Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Day Of Mixed Success

Fuck I hate the way Blogger puts up photos. They appear in reverse order to the way you select 'em for posting -- and I never goddam well remember that. So. Fuck it. I'm not going to erase these and repost 'em.

Girlie Jones arose on Westralian time this morning, which was fine -- it let me kinda get a grip on the Louse Disaster before she came down the stairs. (Go check the photo at the bottom. That's Younger Son, with a hairload of louse mousse. I shaped it into a spike. He thought that was damned cool.) I must say that GJ took the whole louse situation better than I expected. Possibly that's because she was already shell-shocked by the gigantic Huntsman Spider I quietly removed from the guest room last night around her bed-time... I'm not at all sure that Girlie Jones is as fond of our eight-legged allies in the Great Insect War as am I, or my children. Spiders are nice, right?

GJ, the Mau-Mau and I trundled down to the berry patch and liberated a litre or so of blackberries and raspberries. Then I grabbed a couple of nice, fresh eggs, a bit of sugar and milk and some gluten-free self-raising flour, and made very credible pancakes. To top the pancakes, I threw some butter and brown sugar into a pan, and added a nice handful of blackberries. When they started to soften, I tossed in some rum, and flamed it off. The resultant melange of lightly-cooked blackberries, caramel and rum tasted pretty damned good, and I wasn't at all unhappy with the outcome. Why have I heard so many nasty rumours about gluten-free flour? It cooked up beautifully, and I'll have to make some blackberry muffins for GJ. (As well as the chocolate mousse, of course.) She also offered guarded approval of the coffee - which is good, because I don't drink the stuff so I have no idea what 'good coffee' is really supposed to taste like.

Poor Nat was on duty and on call today, so the kids and I loaded GJ into the Mighty Earth King, and we took off for the wine country. (With a brief stop at the chemist to get lots of exciting louse-discouraging materials first.) Pipers Brook didn't disappoint. GJ is working on the whole palate thing, but she seemed quite pleased by a couple of the bottles they opened, and even ventured into the scarlet end of the spectrum with two or three samples of Pinot Noir. Nice stuff.

Mind you, we had a difficult moment when Elder Son asked about the big barrel with the steel top. I told him -- quite truthfully -- that it was a spittoon, a repository for wine that people didn't actually want to swallow. And quite reasonably, he refused to believe me. (His mother has trained him well.) So GJ added her voice... and he wouldn't believe her either. The poor lad has had a number of exciting bridges sold to him over the years; he tends to regard myself and my friends with a healthily skeptical attitude.

The Jansz mob did okay too. They've got a nice line in bubbly rose-style wines... yum.

Anyhow, after that we zipped back to Scottsdale, had a bite of lunch, picked up supplies at the supermarket, and headed home. Briefly. Very briefly, because we had a Date with Some Fish.

There's this trout farm I know, see? The owner's a lovely chap. If you're polite, kind and co-operative, not only can you buy fish direct - but it's occasionally possible to extract your own from their ponds, using a rod and tackle. And seeing as how Younger Son got a fishing rod for Xmas, it seemed the perfect occasion.

I admit to a little dodgy judgement here. GJ is pretty solidly vegetarian... but I knew she eats a little fish. And when I suggested salmon or trout, she kind of looked at me, and asked something about "...where it comes from." She knows way more than anyone really ought to about wetlands and fish and waterways, and she likes to be very clear about the water from which she sources any fish she might eat.

So I giggled a little, and asked her if she'd like a personal introduction to her fish... and after that it all sorta went south. Wound up with GJ quietly occupying the car while my manic children went azy-kray with a rod, and we pulled in rather more fish than we could readily eat.

But that's okay. Tomorrow there will be visitors, and I have spare trout. Tonight's trout got cooked over charcoal and smoke, with onion and lemon and coriander and garlic and capsicum, and served up with a green salad over turmeric rice. A nice dose of the Pipers Brook gewurztraminer washed it down rather well. Tomorrow, there will be more people - and the fish will be properly dealt with.

I do hope poor GJ makes the distance, though. She just wandered off for a shower, then came and tracked me down. It seems that yet another Huntsman of immoderate size had taken up residence behind the bathroom door. I suspect that between all the fish-murdering, and the burrs in the socks, and the giant spiders and the wildly energetic kids and all the exciting allergens and cats and pollen and stuff -- she's going to need something of a rest from her holiday, when she gets home.

So: that would be the Mau-Mau's second-ever fish. She was so excited to reel this thing in that she could hardly form words. She was jumping and shouting and waving the rod about and Elder Son was snapping photos and I was desperately operating the landing net and trying not to get an earful of fish-hook...

That, of course, was the Mau-Mau's first fish. We let it go. She was very unhappy about that.

The Mau-Mau gets a bite...

The Mau-Mau, fishing.

Younger Son with a headful of Louse Treatment...note the fashionable spike.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rising Chaos

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. There's an unknown number of guests arriving at unknown intervals. It's predicted to hit 30c. The shed is still not fully insulated.

The house is in a certain amount of chaos, which isn't anything new. But we have a houseguest: the inimitable Girlie Jones from Western Australia. That's a fine thing, and the Mau-Mau is, as always, entranced to have a female visitor. (She likes male visitors too, but she tends to flirt at them, and that's just unnerving for everyone.)

I've still got all kinds of preparations to do. Too much to list. But the crowning glory occurred not twenty minutes ago: Natalie decided that the Younger Son was itching too much for her liking, so she went through his hair.

And voila! What should she discover but an infestation of goddam head-lice. Not nearly as bad as the infestation she herself brought home much earlier this year -- but irritating, nevertheless. She stuck around long enough to confirm her findings, and then she laughed at me, and went to work.


The boys are now wandering around with complicated, loopy, Manga-esque hairstyles provided by latherings of insecticidal hair-foam. Their bedding is in the laundry, awaiting The Treatment. I'll have to go past the chemist today (in between wineries and salmon farms, for Girlie Jones' sake) to pick up the rest of the arsenal, and put in a big effort tonight to clear everything for tomorrow, when there will be at least eight to ten other children on the patch.

Farkin' great. I love this shit.

Best of all, poor Girlie Jones is still blissfully asleep upstairs, doubtless operating on Westralian time still. In another hour or two, I shall have to break it to her that she's come to visit a plague house... she'll never forgive me!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Elementary? Hardly!

Made a pilgrimage to Launceston today to take in the new Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes flick, with Robert Downey Jr in the title role, and Jude Law playing Watson.

The journey was not without mishap. I phoned the Friendly Neighbour People to see if they wanted to send a couple of their kids with me and the boys - and instead, we wound up travelling in their car, with five of them. My two lads performed brilliantly. We all climbed out into the car park in Launceston, and Elder Son promptly turned green and puked all over the tarmac. Younger Son poked his nose around the rear of the car, caught sight of Elder Son's stage-show, and immediately hurled his own breakfast in sympathy.

I'm afraid I wasn't very supportive. I was too busy giggling, pointing, and trying to get Friendly Neighbour Dad Tony to stop making comments designed to set off two little chunderbuckets all over again.

They paused for a breather. I took 'em to a sammidge shop, put some food and drink into 'em, and it was okay after that.

The verdict on the movie?

Really good, yeah. But one of those films where they never really had any chance of living up to how awesome you hoped it would be.

