Saturday, November 28, 2009

Culture of Politics, Politics of Culture.

The kiddy koncert yesterday went off more or less okay. Our two budding maestros were involved in the wee string orchestra, which played three (mercifully) short numbers in reasonably good order. Actually, they sounded surprisingly musical, and in their matching white shirts with red satin bowties and cummerbunds, the whole collection of kids are horribly cute.

However, the concert was also the yearly opportunity for a set of music teachers to permit their students a performance showcase. And I do understand that it's very helpful for the kids to get a chance to perform in front of an audience, yes. But oh, my. Oh, my. I do believe that aside from the three little orchestra pieces, there were something like forty other performance pieces, from students of various ages.

And then there was a break of ten or fifteen minutes, in which certificates were presented to all the students for their gradings etc. And a couple of awards were handed out. And then there were three more performance pieces.

All up, it ran from 1900 to a bit past 2100. I had to take off about half an hour before it ended, because the Mau-Mau was getting increasingly restive, and in the small theatre it was hard to keep her under control. To be brutally honest, I was glad of the excuse. The seats were low, and my knees were bent sharply. After more than an hour, I was in a certain amount of pain there.

Anyway. Tasmania's a small place in some ways, and the music/culture scene is one of them. To wit: there were two federal politicians there in the audience, both of whom (I believe) had family amongst the performers. And I found their concert-attendance behaviours really interesting.

One of 'em is a Liberal senator. As I walked out with the Mau-Mau, I passed him in a deserted corridor, mobile phone attached to his ear, deep in an earnest, highly political chat. (No, I didn't stay to listen. And even if I had, I wouldn't write about it. I have a strong belief in the privacy of others, including even politicians, Senator. Keep that in mind the next time the government wants to crush the Internet, eh?)

Now, fair enough: the Libs have their problems at the moment. It's nice he took the time to be at the concert at all. But he did, in fact, duck out halfway.

On the other end of the scale we had a female MHR in-house, and she made it through the entire show. Mind you, the moment she stepped out the mobile was glued to her ear like some kind of bizarre cyberpunk jewellery -- but she did get through the concert, sure. Of course, she's from the opposite side of Parliament, too.

It's interesting to wonder about their concert-attendance techniques because of the dichotomies between them. Long-time fed versus first-termer. Male versus female. Labor versus Liberal. Stable, government party situation versus wildly unstable leadership-struggle situation. You get the picture: so many variables in play that there's no way to draw any conclusions at all as to how they really felt about the concert, and what kind of roles they saw for themselves there, and why one would duck out halfway while the other would endure the entire thing.

One thing does puzzle me, though: WTF did politicians do before the advent of the mobile phone?


And in other news: in keeping with the minor disaster theme of the day, I was helping the orchestra director place a very large, very heavy vase of flowers. I put the vase on the floor in the indicated site, using a very proper deep knee-bend technique to ensure my back didn't go ker-spung... and so my rather aged and worn trousers went ka-zortch instead. The seam down the arse literally shredded itself in one go, from just below the waistband to halfway down the inner thigh.

It was not a particularly enjoyable moment, but I can't say I was really bothered by it either. I really should have turfed those trousers a while back, but I quite liked them, so I ignored the fact that they were getting very thin in the arse region. You get what you deserve sometimes, eh?

I ducked up the road to K-mart, knowing it would still be open, and found a couple pairs of trews to purchase in replacement. The lass at the changing rooms thought my explanation as to why I'd be wearing one of the new trousers on the way out was rather funny...


Final notes: the orchestra rehearsal was at 1430. The concert didn't kick off until 1900. That left us with some time to fill, and we didn't particularly want to drive home and then turn around and drive back again. So I managed to find a showing of Cloudy, With A Chance Of Meatballs that fit our schedule, and I'm very happy to say it was a lot of fun. The animation is the usual Pixar excellence. The writing was very good: fast, often very funny, frequently clever. There were plenty of jokes for the adults to pick up, including a lot of pop-culture film references tucked neatly into the script for you to enjoy if you spot them. Voice characterisations were excellent: particular kudos to Bruce Campbell as the sleazy mayor (fantastic combination of scripting, voicing and visualisation there), Neil Patrick Harris as Steve the Monkey (wearing a Monkey Thought Translator invented by the main character... frequently hilarious) and a really wonderful effort from Mr T as the township's manic black cop.

The slapstick stuff is plentiful, the visual gags are just fine, the story works, and I had a damned good time. Go and see it, with kids or without.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Days Just Go Wrong From The Outset

I love the weather we've got today. It's cool, and dark, and rainy. I was awoken at 0630 by the rain intensifying, and the rumble of distant thunder. Since then, it's been thunder on and off all morning. Not the colossal, brutalizing sort of storms that Brisbane gets, but an almost gentle sort of thing -- blue-white flashes at the corner of your eye turn the world outside your window brilliant green for an instant, and then, a few moments later, the biggest, most basso profundo voice in the whole world chuckles for a minute or two. Lovely.

Mornings like that, especially on a Saturday when one can anticipate at least a little bit of a lie-in, are pure gold. And indeed, I was just in the process of demonstrating to Natalie the best way to celebrate such a marvellous opportunity when the sound of smashing glass intervened from downstairs. Whereupon Natalie instantly put on her 'Mum' hat and got out of bed.

Ah, well.

I decided to lie in and read a book for a bit. Even without company, it's still a fine thing to be in a warm bed at seven in the morning, enjoying a book while the rain and the lightning and thunder do the rounds outside. At least, that's what I thought until I heard the second round of smashing glass, and of course, the bout of recriminations that followed.

Still, I was dilatory in getting up and dressed, so I missed out on seeing what event caused the gales of helpless laughter from the breakfast zone. In fact, by the time I got down there, they'd nearly finished cleaning up the entire box of "Crunchy Nut Cornflakes" that Younger Son had inadvertently poured over the Mau-Mau's head. And yes, it was an entire giant economy-size type box, purchased only yesterday and opened this morning for breakfasting purposes. That's a lot of cereal for a small girl to wear.

