Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Eve And Sambal Ikan Bilis

We're not doing much for New Year's eve. It's been a very busy couple months. We're all overstressed, overtired, and some of us are overcommitted. We're staying in, and watching movies in The Cinezone.

I picked up See No Evil, Hear No Evil  - the classic Wilder/Pryor comedy in which Richard Pryor is blind, Gene Wilder is deaf, and both of them are suspects in a murder case.  Also got Ghost Town, with Ricky Gervais. And Cowboys Versus Aliens, with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. That should be enough to keep Natalie happy.

Extending the theme, though. I got Aliens Versus Ninjas for me and the boys, and Repo Men (the Jude Law/Forrest Whittaker version) as well. We are well set up, I think. There's beer, ginger beer, cider, champagne, and tonnes of popcorn. Yay!

Excitingly, when I asked Nat what she'd like for dinner, she plumped for Nasi Lemak. This is an old Malay favourite of mine, usually served at breakfast. The best bit is the dreaded Sambal Ikan Bilis, served in spoon-sized portions along with lashings of coconut rice, peanuts, red onions, boiled eggs, and veggies.

I won't try to describe Sambal Ikan Bilis. Instead, I'll give you the blow-by-blow cooking process.

1: Obtain ingredients - two packets of dried anchovies; one large handful of dried chillies; tablespoon minced garlic, tablespoon minced ginger, three tablespoons tamarind paste, two tablespoons sweet soy sauce, oil for cooking, star anise bud, two medium brown onions, dollop of shrimp paste (belacan).

Consider the flavour mix: salty, pungent dried fish. Spine-tinglingly sour tamarind paste. Caramel-sweet/salty kecap manis (sweet soy.) Ginger, garlic, onion.... and brutally powerful dried chillies.

Drink some beer while considering this.

Put oil in the wok along with ginger, garlic, and star anise. Fry the spices until the smell rises. Now throw in your anchovies, and stir them until they turn light-brown and crispy. Remove, and drain.

Coarsely chop the chillies. Put them in the oil, and fry until the scent rises. Choke. Turn on the range hood. Add the shrimp paste. Gag. Have another beer. Open several windows.

Add the onion, the tamarind paste and the sweet soy. Ask the children to open the doors. Cough. Drink more beer. Stir the spice paste. Weep. Blow nose.

Natalie comes down the stairs, asks what's going on. Gets a deep breath. Bursts into a fit of coughing and weeping, flees outside. Orders children -- all of whom are now coughing, sneezing and gagging  -- outdoors with her.

Stir paste. Drink beer. Weep. Sneeze. Cough. Stir and cook until the spice paste is thick and dark and viscous. Throw the crispy anchovies back into the mixture and stir until they're coated.

Turn off the burner. Grab another beer, run outside and collapse on the deck sucking in lungfuls of clean air. Listen to Natalie complain about being unable to go back inside for several minutes...

... return indoors. Eat a spoonful of wonderful, sour-sweet-salty-SUPERCHILLISPICY crunchy dried fish and onions and spice paste. Grab beer. Drink beer. Eat coconut rice. Weep. Blow nose. Eat more Sambal Ikan Bilis, despite the pain. Howl like a demented hippopotamus.


Happy new year to you all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Summer Lassitude

Oh, the hot and heady days of summer. 21 degrees today, 22 yesterday... even Natalie cracked this evening, and complained that the day had been 'hot and muggy'. I made her say it again, just so I could laugh at her. She's always complaining about the cold down here, so to hear a whinge about a 'hot' day of 22 degrees is pretty damned funny.

I remember growing up in Cairns, in far North Queensland. There was one radio station that we could pick up: commercial channel 4CA. Frequency 1010... I remember because the awful fucking jingle went "Ten ten four --- see ayyyyy!"  It was a horrible fucking radio station, broadcasting on AM as they all did at the time. Played mostly shit from the sixties while I lived up there in the seventies... that, and top forty crap. Yechh.

One thing I recall very clearly, though: the incessant advertising for the first shopping-mall built in Cairns: Raintrees Shopping Town. The radio announcers always brought it up the same way, reading off some terrible goddam script doubtless nailed to the wall: "...Raintrees Shopping Town, where it's always a cool and comfortable twenty-two degrees..."