What do I mean? Well -- it was a Guy Ritchie flick about the London underworld and crime and stuff. Which is what Guy Ritchie does best of all. And it had Robert Downey Jr (who is one of the best performers of his generation, in my opinion) playing one of my all-time favourite characters. Sherlock Holmes has been part of my life since I was maybe four years old.

There was really no way they could have created a film awesome enough to fulfill my hopes.

But they tried pretty damned hard.

Guy Ritchie's visuals were a treat. The colour palette was used with beautiful, understated, gritty blue-grey elegance that gave the whole film real atmosphere. The music was by Hans Zimmer, who did the rich, lush score for the three Pirates of the Caribbean flicks - except this time he kept it sparse, and thematic, and it was excellent. The villains were suitably villainous. The action was top-notch, with really solid, well-crafted fight scenes. The pacing was really good.

And the acting?

Well, Jude Law has now become THE Dr Watson. No more Nigel Bruce bumbling here: Law's Watson is tough, competent, smart, and very nicely torn between his off-beat relationship with his best friend, and his wife-to-be. In a wonderful piece of screenwriting and directing, the film enters the Holmes/Watson partnership at just the time when Watson is moving on with his life - getting out of 221B, setting up in his own private practise, and preparing to get married. The whole thing between Holmes and Watson reverberates around this separation. We get to see the pair of them as long-term buddies, complete with the jokes and the habits and the backstory, and the feeling of trust and affection between them comes through very strongly.

To be honest, for me the least effective part of the film was RDJr as Holmes.

I'm not referring to the director and scriptwriters' re-invention of the screen Holmes as an action hero, master of fisticuffs, eccentric and abrasive and socially impossible. All those things are on the page in Arthur Conan Doyle's books, and frankly, they've been missing from the screen versions of Holmes for far too long. Even as the new Jude Law Watson is much closer to ACD's original character than the perpetually bumbling sidekick of so many films and TV shows, the Holmes given to RDJr is a lot more like the Holmes I knew and loved from the books.

No - for me, the trouble lay in RDJr. For my money, he laid on the arch humour just a little too thick, played it for laughs just a little too obviously, couldn't quite understate the role effectively enough. This isn't the Holmes it could have been: this is Tony Stark (hard-drinking genius with a dark side) shoe-horned into Sherlock Holmes' Victorian-era wardrobe.

Having said that -- well, I'm being nit-picky. And if I hadn't seen RDJr doing Tony Stark, I probably would have been a lot more forgiving. But I did, and once the connection was made, I couldn't shake it.

Overall? Definitely worth seeing, and very enjoyable. The plot's complicated and appropriately over-the-top, and there are a few scenes that don't quite make sense -- but it moves along nicely, and the visuals are brilliant, and the action and fight scenes are really well done. A very strong thread of humour surfaces often enough that I giggled a lot more often than I do at most comedies, and the strength of the Holmes/Watson dyad laid out by these two very fine actors has me already anticipating the sequel.

So: gtfo and SEE the thing. Several times, so they make enough money to hire everybody back for the next movie.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Day Of Days

Well, I've had worse Christmas Days. The kids did NOT awaken at cracka and come storming up the stairs. Instead, as trained, they stayed quiet until 0700, at which point they came upstairs in a calm fashion, carrying breakfast.

Breakfast? Holy shit! They did it!

Natalie got coffee and her favourite muesli - which is heavy enough to ballast a zeppelin, and guaranteed to make your gastrointestinal tract fearsomely healthy. According to Elder Son, they had to make four prototype cups of coffee before they finally got one right...

And I got a big mug of green tea, and two slices of multi-grain toast with fresh avocado sprinkled with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Yay me!

There was a brief flurry of phone calls and texts in the morning, and another round of breakfasts because we had an overnight guest who needed pancakes and fresh blackberries, apparently. And then the serious business of opening presents started.

I made out like a bandit: a couple of books, a bag of bizarro fluffy dyed cotton pompoms with glitter from my daughter, two sticky-tape dispensers from Younger Son, and a book of redeemable Dad Coupons from the Elder Son. Sigh. Ah well. Such is life.

Natalie got some books too. And Sea Monkeys. She always wanted Sea Monkeys as a kid. Now she's got them.

And the kids? Well, it's all about them, innit?

Here's the Mau-Mau with two of her favourites for the day...

The pink princess dress is the replacement for the much-loved fairy pink dress she's worn pretty much every day of her life for the last two years. This new one came from a ballet shop in Launceston, and I hope it serves half as well as the old one. Oh -- and the really farnarkling big pink balloon I found in a party shop. Couldn't resist it. The Mau-Mau loves it, naturally.

Younger Son did very well, thanks. Seeing as it was his birthday yesterday, he scored this bugle and the solar topee ( found 'em both in an Army Disposal in Launceston), plus his first-ever fishing-rod, and a regulation-weight cricket ball, among other odds and sods. Very pleased with his haul, he's been working hard on playing "taps" -- which is interesting, because he has no idea how it goes.

The dog got one of his favourite treats too: people blowing bubbles at him. He loves nothing more than leaping frantically into the air, scarfing down soap bubbles until he gets sick, froths at the mouth, and wanders away making a noise like "Hork! Hork! Hork!"

There's Doctor C. I'm afraid I got a little creative this year. The T-Shirt is my fault. Turns out there's nowhere in Launceston that will print personalised stuff, so I had to paint it and print it from scratch. Turned out okay, I reckon. The good doc is blowing bubbles here - chocolate-scented bubbles at that. The dog was very pleased indeed.

Elder Son is here wearing another of my creations. It's based off a costume he wore to a party some months ago. He's very pleased. He scored a few good things as well, including a vest full of pockets to keep all his junk, plus books and comics and aeroplanes and stuff.

A quick trip back in time, but it's appropos. Younger Son's birthday was yesterday, but this is the infamous Bomb-Shaped Cake of two weeks ago.

And there's the watergun birthday party in full flight...

What else? Well, I picked up a copy of "Last Night On Earth" and "Settlers of Catan" and even "Wii Cricket", so we've been playing games. And I char-roasted a HUGE ham, after dressing it with sweet soy and chilli and sesame and clove... ate it for lunch with twice-cooked taters and a garden salad. It will furnish fine sandwiches later, in between drinkies.

Oh - and the boys were also given electric pickups for their instruments (cheap) and access to their mother's little amplifier and FX pedal. They were absolutely and totally delighted. Spent over an hour just sawing away at cello and violin, trying out echo and fuzz and wah-wah and all sorts of good stuff. Noisy as hell, yes, but anything which helps them get excited about their music is good.

I'm gonna sign off here. The Mau-Mau has been permitted to start one of her new presents -- a spanky new Godzilla flick. It's time for me to make popcorn, mix up some rum and lime, and kick back. It's been a good day.

I wish you all as fine a time, or better.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There Is No Sanity Clause

I think I’ve done... pretty much everything I’m supposed to. I know I missed sending out cards to half the world. And I’m sure I forgot presents for another half. But I’m finished, and there’s nothing to be done about it.

I shan’t waste breath ranting about commercialisation, or in querying the nature of this bizarre, hybrid sort of holiday. If you’re not already aware of the peculiar origins of modern Christmas — that is, if you’re genuinely of the opinion it’s a Christian celebration recognising the birth-date of Jesus of Nazareth — I’m afraid that your ignorance is just too massive for me at this time. I’m not averse to tilting at the odd windmill, but I’m simply too tired right now to consider engaging with people who are deliberately ignorant of the history of their own culture.

