Saturday, September 25, 2010

Still Damned Tired

I feel like I haven't actually stopped since about a week before we took off to Borneo. I mean -- first there was all the prep and packing, and all the taking care of loose ends. And then there was three weeks with three children in a couple of very foreign countries. It was a lovely holiday, yes, but not what I'd call 'restful' by any means.

Then I got back, and I had a week to catch up. That included re-reading the four novel-length MS which the ROR writers sent me for our meet in Melbourne, and of course, editing the eight-of-ten scenes from the libretto piece into shape. As well as taking up home duties of cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc again.

Then it was off to Melbourne, for the ROR meeting and WorldCon. As you know, I combined regular Dad duties with irregular Flinthart stuff by bringing Jake to the WorldCon, so that wasn't exactly a cup of tea either. (Big tip o' the hat to Barnesm and his Weapon Against Society for easing the trek both for me, and young Jake.)

Returning from Melbourne, it was school holiday time. Kids underfoot. But of course, I was also trying to get through a bunch of things, as usual. Trying to edit video from the holidays into a shape useful for the boys at school. (The 'Food' section will be going on display at Younger Son's class this Friday, accompanied by yours truly cooking a version of Nyonya Chicken with steamed rice, followed by the classic street-drink/dessert 'ABC'. A dose of seriously foreign foodiness for a class of rural Tasmanian kids. Should be fun, no?)

One of the projects that really ate some time was the removal and replacement of the old wood-fired kachelofen stove thing. A German-designed wood heater, the kachelofen was a nice piece of work... but it had been bricked into position over twenty years previously, and no thought had been given to potential needs of maintenance. As a result, rusted and sprung seams in the cast iron system were pouring smoke into the house every time we tried to use the bastard.

In the space of a week and a half, I pulled down the entire brick structure with the aid of a hammer and a small crowbar. I carefully deconstructed the heavy iron oven, pulling it into its component pieces, undoing screws and bolts last touched maybe a quarter-century of regular heating and cooling ago. I broke down mortar, cracked bricks, swept, vacuumed, chiselled, swept and vacuumed some more, until I was down to the bare concrete foundation slab.

I was working against time, because Natalie had a fiddle gathering planned for this weekend, including a lovely chap from Melbourne by the name of Ken Maher, and his two lads. Mainlanders. You have to keep the house warm for them, apparently...

So. Friday a week or so back, I picked up a bunch of slate tiles, cut them to size, and stuck them round the bottom of the concrete slab with enough overhang at the top to create a space that I could fill with tile bedding. And of course, on Monday I went and got a small load of crusher-dust to mix into a proper tile bed. Except, of course, it's impossible to get a 'small' load, so I wound up with roughly a tonne and a half of wet crusher dust in my little trailer.

Of that trailer-load, I needed about five decent buckets, so I hauled out the cement mixer, made up the tile bed, put it in place and screeded it flat. Then, armed with my trusty wheelbarrow and spade, I shoveled the remaining tonne-and-a-half or so of wet crusher dust into various places on the driveway deemed to be in need.

Late Tuesday, the tile bed was dry, so I mixed a bunch of tile adhesive and put the slates on top. I had to cut the row closest to the wall down to make 'em fit, but being slates, I wasn't too worried about absolute precision. That rustic, rough-edged look is helpful.

Wednesday afternoon I decided the slates were settled enough, and I put the grouting into place. (Then I did the usual three-hour martial arts stint.)

Thursday, I drove into Launceston and collected a Jindabyne wood heater, pictured somewhere below. Weighing in at 90kg disassembled in its sturdy cardboard box, it was a bit of a bastard to manhandle into the house, but with determination and a bit of help from Natalie, I succeeded. Assembled the thing. Cut the flue and the flue-shield to fit with the old flue sticking out of the wall. Inserted appropriate insulating ropy stuff. And built a little kindling fire - the first of two required to 'set up' the enamel on the stove properly.

Then I drove back to Launceston, and failed at sword training when I realised that I'd managed to strain my left elbow rather badly - probably when I tried to catch 90kg of stove-in-a-box that was sliding down my makeshift ramp off the back of the car. (I did, in fact, catch the thing successfully, and left-handed. Shoulda realised I wouldn't be waving a sword around much that night...)

Friday: I drove back into Launceston and had a meeting with my MA supervisor. He wants me to work on the fiction before the exegesis. Okay, sez I. Why not? So I'm off and running there, or at least I will be soon's I give 'em duly certified proof of citizenship. (I love paperwork. Really.)

Also on Friday: Natalie used the Hyundai to collect Ken and his lot from the Airport. Or she would have, if she hadn't crossed up the car alarm and thus invoked the Evil Genie of the Engine Immobiliser. RACT eventually fixed that problem for her by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery... but now the car stereo believes it has been stolen, and refuses to function. I think it's waiting for some kind of clever code to be entered by the Rightful Owners (us) but since Nat and I have no idea what kind of code it wants, the car no longer sings to us. Must remember to phone the dealership on Monday for help... not that I expect a lot of help. When I rang them to talk about the car not starting after Natalie's alarm problems, their service manager promptly told me that there was no way the alarm system could stop the engine, oh my, dear me no. I'd forgotten the term 'engine immobiliser'. Had to look it up online, call back, tear a few strips off the service people... and they still couldn't help. So I'll be pleasantly surprised if we don't actually have to replace the whole fucking stereo..