The count so far: one drinking glass, dropped and smashed in the bathroom. One ceramic cereal bowl, dropped and smashed in the sun-room dining area. One box of breakfast cereal, liberally distributed over one bemused daughter. And of course, one beatific Saturday-morning thunderstorm lie-in, shot to shit.

You get that, I suppose.

This afternoon is dedicated to more orchestra crap. We have to be in Launceston for a practise, and then there's a three-hour gap before the actual recital. And of course, it'll be pissing down, so we can't take the kids to a park or anything. I've checked the papers: looks like we'll be seeing Cloudy, With A Chance Of Meatballs at the cinema.

Meanwhile, I've got a few hours to finish a story which is very nearly overdue. Hopefully I can do it before the kids get tired of the Wii and go berserk...


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Okay. As much for my own organisation as anything else:

Gardens and grounds --

The tractor battery has lost its charge. The recharger which worked with it before doesn't appear to be helping. Problem with recharger, or with battery? No real way for me to tell. I have extracted the battery from the tractor and put it on the concrete pad, checked the fluid levels, cleaned the terminals to ensure a good contact, and set it up to trickle-charge overnight. If it's not working tomorrow, I'll take the battery to the mechanic for a once-over. If the battery's good, I know the recharger is shite. Meanwhile, of course, I can't use the slasher to clear up the paddocks, and I really must do that ASAP.

In similar vein, the whipper-snipper has developed a fuel-flow problem. Possibly I could fix it if I wanted to spend a couple hours fucking around, getting two-stroke fuel all over myself. Instead, I've opted to drop it with the local small motor people for a full service. I gave 'em the chainsaw at the same time. That big fallen branch has dried enough for me to clean it up and clear the debris. We'll leave most of it in place to hold a climbing net for the kids, but I'll remove all the major fire-hazard bits first. Still: no chainsawing nor whippersnippering until the mechanics have had their way with the gear.

The Chinese Cabbage and rocket seeds have sprouted. They're coming up fast. I'll need to plant them out within a week, so I'll have to prep another garden bed. I'll clear the old one where the parsley has gone to seed -- knock it all over with the hoe, put a weed-mat over the top, and when the cabbage/rocket is ready, put a few holes in place and plant the buggers.

Strawberries are doing okay - but not as well as I'd like. I think I needed deeper planting troughs. That's something to tackle next season, I expect. Tomatoes and sunflowers, good. Zucchini and pumpkins: fine. But the blueberries, the blackberries, the raspberries, the redcurrants and the tea plants all need rescuing from overgrowing spring grasses -- a job for the whippersnipper thingy, which is with the mechanic. So - next week, I expect.

Snow peas are growing so verdantly in the compost-filled laundry tubs I laid out for them that I'm going to have to add several extra metres of growth-supports. Good thing I like snow peas. At the rate they're going, we'll be eating a lot of the bastards.

The old orchard needs clearing up. Must remove wood trimmings, and then mow. Happily the mower works a treat.

The situation with feral saplings is getting out of hand. There are wattles and blue-gums coming up all over the place. In general, that's okay - but I have to clear everything under the power line, and ensure there's not too much of a fire hazard around in the coming months. Need chainsaw. So - start next week, expect the job to be done in bits and pieces over several weeks.

Herb garden needs another major overhaul. Things grow so damned fast in spring it's freaky. The weed mat system isn't working as well as I'd hoped. What kind of goddam plant steroids are these things using? Time to get in with the glyphosate, I fear. Probably a half-day-job there. Doable as soon as it looks like we might get a full day without rain... maybe next week, at this rate.

House, sheds, vehicles:

Not too bad on the vehicular front. Replaced tyres on the Mighty Earth King, up to date with servicing. Could use a bit of cleaning, but generally functional.

Need to finish putting up insulation in the shed/loft. Must finish this before New Year so we can comfortably have a movie fest up there. This will require at least one more trip to Launceston to get more of the wool batts I've been using, plus a full day at least to get the things in place. Will probably also require some kind of limited scaffolding so I can do the underside of the roof. Been avoiding that issue. Will be able to make the usual improvised scaffolding if I get another folding aluminium ladder. Need one anyway: the ladder on the outside of the water tank is a scary, dangerous, wooden relic.

Must complete the area outside the boys' room and the bathroom. Row of bricks along the walk so I can put white sand/gravel under the bathroom window for a raked sand garden. Tiles to be cut and glued around the stone-paved patio outside the boys' door. Must also evenly mortar between the stones, for the visual effect. Tiling: half-day. Mortar: maybe an hour, plus drying time. Row of bricks can be done at the same time. White sand -- let's see: trip to the suppliers with the trailer, then transport the sand into position via wheelbarrow... shitty job of about two hours. Great.

Been avoiding replacing the old light-panels in the roof of the top shed. But the fibreglass is deteriorating, and leaks have opened. Must purchase six, maybe seven laser-light corrugated plastic panels. Will need some kind of careful system to get on that roof - the remaining fibreglass panels are above a six-metre drop. Not fun. Probably a full day of work there, crawling around, removing old panels, hauling new ones into place.


Must organize birthday party for Younger Son. When? Should be a weekend, sometime between now and Xmas. Must sit down with Natalie and decide. Still no word from Younger Son as to what kind of birthday party he wants. Might wind up having to settle for Generic Birthday, instead of the usual themed events. Lots of work there, either way.

Orchestra crap continues. Performance this weekend, rehearsal Friday. Is Natalie taking them? I hope so. I believe she's on-call over the weekend, which puts me on the spot for the performance. Ugh.

School wants Elder Son to play a cello piece at their end-of-year awards thing. Have written a simple score for "Silent Night". Should sound okay on the cello. First effort was encouraging, anyhow. We have three weeks to practice it into shape. I'd say we can manage that.

Local Christmas Parade is coming. The ju-jitsu group has been asked to provide a 'demonstration' of some sort. I've sounded out the students and parents. We only have to come up with fifteen minutes or so of material -- shouldn't be too hard. I picked up a whole bunch of pine-boards for breaking the other day. If we organise a few showy breaks, some interesting-looking defenses, maybe an exhibition game or two from the younger ones, perhaps a few throws... ought to do the job.

