Sunday, January 31, 2010
It was pretty hot yesterday, by local standards. Thirty degrees. Didn't cool down until a late storm came through. As a result, the kids weren't too happy about being put to bed.
They mostly fell asleep, though. Eventually, anyhow. So I sat up and watched the cricket for a while. I haven't bothered much this season, but the game last night was pretty cool, what with Shahid Afridi's ball-biting antics, and the Pakistanis making a real, serious game of it at last. Shame about that dickhead who tackled Latif, though. Whatever happened to simple, harmless streakers?
Anyway, just in that last critical five-over period where Mike Hussey and Nathan Hauritz were laboriously singling their way towards the needed total, I heard a bit of commotion from the Mau-Mau's room. I ignored it, though. I figured she was just grizzling again -- the heat, the I'm Not Tireditis, all that good shit.
I was wrong. Next thing I hear is the daughter: "Look, Dad," she says, from somewhere behind my shoulder. "Toxo brought me a bunny!"
I look. And O, Cthulhu, sure enough: the Mau-Mau is holding a limp dead rabbit by the scruff of its neck. It's about half-grown, and very cute... but I know these critters well enough to know it is absolutely crawling with fleas, and as the corpse cools, they are going to jump ship.
So I collect said bunny, and point out very kindly and gently that it's dead, expecting all kinds of howls. But the Mau-Mau barely blinks. There's a moment of sadness -- a little 'oh, and a downturn of the mouth. So I explain that Toxo is trying to look after her, 'cos she's the smallest in the house, and he thinks she needs to eat more, so he's bringing her food.
There's a short pause. "I don't want to eat the bunny," she says.
"That's okay," I tell her. "I'll put it in the compost heap. And we won't tell Toxo. Is that okay?"
It was. She went off to sleep very nicely after that. And so did the bunny...
Gotta love that cat. He's clearly identified the Mau-Mau as an inadequate hunter, in need of more food and training, so he's doing his best to bring her up to speed. He's having an effect, too. She spends hours pretending to be 'Toxo', grommiting about on the floor, meowing, pretending to wash herself. It's her favourite game, and more often than not she demands to be called 'Toxo', and wants to lap her milk from a bowl...
... wish there was a way to explain to the cat that he's doing his job well. I'd like him to stop worrying so much. Definitely don't need any more dead bunnies.
So it's been a week, yep. Nice one, too.
We had very few guests. Oh, there was Megan the Dietetics Student who came up Wednesday evening... she was my excuse to watch "Casablanca" and the director's cut of "Blade Runner" up in the Cinema Loft. She'd never seen either of them, and it turns out that she has an eye for interesting films, so I've had my yearly dose of both films. In exchange, I made salmon ravioli in a tomato and saffron sauce, and we killed some wine. The boys stayed up long enough to watch Casablanca, too -- and happily, they enjoyed it. I had to explain a few bits to them, but it was great to see them taking an interest without superheroes or explosions or all the rest of that stuff.
I got some gardening done through the week. Picked something like ten kilos of blackberries. Did some slashing. Put down a tile bed around the stone-paved patio outside the boys room. Did some reading. Played with the kids. Prepped for Natalie's upcoming birthday... took it easy, really.
It felt good. Everyone around here expects me to be chafing to send the kids back to school - but as soon as that happens, I'm back on a hardcore timetable. Monday nights: sword. Tuesday nights: cub scouts, then movies with the Cool Shite team. Wednesday nights ju-jitsu. Friday nights: orchestra stuff. Spanish classes probably Wednesday afternoon, instead of as the fancy takes us. Weekends: desperate rush to pack in a bit of fun.
So why should I be desperate to send the kids off? I work at night, most of the time. And I can get a bit of work done with them around, these days. Right now, they're watching a cartoon before bed, see?
And why not? We had a big day. Historical Mike decided we should have a Birthday Brunch at his place, up the hill, for him and Natalie. (His birthday is tomorrow. Natalie's is the day after.) And so, we picked a huge bowl of blackberries, and I prepped about a kilo of grilled pork balls, grabbed a few eggs and some muffins and some smoked salmon and salady bits, and we put some bottles of bubbles in the car... We had Vietnamese Spring Rolls, and then when Doctor Linda and Dietetic Megan showed up, I cooked some free-range scrambled eggs and put them on toasted English muffins with spring onions and smoked salmon.
