Sunday, August 30, 2009
But yesterday afternoon was clear, and this morning -- this morning was one of those exquisitely clear spring mornings that only ever seem to happen in Tasmania, after the rain. The world was green and gorgeous, the sun was bright, the sky was blue... bloody spectacular.
I got my two new hazelnut trees in with a minimum of fuss. And I put the two little tea-bushes inside a very well fenced enclosure. There will be no goddam tea-munching wallabies on my watch, the rotten little macropodic barstewards.
The Younger Son has been shedding teeth at a ferocious rate. In keeping with his metabolism, he's lost all four bottom incisors in the space of a month or so, and two replacements are already sizzling their way upwards. Elder Son took about six months to lose all four, and it seemed like forever before he got his grinning gear back in order. But... yeah, it seems likely both boys will need braces. There's a history of it from both parents.
I absolutely hated my braces. Only had 'em for six months before everything was back in order. Natalie, though - she got the braces and the bumper-bar too, apparently. Says at least one of her brothers was a right horror-show as well. Blah.
I wanted to take advantage of the sunshine this morning -- run the chainsaw, cut some deadfalls for firewood, knock down a few wattles that have sprung up in inconvenient locations. Unfortunately, two of the very necessary tools associated with the chainsaw have gone walkabout. Did I loan them to someone? I can't recall. The chainsaw is there. The fuel is there. The bar lube is there. But the big screwdriver to open the fuel and the oil tanks -- that's not. And the rat-tail file with the sharpening guide on it -- that's not, either.
Not in the top shed. Not in the garage. Not in the laundry. Not in the hallway cupboard with miscellaneous hardware. Not in the back of the car. Not in the big toolchest on the front of the trailer. Just... not there.
I really, really fucking hate that.
So. I got out an axe, put a nice edge on the bastard thing with a stone, and cut down a couple of the more annoying wattles the hard way. It was more about exercise than utility, I admit, but I was pissed off. I really wanted to get through the chainsaw work while the sun was here -- for lo and behold, by the time I'd Paul Bunyanized my second tree, the clouds had rolled over the mountains, and the rain was chundering down once more.
I'm headed into Launceston tomorrow. I'll get another goddam big screwdriver, and another couple of files with guides to sharpen the chainsaw. But who the fuck knows when I'll get another sunny day with Natalie home to keep the kids out from underfoot?
Friday, August 28, 2009
Friday, that is. Oh, well... yeah, a few drops in the afternoon. But otherwise, it didn't rain. That was different.
The meeting at the school went well. Two teachers, a vice-principal sort, and me in my paint-stained slacks and sandals. The schoolfolk have done the right thing, though. They've taken the attitude that their charter calls for them to supply an appropriate educational experience, and that the assessment of Elder Son now calls for certain measures -- so if they don't come up with 'em, they're not doing the job right.
I wouldn't have put it so bluntly... but when it was put that way, I certainly took the opportunity to agree.
Anyway, an Individual Education Plan has been created, and examined, and discussed, and it's not bad. They've invoked Bloom's Taxonomy -- specifically the cognitive domain -- and the idea is that for each new unit, a range of activities is plotted which allow a broad exploration of the unit in line with Bloom's ideas. Elder Son gets to choose a spread of activities, with a little guidance, and then has to put them into action.
Right now, they're looking at a book: it's a bio of the bloke who started Qantas. Elder Son has chosen to design a new Qantas logo, and is also querying his classmates for their favorite flight destinations; answers to be tabulated, and then graphed for display using Excel. Of course, he's got to read the book, and there are several other activities on the list to be followed up, but you get the picture: there are choices, and they're not brain-dead, repetitive things, and he gets input as to how he goes about his learning.
We're cutting back on home time, which will be good for me. And I shall be supplying Spanish word-lists to be incorporated with the routine school-time lists of vocabulary and spelling, so some of the Spanish-study load will be distributed better too. Likewise, the school is supplying a laptop computer, and hooking him into their net, and giving him email access, and permitting to do his work by typing, and he'll be learning cursive script immediately -- so there's a lot of movement from everyone.
The meeting lasted more than an hour. I was pretty happy with the outcomes, and when I explained it to Elder Son, he seemed pretty pleased as well. We'll change our timetable over after the school holidays, which start at the end of next week.
I also managed to pick up a couple new hazelnut saplings from the nursery. We've got hazelnuts already, but I'm not impressed with the location, so I'm going to start a new grove. Maybe more. (And I note that hazelnuts can support truffles. Yes. I'm thinking very hard about that one: Tasmania has a growing truffle industry. No, I don't want to be a farmer. But... I like truffles. And who can argue with $1000 a kilogramme for something you dig up off the roots of your trees?)
I also scored a couple of little Camellia sinensis -- tea plants, for the uninitiated. It seems that they're frost tolerant to -6C or thereabouts (which is three degrees colder than I've EVER seen it here), they like well-drained, slightly acid soils with plenty of organic matter... in short, they should take off like scalded cats once I get 'em in the ground. They were cheap, too: just $3.00 each because they were small. I think I'll go back and get another ten or so. I can grow my own tea! Yaaay!
Tea is good. You just pick the leaves, and if you want green tea (which I like) you simply leave 'em in the sun for a while to wilt, then dry 'em in a hot oven for a half-hour or so. That's it.