Christmas... yeah. Shit, eh? I like it when I run across something interesting to give people... something which suits the person, and seems to have a bit of meaning or fun to it. Funny how that doesn't happen exactly as needed for the Christmas thing. Believe I'll send a few Oxfam donation cards this year. But find something for Natalie, and for various kids including my own.

End of School Year: not soon enough. And there's bound to be all kinds of nonsense associated with it. Must try to leave space in the calendar for unexpected calls.


Short story deadline for one antho fast approaching. Damned story has been rewritten from three different POV, and I'm still cranky. Finish it and be damned.

Need more Red Priest shorts. Have three in various stages of completion. Iceland version probably closest. Aim to finish within two weeks.

Novel a tangled thing, but moving slowly into place. Blast the ROR people for the clever buggers they are, anyhow... it was going to be one novel, only they quite rightly pointed out it was really two. I hate it when that happens.

Book reviews -- need to find time to review anthos from Paul Haines, Deb Biancotti. Finish review of Spook Country. Does Coolshite Bruce want me to chat with the bloke who wrote 7th Son:Descent? Might be an interesting thing to do, but organising a time... tricky. Very tricky.

Must finish watching the Dune miniseries too. Supposed to review that as well. Interesting to compare/contrast with Lynch as well as the novel.


Must clarify which version of the most recent sword techniques we're doing. Sensei from Adelaide made some changes; not entirely sure where we stand now. Ooh... must also finish sewing "senior student" patch onto the uniform. Wish I could sew straight.

Must rehang tennis balls in top shed/dojo for draw/cut practice. Not altogether happy with accuracy of fast draw-cut.

Do I need to prep some kind of routine for the Christmas Parade demonstration? Prefer to leave it to the students, but maybe... hmm. Might be interesting to toss in some iaido material. Leave the real sword at home, though. Even swinging an iaito will require a nice, clear space. Iaito makes a better swooshy noise anyway.

Okay. That's all I can think of right now. I feel better for writing it down. Should probably go and unchain the dog now. Dark outside. Baby chickens still doing fine, despite the Mau-Mau's best efforts to love hers to death...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Meet David Bowie...

Yes. That is he, right there. What? You didn't recognize the slightly supercilious stare, or (the real giveaway) the ridiculous hairstyle straight out of his role as Jared the Goblin King in Labyrinth?

Ha! Shows you've got no imagination. Or at least, not the same kind of demented imagination as Younger Son, who has christened his baby bantam "David Bowie" in honour of said ridiculous hairstyle. Oh -- and David Bowie the Bantam sings, too: a monotonous, ear-piercing sort of "cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep" noise that goes on, apparently ad infinitum.

Oh, joy.

We now have three little banty buggers. Of the lot that went under the Death Star Warming Bulb, no sign of life has been found. R.I.P little banty beasties, victims of a well-meant but ill-prepared mother attempting to introduce her offspring to the delights of... umm... bantams.

The weather's switched on us, which is good. Smaller Son and I planted out a bunch of tomatoes yesterday, so the gentle, steady rain we're getting right now is absolutely perfect. I also took a risk a few weeks ago and put in an orange tree. I mean - I've had a lime out on the deck for two winters now. It's in a pot, so it's not going gangbusters, but it's not dying. In fact, I should probably plant it out and give it a chance. But the orange tree is very pleased with itself - lots of new, springy growth.

We introduced Grace to Movie Night at Chez Flinthart last night. Vietnamese Spring Rolls all round for dinner, and then off to the movie loft with lots of popcorn to see the most recent Harry Potter flick. Grace loaded up on spring rolls and declared she couldn't possibly eat popcorn. Heh. Poor Grace: she's never had Flinthart's patent Thai-Style Hot and Sour popcorn. Imagine! The poor creature was concerned it might be difficult to get a decent diet down here, with all us gluten-tolerant sorts...

And in other news? Haircuts for me and the boys. New tyres for the Mighty Earth King. (Ouch! Those mothers are expensive!) And the Mau-Mau has to attend her best friend's birthday party tomorrow, so the boys and I found a present for her to give the friend. It's a nifty black velvet-flocked box with all kinds of decorations on it, and lots of drawers and panels in it. I'll take the Mau-Mau down shopping today, and we'll find goodies to put into the drawers and panels, and it will be a fine and lovely present for a newly-four-year-old.

Meanwhile... I think I'll run up savoury pork ribs today on the Charcoal Gorilla. Sweet, hot, salty and smoky porky bits, maybe a few roasted taters, a bit of salad... yeah.

And now: here's a farewell from David Bowie and his most dedicated fan...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Which Came First...?

...and does anyone really care?

Much as I love my wife, there are times when her common sense goes totally arse-out the window. Case in point: hatching chickens.

We've got some friends locally whose chooks went on the brood. They've got more chooks than they need already, and they didn't want still more of the beggars running around the place, so they've been trying to give the things away before they hatch. These "friends" saw my wife coming from a couple kilometres distance, the words "SOFT-HEARTED SUCKER WITH SMALL KIDS" apparently glowing in neon letters a metre high above her head.

Natalie responded to their overtures by hinting to me. Repeatedly. That we should take these eggs and hatch them.

What? Do I look like a fucking chicken? I don't fucking hatch eggs. I scramble the bastards, or maybe create a nice fritatta funghi, serve it up with maybe a light pinot noir and a garden salad, you know?

I made it clear that I really didn't think much of the idea. And I'm sure we can all guess what happened next.

Yesterday, I had to go buy a 'warming light' from the hardware mob. At first I thought I'd get the old cage-light so beloved of mechanics everywhere, but it turns out Johnny Howard's scrote-kick to the incandescent lightbulb industry has had an unexpected side effect. You can buy the cage for a mechanic's light, sure. But you can't get a fucking bulb for it, can you? Unless you resort to one of the shiny new compact fluoro jobs -- and while they work just fine in a static installation, I am informed by a number of very cranky people that they last maybe two days in a mobile cage-light.

Besides: it was good old inefficient incandescent heat I wanted, not cool white fluorescent light.

