Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

It's a fine, cool, sunny start to the new year and the new decade, and there are four extra kids about the place... hopefully not setting too much of a precedent.

We had our usual Flinthart movie night/watergun fight/barbecue evening to ring in the new year. Neighbours from uphill and down arrived. Much drinking and eating was done. Children ran about in all directions, spraying water.

When things finally calmed down enough, I discovered that a very large contingent of the visitors had never actually seen 'Big Trouble In Little China', which I think is the best thing John Carpenter ever managed to put on film. Chortling with delight, I cooked far more popcorn than is humanly feasible, and we settled back.

The film was new to most of the kids -- not mine, though! -- and the frequent action sequences were more than enough to keep them happy. The adults, who'd had just enough to drink to appreciate the sly parody underneath the action film, were equally entertained. Actually, I'd forgotten just how likable that movie is. If by some chance you've never seen it, you really do owe it to yourself to put it on, kick back, and have a blast.

It hadn't quite gone midnight when the film ended, so we called an intermission and went back down to the house. I made a bunch more popcorn, and the adults killed off a bottle of Kreglinger to toast the new year. Then we all trooped back up for 'Shaun Of The Dead', striking a balance between 'scary' and 'funny' that kept everybody happy. (I really wanted to put on 'Lair Of The White Worm', but there was a degree of dissent from adults who felt that Roman nun-rapage and giant dildo probings were probably not kid-appropriate... I suppose that's true.)

Thus, at about two in the morning, we folded our tents and called it a night. The Mau-Mau's best friend shared a bed with her (the girls stayed downstairs and watched cartoons. They were both tired as blazes from their previous night and day at the beach, so they didn't last long.) The three Mad Viking lads from down the hill occupied spaces on the mattresses up in the cinema zone, supplied with ample pillows, doonas, and so forth.

And I made my way to bed.

Happy new year, folks.

Monday, December 27, 2010

That Was Christmas, Then

The Chocolate Fairy came visiting for our Christmas. And she brought a friend. (Okay... the T-Shirts are courtesy of the Flinthart Family. But the visitors DID agree to wear them...)

The Chocolate Fairy receiving make-up from the Mau-Mau. In the end, the Chocolate Fairy wound up looking rather a lot like Raggedy Anne...
Natalie kindly consented to be made up by the Mau-Mau. Why so serious?

Younger Son now has sunglasses. And a very politically correct Chinese skullcap. From the same kind, caring gran that sent the make-up for the Mau-Mau, yes.

The Mau-mau got make-up from her gran for Christmas. I expect to hear from Child Protection any time now...

And now I'm very tired.

Gifts were exchanged. I got a key-ring. And an amusing apron, for cooking. Yes. And a copy of 'Evil Genius', to install and play upon my computer.

This is not a measure of my family's lack of thought. This is a measure of my contentment. I have pretty much everything I need, and there's not a whole lot I'm prone to wanting, either. I guess at some point a really cool nightscope for the .22 would be nice. But that's expensive. And I'm not even certain it's legal!

Other than that? I guess I'd like more time. But that isn't much of an option, is it?

The kids are happy. The Mau-Mau got painting and gardening gear, and a mad grandmum sent her make-up. Do I have a photo? Let me check... oh yes. Okay -- see the bottom picture above, eh? I'd try to do a better job of photo layout and integration, but this is 'blogger'. It's pure shit for photo integration. Screw you, Google.

Younger Son got all kinds of stuff. A microscope kit was his favourite, I think. He's been looking at stuff ever since. Heh. He wanted blood, and Natalie agreed he could have some later... but halfway through lunch, the Chocolate Fairy (one of our visitors) had a minor nose-bleed, and Younger Son was on her like a starved vampire. It was pretty funny, because the rest of us had forgotten a) WHY he wanted some blood, and b) even the fact that he'd wanted it in the first place. So we sort of stood there, blankly, for a long, embarrassing moment when he jumped up and asked the rather perturbed Chocolate Fairy if he could have some of her blood.

Once we worked it all out, though, that was fine. And Younger Son got to see blood cells. Yay!

Elder Son has scored a game of Balderdash, among other things. And Natalie got coffee, and a very small 1000-piece puzzle... and I found her a "Starfleet Medical" skivvy in the original powder blue. Unfortunately, they seem to have discontinued that amazing 1960s velour material... hers is merely a sensible, comfortable cotton. She's been enjoying wearing it down to the hospital, though.

Beeso rang somewhere around midday. Turns out he's had a minor issue with rental vehicles, and has altered holiday plans to head Hobartwards at first. He's aiming to be back this way around the 3rd, which will be cool... he'll miss the raspberries, but the blackberries should be in full production, and there may be some local cherries by then. They've been delayed by the cool, wet spring weather.

I do hope Beeso wasn't too alarmed by my notes to him about the road approaching Chez Flinthart. We'd been casually exchanging emails to keep in touch, and I had a bit of a brain collapse. Y'see, the road to my place from Launceston is steep, narrow, and winding in places. And at night, it is the domain of sundry kinds of suicidal animal life -- possums and wallabies who wait in the undergrowth by the roadside, then literally hurl themselves into the path of your vehicle. And of course, if the weather is inclement - well, let's just say that this is the ONLY place I've ever had to try to drive through heavy rain and dense fog simultaneously. I actually didn't think that was possible until it happened to me. And by now, it's happened several times.

The issue was that Beeso was due to arrive fairly late, and would have been making the drive after a long flight, in a rented vehicle, without any real foreknowledge or experience of the damned place. And it didn't occur to me to say anything about it because...well, I live here. I'm used to it. I don't think about it.

But at nearly the last moment, I realised that blithely encouraging the poor chap to charge off into the darkness was... possibly... not the smartest thing I've ever done. So I sent him some more emails. But I think they were a bit scary. He probably thinks I'm mad by now. And I'm sure that the phone calls yesterday and the day before didn't help. Natalie didn't know who he was on the phone... and then when he DID get hold of me, I'd already started in on the liquid part of the Christmas luncheon.

I think I was coherent, though. Anyway, here's hoping that Beeso &co have now landed safely, and are enjoying the southern end of the state. I'll lay in a few bits and pieces, and when they do reach this corner of the place, we'll try to treat them properly...

Anyway. Christmas luncheon went well. Baked ham, potato salad, and a rather nice raspberry clafoutis with whipped cream. Steve the Bike Guy (the Chocolate Fairy's friend, up there in the first photo) was particularly enthusiastic about the clafoutis, and I'm now under instruction to telephone him any time I happen to be making one. I'm prepared to do that, but I think he'll probably be disappointed. I'm not allowed to make desserts very often.

Still. It really was damned good.

We ate. We drank. We played board games and drank. At some point, Amazing Neighbour Anna turned up and borrowed the Mau-Mau for a few hours. We continued to drink, eat and play games. Eventually the Mau-Mau was returned to us.

Then the visitors trundled off home, and children were folded away, and Christmas was declared over. Except for lingering drunkenness, of course. Bleah.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Not Quite Christmas Yet...

Natalie is still on call, you see. So it isn't Christmas. Not until tomorrow, when she comes off duty.

It's not so bad. We pay attention to Younger Son's birthday, but we're not really that concerned with the date of Christmas. After all, even if we were seriously Christian, it would seem a bit... pointless getting into an uproar over a date which almost certainly does not mark the actual birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

You can find details of this argument elsewhere if you want. I'm not interested in rehashing it, because it's not my religion anyhow. But the gist: there are records of the census which Mr and Mrs Christ were supposed to attend, and it wasn't in midwinter. The Romans weren't dumb. They held censuses at times when people could actually get to the places they were supposed to be. Also, various accounts of the birth agree as to shepherds out in the fields with their flocks - which is, again, not a midwinter thing at all. And of course, when Constantine accepted Christianity as the state religion of Rome, he worked hard not to make the change too demanding on the Roman army in particular... largely worshippers of Mithras, a sun-hero type god who happened to be born in midwinter. (Of a virgin, IIRC.)

You get the point. For us, Christmas is a family-and-friends thing, and if Natalie's not available on the 25th of December -- why, then, Christmas waits.

But the kids did get stockings. (Well - pillowcases.) And in Younger Son's stocking was a cookbook on desserts and puddings. It's part of a series. Two others are wrapped and under the tree for him - a beginner's cookbook, and a pasta cookbook. The main premise of the present is that I am promising to cook with him, and help him learn, but of course, it's also about trying out dishes he thinks he might like.