Yeah. Aircon - the wonders thereof. That was a big selling point for the place up in Cairns. Funny enough in retrospect. Even funnier now that I live somewhere that the locals start to sweat and move slowly when the temperature gets to twenty-two.

Ahhh, nostalgia. Or the opposite, actually. What's the opposite of nostalgia? What word describes that emotion you feel when you think back to your childhood and shudder, and swear you'll never go back there again? Not so much Cairns, of course. It's not a terrible place. But for some reason, nostalgia gives me the creeps - to the point where my mind actively rebels against trying to go back and relive 'old glories', or whatever the proper term is. Been there, done that: it was fun, but now I'm doing something else.

 What else? Well, what with the cricket on the choob (a good Test, so far. Better if the Aussies had held some of those tricky catches, or if Peter Siddle hadn't overstepped at a vital moment - or if the umpires hadn't screwed the pooch on Mike Hussey's dismissal) and the post-Xmas lassitude, it was a good day for laziness. Therefore, in honour of the good Prof Boylan, I devised a new, summer-time drink.

One of the advantages of being large, hairy, blokey, and well trained is that one can generally drink whatever the fuck one wants without having to worry about being harassed. These days, if I walked into a country pub and demanded a campari and soda with a splash bitters and a little pink paper parasol, please - well, there might be a silence in the place. But I know that silence. And I know how to stare it down, give it a shit-eating grin, and express without words just exactly what will happen to the unnecessarily silent individuals if they so much as look cross-eyed at me. Absolutely no words necessary.

That being the case, I'm quite happy to drink some very girly concoctions from time to time. Generally without the paper parasol, but that's just because I dislike any stupid bits and pieces that get between me and my drink. Like chunks of fruit, for example. Chunks of fruit do not belong in an alcoholic drink.

On the other hand, properly treated, fruit can be a real advantage. Which brings me back to the bit with Prof Boylan, who recently advised me to make raspberry Vodka. (Which I have. Thank you.)

I have also made raspberry sorbet, much to the delight of my wife and kids. A very simple recipe, what with all the raspberries we've got at the moment -- a litre or so of strained raspberry juice and pulp, some sugar, a couple egg-whites, and a half-hour or so in the ice-cream maker. Oooooh, yeah. Good.

Trouble is, sorbet doesn't really store well in the freezer. It loses its nice, smooth-slushy quality, and goes all icy and dry. Not nearly so nice to eat. On the other hand...

Make a gin and tonic. Make it nice and strong. Now, instead of ice, drop in three spoonfuls of raspberry sorbet, made as above. Drink. Listen to the happy song of your tastebuds as the alcohol goes into action. Make another. Drink that too. And then a third, what the hell. Mmmmmmmm. 

And in other news: I do believe the inimitable Mister Jay may be back in the country. At least, judging from the return address on the rather wonderfully horrible "Mandrake the Magician" movie-serial DVD that turned up in my postbox just before Xmas, somebody claiming to be the man himself is launching crap-bombs out of Canberra. Mmmm! Tasty! The boys and I have now watched two episodes. The excitement is... umm... yeah. We're gonna have to give it the Suave Guy treatment, I think.

Not that all of Mister Jay's efforts have been so craptacular. As a matter of fact, the boys and I are thoroughly in his debt. Not only did we get some marvellous postcards from Sweden, but not too long ago, some books turned up in the post:

Very, very cool choices. We're not quite up to this standard yet... but we will be. Yayyy! Welcome back, Mister Jay!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

Oh, great. Blogger has imposed it's "new look" on me. Now I have to figure out the whole setup again. I love it when these people decide to 'help' me.

Still. I suppose it's a free service. I get to suck it, basically.

Hey. Happy Boxing Day!

What - you didn't know it was Boxing Day? You thought it was Christmas? Ha! Poot to you! It's Boxing Day in the Flinthart household, and that's what counts.

No. This isn't a timezone thing. This is a "Nat's on call today" thing. We figured we could have Xmas yesterday, or tomorrow, to make up for Nat being called out. The Mau-Mau had the deciding vote. At first, she was horrified by the prospect of having Xmas on Genghis' birthday. The idea that he might get more presents than her was so awful that she was practically in tears... but when she was told the alternative was to wait another two days, she cracked almost at once.