Meanwhile, the kids found a box of pointy toothpicks, and made... umm... things. They sliced up a banana, and a capsicum, and they stuck bits of banana, capsicum and blackberry on the toothpicks as... food. I managed to convince 'em to switch from capsicum to apple. They were a lot more edible after that. But the kids made two trayloads, which made for a lot of eating.
I ducked out early, though, because I'd arranged for an afternoon of game play with the Cool Shiters. I bought myself a copy of Junta, from West End Games, when I was in Melbourne. (I'da linked directly to the WEG site, only they were down. Fuck 'em.) The Cool Shiters seemed like an ideal play-crew, and I was right.
Junta's a brilliant game. I won't bother going into detail, except to say that you play a bunch of greasy, greedy ruling families in the fictional Republica de los Bananas, a Latin American nation which survives wholly on foreign aid. And the way to win is to finish with more money in your Swiss bank account than anybody else. It's not really hard to play, moves well, and if you've got decent players, it's fucking hilarious.
We played with two of my personal Flinthart House Rules: the first is that whenever you get Put Up Against The Wall and shot after a coup, you have to take a double shot of rum. (Normally, you have to take a single shot when you get assassinated, but that happens a lot, and most people had to drive. But we had at least two executions, and the rum made 'em beautifully graphic.)
The second Flinthart House Rule is the Bad Mexican Accent rule -- all players must speak in Speedy Gonzales (or other shoddy Mexican character) accents while playing. Any failure to do so results in the Greasy Black Moustachioes Of Shame being sketched onto your upper lip with a marker pen...
The game went well. We played for about three hours, ate pizza, had at least two coups (one failed; the other succeeded) and many, many assassinations, and yours truly (as the ever-treacherous Minister for Internal Security) managed to squirrel away enough aid money to be declared the winner... even though Presidente Bruce wised up towards the end and threw me out of the job.
And then I had to meet Natalie and the kids at the Royal Oak, where the kids had a bite to eat, and we stuck around for an hour to hear Natalie and the musos do their Irish Folkie Thing.
It was nice.
And that's been my week, folks. Not too hurried. Not too fussed.
Not too bad at all.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Many thanks to all the kind folks who sent birthday greetings and wishes. I did indeed live through another one yesterday, and I have to say it was pretty forkin' good. Really.
I did a little grocery shopping in the morning, and Natalie took the kids on an expedition to Find Gifts For Dad. So... you know: stuff. Note in the picture below, for example, I am wearing a "World's Greatest Dad" medallion. Courtesy of the Younger Son. Barnes, Birmo -- I guess that just about fuckin' settles the question, doesn't it? World's Greatest Dad: says so right there on the medallion, and there's no gainsaying that, eh?
Happily, I'd done a cunning bit of planning, and conspired with my friend Smileyfish to do an afternoon of river ecology science stuff with the boys. As usual, things got a little larger than life, so instead of just my lads, the boys from the nursery Down The Hill came along, as did the three youngsters who were here earlier in the week. And naturally, since numbers were up the post-river barbecue got shifted up a gear into more of an Event...
Smileyfish In Her Element
The river science thing went off beautifully. We went over the mountainside to the St Patrick's river. Smileyfish and her partner (Cuddlefish!) took a couple kids in their trusty Corolla, and followed the two 4wd cars along the riverbank to the chosen site. Then we jumped out, apologised to the quiet family camping there, and plunged into the river in pursuit of Science.
Searching For Science!
Smiley led the way with the big net, but the boys were right behind: turning over rocks, scooping stuff off the bottom, grommiting around under overhanging banks... nothing better in all the world than a cool, clear river on a hot summer afternoon.
People got wet. Smiley fell on her butt, and lost a pair of sunglasses to the riffle. Kids argued over nets. Stones were skipped. And then we took our catch back to the main base and pored over what we found...
The idea was to go looking for diversity -- to see what kind of species lived in the water, and find out if there were any surviving which were pollution-sensitive. Indicators of water health, in other words. I'm delighted to say we found all sorts of great things: tonnes of mayflies, caddis-flies and stoneflies, all of which are quite sensitive, suggesting that the river is currently in pretty good condition.
The boys were fascinated and delighted, and so was I. We slurped up all kinds of greeblies and creepies, put them into ice cube trays and stared at 'em with magnifying glasses. We found a cool nematode and put it in a sample jar. Every new critter had to be admire and exclaimed over -- the whole two hours went by in a flash, and the visiting boys announced how pleased they were that they'd gone to the river instead of to the fair down at Bridport. I thought that was pretty cool: they passed up rides and junk food and stalls of toys, and felt they had the better end of the deal.
