Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Curse of Tuesdays And Thursdays.

Seriously? Getting beyond a joke.

As you know, I supposedly have two days a week childfree in which to work. And if you've been round here for a while, you'll be aware that when shit happens at chez Flinthart, it mysteriously seems to happen on a Tuesday or a Thursday.

Let's take this week, shall we?

On Tuesday, the phone call came at 1000, while I was hard at work. It was the school. The Mau-Mau, it transpired, was poorly. Now, I knew she'd grabbed a wasp the day before and suffered a sting as a result. And indeed, her hand was swollen. But she was in pretty good shape when she left -- so what was the matter, exactly?

Oh, well... she complained of a sore tummy. And her hand looked swollen. And maybe she had a fever.

Now, I don't blame the school or the teacher. You don't take chances with a four-year-old, and the Mau-Mau can really turn on the whingery when she wants. Sure as shit I wouldn't want her in my class when she was really having a whine. So I sighed, and I went and collected her.

Well, the 'sore tummy' vanished at the offer of a bag of cheez and bacon balls (a luridly awful food habit she learned from, and shares with, her mother). And her general malaise disappeared the moment a Godzilla movie came into the discussions. And the swollen hand? Well, yeah. It was still swollen. And hot to touch, yep.

But you couldn't really call her sick.

So, I had her underfoot for Tuesday.

Now let's talk Thursday. On Thursday. the phone call came at 0930. Elder Son had to play his cello at an Anzac Day assembly at school... and he'd forgotten his bow, hadn't he?

Up to that point, I'd been studiously trying to avoid that assembly. I'm all for Elder Son and his music, but school assemblies do very little for me. Natalie, on the other hand, pines furiously for them. She speaks lyrically of her terrible disappointment at missing the performances her little dears put on, and sighs loudly, and says very pointed things like "Well, I'd just love to go if only I could!"

So there is, in fact, a certain pressure on me to attend. Even though I do rather feel like missing the little dears' performances is not unlike missing a prolonged bludgeoning. But this time I was determined to ignore Natalie's pointed hints -- until that phone call.

And so I got the bow to the school by 1000 so the practice could occur. Then I did the grocery shopping. Then at 1100 I attended the assembly. I did cheat, and leave as soon as Elder Son's class finished their gig, I admit. But by then, there were only two and a half hours left before I had to collect the kids again, and get them home, then suit them up for Scouts, etc.

So it goes.

Now I know next Thursday is Targa -- the yearly race that zooms past our door, and shuts our road down from 0715 onwards for some hours. So the kids'll be here for that. Yep. But so far, Tuesday has nothing painted on it -- except a big bullseye target.

Makes me wonder what will happen this time!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Further To The Mac Attack

A commentator raised the point that Macca's menu has altered. He also suggested my antiMac rant was 'a bit 1990s', so I figure he's earned a little gentle return fire. But I also figure that the fellow in question is quite a clever chap, and if the McMenu changes have shifted his opinion, then it's possibly worthwhile raising a few points for all to consider.

I'm aware of the changes to Mickey's menu. I'm also aware of the degree to which they were essentially cosmetic, at least initially. For example: when they started bringing those 'healthy salads' on board, they served 'em up with more fat than their regular burgers carried. (It was in the dressing, and the mayonnaise.) Oh - and the Heart Foundation Tick is a bit of a sad joke these days, I'm afraid. There was some argy-bargy over their standards a few years ago, and to cut a long story short - it's a whole lot easier to get a HFT than it used to be, I have been told. The excuse, I believe, was that they were hoping to motivate people to take small steps, at the very least. The original HFT standards were just 'too stringent', and apparently people weren't motivated to make healthy choices as a result. Or something. Either way - Mickey Dee makes a lot of noise about scoring its HFT. But they don't talk very much about the health downside of their other menu items, do they?

In any case, for me the underlying problem is the approach of the chains to their customers and to food in general. Micky Dee and the Colonel and their ilk aren't actually about feeding you. They're about channeling and herding you into a branded corporate 'experience' that (they hope) you will wish to repeat endlessly. It's a very hard sell they've got going, and behind the very, very hard sell, behind all the advertising, behind all the toys and the movie tie-ins and the incredible amount of branding aimed at children, the actual "food" isn't particularly good. Or cheap.

It's the taking-aim-at-children that pisses me off, and it's that aspect which moved both Natalie and I -- and presumably Birmo -- to 'cheat' and misdirect our kids until they were old enough to make their own decisions. It's one thing for an adult to talk up the 'healthy menu items' and decide to have a 'salad and a bottle of water'. It's entirely another for a kid to overlook all the chips and the ice creams and the milkshakes and the toys and the colourful packaging and the commemorative movie-character plastic cups, etc.

