the day after I got home. I decided to take the boys, and we brought a couple of young neighbours with us too. It was Extremely Fuckin' Cold once we got up there... no brass monkeys for many a mile. Photo above depicts the Younger Son, struggling with a cheap but hard-wearing laundry bag which we used as a flexible sled. It worked quite well, when it wasn't flapping around in the 40-60kph winds!

The title of the post speaks to the Scarlet Angel herself, who found it necessary to use portions of my neck to rescue her fingers from frostbite one balmy afternoon in Adelaide not long ago. The fingers were indeed somewhat chilly, but the ambient temperature was perfectly reasonable -- or so I said at the time, and so I maintain. Adelaide isn't cold.

Cold is that bloody mountaintop. I checked the news yesterday. Apparently, while we were up there around midday, the local temperature was -5C. And if you factor that bastard wind into the whole situation, I'd say it's perfectly understandable that we were only up there for an hour or so. Took me a couple of hours before I could feel my face again!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Graffiti From Pompeii

I'd heard that the diggers in Pompeii had found plenty of graffiti. I've never seen a collection of it before. If this is for real... its fucking priceless. Enjoy. I did.

Monday, June 8, 2009



I tried to get some updating done while I was at the Con in Adelaide, but I was thwarted by a lack of time, by occasional drunkenness, and most egregiously of all, a completely software fuckover as supplied by a mixture of linux, open-office and firefox on the eeepc. Which means: I wrote a lot of bloggy stuff in Open Office, tried to copy it into the blog using Firefox, and got repeated messages about how my shitty HTML simply would not be posted. Apparently there's no (easily discernible) way to copy text from Open Office on linux to Firefox on linux without taking all the invisible HTML commands along with the text.

Eventually, I gave up. I needed the sleep more.

It was an excellent con, once I got there. By which I mean that I got up at 0400 on Friday morning, in the cold and the fog and the darkness and the fog, and I drove through the fog and the darkness and the cold and the winding roads and the fog all the way to Launceston Airport for my 0630 flight... which promptly did not happen because of fog. And a lot more fucking fog.

By 1100, I was reduced to sending snarky text messages to friends "They can send two robots to Mars and run them successfully for over a year... but they can't land a fucking jetliner in the fog."

A little after eleven, a desperate pilot from Melbourne made one daredevil attempt to thwart the fog... and succeeded. But by then, my plans were already buttraped. I had, for example, NOT aimed to land in Adelaide at peak hour. In the middle of their first downpour for several weeks. Which made my taxi driver extremely nervous. And stalled the traffic the whole way from the airport to my Currie St hotel. Oh yes. (Note: the trip back actually cost me $12.00 less.)

But I did get in, finally, at last, and I wandered off to catch up with Folks. Because that's the bestest bit of the whole Con thing: those few, magic days of hanging out with people who like the same weird shit I do, write the same weird shit that I do, and understand my weird-shit sense of humour.

Seriously -- I can't say it loudly enough. Shooting the breeze with my colleagues in the SF game is like going home. It's like going back to the best days at University, skipping lectures to hang out in a dingy cafeteria making jokes and swapping stories and devising unlikely plans. Except, of course, that instead of a dingy cafeteria, we get to hang around the hotel bar and suck back booze.

First night was civilised. I met up with the Fisch, and Peterm of Unicorn Porn fame, exchanged greetings with the Scarlet Angel (that maskobalo gown totally rocked, Angela!) and another comrade-in-Canterbury, the delightfully ice-blonde L L Hannett. Peterm and I eventually trundled off to a Penang/Malay place for a bite of food, and then I went and put my head down. Tired as hell after an entire day of hanging around airports and airplanes. Much suckage there.

Day Two started with a panel. I had to talk Steampunk alongside Richard "Worldshaker" Harland, and the Ubiquitous Dave Cake. As usual, I had a lot of fun throwing cats at pigeons, provoking arguments, and offering utterly unsubstantiated opinions... I like to think the audience wasn't too bored for too long, anyhow. Some damn' fine costumes there: there are definitely some folk who are into Steampunk purely for the corsetry, it would appear.

I caught up with Ian N at his book launch -- picked up a nicely signed copy, appreciated his reading, sucked back a few glasses of bubbly and chatted to some random members of the fan community. Dashed out, picked up a bit of chocolate for Natalie, browsed for some presents for the kids: I found a comic store, and got a compendium of the first 24 issues of "The Avengers" for Eldest Son, who has a birthday coming soon. He'll be pleased, I expect, although doubtless he'll come along and want to discuss how terrible the storytelling is in those comics. Then I'll explain they were written in 1964, and I'll point out that 'irony' wasn't actually discovered until the late 80s...