Eventually I got a portable floodlight, with a screw-fix bulb. You can still get incandescents for them. Of course, the hardware version came with a 150watt Death Star Annihilator bulb, which obviously wasn't going to do the little eggs a lot of good -- so I stopped and picked up the mildest bulb that the supermarket possessed: a 75 watt number.

This I duly gave to Natalie, when she came home with a cardboard box containing six or seven eggs. I then went off to teach ju-jitsu.

When I returned home, sore and bruised and tired, as I entered the house, there was a very odd smell -- hot "Napi-san". Why? I stuck my head in the bathroom. Aha. The improvised heat-lamp is shining down on a towel laid nicely over six or seven eggs. And the towel is scorching visibly.


I reorganised the set-up, but to be honest, it was probably already too late for junior Foghorn Leghorn and the rest of 'em. A little Internet research indicated that unhatched chickens tend to go all sort of dead if the temperature climbs much over 39C for any period. Towel-scorching temperatures are definitely out.

That, however, did not dissuade my beloved. Nope. This evening, as I sat in my study after a bit of sword practice, she came in and announced that the eggs remaining to our "friends" were now, right now, in the process of hatching, and they'd texted her to tell her so. And shouldn't we maybe go and get those little hatchy eggies so our children could see the Magic of Chickenbirth?

Oh -- and did I mention that she discussed all this right in front of said children?

When I unstuck my face from my palms, I pointed out a few home truths: that we'd already cooked one bunch of microchooks; that we don't have a cage ready for them; that we don't know shit about raising baby chickens; that the boys were short on sleep from last night, it was already eight pm, and they're hoping to have a movie night tomorrow night... and did she really expect me to get in the car now, right now, and go get those little hatchy eggies?

Yep. She did. And she expected me to take the boys with me, so they could get the full benefit of The Magic.

It's now ten forty at night. The boys finally made it to bed at 10.00. A new eggy chicky place has been constructed, this time with a halogen reading lamp for warmth (as opposed to parboiling). And one goddam chick has actually had the decency to kick its way free of the shell. Just one. Another one is making struggly noises inside the shell. The rest?

Fucked if I know. The real joke is this: they're all fucking bantams anyway. Aaaargggh!

And in other news: Grace's dietary dilemmas have lead to a slight lifting of my game. I admit: in the past, when making nasi goreng, I've simply grabbed the jar of garam masala off the spice shelf and applied it as I saw fit. But this time I checked the label first and discovered, horror of horrors, that it included wheat starch amidst the spices, probably as an anti-caking agent.

Undaunted, I threw black peppercorns, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, cloves and some cinnamon powder into the spice grinder (which I got for Natalie when she was in her Turkish Coffee phase) and built myself some decent garam masala, from scratch.

Holy shit! How good was that? Pungent, fragrant, spicy... I'm never buying commercial garam masala again.

EDITED TO ADD: ...aaaand the Mau-Mau just woke herself up with a spectacular power-puke. The entirety of her nasi goreng dinner plus her much-coveted bowl of home-made vanilla-cinnamon ice-cream distributed liberally across the upper half of her bed. So: pick up the howling Mau-Mau, deposit her in the shower. Natalie comes curiously downstairs ( I thought she was asleep! Hooray for small mercies.) and takes over the showering, while I remove bedding. And mattress. Replace mattress with spare. Find new bedding. Clean bedframe. Identify contaminated bed-toys and remove. Replace, reconstruct. And return the Mau-Mau to slumberland.

I love this gig.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Actually, that's got nothing to do with me or my life, which is quite honestly a chaotic, shambolic disgrace littered with last-minute patch-jobs, noisy children, demented pets and mysterious outbreaks of fractal unlikeliness. But we do have Grace in residence at the moment, which is kind of a contradiction in terms unless you know that Grace is a medical student, here for a month on a John Flynn scholarship -- and an old friend of mine from back in Briz, with the VISION writer's group.

Grace arrived here on Sunday, while we were all still more-or-less in shock and recovery from the awfulness of Saturday (and Friday, and Thursday, and Wednesday...) so her initial impressions of Chez Flinthart must have been relatively low-key. Certainly, the kids didn't immediately attempt to swarm her. And I believe she even managed an afternoon nap, which is definitely not the norm hereabouts.

A month of Grace, in theory, poses a minor problem foodwise. Apparently she's gluten intolerant. She promised to get her own corn tortillas and her own gluten-free soy sauce (who the hell knew they put gluten in regular soy sauce anyhow?) but the reality is that she poses no problem at all for me, or the family. I do rather a lot of Asian-style cooking that works around rice, so most of our main meals don't actually have gluten in them to begin with.

Cases in point: we had a chicken soup on the Sunday night, using home-made stock. No gluten anywhere. And last night it was all about the tacos that Smaller Son adores. Still no gluten. Tonight, since I'm out teaching ju-jitsu, I'll set up some rich cream-of-mushroom soup, entirely gluten free. Tomorrow night I expect we'll have nasi goreng, since Elder Son loves it and I haven't done it in a while. And then maybe san choy bau. And by then, we're onto the weekend, so I'll probably fire up the Charcoal Gorilla.

Too easy. And yes, there's a reason for posting all this: I've got a few gluten-sensitive friends who read this and who may be visiting at some point. I'd like them to know that feeding them is no obstacle!

Sunday, November 15, 2009



The car-parking gig was a bit of a disaster, due to me being Extra Stoopid at the time I agreed to do it. See, they needed Cub Scout Parents on three shifts: Thursday evening, Friday morning, and Saturday morning.

When they showed me the timetable, I knew there were gonna be problems. Thursday night - orchestra practice for the boys in Launceston. Friday morning - Younger Son's first violin exam in Launceston. But Saturday morning? I knew there was something askew, but standing there outside the Scout hall, looking another desperate Cub Scout Dad in the eye, I could not cudgel the answer out of my brain.

It wasn't until Friday night, after the orchestra practice (yes, there was one Friday night too) that I remembered. Natalie was the doc on call Friday night. And the on-call system meant she was on call until roughly 0830 Saturday morning. But I'd agreed to be parking cars from 0700!