I can't buy time on every kid's TV programme to advertise the quality of home cooking. I can't get the licensing rights to must-have plastic toys that match all the latest kids movies. I can't raise iconic signs that stick up higher than 'most anything else for kilometres around. I can't muster tens of thousands of franchise outlets in hundreds of countries around the world. I can't afford to sponsor major sporting events. And most importantly, there is no way I can hide all these things from my children. Even in rural Tas, in a township that has no clown, no colonel, no dancing goddam tacos, no Pizza the Hutt -- even in a place like this, you don't escape the branding, the advertising, the toys, and the massive corporate push.

They don't permit the advertising of tobacco to children. They don't permit the advertising of alcohol to children. This is because, as we all agree, most children are not particularly good at critical thinking. They don't have the necessary experience to make complex, value-weighted judgements about issues which (for example) strongly affect their long-term health.

Current research suggests that the 'classic menu' stuff from the clown and the colonel is actually very, very bad for you indeed. Some of the papers coming liken the severity of long-term effects of heavy McEating to the damage done by heavy smoking and drinking. And even if you don't believe the research, take a look around you. There's a full-on epidemic of obesity out there, folks.

Think back to when you were a kid in school. How many 'fat kids' did you see? My memory is clear and sharp. I can remember the 'fat girl' in my grade 1 class. I also remember the 'fat girl' in my grade 3 class. Try as I may, I don't recall a single significantly overweight boy in any of my classes in the little country schools I attended.

In my first high school - Cairns High, 1200 kids - my year eight class had one boy who was overweight by the standards of the day. (You wouldn't look twice at him now.) I can remember seeing a handful of other kids who were overweight. Not many, though. They stood out. People noticed them.

My second high school was quite small - maybe eighty kids. But I remember the one overweight boy quite clearly, and the two girls who were heavier than they ought to have been. (One of the girls was aboriginal, which definitely has bearing on the issue. Obesity among the aboriginal population in Australia is an even bigger problem than in the white population.)

I went to school between 1972 and 1981, in the Cairns area. There was one KFC outlet, and no clownage at all.

Do I blame the clown and the colonel for modern lardy-arsedness? Hell, no - at least, not entirely. There are plenty of other dietary disasters and lifestyle changes that have come down the line since my school days. But there's no denying there are an awful lot of fat kids around now. And no matter what you may wish to say about the new menu items at Mickey Dee -- as far as I can tell, they're essentially 'gateway drugs', or 'enablers', designed to quell parental anxieties.

Because how many parents are going to order only the 'healthy' salad stuff, and tell the kids they can't have just a small bag of those hyper-advertised fries as a treat? (Go ahead. Close your eyes. How many different TV images can you recall, extolling the virtues of those 'fries'? Pervasive, aren't they?) And how many kids aren't going to ask for maybe just a soft drink, or even just a little ice-cream after their nice, 'healthy' salad?

"A bit 1990s"? I don't think so. The epidemic of morbidly fat, unhealthy, inactive kids looks very much like a 'today, right now' problem to me.

I have absolutely no guilt, no shame, and no regrets about keeping my kids away from the clown and his pusher buddies. And I'm not in any way impressed by 'fig-leaf' tactics involving salad items, Heart Foundation Ticks, or press releases extolling the healthy qualities of the new-look menus. Behind the lip-service to health, it's business as usual, and for those corporations, 'business as usual' means acquiring my children's reflexive eating habits as early as possible.

In fact, if you want to talk "1990s", I think you need look no further than the corporate culture of the Colonel and the Clown. After all, we're supposed to be savvier consumers these days. We're not supposed to be brand-loyal any more (except maybe for Apple addicts. They're weird.) The era of the 'captive audience' is supposedly over. Theoretically, modern corporations survive by responding to the needs of their market -- not by dictating to that market, and drowning any possible alternatives in an ocean of advertising money and media tie-ins.

Or maybe it's even older than 1990s, eh? St Francis Xavier and the Jesuits: "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man." Seems to me the Colonel and the Clown are thoroughly aware of that adage, and judging by the amount of money they spend targeting small children, they're acting on it. And by the decreasing number of children who qualify as 'small', they're having a lot more success than they deserve.

There's a lot more to this argument than I've covered. The more you dig, the more complicated and nasty the whole thing becomes. You get into issues of factory farming, of massive antibiotic usage to keep animals free of infection under crowded, unhygienic conditions. You find questions about land clearing, and about corporate farming practices in general. One example: here, where I live, a friend of mine leased one of his paddocks to a grower who was producing potatoes for McChips. The grower had to use a very, very specific variety of potato -- the only one the corporation will use. And further, only potatoes of a very specific size range were acceptable: anything too large or too small was simply left abandoned in the field.

As a result, when the season was done, my friend went out into his field and collected over a tonne of potatoes which had been left, deemed unacceptable. Initially, my friend thought this was quite the windfall. And it really does seem like a lot of wasted food, doesn't it?

It wasn't, though. We tried cooking those potatoes. They were the most extraordinarily tasteless things I've ever tried to eat. Didn't matter what you did to 'em -- it tasted like you were eating plain flour. Just starch. In the end, he composted most of 'em. (As I understand it, the 'fries' get flavouring added during the processing. McD is very, very careful to ensure that their 'fries' taste exactly the same the world over, after all.)