Instead, I’m just gonna ask one simple question. Why ‘Santa Claus’?

Oh, sure. I know the historical roots of the character: Nicholas of Myra, sometimes called Nicholas the Wonderworker, a Greek bishop around the fourth century who became known for acts of anonymous charity and gift-giving. And it’s a nice story, and a nice concept.

What I want to know is why we perpetuate the fat bugger in the red suit?

I don’t get it. I’m sitting here typing away, thinking about phrases like ‘the magic of Christmas’ and considering how we’re supposed to fool kids with this fairy tale about the fat guy and the reindeer and the wildly improbable circumnavigation of the globe in a single night. And honestly, whose kids really believe that? I know the Mau-Mau is still too young to really understand the size of the world, but I’m quite sure that at nine, Elder Son is well aware of Santa as a myth. And I’m sure that Younger Son, who turned seven today, is equally aware.

Because it doesn’t make any sense. The smallest amount of logic applied to the story makes it fall apart. So, Santa gives gifts to ‘good boys and girls’, does he? How the fuck does he know? And what kind of gifts to the kids on the edge of starvation in the Sudan get? Or are they automatically ‘bad’ for being born in a Santa-free zone?

As adults, we talk patronisingly about not telling the children. Apparently we’re meant to think it’s somehow sweet that they are prepared to believe in a mysterious magical break-and-enter artist who flies around the world distributing gifts in a pattern which heavily favours wealthy households of putatively Christian cultures.

Uhhh... why?

That’s the bit I don’t get. Not at all. I can deal with exchanging presents in recognition of the Gifts of the Magi, no matter how far off-date Christmas may be. (For the record: best historic evidence suggests Jesus of Nazareth was likely born around September.) That’s cool. But... why are we trying to tell our kids that some magic muppet is responsible for putting ‘em out there?

Why is that sweet? Or special? Or magical? Why aren’t we acknowledging that mum and dad worked bastardly hard to manage all this? What’s wrong with saying: it’s Christmas, kid, and the custom is that gifts are given. Why do we try to hide it all behind a fictional devolution of a minor religious figure from sixteen centuries ago?

Would kids look forward to Christmas any less if the gifts didn’t come from a random, anonymous source?

I dunno. I have some suspicions. I think maybe Santa can cop the blame when kids set their sights too high, you know?

“Aww, gee... I didn’t get a Playstation 2 with Thundertronic Sound and a 52-inch plasma screen!”
“Yes. I guess Santa couldn’t fit it in the sleigh this year.”

And I can see where, in the season of giving and with all the Christmas propaganda about charity and generosity, your pragmatic kid from the lower socio-economic bracket is gonna need some kind of explanation as to why his year of good behaviour was only worth a pair of shoes and a Frisbee, while that fat bastard of a kid who lives over in the rich section of town made out like a complete goddam bandit, even though he’s the biggest shitheel in the entire school. But honestly? Santa doesn’t actually level the playing field there. In fact, quite the reverse.

So... what gives?

I know. I’m tired. I’ve been doing the Christmas Consumer Shuffle for too damned long. With three kids, one of whom has his birthday on Christmas Eve, I think I’ve finally suffered the Yuletide equivalent of shell-shock. Not only do I not like the hideous commercial side of this whole goddam time of year, but I no longer understand Santa Claus at all, if I ever did.

Help me out here, folks. I haven’t done anything either to perpetuate the Santa myth, or debunk it in the eyes of my kids. But today I’m tired and weary, and I’m pretty much at the point of laying it on the line: there’s no Santa. Your mum and dad love you, and we think that it’s nice to have a day for giving presents, and that’s all there is to it.

Is that so evil?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Revenge Of The Roosters!

Yeah. I kinda thought this might happen.

One of the problems with free-range chicken is that sometimes it can be a mite too free range. It's like the difference between a fit, healthy jogger and an Olympic marathon specialist, y'know? All that butchery yesterday... I took a good, long look at the carcasses in question, and thought: I'm going to slow-cook these bastards. Very carefully.

This I did. And might I say the flavour was astonishing. I jointed the critters, dredged 'em in flour, salt and pepper, and browned 'em in butter. Then I put 'em into a big casserole dish along with onions, mushrooms, garlic, heaps of tarragon, about a litre of chopped roma tomatoes, a cup of white wine and enough stock to bring it up to the level I wanted. The whole schmeer went into the oven at 140C for about three hours.

Meanwhile, I put together a green salad. Sliced up some potatoes, fried 'em with chopped green onions and more tarragon and pepper. And every now and again, I turned the bits of chicken to ensure they cooked nicely.

At the time of serving, I poked the chicken with a knife and fork, and I admit I was slightly dismayed. But I soldiered on, loaded up the kids' plates, and we settled in for a meal.

Elder Son was the first one to crack. He chawed at his drumstick/thigh combination, then paused and looked at it closely. Then he looked at me. Then he grabbed his knife and kind of stabbed it, but nothing much happened.

"I can't eat this," he opined. "This chicken is too tough!"

What I refrained from saying was the truth: that if this chicken had met James Cameron at the right time, Arnold Schwarzenegger's film career would have died in the ass, and the Terminator series would have been made about mutant farm-fowls from the future, not some pansy-ass goddam robot. No... what I actually said was this:

"Come on, boy! We're human beings. Homo sapiens! Your hunter-gather ancestors would have killed for a meal like this! They would have wept over the exquisite flavours, and raised the mighty hunter upon their shoulders in celebration!"

He looked at me again, and had another go.

Meanwhile, Younger Son had put his drumstick/thigh chunk down, and was giving it a very piercing look. I, on the other hand, had the upper half of the bird -- sans wings, which were on the Mau-Mau's plate -- and was busy separating the flight muscles from the breastbone with much growling and gnashing of teeth.

Younger Son looked at me. I growled some more. Then I said: "Dammit, boy! We're at the top of the food chain! We are the uberpredators! Are we going to let ourselves be beaten by a mere chicken? Will we flee the table, admitting that a simple barnyard bird is tougher than we are?"

His eyes narrowed. He raised his chunk of chicken in both hands, lunged forward, and snapped. I saw the tendons in his neck stand out, the muscles at his jaw knot. He growled, and whipped his head back and forth like a savage wolf, and tore a chunk of dark, dark flesh away from the bone.

The Mau-Mau didn't even try. She just licked all the tarragon and tomato off the outside of her chicken wings, ate her salad and potatoes, and demanded custard.

When Natalie came home, the kids were in the bath. I had defeated the upper half the bird by dint of age, experience, bloody-mindedness and the fact that it actually tasted fucking brilliant. Younger Son had dealt with most of a thigh and a significant portion of drumstick, but the sheer bloodlust in his eyes and the vicious growling noises were making me a little nervous, so I let him call it quits. Elder son bent a knife and a fork, and managed a bite of the drumstick.

I stuck some sausages in the lovely casseroly stuff, and whacked it back in the oven. Natalie duly tried the chicken and discovered for herself that it could have gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson, and still been able to bite the bastard's ear off later. But the casseroled sausages went down really well...

... so.