A quick round of desperate negotiations with Wonderneighbour Anna gave us a crappy but functional solution: I got the kids up and breakfasted with me at 0630. And if Natalie got called before 0830, she was gonna dump the kids at Anna's place, and make the run. Wonderneighbour Anna has five of her own kids... she generally takes the attitude that two or three more don't make much difference. She is, in fact, a Wonderneighbour indeed.

However, when I got down to the show-ring it became apparent that things weren't as tight as expected. Most of the horsey people were already parked and in place, apparently having encamped in the ring. It was kind of weird watching them emerge from tents, brushing their teeth and tending to their horses all at once. Anyway, I had a quick talk with the parking kommandant, and he was cool with having only two Cub Scout parents on duty for the morning. I did volunteer to come back once Natalie was back on deck for the kids, but they waved me off. So I did get the morning more or less loose.

Made it to the birthday barbie for Tiarne, which was nice. But I had to split early to get to the concert.

Man. That concert. Who arranges a concert that includes superjunior orchestras and choirs such that the concert doesn't end until ten thirty at night? Seems a bit much to me. Certainly, I wouldn't have organised it so the grand finale included all the orchestras. I'd have let the poor little buggers go at the interval. But I suppose that wouldn't keep bums on seats. In any case, the Mau-Mau couldn't hack it. By interval, she was a bag of shit -- climbing all over the place, crying... too tired to function. No amount of bribery or cajoling would help. She's four years old, and she needs to sleep. So I took her home. We made it home at about nine thirty, and she was in bed and unconscious within fifteen minutes.

Nat and the boys didn't get home until a quarter to midnight.

We were a bit trashed the next day, yep. But the Show Must Go On. Natalie had a visitor who needed to talk medical stuff. And at about that time, Mad Neighbour Mike turned up full of vim and ire, with a bunch of steam to blow off for various reasons. I poured him a strong Gin and Curacao, and listened to him steam for a while until he was operating at a human level again. It was the only decent thing to do... he really was having a bad day.

Meanwhile, Medical Student Grace arrived on cue. Miss DisGrace is an old Briz writing friend who has now become a medical student and a John Flynn scholar, so it's a pleasure to play host. The kids kind of swarmed her, as they do, but she recovered nicely, and dealt handily with a good dinner. Tragically, she doesn't drink -- so although I used a cup or so of Marlborough sav blanc to cook up a handful of scallops for her, it was necessary for me to finish the rest of the wine.

I don't think she's quite mastered this 'daylight savings' stuff yet, though. It's ten o'clock here, which is 0900 Brizneyland time, and so far as I know, she's still unconscious in the guest room. Or maybe dead. The poor thing has had to change her diet lately for various medical reasons, and perhaps has been somewhat deprived... possibly the scallops on croutons followed by fresh chinese-style chicken soup rounded off with the leftover honey mascarpone ice cream has simply overwhelmed her metabolism, and she's quietly decomposing up there. I hope not. That would be embarrassing.

And in other news: it's raining ever so lightly. Looks like yet another goddam day I'm not going to run the whippersnipper through the overgrown garden area. Oh well. Maybe I can write instead?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yet Another Weekend Harpooned

Today, I took the Mau-Mau to daycare. Then I took the boys to the Scottsdale Show, which was a bit of a waste because at 0900 in the morning, bugger-all was happening there. So why did I take them?

Well, I'm a Cub Scout parent now. And the Cub Scouts are getting a chunk of cash to supply people to oversee parking in the show-ring itself. Which means Cub Scout parents get dragooned into the job. I'm on from 0700 tomorrow morning, so I figured I'd better find out what the score was before I got thrown in the deep end.

The boys and I wandered 'round the place until I managed to catch up with "Bilge" Bennett, another Cub Scout Parent who was cheerfully handling the gate to the ring proper. He pointed out "Puss" Hadley, responsible for the actual organising of cars and floats and stuff, and I introduced myself so hopefully tomorrow at sparrowfart they'll know where I'm supposed to stand so I can help sort out the "jumpers" from the "hacks" and the "ponies". (I expect that means something in Horsie Person Talk. But it doesn't mean much to me.)

After the visit to the Show, we made it home for a while. Did a bit of laundry and cleaning, answered some emails. Then I packed up the boys and their instruments, and we drove to Launceston.

Younger Son had his very first violin exam today. We had a bite of lunch first, and then rather desperately wandered around one of Launceston's steeper suburbs in search of the St Cecelia School of Music, which eventually materialised. Of course, nobody was actually there. But then Younger Son's teacher arrived, which was good, because while we'd remembered to bring his orchestra music, d'you think we'd brought the music for the actual exam?

Yeah. As if.

Happily, another student was also doing the same exam, and she actually did have all her music, so Younger Son was spared. Mind you, he insisted loudly that he could do it from memory, and from what I've seen, I suspect he was right.

So, the exam finished. We trundled off and bought some new arrows, and a powerful, water-resistant, rechargeable LED torch for my Dad for Xmas. I've been using a 5-watt rechargeable LED maglite-ish thing for years now, and it's fantastic. Reliable, bright as hell... can't fault it. Dad will appreciate it, because in Far North Queensland, having a good, reliable torch at night when you go out is the difference between stepping OVER a Death Adder, and stepping ON it.

After that, we grabbed another bite to eat, and then stopped at the martial arts store to pick up a few bits for the ju-jitsu club. Some tough new rebreakable boards - and it turned out there were some nice rubber knives on special. The students will be pleased: I've been cutting knife silhouettes out of old rubber thongs and spraying them silver...

Then it was time for orchestra practice, involving both the boys. And then, of course, we sped home.

To find we're the only ones here. Natalie is on call tonight, and hasn't made it home yet. Meanwhile, the Mau-Mau has been collected from daycare by Mighty Neighbour Anna (mother of the Mau-Mau's best friend Microblonde) and is doubtless swanning about the delights of the Scottsdale Show even as I write. She'll be delivered here when they're done with her, and I'll get the thankless job of bathing her and stuffing her into her bed.