We made it back to Chez Flinthart, and I started cooking. The kids went out and mobbed the trampoline, and the drinks got broken out. Someone had actually left a slab of beer with my name on it at the surgery that morning - as well as a couple bottles of very palatable red! - but we started off with the infamous Gay Blue Drinks, and went on from there. I grilled sausages and chops (Nigel's famous wonder-lamb, thanks!) for the kids, and some chicken skewers with lime and salt and chili. All that was just to keep the wolf at bay while the big lamb haunch roasted over charcoal, with garden-fresh rosemary and garlic and sea-salt. And then there was the infamous salad of smoky grilled vegetables with sea salt and balsamic vinegar, and a couple nice green salads, and roast potatoes, and then a chocolate birthday cake, and finally, a small serve of freshly made super-rich vanilla ice cream with blackberries from the garden.
Heh. Smileyfish isn't good with gluten. I promised her a decent feed in exchange for her aid at the river... and I think she probably would have been happy with dinner. But just to be sure, in the morning I made a batch of fluffy gluten-free pancakes which were eaten with still more of the ice-cream and blackberries. I suspect the Flinthart kitchen acquitted itself okay.
Overall? I had a brilliant birthday. Best I've had in years. I sat up late talking with the Fish Folk, and it was marvellous. They're smart, interesting, cool, funny, and we share a range of interests. It's wonderful to catch up with somebody new and simply enjoy the whole process... I'm extremely grateful, delighted, and all kinds of pleased. And I even got a birthday present from the Fishy Friends: vietnamese mint!
The new plant is going in my herb garden this afternoon. In the meantime: here's a photo of the Mau-Mau in her new fairy dress, with her nifty new curly-toe felt slippers...
Thank you to everyone!
Thursday, January 21, 2010
So they blew bubbles and the dog chased them. But then the boys decided it was time for archery, and I had to help them string the bows. They lost three arrows, but when I sent them back out, they found one of them.
The trampoline got hella action. The dog had to be chased with waterguns because he goes berserk any time the kids get up on the trampoline. The dog ran onto the road and wouldn't come back, so the kids went berserk. I had to call the dog home again. He's not stupid. He came when I called.
Meanwhile, I worked on pizzas. Eight of 'em, as a matter of fact. But before that, I shifted the Wii up to the shed with the big screen, and they stomped around playing Godzilla and Rabbids and whatnot.
They ate six of the pizzas. I had to make one with just cheese and ham, but most of 'em were full spectrum jobs -- pepperoni, onion, mushroom, capsicum, olives, pineapple and feta. Happy kids. Also lots of ginger beer, watermelon and mint drinks, with ice. Yes.
Next came the Shower Ordeal. I dictated that movies could only be watched by clean people, and an assembly line was formed. Six kids. Of course, the pet rat is in her cage in the bathroom, so while any one kid was showering, up to three were hovering around the rat. And the other kids were racing half-naked around the place, dripping.
The movie system worked moderately well. We put on some Pinkie and the Brain as an opener, so the little girls could enjoy themselves too. Meanwhile, I made six very large bowls of popcorn, most of which got scarfed up as soon as I took 'em up to the shed.
Once I decided the girls were looking a bit worn (a lot of trampolinery for them all day, oh yes) the boys got to put on "The Mummy". The plan was that they were going to watch that, and then a "Hellboy" cartoon, and sleep up in the shed afterwards. Meanwhile, the girls got a pre-bed dose of Dora the Explorer (their choice, I promise).
It didn't work out as planned. First the girls got sleepy during Dora, so I put them to bed. That would have been all right, but young D - the eldest visiting child - informed me that his sister (whom we shall call E) tends to get nightmares, and usually sleeps next to an adult.
Uhh... what? Nobody told me about that one!
Well. One improvises. I stuck little E in bed with the Mau-Mau. She was dubious. Lots of anxiety about the dark, and about people coming to 'get' her. I guess she does get nightmares. I had to send her back to bed four or five times.
Meanwhile, it turns out that "The Mummy" was a bit much for the intrepid Shed Boys. (I cleared the movie-level with the visitors parents beforehand, by the way.) They sort of chickened out of the idea of sleeping up there. So they trooped down en masse with sleeping bags, and I had to organize them onto the floor of the boys' room.
And of course, that awoke Little E again, and she wanted her big brother D to come in and say goodnight. But I'd had about enough. D was settling, and the Mau-Mau was asleep, and I figured: no. Little E could stay in bed as instructed. But of course, I had a secret weapon.