Coffee, on the other hand... all that goddam roasting and shucking and grinding... luckily, frost kills every known variety of coffee plant, so despite Natalie's grumping, there's nothing I can do about it. Short of building a goddam hothouse. Which, I suppose, is only a matter of time.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Up early. Today, instead of Natalie taking Elder Son to his cello lesson at the high school, it fell to me. Natalie had overcomitted herself (first week back after her holidays; only to be expected) and I offered to take up her usual Thursday morning run to buy her the extra time she needed.
So: kids fed and dressed, lunches made and packed by 0810. First load of laundry in the washer. Last night's load goes to the dryer. (We're in the middle of an epic rain cycle. Haven't had a single clear day since we got back from Alice near two weeks ago.)
Younger Son dropped at his school at 0825, reminded that he would be collected at lunch so we could study Spanish in the afternoon. He splashed off through the driving rain. Elder Son, the Mau-Mau and I drove off to the high school.
The Mau-Mau's capacity for sitting still petered out twenty minutes into Elder Son's cello lesson. A pity: I was enjoying listening as he wrestled with 'Mission Impossible' and the theme from the TV series 'Angel', by the band Darling Violetta. But you can't keep a 4-year-old quiet and still too long, so we spent the last ten minutes poking around the high school music room. I'm delighted to report that my daughter can identify trumpets, flutes, whistles, guitars, and violins without prompting. She didn't recognize tubas, saxophones, French horns or euphoniums, however.
0900 -- lesson ends. We splash back out to the car, and head to the supermarket. Guests tonight, so I've got to do a little shopping: cream, chocolate, lots of eggs, flour, salad vegetables. Oh, and toilet paper. Not that it helps the cooking. Just that we're running low.
Back home. The rain is coming down like the wrath of a thwarted, passive-aggressive God, so Elder Son gets to leave his cello in the car until later. We hook him up to an online math programme, and while he works problems, I sit with the Mau-Mau and do some reading. Every now and again Elder Son needs a nudge or some guidance. Today we master columnar subtraction, including 'borrowing'. It's very gratifying.
Meanwhile, I have preparations to make. The menu: pumpkin ravioli with a blue cheese sauce and a green salad, followed by orange-chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell, on brandy-splashed sponge-cake, with enough whipped cream to iron out any minor mishaps. First comes the chocolate shells -- melt quality dark chocolate in a double boiler, and apply it with a pastry brush to lightly oiled chocolate moulds. Pop each sheet of moulds into the freezer while the next one is done, so that the chocolate sets fast and I can paint on a second layer to ensure the shell is solid and relatively strong.
(Morning tea for two kids. New load of laundry into the washer. Retrieve previously cooked home-grown pumpkin pulp from freezer and defrost.)
Chocolate mousse isn't difficult, but it's fiddly. Slow-melt some nice Fair Trade dark choc (already infused with orange... an accident, but a happy one that saves my slim stock of high-quality orange oil) with a little cream in the double boiler. (Washed with the last lot of dishes, during morning tea.) Meanwhile, separate three eggs. Whisk the whites with a little castor sugar and vanilla until they're fluffy. Add a dash of brandy and a half-cup of heavy cream to the yolks. Once the chocolate/cream has melted fully, whisk it into the brandy/yolk/cream, and whip the lot until it starts to fluff up and stiffen a little. Now fold it through the egg-white. Next, spoon the mixture into the chocolate shells in their moulds, and refrigerate.
Great! Now... quickly sort and fold four bags of laundry. Redirect Elder Son from mathematics to writing up his Alice Springs holiday - an exercise in typing and narrative English. Answer a couple of emails, take a cup of tea. Whups! Time to collect the Younger Son.
Trundle out through the rain to the car. Drive down to Scottsdale, stop at the primary school and send the Elder Son out through the rain to collect Younger Son. Wait in the car with the Mau-Mau. Sing through two numbers from Paul Simon's "Gracelands" album with the Mau-Mau. Get bored, and send an annoying text message to a friend just for the hell of it...
...aha! The boys materialize through the rain.
Quick stop at the shop for a couple of ingredients I forgot earlier, and back home again. The rain has dropped to a malign, icy drizzle. Elder Son can now carry his cello in!
Quickly copy the latest Spanish lesson, sit down with the boys. Revise the last Spanish lesson, then read through the new one. The routine is simple: each new lesson, I read first in Spanish, then in English. Then the boys go through, alternating paragraphs: one reads, the other translates, and they swap. We get a new lesson every Thursday, but we start with the lesson from the previous Thursday. Sunday or Monday evening, we do the new lesson again, and revise the old. And of course, come Thursday, the new lesson IS the old lesson, so it gets revised again, and we get something new. All very nice, and the boys are beginning to internalize some of the vocabulary to the point where they have to pause to remember whether they said "pero" or "but". (It's still a very limited vocabulary, sure. But we're getting there.)
Finish the lesson. Lunch for all three kids. And then the Afternoon of Cleaning And Chores commences. The rat cage is cleaned. More laundry is done, sorted, folded and put away. Dining room is tidied and vacuumed. Lounge is tidied and vacuumed. Bedrooms are tidied. Pets are fed. Firewood is brought in, fire is started... good thing because it's raining again, and it's fucking freezing.