Enter the 'Raspberry Mille Feuilles'. Seeing as how we're currently swimming in raspberries, Younger Son took a shine to the picture in his new book, and we agreed to have a go at it. You can see how it went from the photos below. This one shows the proud dessert cook (well... he helped, anyhow!) plus the product, and the photo from the recipe.

It's a groovy little book, with a ring-bound spine, and a back cover that folds out to become a robust and steady stand so the recipe can sit up and be easily read. It wasn't a bad recipe, either. Not a beginner's work, though -- it left out a few shortcuts and hints that really should have been there. If I'd been trying to do this without much experience, I'd have been really pissed off by the shortcrust bit... no water involved at all, nor eggs. And no warning as to just how hard it is to handle that kind of pastry!

Nevertheless, we pretty much nailed it, as you can see from this photo.

Nice when your final result resembles their carefully arranged photo to that degree, innit? 'Course, I didn't have a fluted cutter, so our shortbread circles are plain, not fancy. And I spooned the cream onto the pastry, rather than piping it, so we didn't get those nifty little swirly patterns.

I also cheated: sweetened the cream just a touch, and added a dash of vanilla. The recipe called for plain whipped cream... hell with that. Oh, and I added some extra raspberries and an extra dollop of the cream. The final result was plated as below... nifty little mint-leaf decorations and all.

In other news? We went to the beach today, did the kids and I. Sunny and gorgeous and magically clear, with a top temperature around 25C to make up for our prolongedly cold and wet spring. Beeso and I swapped a few phone photos. He's due to arrive here at Chez Flinthart late tomorrow night, and from what I saw via his phone, he's kind of desperate for a change of weather.

He may just get lucky. According to the weather bureau, we're due to keep this kind of perfect Tasmanian summer weather for a week or so, at least. (More, I would guess. In fact, it'll probably get kind of hot once the wind blows through from Western Australia.) I think he's even going to be in time for the end of the raspberry glut, as well. (Yeah, I picked another three or four litres today.)

I only hope it doesn't get too hot around New Year's Eve. We're doing the yearly barbecue and movie night thing again...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Younger Son's Day

I believe most of you are aware that the Younger Son has the misfortune to have a birthday on Christmas Eve. He turned eight today. I think he had a pretty good day.

We had some guests in for the dinner. The picture shows the Younger Son blowing out eight candles on his Chocolate Mousse Cake -- a treat I devised early this year for Natalie's birthday. (Basically, it's a rich chocolate mousse with dark chocolate cake crumbs worked through it. The texture is alluring as hell, and it tastes fantastic.)

You can't see it through Jake's head, but there's another cake at the end of the table. Owen (neighbour's son; he's the dark-haired chap opposite end to Younger Son) brought a young lass with him from Queensland, and unfortunately, she's not so good with wheat or dairy products. But I figured: it's pretty miserable going to a birthday party and watching everyone ELSE get cake. Plus I had some gluten-free self-raising flour in the pantry owing to a rash of gluten-intolerant visitors. And of course, someone just gave us three dozen duck eggs, which are absolutely The Bomb when it comes to making pastries... so yeah, I made a dairy- and wheat-free chocolate cake in two layers, with a blueberry/bourbon spread in the middle, and a shell of dark chocolate drizzled over it all.

Yes, I tried a piece. And frankly, if I hadn't known it was gluten/dairy free, I wouldn't have guessed. Chalk one up for the Groovy Oven...

The rest of the meal worked pretty well too. Twice-cooked new potatoes, green salad -- and char-grilled salmon marinated in sweet soy, sesame oil, tamarind pulp, and black pepper. Yes, it was some of the leftover salmon from the Epic Barnes Fish day. There's only one big fish left in my freezer now. Hooray!

I should probably mention that Younger Son has some cool grandparents. The shirt he's wearing depicts Yoda, holding out a wizened hand, index finger extended. The caption declares, "My finger you pull!". That comes from Natalie's step-mum, and it's already a favourite.

However, the thing on his shoulder is the prize of the day. That's a genuine, actual-factual Far North Queensland saltwater crocodile skull. (And I'm going to have to make a nice display shelf above Younger Son's bed pretty damned soon.) That one comes courtesy of my stepmum and my dad. I'm assured it's all legally sourced and everything. It's in great condition -- and yeah, Younger Son thinks it's just about the best thing that has ever happened. And why not?

Of course, the ACTUAL best thing going on at the moment is the raspberry patch. It's finally kicked into full production. That's... ummm... the fourth two- or three- litre bowl I've extracted over the last few days. I didn't get time to pick again today, so I expect tomorrow I'll fill another bowl that size. The sun has come out at last, so the raspberries have finally become sweet and tasty. And the berry-patch is now so big and daunting that I've started chucking big flat stones into it to become stepping-stones for future use.

Yeah, I know. I should probably run posts and strings and stuff. But you know what? Fuck it. I've got a big, chaotic patch of raspberry plants that are almost as tall as I am, and I'm damned if I'm going to try to get all anal-retentive about it. I'm going to set up stone pathways through the patch, and in winter, I'll go in and clear out all the old, dead growth. Then I'll throw a bunch of blood-and-bone and well-rotted manure all over the place, and next summer I'll have EVEN MORE goddam raspberries.

By the way: I just discovered that if you throw a handful of ripe raspberries into a couple shots of gin, wait ten minutes, then add tonic water, you get the BEST goddam Gin and Tonic of all time. The colour and the tangy fruit flavour of the berries perfuses the gin completely, turning it a lovely shade of reddish pink, and complimenting the sharp herbal flavour of the gin and the bitterness of the tonic. It's pure black magic, and as soon as I'm done posting this, I'm off to have another.

Oh. That would be right now. Cool!

Have a good Christmas or whatever, eh? G'night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Farewell The Barnes Mob

That went well, I think.

Yesterday we had a turn of weather such as only Tasmania can put on. It's high summer. Literally a single day before the Solstice. And so, after a morning playing 'Arkham Horror', we decided to take a trip to the local fish farm to throw in a line.

I'll digress here. 'Arkham Horror' is a boardgame based on the stories of H P Lovecraft, and it's meant to be about Creeping Horror. The original version was a minor classic, and when you added drinking rules (take a big slug every time your character loses a Sanity Point -- the more insane you go, the drunker you get, and thus the verisimilitude becomes almost unbearable by the time you wind up facing Cthulhu) it was a hilarious shambles that everyone enjoyed.

The remake is... complicated. Very, very farkin' complicated, yeah. And of course, since Barnesm and I were playing the game alongside three young and impressionable lads, the more entertaining Advanced Insanity Rules weren't appropriate. So we played, yes, and it was fun, yes, but it trickled to a kind of indeterminate end. I think we need to know the rules better.

Mind you, there was a lot of fun to be had with it. I think I just about broke Mr Barnes' young 'Weapon Against Society' with my impression of a Cthulhu cultist as Hare Krishna. You know: singing "Ia Cthulhu! Ia Cthulhu! Ia ia! Ia Cthulhu! Cthulhu fhtaghn! Cthulhu fhtaghn! Fhtaghn fhtaghn! Cthulhu fhtaghn!" while bobbing back and forth and pretending I was playing a tambourine... Frankly, I kind of like that version of the cultists. Made me feel much better about casting 'Withering' on them, and then kicking them in the nadgers.

The fishing was -- ummm -- can you really call it 'fishing'? It's a goddam commercial trout/salmon farm, for the love of Azathoth. We hopped in the car, took off over the range, and drove straight into the most remarkable rain squall. The temperature plummeted. Looking at yesterday's figures online suggests we were dealing with something like 5C -- which would be about 45F for you Imperialist buffoons. So there we were, Barnesm and I, standing in this horrid, shitty rain that was maybe a degree or two above being sleet. And he was waving the casting net around as the boys reeled in the fish, while I mostly got the job of untangling lines, demonstrating casting techniques, and unhooking fish.

One thing for fishing at a commercial farm: you get fish. We took home something like ten kg of mixed trout and salmon. The Weapon Against Society was particularly delighted because he'd learned the basics of casting with an eggbeater-type rod inside of twenty minutes, AND he'd landed his first-ever fish. (It was a Golden Trout, and I guess it probably weighed a kilo and a half or so. That would be about three Imperialist Buffoon pounds.)