Toxo the Wonder Cat -- the same cat who has looked after all my kids, one after another, during their sleep as they grew -- came to the rescue. He'd climbed the ladder to be with the boys during the movie (after spending the day around the trampoline and the swings and the cubbyhouse with the kids) but once they came down, he had no reason to be up there, so he trotted into the Mau-Mau's room right on cue. I introduced him to Little E, and told her how Toxo would look after her while she slept...
... and bingo. One unconscious kid. She slept the night through. Nary a nightmare to behold.
I live in fear of the day that Toxo finally leaves us. He's about eight years old now. I figure he's got another four or five good years, and maybe another five or six slow, quiet years. Hopefully that'll be enough. But he's already given me eight years of completely unbelievable loyalty, help, devotion and affection. Best. Fucking. Cat. Evar.
So morning-time was all about French Toast. And rocket science: baking soda and vinegar rockets at 0730, and me having to dart in and out of the kitchen, fine-tuning rocketry in between rustling up french toast with cinnamon and maple syrup. Then I bullied the kids into picking up their clothes and bedding and doing a quick round of tidying up before they ducked back up to play the Wii a little more. Lots of arguments there, so I had to play Solomon and set up a rota system. Happily, it got too hot after a while.
I've been doing laundry and dishes, making banana-chocolate smoothies, applying sunscreen, sorting out skinned knees and prickles in the feet, distributing cold pizza and coconut jelly and pomegranates... meanwhile, the dog is hiding from waterguns, and Toxo the Cat is sailing the wide seas on the good ship Cubbyhouse, under comman of pirate princesses Mau-Mau and Little E.
Half an hour to go until the father of the visitors arrives and rescues me...
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Well -- momentous news! The Mau-Mau has just gone six consecutive nights without wetting her night-nappy. She has been rewarded with copious praise and chocolate. Tonight is the seventh night. If we get through this one dry, I'm going to make a great fuss over putting the nappies away for good... though I will put a protective undersheet on the mattress, of course.
And in other news: I'm looking after six kids today and tonight. My three, and three of similar ages from up the road. It's a good match: their youngest is a daughter, just five months older than the Mau-Mau, and the two boys are similarly situated with my lot. So today, their parents get a break. I'll make a lot of pizza, and tonight, they can have a movie festival in the shed, then crash out in sleeping bags.
Mind you... I've already overseen the archery, and the bubble-blowing, and the drinks, and we're about to head down to Scottsdale for pizza ingredients and lunch, and frankly, I don't envision getting very much done today.
That's okay. It's a holiday, I s'pose.
It wasn't a big photo-op sort of expedition, this trip to Melbourne. But it was fun. Here's the Mau-Mau and Younger Son in the ute which features as both obstacle and decor (and even fairway!) somewhere around the fifteenth hole of the Glow In The Dark Mini Golf Course...
Shut the hell up! I'm driving!
Same location. This is Mr B, casually draped across some of the more unconvincing scenery.
What's that, Skip? My deodorant smells like ass? Well fuck you, roo! Where have you been shoving your nose, anyway?
And here, in the 'Lightning Show' at the Science Works Museum is the Elder Son, singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." I can't believe they didn't let him run with Vampire Weekend...
I don't care if it IS by Mozart. It still sucks...
Monday, January 18, 2010
Natalie has gone to her annual Big Folk Music Thingee, just outside Kyneton in Victoria. She'll be there a week, practising fiddle, going to evening music sessions, drinking, and taking a break from the world of medicine and children. This is a Good Thing.
I narrowly missed going with her this year. Turns out an old friend of mine from university is part of the team that runs the singing group at the music school -- John Thompson of Cloudstreet. Not having seen John for something like twenty years, I figured it would be a good way to catch up. Unfortunately, the planned parental babysitting did not occur.
However, it does not appear that this excuse will work twice. Not only did Mr Barnes' good wife volunteer (like a madwoman!) to look after all three Flinthart offspring for the necessary period, but it turns out I've got an old friend in Kyneton as well -- hi, Sam!
The kids and I visited Sam yesterday morning, after we abandoned Natalie to her musical pursuits. Sam looked the same as ever, despite being two small children to the good, and meeting her partner Paul was a real pleasure. It's nice catching up with old friends and finding they're leading a life that they enjoy.
Anyway: Sam's as mad as Mr Barnes' counterpart, and volunteered immediately to do kiddie duty.