I'm guessing that future roosters from that particular source will be used for the making of stock. And given the flavour of the birds, I think they'll do an excellent job. But there's no way I'm trying anything else with the bastards. There's Sylvester-Stallone-Rambo tough. There's Clint-Eastwood-Dirty-Harry-Tough. There's Jason-Statham-Chev-Chelios-tough.

And then there's free-range, Killer Commando Chicken tough.

Why Is Science So Lame?

Seriously. I mean, scientists are forever dicking around trying to cure malaria or unravel the genome to cancer, or maybe build shinier solar stuff, when what the world really needs is completely something else.

Non-fartogenic beer. That's a good example, right there. Who's out there, researching day and night to save us all from stinking great eye-watering, ass-burning beer farts? Nobody, that's who. But if you turned up tomorrow with fart-proof beer that tasted great and got you drunk just as fast -- dude, they wouldn't be able to get your name on the Nobel scrolls fast enough.

But that's not what I'm really talking about right now. Fart-proof beer isn't a bad idea, but what the world really, really needs is a self-disassembling chicken. Absolutely.

See, today we had some visitors. Actually, we had a couple today, and one leftover from the night before . That was Miss M the Student Dietician who turned up last night for Thai fish stew, and crepes with home-made vanilla ice-cream and garden-fresh raspberries. She stuck around to watch Igor up in the Cinema Zone with Clan Flinthart, plus a whole lot of popcorn and a large pitcher of that gin and curacao stuff... made for a good evening all around.

So Miss M and Nat and the kids were all hitting the blueberry pancakes this morning when our other visitors arrived -- a couple of local folk, who brought with them a pair of goddam roosters. Why? Because the local folk in question, who are perfectly lovely people in their own right, are animal softies. They rescue 'em. And keep 'em. And look after 'em.

And they aren't much chop when it comes to going the chop-chop with the excess of roosterage.

Enter Mr Flinthart and his Cleaver of Chicken Slaughteration.

Once the visitors toddled off, I felt I could go about Silencing the Roosters without alarming anyone unduly. So I seized the cleaver in question, opened the travel cage, and pulled out one of the big, white chooky bastards.

Cranky bloody thing it was, too. Lots of blurrrking and borrking, and attempts to gouge yours truly with the impressively large and sharp spurs on the back of the feet. Nasty. No wonder the lovely visitor-folks wanted rid of the damned things...

So I took Rooster One out to the wood-chop zone, and laid its head on the block. And who should come bolting around the corner but Younger Son, eh? Mightily excited, he is. Apparently some banana-brain has told him that chooks run around after you cut their heads off, and he is truly desperate to see...


No, I'm not gonna consult with Natalie, I figure. The Younger Son needs to understand how this stuff works if he's going to eat meat. I'm no vegetarian, as you all know -- but I don't have much time for people who will eat meat, but can't face the ugly facts behind that delicious, tasty meal. If you can't bring yourself to kill and clean the meat for your table, sez I, stick to the greenery. And no: I've never slaughtered a cow. But the odd lamb, occasional goat kid, and wallaby? Yep. Without blinking.

So I shrugged, and brought down the cleaver - which is fiendish sharp, oh yes - and Rooster One loses its Command and Control module. The head sits there on the chopping block, blinking and opening its beak remarkably like unto a chicken too stupid to know that it's dead, while the body leaps about, flapping and spraying blood, and Younger Son stares in fascinated horror...

I don't think he's going to have nightmares. But just to help him along, I made him put the head into the compost heap. And then, after I plunged Rooster One into a pot of boiling water to loosen the feathers, I left Younger Son hard-a-pluck, and introduced Rooster Two to a chunk of century-old hand-crafted German steel.

And there was much plucking, and stench of wet feathers, and then there was gutting and there was blood and me with my hand deep in a dead chicken's body cavity, grouting around for the little fraggy bits that you can never quite get loose. And at some point or another, Elder Son came out just as Younger Son discovered that you can squeeze a dead chicken and activate its voicebox, so there was macabre Zombie Chicken noise happening. And Elder Son wanted to know what was going on, so I called him over to help hold the remaining unviolated chicken corpse, and just as he was about to reach for it I gave it a squeeze and it went "blu-urrk!" in a convincingly chickenlike fashion and he jumped about a metre and a half and Younger Son fell about the place laughing, getting blood and feathers all over himself, and earning me the Wrath of Natalie who was Not At All Amused by Zombie Chicken antics.

Now both plucked, cleaned corpses are reposing quietly in the bottom of my refrigerator. Tomorrow I will joint them, season them, and slow bake them until they're crispy golden brown, to be served with new potatoes and garden salad and maybe a nice dry white wine... but nevertheless, it was still a horrid, ugly, stinky, feathery sort of job. And what I really want for Christmas, dear Science, is a chicken that will kill itself. And then shed all its feathers in a single fluffy cloud. And then fall apart into nice, neatly sectioned joints, with the giblets in a pile of ugly in the centre, ready to be properly disposed of.

Is that too much to ask, O Mighty Geneticists? Or are you too busy diddling around with second-rate shit like AIDS, Swine Flu, and a cure for Stephen Conroy?

... actually, I have to admit that I'd be prepared to accept a cure for Stephen Conroy. That would be cool too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's A Science Fiction Writer To Do?


I love a good piece of fiction as much as anyone. But it's rough when supposed newspapers get into the SF act. Check this article here. Really. It's pretty funny, in a po-faced "you're supposed to take this shit seriously" way.

I particularly like this section:

In addition, popular NASA and space researcher, Richard Hoagland, has publicly come forward to reveal that the October 9, LCROSS ‘bombing’ mission of the moon, discovered an ancient base at the moon’s South Pole. Reviewing the scientific data achieved by NASA’s LCROSS mission, Hoagland concluded, also on the popular late night Coast to Coast AM radio show, that “LCROSS is part of a carefully constructed campaign to prepare the populace for imminent disclosure. The President of the United States will soon announce that scientists have discovered ruins on the moon, he added. Nobody saw the LCROSS debris plume because the probes struck a building which swallowed the effects of the explosion.”

I mean -- that shit's gold, right there. But seriously, how's an SF writer supposed to get a look-in if the journalists are printing this kinda stuff? Should I be trying to convince the editor of the that I should have a column of my own? I'm definitely capable of spinning much more convincing crap than that. But is that a good thing? Do they want SF that sounds plausible? Or is their target market wedded to tinfoil hats and mad-arsed conspiracy theories?

Never mind. Since all the revelations are due to happen before the end of 2009, we shouldn't have to put up with this much longer. And I suppose it's more entertaining than sightings of Elvis, eh?

Idle Moments #4

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Snot Escalation


Okay, yeah. For the first time in my forty-odd years, I've been suffering hay fever. Bastard grass pollen: sinuses full of wet concrete, itchy eyes. Bastard bastard bastard.

But those shiny new all-day antihistamines have been keeping me going nicely. I've been dropping one every night before bed, and sleeping reasonably well as a result. And that's all I ask. I can hack a bit of snot by day, but I really do need to breathe easily to sleep.

For some reason, though, the last couple days it hasn't gone so well. I couldn't work out why.

At least, I couldn't until this morning, when I woke up with a sore throat and a cough too. Y'see, all three of my offspring have had varying degrees of cold, cough, sniffles for nearly a week. And apparently, my number has finally come up. The Ubiquitous Hay-Fever Snot masked it, though, and it wasn't until the illness escalated that I figured out something was wrong.