Having some small insight into the psychology of young boys, when we got home I made absolutely sure that the Golden Trout (or one of the two, anyhow... who the fuck can tell apart fish of the same species and roughly the same size?) got thrown into the 'cook tonight' batch, instead of the (rather larger) 'freeze for later' batch. And so it was that we had fresh salmon and trout, baked with garlic, lemon zest, pepper and vietnamese mint, served with a salad flavoured with sushi dressing, black pepper and sesame oil, washed down with a rather nice Kiwi sav blanc, and rounded off by a serving of home-made Leatherwood Honey and Mascarpone Ice Cream in a gingernut crust.

Mr Barnes is a man of impressive appetite. But I'm grateful. I hate keeping leftover fish in the fridge, and what with his heroic efforts, there simply was no leftover. Mind you, everyone else did yeoman service as well. And the Weapon proudly identified his Golden Trout, and insisted on eating his portion therefrom, and did Pronounce It Good, whereupon all were much pleased.

Good meal. Good friends. Good times. The kids were tired as hell, and didn't stay up too late. Nat went to bed too, because country doctors don't get to relax just 'cos some Jewish chap may have been born about 2011 years ago... But Barnes and his good lady stayed up, and there was drinking and there was fine conversation and argument and discourse.

And I had a damned good time. It's great to catch up with old friends. Even better when they're such as Barnesm and the fine and thoughtful woman he calls his 'Reason For Living'. It's wonderful to find that the years and the distance mean nothing, and you can simply pick up where you left off. Not nostalgia: not endless rehashing of the stories of youth, but simply the extension of old, powerful, and hard-won friendships. Mr B is as dementedly witty as ever, and the Other Half -- I can't call her Mrs B! -- is as observant, thoughtful, trenchant, and strong as she was when I met her more than twenty years ago now. I'm proud to call them both friends, and I'm delighted to say they've got a great kid -- and even more delighted to see that my kids and their boy show every sign of extending the friendship to the next generation.

We saw the morning off with a rousing game of 'Kung Fu Samurai on Giant Robot Island'. I'd really rather not try to explain it, except to say: it's a card game about making seriously B-grade chop-socky flicks. The turning point was when my Mutant Cyborgs, allied with the Spirits of the Ancestors, attacked and destroyed Younger Son's almost invulnerable Inscrutable Monk with Kick-Ass Katana. With a bit of help from the Weapon, the Mutant Cyborgs prevailed -- and the game was eventually won by a movie about... a mansion. Nothing else. (All my characters were long dead. But the location of the film survived -- and that was enough to prevail.

In other words: "The Return of Monkey Cop Robot Finger Fury" was all about a mansion. And nothing else. We figured that obviously, the first movie had been a great success but the lead actors died (probably in the same explosion that killed Godzilla, when Barnes' lone Sumo Wrestler used a bomb to kill him) so the film producers quickly ran out a sequel...

Anyway. The family is now calling me to go and watch Fringe with them, and I shall do so. I've made a dinner of steamed dumplings and vegetables, and it's time to go and hang with Natalie and the kids. Farewell to Barnes and co... and come back when you can, eh?

Friday, December 17, 2010


Friday was the day Mr Barnes and his bunch decided to put in a visit. No problems there. Really. Except the usual "I've got to be in three places at once" nonsense, of course. But that was fixed by the Barnesm clan taking their time to arrive, which meant Elder Son could attend his best friend's birthday party and I could run the thousand errands, etc. Good thing.

I ran up a nasi goreng meal, but to make up for that (not that I think nasi goreng isn't splendid - and it was - but it's a way of getting rid of stuff in your fridge, after all) I also baked a cheesecake and put a blueberry-bourbon topping on it. That was good.

Mr Barnesm's 'Weapon Against Society' rapidly discovered the joys of country living... particularly the arsekicking ginormous playset, which is seeing some serious usage. Oh, and the trampoline, yep. Meanwhile, Mr B and I tucked into some truly amazing single malt whisky from the Lark distillery. At 58% they call it "cask strength". I just call it stunning. Seriously: one of the best single malts I have ever tasted. I'll be hitting that stuff again, for sure.

Today I trotted down in the morning to run the pump, and took Clan Barnesm with me on the off-chance the platypus would co-operate. It did. Young Weapon trundled out onto the little swimming dock and stood there, staring, just five metres away from a very placid wild platypus grooving about on the water surface. The critter dived, then surfaced again, and swam around obligingly. Very nice, thank you.

We zipped into Launceston for the day - delivering Grace the Med Student to the airport, and getting in a bit of Christmas shopping. Also some culture, apparently. We took in "Boys Own McBeth", which wasn't exactly what I expected, but was reasonably entertaining despite that. The boys liked it, anyhow. And on the way home, travelling over a dirt road between plantations of trees, we came across the single biggest echidna I've yet seen in Tas. He sauntered across the road and up the embankment while we watched, and I pointed out to the young Weapon that he had now seen two of the world's three remaining monotreme species in a single day. (The third is the Long-Nosed Echidna, restricted to New Guinea.)

That's the kind of thing that means something to the young Weapon, which is all to the good.

I'm now preparing twice-cooked potatoes and a charcoal lamb roast and a green salad. Hopefully will finish the evening with a good meal, and a rousing game of Arkham Horror. Maybe. If the kids ever come inside from that freaknormous playset.

Monday, December 13, 2010


A break in the rain. Not much of one, by the looks of things, but enough.

I took Chrissy the Medical Student to the airport early this morning. It was a bit sad. Chrissie has been coming here on a John Flynn scholarship for two or three weeks a year over the last three years, and she's been a good friend. She's angling for another visit late next year, so it's not quite as sad as it could be, but it was still a little downbeat.

Especially after last night. Natalie told me that Chrissie and Linda and Steve the Bike Guy were coming by in the evening, and asked me to make an 'impressive dessert'. With some nice bubbly wine.

That just never happens. Natalie's all health-conscious. I make the occasional dessert, but they're for visitors or the kids. Natalie never asks for a dessert. Conscious of the gravity of the occasion, I decided to go for it.

For the base, I made some nice, light shortbread rounds. Then I painted them with a layer of chocolate ganache. Next, I created a light, fluffy mango mousse and chilled it, and finally, I made a watermelon and mint sorbet.

The final product was plated with the shortbread rounds on the bottom, then a couple scoops of mango mousse, and a decent scoop of watermelon/mint sorbet to the side as a cleanser. I have to say it was pretty damned good -- but I do think the ganache was a little too powerful for the mango mousse. I should have used white chocolate, I think.

Anyway, we ate our extravagant desserts and drank good wine, and it was a very nice evening indeed. So getting up at 0600 to do the airport run was all the less entertaining.

Once I got back, Nat and I got into Moby Playset. Luckily, a friend showed up to help, because getting that floggin' great beam and A-frame into place was an utter bastard of a job. Really. Not at all pleasant. And of course, what with the instructions being so peachy clear and understandable, we had to pull half of it down again and invert it before we could set it up properly. Bastard bastard bastard bastard bastard.

The monkey bars on the opposite side were even worse. The horizontal bars are anchored to the angled ladder/support by two metal plates cased in yellow vinyl. The plates are drilled in three locations, and the big, fat, heavy beams for the monkey bars and their supports are also pre-drilled. This means you absolutely must assemble that bit before you can plonk the end of the horizontal bars onto the deck of the playset itself. And THAT means by the time you're trying to position those big, fat, heavy beams precisely in place so you can drive the stupid bolts through the friggin' yellow vinyl/steel plates, you're handling a lot of heavy, clumsy weight.

For a long time.

I'm quite sore now. At one point, I stood in position maintaining the precise matching of the necessary boltholes for a full half hour. I wasn't taking the full weight of the system, of course, but enough of it to count as an effort - and if I'd screwed up, it would have dropped on me and done me something of a mischief.

It wasn't a bastard of a job, no. In fact if I were to apply the adjectives I'd like, I'd have to resort to terms that would make Oedipus himself hide his face in shame.

I'd rather not have to do that again. Any of you bastards out there get the urge to build a playset for your kids and you want help -- I'm busy that day. Guarantee it.

It's up now. Even the bells and whistles are in place now. A little trapeze goes on one side of the monkey bars tomorrow, and a couple of hand-holds and safety grips here and there; another rope that runs up the rock wall/climbing face.

But that's it.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Well. That Was Kind Of Epic.

Rincewind And Death.

Yes. The hat does have the word 'Wizzard' on it in badly-glued sequins. Just so you know.