Now, while I really wasn't prepared to lumber poor mad Madame Barnes with all three of my offspring, I feel obliged to say that the my boys got along very, very well with Barnes the Younger. Frighteningly well, actually -- particularly Elder Son. They discovered they're both huge fans of Artemis Fowl and the 'Horrible Histories' series of books; that Barnes the Younger practises Aikido versus Elder Son's Ju-jitsu... in fact, they had so much in common I swear the pair of them didn't shut up the entire time they were in each other's company. Seriously: they both just talked, non-stop, somehow absorbing the output of the other while simultaneously blaring away with their own narrative. It was spooky.
The Melbourne weekend prior to the music thing was lovely. Big thanks to Guru Bob for recommending the Hu Tong Dumpling House in Market Lane... holy shit, that was some superb Chinese food there. And the man himself came along, along with his Sweet Thang. Word has it they've actually found a house to purchase, and they're going through settlement right about now. Much more sneaky word has it that there's a certain amount of fixing up to be done on the place, and our man Bob is planning to get his hands dirty... keep an eye on the accident and emergency reports for the Royal Melbourne; Guru Bob will be the bloke with the claw hammer embedded in his forehead.
Greetings also to Struggers and the lovely Amy, who kept us company at the Hu Tong. I'd not met Amy before. Last time I was in Melbourne, I caught Struggers by surprise in his Lair, and Amy was not in evidence. This time I wound up sitting next to her at the table... the conversation went well, so hopefully she hasn't concluded that all of Struggers' friends are dope fiends and froot loops.
It was a good weekend, even though it had to be pretty kid friendly. We managed to fit in the Science Works -- Lightning Show and Planetarium Show. Elder Son enthusiastically volunteered to get up and sing during the Lightning Show, and duly had his voice put through various distortions and oscilloscope displays. And for some reason, Natalie decided we should take in the "Glow In The Dark Mini Golf" course out at the shoppingville they built when they thought that fucknormous ferris wheel was going to rejuvenate a stretch of Melbourne riverside. (For those not in the know: they built a ferris wheel the size of Tom Cruise's insecurities, to act as a long-lasting tourist attraction and city landmark. Of course, last summer was quite hot. After about five days, the truly fucknormous ferris wheel warped beyond repair, and was decommissioned. Brilliant planning there...)
The Barnes Crew were quite good-natured about being dragooned into roles as navigators and drivers and so forth, and survived the mini-golf with good will intact. I believe I even have some photos, but they'll wait until I've sorted out everything else I've got to do.
For I am home now, yes. Having driven back from Kyneton, negotiated the horrors of two airports with three kids in tow, and the return journey over the mountains and all. Today I must reclaim the dog, pay various pet-minders, buy some supplies, replace a couple pillows we abandoned in Kyneton for lack of carrying space, and manage sundry other things. But it's sunny and cool and lovely, and I can see all the way to the horizon and beyond without all that weird hazy shit. The mountains are blue and purple, the sky is clear, and the kids are outside playing.
Good to be home.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Well, I went. Took the lads and a friend while Nat and the Mau-Mau went swimming for a while. It had to happen, I suppose.
James Cameron's Avatar is at once an amazing accomplishment, and a depressing disappointment.
Technologically and visually, it's stunning. Nobody's ever achieved anything like this on film before. The realisation of the complex living world of Pandora is fabulous. For the filmgoer, even with those clunky glasses perched on your nose, the immersion is near-total. I laid out my money, I bought my popcorn, I gave up two hours and forty minutes of my life, and honestly, I really don't mind. The sheer spectacle, the gorgeous imagery, the vocabulary-challenging technical mastery of the work is just off the scale.
But I won't be going back to see it again. Natalie will go in a few weeks, and she'll go along with the friend who came today. He reckons he can sit through it again. I know I can't.
Yeah, I know. I've got a freaky memory. Natalie's currently watching ST:TNG episodes that I saw just once, some twenty years ago, damned late at night on dodgy televisions in various share-houses -- and I can still remember too much of the plotlines and the action and the dialogue to enjoy seeing them again.
But so what? I watch the director's cut of Blade Runner once a year at least. Same with The Princess Bride, and Casablanca. The original Star Wars, with my kids: yep. Raiders of the Lost Ark: check. I just bought Sauna on DVD, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again as soon as I can find somebody prepared to sit through it with me. And I watched Memento for the third time just a month ago.
So you see, I can sit through repeat showings of certain films, television, etc. Just... not when I'm watching poorly written B-grade stuff.