Bloody typical it should happen on a day when the temperature spiked up at 29C. That's not unbearable by any means, but it's not goddam comfortable, and I always feel shittier when I've got a head cold and it's hot outside. Pfah. Vile micro-organisms! Abandon my nasal passages or face the wrath of the Flinthart immune system!

In other news: the last of the medical students goes home tomorrow. We didn't actually see nearly as much of her as we'd like in her two weeks, but that's how it goes. I'll be driving her to the airport at 0700 or so tomorrow, which will give me a day in Launceston with the Mau-Mau to get some Christmas shopping done.

It's the last day of school for the year tomorrow, too. Yay! One more set of obligations scratched off there.

Meanwhile, the raspberries are coming in, and the first of the black berries are ripening. I picked two litres of raspberries yesterday, and another two litres today, and about a litre of blackberries today to match the half-litre yesterday. Mmmmm.

It was good, though. Gave me an excuse to rev up the cooking tonight -- smoke-grilled vegetable salad with sea-salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar; smoky grilled salmon with home-grown dill and lemon... and for dessert, a raspberry medley. That included fresh raspberries, raspberry sorbet, and raspberry pandowdy topped with fresh whipped cream.

Of course, I had a couple nice beers with it, and promptly felt like shit... fuck I hate head colds.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mandatory Video Footage

That would be Elder Son, more or less performing Silent Night on the cello before the assembled masses of parents at the School Awards ceremony this morning. Poor little bugger: he's got some kind of cold/throat lurgi, and he's mostly lost his voice. I promised him we could scarper immediately after he did his gig, but shortly after I arrived, one of the teachers quietly nixed that plan. Apparently they had an academic award to give him, so he had to stay.

Happily, he shared the award with his very best friend, so a happy ending came to all. Except me, of course. Because the full award ceremony went for two hours. Sigh.

Tonnes of laundry have been done, and I've officially farmed out the job in the future to the boys. Elder Son will gather laundry, load, operate and unload the machine. Younger Son will fold and sort clean, dry loads. They'll both score 50c for such operations, which should work out okay, since we've got a moderate-sized front-load machine, not a monstrous great toploader.

Of course, I'll still be dragged into the hanging up and taking down bit of the process, because the clothesline is a bit too high for the kids. But at least it throws some of the responsibility onto the little barstewards. Let's see how much dirty laundry they generate NOW, eh?

Dinner is almost prepped: twice-cooked baby taters, and chicken stuffed with sundried tomatoes, onions, and home-made meatballs (leftovers from a barbecue the other day), slathered with tomato paste and basil (stuffed in under the skin and all), wrapped in a big dough sheet and slow-baked; fresh garden salad. Of course, I won't be eating because as soon as Natalie or the babysitter gets here, I'll be off to sword training.

Never mind. We're getting closer to the end of the year every day.

Staggering Towards The Finish Line

Natalie made it back from Canberra on Friday evening/afternoon, and promptly had to be on-call. At least the night went fairly smoothly.

Yesterday we were double booked. Elder Son was committed to perform on cello for his music teacher's end-of-year concert. Meanwhile, Younger Son had his birthday party scheduled. Kind of necessary: poor bugger's born on Christmas Eve, so it's tough to gather his friends on the day itself.

We had to split it. Natalie took Elder Son into Launceston. I understand there was a practice in the morning, then a break of a few hours before the concert itself. They went to see Planet 51, but I'm informed that Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is better.

Meanwhile, that left me as Party Dad. I baked a chocolate cake in the shape of one of those Warner Bros cartoons -- black and round, with a bit sticking out at the top with a fuse. It was only 2d, since I couldn't figure out how to make a spherical cake keep its integrity, but I did write TNT on it in red icing.

Younger Son was delighted, particularly as the black (did you know you can get black food colouring now? True!) icing was strongly peppermint flavoured. The whole ensemble was his request anyhow. Where does he get these bent ideas?

Other than laying in a stock of party food, my only other preparation for the party consisted of hastily wrapping a last-minute present (a snorkel and mask set) and buying a bunch of high-powered waterguns. And that, my friends, was a stroke of genius.

It was a warm, sunny day. The boys arrived. They seized the waterguns, and it was on.

First, they hunted the dog. (I pitied the beast.) Round and about, over and under, they pursued the poor bastard like paparazzi spotting a blonde hair on Tiger Woods' shoulder. After the dog finally disappeared completely, they turned on each other like the feral beasts they are.

Mid-day until two this went on. At two, they filled up on sausages and birthday cake, and then they decided to watch a Godzilla flick on the big screen in the shed. I made lots of popcorn and cordial, and set them up comfortably.

Within half an hour, they'd give poor Godzilla the arse, and they were back out in watergunland. Oh, and did I mention that the Mau-Mau had her best friend up for the afteroon as well? They were armed too.

The second phase of the Great Watergun Massacre went until five in the afternoon, when parents finally realised their kids had been missing for some time...

By then, of course, Natalie was back with Elder Son. And a couple random visitors had dropped by, just to jazz up the day a little. So I fed a whole lot of people, and failed to get much of any use done.

Today? Well, Nat took the kids to the swimming pool in the morning for a while, and that was nice. But Mad Neighbour Anna had a soiree in the afternoon, and I'd promised a salad, so there was shopping, and similar. (The salad was good, by the way: prawns, turmeric rice, cucumber, capsicum, spring onion, heaps of coriander and sushi dressing. Yay!)

Then I took a Dremel tool to the soles of my feet, which are once again cracked and callused... blah. Hurts like hell to walk, lately. And there's no use fucking around with pumice stones or the like. I have an odd skin condition which causes rapid formation of callus and keratin layers, so the hide on my feet is just too thick to confront with anything short of power tools. Seriously. It took me half an hour with a sanding drum on a Dremel to remove the gargoylish armour. But with the keratinized plates reduced, the remaining skin will be more flexible, less prone to cracking. For a brief period, anyway.

The afternoon party went very nicely. Again: warm and sunny. The kids played in and around the spring-fed pond next to Mad Neighbour Anna's house. We drank wine, and glögg (pronounced 'glerg'; and I'm assured that since it's Swedish, the two dots above the o in glögg do NOT comprise an Umlaut. That is German, I was told with a very severe look. But I didn't get told what the Swedes call their umlauts...). I should point out that glögg is Swedish for "mulled wine", so it wasn't a terrifying experience or anything. Frankly, a little disappointing. I always envisioned glögg as something that might invade Earth or stomp Tokyo, maybe.

The turnout wasn't enormous, but it was lovely. Genuinely marvellous people. The kids had a great time, I drank wine and ate good food and argued ecology and dams and education and good stuff like that... and then it was time to bring the kids home to bed.

Tomorrow, Elder Son has to perform on the cello at the schools awards thingy. And in the evening, I have sword training -- but Natalie is on call (probably) because one of the docs at the surgery has had a bit of a family emergency, and everybody is rallying 'round. We've organized babysitters, though, so I can still go... which is good, 'cause it's the last sword session until February.

So as you can see, things are slowly, slowly easing. There will be no ju-jitsu on Wednesday. School finishes Thursday, or maybe Friday. Sword training finishes tomorrow night. Younger Son's party is out of the way. Cello and violin commitments are nearly done. The end is in sight...