However. In the end, it was done. Oven in place. Fiddler and kids fetched. And eventually, even my own boys were brought back from orchestra practice.

So, Saturday. Lots of fiddlers and musos all over the house.

That there is artist and Irish music legend Brian Mooney. A nicer chap you couldn't hope for; still going strong at 80 or thereabouts.

The sun room, full of musicians. Ken's at the far left, in the greenish shirt.

There's Younger Son, crouched happily in front of the shiny new wood heater. I'm pleased to say the thing works a treat. Heats up faster than the old kachelofen, though without the brick box around it, the heat also fades faster. But it burns very efficiently, and the glass front lets you watch the fire, which is very nice.

I've still got to clean up the back wall, maybe add a few more slates to frame the brick mantle behind... clean up the grouting and the seams (I ran out of grout) down the front there. But it works, and one can hardly ask for better.

And what did I do while the musos were doing their thing? I hung out in the kitchen, cooking for many, drinking beer, and listening to the music. It was very good, thank you kindly.

Now I have to go and pull my slow-baked lamb shanks out of the oven...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Photos Outta WorldCon


Tehani and Max

Trent. Actually, his eyes very rarely open. I believe he's afraid of corneal sunburn.

Cat, Kaaron and Rob. "We got Ditmars. You didn't."

I know, it's Melbourne. But is it Art?

Deadly concentration and bitter rivalries at the Lego competition

The Mau-Mau, wearing her favouritest birthday present ever

Jake paints his lightsabre. Candy-striped. Naturally.

Chaz and Barnesm at kaffeeklatsch. Thank you, Sarah, for the table!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yarrr. New Toy, Belike!

Arrharr. I 'ave lately pillaged meself a fine silkscreen, an' a matchin' squeegee. Most pleased I be with the results, wi' a wannion!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Movie Night Of Horror

"Let's have a movie night," said Natalie. "We can invite the Ferals.*"

"Mm," I said. And so it began.

The Ferals are fine. Mum and Dad Feral are wonderfully cool, and their son is on frequent best-friend terms with Jake (Elder Son) Flinthart, and their other two offspring are intelligent, funny, well-behaved, etc. Movie night with the Ferals? Cool.

Oh, but things never stay simple here, do they? A few days later, Natalie realised we needed to invite The Vikings **. It made sense, since Small Blonde Viking is the Mau-Mau's best and dearest friend on the planet. And what the heck: the three Viking boys are smart and fun, and Smallest Viking is still so wee that she couldn't possibly be too much trouble.

But... we were up to six adults and eleven kids at that point. And then Natalie remembered the Hyphens. *** Great friends of both the Vikings and the Flintharts, it was true: a movie night during school holidays which eschewed the Hyphens simply could not be contemplated.

And so it came to pass that on Wednesday, I began to prepare for an evening involving fourteen children, eight adults, and Rob the Visiting Doctor. (Who is adult. But has been known to drink Absinthe, which puts him into a category very much on his own.)

Long story short, eh?

It went pretty well. I fired up the barbecue, and with sterling assistance from Rob Viking, much food was dispatched. Much. Very, very much. Also there was beer, and cider, and wine. And music. And children in all directions. Even some that don't exist purely in three dimensions.

Afterwards, there was an enormous mass of popcorn, and we all settled in to watch "The Dark Knight". The loft bore up under the task admirably, and a good time was had by all. The Hyphens stayed the night, and Little E Hyphen only woke us up once, at three a.m, trundling up the stairs in search of her mother...

I abbreviate these things because frankly, they're a blur. I know I enjoyed myself. I remember that. I just don't remember actually stopping at any point, until halfway through the Batman flick.

And of course, in the morning it was all about pancakes and syrup and bacon from the local Butcher Of Amazing Talent. (Mmmm... thick-cut smoky bacon from organically raised piggies...) Oh, and archery. And wood-splitting. Because that's how it went, okay?

I guess I'd have been okay, except that on Wednesday I got a rush-job: a manuscript that needed to be assessed, like, yesterday. So Thursday I sat down, read it, annotated it, and began the writing. Somewhere around one in the morning I stopped, but I took it up again this morning, and by the time it was done, I'd put down about ten thousand words. That's kind of above and beyond your usual MS assessment, I know, but I'm kind of thorough. It's an exercise for me, too.

So, anyway. That's been my last two days or so. Meanwhile, the newspapers tell me half of Tasmania has blown away, and the other half has frozen. I hope Terri and her family are okay, if they're still out there!

*Very nice local people. Not their real name. Not Feral at all.

** Another lovely family. Not named Viking at all.

*** Why would I suddenly start using real names now? Jeez, you can be dense sometimes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My New Hobby: Annoying Text Messages

As most of you know, I loathe my mobile phone. In fact, I hate mobile phones in general, and I despise the fractured, ADHD-freaky social interaction that they foster. I hate talking to people who are staring at their handsets and wiggling their thumbs like a dyslexic wanker in the final throes of the vinegar stroke. I hate being interrupted by my own goddam phone while talking, or driving, or concentrating on something more important. And I am absolutely not going to have anything to do with Twitter, because I'm already completely flat-out for time. I just don't have any more time to give to this kind of crap.