Still, tasteless or not... there were an awful lot of those potatoes left lying in that field because they don't meet cosmetic standards. That's a considerable investment in energy, in arable land, in fertiliser and manpower. Multiply that one little field by all the tens of thousands of fields all over the world that are needed to supply the Clown and the Colonel. And then glance across at all the places in the world where there's not enough to eat.

This has been a long post, triggered by a short comment. I accept the original statement wasn't intended in any hostile sense, and in writing this, my intent isn't to target a light-hearted, offhand remark from one person. But as I said: the person in question is no fool, and in his opinion, the 'new menu' represents a noteworthy improvement. To me, that suggests it's worth raising a few of the deeper issues. And at the very least, hopefully it explains my perspective as a parent just a little more clearly.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Small But Satisfying Victory. And Some Vomit.

Today was chilly and gloomy. I got some writing done while the Mau-Mau took in a bit of quality ABC kids TV. Then we played the harp together for a while. No - I'm not kidding. I own a small Irish harp. I'm not particularly good, but it's nice to play, and I'm introducing the Mau-Mau to it because a) she loves her some harp music (her favourite bedtime music is Arianna Savall) and b) her small hands suit the delicate instrument more than mine, and c) she can sing with it, and d) she likes playing it with me.

A lot of laundry got done too. And a very unfortunate amount of back-and-forth to Scottsdale. Delivered the boys to school in the morning, with their instruments. Went back at lunch to get the shopping done, and check the post - and deliver unto Elder Son his forgotten school bag, complete with lunch. And finally, late in the evening, yet another trip all the way through Scottsdale and out to Bridport, to collect the boys.

You see, they had one of their orchestra days today, and orchestra practice is in Launceston. But we've discovered another local parent with a kid in the orchestra, so we're dividing up the inevitable trip-back-and-forth routine. So I had to duck down to Bridport (where the other parent lives) when the boys came back.

The Mau-Mau stayed at home with Mum. But because Mum was on-call, we had a couple neighbours over, just in case Natalie got called away while I was off collecting the boys. This is the kind of convoluted nonsense one has to go through to have a life when one is married to a country GP - but that's just how it is, so no complaints.

Anyway, I drove off and reached the designated house about ten minutes before the Other Parent made it all the way back from Launceston. Had a pleasant chat with her partner - admired their rather nice house, discussed their new puppy... nice, human stuff like that.

Then the boys arrived, along with the Other Parent and her two kids. And right away, I noticed two things: first, that Younger Son was a rather nasty shade of pale green, and second, that they were carrying McDonald's Happy Meal bags.

Oh dear.

I did actually prep the lads for this. Y'see, they've never eaten Maccas in their life, and I had a half-idea that there might be a post-orchestra McFood stop. I also figured it might constitute a bit of a treat for the other kids, so I told mine not to complain: just to order something with the cash provided, and just suck it up.

Apparently they had Chicken McNugget Happy Meals. Or... part of 'em, anyway. Elder Son managed most of his, and put together his How To Train Your Dragon toy with the wings in the proper position. But Younger Son only managed a couple of nuggets, and half his chips... and his toy wasn't looking too sane, either. But that's nothing new, really.

We fetched him a bucket pronto, and gave him some ginger and lemon tea. And I explained as nicely as I could that the boys just weren't used to Mickey Dee - while trying not to sound too damned precious about the whole thing. And to be fair, the other family aren't regular McSuckers. It was a matter of convenience and speed, and a bit of a treat, and that's perfectly understandable -- and they weren't to know that my boys have been on the wrong end of some devilish Anti-McFood Psyops from both their mother and myself since they were quite small.

Once Younger Son returned to a more normal colour, we headed homewards. The little guy was still feeling pretty sorry for himself, though. Just sat there, all curled up on his seat in the dark. I had a long chat with Elder Son about the whole McFood thing: explained that his Mum and I weren't by way of forbidding the stuff - just that we wanted the boys to be old enough to make decent decisions about their food before they really sank fang into anything trademarked by Ronald McDonald or the Colonel or their ilk.

I explained the business model of fast food franchises. I pointed out that thinking of the McFood people as 'food providers' is a mistake: they aren't in the business of feeding anybody. They're in the business of making money by creating a rapid, convenient, and highly repeatable experience designed to bring people back by offering them a lot of fat, sugar and salt, which (as animals) we're geared to desire.

The boys seemed to take that on board, which is good. Of course, their very fresh McExperience must have played a part. When I said that the McFood was concocted in a fashion designed to bring people back, Younger Son opined in a low, pained voice that it didn't work very well. And he further suggested that they probably shouldn't be called "Happy Meals". He offered "Angry Meals" as an alternative.

Shortly after that, he made some garbled noises to indicate we should pull over. Then he got out of the car, and spraypainted the countryside in various shades of Half-Digested McFoody Chunks With Chopped Carrot.