I'm sorry, by the way. Anybody out there who just loved the Avatar story: more power to you. I don't begrudge you your enjoyment, nor wish to curtail it. But me? Well, I've got a few things working against my ability to enjoy the film.
First is that I'm a writer, and the various plot turning points of Avatar were... umm... not subtle, shall we say. It was a by-the-numbers story with a very ordinary script. I saw it maybe six hours ago, and I can't actually remember a single quotable line. You know the kind of thing I mean - the clever or quirky bits of dialogue that linger in the memory long after the film. "Game over, man!" "I'll be back." "Nuke 'em from orbit: it's the only way to be sure." (Notice I stuck solely to James Cameron films there? I'm playing this game as fairly as I can.) For anyone with a real involvement in the craft of writing, the Avatar script is frankly horrible.
Second, I'm a science fiction fan of long standing. Been reading the stuff maybe thirty-five years now. And I have read a great deal in that time. Everything from Jules Verne through "Doc" Smith, through the Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke era on to the New Wave and beyond. I read SF for the same reasons I always have: it allows writers room to be imaginative, and creative, and thought-provoking in a way that most genres do not seem to match.
And... uhh... sorry. Avatar was not imaginative. It was creative, but only in a visual sense. And the only thoughts it provoked were those of disappointment and irritation. This is not a smart movie. This a big, shiny, woo-look-at-me crashy boomy sort of movie full of egregious stereotypes in place of characters, full of half-assed preaching instead of genuinely thought-provoking concepts, full of cheapjack, bullshit plot devices instead of ideas.
Third: I'm widely read outside SF too. I've got a decent grounding in basic physics, chemistry, biology, evolutionary theory, and a bunch of other scientific fields. Not claiming expertise, no. Far from it. Just what I'd call "scientific literacy", you know? But even that much is enough to make me wince, time and again, at the slap-dash throwaway shit they tossed into that movie in place of science. I don't want to put in any spoilers, but I'd like to say first that "unobtainium" sucks the way even Disney's Black Hole didn't manage. And "flux vortexes" are the single worst piece of throwaway tech-talk crap since the Doctor first used his sonic screwdriver to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.
This isn't a review. If it was, I would quietly, bitterly, and skilfully eviscerate the storytelling and the scripting of this film in such a way that you would never, ever see the movie without remembering, precisely and involuntarily, why it is a piece of dreck - and you would then curse me, quite reasonably. But as I said, this isn't a review. This is thought, and opinion, and I don't intend to go through the long, painstaking effort of justifying and reasoning out what it is I have to say.
There are just two reasons for this: first, because if you're the kind of person who's going to groove on the Avatar storyline, then you're unlikely to be reading this anyhow, and in any case, nothing I say is going to change your mind. But if you have a love of good storytelling, or good science fiction, or good scripting, you're going to hate that side of Avatar no matter what I say.
And the second reason is simple: the film is beautiful. No matter that it's dumb as a bag of badly broken coprolites. It is gorgeous, and technically unparalleled, and worth taking the time to see it on the big, shiny screen.
Just... don't ask more than that, and you'll have a great time.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Younger Son, Elder Son, the Mau-Mau and some gigantic goon in a solar topee holding buckets full of fresh, perfectly ripened blueberries.
That was our morning, right there. Natalie is on call, so she's in and out and round about. I rousted the kids early. We packed away a bit of breakfast, and slathered on the sunscreen. (It's meant to reach 31C today, and I think we're just about there right now.)
It took us about forty leisurely minutes in the gentle morning breezes to load up our buckets. We picked something like eight and a half kilos of blueberries. I've shoved some in the deep freeze, to be brought out now and again through the year. But there's an enormous bowl of them on the table, and an unopened bag on the counter in the kitchen.
Tonight, in honour of the summery weather, we shall feast upon antipasto. There will be garden-fresh vegetables. There will be smoked pork, and cheeses, and ham. There will be olives and pickles. Indeed, I've pickled half a kilo of button mushrooms which will be perfectly cooled and ready to go come dinner time.
After dinner, we will have big slabs of melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, and piles of fresh, amazing blueberries, served up with big scoops of home-made French vanilla ice cream.
Meanwhile, I have to finish up what I'm doing here, and set up for a rousing game of Monster Apocalypse with Elder Son... but first, I think, another beer.
Life is hard.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Summer in a temperate region isn't the same as the summers I knew in Queensland for so long. Just for starters, we think of 31C as a terribly hot day. Everybody slows down, or comes to a halt. People move from shade to shade. They turn to each other at check-out lines in the supermarkets and say things about the heat, and the humidity, this terrible weather.