On very, very rare occasions, I find myself briefly at a loose end. For example, yesterday. After driving to Launceston with the family and exchanging the dreaded Mediterranean Eggplant tiles for a much niftier bunch of slate tiles, we took in a lunch in the city, and then drifted across to a big hardware complex. Natalie is pining once again for the childhood she never quite got, and is determined to buy some kind of gigantic, child-maiming backyard play complex. She's been tracking these things all over the Internet and elsewhere, and despite my continued assertions that I can probably build whatever the hell it is she wants, she still thinks one of these ginormous and brutally expensive kits is the way to go.

Well, who am I to argue?

Anyway, there were a couple things I wanted at the Great Big Hardware store. I got a wire brush, so I can prep the concrete surface to lay the slate tiles. And I got two big bags of chook shit, so I could provide a good dose of nitrates and nutrients to my fruit trees, seeing as how it's springtime.

But then I was done, wasn't I? And the kids were happily scrambling around inside one of those play-complexes, pre-assembled inside the Big Hardware Store for precisely the purpose of occupying noisy little gobshites while their parents go on a hardware frenzy.

I ordered a cup of tea. I sat down. I waited.

I got bored.

I had nothing to read. Eventually, I pulled out my mobile phone and stared at it. Then I thought about it for a while. And then I started sending annoying text messages to a range of people. Because... well, why not? If I'm going to be dragged willy nilly into this feculent mobile-phone society, I might as well find a few moments of enjoyment while I can, eh?

So I told Trent that tonic water fluoresces under UV light (Which it does.) He got back to me, and opined that the information was fascinating.

Then I sent pointlessly phatic messages to Sam and Angela. And someone else. I can't remember who.

But the best message of the day was the one that went to Barnesm. It provoked an exchange which has carried on in leisurely fashion for 24 hours now, and as he has just had what I must believe is the last word, I shall reproduce it here:

Me: "My dog has no nose."
Barnesm: "How does he smell?"
Me: "No, she went of her own accord."
Barnesm: "But how that dog got into my pyjamas, I'll never know."

Completely gratified my sense of the surreal and ludicrous. So. Now, the rest of you are going to have to beware. Do I have your mobile number? If I do... the day will come. It isn't often I get bored, no. I haven't the time. But it's people like you who are forcing me to carry this stupid, brain-cancer-suspect gadget. And thus, you too shall suffer!

Next time, I think, I'll start in on the Monty Python stuff.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

WorldCon Aftershocks

We had visitors!

I got a phone call on Friday from Terri, who I've known for ages through Andromeda Spaceways and similar SF stuff. Terri was also at WorldCon, hanging with the Twelfth Planet Press folks, and it transpired that she was planning a trip around Tasmania with her family in the aftermath of the Con. Naturally I pointed out that Chez Flinthart had plenty of space to park a campervan, and suggested that she and her mob would be welcome if they happened to come by.

So the phone call was about a proposed trip up Ben Lomond, which is Tassie's one-and-only ski mountain. Terri figured they might drop by afterwards. I thought about it, and asked what size the campervan was. Turned out the thing was a six-metre plus monster... and I had to break it to her that the switchback road up the face of Ben Lomond simply wasn't going to accommodate the thing. There's a shuttlebus that runs up the road apparently, but since we had a walloping rainstorm last Saturday, Ben Lomond has no snow, and the bus doesn't run under those conditions.

Thus, Terri's mob checked out Launceston, then breezed into the Flinthart Zone.

It was fine, meeting the Terri family. The three 'kids' were actually well into the grown-up category, the youngest being fourteen and the eldest nineteen. That didn't stop the two boys making a headlong charge for the trampoline, though, and in short order there was an all-in scrum on the thing, with the smaller Flinthart lads generally getting the worse of things -- but very much all in fun. Meantime, I took Terri, Brett and their daughter on a walking tour of the place.

It was useful for me, too. I haven't actually had time to walk the property since before going off to Borneo, and there's been a lot of weather since then. I've got a great deal of work to do around the place -- a lot of wattles to fell, just for starters. And the vegie beds need to be worked over thoroughly, and restarted: there was this triffid thing that had once been a Chinese cabbage... now a giant stem with flowers all the way up at my near-two-metres height. Dangerous stuff. Cabbage shouldn't be man-height, I feel.

We found a nest of jack-jumpers up by the water tank, which was useful: meant that the visitors now know what to look for so as to avoid probably Tasmania's most dangerous critters. It also meant that I went back up with a container of petrol today, and gave the little bastards a dose of ugly hydrocarbons. I don't like jack-jumper ants.

Down at the spring, I discovered that the recent rains have blocked the outflow pipe, and water is now running over the edge of the pond. That's not a great idea. I'll have to fix that in the next few days, which will be one hell of a cold, wet, muddy job. Has to happen, though. Can't have the retaining wall of the pond being eroded. That would be very inconvenient indeed.

The swimming pond was also super-full, and flowing so fast it's cut itself a new streambed. Happily, the platypus was on duty, much to the delight of Terri and her daughter, who hadn't actually seen a platypus in the wild. Our mild-mannered monotreme put on a nice show, paddling slowly around on the surface of the pond, diving, returning. Very decent of him to stick around for the visitors.

Dinner went pretty well. I'm no good at moderation, so it went to four courses: poached scallops on croutons, then chicken and sweet corn soup, then Singapore mee goreng, and finally an American-style apple cobbler with whipped cream. By the time that lot was done, even the three teenagers were lolling about, clutching their bellies and sobbing gently... but they recovered in time for us to watch Kung Fu Hustle and eat bowls of hot, buttery popcorn up in the loft. Yay! Terri's mob didn't quite seem to know exactly what to make of Stephen Chow's bizarro kung fu antics, but they knew how to deal with the popcorn. And the Mau-Mau adopted Terri's daughter, spending the entire film sitting on her lap.