Indeed, today was Younger Son's birthday party. And if you'd forgotten, the theme he chose was 'characters from books.' Aside from himself as Rincewind and Jake as Death from the Discworld novels, we had a Harry Potter, a colour-blind Robin Hood (grey? Whoever heard of 'Lincoln Grey?) a Joker (dodgy!) and... er... some others. Yep.

Friday was big. I made it down to the school with the kids, grabbed a few things, and promptly spent nearly four hours doing some basic stop-motion animation with some of Jake's class. In the space of an hour and a half, we took over a thousand 640x480 photos, and then for the next few hours I sat down with a little piece of wonderful freeware called "Monkeyjam", and turned the photos into avi files. Finally, I stitched the avi files into a final rough cut using the school's copies of Windows Moviemaker (which was horrid, but workable), and left it running for the kids to see. I still have to put together a clean copy here at home with my own editing software, and add a soundtrack (courtesy of Audacity - another brilliant piece of freeware). I figure by Tuesday I'll be able to duck back down to the school and hand each of the five kids in my group a DVD with their movie on it.

The movie was pretty basic. I used the kids as subjects. They rode around on 'invisible motorcycles'. We had a couple of bad bikers, a moped-riding victim who got her revenge, a couple of police (one of whom rode in a sidecar, which was funny to see) and even a train. The whole story ended in a big crash, and the moped-rider comes through at the end to laugh at the fiendish bikers who knocked her over at the start of the story.

The kids had a great time being filmed, and they were all fascinated to see the photos come together into basic video footage. Huge laughs as the ridiculous poses linked into animation and movement, exclamations of delight as the story unfolded... if you've never done basic stop-motion work with kids, you've missed out. You need a digital camera, a functional computer running Windows... and a bit of time and imagination.

If that sounds like fun to you, I really need to draw your attention to the Monkeyjam people, courtesy of this link here. It's a lovely, simple, easy and intuitive piece of software, with a surprising degree of utility and flexibility. It's small, easily downloaded, free -- and if you like it, well worth supporting it. Stop-motion animation is enormous fun, and this is the simplest, cheapest way I know to get involved.

Strangely, I can't recall a lot of Friday afternoon or evening. There was cooking. And costume preparation. And some more work on Moby Playset, though not a lot. Actually, I thought I was stymied there. According to the diagrams, I was short by three vital pieces of timber. And of course, there was a lot of other stuff going on.

Like what? Oh -- well, Saturday afternoon and evening was the pizza and Kung Fu movie night for the ju-jitsu group. The older ones, anyhow. So of course, I made a truly terrifying quantity of yeasty pizza dough, laid in a mountain of tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni, mushroom, pineapple, ham, capsicum, onion, olives, feta and so forth, and went through the movie collection. And sure enough, roundabout four in the afternoon, they arrived.

It's been a good year in ju-jitsu. We've picked up some older students - high school, and even adult - and they're a likeable crowd. I particularly wanted to give the teenage mob an entertaining evening, so the whole pizza-and-kung-fu movie thing seemed a good plan. It went over pretty well in the end.... tonnes of pizza, followed by about forty litres of popcorn, and a mass exodus to the Loft of Doom. (Carefully cleaned and tidied. And I had to pull a goddam starling nest down from one of the beams. Why didn't my wife notice that birds were nesting over her head when she's been exercising up there?)

We watched an atrocious episode of "The Samurai", providing our own vocal tracks and commentaries, which was fun. Then we cranked up the original "Street Fighter" movie, with Sony Chiba as the deadly 'Terry Tsurugi'. I'd forgotten how over-the-top that film is. There were some scenes that had us howling with laughter, and I suspect I'll be hearing students whine "Te-rrri! Terr---rri!" in piteous voices all next year, after the annoyingly pathetic death scene of one particularly crapulous character. But in general, it was good for a laugh.

We took a break then, and because so many of the audience were teenagers, I actually cooked up another twenty or thirty litres of popcorn. Man, did they put that stuff away!

We finished up with Bruce Lee in 'Way Of The Dragon' -- another classic film. Unfortunately, I'm never going to view it the same way again. First of all, the cries of horror at Chuck Norris's chest bathmat during the final fight sequence were kind of alarming. I mean, yeah, Chuck was a hairy bastard, but I'd never really thought about it before. Now, of course, if I watch that scene again all I'm gonna see is a walking wall of chest hair. As Jake put it: "Holy crap! I think that guy's chest hair has chest hair!"

Worse though, was Norris's first scene. He arrives on an aeroplane, and disembarks in his classic Seventies ensemble - tight brown pants, off-brown shirt, brown sunglasses, etc. As he walks across the tarmac, a kettledrum matches him step for step. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee directed the film, and I don't think he'd done any direction before. Mostly it was good -- but in this scene, Norris keeps walking towards the camera which is ostentatiously focused on his tight-trousered groin. Said groin continues to get bigger and bigger, pace by kettledrum pace, until it fills the whole fucking screen.

Which is a lot more of Chuck Norris than I ever wanted to see.

The straw that broke my brain was the sudden realisation that I wasn't actually hearing a kettledrum at all in that scene. Nope: that deep, hollow, booming sound that matched Norris stride for stride was clearly the sound of his enormous testicles swinging back and forth, clanging and gonging as they went.

I managed to explain that to everyone else. And we all kind of fell apart after that.

Today, I fed some breakfast to a couple of the lads who stayed the night - they live out at Ringarooma - and then dashed down to do some party shopping. Then, of course, it was time for Younger Son's birthday party. Costumes, cake (did I mention I baked a really good chocolate cake in between creating breakfasts and shopping this morning? 'Cause I did, yeah. Props to Natalie for frosting it, though. Damned if I could have found time.) balloons, presents, games, and an archery competition involving balloons. Younger Son did me proud: nailed a balloon with his first arrow, at about 20 metres - when even the older kids were struggling just to reach the target.

Finally, after the crowd took off, we were left with just a couple of lovely medical students, Grace and Chrissy. They'd helped us through the party and all, and then picked a bowl of fresh early raspberries, so I improvised a meal: enormous mushrooms (from the mushroom-composted strawberry patch) sliced thin, to line a casserole dish. Then a spicy mix of chicken, onion, garlic, tomato and chorizo, and then more slabs of mushroom for a lid, and a nice dusting of mozzarella on top, all baked into a delicious, tasty mass. The mushrooms were wonderfully flavoursome, and the whole dish worked out a treat.

Best of all: Natalie read the instructional notes very, very carefully, and discovered we can work without the missing bits of timber. So we're back on track with Moby Playset.

Hip hip hoofuckingray.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mucking Fudpit

Awww. Doesn't it look nice? All lovely with banners anna stripey roof, yeah. And is that some kind of ropy laddery thing in the background....?

No. No it is not. It is a mucking fudpit from hell.

See the chunk of old carpet there - that burnt-orange hell-refugee from the seventies? That's the only thing preventing that stepladder from vanishing into a treacherous bog roughly the depth of the Mau-Mau. Today was not very productive in terms of Moby Playset.

First I had to drop the kids at school, and set up the Mau-Mau's piano at the school for her weekly lesson. Then it was off to Launceston, where I failed to buy coffee -- Natalie's gonna be cranky -- but managed a few costumes for a certain birthday party upcoming, and a few Christmas bits and pieces as needed.

Then it was home, and I put up the struts to hold that pretty roof. However, with the ladder being useless, I basically had to do my celebrated Oversize Spiderman impression with the cordless drill, which was... exciting. At least for the highest bits.

Still, if I had actually fallen, doubtless there would simply have been a terrible squelching noise, and I could then have waded to solid ground.

Anyway. I got the struts in place. Then I drove back to Scottsdale, picked up the post, did the grocery shopping, collected the kids (and the Mau-Mau's piano) and came home. Whereupon I thought I'd put on the nice stripey roof, and maybe hang that ropy laddery thing.

The roof was a bastard of a job. Typical: there's barely enough roofing material there to stretch over the frame. (Wouldn't want to give the clientele an extra ten mil. That would be WASTAGE!) I had to redrill one set of holding screws three goddam times before I could make it all stretch properly. And of course, the whole goddam thing was done in Spiderman mode.

Then I went to do the rope ladder thingy.

The ropes are long. They went into the mud. Then I had to pull them through the rungs, and make knots. The mud flew off in all directions. Mainly mine.