Meanwhile: I fry minced onion and garlic, add the pumpkin pulp, some salt and pepper and a little vegetable stock, and reduce. I make basic pasta: flour, oil, water, salt and plenty of eggs. Roll the pasta through a machine until it's the size and thickness I want. Put the sheet onto the new ravioli-device Natalie brought home for our upcoming sort-0f-anniversary. (We married on April 30th... but who cares? We got together on Sept 2nd 1992.) Load the ravioli with pumpkin, put another sheet of pasta over the top, apply rolling pin, repeat.
The blue cheese sauce is a doddle, but I'm not happy -- it's too mild, because I've deliberately chosen a blue Castello. That's fine for the kids, but won't really work for adult palates. Never mind: Natalie is late, so the kids get bathed, and then they get the first round of pasta, salad, and mousses. The boys vacuum up the pasta and the salad, and exclaim over the dessert. (Their sponge cake is NOT brandy-sprinkled, by the way!) Elder Son eats most of his, but Younger Son - as always - has a few bites, and puts it away. He truly loves sweets and desserts, but he has an inbuilt metabolic warning system, and simply cannot or will not eat more than a few bites. He's quite satisfied by a small portion of anything sweet or dessertish. (I'm quite envious.)
Natalie finally gets home around 1830. She's got a couple of lovely medical students in tow -- Olivia and Natasha. The girls start playing Wii games with my kids, and a bottle of precious Dalrymple chardonnay is breached. I make up some more ravioli, and create a second cheese sauce using the rest of the blue Castello, and a nice dose of fresh-grated Romano for a bit of a sharper flavour.
Dinner is a grand success. The chocolate moulds work a treat (thanks, Doctor Nick!) and the orange-chocolate mousses sit proudly encased in their dark chocolate shells atop a fluffy dollop of whipped cream, itself sitting upon a layer of brandy-sprinkled sponge-cake. Olivia and Natasha manage to eat not only the rich, delicious, perfectly al dente pumpkin ravioli and cheese sauce, but the entirety of their desserts as well. Good thing they're both into Tae Bo...
More wine. Lots of conversation, another bottle of chardonnay, and more ridiculous Wii games (Rayman Raving Rabbids: lots of silly fun.) Finally, the kids go to bed, Olivia and Natasha vanish into the dark and the rain, and Natalie heads off for a shower.
I make three sets of lunches. Best to get it done now: I have to be at the primary school for a meeting about Elder Son's new "Education Plan" at 0900 tomorrow...
Monday, August 24, 2009
So, yeah. I went to see the Dali exhibition in Melbourne, and it pissed me off.
Not Dali, or his works. Not even the crowds, nope. It's great to see people taking interest in our artistic and cultural heritage. What did piss me off: the snaking great line of head-phone zombies. Punters who ponied up a bunch of extra bucks so they could get a recorded talk-through to play back as they checked out the Art.
Why did it piss me off? Well, first because the numbnuts in their headphones are functionally deaf. They don't hear you behind them, and they seem to lose touch with their surroundings. They are indeed not unlike stumbling, fumbling zombies, as likely to stand on your foot or drive an elbow into your midriff as they are to actually improve their brainzzz.
Secondly, the shuffling, stop-start gait pissed me off too. You could see the long line of 'em, dutifully wending their way from picture to painting, pausing at each post long enough to absorb the Holy Words through their headphones, and then lumbering off to the next stop. Can't stay here too long... quick, the voice-over has run out, time to move along!
You get a couple-hundred people behaving that way, and you have one great, big, multi-legged, eerie organism, organized by a single nervous system transmitting orders through the black organs on top of each head. Impotent, irritating, idiotic Cybermen of the Arts.
Very cordially: fuck you, Art-Cybermen. I had to duck and dodge and weave to avoid you idiots all morning. And every time I found something I wanted to see, a cluster of you would detach, like bloated ticks dropping off a host animal, and lumber painfully across my viewpoint to stand gaping, slack-jawed, while your sinister black mind-control devices told you what to think, and for how long.
Oh, but don't I think that the talky walk-through provides an extra dimension, and enhances the experience?
Two words: fuck, no.
Art, folks, is not about being told who and how and where. Art is by definition an intensely, ultimately personal experience. Take the famous Lascaux cave paintings, if you will: gorgeously rendered, intensely alive depictions of beasts and creatures and times long since gone. Picasso, seeing them is famously supposed to have said "We have learned nothing!" And do you suppose there was a fucking headset strapped on his lugholes at the time?
Art, literature, music: they do not happen in a vacuum. At first, they are an act of creation - but ever after, they become acts of re-creation, as each audience, each viewer experiences for themselves what the artist created. Literally: the sound, the colours, the words and ideas are re-created by the senses -- by your senses -- into the private space of your mind, becoming something that nobody else will ever fully understand or experience.
Dali once destroyed his own work -- a window display in Bonwit Teller in New York which had been altered without his consent. Seeing the changes the staff had made, he very publically stormed his way in, made a disaster zone of the window, then smashed his way out onto the street through the glass pane in front of a stunned audience. I imagine he'd be pleased to see people still taking an interest in his work today. But I strongly suspect that if he saw a line of Art Cybermen moving like a robotic conveyor past his paintings, he'd probably go straight for the fire axe.