And when will Natalie get home? Who knows?

Meanwhile, while I'm handling cars tomorrow, Natalie and the kids will go to YET ANOTHER goddam orchestra practice. Yippee. And when they're done, no doubt Natalie will take the boys for a proper visit to the show. But come the evening, we'll ALL be going to the mandatory Orchestra performance...

...but before that, there's a birthday barbecue invite from Tiarne of the Coolshiters. And since I'm gonna be in Launceston later anyhow, I'm damn' well going to go to this one. I've had to skip out on the last couple of barbecues because of Overloaded Weekend Syndrome. Not gonna do it again. I rather LIKE the Coolshiters, and the opportunity to spend a bit of social time with 'em is a Good Thing. At least this is one bit of the weekend I'm going to enjoy.

See, all of that is only Saturday. On Sunday, the live-in medical student arrives to take up her month of Tasmanian Exile. Grace is an old friend from the Briz daze, so I expect she won't be too horrified by the shambolic state of Chez Flinthart, but there will indeed be some work involved in bringing the place up to code for even the most relaxed of guests... as you can see, there's another weekend harpooned, gaffed, flensed, and packaged for the Japanese McDonalds market.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Invasion From Planet Sag

Dave Sag and I shared a flat a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Neither of us had any real civilisation, or frankly, even house-breaking, at the time. Suffice it to say that a decent number of Mr Birmingham's more horrendous anecdotes in HDWAFIHH originated from houses lived in by Dave, or myself, or both of us at once. But Dave began a life of globe-trotting degeneracy back in the early nineties, about the time when I started the slow crawl towards something like respectability, and we didn't really cross paths a whole lot after that.

And so it was with just the tiniest hint of trepidation that I discovered he was on a driving tour of Tas, with someone of the female persuasion by the name of Caroline. Dave + driving tour + unknown female person has been, in the past, a recipe for disaster. (Ask him sometime about Mercedes-Benz timing chains.) What, I wondered, would this icon of my moderately misspent youth mean to my children here in rural Taz?

Well, we found out pretty quickly. True to form, Sag & Co rocked up about a half hour late, which meant I had to dash off and collect Younger Son from the bus stop pretty much just as their car was pulling in the drive. I duly delegated Elder Son to show 'em where the toilet and the teakettle were to be found, and with no more greeting than a "Hi, Dave!" I scarpered.

Eight minutes later, when I returned with the Younger Son, the Elder Son had already adopted Dave and Caroline both. But mostly Dave, because all of a sudden, Elder Son was hearing oddball stories about his father's time in Briz.

We had a damned good evening. It had been too long between drinks, for sure. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed talking and arguing with Mr Sag. He has a protean intelligence, and a curiosity much like mine: he's interested in nearly everything. It's good to be able to run wild in a conversation, cutting back and forth across topics and ideas, not having to slow down for the other end of the game to catch up.

Caroline was a fine surprise too. I don't think I officially knew Dave got married. (I know. It's on his 'Facebook' page. Like I pay attention to that. I mean, knowing that Facebook is designed to hoover out data for advertising purposes, I pretty much lied in every detail there. And I always assumed most of my friends did too...) Caroline was articulate, funny, thoughtful, and cute, too. Very disturbing indeed, if you know Dave... she's waaayyy too good for you, dude. (But then I can hardly talk!)

They brought along some very fine Pepperberry Gin, and we fought off the vicious afternoon heat with some gin drinkies. Then we dropped the boys at Scouts, did a whirlwind drive through of Scottsdale, and returned for the Cookfest: Chili and Basil Scallops on Croutons; thick-cut, rare, smoky charcoal-grilled scotch fillet steak with my favourite salad of smoky grilled veg, and finally, home-made leatherwood honey mascarpone ice cream.

Mmmm. And we did the wine thing nicely too -- a decent bubbly to go with the scallops (thank you, Clover Hill) and a good, solid red to support the steak. And port after the ice cream.

Through it all, the boys sat wide-eared, soaking up stories about late-night fence climbing entries to swimming pools, and hamfisted attempts to make off with Ronald McDonald statues, and stolen police lights/sirens, and university scavenger hunts thwarted, and rugby-playing transexual computer programmers now become Freelance Mathematicians For Hire... by the time the boys had to go to bed, they were thoroughly rapt. I can see that it's going to be difficult trying to convince them that their dad is a decent, law-abiding, mild-mannered citizen after this.

Nice evening, though. I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to say this, but -- it was totally excellent catching up with Mr Sag again, and I'm already looking forward to the next Sag/Mills Tasmania expedition.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Well, Crap! Who Punched The Big Red Summer Button?

I had a window of opportunity this morning from roughly 0800 to 1200. In that time, the boys were off to school, and Natalie was here to keep the Mau-Mau under control. Therefore, I brought out the old reliable Honda mower, and started it up.

I really don't understand the prejudice against your simple, four-stroke push-along lawnmower. Sure, I'm hardly going to use it to clear the paddocks. But for the back yard and the orchard, I really don't need a big, expensive ride-on job. And it would take a hell of a ride-on to handle the remaining thirty or so acres that need to be slashed regularly, so I've got a small but enthusiastic tractor for that job.

Anyhow. I fueled up the Honda, checked the oil and the air filter, yanked the cord a couple of times, and it purred nicely. Great! Time to bring the yard back under control...

... but what the fuck happened to my nice, cool morning? By ten o'clock this morning, it was 24C in the shade -- and there was precious little shade on my damned back yard.

At this point, every mainlander who reads this is thinking something rude. To which I must reply: get stuffed. 24 is unseasonably hot, and the direct sun in Tasmania lacks a lot of useful ozone filtration that most of you are used to. I really didn't enjoy hauling that mower around the place at all.

Through the day, the temperature crept upward. By 1430 it peaked at 29C, which isn't just unseasonable, but unacceptable, thanks. I loaded the kids up on ice treats once they got home from school, and we kept our lilywhite asses indoors for the remainder of the nasty, hot, bright afternoon.

Things are better now. It's about 15C outside, which is pretty much the perfect temperature so far as I'm concerned. Next time I tackle that goddam yard, I'll be mowing at night.