Standing on a slowly sinking stepladder on a filthy seventies carpet over the mud, tying knots, I glanced down and came to a terrible realisation. The ropes were NOT all the same length. No, indeed. Worse, the two ropes which I thought were attached to the tyre swing were, in fact, completely free agents. And they matched the length of two of the ropes I had put on that ropy laddery bastard thing.


Check the instructions. Nothing about different lengths of rope. Oh -- and in their illustration, the goddam ropy laddery thing has only THREE ropes, not four. But as I mentioned before: that's the generic basic unit illustrated in the instructions. Ours is a bit upmarket in places -- and so I just have to sort of guess and improvise in those places. This is one of them.

Careful examination of the rest of the instructions show that there is also a climbing rope, and by the look of it, the thing is a bit shorter than the ropy laddery ropes. Therefore I need to remove the two short ropes I've put in place, and replace them with longer ones. And one of the shorter ones will become the climbing rope. The other?

Fucked if I know. Nothing about it in the instructions that I can find.

I've had a shower now, and stopped swearing. A beer is helping. Now I have to get the dry clothes off the line, cook grilled pork meatballs for our Vietnamese spring roll dinner, then sew two costumes for Sunday, gather a few bits of software from the 'Net and install them to Natalie's computer so that tomorrow I can go to the school and do some stop-motion filming with Jake's class.

No worries. After all, it's goddam Christmastime, right?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Photos Today

Rain today. Rather a lot of it. So much that I had to - regretfully - cancel the end-of-year ju-jitsu barbecue down at NorthEast park. I'm glad I did, though. By four pm, the rain was coming down in supertankers (as opposed to buckets) and there was thunder and lightning about. North-East park is a fine facility, with a large sheltered area and undercover barbecues... but it would have been cold, damp, dark, and relatively miserable.

As a result of the rain, I didn't get much done on Moby Swingset. The railings are now on, but I'll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to kick off again. On the other hand, there's really not too much major assembly left to be done. I hope.

I still went to the school to cook Chili Tamarind Chicken for Jake's class, mind you. On the good side, that gave me a solid excuse to avoid the infant-school concert, in which the Mau-Mau and Younger Son both had vital roles. Natalie got to attend that one. Heh. She's getting a taste of my end of the stick this year... and I'm not at all sure she's enjoying it.

The cooking went well. Once again, I find myself surprised and pleased. I thought perhaps the enthusiasm of Younger Son's class reflected the fact that they were younger, with less fully-formed taste prejudices. But if anything, Jake's year 4/5 group were even more enthusiastic. They tasted everything, exclaimed over the ginger, nibbled the chilis and ran around gobbling up cucumber to cool their mouths -- and then they ate the entire pot of chili tamarind chicken and all the turmeric rice, and came back for seconds (and even one set of thirds!)

I had kids telling me they didn't like beans... but once they realised the beans were still crisp and crunchy ('cause I don't cook 'em to death in my stir-frying!) they sucked them down and announced that they were delicious. I had kids who didn't like capsicum who did the same. And I had at least a couple of kids who were all glum and downcast when they found out I was cooking a stir-fried dish... but when they got a mouthful, it was on for young and old, folks. (I suspect there's quite a difference between scratch-built stir-fries and stir-fries which come out of a big jar. I wouldn't know. I've never eaten one out of a jar.)

I gave 'em a basic melon salad with ginger syrup and fresh mint for dessert. That disappeared too. In record time. And later, when I went home (briefly), I emailed Jake with the recipe. He tells me that his classmates were jumping with excitement and demanding copies, and that he kept "getting hugged by people" (you have to imagine a perturbed and grumpy look on a ten-year-old boy's face at this point) because he gave them the recipe.

So here we are. In a small, rural community that has a love affair with meat and potatoes, yep. Feeding two different classes of kids a spicy Malaysian dish full of ginger, garlic, chili, tamarind, sweet soy and garam masala, and absolutely loaded with fresh, still-crunchy baby corn, bok choy, green beans, capsicum and carrot. Served over brilliantly yellow turmeric-cooked basmati rice.

You'd imagine there would be some sort of reluctance or protest. I certainly thought so. But I was wrong, and I'm both pleased and dismayed by that. I'm pleased, because forty or so kids have now had a taste of fresh, healthy, somewhat exotic food and shown that they were more than ready to expand their horizons. I'm dismayed because it implies it's a lot easier to change kids' dietary habits for the better than I thought -- and that the lack of change is therefore not down to the kids, but to the people feeding them, and the systems of food production and marketing which influence those people.

It took me about forty minutes -- while answering questions, moving bits and pieces, and prepping a place to cook outside ( didn't want to stir fry inside, under the smoke detectors) to cook a nutritious, tasty meal for more than twenty kids (and a few adults.) If I'd been working in a home kitchen feeding four or five, it would have been a fifteen minute job. The total cost of the meal for all those twenty-odd people was about sixty dollars, but that includes things like the disposable plates, bowls and spoons, plus things like tamarind pulp and sweet soy and sesame oil which will go on to serve another half-dozen or more meals. Again: in a home kitchen, I'd guess this one would have cost maybe five dollars a head. Probably less.

So. Inexpensive, healthy, really tasty, prepared in fifteen to twenty minutes -- and incredibly popular with the kids.

And yet, apparently, we've still got a growing childhood obesity problem.

Something's fishy here.

Moby Swingset

The weather was not so kind today, no. Mist, drizzle, and then eventually rain. Nevertheless, local superhero Bobcat-Man turned up on time with his amazing earthmoving powers. The site was levelled in no time at all, and then, in a single breathtaking swoop, he used a couple of hardwood two-by-fours to convert the bobcat bucket into a makeshift forklift, and saved my aching muscles an hour or more of ugly work by simply picking up the entire arch and depositing it gently, neatly in position.

He went on to rip out a lot of old fence posts and wire, and followed it up with a determined entrenchment operation (so I can put some polypipe underground, away from sun, vehicles, bushfires and falling trees) which ended only when he was defeated by the villainous Bearing Failure Man. Although Bearing Failure Man escaped, I'm sure that Bobcat Man will meet him again someday, and emerge triumphant. In the meantime... thanks for the rescue, Bobcat Man!

Weather being what it was, I didn't get as much of the superstructure in place as I would have liked. I did seed the newly levelled area with grass, though. And of course, got in the daily shopping, collected kids from school, and ran up a nice risotto for dinner as well as put a few loads of laundry through the system. Oh - found a nifty present for the Mau-Mau while I was collecting the post, and something for Natalie as well, yep.

To round it off, Jake had to stand up at the school's Awards day today and accept an 'Academic Achievement' award for his class/age. He's pleased with himself, which is lovely. Report cards came in as well: all three of the kids doing very nicely, thanks, despite taking a significant chunk of the last term to go to Borneo, etc.

I doubt Younger Son will ever top the grades the way Jake does, but there's no mistaking his intelligence. He's a lot more hands-on and visio-spatial. He got in there today, handling a socket spanner and saving Nat and I a lot of fiddly, minor work. He's never happier than when he's building something, or taking something apart and figuring out how it works.

Hope I can get this stupid great swingset completed in time for his birthday party on Sunday!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not As Easy As It Looks

I told ya there'd be more photos, didn't I?

The weather cleared up. Yesterday's gorgeous, misty, cool weather went away, replaced by Tasmanian early summer sunshine. Gaudy, green, golden. This place is just shatteringly clear and lovely the day after the rain.

Today, however, I couldn't revel in the loveliness of it all. For today I had a rendezvous with... The Play Fort.

There it is, all spread out on the ground In bits and pieces. Would it surprise anyone here if I said that the fifty-eight page assembly instructions were pure shite? No? I didn't think so. And indeed, they were shite. My work-buddy and I spent the first hour trying to figure out which of our pieces which looked NOTHING AT ALL LIKE THE PIECES IN THE STOOPID DIAGRAMS could be fit together in a fashion resembling the product.

In the end, after a few terse phone calls from Natalie, she confirmed that the thing is supposed to be a King Kong III Playhouse With Bells And Whistles. (Great forkin' name, eh?) That gave me the chance to look it up on the 'net, and print off a few photos of what it's supposed to look like. And yes, the photos were a FUCKLOAD more helpful than those diagrams.

The problem is that these Rainbow play thingies are modular, and they give you one set of instructions that's supposed to be adaptable to a dozen or so different outcomes. Except the instructions illustrate only the basic model, so you have to try and guess which of your upmarket pieces replace which of the generic pieces in the diagram.

And once you've guessed -- successfully or otherwise -- the second surprise lunges out at you. Drilling holes.