You want to know more about the art, or the literature, or the music you're taking in? Fine, go and learn. But for fuck's sake, the first thing you have to do is actually take in the experience. What is the fucking point of looking at some of the most interesting, controversial, and often highly detailed paintings in the modern Western canon if you're going to cop an earful of some curator's opinions at the same time? You're wasting your time -- and while you stagger around like a poorly connected marionette, you're annoying the shit out of everybody else, too.
One of the best moments I ever had in a museum: I found myself in a large room in the New York Museum of Art. The room was full of Renaissance works, but there was practically nobody else in there. I didn't know much about Renaissance art at the time. (Still don't, as far as I'm concerned.) So I stood in the centre of the room and just... looked. From one picture to another. And then back. From different angles, higher and lower, side to side. I just stood there, and let the artists throw their visions at me, and it was fucking great.
After maybe ten, fifteen minutes, I'd formed vague opinions based on my own feelings and responses. I then went around the room read the labels and the info on each painting. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that every single picture which had really moved me -- hit some kind of deep emotional button, provoked a response of interest and wonder and curiosity -- was attached to a name like Tintoretto or Caravaggio. And all the paintings which got a "meh" were by people I'd never actually heard of. Bear in mind I'd never seen the paintings before. Probably I'd passed a few over as reproductions in books, but I'd never taken notice.
I was absolutely stunned by that exerience. It made me think for the first time that maybe, just maybe, there was something to this idea that some artists were "great".
Since then, I've repeated the exercise a few times, and learned a lot more about art history in the process. But most of all, I've learned to trust my own feelings and responses. Great art provokes. That's what it's designed to do, dammit. To provoke you, however, it has to reach you. And if your ears are blocked by the oh-so-informative murmurings of some wonderfully educated Art Guru, or if you're busy reading the programme and Beethoven's bio while the Ninth thunders past you in all its glory, or if you're checking out Cliffs Notes in the middle of Hamlet just to be sure that the version on stage in front of you is abridged...
... you are missing the fucking point. And you might as well piss off, and get out of the way of people who are there to appreciate everything you're ignoring.
If you really have to know it all, then do the reading before you arrive. Or if the experience of that Art, that literature, that music, that play provokes curiosity and wonder in you, go out afterwards and do some reading and research. Hell - just buy the inevitable book from the Museum gift shop. It will be carefully reasearched, well-written, and quite informative. And yes, you're quite right: learning about the history of it all does actually add a dimension, and it's well worth doing.
But before you do that, go in with open eyes and ears, and just experience it. That's why it was created in the first place. Take those little black headphones and stick 'em where the sun doesn't shine. Dali will thank you for it.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I'm baaa-aaack. And it's rainy. A whole lot rainy. We had to circle the airport at Launceston a couple times before the pilot was prepared to touch down: there's an awful lot of water sitting on North-East Tas as of yesterday. And it's been pissing down for much of today, too.
No complaints, mind you. Floods down here aren't like the floods I'm used to in Queensland. Back up north, come cyclone time, it was always a good idea to stock up on forty or fifty litres of clean drinking water, a week or so of non-perishable food, a good supply of basic first aid and medicines, plus matches, candles, kerosene lanterns -- and cooking fuel for some sort of non-electric cooker. A week or so without power would come along every couple years. And you could expect to be a week out of contact with supply lines pretty much every year.
Of course, I hear things aren't as wet as they used to be up there. The occasional arse-kicking cyclone rolls through and messes everyone up, sure -- but it's maybe twice a decade now, not every second year and sometimes twice a year.
On the other hand, we missed our winter rains for the last three years running, so this extremely wet August is very welcome. Indeed, it hands me a very small measure of hope. I've lived here in North-east Tas since early 2001, which doesn't exactly make me an experienced native sort -- but being me, it does mean I've kept mental records of the climate, and watched what's going on. We moved down here in the hopes of raising children well, and the whole Climate Change thing figured heavily in my considerations: I was gambling that Tasmania wouldn't be as badly fucked up as the rest of Australia by the ever more rapid onset of global warming.
As my friend Barnesm noted, we're getting close to the point where the "el nino" state of weather is probably going to be the norm, rather than the exception. Interestingly, though, the last three southern winters have been under the influence of its counterpart, the "la nina" state. Notably, the last three winters have been failures: very little rain, and none of the prolonged wet periods I saw from 2001 through 2005. We got enough rain to get by, but Tasmania's vaunted hydroelectric scheme was limping along from year to year, heavily augmented by power purchases from Victoria, and from big gas burning turbine systems which were only supposed to be an occasional measure.
Maybe two months back, I recall reading that the science johnnies had declared we were back into the 'el nino' state. And what happens? A very real return to form in terms of Tasmanian winter rain.
It's a small sample, I admit: only eight-and-a-half to nine years of observation. Nevertheless, the correlation is extremely distinct. I even went hunting online to find stats to back up my own recollection of the situation:
Red indicates a tendency towards El Nino. Blue is the alternate, La Nina. Note that when we arrived in early 2001, the locals were complaining of drought. Note also that the La Nina phenomenon declines, and switches to El Nino roundabout winter 2002 - when the rain kicked in very nicely here, and lasted through to 2005. The next year, 2006 -- we got practically no rain until very late, but when it did come it was enough to save us. 2007 and 2008 were miserable. And you will note that the graph has just turned red again...