Girlie Jones and the redoubtable Jonathan Strahan were kind enough to accompany me to dinner. I hadn't had the opportunity to chat with Mr Strahan before, and it was rewarding. I like the bugger: he's smart, opinionated, funny, appropriately rude, and as well as being a multi-awarded editor-type person, he's a fellow denizen of Planet Parenthood. Communications were easily established. In fact, he and GJ were even trusting enough to let me lure them into a Chinese Steamboat restaurant... which turned out to be a really great find.

I love Steamboats. For those who've never had one, a Steamboat is a flogging great pot of fragrant stock that sits in the middle of your table, gently boiling over a gas burner. You grab piles of exciting foody bits from the buffet, then you come back, cook them in the simmering stock, dip 'em in the range of interesting sauces provided, and gobble 'em down. When you've had all of that you can stand, you take the now-very-rich-and-tasty stock, add some noodles, and finish that too.

This place -- which is on Hindley St on the opposite side from the police station, about a block and a half from Rundle Mall -- was fabulous. The moment we stepped in, the steam from twenty or so boiling hotpots hit us like a sauna. The place smelled just incredible.

It was fantastic. Because GJ is vegetarian while Jon (I have no idea how he feels about 'Jon', but I'm tired of typing already...) and I prefer to know something died for our dinner, they organised a two-sided Steamboat pot for us so we had both a vegetarian stock, and a spicy-hot chicken stock. And it really was spicy-hot, which was great. Normally I find that when I ask for "really hot", the restaurateurs don't take into account the fact that I learned to eat this stuff in Kuala Lumpur. These people took me at my word, and both Jon and I worked up a decent sweat. (Credit where it's due: Jon was completely unfazed by the chili content. Good man with a spoon... though he did cavil at The Giblet From Hell.)

Damned good steamboat. We had lamb, and beef, and chicken. We had tofu and bok choi and bamboo shoots. We had baby octopus and squid rings, dried mushrooms and chicken giblets... I wasn't watching everything GJ slipped into her vego soup, but when I sampled her side of the pot, it was very, very good indeed. Final verdict: anybody in Adelaide with $22 per person, the Asian Fondue Chinese Steamboat Restaurant is extremely forking good indeed.

'Course after something like that, the evening just had to go sideways. And it did, in the form of Russell. We were hanging out in the bar, alongside a bunch of other folks, and Russell got it into his head to get serious with the drinks. I was killing off brain cells with a mix of gin, tonic, blue curacao and lime juice -- which at least has vitamins and water for hydration! -- but Russell was on the downwards march with straight shots of Drambuie... which is nuthin' but 40-odd percent boozarama packed with sugar and exciting flavour. Hangover in a bottle, man.

The night kicked onward until 0300. Other casualties included Rob Hoge, felled by a Long Island Iced Tea purchased by the Fiendish Fisch. GJ held out bravely, but a string of well-aimed Cosmopolitans eventually put the zap on her too... I believe it is no coincidence that many of us surfaced quite late the next day.

And more folk to meet. I kept running into people I knew through the blogging thing. Tip o' the hat to the delightful Fred Mouse, dancin' fool that she is. Likewise to Su Lynn, and Nyssa, and Sari... so many people! Lucy Sussex; the perfectly marvellous Sean Williams (whose favourite painting depicts a baby Jesus with a radioactive helmet, poised for take-off on the lap of an equally behelmed Madonna who gazes down with an expression of deep alarm... slightly disappointing, since I'd have been willing to bet his favourite was actually the Dead Pig Painting)

David Kernot from ASIM; David Conyers from all over the place... Jason N and Mlle K... Kate from Briz... look, the thing about a Con is all the wonderful folk you already know, plus the new ones you get to add, and sadly, there's never enough time. Never could be. So you converse in passing, and grab people out of groups to trade hugs, and buy drinks for near-strangers, and eventually, you just can't remember any more. So if I haven't mentioned you here (Brendan!) put it down to excitement and alcohol and tiredness, not to ill-will or ignorance. (And you can say something rude to me about it at the next convention, and I'll buy you a drink... but only if you can actually convince me I forgot you!)

Much to my embarrassment, I managed to miss Richard's book launch. That annoyed the hell out of me, because I really wanted a copy of Worldshaker. Happily, I caught up to Richard later, and when I'd apologised in a sufficiently abject manner, he signed a copy for me. (Read it on the plane on the way home, Richard: cool! Get on with the sequels now, right? Don't make me hunt you down...)