It wasn't particularly pleasant, and he was quite a sorry lad by the time we made it home. Happily, I'd made some soup stock during the day, so I put together a quick bowl of hot noodle soup with fresh, crunchy veges and thin-sliced marinated beef, and the boys got a bit of real nutrition into them.

Best of all, Elder Son took the time to thank me -- and his mother -- for keeping him away from the McFood people when he was too little to know better, and thanked us again for introducing him to all the food he's learned to enjoy over the years. And you should have heard the appreciative noises he made over that bowl of soup!

Flinthart 1, McFood Culture 0... in your face, Ronald McDonald!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sh*t Happens.

Today was Thursday. In theory, on Thursdays the kids all go to school and I get a few hours on my own. What usually happens is... different.

Sometimes it's power failures. Our local power company is really big on dropping out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for some reason. And of course, it's entirely coincidental that those are the two days of the week the kids are all at school.

Sometimes it's other stuff. Life marches on. Errands. Tasks. Stuff.

Today was a 'stuff' day.

The Mighty Earth King had to have its regular service today, and under terms of the contract, it has to have its services in Launceston. Yippee. They wanted the car from 1000 through to 1600, and since there was a running crack in the windscreen, I put in a claim with our insurance people to have it done at the same time.

This was all supposed to happen last week, on Wednesday - but with visiting relatives and gastro and changes to Nat's roster at the last minute, I had to cancel out. So it got dumped onto today.

Now, normally if for some reason neither Natalie nor myself is available at the right time to collect the kids post-school, we can shunt 'em off to Amazing Neighbour Anna and her Mighty Half-Swedish Brood. But as of this very afternoon, Amazing Anna and much of her mob were off to Darwin for a flying visit.

And so it came to pass that I loaded all three kids into the car, and set off for Launceston to spend six straight hours entirely on foot in that small, but determinedly hilly city. Not my idea of a jolly good time.

We handed over the vehicle at the appointed hour. Then we spent two hours running errands of various sorts -- replacement for my missing firearms license; cable for Nat's iPod (she's lost two already. Steve Jobs is getting rich off her - iPod USB cables are $20 each); microphone for Nat's iPod (did I mention Steve Jobs is soaking Nat? $80 for a pissy little plug-in microphone?). New flannelette sheets for all the beds in the house for the upcoming winter months...

All of this involved a shitload of walking. The kids were troopers, though, so once we'd done all that I took 'em for a tasty lunch, and then (sigh...) we watched How To Train Your Dragon in 3d.

Fruuuuuuucckkk I am SICK of those stoopid fruckin' 3d glasses. The whole 3d thing can disappear up James Cameron's capacious backside for all of me. The 'added experience' of a limited illusion of depth to the onscreen image does NOT counterbalance the irritation of spending two hours blinking and straining through specs that even Buddy Holly would have rejected... and that AFTER he died.

The movie? Oh. Yeah. I guess it was all right. I think I was more entertained than I was during Clash Of The Tight'uns. Probably. Maybe. But it was all a bit American Teenage Formulaic for me. Had its moments, yeah, but I wasn't laughing out loud anywhere, and nothing really came up that caught my interest. If I was reviewing it, I'd say 'mostly harmless'.

Attendance wasn't exactly massive. It was a midday showing on a school day. There was one (1) person other than the kids and I in the cinema. Since I was hoping for a phone call from the mechanics, I asked the other attendee if she'd mind if I left my mobile phone on. She opined that she wouldn't be at all concerned, so long as I agreed to ignore the illicit food and snacks she'd sneaked into the cinema. I felt that was an acceptable compromise, so we went back to sitting at near opposite ends of the theatre and ignoring each other.

The kids liked the empty cinema, anyhow. With a further nod from the Random Other Person Making Up The Entirety Of The Audience, they were given permission to wander about. Crawl under a few seats. Play a bit of hide-and-seek. Nice for them, I guess. And they enjoyed the movie, too.

One note: I have now seen the trailer for the upcoming Marmaduke movie twice. And I don't really know where to begin. They bothered to film Marmaduke? I mean -- fruckkk! The one and only comic I've ever seen that rivals both The Family Circus and Fred Basset for sheer brain-melting unfunniness. And... Owen Wilson voicing the main animal? Sure, yeah, Wilson's made some dogs -- but this is really going too far.

Rarely, if ever, have I been so completely repelled by a film trailer. I already hated Marmaduke, the comic. But based on this film trailer, it's quite likely I would prefer to tear off my own head and eat it rather than watch Marmaduke, the movie.

Anyway, after the film we still had two hours to kill. So we went back and collected our sheets from Harris Scarfe (where they'd kindly held them for us, so I didn't have to carry all the bags into the movie.) Then we dropped into the gun shop, and I applied for permission to get an air rifle. (Starlings. Natalie doesn't like me using the .22 around the house, 'cos it's loud. But I don't like starlings: nasty imported pests that drive out the native birds, raid our fruit, and make a lot of noise and mess. So: air rifle time.)