... if I can just survive that long.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Time To Mobilise

Dr Peter Watts, one of the smartest and most interesting writers of hard SF at the moment, appears to have been stopped, beaten and arrested at the Canadian border by US border guards. You can find a more complete version of the story here, at Boingboing.

Obviously, it's impossible for us to judge accurately without on-the-spot information, but the Boingboing folks have long since earned my respect. Further: while I don't know Dr Watts personally, I do have plenty of that kind of one-degree-removed contact you get in the relatively small world of SF writing, and I note that the people who do know of him speak with the greatest respect and affection.

I will add to this that I have, myself, had issues with US border fuckwads many years ago, before all the War On Terror nonsense: I had an antique wooden piccolo, the property of my grandmother, stolen from a car in which I was travelling during an hour-long search of the vehicle while I was interrogated as to my reasons for crossing the border.

Personally, I'm fucking tired of reading about the goddam wannabe Storm Troopers they stick on US border security. I've long since decided that there's no particular reason I should ever travel back to the USA - at least until the nation's authorities re-learn some basic manners - but this bullshit is redlining me.

Dr Peter Watts is an educated, highly intelligent man who has produced some remarkable works of fiction that I have enjoyed greatly. He comes with the endorsement of a number of people I trust as fellow professionals, and some whom I trust as friends. In this case, the people on the opposite side are known bastards, with a world-spanning reputation for viciousness, violence, and random malice. Those of you reading this are welcome to your own opinions. You may wish to wait for more information. Me? I've had enough.

I can't do much, but I can contribute to Dr Watts legal defense fund via PayPal, to I can also point you in the direction of the Boingboing article, and to Dr Watts home page. He has a link to a donation site for his cat on his backlist page.

While you're at it, take note that Dr Watts has released a range of his works under Creative Commons licenses. They are free to download from the Rifters site, and I'd say that if you're donating to help the guy out, he'd be delighted if you picked up something in exchange. It's worth the effort: his work is smart as hell, well written, engaging, and thought-provoking.

And as a community, Science Fiction deserves better treatment than this. Hell - we all deserve better treatment than this, but since we can't act directly against the pricks who abuse their power at our expense, at least we can help one of their victims, and maybe even the score a little.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dirk Flinthart Endorses...

"Cool Blooz" safety glasses by some corporation that uses "MSA" as a logo.

Back when I rode motorbikes a lot more than was actually safe, I got into the habit of wearing safety glasses because I was never really very fond of helmet visors. But there's a lot more it to that. These things possess many advantages over your standard fashion sunglasses, to wit:
  • They really are safety glasses. I get 'em from the hardware store. They wrap around nicely, and keep things like flying woodchips, metal flecks, bugs and bits of vegetation out of your eyes. You can wear 'em in the workshop with a fair degree of confidence.
  • They are also fully UV protective, in accordance with the Australian design standards for UV-resistant sunwear.
  • They're not actually ugly.
  • The frames are tough and flexible. You really can sit on these by accident, then wear them afterwards without any problems.
  • They fit really comfortably.
  • They're not expensive: these things retail at about $20 Australian. I don't know about you, but the last time I tried to find a pair of fashion sunglasses I could stand wearing, they started close to $100... and to get a pair with all the advantages listed above, you had to get closer to $150 or more.

So, there you have it. No: nobody has given me a pair of these things to review. I just like 'em. They're a good product, and I figured other people might find it useful to know about 'em.

In other news: plodding painfully towards year's end. The Ju-jitsu barbecue is done at last. It rained on us, naturally, but not too much, and the park has great shelters as well as really good electric barbecues supplied by the council. Many sausages and chickeny bits were consumed, and the attendees appeared to have a fine time. We kick off again February next year, so for a while, I don't have to figure out what I'm going to teach every Wednesday afternoon. Yay!

Medical Student Grace has returned Brizwards today. She was a fine guest, and will be missed. But Medical Student Chrissie is stepping neatly into the gap, so we're not short of guests, or in danger of loneliness.

Natalie gets back from Canberra today, in a couple of hours. She's been involved in some project to help the Fed Govt set policy on home births, midwifery, and Big Serious Stuff like that. Naturally, she's also on call tonight. Which is how it works around here at the moment.

Elder Son appears to have a solid grip on "Silent Night", to be played for the school assemby on Monday. A few more practices to smooth it out, and we'll be good to go.

Smaller Son will have his birthday party tomorrow. That will be my job, because Natalie has to take Elder Son to Launceston for his music teacher's end-of-year concert. Why do music teachers feel the need for such things? Ah, hell. Never mind.

I have made the error of letting Smaller Son play around with a beat-up old French Horn which was in the music room while Elder Son was having a cello lesson. The look of absolute glee on his face, coupled with a startling amount of control shown in producing tone... yeah. Okay. There are no French Horn instructors around Scottsdale. But we may have to look into this.

Okay. Must run. Time is up. Adios!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

His Hoopiness The Dalai Dude

I did a 500km round trip today. Drove all the way to Hobart and back. I took Elder Son with me, and carried a random passenger as well. The reason?

The Dalai Lama was having a public gabfest at the Derwent Dome.

For those who don't know, I'm strongly interested by the Buddhist philosophies, although I'm definitely more focused on Zen than the Tibetan tradition. However, I've read a few of the Dalai Guy's books, and I've been greatly intrigued by the man himself.

The irony of his position, for example -- that's fascinating. If China had stayed the fuck outta Tibet, I think we can all agree that the Dalai Lama would probably be nothing more than a minor notable, one of those colourful characters from the backwaters of the planet. Oh, sure: he'd still be full of good sense and compassion, but if China hadn't decided to shit all over Tibet, chances are he would be perceived mostly as 'quaint'. But precisely because China got out the Ugly Stick and waved it around, the Dalai Lama became a player on the international stage, and a very clear thorn in China's side.

Anyhow, I figured this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see him do his thing, and so I cleared it with the school and took both Elder Son and another interested local with me on the long trek.

The lecture itself was entitled something about 'Who Is Responsible For Our Future', but before the Dalai Guy we got a few words from Senator Bob Brown, a local Aboriginal Elder, and the head of the Conservation Foundation of Australia. There was also a videorecorded message from Cate Blanchett for the CFA, but it was either intended for the deaf, or for mimes, because even though her lips were moving up there on the big screens, we never actually heard a word from her. Oh well. And then, of course, His Dalainess trundled up in his purply robage, and began distributing long white scarves hither and yon. "Part of our culture," he explained, looping one over Bob Brown, and another over the Aboriginal Elder, and another one over the bloke in the grey suit with the microphone, who seemed to have the job of shoving his foot in his mouth by way of introducing everyone.

Whole lotta scarves there. Gotta wonder who packs all those things.

The lecture itself was nothing spectacular, but I wasn't there to take in revelations. I was interested in the man himself, and the 'sense' of him as a person, a character, a public figure and a communicator. He spoke simply, emphasising compassion, awareness of self, understanding of others, self-confidence, truthfulness and trust. There wasn't a single word he offered that I could have disagreed with in any useful or meaningful way, and I rather hope that Elder Son took enough of it in to remember it. A lot of what Mr Lama could be very helpful to him in his growing and maturing.