And why not? We get maybe one day like that every two or three weeks.
Today started cool and overcast, which didn't bode well for the birthday party the Mau-Mau was attending, down at the pool in Scottsdale. But she's a water creature, and no matter that it was chilly, she was delighted to suit up in preparation for a few hours splash time.
Not so the boys. I asked 'em a couple times, but they insisted they didn't want to swim. Luckily, Amazing Neighbour Anna's small blonde daughter -- the Mau-Mau's very best friend in the world -- was invited to the same party, so in the end, the Mau-Mau got a lift home, and the boys didn't have to hang around the pool reading their new books. That was a good thing, because the clouds parted, and it got seriously warm for a while there.
The clouds have closed in again, though. It's not cool; not really, by Tasmanian standards. But it's not really hot either. It's a Tasmanian summer's day.
I love 'em. The light starts at about 0400, and by 0700 it's hard to even think of staying in bed, unless you're reading. Oh, and you know how in Queensland it's too damned hot to lie in bed reading once the sun comes up? Well, not here. Night times, the temperature drops and you still need a light quilt to stay warm. Staying in bed an extra half-hour to read in the morning is a huge treat.
That light. It lasts forever. It's not really dark until 2130 or so, and even then, there's still a twilight that you can navigate by, if you want to stroll around the yard. So much light... the kids love it. I have to hide them from it, sometimes. The depleted ozone makes sunburn hard to avoid. We use a lot of sunscreen, but the Mau-Mau was born naked and she takes every opportunity to remind the world of that fact, so even with copious sunscreen slathered on her, she's turning the kind of all-over golden-brown tan that can only be envied by most of the world's movie starlets.
Summer holidays and outdoors play. Does it get any better? Is there any part of childhood that's ever as good as this, ever again? Right now, my two boys are outside, playing "Explorers" with one of Amazing Neighbour Anna's lads. (Yes. I currently have five kids around the place. But they're doing their own thing, and I'm letting the reins rest lightly for the time being.) I have been told earnestly that they are charting an unknown region of South Africa.
Elder Son is wearing Younger Son's Christmas solar topee, and carrying a collapsible walking-stick. He has a sketchbook and a pencil, and he's noting down all of their discoveries. So far, they've breathlessly shown me a stag beetle, a protea, a fuchsia, a bucket of blueberries, another bucket of red currants, a handful of black currants, a green apple, a small green plum, a garlic flower, a caterpillar, and an interesting red rock. South Africa is being thoroughly explored.
Younger Son appears to be responsible for the safety and security of the expedition. He is wearing his Vietnamese conical cane hat, and carrying a bamboo flagpole to which a large Jolly Roger flag has been somehow attached. The third member would be Master T, of Amazing Neighbour Anna's brood. He has a walking stick which is an ongoing project for myself and Younger Son: shaped from a wattle sapling, it's been shod in galvanised iron, and is slowly being sanded and carved with a nice bird's head for the handle.
The girls are quietly watching a cartoon. They played for ages, and they're quite tired after their morning of sun and swimming.
I'll let them all go for another hour or so. Then I'll return Neighbour Anna's brood, throw mine in the bath, and cook up a big batch of chicken and sweet-corn soup. Afterwards there will be shortbread, and cream, and piles of fresh berries. (So many berries! This morning, it was all about fresh raspberries and pancakes. The boys have been harvesting blueberries and redcurrants. Sometime later, I'll go and pick a kilo or two of ripe blackberries. Tomorrow, we're going to a blueberry farm in the early morning, before it gets too hot.) Eventually, we'll play a few board games until the boys are getting too tired, and finally, sometime around nine in the evening, they'll go to bed.
And tomorrow, they start afresh.
I don't often envy children. But days like this...
Saturday, January 2, 2010
I'm tired as hell. I earned it, though.
New Year's Eve went pretty well. The usual suspects rolled into Chez Flinthart around eventide, and once there were enough kids on the ground, the watergunnery went off in a big way. I got very very damp, saturated a bunch of rug-rats, and then set about the cooking. I had my first gluten-free flour failure (or rather, incomplete success) with vegetarian calzones for Girlie Jones. They tasted okay, but the actual dough came out a bit thick and crumbly. Never mind.