All up, it was a pretty successful visit, I think. They took off this morning, loaded down with pancakes and bacon, aimed in the general direction of the East Coast. Of course, we still have at least one jacket here, belonging to a teenage type... but I'm sure we'll be able to sort out a means of returning it. And, you know: when a family goes on holiday, there's always a debris trail. That's just the way it is, if the holiday is actually any sort of success.

I was glad of the visit. It was a nice reminder of the whole Con thing, and it's good to have the chance to consolidate friendships made at SF events and over the 'Net and all. Nice to attach faces to imagined persons, and discover names and personalities. Terri's lot were good value: sharp, thoughtful, good-humoured, and good-natured. My kids were delighted, and even Natalie (who is often a bit socially challenged when the numbers of visitors start to climb) relaxed and had a good time. She's even talking about bringing kids/family across to Perth in Easter next year, what with Natcon/Swancon happening.

That wouldn't be a bad idea. Of course, they wouldn't be doing the Con. Young Jake may have slipped neatly into the SF scene, but I can guarantee that neither fandom nor the rest of my family is ready for one another. Happily, Nat's mum is over there in Perth, and Natalie hasn't seen her in quite a while. The kids need to see their grandmum now and again, I think, just to build a few memories.

Prob'ly won't happen, though. Arranging family holidays for Easter is damned difficult. And Natalie's priority is, of course, the National Folk Festival at Canberra. On the other hand, personally I'm glad that Natcon 2011 clashes with the NFF. Means I don't have to work too hard to come up with an excuse to avoid five days in Canberra dust, surrounded by somewhere between ten and twenty thousand folk music junkies...

Whups. It's late. I'd better pack this in and go to bed. I'm damned tired, and tomorrow is another big day...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Whoa! Slow Down!

So, I've been back four days, all up. House has been cleaned top to bottom. Shed's been cleaned out, and a bunch of old carpet rolled out in the loft. Very nice. I've written several thousand words. Edited a bunch of video from Malaysia for the kids (got a lot more to do.) Slushed a double handful of stories. Broke down the old wood-heater, smashed up the brick structure that held it, disassembled the entire thing, found someone who wanted it. Cleaned up the concrete base ready for tiling. And a bunch of other stuff.

This isn't all me by any means. I had hardly anything to do with the shed, for example, because I was busy with the old wood-heater. We'll be replacing it with a compact model, more modern, which hopefully won't smoke out the house the way the old one did.

Then today, Natalie needed some time to do stuff, so I took the kids into Launceston to see Despicable Me. Oh, and also to get some tiles to cover the concrete base for the new heater. And to get a spacer for Younger Son's asthma puffer. And to get a silkscreen and a squeegee, yeah.

There were no green tiles of any use, so I wound up with a colour called "eggplant", chosen because a) I was told that slate was simply not an option, and b) matching the couch was okay.

I knew this would be a disaster, though, so I made sure the tile guys were aware I knew about their 30-day exchange policy. And of course, when I came home... well, the "eggplant" tiles just weren't close enough in colour to the couch, oh no. And why didn't I get slate, anyway? Slate would have been just fine.

Well, never mind. Knowing the disaster was ahead of me, I'd already organised to be back at the tile centre on Monday. So now I'll go there with my "eggplant" tiles, trade 'em in, and come back with a bunch of slate coloured tiles. Which is really what I wanted in the first place.

The movie wasn't too bad. 3D, of course, so we all had goofy glasses and the eye-watering results thereof. Oh, and of course Launceston's one-and-only cineplex managed the event with their usual aplomb... a line four or five deep curling up, round, down and over the lobby, and only one poor fucker there to handle the tickets for both the (evidently) highly desirable Despicable Me and the three or four other films also showing. So their answer was to leave the cinema doors closed until five minutes before the stated session time. You wanna make some money? Invest a pile in a new cinema somewhere in Launceston. Staff it properly, and you'll have a customer-base you just won't believe -- and incredibly grateful customers they will be, too.

The movie was okay. Fun. I giggled here and there. If you've got kids and you want a harmless outing, it works.

Meanwhile, here I am at home again. And I'm looking at one of the most mysterious objects I've ever seen:

All right. I admit that for some, this may seem a little prosaic. But consider the issue more deeply.

1) Who bothers to put potatoes in a tin? They last pretty well with even the most basic storage, they're a staple at every supermarket in the nation, and since their own flavour is quite mild, storing them in a metal shell full of water, salt, and Food Acids 300 and 330 just makes 'em taste like shite.

2) Also, their texture becomes quite horrid.

3) And this is Tasmania. We have potatoes in every goddam garden patch. A lot of 'em.

4) And this is my house. I almost never use tinned ingredients. Except tinned chickpeas, for making dips. They're good.

5) They're 'home-brand'. I avoid 'home-brand' like leprosy, because I don't like the ethics and the economics behind them.

You see? A mystery!

The answer lies in my wife, who has a weakness for tinned champignon mushrooms. And who had to do all her own shopping not long ago, for a whole week. Apparently, the tinned potatoes are stored on the shelves in the same general sector of the supermarket as the tinned champignons. And it's true: the vaguely yellowish, bulbous objects depicted on the label could, I suppose, be mistaken for a bad photo of a bunch of tinned champignons. If you were in a hurry. And you'd left your glasses at home. And you weren't all that keen on actually reading labels.