It's due to be another warm one tomorrow, apparently, with the faint possibility of thundery showers -- and a 75% chance of Dave Sag sometime after 1500, if all goes to plan.

I haven't seen Dave in quite some time. This should be entertaining.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Another Weekend Shattered...

Natalie's away -- incipient Igoritis of the spine and all -- in Hobart, doing Big Medicine Stuff. Fair enough, too. Like any group of professionals, doctors need to keep their knowledge current, and make sure their skills stay up to date. I just hate it when the Big Medicine Stuff weekends happen at difficult times, such as right now.

Actually, Natalie's back is improving, which is fortunate. I remembered that I'd bought a TENS unit a few years back to take care of a muscle strain that wasn't resolving itself properly. (Okay -- it was a groin muscle, and the goddam strain lasted six goddam months.) Zapping an electric current through your skin may sound a dubious sort of measure, and it's true that nobody seems entirely comfortable with the science behind it as yet, but it works. That muscle strain of mine went away in under two weeks of TENS treatment, and I've had no further problems there.

The application of the TENS unit to Natalie's back has coincided with a sharp uptick in the rate of improvement. It was getting better before, but very very slowly. Once we got the electricity into it, the improvements happened almost hourly. She's well enough now to successfully drive her bucket-seat, low-slung Honda to Hobart and still function at the other end. Compared with a couple days ago, that's positively miraculous.

Unfortunately, this is also the weekend of the big Harley-Davidson owners' rally here in Tas. That's not so bad in itself, although it gets a bit tiresome listening to all those thumping great hogs charging around the hills. But along with the Harley mob came Roz and Steve and their youngster, whom we shall call "K". K and Elder Son were great friends when Roz and Steve lived down here in Taz, so there was much excitement over the prospect of a reunion.

Aha. But with the HOG rally came a stonking great concert for the Harley crowd, culminating in a late night performance by St Jimmy Barnes of the Concrete Tonsils. And thus came the dreaded suggestion of 'The Sleepover'. I could say "no."

So the kids and I tidied the house yesterday, and that went well. Very well. I was impressed by the boys efforts, so I promised 'em we'd find something nifty when we went shopping. Then we went to the car -- and the rear tyre was flat.

Well, fuck.

I've never changed a tyre on the Terrakhan before. Just finding the tools was a job and a half. Locating the barely-adequate jack and tyre iron didn't take long, but finding the special rod to slide into the body of the car to unwind the device that lowers the spare tyre which hangs under the back of the car body took the owner's manual and about forty minutes of car-emptying, swearing, searching, seat-folding and carpet-lifting.

Okay. Tools assembled. Spare tyre duly extracted. Time to jack up the... oh shit.

Ever tried to jack a high-wheel-base vehicle using a compact hydraulic jack with no more than 15cm (six inches) of travel? Seriously: fifteen centimetres of lift, no more. Bloody lucky the tyre died on the concrete pad in the garage. If it had been roadside, I'd have been totally fucked. As it is, I grabbed a wooden chock and then spent fifteen minutes poking around under the car, finding the one and only point on the frame that would actually allow the tyre to clear the ground using no more than fifteen cm of lift...

Of course, once all that was done it was gravy, sure. But by that time, there was no more wiggle room for shopping. Roz arrived with young K, and it was Game On.

We let the kids wear themselves out for a while, then loaded everybody in the now-repaired Terrakhan, went down to Scottsdale and bought some essentials -- pizza makings, a big watermelon, some telescoping aluminium walking sticks for the boys (that was their choice. They wanted the damned things. They were cheap, so what do I care? Weird kids.) and some gin, some curacao and some ice.

Roz stuck around for a cool drink -- just long enough for Feral Rob to show up. Feral Rob is the father of Elder Son's best friend, who we shall call "J", and sure enough, J was in the car too. Happily, there was also a six-pack of Stella Artois. Feral Rob is a man of great and civilised spirit.

K, J, Elder Son, Younger Son and the Mau-Mau tore around outside in the afternoon sun while Rob and I put a dent in the Stella. Finally, the Feral clan had to go, though, so it was back to just me, and a pack of kids.

I put Plan P into action: first, lots of home-made pizza. Second: baths for all kids, and pyjamas. Third: reinstall the big screen and the digital projector in the loft over the garage, and make a fuckload of popcorn.

The kids ate pizza, bathed, pyjamaed, and then rocked out to "The Tale of Despereaux" on the old mattresses in the loft. It wasn't a bad gig, and I was enjoying it too -- at least, right up until Younger Son decided that his tummy hurt.

Younger Son's digestion has been a bit dodgy of late, and this time was a bit worse than usual. I had just time to grab a large, mostly-empty popcorn bowl and shove it under his face before he got started. Now, the Younger Son is a stocky, surprisingly muscular little gobshite, and unlike most kids of six-going-on-seven, he has serious goddam abdominal muscles. Every gym trainer, every doctor who's ever examined him, practically everyone who's ever lifted him up -- everyone notices. It's odd.

And when he's puking, it's unfortunate -- because all that abdominal muscle just tightens up into one huge spasm. He gets range, and power, and by god he gets vocal volume. Sounds like he's trying to gargle a chainsaw. Despereaux definitely came off second best, even in full digital surround-sound.


Happily, it was a one-chuck event. Once he'd divested himself of watermelon, ginger beer, home-made pizza and popcorn, Younger Son was quite happy to brush his teeth and get on with the film.

I took the Mau-Mau down to her bed when the film ended, but as it was a treat for the boys, I let them choose another film. They went with "The Revenge Of The Pink Panther" (the real one, with Peter Sellers) and I left them to it. After all, I could easily hear them from my bedroom, and I didn't want the Mau-Mau to be alone in the house, even when she was sleeping.

The original plan was for the boys to camp out in the loft, on the mattresses with the sleeping bags and all -- but they chickened out, so when Clouseau had finally thwarted poor old Dreyfus once again, they trooped down and set up in the boys room.