After that, we walked another few blocks back to the mall, and tried to get a new watchband for Elder Son's wristwatch. It was no-go at the jeweller ("we only provide bands for the brands that we carry, sir..." So sue me. My not-yet-ten-year-old son is wearing a downmarket, generic-but-tough-and-waterproof wristwatch, not an expensive fashion label. Listen, this kid can barely remember to wear pants. You think I'm gonna put a hundred-dollar wristwatch on him? Screw you!) so we went around the corner to the shoe-repair place.

Well, they didn't have a wristwatch band either. But they DID have lava lamps at half price, and the boys remembered that Natalie has been pining for a Lava Lamp for aeons. Who the fruck pines for a Lava Lamp? My wife, that's who. I tried buying her one once, but I completely failed. The one I got was full of slow-moving glitter instead of hideously gluggly lumps of wax... and apparently that really wasn't good enough. So when the boys spotted real, honest-to-Cthulhu Lava Lamps for sale at only $13.50, there was no stopping us.

Couple more blocks walking. We drop in on our favourite secondhand bookstore. Twenty minutes and seventy dollars later, we leave with a bag of books and comics. And walk another five or six blocks to a park.

And there we stay for the last hour. The kids have swings and rocky-horsey things. I have books. There is grass, and shade. It Is Good.

Finally, just shy of 1600, I called the mechanical folks and they allowed as we could have our car back. So we walked another two blocks, paid the bill, collected the car... but still no home for us, oh no. Quick stop at the supermarket for dinner makings. Yep. And naturally, when we finally made it home at about half past five, I jumped straight into the cooking.

So that was my Thursday. I can only wonder what marvels my next 'day off' will bring!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Credit Where It Is Most Lavishly Due

It's rare that I want to sing the praises of a retail outlet. But these guys are above and beyond:

They're a Sydney based store, supplying gear to martial artists. And they're goddam brilliant.

When I needed to buy a bunch of very expensive mats for the dojo, these people helped me bring the price down to a reasonable level. And they provided valuable advice on which mats represented good quality, and value for money. And they managed to minimise shipping costs by bundling the mats in the most cost-effective way possible.

They've never, ever been other than super-honest and cheerful and friendly. When I ordered a couple of bokken with saya, or scabbards, they sent me an email telling me they'd run out of the model I ordered... so they sent me the next model up the quality chain, at no extra cost.

And this time? Well, on Monday I finally remembered to order a couple of new re-breakable boards for the dojo. I don't really have a lot of time for all that board-breaking stuff, but I will say this: kids love it, and they really get a sense of accomplishment out of it, and they will work very bloody hard and concentrate fiercely to get their technique and form into shape so they can carry it off. You can spend endless hours trying to teach a kid to throw a proper hammer-fist and get absolutely nowhere -- but if you have a rebreakable board, that same kid will do virtually anything to figure out how to smash it.

At about $75 each, they're not cheap. But when it comes to motivating kids to learn how to throw a strike properly, and giving them a super boost of confidence when they realise that they can actually do this, there's nothing to beat 'em.

I had the ultra-beginners board already. It's white in colour, and a good sneeze will break it. I let the five-year-olds work out their kicking techniques on it. It makes 'em happy.

I also had the brown and the black, which are more or less equivalent to pine boards respectively 5cm and 7cm thick. But those aren't much good to kids under the age of fifteen or so. It takes a respectable strike to break those things.

So on Monday, I put in an order for a Yellow, and an Orange - the next two up from White. I put in the order via the Internet.

On Tuesday, the Shogun people phoned me to clarify credit card details, and to ask me if I wanted them to store my credit card details for future use. We had a friendly chat, and passed the time of day.

And today -- being Wednesday -- the boards turned up in the mail just before the regular class.

Personalised service. Overnight post. Total customer care. I am totally not used to this kind of thing... and it's brilliant!

If you happen to want anything of a martial arts sort of nature, you really need to talk to these folks. If they haven't got what you're after, I bet they can help you find out who does.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Well. Work on the opera project is proceeding nicely. It's a real pleasure to discover you're working with someone who understands cross-media collaboration. I know words and stories. I don't claim to know staging, visuals, or the composition of music. And so it's been refreshing as hell to find that I don't actually have to worry about all that other stuff. Cool! I'm really enjoying this project.

Other writing works are slowly, begrudgingly beginning to give way. I have to somehow overcome this feeling that there's always some other demand on my time. I mean -- yes, there is always some other demand on my time -- but I have to put the kids, the family, study, cleaning, cooking, shopping, gardening, martial arts, music and everything else to the back of my head and build some dedicated time. I can't keep doing it in stolen snatches, or at the dead-end of the night when I'm too tired to think.

And yet... tomorrow I have to put the car in for a service, and a new windscreen. And Friday I have the daughter all day, and there's orchestra in the afternoon.