...so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It would be nice to think that we're going to be able to keep living here without preparing for the kind of Big Dry that so much of Australia has suffered.
The expedition to Melbourne was excellent. I flew in on Saturday afternoon, and Barnesm picked me up at the airport. He was a little disturbed to discover all I had was a single, over-the-shoulder carry-on bag. Mr Barnes has offspring of his own, and has become completely accustomed to the necessities of Travelling With Spawn. The idea of an adult who has kids travelling with just a towel, toothbrush and necessary change of clothes kind of alarmed him a little.
Nevertheless, it was a damned good thing to do. It's funny: going to the movie with a few friends used to be difficult because
- I had no goddam money
- my friends didn't either
- we were fucked for transport
- and inevitably, trying to get us all to the same film at the same time was like trying to shove a bunch of very angry badgers into a small and crowded telephone booth.
So what's changed? Well, it's still hard to push badgers into a phone booth: dragging Guru Bob to the cinema was an epic of persuasion. He's been house-hunting around Melbourne without much luck, and he's not his usual perky self, I'm sad to say.
The timing is still full of shit, too. I would very much have liked to be in Melbourne for Birmo's shindig on Thursday -- but since I have to be at a meeting at the local school at 0900 on Friday morning, I couldn't really figure out how to swing that. (Sorry, Birmo!)
And of course, now that I have to come up with the bucks to fly to goddam Melbourne just to see a movie with Barnes, Guru Bob and Struggers... the cash situation is worse than ever, if that's possible. Happily, the Virgin and the Tiger are struggling with one another over the Launceston-Melbourne run, so it's possible to get there and back pretty regularly at a reasonable cost... but you wouldn't want to make a commute of it.
Master Struggers has done himself proud. He's laid up in a love-shack right in the very heart of inner-city goodness. Needs a batpole, it's true, and the fact that it's only five floors shouldn't prevent him citing an address on the 13th floor -- but otherwise, its a hoot. It was very fine indeed to encounter him again -- he pissed off to Dubai a few years back, and only made his return to civilisation in the last year or so.
So we drank beer, and argued about books and movies, and whinged at G-bob on the phone until he agreed to come out... and then we discovered that Raimi's Drag Me To Hell wasn't playing except way the fork out in the boonies. So we decided -- after a bellyful of Chinese food and visits to some very nifty drinking establishments recommended by The Mountain That Drinks -- to catch District 9 instead.
No spoilers from me -- but I'd just like Paul Boylan to note that travelled about five hundred miles in total to see that film... and I'm very pleased that I did. For those of you as haven't seen it: please do. It's a rarity; a truly intelligent and thoughtful science fiction flick in which the effects and the action are genuinely a necessary part of the storyline, not an overwhelming eye-candy add-on. It will certainly bear watching again.
I don't know if I want a sequel, though. One of the best parts of this film is the fact that it doesn't hand you all the answers, rub your nose in the backstory, pull up the moral and nail it to the mast. It just unfolds as a very human (and alien) tale, and ends on a note of uncertainty. I can't imagine how they'd provide a sequel without breaking that uncertainty, and I'm really not sure I want that. Still, with the movie now approaching $100 million in its first couple weeks, I don't suppose I'm going to get a choice.
I finished the night back at Chez Barnes, knocking off Bushmills with mine host and his fine partner (another dear and long-standing friend) until 0300.
That would have been fine, sure. I like Bushmills. But Barnes has an offspring, and worse, his brother-in-law was visiting, so the offspring of Barnes had his cousin along as well. And they had a shiny new Wii game to play. And I was crashed out on the fold-out futon in the TV room. Yep.
Hey, Barnes: you bastard! Just take note of my extreme civility for future reference, eh? So, you know - when I finally snap and commit the kind of mass annihilation that rewrites history books, you can tell everyone with absolute certainty that whatever pushed me over the edge must have been extreme provocation indeed. Because I think that enduring a couple of jubilant nine-year-olds playing Mario Kart over the top of my three-and-a-half hours of sleep and the remnants of my many beers, multiple G&Ts, and sundry shots of Bushmills is above and beyond the definition of "civility"! (And you may rest assured that when you finally come visiting here, you shall NOT rest assured... I have THREE kids, you know. And a Wii. And a dog. And two cats. You are going DOWN, you bastard!)
Sunday... yeah. I was just about able to endure the Salvador Dali show at the Vic Gallery. Wish I hadn't, though. There was a total ass-load of people in there. And they all had those goddam renta-brain headphones to tell them what to think about the paintings. And they all shuffled through like zombies, pausing aimlessly at each station to absorb kulcha through their earphones... jeez, it's a wonder I didn't just snap and start committing art on the bastards. Salvador Dali would have understood, and approved, I reckon...
... and then I got home, and it rained. A lot.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
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...
...so 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?
Monday, August 17, 2009
You know, I think I forgot to mention that while the floor was being sanded and polished, we pissed off to Alice Springs for a week. Natalie had a medical conference there, and it seemed like a good opportunity to organize a family outing.
Alice Springs -- generally just "Alice" or "The Alice" if you wanna sound pretentiously like a character in the kind of movie that Bryan Brown or Paul Hogan might infest -- is a desert township pretty much in the centre of Oz. I'd never gone out to the centrelands before, so I was looking forward to it. Warily, yes, but looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, we couldn't manage to fit The Big Red Rock into the itinerary. But I reckon we got our money's worth.