This giant pile of timber you can see -- it's got more goddam holes in it already than a leprous cheesegrater. It's more or less an enormous pine colander. And yet despite this amazing array of holes, in order to get various bits to fit together and bolt into position, you actually have to drill still MORE holes in the forkin' thing. And of course, all the goddam bolts and the required drillbits are measured in Ancient Babylonian units, as opposed to simple metric - so after an hour of cursing, swearing, separating, classifying, and lining up, we had to do a run to the hardware store to get a bunch of idiot-measure drillbits that I didn't have. GrrrRAAAHHHHHHH!

Not to worry. I am, after all, some kind of genius - and my work-buddy there is certifiable, so between us, we managed to make some kind of connection between the Internet photo and the chicken-scratching diagrammes of the assembly instructions. Holes were drilled. Things were bolted onto other things.

And then I had to lift the goddam frame into the shape you see, an arch. You bolt these things together flat on the ground, you see. Then you raise the centre span, put the corner-braces in, and tighten the major bolts, and it's solid.

Raising the end of the arch that connects to the steps and the stairs was no problem. I pulled it up to my chest height, adjusted my stance, raised it, and the braces were placed and drilled. No worries. But that other end - the one with the solid wood panel... whoa.

Every time I lifted it, the damned thing would slip back on the wet grass. Eventually, I got my work partner to brace it by ramming a pry-bar into the ground against it every time I managed to slither it up a few more centimetres. But then it got to that terrible middle point, just above the bellybutton, where you can't really pull up any more, but you can't quite switch your grip around to get under it and push.

I worked it out. I spun around until my back was to the wood slab, got my hips under it, and drove up with my legs. Then when it was braced with the pry-bar, I bent my knees again, wiggled a little farther under, and lifted again. And it worked - which was a source of considerable satisfaction, since both Natalie and my co-worker were telling me we'd have to wait until the bloke with the Bobcat turned up, tomorrow.

Fuck that. Bobcats are a convenience, not a necessity.

Once the main arch was up, Natalie decided to start tacking on the climby bits. There's a lot more superstructure to go on top, but until Bobcat Bloke levels the final site, I don't want to increase the weight of the structure a whole lot. I wanted to get it to this stage so I can simply plonk it in place on the newly-levelled earth without a lot of fuss. It's going to be damp and slippery enough. Trying to raise and assemble that arch on a bed of slippery clay would have been a real bastard. At least now, the bulk of the work to be done is well off the ground, minimising dirt and mud and slippage... but yeah, moving it into position is going to be entertaining. I'm hoping Bobcat Bloke is built like a brick shithouse.

Younger Son took to the climbing wall like a deranged monkey. Note his elegant climbing shoes: gumboots, spray-painted silver sometime around June for part of a birthday party costume.

Meanwhile, the Mau-Mau decided she absolutely HAD to decorate the Christmas tree. This is, I suppose, the first year in which the Christmas propaganda machine has really levelled her in its sights. She's at Kinder now, so she's hearing all about Christmas from friends and teachers and so forth - and it's really taken root. For the last month, she's been giddy with excitement over every single piece of crapulous tinsel hanging in every single store we've entered. "Oooh, look, Daddy," she gushes, as we enter the local Woolworths, pointing at a manky plastic-and-tinsel tree standing on a cardboard box, "It's Christmas things! I love Christmas things! Oooh, I can't wait until Christmas!"

Then the next shop: and there she sees a box full of tinsel, waiting to be sold - and we get the exact same lines, with the exact same degree of Oscar-winning enthusiasm, and all the cute-factors turned up to eleven. Okay, yes, I get the goddam message, kid.

Unfortunately, she's going to be slightly disappointed if she's expecting some kind of Christmas bonanza. Neither Natalie nor I has had anything like time, and frankly, with new bicycles and now this terrifying overkill playhouse, the Christmas budget is well and truly blown. I've found the Mau-Mau a nice easel and got her a big artbook of her very own (she adores painting and drawing), and I'll get her a groovy caddy for all her pencils and paints and colours, and we'll find a few silly bits and pieces to fill a stocking -- but this is going to be a low-key, family-oriented goddam Christmas if it goddam well kills me!

Still. You gotta love the decorations on that tree. There are belts from four different bathrobes there, and a silk scarf, and a couple of unfinished papier-mache baubles that Natalie was working on with the kids. When Younger Son saw what was going on, he got into the act too: that's why there are several socks and a couple of brightly coloured pairs of underpants up there.

Of course we'll have to get some tinsel and some sparkly crap for the Mau-Mau's sake. But I think I'm going to leave the underpants as well...

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Madness

But fewer photos.

Today is not a repeat of yesterday. Yesterday dawned wet and misty, and stayed alternately rainy and misty pretty much all day. Lovely stuff. But today? Sunshine -- and merciless, clear, ultra-violet laden sunshine at that.

In one sense, that was a good thing. Today is the Scottsdale Christmas Parade, a ritual much beloved by all in the area. Trucks get gussied up with all kinds of decorations. Children wedge themselves into bizarre costumes. (Elder Son is a 'Tourist', for his classroom float. Their theme is 'Outback Australia', for whatever reason. Very Christmassy. Anyway, the boy has a huge straw sombrero, large sunglasses, loud shirt, giant flowery shorts down to his knees, and camera. He insists that he follows the Way of Twoflower. I am proud of him.)

In another sense, not so good. As part of the festivities, the ju-jitsu group was asked to put on a display, so for the last two weeks, I've been putting the kids through their paces. And they rose to the occasion very nicely. But of course, on the day of the demo we're out in the middle of the street, in the full sun. The mats underfoot get hot very very quickly. And all those full-length uniforms, many of them black (including mine) are a bit of a hazard and a handicap.

It went well, though. I kept it to half an hour, out of consideration for the sunshine and the kids, but they would happily have gone much longer. We did throws, and locks, and self defense. We demonstrated games and learning techniques. Then all the kids got into the pine-board breaking (they really love snapping pine boards. I've never quite understood why. But they do.) and finally, I did a draw-cut with the katana to bisect a watermelon (which was conveniently balanced atop a bag of ice on a small table) to close the show -- and of course, to distribute pieces of chilled watermelon to the kids. Yay!

It's all very small-town. Nobody expects Bruce Lee and a team of ninja - which is good, 'cause we're all samurai here. But it still takes energy, particularly from me.

Those of you who've seen me in full flight will know that... ahhh... not to put too fine a point on it, I'm a performer when needs be. I've done enough work on stage and similar to understand the principles. I know you have to project, to have presence, to fill the workspace and engage your audience directly. I can ad-lib pretty fluently, and speak with sufficient power to fill a country concert hall as needed.

It's odd, though. You hear about 'energy', and it certainly takes something to fill all that space, keep things moving, keep interests up. But -- it's not like actually training, or fighting, or working in the sun. You wouldn't think there was really much of a strain to it. And it's not a very stressful venue. It's a friendly crowd of people who are interested mostly in their kids, so I'm not particularly nervous or adrenal beforehand.

Despite that, without fail, half an hour after the show I'm good for nothing. Wiped out. Utterly drained.

So, here I am at home, quietly recovering. And with the boys going into town this evening for an orchestra do, I even get a night off from cooking and family. Yay!

That's okay, though. Tomorrow we dive right back into it: community bike ride involving Nat and the kids, and then Nat will go to music in the evening so I'll be Parent In charge.

Swings and roundabouts. For the moment, I'm going to get some rest.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

There Is Madness Afoot

This is my esteemed cat Toxo. There is a small plastic cup balanced on his head. There are those who say that cats don't really have facial expressions. My cat disagrees with them almost as much as he disagreed with that plastic cup. Balancing things on cats heads is madness.

This is a photo of Younger Son. That isn't a cello. That's a 1/8th size double bass. This occurred because he completed his second violin exam and got a High Distinction. But he does not enjoy the violin. He enjoys the double bass. Very much.

He is quite small, being only seven years (nearly eight, I admit.) He's also small for his age. The double bass, on the other hand, is the single largest frikkin' instrument in the orchestra (if you exclude the piano, the calliope, and the Mad Scientist Pipe Organ - which last he would surely covet if he thought he could get close to one.) Nevertheless, he stuck out his time with the violin for two years in order to be able to pick an instrument he truly wanted to play... and he made us stick to our end of the bargain too.

So now, Smaller Son has a double bass. This is, of course, madness.