Still. Natalie's taking the kids for a weekend in Launceston. I'll get much of Saturday, and maybe even Sunday. I'll put a chain across the driveway or something: discourage visitors. If I get two near-whole days, I can put down ten thousand words. Maybe more.

Part of the problem is that when the air clears and I finally do get to sit down, my brain rebels at the idea of dropping straight into the complex, painstaking work of writing fiction. For example: after two weeks straight of solo parenting/visitors/gastro/extra kids I got a day almost to myself yesterday. And I achieved fuck-all. In fact, at one point I sat on the back deck in the sun for nearly an hour, staring into the distance. Patting the dog. And sitting.

I couldn't bring myself to move. The sun was warm. The view was lovely. The world was green and gold... and nobody, nobody had any demands on me for those few, fleet hours.

I can write two, maybe two-and-a-half thousand words in an hour when things are going well.

Meanwhile: a good night at sword training. I was the only student there, and I had a moment of realisation which will be helpful.

You see, I took up Iaido because I felt the practicality of ju-jitsu had skewed my vision of martial arts into a very particular direction. Not a bad direction necessarily - but viewing everything through a filter of application and practicality does tend to downplay certain aspects of martial training which are potentially valuable and interesting.

The mental shift, though.... that's quite difficult.

It's hard enough to get used to gigantic hakama trousers, and the appalling complicated knots and ties. To remember to fold your gigantic pants properly. And I admit it: I rarely iron my pleats, and on the occasions when I must, I can't remember which pleat is about 'honour', and which one is about 'duty', and which one is 'family', nor what the other two are supposed to be at all. I do remember to tie the little bow on my jacket so it sits horizontally, not vertically. And I'm finally able to make it through the complex opening ritual of sword-in-left-hand to sword-in-right-hand-and-bow, to sword back in left hand, to sword in both hands and bow, and then finally emplacing the sword in the mass of ties and belts and stuff at my hip.

And I'm patient enough to go through the cleaning, powdering, and oiling ritual every time the sword sees any extended use. I even know enough to concentrate completely on the blade while I'm undertaking these most mundane of actions. It helps that the blade is brutally sharp, of course: one doesn't want to slip up while wiping oil onto something that could take your finger off in a heartbeat.

But -- the actual waza, the techniques. The mental approach is -- all wrong, dammit!

I'm used to minimising my physical presence and gravitas. Anyone who knows me well knows that the more uptight a situation gets, the more potential there is for me to be angry, the quieter and more polite I become. And that's my ju-jitsu training, over twenty years now. The more difficult and confrontational a situation, the gentler, quieter and more thoughtful all my actions and bearing become.

Of course, the moment it becomes clear that action has to be taken -- all bets are off. And so it should be. Because negotiating quietly and politely gives one the best chance of being heard - but also maximises the shock and surprise when one explodes into full-blooded conflict.

That's ju-jitsu. Don't signal your intent. Don't project hostility. Stay calm and confident, but offer nothing for the opponent to fasten onto as a casus belli. And thus, when you are forced to go farther, you have many more options available to you.

Yet it's completely different in working with the sword. You're meant to project. To take up space. To extend your personal presence and completely own the space around you, both physically and in that strange mental/emotional space created by human conflict. There's no 'yield to conquer' here. Once the sword is drawn, even if only as a warning (and there are plenty of techniques which start off with a warning, or incorporate a warning to others after you've cut down your primary opponent or opponents) you're switched on, full of contained but absolute... well, if not aggression then an unyielding commitment to complete mastery of the situation.

The two approaches aren't entirely incompatible, no. But... ju-jitsu is about flexibility and adaptability. Iaido - if it becomes Iaijutsu, and is put to use - is about killing the other person or persons, because that's all there is to it.

There's considerable subtlety and complexity to Iaido. But the end result... there's only one. Whereas in ju-jitsu, a successful outcome can mean escape, or simple discouragement of an opponent, or control over an opponent, or disabling -- or any of a spectrum of responses up to and including killing.

It's hard for me to make that mental switch. I'm not used to thinking in the black-and-white terms dictated by the lethal nature of the sword. But - having recognised that now, perhaps I can do better.

Meanwhile: I planted a new lemon tree today. It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase. I was buying rope at the hardware store, to lash together some CCA-treated pine logs in the trailer, when I saw a lovely, healthy little lemon tree. I have four lemon trees already, in varying states of health and fruit-producing capacity, but we use a lot of lemons. I've put the new one in near the site of the old Blackwood. The kids like eating lemons (because they're weird, okay?) and they like summer lemonade. One more lemon tree isn't a bad thing.

And why the pine logs? Because I'm having another crack at strawberries. I've determined that if I can keep out the birds, the possums, the wallabies, the rabbits, and the majority of the slugs, grasshoppers and field mice, I should do okay. So: three by six metre patch on the slope, boundaried by six CCA posts each sticking up by 2m, with 1m embedded. Wallaby/rabbit fencing all the way around. 30cm of chicken wire as an 'apron' on the ground all the way around to discourage burrowing. Shadecloth and birdwire to 1m vertically all around -- this should stop field mice and the majority of the damned grasshoppers. CCA framework joining and reinforcing the tops of all the posts into a strong, rectangular support frame which will hold up nylon UV-resistant birdnetting, going down all the way to the top of the shadecloth/birdwire. This will keep out possums and birds, while still admitting the necessary bees.