It was a pretty good sort of Xmas. Low-key, as desired. Jake got a model rocket kit. Genghis got not one but two beautiful wooden, brass-bound chests, one with an inbuilt lock, one with a padlock. The inbuilt one contained a much-coveted set of polyhedral dice, for gaming. He immediately locked both chests and announced that his sister would never be allowed to look inside. Because that's what it's all about, right?

That's okay. The Mau-mau got a lockable diary, complete with Invisible Ink pen and UV light so she can read her own invisible notes.

We found Natalie a gun/toy into which she can load her iPhone. With the 'Alien Blaster' app downloaded, she can now wander around the place hunting invisible aliens and zapping hell out of them. It's fun to watch.

And me? Um... oh! I got a nifty Girl Genius badge and a Jackie Chan flick courtesy of my sister and her mob, and courtesy of the Mau-Mau I got the most marvellous set of action figures.

Okay. I lied about "marvellous". Here they are...

Natalie laughed like a drain. I did my best to keep a straight face.

Genghis found me a spice caddy. Jake got me a nice, clear pyrex teapot. I'm not sure what was going through the Mau-mau's mind... but she seemed to think the wrestling action figure playset was absolutely the best possible thing for me.

Never mind. I have a plan. It involves stop-motion animation... the Mau-mau will have cause to be proud of her gift.

The good thing about having Xmas on the eve is that the stores are open. I picked up a carton of Boag's St George, which will see me right for a while. Even down here in Tas, it's more or less hot. Yesterday maxed out at a fairly steamy 24C at 1500hrs - pretty much exactly when I was down in the raspberry patch, gathering goodies. Yeah... I know. That's not a patch on the Bad Old Days in Briz, but fuck that shit anyhow. 24C is plenty warm enough to make an icy beer very welcome after an hour or so of intensive berrypicking.

The bad thing about having Xmas on the eve is that the next day isn't Boxing Day. Nat's on call. I've got three restless kids, and another steamy, warm day to fill in without the aid of the Indians and the Australians doing battle at the MCG. Happily, various chunks of Lego sent by relatives (plus other intriguing presents) are still keeping 'em entertained. Long enough for me to type this, in any case.

So - have a good christmas, one and all. I hope it's not too hot for those of you in the south of the world, nor too cold for the north, and I hope that families and friends are around you, so you can end the year with peace and good will.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oh, Humanity.

Every now and again, amidst all the universal assholery and madness, between the destruction and the despair and the unbelievable, aggressive stupidity, something else happens.

Sometimes it's something special: so meaningless, and yet so beautiful that the meaninglessness of it becomes glorious in its own way.

This is one of those things:

I'd have made a direct link of it... but for some reason, Blogger no longer permits that. I guess they want me to use their "updated Blogger interface".

Oh well. Enjoy the site, people. There's hope for humankind as long as this sort of madness remains. Ah. Here. Direct link.

 I must say: this new interface isn't very attractive.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Early Birthday Present - A Personal Insanity

Today is young Genghis' birthday party. It's about a week early, but what do you do when your kid is born on Xmas eve?

He's getting a really cool party this year. He and nine of his friends (including his brother) are off to the new Laser Tag facility in Launceston, for a few hours of running, screaming, jumping, and laser-zapping. I expect massive carnage. I also expect a bunch of very, very tired boys.

Once we're done, we'll head back here for the triple-layer chocolate cake with peppermint marshmallow, and a bit of a backyard barbecue with the firepit and all. In the meantime - well, Genghis got permission to open one birthday present. You can see it in the pictures above.

Obviously, I've been working at it for a while. To my variously Medieval friends: yeah, I know the links are too large, and it's a bit funky around the shoulders. But you know what? That is one deliriously happy not-quite-nine-year-old boy there. And remember that the armourer who put that particular chain shirt together has no prior experience whatsoever.

Hooray for the Internet, eh? I poked around a bunch of websites, and found out how to make basic chainmail. After that, it was all just cutting and bending.

It's a bit scratchy, but the boy loves it. He hasn't taken it off. (Of course, that's going to be challenging. It's a close fit. He'll have to tip himself up and shimmy out of it. I may even remove another couple of links.)