Once the lecture -- really, it was an informal talk -- finished, there was a half-hour question time. And I'd like to fucking strangle the joker who filtered the questions. There was a box put out for the placing-in of questions, and I did avail myself, yes. On behalf of Angela Slatter, I asked what His Holiness actually wears under that purple robe, and I do admit I didn't expect that one to reach him. But I also asked what he thought his position on the world stage might have been if China hadn't taken a thunderdump on Tibet, and since I phrased it much more politely and diplomatically, I rather hoped he might have something to say.

Unfortunately, the egregious maroon who filtered the questions left in nothing but plaintive, rather new-agey Dorothy Dixers. "How can I find a lasting inner peace?" "How can I travel to Tibet, highlight the plight of the Tibetan people, and still take part in the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual experience?" "How can we raise the self-esteem of our young people?"

I mean, seriously. The guy's addressing a crowd of two or three thousand, and you want him to tell you, personally, how you achieve 'lasting inner peace'? He was clearly nonplussed by that one, though he answered politely and very kindly, as he did with all the reasonably meaningless questions. Some he dismissed with evident good humour, and a disarming laugh that couldn't have offended even an earnest new-age wisdom seeker. But unfortunately, none of the questions really called for much from him.

Overall, I was favourably impressed. His Holiness is a very comfortable, very relaxed speaker who doesn't take himself too seriously at all. At one point he was playing with the aerial wires for his hands-free mike and earpiece, obviously thinking they needed to be clipped safely out of the way. When someone gently corrected him, he giggled, and said "How foolish!" of himself -- and I have to admit, watching the spiritual leader of a major religion acknowledge his own fallibility and foolishness with grace and good humour was truly refreshing.

Likewise, I appreciated his willingness to support science and research, and I was delighted when he spoke out strongly in favour of secular teaching of morality and ethics. He made a point of defining secular, calling it 'equal respect for all religions rather than a rejection of religions', and emphasised that he held all religions in equal respect himself. I can't imagine a Pope pulling that one off... and as for hearing words like that from an Ayatollah or a Caliph -- the very idea is ridiculous.

One thing that struck me sharply, and saddened me, was the optimism of the man. He acknowledged it himself, and spoke of an improving, maturing human race, and of the ability of individuals to initiate and carry out positive change. A man dispossessed of his country, whose people are displaced and oppressed, whose culture is suppressed in his homeland... and yet somehow, he maintains more faith in human nature, more belief in a human future than perhaps I could ever muster, even when I was a child.

I'm not sure, but I suspect I envy him that optimism. For while I can, and do, follow the precepts of compassion, honesty, trust and awareness that he spoke of so simply and sincerely -- I do it without any real hope for a better outcome. I do it because I believe these things of myself, and because these things reflect the person I want myself to be, and I hope to continue in these ideals even if the world collapses. I don't need a 'better outcome'. The ideals themselves are sufficient.

But I think it would be nice to have real hope. I guess it's good to know the Dalai Lama does, anyhow.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oooh. New Music!

I kinda like swing. Got myself a Gene Krupa album, yeah. And the odd Royal Crown Revue recording. But I also like odd stuff. And so I offer the Diablo Swing Orchestra, which is probably best described as manic/psychotic Goth Swing.

Here's a couple of YouTube links:

...suit yourself. They fit my sense of fun...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wow. I Am Seriously Tired.

I've got a couple hours breather now. The house is quiet. Soon enough, I'll have to corral the kids and drive into Launceston to collect Chrissie the Medical Student, but for the moment, a brief, welcome island of peace.

I spent the early part of the morning assembling stuff. A small but strongly built table. Two bricks. A concrete paver. Twenty pieces of 20mm pine board, of convenient size for martial arts demos. A couple of decent-looking rubber knives. A bunch of flyers with contact details for the club on them. Uniforms for me, and for the boys.

Once I got all that into the car, I stuffed the kids in afterwards. Then I drove halfway to Scottsdale, and picked up two more kids.

I parked the car near the church hall where we train, and we carried all our gear into Victoria St, about a block away, where the demo was supposed to happen. Then I grabbed a few more people, and we made the trip back and forth from the hall a few times to collect mats. Well within the appropriate time, we had a 4x4 metre square laid out. It wasn't too bad, even with the road surface underneath.

The Christmas Parade in Scottsdale is a big event, locally. It's very cheerful - a much-loved institution that involves pretty much everyone, in some way or another. As a result, there was quite a crowd to see us doing our thing. The kids were definitely nervous.

I launched into my spiel: "...ancient fighting art of the Samurai... unarmed combat... fierce fighters... greatest martial artists on the entire street..." and picked up a few laughs, and then we went for it.

The kids were great. I set it up so we went from the smallest to the largest, and everybody got the chance to show off a bit. We had plenty of pine boards for smashing, and they dodged knives and threw each other and wrestled and kicked and pushed and shoved... I was quite proud of them.

The first surprise I pulled was at one of my older students. Jeremy is sixteen. He knew he was going to smash a few boards, but he'd only practiced with three. It looked too easy, so I set him up with four.

And why not? I strongly believe that one of the most important things to learn in any martial art is the capacity to get out of your comfort zone, and push things farther than you expect. I knew perfectly well that Jeremy had the strength and technique to manage an extra board, and he did just fine: big, arcing hammer-fist, shattered pine-boards flying everywhere, round of applause.

Then I put Adam on the mat. Adam is at uni this year, so he doesn't train routinely, but I put him through brown belt last year, and I have firm expectations of anybody I push that far. I picked up a short stick, showed him I was about to belt him over the head with it, and listed three particularly spectacular throws. Then I stepped in and did my best to crack him on the scone.

He performed beautifully. I vaguely recall brief periods of whirling weightlessness with my feet somewhere high over my head, and then there was a lot of crashing into the mat, and then a rather painful armlock applied until the stick was removed from my grasp. Full marks, that man...

I finished the whole thing with a couple of breaks. There's this striking technique I lifted from a friend in k'ung fu many years ago -- it's a snapping palm heel strike, but it's delivered with the full force of the body behind it, and if you learn to do it right, you can rest your fingertips against somebody's collarbone and still smash ribs -- but your hand doesn't actually move more than five or ten centimetres. You really have to get your shit in gear to manage it, though. Delivering a powerful strike with a ten centimetre travel-distance is a bit of a nifty trick. I used it to smash my way through two of those pine boards.

Finally, I stuck a concrete paver (about 45mm -- call it just shy of 2") between two bricks on the table, and smashed it with a hammer-fist. Took me two tries, though -- I was off-centre the first time.

It's probably good that I didn't manage it first go. After the show, I discovered that a lot of people in the crowd figured I'd somehow weakened the pine boards for the kids, which is just silly. But they definitely believed in the damned paver.

They'd better, mind you! After I smashed the damned thing, a piece of it fell off the table, and landed on my toe, cutting it.

So -- we finished up. And then everything had to be packed up, and the mats all put away again. And then the boys had to go to the Cub Scout float to ride in the parade, and lunches had to be obtained... and finally, I collected the Mau-Mau from our neighbours and made it home.

I'm absolutely bloody shagged out.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In The Kingdom Of Snot

I'm not normally an allergic sort of person. I've spent most of my life with some minor asthma, but that's it. Oh, sure -- here in Taz, when springtime really goes berserk, I'll occasionally have a day or two of sneezes. But lately... holy shit!

