Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Is there a job worse than fencing? In the entire panoply of peculiarly rural time-sinks, is there another task so flat-out irritating and painful as putting up a fence?

I don't imagine so. Putting up even the crappiest sort of fence calls for a truly stupid array of tools and gear. And rather a lot of that gear is cantankerous beyond belief. Fencing wire, for example: I swear that shit is sentient, and stone cold vicious. You clip off a couple metres of the stuff, you absolutely better be dead-cert prepared for two things. First, the piece you clip off is going to recoil suddenly and dramatically, and the now-sharp end is going to lunge for the softest, most vulnerable part of your anatomy it can find. Second, the remaining coil of wire is also going to adjust itself drastically, and either take its own shot at your eyes (groin, shin, hand, lip, ear... whatever it can see) or just hurl itself to the ground in a tangle of truly Gordian complexity.

And that's just the wire. Don't forget all the other shit: pickets and droppers and anchors and clips and strainers and staples and cutters and drivers and hammers and spades and fence-post diggers and... hell with it. Sure, you usually don't need the whole goddam shebang for one fence, but even the simplest piece of fencing requires a disturbingly large list of crap.

Why am I whining about fencing right now? Because my goddam head still hurts, is why. Yesterday I went out to sink the last couple of star pickets for the strawberry patch -- having already put in the six by three-metre upright treated pine posts which will hold the overhead netting, of course.

D'you know how you sink a star picket? (If you haven't got a you-beaut multi-thousand-dollar hi-tech usually-goddam-broken attachment for your megatractor, that is. Which I don't.) You use a bit of very heavy steel piping. One end is open. The other is capped with a heavy plate welded in place. Two heavy, welded handles grace the sides of the thing. You stick your star picket pointy-end into the ground. Then you slide your picket-driver over the top until the welded plate hits the flat end of the star picket.

Then, using a hell of a lot of strength and force, you lift the picket driver so it slides back up the picket, and you slam it back down again. A lot. Repeatedly. Until by main force, you drive the bastard into the ground to the depth you desire.

Those of you thinking 'why doesn't he just use a sledge?' are desperately inexperienced in the ways of Star Picket Evil. Suffice it to say that if you are foolish enough to attempt the Sledge Hammer approach, you're likely to kill yourself, the hammer, or the picket -- or even all three at once, plus a couple of bystanders, if you get enough English on the picket when it springs out of the ground under the combined influence of a misaligned hammerblow and an unexpected rock buried in the earth...

Anyway, it wasn't a particularly big job. This is a six by three enclosure. I'm using six treated pine poles as mentioned before to lift the netting, and I put a star picket into the gap between each of the two poles, ensuring that the fence will be supported every one and a half metres. Sturdy, and easy to maintain.

It was late afternoon. I was tired. My attention wandered. I mean... for fuck's sake, how much concentration can one bring to bear when banging one stupid chunk of metal down on another? Duh. Duh. Duh. Dang dang dang dang dang... the noise is goddam deafening, yeah. Jeez, I wonder if I've got enough wonton wrappers? I got a bit of extra pork mince so I could --


And that, my friends, was my response when the picket-driver rebounded just a little bit high, and instead of coming straight down on the picket, the bottom edge of the driver hung up on the top of the picket... and that heavy chunk of steel pipe promptly fell straight forward and cracked itself onto the top of my forehead.

I must have come very close to splitting my scalp outright. Certainly the top layer of skin got bashed and stripped away, but I didn't bleed much at all, which is a wonder. Scalp wounds are major bleeders. But oh, my, the pain of it. The sudden, blinding impact. The instant of christ what the fuck ow ow ow ow my head really hurts!

No real harm done. That particular part of the skull is one of the densest, hardest bones in the body, and an impact barely sufficient to macerate the skin is hardly enough to cause real injury.

Pain, though. Lots of pain. And outrage.

I finished driving the last couple of pickets, and put away all the gear. I even made a point of not being crabby for the rest of the evening, despite the headache -- though I admit I was less than sympathetic about Elder Son's mouth ulcer crisis.

I will finish that goddam fence, of course. I just have to keep reminding myself how very good home-grown Tasmanian strawberries taste.