Happy birthday, kid!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Evils Of Leap Years

The Mau-Mau, like most six-year-old girls, is not hugely endowed with patience. Especially when it comes to things like, oh, Christmas. Or birthdays, for that matter.

The little pile of presents under the tree is tormenting her. It's as though it has its own gravity well, that works purely on the Mau-mau. She can't pass it by without being magically drawn to it, then frozen in the spot, staring longingly at the colourful paper and the enticing shapes.

Of course, the fact that it's Genghis' birthday just before Xmas pisses her off mightily. She and Genghis are frequently mortal enemies, and she strongly resents anything that happens to him or for him which she feels should properly be directed to her. By way of example: as we drove into Launceston today, to do an afternoon of gymnastics classes at the PCYC, a conversation developed vis-a-vis birthday cakes. And since I'm the chief caker-baker in this house, naturally I asked Genghis what kind of cake he might like....

Genghis:"Oh. Well. A multi-layered cake would be nice. With different flavoured icing between the layers."

Me: "Aha. Okay. Well - what kind of cake should it be?"

Mau-mau: "I had a cake with layers on my sixth birthday. It was so nice!"

Me: "Did you? I don't recall."

Genghis: "She did. You made it. It was really awesome. There was a big cake on the bottom, and a little one on that, and a littler one at the top, and it was all covered with white icing and sliced strawberries."

Mau-mau: "Yes! Oooh, I loved that. My sixth birthday was really good."

Me: "Okay. Multi-layer. But... you want chocolate cake?"

Genghis: "That would be good. With chocolate icing outside. Can I have fizzy lemon icing in between?" (This is a reference to a culinary invention of mine: yes, I created fizzy cake frosting.)

Me: "I don't think so. I don't think it would be good with the chocolate."

Genghis: "Oh. What about mint? And raspberries?"

Me (my face is curdling at this point.) "Umm. Look. A few mint leaves with a raspberry dessert is one thing. But peppermint icing and fresh raspberries... I'm not ready to do that."

Genghis: "Oh."

Me: "I tell you what, though. I could do layers of peppermint marshmallow in between the layers of cake, and chocolate icing over the whole cake. How does that sound?"

Genghis: "Peppermint marshmallow? Oooh! That sounds good!"

Mau-mau (infuriated): "Are you trying to make your birthday better than mine?"

I'm not kidding. Those were her exact words. So there was a brief Dad interlude in which I explained quite pointedly that I was going to try just as hard for Genghis as I did for her, and that he deserved the best birthday we could manage... and if she didn't like it, she could spend the day in question in the Time-Out area under the stairs.

She didn't think much of that option.

Anyway. Later in the evening, after dinner, the Xmas tree once more worked its evil magic upon her. She stood and stared, sighing. And finally, she announced that she just couldn't wait for Christmas. And how many days was it now?

Natalie growled, and said we weren't having Xmas on Xmas anyhow, since she's working that day. The Mau-mau was pretty upset by that, especially when she found we couldn't have it the day before because of... wait for it... Genghis' birthday!

Anyway. When the fuss died down from that, she decided she had to know how many days it was until her own birthday. At this point, Natalie rolled her eyes and pointed out that the Mau-mau had first asked that question the very day after her last birthday. So Genghis piped up, and said that obviously, when she first asked, the answer was 365 days.

Unthinkingly, I pointed out that 2012 is a leap year, and therefore the correct answer was 366.

Uh-oh. A truly remarkable frown appeared on the Mau-mau's face. What was this about an extra day? Had someone put another day between her and her birthday?

Natalie tried to dismiss the topic, but the Mau-mau wasn't having any of that. Footstomping ensued. Genghis tried his almost-nine-year-old best to explain leap years, but that was no good either. The Mau-mau shouted at the top of her voice: "I hate Sleep Years!"

The resulting wave of hilarity didn't help the situation. In fact, it cranked her up no end; she was infuriated that we'd caught the mistake, and insisted she'd really said 'leap year' but her mouth was full of pencil, or something. And then she really let loose...

Apparently, Leap Years exist solely as a conspiracy to offend her by keeping her farther away from her birthday. That one extra day in the calendar is a deliberate, calculated attempt to destroy her life and her sanity. That's right, folks: you heard it here first. The sole reason there are Leap Years is so that my daughter has to wait an extra day between birthdays every four years or so...