That's the Smaller Son there, under the shower cap. We got up at four in the goddam morning to make our flight, so by the time we hit the hotel in Alice, we were pretty well shagged out. Didn't help that it was 4C and pissing down in Taz, but brilliant sunshine and 28C in Alice. (You Yanks can do your own conversions on the temperatures. I'm too busy to mess with outdated systems of measurement.) The Smaller Son mooched around the room for a while, but once he discovered the shower cap, everything was just fine. He sat down and took in some cable TV cartoons, secure in the knowledge that his hair wasn't going to get wet, nosirree.
Natalie had three days of medical kerfuffle to attend, which left the kids and I to our own devices. The hotel was about a kilometre and a half from the centre of Alice, so we opted to go walkabout. That's the famous Todd River the kids are standing in, right there. Looking pretty much as it always does. You get a lot of dry riverbeds in Oz, but most of 'em -- well, you'll see that the trees are gnarled and bent from seasonal flooding.
Not in the Todd. I walked up and down that river bed, crossed it about a dozen times on foot... and I still can't tell you which way the water flows when it's there. If it ever is.
Plenty of birds out in the desert. Those are galahs. They watched us from the treetop as we shuffled through the dust into the township proper.
Alice-The-Town is... well, small. There's an open-air mall. And a cinema, where the kids and I caught the latest Harry Potter flick. (Snape kills Dumbledore. That's pretty much the entire plot right there. Other than, you know, a lot of teenagers getting hormonal.) Alice is also dry and dusty and hot. Even in winter. We drank an awful lot of water, hung out in the shade when we could, and took things very slowly.
The photo above is -- honest truth here! -- the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens in Alice Springs. Yep: carefully tended desert flora. You know how you can tell where the Botanic Gardens stop and the desert starts? Well, there's this fence... and that's it.
Sturt's Desert Pea: there were a lot of lovely flowers around the place too. The desert around Alice isn't your hardcore sand-dunes and stony plains kind of thing. It misses out on being a veldt due to the lack of grass coverage, but there's a generous supply of shrubbery, and quite a lot of life. Mind you, I wouldn't want to be caught a mile or two outside town without a few litres of water on me.
I can't even recall the name of this parrot species, but the bird posed so nicely for me... Actually, I really enjoyed doing a bit of bird-spotting. I did a lot of that, growing up in Far North Queensland, and it's kind of a habit. Coming to Taz was fun because I was seeing new species for the first time in years and years -- and going to Alice was even better, because there were many birds I'd never seen before. The ringneck there was only one of many.
A local acquaintance of Natalie's took the kids and I to the "Old-Timer's Fete". That's kind of a big social occasion in Alice, it transpires. You wouldn't know it, as an outsider - it's a typical fete, with cake stalls and sausage sizzles, the inevitable bouncy castle, junk stalls, and the odd ride... the kids were excited by the whirly teacup ride, so I threw 'em in. Why not?
A local acquaintance of Natalie's took the kids and I to the "Old-Timer's Fete". That's kind of a big social occasion in Alice, it transpires. You wouldn't know it, as an outsider - it's a typical fete, with cake stalls and sausage sizzles, the inevitable bouncy castle, junk stalls, and the odd ride... the kids were excited by the whirly teacup ride, so I threw 'em in. Why not?
Interestingly, the name "Old-Timers" refers to the charity for which the fete is a major fundraiser. The fete is held in the grounds of the "Old Timers" place -- the major retirement centre in Alice. I laughed like hell at the name. It's wonderfully typical of outback Australia; blunt, accurate, direct and honest. No "Shady Acres" or "Sweet Gardens" or any of that shit -- it's the Old Timers' Place, and that's all she wrote.
Those hats... there was a market in the Todd St Mall on the Sunday. A little Vietnamese bloke was selling all sorts of odds and sods, including the iconic basket hats. Now, since the boys are huge samurai flick afficionadoes, there was no possible way I could avoid buying them basket-hats so they could play at being ninja. And they did, oh yes. A lot.
It's weird how people respond to kids in costume. The locals and tourists alike just couldn't seem to believe their eyes. Three kids in basket hats: people pointing, and smiling, and laughing, cameras snapping... the kids have long since learned to take that kind of thing in their stride, because Natalie and I have never bothered to try and restrain their instinct for dressing up and playing games. And why would you, anyway? But I have to admit: it got a little wearying for me, acknowledging the endless stream of delighted outcries, etc. "Yes, the boys watch a lot of samurai movies. They like this kind of thing... Thanks. Cute. Yeah, I suppose so..."
I wish other parents would let their kids off the lead a little. It gets a bit embarrassing having people stare at mine!
We went to the Desert Park once Natalie was done with her medical stuff and we'd managed to rent a car. The Desert Park is maybe 10k outside town, and it's extremely well set up. Very educational, even for me - I learned a lot about the Australian desert ecosystems, and the critters living in them. That's a barn owl, by the way. It's part of the rather well managed "Birds of Prey" show. If you get out to Alice at all, you shouldn't miss this place. One hesitates to call it "cool", because it was actually hot as all fuck, but it's really good.
That's a Tawny Frogmouth ignoring the camera there. It's a big nightjar. They occur all over Australia. I'm really fond of them - they're marvellous birds.