This particular bit of madness was at its best this morning. The Mau-Mau has her piano lesson today, so I had to pack the electronic keyboard and stand into the car. But the Younger Son desperately wanted to show his new instrument to his class, and his schoolteacher has given permission... so I had to pack the double bass in the car. Ah, but young Jake is planning to play 'Three Kings Of Orient' for the school assembly on Friday, and first had to audition for the school principal. So I had to pack the cello in the car this morning too.

Mini-piano. Double bass (one-eighth size). Cello.

Hello? Any other members of the farkin' orchestra want a lift? I can still see over the dashboard a little... we can probably fit a couple of tubas in here if we try!


Here's Younger Son again, and a friend. He went fishing on Saturday, after the little string-student concert in our house. (The string teacher is a friend of ours. She needed a venue. More madness.) In Younger Son's proudly outstretched left hand is his first-ever wild-caught fish. It is, I am given to understand, a 'Cocky Salmon'.

He ate it, fried, for lunch the next day. With a very nice tomato chutney and some fresh bread. The smaller of the two cocky salmon was offered to the cat. Then to the other cat. Then to the dog. Then, in desperation, to the pet rats. Last I heard, the chickens were getting the opportunity to reject it too.

But Younger Son enjoyed his.


That pile there? More madness. That's roughly 800kg of timber and plastic and metal. You can't really judge the size in this photo, but that's okay: you're going to see more photos in weeks to come. As I put it all together. Because this is the playground setup which is to replace the Legendary Lost Blackwood tree.

It is fucknormous. There are six respectable-size boxes of nuts, bolts and screws. There are bags of climbing-wall handholds. There's a periscope. Binoculars. A sunsail.

And then there's me, and my box of spanners.

Madness. Purest goddam madness.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Loathe This Time Of Year

I do. I loathe this time of year, because of all the stupid pressures that come with schools trying to wrap everything up, and communities playing pre-Christmas sillybuggers, and orchestras trying to have wayyy too many practices and performances and birthdays and Christmas and, well, yes.

Never enough time to fit it all in. Always something or someone forgotten. And if, Cthulhu forbid, anything actually goes wrong, you have to go to positively Herculean lengths to fix it.

So yesterday, Natalie's car died. She was on her way back from Launceston, having taken the Smaller Son for his double-bass lesson (yes, he's graduated from violin. He looks ludicrous playing an instrument roughly a hundred and forty-five times his own size, but he loves it, and he's good at it.) when somewhere in the boonies past Nunamara, the car -- in her inimitable technical jargon -- went 'phoot'. And stopped.

Of course, there's usually no mobile phone signal out there. But yesterday, perhaps due to her shiny new iphone or perhaps due to remarkably kind weather conditions, she managed to get half a call through to me. Couldn't reach the RACT, no. But she could reach me, and I could reach the RACT.

The operator was really nice. Naturally I didn't have Natalie's RACT membership card or number. And I only had the first two letters of her license plate, because that was all Nat gave me before her phone and Telstra conspired to funk out together. And I couldn't actually remember the model of car... but I knew it was a very dark grey Honda. Yeah. Two-door. Sports. That.

Anyway, the operator dug Nat's details out of the database, and volunteered to try to call her to let her know help was due. (Miraculously, that call went through. Natalie is still marvelling at it.) And I packed up the Mau-Mau, and we drove out to where the afflicted car sat by the roadside, and I collected the two boys, and went back home. Eventually, a tow-truck dropped Natalie off and continued through to Scottsdale. Scratch one family vehicle for an indeterminate period of time.

So this morning, I went down to run the pump. And it started just fine, sure. But as soon as it came under load, it started to cough, labour, and limp. Didn't generate any pressure to speak of, either. I ran through the usual routine (spark, air, fuel-flow) but the fact that the pump was starting so nicely made me think something else was afoot. And indeed: when I opened a backflow stopper, the water that emerged from the actual pump/impeller chamber was disturbingly grey. Not mud-grey, because our mud is brown, but super-fine metal shavings grey.

I think the impellers are fucked, to be honest.

I checked the water level in the tank, and then I cursed. Evidently the failure occurred during the last run of the pump, because we've got maybe a week of very carefully water usage left.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.

So I've disconnected the pump, as one does. And meanwhile, I've picked up Jake's good friend who's visiting for the afternoon, and I've dropped the Mau-Mau at a birthday party. The party-people will return the Mau-Mau, and Jake's friend's dad will come to collect his son (I hope!) sometime this evening. This is all necessary so that Natalie has the chance to go in and play music in Launceston, which is her major relaxation for the week. But it does leave us stranded here, what with her taking the operational vehicle.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow I will arise quite early. I will load Natalie and the boys and the Mau-Mau into the Mighty Earth King, along with the pump. I will drop Natalie at her work. I will drop the boys at school. And then I will do the rounds of hardware places, farming co-op stores and small-motor driven device stores until I can lay hands on an appropriate replacement pump. This one is seven or eight years old, and it's done solid work. It's going to be expensive, but the best strategy is to replace the goddam thing, and have the old one repaired to act as a backup.

And of course, that means that most of tomorrow will be spent connecting the new pump, and running a load of water up to the tank, and collecting kids and wives after they've done their daily stuff, and all this with the Mau-Mau underfoot...

... I really hate this time of year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Forsooth, Verily!

Lo, it hath come to pass that Jake, the Elder Son, hath discovered ancient Avengers comics, which depict the Mighty Thor. And in these venerable tomes, Thor doth discourse in a much bastardized form of Elizabethan English, full of "thee" and "thou" and "thy" and "verily, forsooth!"

Much smitten is young Jake with this ludicrous patois, and armed with an inflatable hammer of vile chartreuse vinyl, he doth wander the house crying 'Yea, verily!' and smiting all and sundry. And if the son shall speak with the rolling tones of the Thunder God, shall not the father arise and perform alike?

Thus it is that Flinthart the father and Flinthart the son now do berate one another in most excessively elegant language. Indeed, so furious our verbal strivings wax that Younger Son hath himself betrayed a kindred interest. Yet the Younger Son hath not yet the fullest understanding of this older tongue, and for him, 'most everything is 'thy'. Which is not meet, but certes, doth much entertain.

Natheless, Jake and I hath laid a wager slight betwixt our selves, in secret. We dispute the length of days his mother's sanity can withstand our present amusement. Jake holds that she will split asunder within three days, at best, while I maintain she hath easily the stamina for five, perhaps as many as seven.

We shall see!

Friday, November 12, 2010


I hate this time of year. There's always so much that has to be done, and no time to behave in a civilised fashion, get a little rest, whatever.

Yesterday, for example. Student-free day at the school, Scottsdale show-day. I wish I could have dodged the show, but the kids were adamant and Natalie insisted too. Of course, SHE didn't have to take them, did she? (To be fair, she did it last year.)

But before the show, we had haircuts booked. First opportunity I could make for the kids and I. Haven't been that long-haired in a decade or more. So: 1000hrs, haircuts. 1045: sandwiches and fruit from the local store for lunch. 1100: enter the Scottsdale show and meet up with Tiny Viking Neighbour and a few of her brood.

It was still early, so the crowd wasn't. (The Scottsdale show tends to get crowded and... enthusiastic as the night wears on. It's a country town thing.) There was an archery stall that caught the boys' eye, so I ponied up some bucks. The stall-operator was surprised when Younger Son seized the bow and bent it like a pro; she was in the process of offering to help him draw it when he put the first arrow downrange. Can't say he hit any bulls, but he did himself proud. Elder Son put most of his over the top of the targets, so I smiled, bought a few arrows, put three out of four into the bull, and awarded the Mau-Mau a blue velveteen teddy bear which she duly clutched with considerable delight. Something to be said for the calming, meditative shooting of arrows in one's back yard.

The boys decided the dodgems were next. I wish I'd remembered the camera. The expression on Jake's face as he slowly, slowly mastered the art of steering and accelerating... it was gorgeous. His eyes were popping out of his head, he was hunched over the wheel, his teeth were gritted, his knuckles white... give him a Bowls hat and a Volvo and he'd have been a dead ringer for any octogenarian road hazard you care to name.

We mooched around for a while. It was unseasonably hot and humid. The kids got snow cones to compensate. The Mau-Mau spent an unfeasibly long time on a bouncy castle with her best friend - since there was hardly anyone around as yet, the show-folks just smiled and let 'em go on.