And oh, hey, yeah: they had an awards night, and when the marvellous Margo Lanagan scored yet-another-Ditmar for her story The Goosle, turns out that by some stroke of fate the voting was tied in the short-story category. So the award was shared with some late-coming nobody going under the unlikely name of "Dirk Flinthart", for a piece called This Is Not My Story.

Yep. That's a first for me. Gotta say, sharing a bill with Margo made it extra special. And many thanks to the wonderful Tehani, who purchased and edited that particular story for ASIM... I phoned her as soon as the awards were done to say 'thanks', but the moment she answered, I got an earful of happy squealing. Seems somebody had been liveblogging, and Tehani probably knew about the award before I'd managed to filter it through my rather surprised brain cells... and thanks, by the way, to any and everybody else who liked the story. I'm rather tickled to be able to show my kids the trophy-thingee -- and the giant Haigh's Chocolate Murray Cod that went with it will help convince Natalie that there was a good reason for me to be away all weekend!

There was a lot more to the weekend, but if I keep blithering away like this, the movie I set up for my kids to watch (it's cold as hell and raining outside. Yay! Cold enough, I think, that there will be snow on the mountain tomorrow.) will finish and I won't have posted this epic yet. So... I'm just gonna stop.

I had a hell of a weekend. Thanks to everybody. I'm home now... and I can't wait to get back to the writing!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Off to Natcon in Adelaide. I'll keep y'all posted when I can. Aeroplanes, swine 'flu, rabid SF fans... I've got so much to look forward to!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Well, At Least Some Of The Future Happened

I know. We're not living with jetpacks, flying cars, starships, anti-gravity, or any of that other cool stuff they promised us. And it sucks. But it turns out that at least some of the groovy future is with us at last. Check this article:


No shit! Fine work from an Australian university -- and more importantly, a huge forkin' stride in The Right Direction for stem cell research, human health and well-being, and me not needing to get glasses any time soon. (Full disclosure: I seem to have inherited my eyesight from my father. So far, I'm still 20/20 or better.)

It's nice to get some good news once in a while, eh?

Then there's this:

Vale David Eddings

What can I say? I never liked the man's work. From the outset, I found it terribly derivative, heavily manufactured, and clumsy. But I know that he made a lot of people very happy with his fiction -- and so, I'll make a liar of Marc Antony here. Let the evil be interr'd with the man's bones, and the good live after. Eddings seemed to be a decent bloke, and didn't have any pretensions about the quality of his writing. He had a good innings.

Monday, June 1, 2009

School Holidays

The etymology of the word 'holiday' is intriguing, to say the least. It derives from the term 'holy day', of course -- any of the umpteen zillion days selected by the Most Catholic Church to commemorate the appallingly hideous deaths of a roster of saints expanding so rapidly that several popes have died in the effort to bring the thing under some semblance of control, and at least one new branch of mathematics has been conceived purely to estimate the length of time it will take before pretty much everyone in the world has been martyred.

The point of all these holy days was, in theory, rest. That and giving lots of money to the Church, naturally. If you were a medieval peasant, and it happened to be St Tenesmus' Day (St Tenesmus of the Molten Lead Enema, patron saint of lower-bowel dysfunction, whose name is still remembered in medical jargon through the term 'Tenesmus', meaning 'painful and ineffective straining of bowels') you could legitimately tell your feudal overlord to get fucked, because your immortal soul required you to sit around on your arse all day, praying that someone else would come along to do the fieldwork. Or something.

Flash forward a couple hundred years. Or so. And now we come to the concept of 'school holidays'.

Where's the idea of 'rest' now? For us medieval peons, things have gone way the fuck downhill. Dad's don't 'rest' during school holidays. We scheme. We manipulate. We control. We cook, clean, and most of all, we entertain. At length. Regardless of health, sanity, fiscal position, or any other concern, when the dreaded School Holidays come, we Must Be Dad no matter what the cost.

I can hear them outside my study right now. The boys are trying to capture their pet rats, who use their ridiculously large cage to steer clear of the brutes as far as possible. And the Mau-Mau has found the little button accordion Natalie bought for Christmas a couple years back... she's serenading the rat-catching effort at the top of her lungs. What are they planning to do with their now-very-nervous rats once captured? Does it have anything to do with the new lot of cardboard-box "army tanks" being built? Where do the underpants they put on the cat fit into this equation? (And in the name of God, why did the cat sit still for that?)

Most importantly: how can I get out of here without them noticing?