We took a walk out to Standley Chasm in the Western McDonnell ranges. Fantastic walk through a dry riverbed into the ancient, red-rock bones of the land. The place is still owned by the traditional dwellers, and it's well maintained. Beautiful walk, too. I like the way the sunlight filters down on the Mau-Mau in this shot.
Farther up the creek bed, Smaller Son hid from the heat under a big rock. The kids loved this walk, bounding from rock to rock, climbing like monkeys and goats, racing ahead, finding new things to show us... and once again, all the other walkers and visitors were vociferously charmed by the microninjas and their hats.
It was interesting greeting the other walkers. Natalie counted six different languages, not including English. I guess winter is a popular tourist time around Alice. Makes sense: I hate to think what the place would be like in summer.
Standley Chasm itself - a gap, cut by water, in the McDonnell Range. One small ninja contemplates the grandeur of nature...
And there was a reptile centre in Alice, too. It seemed like a good idea. They were really friendly, and there's a bit of a show-and-tell time, so the kids got the chance to get hands-on with some of the less dangerous of Australia's reptiles. That's a blue-tongued lizard right there.
...and that would be Jaffa, the Central Tree Dragon. I've never seen one that shade of yellow before.
Heh. Smaller Son likes lizards, but he was a little nervous about Jaffa. (A bit bigger than he's used to.) He held onto the thing for about twenty seconds, then quite without warning, he simply dropped it in the lap of the bloke next to him.
Fortunately, the bloke was comfortable with lizards, and was actually in the waiting-to-handle circle... but the sudden appearance of Jaffa in his lap caught him by surprise, and he just about leapt out of his seat. Poor bastard. I suppose I should have warned him about my kids.
That's an Olive Python drapped around Elder Son's neck. Beautiful snake. I'm glad to say the kids were quite comfortable with her, once they got over a little bit of early worry.
The Mau-Mau had a chance to get up-close and personal with the little olive python too. My hands are in the picture, yes - but not because I feared for the Mau-Mau. The snake was beautifully accustomed to human handling, and well fed. No... I was worried that in her excitement, the Mau-Mau might inadvertently hurt the poor snake.
Anyway. That'll do. I've spent too long on this crap anyway. I'm busy reloading my study, backing up files, sending emails, and half the day is gone already. I've still got raspberry canes to plant, fences to erect, laundry, cooking... so I'll cut it short: we made it home. It was nice. Alice Springs was interesting, but I'm not gonna be looking for real estate there in any hurry.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Um. Yes. Those are soap bubbles. And yes, they're pink. Vividly pink. Amazingly pink. Trust me: you cannot achieve this effect with food colouring, or for that matter, any other quirks of chemistry you happen to have up your sleeve. These bubbles are something new and amazing.
I believe I mentioned a while back that I aimed to score Super Dad Points on the Mau-Mau's birthday by acquiring a small stock of Unobtanium: coloured soap bubbles so new to the market they're not actually available in Australia as yet. Courtesy of my boon friend Bigskygirl, I managed to have two packets of Zubbles sent over, and they arrived just in time for today's big event -- the Mau-Mau's fourth birthday.
She got a hell of a haul, courtesy of parents, grandparents, cousins, and far-off USAnian friends, but it was those bubbles that drew the most attention. Seriously, folks: they're farkin' amazing.
I read about Zubbles a few years back, on the web. At that time, the people behind it thought they'd go to market within six months. It took them several years, but they're finally here - and what they've created is little short of miraculous.
The bubbles are perfect, and beautiful. Sure, you can only get pink and blue at this point, but both the colours are strong and vivid. Most amazingly, they do not stain. Not at all. In fact, within a few seconds of the bubbles splashing onto a vulnerable surface, most of the colour fades. The rest disappears with gentle rubbing.
It's like magic. We splattered cerise bubble-stuff all over the white walls, just for the fun of making the stains vanish. The Mau-Mau got it all over her hands and face and clothing - and it simply wiped away.
I don't do 'corporate shill', but I am always impressed by good design, good ideas, and products which do exactly as advertised. Zubbles are delightful. They are astonishing. They are beautiful and ephemeral and marvellous as soap-bubbles have always been... only now, they come in brilliant, dreamlike colours.
Start putting your small change in a jar. You can't get Zubbles in Oz yet, and I've probably snubbed a few laws by receiving the stuff as a gift... but fuck it. There's little enough magic in the world. If you've got kids, or if you've ever been a kid, you owe it to yourself to get hold of some of this stuff...
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Hi. I'm back. Proper update soon. Meanwhile, this:
I'm hoping to buzz across to Melbourne soon and catch a flick with a couple mates. One of those chaps -- Barnesm -- works for a government department. In the past, I've had minor difficulties with the Naughtiness Censor attached to his work email, so when I sent a note suggesting maybe we could catch a Sam Raimi movie together, it looked like this:
Subject line: Drag Me To Heck (Don't want to offend the cuss-filter, do I?)
Text Body: Hey -- what's the odds of arranging a Sam Raimi session say, sometime around the week after next? Yeah, I'll miss Birmo, but it would be forkin' magic to catch "Drag Me To Heck" with you and GBob and Struggers...