Of course, being as how it's summertime down here, there was no goddam hope of a lie-in, no matter how late they were awake. 0630: the sun's well up, and the thump-thump-thump of clumsy sub-teen feet is all over the house... sigh.

Gonna be a long, hot day today. I've already loaded 'em up on pancakes and watermelon. They've played the Wii on the big screen for a couple hours, but it's too hot up there now, so they're left to their own devices. I can't let that go on too long, though... so I'm cutting this short.

Natalie gets back maybe 1930 tonight. Roz and Steve will -- theoretically -- come to collect their spawn sometime before that. So... I've got maybe eight hours to go.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This Is Really Stretching Coincidence

So there's a theory out there which says basically that the Large Hadron Collider is causing ripples through time to prevent the discovery of the Higgs Boson - that the future is sabotaging the present to prevent the real-world-physics equivalent of a divide-by-zero error. Seriously: there are people who think this is truly, actually, mathematically the case, viz:

"In a bizarre sci-fi theory, Danish physicist DrHolger Bech Nielsen and Dr Masao Ninomiya from Japan claim the LHC startup has been delayed due to nature trying to prevent it from finding the elusive Higgs boson, or "God particle".

They say their maths proves that nature will "ripple backward through time" to stop the LHC before it can create the God particle, like a time traveller who goes back in time to kill his grandfather"

There's another reference to this idea here, from the usually sane New Scientist magazine. It's not the first time that science has suggested that quantum effects can move backwards as well as forwards in time. In fact, I believe it's an accepted part of certain quantum models. But nobody's really put forward any real-world cases for it actually doing anything... until now.

That Large Hadron Collider thing, on the border of France and Switzerland - the one everybody was worried might create a mini black hole last year before some kind of helium coolant leak shut the fucker down for nearly a year, that one? Well, they got it up and running again. And they're getting set to go, baby go. Except that all of a sudden, there's been another technical glitch, and they've had to bring it back down for a while.

And what was the glitch this time?

Well, apparently a bird dropped a large chunk of baguette onto some of the exposed workings of the machinery on the surface. Really. Here's another reference:

I don't know about you, but that whole time-ripples-hiding-the-Higgs-Boson thing is starting to look like maybe we should give it some more serious consideration.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Reviewer's Burden...

I read a Dan Brown Novel.

I wish I hadn't.

Go and read the review, and bask in your good fortune at not having to read the book yourself.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Well. That Sucked.

I think I passed the grading, though I haven't formally been told yet. I can't say it went well. The uniform jacket I wear is a heavy, triple-ply judo-weight cotton with mid-length sleeves. Up until the day of the grading, daily temperatures had maxed to about 22C, with low humidity. On the day of the grading, it hit something like 28C with thunderstorms drifting around the place.

That's not good. But lets add this: the training hall is an old thing. It has no air-con. And it's in one of the slightly dodgier suburbs, so the windows are all grilled. And none of them -- not goddam one -- can be opened. Not an option.

So, obviously, I was a little sweaty. Yep.

But at the same time, I was still tailing off from the gastro of Wednesday night and Thursday. I thought I was pretty much okay, but apparently the sudden shift to heat, humidity and exertion thought otherwise. I made it through the waza -- the technical routines -- more or less all right, but running through the pattern of kamae, or stances, I got the unmistakeable signal from my belly that lunch was about to come back.

Somehow I kept things together, stumbled through the last couple of stances, bowed out, and beelined for the toilets whereupon yes: my nice, light, healthy lunch did indeed make a reappearance.

I felt a little better after that. Things might have gone okay, but the bossman from Adelaide decided that we junior sword-slingers weren't cutting properly, and he gave us all a nice, heavy stick and put us through an intensive exercise: kiri-oroshi cut (that's the big one, where the sword starts hanging down behind your head and arcs up and over, splitting your opponent to the belly-button), then pivot 180 degrees and kiri-oroshi again. And repeat. At high speed.

I'm not sure how long we did that. Long enough that my shoulders are still stiff today. But I do know I had to stop a little early and zip off for another appointment with Doctor Chunder.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Natalie's back issues went from bad to worse, apparently. I'd moved a mattress downstairs for her before I left, and she spent most of the day lying in the middle of the floor, watching Flight of the Conchords with the kids.

In the midst of all this, the Mau-Mau began to run a solid fever. Probably just a reaction to her 4-yr-old immunisations which she got on Friday -- but bad enough to lay her down and out. And of course, Natalie wasn't really in the best position to play nursemaid.

Not pretty. So: Sunday morning, I got up, orchestrated a Big House Cleanup, and then made some decisions.

It was still hot and sticky, and I wasn't feeling a whole lot better. The Mau-Mau wasn't looking too hot either, and Natalie was still doing her impression of a woman in the advanced stages of zombification. I really wanted to take some action, get some kind of heat/cold treatment going to try to help Natalie, but on a Sunday in Scottsdale, you can't just trot out and pick up the appropriate bits and pieces. So I zipped into Launceston, did the grocery shopping, put in an appearance with the sword folk long enough to deliver an apology for not being able to make the day, and headed home again.

Which is a pisser, because I've missed the formal cutting -- they brought over the proper straw mats which have been used in tameshigiri (test cutting, where you try your technique to see if you can actually cut through something that supplies roughly humanigrade blade resistance) for the last few centuries. I really wanted to get involved there, but the thought of Natalie on the floor on her mattress and the Mau-Mau shivering away with her fever was a bit too much.

Thus, when I returned home, I got to be nursemaid for the day. Lots of heat packs. Plenty of fluids for the Mau-Mau.

Oh well. Today the Mau-Mau is better. Natalie is still stiff and slow and sore, and says she has much the same pain - but in twenty years of martial arts, I've become quite good at watching people move. She's a good deal more free in her actions today: up and about for longer, taking less time to recover. This isn't going to resolve quickly, no. We'll probably be doing the heat-pack regime for a week or two at least. But I think she'll be able to function again, albeit painfully, in a day or so.

One small blessing: it's a public holiday today. I'd planned to fire up the lawnmower and the whipper-snipper, but it's been wet this morning. Looks like I get a break. I'll have to go up into the shed and put up insulation instead...