So... there you have it. Mystery solved. Except that there's one more thing, one little element that really freaks me out. Struck by curiosity, I read the label on this thing, and there's a wee little statement that just puzzles the hell out of me: "Product Of Belgium".

Why the hell are we importing nasty little tinned potatoes from Belgium, of all places? Aren't we capable of producing our own nasty little proto-fetus spuds?

Beware, Belgium! I will get to the bottom of this.

edited to add:

Oh great. I can hear a commotion outside. Apparently Younger Son has been bitten by a spider. I hope the poor thing is okay. Does the RSPCA defend spiders?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dear Julia: Fix This Shit. Now.

Dear Prime Minister.

Your government is balanced on the most precarious of knife edges. And well you might ask: how did your party go from the sweeping triumphalism of K-Rudd's landslide victory to this scary, skin-of-the-teeth sort of grip on governance? What did Labor do that almost made Australians willing to vote for a Tony freakin' Abbott government?

I'm sure there's a list. (And I'm pretty sure that dumbfuck Conroy and his buttwrenchingly stupid Internet Firewall are on it.) But most important of all, I suspect, was the overwhelming sense of betrayal and letdown.

K-Rudd promised us change. A lot of it. And after fifteen sphincter-puckering years under Howard and his team of Neo-Victorian cretins, we desperately wanted that change.

Now sure, I understand there was a global meltdown in the financial sector. But you know what? I don't fucking care. Because there are changes that could have been made, should have been made, would have been made in a fundamentally decent society, that would have cost pennies. In fact, they might even have been revenue-positive, once the costs were all totted up.

And they would have made K-Rudd's government look like it was actually trying to achieve something other than bullshit and arsecoverage.

So here's my suggestion for you. You want us to believe in your shiny new co-operative nice-guy government? Show us some fucking action.

Here's my suggestion, first up: get the refugee kids out of mandatory custody.

I'm not one of those who's taken potshots at you for not marrying and having kids. I figure it's your choice. But if you can read that article, and you've even the slightest touch of humanity about you, then either you will act to help these people -- or you really do hate kids and families, as your opponents have slyly suggested.

Ms Gillard, the Australian society is famously laid-back, relaxed, and egalitarian. We're not a bunch of pre-Nazis, just waiting for the right Hitler to come along with a racist agenda to turn us into a nation of slavering, xenophobic killers. This is the land of the 'fair go', the place where trust between friends and neighbours has built a society that, for all its flaws, remains one of the most open-hearted in the world.

We are not a country that needs to imprison children who have committed no crime against anyone. And indeed: in this country, children who have committed crimes worthy of detention get better treatment than these frightened, scarred, damaged, and utterly blameless children who have done nothing worse than flee some of the most horrifying and repressive places on earth.

A lot of us voted Green this election, Julia. Did you notice? A whole fucking lot more of us than ever before. You and your government have lately been led around the garden by a couple of ex-rightwingers who now claim to be independent -- but you are every bit as dependent on the support of the Green faction, and I really think you need to remember that.

Let the children go, Julia. It's the right thing to do. It's the Australian thing to do. It's what a true leader of a decent Australian society would do.

Let the children go.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bye-Bye, Birdie

Dear Jetstar

Strike One:‭ ‬that unpleasant and thoughtless flight attendant who insisted at the very last instant before borarding that my wife's handmade violin could not travel in the cabin,‭ ‬but had to be checked in with luggage.

Strike Two:‭ ‬when you wouldn't allow my son to fly on his own from Launceston to Melbourne.

Strike Three:‭ ‬the bit where you made my son and I wait every last tick of the clock to the very second of precisely two hours before boarding until we could check our baggage,

You.‭ ‬Are.‭ ‬Out.

I understand the concept:‭ ‬no-frills,‭ ‬absolute basic service.‭ ‬I expect that.‭ ‬I have no problems with it.‭ ‬I've flown Tiger Air without a word of protest.‭ ‬But there's a line between‭ “‬no-frills‭” ‬and‭ “‬braindead stupidity,‭” ‬and your policies have crossed that line.‭ ‬Allow me to elucidate.

In the case of the violin:‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬it is slightly longer than the mandated maximum cabin baggage.‭ ‬Slightly.‭ ‬But it is much smaller in width and height,‭ ‬and it is quite light.‭ ‬It is also very expensive,‭ ‬and uniquely vulnerable to changes in atmospheric pressure,‭ ‬in temperature,‭ ‬and humidity.‭ ‬No other airline has ever made this idiotic ruling,‭ ‬and never before has it been a problem even with your regular substandard service.‭ ‬Natalie actually lodged a complaint,‭ ‬and according to your professional apologisers, it was just one ridiculously overzealous attendant behaving like a pocket Hitler‭ – ‬but the fact that you employ people like that,‭ ‬and that you place them in a position which leaves us no recourse,‭ ‬as customers,‭ ‬when we have to deal with them,‭ ‬tells me your organisation is not one with which I care to have dealings.‭

In the case of the boy‭ – ‬well,‭ ‬Virgin had no problems.‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬we had to fill out forms,‭ ‬write letters of introduction and involve a code word,‭ ‬but you know there was a parent at one end of the trip,‭ ‬and another parent at the other,‭ ‬and we weren't asking you to treat him with any special care.‭ ‬He's ten.‭ ‬He's smart‭ – ‬really smart,‭ ‬and quite capable of taking a‭ ‬45-minute trip involving cabin baggage only without any issues.‭ (‬In fact,‭ ‬he was peeved at the Virgin people who wouldn't serve him hot noodles in flight in case he burned himself.‭ ‬May I point out he is also quite capable of eating noodles by himself‭?)