Eventually, they ran out of steam, which was good. I took 'em home (with showbags full of lollies, naturally) and after an hour or so of downtime, we packed up and raced into Launceston. Orchestra practice for the boys. And while they were practicing, the Mau-Mau and I found the only store in town which sells white, long-sleeved, cuff-and-collar shirts for boys, and updated their orchestral garb. Post practice, we had dinner at Morty's and headed home.

Meanwhile, the dog has been running off. Natalie took him for a walk to visit our neighbours (they live a kilometre or so away) a while back, and now he thinks it's all part of his territory. He's been running up the highway, down their very long drive, and annoying the shit out of their dog, which in turn annoys our very fine neighbours. So: Sizzle the Dog is now chained.

But that's okay, because part of my job description is Fixing Up After Other People's Miscalculations. So today, I took the boys into Launceston for yet another fucking orchestra practice (prior to tonight's performance.) And while they were sawing away, I went and bought an Invisible Fence -- a shock collar keyed to a radio signal propagated on a very long loop of wire. You set the wire around your designated dogzone. You switch it on. You put the collar on the dog. You go through some training manuevres... but the upshot is that if he gets too close to the goddam wire, it puts the righteous zap on his furry fucking ass. (Okay. He gets some warning beeps. Then a mild static-electricity jolt. But hey: it's the thought that counts.)

I also bought some more timber for gardening bits, and did the grocery shopping, yep. Thus, once we were home (after the practice, and after lunch for the boys) I spent another two hours setting up the shiny new Invisible Fence.

Natalie has now taken the boys in to their concert. They'll be in town until after eleven. Meanwhile, I found a movie -- "The Secret of Moonacre" which is keeping the Mau-Mau entranced ( I'm pretty sure it has unicorns in it. And the cast list is impressive as hell.) so for a couple hours, at least, I get to sit and write, and think, and ruminate.

Oh... here's a thought I sent to the redoubtable Cat Sparks today, while I was listening to the boys practice. I call it:

Flinthart's First Law of Living With The Human Race -- The Smarter You Are, The More Of Your Time Is Spent Compensating For Stupidity. Including Your Own.

So, that's how I spent my day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jake Flinthart Has Been Writing Again.

I just received this e-mail from Jake, at his school. He was asked to write an expository piece about the cancellation of the local show. ('Show' = 'local fair' for the overseas readers hereabouts.)

Let me hasten to add that the Scottsdale Show is NOT cancelled. This is just a writing exercise. But frankly, I think he's done a great job, and his piece is funny, so I'm reproducing it here. Remember the kid is ten years old, so don't expect Shakespeare. On the other hand... I think Ben Elton might need to look out.

The Show Must Go On‭!
An exposition starring Thames O’reilly and Dennis‭ ‘‬deny everything‭’ ‬Fletcher

TV PRESENTER:‭ ‬Hi everybody and welcome to another episode of‭ ‬The Debaters and I’m everybody’s favourite presenter‭ ‬Thames O’reilly‭! ‬Today we just got word that the Scottsdale council is‭ ‬going to cancel the Scottsdale Show‭! ‬What we need here is a good debater and here he is:‭ ‬DENNIS‭ ‘‬deny everything‭’ ‬FLETCHER‭!

DENNIS FLETCHER:‭ ‬Yah,‭ ‬zat is me.

THAMES:‭ ‬How do you feel about the council cancelling the Scottsdale Show‭?

DENNIS:‭ ‬What‭?! ‬No‭ ‘‬otdogs on a steeck‭? ‬Ze Scottzdale show is...‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬kind of a‭ ‬cultural theeng in Scottzdale.‭ ‬Peeple save op for it,‭ ‬are exzcited about it,‭ ‬and it only comes once a yeer‭! ‬It's like going to a native tribe of some contry and cancelling an ancient reetual for zere peeple.‭ ‬Ze Scottzdale show is eemportant to a lot of people,‭ ‬and ze blimming council does not have ze right to demolish zis age old tradition‭! ‬It wouldn't be so bad if zey had cancelled it earlier in ze year so people wouldn't have to take down their preparations for it,‭ ‬but no,‭ ‬zey decide to cancel it right when everyone is preparing for it‭!

THAMES:‭ ‬Those are some pretty good arguments,‭ ‬but is there any other reason‭?

DENNIS:‭ ‬Yeh‭! ‬What about ze peeple who make money out of it‭? ‬You’d be steeling dere job‭! ‬All zose peeple who zell zose battered zausages on a steeck rely on ze Scottzdale show for a lot of their money‭! ‬Cancelling ze show would make all zat tedious preparation‭ (‬cooking ze food,‭ ‬zetting up a stall,‭ ‬buying a permeet,‭ ‬zat sort of stuff...‭) ‬go right down ze drain‭! ‬And who is to say zat they’ll get their money back‭? ‬Ze preparation requires lot of money,‭ ‬and eef they don’t get their money back and they don’t get a profit because ze show is cancelled,‭ ‬zey could go bankrupt‭!

THAMES:‭ ‬I hope the council’s watching this right now‭! ‬I don’t know you,‭ ‬folks,‭ ‬but Dennis here is sure convincing me‭! ‬Go on,‭ ‬Dennis...

DENNIS:‭ ‬Zank hyu.‭ ‬Now there’s also ze problem of the animal attractions in ze Scottzdale show.‭ ‬If it’s cancelled,‭ ‬what weel happen to all zat work zey put in to clean their animals and train them‭? ‬It’ll all be for nothing‭! ‬Hyu know,‭ ‬it’s bad eenuf zat we get a holiday for ze‭ ‬Launzeston show but not for ze‭ ‬Scottzdale show,‭ ‬but now they're stopping it altogther‭!

THAMES:‭ ‬You’ve explained all the communtiy and economic problems,‭ ‬but what about the simpler problems‭?

DENNIS:‭ ‬Ah yez,‭ ‬I forgot.‭ ‬Ze children.‭ ‬You can’t deny it:‭ ‬ze children LOVE ze Scottzdale show‭! ‬It’s cheap,‭ ‬fun,‭ ‬local and all ze money goes to people in ze community.‭ ‬Plus zere is lollies‭! ‬Imagine all ze children crying zemselves to sleep because ze council has cancelled it‭! ‬Why should zey suffer‭?

THAMES:‭ ‬Wow,‭ ‬that was great,‭ ‬Dennis.‭ ‬People are definetly getting their money’s worth today.

DENNIS:‭ ‬It’s my job.

THAMES:‭ ‬Too bad they’re still probably going to cancel the show.

DENNIS:‭ ‬I’m not going to theenk about zat.

THAMES:‭ ‬And there you have it,‭ ‬ladies and gentlemen‭! ‬They don’t call him Mr.‭ ‘‬deny everything‭’ ‬for nothing‭! ‬I’m afraid today’s episode is coming to a finish,‭ ‬but next week we’ll be finding out who exactly‭ ‘‬they‭’ ‬is‭! ‬Bye everyone‭!


...must remember to teach him how to spell 'definitely'.

Christmas For The USA Will Be A Lonely Event This Year.

I have an acquaintance in the packaging and posting industry, and apparently yesterday he had a very, very interesting day.

Turns out that the USA has now banned the sending of any personal effects by air, except where accompanied by a traveller. Basically, that means if you were planning to send any Christmas gifts to friends or relations in the USA -- it's tough shit for everybody.

No doubt this is supposed to prevent exploding printer cartridges or other such fiendish al Qaeda ingenuity. But what it's really going to do is turn Christmas, USA into a living hell for the US Customs department.

At this point, I can't find any confirmation of this particular ban. But I trust my source absolutely, and seeing that he's got a serious vested commercial interest in this issue, I believe he's taken the time to get his information right.

My advice to readers: hold off on sending any packages to the USA until you can find out for sure what's the deal here. And to anybody participating in a cross-border Secret Santa or other such exchange, you may wish to notify USAnian participants that your contribution might be (very) slow in arriving.

I'll stay in touch with my buddy in the industry on this, and pass on any information I can. Hopefully, the US will realise that it's made a colossal blunder, and the order will be reversed in the near future, or even better, not even implemented. But I wouldn't count on it.

Meanwhile... so if we can't even send gifts to celebrate the Nativity and all that good stuff, you wanna tell me again how we're winning this 'war on terror'? Because right now, it's starting to look like a 'War on Christmas', with the US government in full Grinch costume.

Edited to add: confirmation is in, courtesy of redditor shortkid422 - check the following two links.
Apparently it's only a 30-day ban at the moment. We'll see how it develops, eh ?