We decided we'd watch Sean Connery lishp his way through Goldfinger to see the New Year in. And of course, Aurora Electricity came to the party - or more accurately, failed to come to the party. We had a big power outage, across a wide chunk of the north-east. Didn't really cause us much concern. We just delayed the start for a while, and sucked back a few more beers. It was a warm day, after all, so a bit of extra time for the shed to cool down was a good thing.
Girlie Jones didn't much like the ladder to the shed, mind you, so she repaired to her lair to catch up on Internetty stuff. She emerged late in the piece with a request for yours truly to massacre a couple of bodacious huntsman spiders that were eyeing her in a manner that made her uneasy. (I guess I can understand that. There's a lot of eyes involved in that process.)
The power did come back. It also went out again. And came back again. And went out again. We saw Goldfinger in installments, cheering at the appropriate times, and joining in with "No, Mister Bond - I expect you to die!" as one must. It was pretty cool. Bruce hooked his Nerdphone into the 3G Internet, and kept up a stream of interesting trivia regarding the movie, which added a nifty dimension so far as I was concerned, anyhow. Nice one!
Next day, there were a few sad and sorry victims lying around the place, so I rustled up a picking posse and we grabbed ourselves a load of blackberries for the traditional New Year's Day Flinthart Breakfast -- thick, fluffy pancakes, whipped cream, maple syrup and plenty of bacon on the side. Took it easy for most of the day thereafter... Tiarne and I teamed up as the Zombies in a game of "Last Night On Earth," successfully clobbering the small-town zombie-hunting team of Bruce and the Elder Son. Elder Son didn't quite realise just how many zombies were closing in on Nurse Becky and Father Joseph, and in one turn both of 'em got torn apart and eaten... thus fulfilling Zombie win conditions.
Happily, the game lasted long enough for Tiarne's hangover to move out of the red zone... she and Bruce were last seen disappearing over the Sideling at a very sedate rate of travel.
Yesterday, I packed up the kids and Girlie Jones, and we took off for Hobart to visit Tansy, whom I've not seen for an aeon. We stopped at Launceston for a new tyre and a few bits and pieces, then made the run through to Hobart with no more than a stop at Campbelltown for sandwiches.
It was a near-run thing. As we eased into Hobart, the kids began to show signs of boredom. Worst of all, Younger Son got the bug. And he started in on one of his surreal explorations -- what if the wooden horse of Troy had been a rocking horse?
First we decided that the Greek soldiers inside would probably have spent all night vomiting. But then, Younger Son just got more carried away. By the time we reached Tansy's place, Girlie Jones and I were literally begging him to stop telling us about the Giant Spiked Killer Rocking Horse of Troy. The kid is a LUNATIC!
It was great to catch up with Tansy et al again, though. I finally got to meet the new daughter - four months old, and cute as the proverbial button. And the Mau-Mau got together with Tansi's elder daughter, and the pair of them played for literally hours. The Mau-Mau even wound up sleeping on the floor of the daughter's room, sharing bedtime stories, and giggling and keeping each other awake as a succession of (increasingly inebriate) adults wandered in and told 'em to keep it down.
The boys mostly watched Justice League cartoons -- a huge treat for them. And better still, Younger Son discovered the plum tree.
Turns out Tansy & Co don't much like the little red plums on their tree, so they were being left to the birds. Younger Son thought that was a waste, and so for about three hours, he trooped in and out of the house, bringing in four or five plums at a time, spitting the pips into the bin in the kitchen.
After the first couple of hours, the 'adult' crew (we were working our way through champagne, Sea Breezes, and eventually Limoncello) noticed the number of plums going into the kid. In fact, it became quite scary. Honestly? I have no idea how many he ate, but it had to be up around the three dozen mark by the end... hence the title of this post.
We repaired to our bedding, somewhat the worse for wear, well after midnight. I had a hell of a good time drinking and yarning with the others, and the kids enjoyed themselves too. Even Natalie had a nice day -- home in a clean, tidy house, entirely alone for the better part of 24 whole, quiet hours.
We're back now, though, having said a slightly said goodbye to Girlie Jones, who is on her way back to Perth. The Mau-Mau and Tansy's daughter bonded very nicely too... we'll have to find ways to let them get together again.
Meantime, after the long, tiring drive home, all I want to do is rest for a day or two... and wait for the terrifying buttsplosion that would seem the inevitable consequence of Younger Son's plumgluttony. Did I mention that he favours the firm, somewhat sour, slightly unripe plums? Or that he brought home about two kilos of the damned things in a cardboard box... after eating his way through another dozen this morning?
This just can't end well.