Meanwhile, inside that 3x6 patch, I'll rip up the entire ground surface. Then I'll lay down four strips of well-rotted manure lengthwise, to provide a decent start for the plants. And then I'll used rather a lot of my nice new mulch to completely mulch the entire space. I may even go and get some pine sawdust just to really put the icing on the cake. The sawdust and mulch should keep the slugs at bay, and further discourage the grasshoppers by reducing the greenery inside the patch to an absolute minimum. And if I mulch for a further metre all the way around the outside of the patch, the grasshoppers will have no incentive to approach.

That's the Flinthart Strawberry Plan. This year, I'm serious!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Clash Of The Tight Ones


End of the Easter hols. Rainy, cold day. Caught up with some of the writing. Done just about all the Kid Wrangling I can handle over the last two weeks. (Remember: Natalie was in Canberra all last week. And much of this week, we had Nat's sister and her toddler in the place. Complete with vomit.)

I caved. I took the kids to see the new Clash Of The Titans.

Actually, to be more accurate I took 'em in to see How To Train Your Dragon, but that didn't work out. The info on the cinema website was screwed up, and there was no 1340 session of HTTYD. But there was a showing of COTT. And so, with some minor trepidation, I took my nine-year-old son, my seven-year-old son, and my four-year-old daughter to see this M-rated sword-and-sandal monsterfest.

Very minor trepidation, mind you. Since the Mau-mau is still dead keen on Godzilla, I really didn't think there'd be a lot to disturb her. And I was right. She thought the gigantic Kraken thing was -- and I quote -- 'really cool!'. Nor did any of the other beasties and critters distress her in the slightest, judging by the way she spent most of the movie leaning forward eagerly in her seat. Giant scorpions? Snaky medusa-women? Cool!

And what did I think?

Well - I think it was a remake of a B movie. I'm astonished they got people like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes in to play Zeus and Hades. I was tickled to see Alexander Siddig of longtime Star Trekkie stuff fame suit up as Hermes. And I was quite pleased by Gemma Arterton in the role of Io. She's not hard to look at.

Anyway, it pretty much stuck to the B-movie traditions. Oh, they gave Sam Worthington more of a character arc than Harry Hamlin got. And the FX were extra shiny, yeah. But hey: I always loved Harryhausen's stuff, and without that wonderfully odd-looking stop-motion animation, it was... well, big and shiny. Yeah.

I can see why the kids went for it. Lots of swords and monsters. Not much in the way of thinky material. Shiny armour on the Gods... whee.

The one thing that irked me? The lack of random nudity. Seriously. Back in the day, when they were making films like this routinely, Gemma Arterton would have had at least one mandatory waterfall-bathing scene during the Journey To The Stygian Witches, no question about it. And when Andromeda went into the drink at the end, if that cheesecloth tunic of hers managed to stay on, it would at least have had the decency to go see-through.

Don't get me wrong, here. I notice that none of the male players got particularly undressed either, and while that's not my particular swing, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, no? So, you know -- I'm prepared to stand by anyone who wants to whinge about the lack of XY exposure too. But personally, I really think this New Puritanism has gone far enough. When we can't even rely on cheesy sword-and-sandal flicks to provide some eye candy on the way through the brain (and right out the other side) I think our culture has truly lost something.

I'm not sure what it was, but it's definitely lost.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Yep. Raining.

Good thing. It's that wintry, Tasmanian rain that comes and goes in fierce bursts, interspersed with drizzle. It's still warmer than usual for this time of year, though, so this rain will bring mushrooms of many kinds. Also, it will push up the grass, and maybe help along all my recent plantings: gooseberries, kiwis, bamboo, mulberries... my orange tree, and even my lime tree.

I've spent the morning writing up a manuscript assessment. Needed a break from my own work anyway, and it's always helpful carving through somebody else's errors. I learn. From this MS, I learned the importance of structuring scenes within a novel, and the rather tremendous power of Point of View. I think probably need to cut back on my feedback a little, though. Including the notes-made-while-reading (which I always include) the whole document ran to nine thousand words.

Luckily that doesn't take me too long. But it's still gotta be daunting to read, no matter how helpfully and supportively it's written. (And those of you now thinking about sending me an MS: I get paid for this stuff, ya know.)

We've got a couple visitors with us at the moment. Natalie's sister is here, with her little toddler-type. They've been here a few days now, and it's been good, what with my lot home over the Easter break. We did the egg-hunt stuff on Monday, not Sunday, and there was much chocolate-fuelled jubilation.