We wanted nothing more from you than you offer any other passenger.‭ ‬Your inability to accept that a child might be capable of this simple task once again illustrates that your company is simply too stupid for my business.

Finally,‭ ‬the issue of the two-hour-before-flight limit on depositing our bags.‭ ‬Yes.‭ ‬That.‭ ‬I stood there with my‭ ‬20kg bag,‭ ‬and the boy with his‭ ‬10kg bag,‭ ‬watching your counter attendants chat amiably with one another,‭ ‬doing nothing in particular,‭ ‬as the minutes ticked away.‭ ‬We'd already walked off and killed forty minutes getting food and last-minute presents, carrying our bags because your 'service' applies this moronic rule.‭ ‬Why did we have to wait that last five minutes while your people literally did nothing‭?

That's got nothing to do with no-frills service.‭ ‬It's to your advantage to collect early arriver's bags and store them conveniently for your handlers.‭ ‬It is also to your advantage not having people with piles of luggage cluttering up the approaches to your desks,‭ ‬or blocking general passage through the concourse.‭ ‬The strict,‭ ‬rigid,‭ ‬two-hours-to-the-minute limit is simply bloody-minded and stupid.‭ Let me point out that when my family recently returned from Borneo/Singapore by way of Singapore Airlines, we had a six hour layover in Melbourne before our Virgin flight to Launceston.

‭Did Virgin force us to sit for four hours with our luggage out in the middle of the concourse, in everybody’s way? No. Of course they didn’t. They let us check in as soon as we got there. They took our large, heavy bags and put them away for the next four or five hours. That let my family head down to the departure lounge, find a quiet corner, and get some desperately needed crash time. All of which makes your system look ever more petty and stupid.

Of course,‭ ‬your presumption is that all this passive-aggressive bullshit will force me to give up on your budget carrier,‭ ‬and drive me to your far more expensive‭ (‬and‭ ‬profitable‭) ‬parent company,‭ ‬Qantas.‭ ‬Unfortunately for you,‭ ‬I'm not that amenable.

I dislike being manipulated.‭ ‬I dislike being pushed around.‭ ‬I dislike the assumption that I'm too stupid to know when I'm being treated badly.‭

Frankly,‭ ‬Jetstar,‭ ‬I dislike you.‭ ‬And thus I dislike Qantas too.

There are five people in my family.‭ ‬My wife flies around Australia regularly,‭ ‬as a doctor,‭ ‬going to medical conferences and so forth.‭ ‬Even I get around a bit.‭ ‬And obviously,‭ ‬we're not averse‭ ‬to taking our kids with us.‭ ‬It's going to cost us more now that we won't use your sad excuse for an airline‭ (‬you know,‭ ‬even Tiger treated us better.‭ ‬If they still flew out of Launceston,‭ ‬I'd use them in a flash.‭) ‬but I can promise you that the extra money won't be going to Qantas,‭ ‬as long as any other airline flies the Australian skies.

Yours sincerely,

Dirk Flinthart.

PS:‭ ‬The hell with you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Con

I know it's regarded as something of a failure to blog about a Con in rather less than real-time, but I don't really give a shit. This is, as ever, a personal record, and that I share it is less a measure of my belief in its worth, and far more a measure of the fact that having an audience keeps me writing.

I finished up the ROR meeting greatly encouraged. Having a bunch of professional writers and readers go over the libretto material was extremely helpful. The heavy, complex language appropriate to the era in which the opera was set came lightly and easily to them, and I could 'hear' the sense of the work, and the underlying rhythms of the language, and I was very pleased. There's still work to do, but I think it's fair to say the final piece that goes to Outcast Opera will be rich, textured, layered, evocative, and laced with powerful themes. At least, I hope so. I can certainly say, at least, that the lines will be feasible for the singers!

In any case, it looks pretty decent. I probably shouldn't get too excited yet – it is an Arts project, after all, and they're pretty damned difficult to bring home – but when this gets on stage, I'm going to be absolutely delighted.

Thus for ROR. Thursday morning, I left my bag with friends who were on their way to the Convention Centre, and I caught a very farkin' expensive cab out to the airport, where I collected Elder Son. As you know, he's turned 10 this year, and I figured that a really good tenth birthday treat would be his very own membership at Worldcon. I also figured, of course, that if/when he got tired of it he could go out to visit his friend, the reknowned Weapon of Barnesm.

I also thought that the very large and complex environment of the Worldcon would also provide a fairly safe and enclosed environment so he could run around on his own, manage his own time and experience to a degree, and still be under observation. I walked him into the dealers room and introduced him at the Twelfth Planet table, where he already knew Alisa, and we agreed that if he lost track of me, Elder Son – now wearing his very own 'Jake Flinthart' (his idea!) Con ID badge – would come and wait there, and they'd help him find me. I did the same at the ASIM table, to improve the odds a bit, and then I walked around and introduced him to a few friends.

He took it all in pretty well. Finally, I dropped him at the first session of the kids' program so I could go to one of my assigned events. Young “Jake” wasn't sure he wanted to be at an event aimed at helping kids learn how to design games, but when I explained what a 'Kaffeeklatsch' was (my event) he took the lesser of two evils.