I've been waking up every day for the last month or so with sinuses full of concrete. Sneezing attacks that would do credit to Godzilla have ambushed me at regular intervals. One day, I literally sneezed myself hoarse.

Yesterday, I finally figured out what the frock is going on. Y'see, from 2006-2008 inclusive, we missed the winter rains, and spring was pretty damned patchy. This year, we had a seriously wet winter. Spring was marked by beautiful warm spells, interspersed with nice quantities of rain at useful times. Summer is behaving much the same so far, though a little cooler.

In other words, we've had one hell of a lead-up to the spring growing season, and it shows. The greenery around here could scare the brogue off a leprechaun.

So I finally got a new battery for the tractor, and put it back in the machine. Yesterday, seeing the weather report, I decided I needed to do some slashing while I could. I hopped on the tractor, and happily beetled off: cut the long grass that's been confounding the archery first. Then cleared around the kids' cubby. Then ducked down to the paddock below the house, wherein I have slowly been establishing many kinds of fruit trees. All up, I spent about two hours on the tractor.

It was about a half-hour in when I noticed I couldn't smell that lovely new-mown grass scent any more. In fact, my sinuses were starting to get that brutal, burning, crushing feeling going on... and that was when it clicked. For the first time in four years, we are knee-deep (on me!) in vibrant, green, uber-healthy flowering grass. It's fucking pollen central out there.

Didn't help my evening yesterday, I can tell you. Simultaneously organising dinner for two medical students, plus one of my older ju-jitsu students who is having an English exam today... he wanted help with the poetry side of things, and when he mentioned "Wilfred Owen", I said "Oh -- Dulce Et Decorum Est, right?" and he looked at me like I was some kind of evil wizard. But then I explained that the poem in question is the only one that high-school teachers ever seem to cover from Wilfred Owen, and it's probably the best known of all WWI poems, so it wasn't that clever of me.

Nevertheless: I was cooking like crazy, making Chinese-style steamed chicken dumplings, and chicken-and-sweet-corn soup, and setting up to make citrus ice cream when El Studento arrived. That was okay, because the kids promptly set upon him and took him on an extended tour. But then the med students (Grace and Kerri) arrived, so I had to start plating dinner. At this point, I was working through an extended analysis of the poem, handling three courses of food, and wrangling the kids to the table all at once, and frankly, I think things were starting to get fuzzy around the edges.

Happily, Grace and Kerri took over the soup (it only needed rice noodles by that time), and El Studento took time out to fang into the dumplings, so I had a free hand to drag kids into position, set plates, cutlery, drinks, etc. And then Natalie finally made it home.

Must say: the citrus ice cream over fresh rockmelon slices was pretty freakin' good. (I scalded lemon and orange zest in a little cream, and let it cool. Then I took that cream, and combined it with the regular ice cream ingredients, plus a little mascarpone to help it set. Ohhhh, yeah.)

Anyway, today I woke up yet again with killer snot, after a night of very limited sleep. So I popped a couple of commercial anti-snot drugs, but apparently they contained one of the sleepy-type antihistamines. Lately I've been getting plenty of exercise, minding my food, and not drinking too much, so the level of fitness has climbed a bit. As a result, the goddam snotkiller drugs acted very much like Stoopid Pills. I felt like a grade-A maroon all morning.

I have now sourced some of those one-pill all-day Wondersnot drugs. And having popped one, I'm enjoying both breathing, and wakefulness. It's an interesting change.

About time, too. Aside from the fact that the two junior medics will be back tonight for dinner (marinated charcoal-grilled chicken, smoky vegetable salad and chocolate-orange mousse, all entirely without gluten, thanks) we've got our regular Friday Night movie thing planned. And tomorrow, we've got the ju-jitsu demonstration. And then the boys are on the Cub Scout float. And afterwards, I'll pack up all three kids, go to the airport and collect another medical student (Chrissie. Yay!) who will be around for a couple weeks.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Kerri gets a lift into Launceston, having done her stint for the year. Monday I will be frantically writing and working, because Tuesday, I've done something... well, not stupid, but definitely pushing the limits.

The Dalai Lama is speaking in Hobart on Tuesday afternoon. Elder Son and I have tickets. So I shall drive down in the morning, spend a couple hours soaking up karma-intensive presence and explaining to Elder Son why the guy on the stage is worth hearing. Then we'll turn around and drive right back again...

I sure hope the Dalai Lama appreciates the effort I'm going to!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Progress Report


Tractor is back in action. New battery, properly emplaced in the holder. Of course, the lead to the negative terminal was too short for this new battery (by scant millimetres, naturally) so I had to unhook it from the body of the tractor and find a new bolt I could use to anchor it. No big deal. Tractor runs. Tomorrow is out of the question. So is Friday. Saturday is incredibly overloaded. Sunday is no good either... but if it's fine on Monday, I may just be able to slash a couple of the paddocks. Yay.

Whipper-snipper and chainsaw are still with the repair-johnnies. This time of year they're busy as hell. But I expect to hear from 'em pretty soon, so maybe Monday, maybe Wednesday? I dunno.

Short story completed, sent off to the editors/publishers of the anthology. It's too soon for me to be sure what I think of it, but it worked out okay once I figured out which POV to use, and got rid of the first 2000 words. Yeesh.

Programme for the ju-jitsu demonstration on Saturday, for the Xmas Parade in Scottsdale has now been settled. Every kid has something they can do or contribute. We've got demos of throwing techniques, groundfighting, defenses against knives, free-fighting, lots of smashing of pine boards by kids of various ages, escapes from various grappling and grabbing attacks... should be enough to keep people entertained, what with the patented Flinthart patter to introduce each player.

Unfortunately, Natalie is on call over the weekend. This is particularly unfortunate because the two boys are involved in the Cub Scouts float. This means I can't just run away as soon as the ju-jitsu demo is over. I have to stick around for the whole show... and immediately after that, apparently, I have to throw the kids into the car and make a dash for the Launceston airport, where the next of our visiting medical students is due to make her arrival. Like I said: Saturday is a total write-off.

Garden beds for the rocket and cabbage are now prepped, waiting under weed-mat for the seedlings to be big enough to plant out. May have to throw a bit of compost and loose soil under there too, but overall it's ready to go.

Pruned the lower branches of the big Bay tree. Discovered two attempts at air-layering I did about a year and a half ago. Both have been extremely successful. I lopped both branches and planted them out, with lots of water. Might get a couple new Bay Laurels... hopefully.

Snow peas and strawberries producing nicely. Still have to add more growth support for the snow peas. Tomatoes are now in place, doing well.

Will drive to Launceston tomorrow to purchase more insulation. Probably grab some more pine boards for kids to smash at the demo, too. And maybe some structural timber for some of the garden work.

Elder Son's "Silent Night" progressing nicely. Note: when is the school event where he's supposed to play?

No progress at all on Younger Son's birthday party. This could be difficult...

Sword techniques progressing nicely. Noted with some satisfaction that I weathered the repetitive, strenuous training exercises with more aplomb than in recent past. Fitness moving up again - very good.

Stoopid baby chickens still alive. "Chicken Dome" device/cage to let them have days out on the grass now 3/4 complete. Need to finish applying bird-wire to the polypipe frame, and hang a watering station.

And in other news: jeez, I'm tired. Early night tonight. I've got a bit of work to do, reading and appraising a manuscript anyhow...