The reply I received was this:
Inappropriate phrases/text have been detected in
your recent email, this email has now been
quarantined. This email will now be viewed by the
system administrator and one of a number of actions
1. If the email is work related or if the original
quarantine was based on a false positive, the
email will be forwarded to the intended recipient
within 2 business days.
2. If the phrases/text detected are deemed offensive
the email may be deleted.
3. If the phrases/text detected is deemed abusive or
threatening it may be recorded and reported to our
legal department for appropriate
Repeated transgressors may be banned from emailing the organization.
Ahem. I guess I'm a repeated transgressor now. Good thing Mr Barnes was willing to send me an ever-so-slightly-less censored email account...
Monday, August 3, 2009
Must be my day for goddam dust.
See, Natalie has finally succeeded in her ongoing harangues about the state of my study. We're getting a bloke in to sand back the floor in the sun-room and restore the much-abused polish, and I agreed that I'd clear out my study and strip the carpet so this room could get prettied up at the same time.
Of course, that means yanking out not only the carpet and the underlay, but years of accumulated... stuff... in here. Which I've been doing for a few days now.
The carpet itself is plain nasty. It appears to have been laid down in the Early Filthocene Era, and repeatedly been conquered by hordes of unwashed barbarians from various incredibly dusty regions of the world. I've pulled up half of it by now, and honestly, I'm choking in here. It's Snot City, and I am the Chief Boogermeister. Achheh. Kaff kafff hacckkh!
Meanwhile, the elderly cast-iron grill in the bottom of our wood-heater/fireplace thing has finally given away, big-time. It's interesting what happens to cast iron that gets repeatedly heated and cooled: today, as I was pulling the thing out, I snapped a couple of the grill-bars with my fingers. These things are at least a centimetre wide, and 3/4 of a centimetre thick. They're not rusted. They're just... heat-fucked, I guess.
I've been looking for a replacement grill for over a week now. Tried both hardware places. Tried both farm-gear places. No go. Launceston wasn't much help either, until this morning, when I took the Mau-Mau in and we tackled a specialty camping-goods outlet. Got myself a loverly new grill, and all I had to do was drive an hour there, and then an hour back again. Oh, and then cut it to fit with my angle grinder. Oh, and then pull the old one out, with all the struggling with fine ash you might expect. Achhehh! Kaff kaff haccckkh!
Anyway, the point of this post is not the dust. Not really. No, it's the satellite modem. See, that little box of goodies sits on the desk in my study. The soon-to-be removed desk. And there's no way to relocate the cables that come down the wall and up through the floor and everything. So from Thursday, there's going to be a bit of a hiatus hereabouts, because I'm not leaving an incredibly expensive satellite modem (and a cheap router) hooked up in a room that's about to have the living shit sanded out of it.
Also, there's three layers of varnish and/or polish to consider. Normally they'd only take a day or two, but it's winter in Taz, and we're having a dampish spell. (Okay. Soggy. Dripping. Deliquescent. Very fucking wet!) Ergo, the varnishing process won't be done quite so quickly.
Not to worry. You'll manage without me for a bit, right? And when I get back into my study, think how much more cleverly I'll be able to write with all that polished wood underfoot...
...some things must remain lost!
Ancient Cities Lost to the Seas
Dunwich, England, is one of several underwater sites where divers are uncovering new information about historic cultures
- By Robin T. Reid
- Smithsonian.com, July 29, 2009
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Things I learned From Share-Housing That Prepared Me For Parenting
- Nothing that has ever happened in a diaper is anywhere near as repulsive and disgusting as the stuff that accumulated in the sink at my first flat. Or my second. Or the third.
- Food remains edible a lot longer than the manufacturers would like you to think.
- Sleep is less important than most people believe.
- The refrigerator will not clean itself.
- Not everything that is green in the refrigerator is fit to eat.
- Stocking toilet paper? Plan ahead. A long, long way ahead.
- Potatoes abandoned in dark places for too long become...unacceptable. Ergo, they are not good playthings for children.
- Screaming does not necessarily mean something bad is happening. It's all about the tone and pitch.
- A pile of salt on a red wine spill will help remove the stain from a carpet. On the other hand, the goddam carpet is going to get stained sooner or later, so why bother? Polished hardwood floors and cheap throw-rugs rule!
- It is entirely possible to play cricket in the hallway.
- But it's best to use a foam rubber ball, and to make sure your girlfriend (wife) doesn't catch you doing it.
- Never, ever assume the bedroom door is locked. Or the toilet door, for that matter.
- Just because the toilet door is only half closed, there's no reason to assume the place is unoccupied.
- Silence indicates grave danger, unless you are alone in the house.
- You can disguise almost anything into edibility with enough cheese, tomato paste and pizza crust.
- Always leave at least one adult person sober enough to answer a fire alarm.
- Riding in large commercial driers is enormous fun. Putting other people in them is even more fun. Small children, therefore, cannot be trusted alone with the lesser version in your laundry.
- Shouting louder than the other person is not a viable method of winning an argument.
- Eating things that fell on the floor is a lot less fatal than your mother always said.
- Hide the TV remote before someone else does. That way you'll be able to find it. That's the only way you'll be able to find it.
- They won't go to bed of their own accord. Sooner or later, someone has to announce that the party is over.
- And no: they will never, ever put away their toys by themselves.
- Being the only grown-up sucks donkey balls. You really need somebody to share the job.