An hour later (an hour in which I met Sarah Parker and Russell Kilpatrick, and we amalgamated our tables and had a really good session) I went back to check on Jake. You know: just to see. I knew their next session was all about ice-cream making, so I figured he'd like that, but I wanted to see how the game design thing had gone.


I should never have worried. Duck to goddam water. I came in, and he was clutching a couple of home-drawn cards to his chest, in the midst of a group of very intent youngsters. I couldn't get more than three words out of him. He was totally, utterly uninterested in Dad, and completely fixed on his new friends and the game.

So I just walked off and left him. And that was it.

He never looked back. Next time I saw him, he was talking so fast, trying to tell me so much about his adventures that I could hardly shut him up. The only way I managed the feat was by telling him that Phil and Kaja Foglio were operating a Girl Genius stand in the dealers room. Once he heard that... whoa.

I've got a little winged trilobite badge that represents the Heterodyne Dirigible Corps, courtesy of the Girl Genius series. It's a nifty little piece, and I like it, and young Jake coveted it something shocking, so our goal was to get him a new one from the Foglios. Sadly, all they had on sale was comics. Even more sadly, we already had all the comics they were selling. That was no problem for the ever-obliging Phil, though: he grabbed a pen and a piece of paper from a bystander, and in short order young Jake was the pleased-as-punch and proud as hell owner of one bona fide sketch of Agatha Heterodyne, Girl Genius signed by the artist and author.

Oh, and he's got my goddam badge, too, I have to order a new one.

So that's how his Con has been going. We caught up with Rob Shearman, whom I met a few years back in Perth. Rob was the writer of the first 'Dalek' episode of the revived Doctor Who – the story with the manky old Dalek languishing in some American billionaire's collection of space oddities – and since then, he's gone on to write quite a number of nifty, provocative, elegant stories. Jake didn't give a shit about Rob's chops as a story writer, though; he was too busy goggling at someone who had ACTUALLY WRITTEN ABOUT DALEKS ON DOCTOR WHO! Result: Rob grabs some paper and a pen, and draws a Dalek with a speech bubble about 'exterminating the Jake-thing'... which signed sketch is now in the same clear plastic envelope with Agatha Heterodyne.

My Con has been good too. They had me signed up for a little over half a dozen events over the five days, including the kaffeeklatsch and the inevitable reading. Enough stuff to feel involved, not enough to feel rushed. I've been catching up with friends, and dealing with the usual feelings of mad delight at seeing so many wonderful people again, coupled with the despair of not being able to go to enough places with enough people fast enough.

One treat: I finally got the chance to sit down with Paul Haines for a while. Paul just scored himself a Ditmar (o add to a ridiculous swag of plaudits for the piece... very nice work) for one of his recent works 'Wives', and he looks a lot better than I feared. I didn't ask him how the treatment for his cancer is going – the stuff he's written up in his blog has been horrific enough, and I figured it would be nice to talk about something else – but his eyes were clear, and he's picked up a bit of weight. We swapped a few stories (I had to explain the bandage on my nose... I banged it on a window trying to make silly faces at Kate Eltham, eating breakfast in the Hilton, but I'm telling everyone it was all about ninja) and had a laugh – and whatever lies ahead of him, he's got a lot of strength. I'm going to keep hoping.

Dave and Barb Freer turned up at my reading. That was a bit tragic, actually. I turned up at four, to sit in on Will Eliott's session, because he was reading before me. That's etiquette, apparently. No problems. Trouble is, Will didn't show. I wound up doing a quiet little reading to about half-a-dozen people. I chose to read my new piece 'Best Dog In The World', from the 'Worlds Next Door' anthology out of Fablecroft. The anthology is for kids, yeah, but Best Dog is actually quite adult in its theme and development, if not in language. Basically, it's a story of a boy who loves his dog, but has to give it up, and I've been getting a lot of feedback on it. I wasn't trying for sentimentality; I just wanted to portray the kid, the dog, and the feelings.

Apparently I succeeded. Half the people I meet who've read it want to kick me for being so nasty to the dog (it's not nasty, honest!) and the other half are prone to bursting into tears when they mention it.

I suppose that's good. What's not good is that... well, it was the first time I'd tried to read the thing to anyone. And I wound up sniffling sadly when I read it. It's embarrassing, crying over your own goddam story. Fortunately, I didn't know anyone in Will's audience, so I figured it would be okay. Half of them were crying as well, in any case.

Unfortunately, as I was packing up... well, that's when Dave and Barb and a few others turned up. And they were there to hear ME read,

I gritted my teeth. Figured I had practice now, and I could do the story without, you know, going all wet and mooshy.

I almost made it. But Dave and Barb are dog folk... and they were visibly responding when I looked up, and that sent me off again, and by the time I finished, everybody was having a bit of a cry.

So much for my manly, heroic image. I've been wandering about ever since, telling the damned story on myself so that nobody else gets to turn it into one of those “hey, guess what I heard!” things. But I swear, I'm gonna practice reading that story until I can do it without choking up...

Just for the record, the dog in the story is a black Kelpie named 'Scout', owned by a boy called 'Kevin'. And those of you who know me well will be aware I grew up with a best friend called Kevin, and Kev had a totally marvellous black Kelpie dog by the name of Scout. That dog kept us in and out of trouble for a couple of wonderful years, but he came to a sad, bad, tragic end. And yeah, I wrote the story with that dog in mind. I guess the real Scout won't know, but it feels nice to find a way of remembering him, thirty-five years later. He really was a wonderful dog.