Meanwhile, I had a nice email from the opera libretto people. Apparently the words I've sent them are in the right sort of ballpark, which is nice. The task is reasonably challenging: part of the story develops in near-Elizabethan English, while another part unfolds in the kind of late 18th-century language you'd know from Byron and Shelley and their ilk. I have to move back and forth between the two without losing the thread or my own focus.

What I'm doing is writing the stuff, then correcting for Elizabethan/Byronic, then working to enhance the imagery. After that, there's another editing pass to get the Elizabethan/Byronic flavour right. And then there's another pass in which I read the stuff aloud.

Why? Well... somebody's gotta sing this stuff, or at least sing lines derived from it. I don't want the poor fockers looking at the lyrics/words and being overcome with an immediate desire to assassinate the writer. I want the words to come at least reasonably easily and rhythmically off the tongue - and the only way I can make that work is by reciting it myself.

Of course, there's inevitably some adjustment. Unless you've done this kind of thing, you won't realise how different the written word is from spoken language -- or even operatically sung stuff. Without going into too much detail, there's a certain natural rhythm to spoken language, and you have to work with it, or you make your dialogue nigh useless. (Shakespeare was a complete God at this stuff. Go look up 'iambic pentameter' sometime.)

So. Once the words are adjusted for speakasingability, then there's yet another pass to ensure the Elizabethan/Byronic thing hasn't gone fubar. After all, there's no point in adjusting your hi-falutin' lyrical content for vocalisation if you're just going to jam it full of contemporary stuff. Nope: gotta stay in the appropriate idiom.

Thus the positive feedback was much appreciated, and I am inspired to stay home tonight and crank out a few more scenes.

Of course, part of the staying-at-home is the kids. The daughter has an increasingly wet and chunky cough that messes with her sleep. And the Elder Son, who is almost never ill, has come down with a headache and vomiting. Ergo this is not a one-parent night, and so I'll stay here, keep an eye on the little buggers so Nat can sleep, and meanwhile put in a few extra yards on this opera stuff. Got me a bottle of red to deal with the lingering headache from the picket-driver; the fire is going nice and warm, and I've a few good hours before morning...


  1. Hey, the opera thing sounds cool. WHo's it for? Major stage?

    Mmmmmm red wine.

    I'm bloody off it trying to get rid of endless sinus response to giving up fags. Argh.

    Makes me wish I was 20 again, just so I can get trashed.

  2. Hughesy: I don't know how much I'm supposed to say at this point. I know there's a site for it somewhere, but at the moment I'm immersed in the writing, and I haven't followed up on that side yet.

    Getting trashed... yeah. There was a certain fun to that, wasn't there? Ah well. I'm sure there are counterbalancing delights to growing older, right?


    ...ahhh, sheeit.

  3. "You can write this stuff, but you can't make me say it"

    ~ Harrison Ford to George Lucas

    Thank God the only opera Lucas wrote was space opera.

  4. I know your type. You're just trying to deprive those poor sweet birdies and beasts of the field of a share in nature's bounty. It's fitting that Gaia punished you.
    PS. my partner wants to know where the stalk of the strawberry-plant is attached to the polystyrene punnet they grow on?
    PSS. It's on nights like those I recall thinking that it might be non-PC to be nasty to single parents, but there really is a good reason to have more than one around.

  5. Dave... if you decide you want to grow strawberries over there on Robinson Crusoe Island, bear in mind the following:

    2) Possums
    3)Rabbits (have you got them over there?)
    4)Field mice
    5) Green rosellas and other irritating birds
    6) slugs

    I've been growing strawberries for a few years now, and generally salvaging a kilo or so at the end of the day. This time I'm going in for the kill!

  6. Here we call the t-posts and field fencing and they're every bit as awful to work with. Two acres needed fencing with this go!

  7. No rabbits. I am already experiencing the delights of the others. Inculding the great levitating trap. Yes, really. I'm going to have to do fort Knox eventually but for now it's traps and waving my arms around :-(... and getting iritated about people telling me how sweet the 'sharers'are. How did you manage a kilo?