Unfortunately, my sister-in-law has just come down with a good dose of gastro, both ends going. And of course, as Chief Cook, I'm watching in horror, wondering what I've done. Was it the twice-cooked chicken? Surely not! Nobody else has had even a twinge. Was it the charcoal-roasted leg of lamb with crispy new potatoes and green salad? How? How could that be? Was it the free-range eggs baked inside a ramekin lined with locally sourced smoky bacon? I can't see how that could be -- but as far as I can remember, that's the only dish she's had all by herself so far.

Never mind. Nobody seems likely to keel over and die.

The new heat pump or reverse-cycle AC unit or whatever you call it is doing its job admirably. It's quiet and efficient, and despite that it's dark and bleak and rainy outside, we've not even thought about lighting the wood stove. Good. I'm over that thing... smoky, hard to start. Suppose I'll have to keep it around, though. The local power supply is notoriously unreliable. Especially on a Tuesday, when I'm trying to work.

Meanwhile: sword practise - check. Ju-jitsu practice - check. Music on the new whistle Nat brought back from the folky festival - check. Writing - behind.

Gotta go.

A Random Work Of Genius

Best. Fanfic. Ever.


If you read science fiction, in this version Harry is smart, science-oriented, and asks every goddam question you EVER wanted to ask about the idiocy of the Muggle World/Wizarding World paradox. And he asks them cleverly, in-plot, with lots of character and sheer fun.

This is the world where Harry Potter isn't a mispelling of 'Hapless Pratt'. It's the equivalent of injecting an intelligent, normal human into a Zombie movie, or a slasher flick. And it's great fun.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blogger Is Getting Really Buggy

I guess it's probably because I use a Yahoo account to check in. They're trying to Nazi us all into Gmail/Google accounts, probably to try and shepherd us into the ever-expanding cloud of Googlegarbage. I'm not big on social media at the best of times. The only reason I put Dirk Flinthart on Facebook was because people kept noisily inviting me to do it. Now I have possibly the planet's most derelict Facebook page... yippee.

Anyway, I really don't want to try to jump through the hoops associated with shifting the ID on this blog to my Gmail account. But one of these days I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and do it. As it stands, I'm having a lot of trouble lately in commenting on other people's blogger output. If you haven't heard from me in a while, I probably just got tired of error messages...

Meanwhile: it's Day Four of the the Solo Parent Trek. Natalie's in Canberra, at the National Folk Festival. I keep getting text messages with questions about whether I want a silver-and-blackwood whistle (fuck, yes... I mean, is the Pope a Nazi? I mean, kiddie-fiddler? NO! I mean Catholic. Jeez, what an embarrassing set of confusions, eh? Sorry about that, Your Holiness.) and what size tricorn do I think the boys take, and does this electric fiddle make my bum look big? You know: the usual stuff. I think the bank account's gonna take a hit here.

It's been a challenging week. I allowed myself to take Monday night off sword training, but made up for it by having dinner with two (totally gorgeous) medical students. When we first organised it, Natalie was supposed to be home - but then all kinds of stuff went pear-shaped, and she realised she'd booked a flight on the Monday afternoon, so it was just me, the kids, the lovely medical lasses... oh, and Mike the Historical Neighbour who dropped by just on sundown as he does from time to time.

Good timing on his part, I must say. We had grilled kebabs of chicken, and separately of vegetables (one of the medical maidens was a vegetarian) with a spicy peanut sauce, and we had a part-stir-fried, part-steamed dish of tofu and Chinese cabbage (the vegetarian medical maiden can cook, as well as being tremendous fun, and cute) and then we tackled the making of profiteroles.

Strangely, that didn't go well. I've never actually had profiteroles not work before. It was disturbing. I think the mix was too runny, and I think I should have set the oven to all-over heat, not just base heat. But it was unnerving. I didn't like that. Neverthless, they tasted damned good, so we ate 'em anyhow.

Wednesday went peculiar because on top of the usual martial arts classes, the primary school had a Movie Night, and Elder Son went. So... on top of the bizarre do-si-do of children (I actually pick up six kids every Wednesday arvo from the school, and take 'em to ju-jitsu. Various other parents get involved in sorting 'em out afterwards, usually.) with Natalie being away, and Elder Son needing to get to the movies... yeah, it got very complicated. Very complicated indeed.

Meanwhile... yeah. Today I managed to finish stitching together and decorating a medieval-style tunic for Younger Son. There's a medieval fair tomorrow over Exeter way. Chances are I'll take the kids for a while. We need an outing, and they'll be delighted by the chance to prance around in their cloaks and hoods. I'll break out the Big White Shirt, dust off my best Elizabethan English, and we'll see what havoc we can raise, eh?

House is in good order. So are the grounds, more are less. Children clean, fed. I'm a bit behind on a range of different work, but I'm doing the best I can on that... Natalie gets back Sunday night. We'll do the Big Easter Egg Thing on Monday, to include Nat's sister, and Little Cousin Zanna. After that, maybe I'll get a bit of time for myself.

As it is, I'm trading off on sleep at the moment. That only works for so long...