And what else? Oh, I've met Peter Watts, and he's tall, and smart as hell, and impulsive, and curious, and he loves a good, reasoned argument, and I think Cat Sparks did a really, really good thing getting him over here. Peter Watts is the author of several books in SF, at least one being the wholly remarkable Blindsight, which I had the chance to discuss with him. He's also the man who fell afoul of the notoriously power-happy cretins of the US Border Authority a while back, resulting in a conviction for – apparently – assaulting the officer's Taser with his face. Or something equally believable.

Like a lot of us, Cat was unimpressed by the US treatment of Dr Watts. She also knew that his legal fees cost a bomb, so she pulled her finger out, and organised a fund to bring Peter over for the Con. He's been fantastic to have around, and I'm pleased to have met him – but more, I think it's a nice, small, personal way of saying to the uglier elements of US governance that we're tired of their shit. Gandhi would have approved: it was a very civilised measure, an effort to behave as human beings should, in the face of an organisation which has clearly forgotten what 'civilisation' means.

What else? Oh, dinner with the gently simmering Angela Slatter, the steamy L. L. Hannett, and the positively smokin' Amy, as well as Peter The Horn, and the wonderful Tehani, complete with grizzly baby Max. Drinks with more writers than I can possibly remember. Post-Ditmar celebrations with Rob Hood and Cat Sparks and Kaaron Warren – whom I have finally, finally met in the flesh. Oh, and Thoraiya Dyer: I met her too, and that was great. In fact, I caught up with quite a few alumni of Canterbury 2100 (hi Matt! Hello Trent!), and took the opportunity to say thanks... they were a wonderful crew to work with, and I'm still very proud of the accomplishment that anthology represents.

I've done panels on The Fermi Paradox, and on 'How to Review', and 'Ghosts around the World'. I've taken in talks on e-publishing, alternate history, and YA fiction. Oh – and I sat in on a 'Girl Genius' radio play enacted by the Foglio clan and sundry selected members of fandom, with help from the audience... and it was flat-out hilarious. Definitely a high point of the Con, there. Young Jake and his friend The Weapon laughed so damned hard they were falling out of their seats.

So, now it's Sunday evening. I've finished my commitments, but Jake has just started a session on making art and illustrating, with the remarkable and esteemed Shaun Tan. Naturally I had to buy one of Tan's books so Jake could get an autograph, and since Shaun's work is so very evocative, just as naturally I wound up buying two.

One of the real joys of any of these conventions, for me, is meeting new people: Amy, Stephanie (have you read Bulgakov yet?) Stephen Paulsen and his daughter... there were many more. Putting faces to names... after the panel on reviewing, Jo the Dragonfly found me and we had time for a brief handshake, but I was on my way to sign up Jake for the Lego event, and I didn't have time for more. Mark Curtis? You out there? Same thing: I had Dad duty, and I had to run. Martin Livings... dammit, this is the first time I ever actually got close to the man, and he had a story in Canterbury, and all I could do was give him a hug, say thanks, and hit the road.

Lack of time is a really big theme at these things. For those I bumped into but couldn't catch for a real session. (Nyssa!)... I'm truly apologetic. I get to these events maybe once a year, twice in a good year. In between, I have an ongoing Inernet correspondence as friend and colleague with maybe twenty, thirty people who I only ever see in person at these events. The math is hard: five days. Seven scheduled events. A variable number of events I'd love to attend... and thirty people I'd really like to take some time with. Add to that the complications – those people are also attending stuff, and trying to catch up with others – and while it's an utter joy, it's also very sad. I'd really like to take a month and spend it in the company of these people, but they can't do it, and I can't either. Of course, most of them have at least one or two others around them, where they live... and I'm a little isolated, yeah.

Apologies, too, unto my friends in Melbourne -- Bob and Jon and very much to Barnesm. I did the best I could, but there just wasn't time, especially with Jake in tow. I am particularly indebted to the House of Barnes, who kept Jake for two nights. 'Sgreat that he and the Weapon have enough in common to get on so well. We have to keep up the exchanges!

More apologies: there are people I meet at these events who I talk with, and who are splendid company, but – if I don't get to keep up with them via the Internet in-between times, well... dammit, it's hard to remember names of people I've met for just a few hours at conventions a year or more in the past. I try. I remember faces. But the names kind of slip away, and so I find myself in the embarrassing position of introducing and reintroducing myself again and again. So – if you bumped into me, and you remembered me from Perth or Canberra or Brisbane and I didn't remember you... I apologise. I can only cite the long, incredibly busy interludes in between, where I expend enormous energy at being a dad, and a martial arts instructor, and a cook and a gardener and a writer and so forth. I don't mean to be so forgetful, and I've got a pretty useful sort of memory, but it has its limits

Well, they're about to shut down the Green Room, which is where I'm sitting, typing away. I guess I'll slink outside and settle down somewhere Jake can see me when he emerges from the session with Shaun Tan. We'll go and find something to eat, and then hopefully we'll have the energy to attend the Hugo Award ceremony. Or not. Possibly we'll just filter back to our little room and get some sleep.

Added note: Peter Watts got himself a Hugo – and had to accept it in a daggy T-shirt 'cos he was convinced he wasn't going to win, so he didn't dress up. Yaay. Peter – and cheers to Cat Sparks!