You can probably guess the amount of sympathy that her outrage generated. The whole episode ended with her stomping off to bed, and having a good old weep into her pillow.

I'll fix it tomorrow. I'll tell her she's slept through the extra day, now, and everything's back on track. I'm sure that will work perfectly., if only I could figure out how to restore my own failing sanity so easily.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

End Of Year School Shenanigans

Yesterday the Mau-Mau had her 'Early Childhood End Of Year Assembly'. There was much dancing at the prep-to-year 2 level. Happily, I managed to avoid that.

There was a price, of course. In order to dodge the Early Childhood school assembly (and please, folks... I've had two kids already go through all that three times each. And this is the Mau-Mau's second such assembly. So I do believe I've earned the right to duck one.) I had to take Genghis into Launceston for his double bass lesson.

Not so bad, right? Oh... but it's Christmas season. So... can you just take this PDF calendar to a printery and get them to run up four or five copies? Oh! And don't forget, we need something for little cousin S. And big cousin Z. Ooh - and here's a prescription that needs to be filled. Oh, wait: we need anti-fungal stuff for the fishtank. Can't get that in Scottsdale, no. And the Mau-Mau still hasn't got the Barbie doll she was promised when she won "Best Decorated Bicycle" in the Scottsdale Xmas parade last week. Can you just swing past K-mart and get the one with rainbow wings? Oh, and we need some gold and silver pens for the kids to make Xmas cards.

Meanwhile... I also got some T-shirts that I'm screen-printing for various folks. And I got Genghis another present. This whole birthday-on-Xmas-eve thing sucks.

I also found a remarkably clever present for Natalie. And one for the Mau-Mau. And one for Jake. We're staying low-key this year, though... have requested various relatives keep it minimal, and we're trying to focus more on family, and doing stuff together, and baking and decorating and stuff. Because, you know: I Have Had Enough Of This Christmas Crap, and so has Natalie.

So, that was most of my day yesterday. Five hours, including driving time of roughly an hour and a half. Mmm. Christmassy. I was so tired by the end of it all that I even skipped the weekly movie session with Bruce and the others... couldn't bear the thought of driving back into Launceston yet again. Besides, I needed the work time. Still do.

Today was Assembly Day for the rest of the school. Jake was set to play a cello piece. He was pretty comfortable with that. But far more nervous-making was the fact that my young flute student the Dill (of the Double-Banger family) was up to perform too. He'd not done that before, and he was pretty keyed up.

It went well, though. Or mostly. I'm afraid I made an ass of myself during the National Anthem. I've never seen the second verse before, you understand. I thought it was part of the Constitution that we only ever sing the first verse, and then we sit down and crack tubes. But no: the school, in a fit of misplaced patriotism, used its mighty digital projector powers to display the second verse on the wall so we could all sing.

Well. Almost all. I don't much like national anthems. But I was trying. And then I got to these lines:

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;

By now, you know my opinion on our pitiful government (past and present) and the way it treats refugees... most especially, those refugees who dare to arrive by (gasp!) boat. I'm afraid that when I got to those lines, I couldn't actually keep singing. Instead, I burst into laughter, defeated by the lovely irony of it all. Natalie frowned and shushed me... but it was too late. The damage had been done. I think I wanna print those lines on a couple of T-shirts, and send one each to Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard...

Still, what with all the enthusiastic singing going on, only a few people noticed my breach of protocol. And the boys played well. Jake is starting to make the 'cello sound like a real instrument, and The Dill did a very fair rendition of 'The Skye Boat Song', so everything ended neatly.

I ducked out before the awards. Natalie was staying, so I didn't figure I'd miss out. And lo - Jake got another 'academic achievement' award, and Genghis got an 'aim high' award. This latter is interesting: it's offered to the student who gets enthusiastically involved in activity and particularly, in discourse and discussion. Knowing Genghis as I do, I think I can imagine his version of 'enthusiasm', and 'discourse and discussion', and I strongly suspect that in his case, the 'aim high' award was actually a declaration of surrender by his poor, long-suffering teacher. She's done well this year, I must say. I hope she gets an easier lot next year!

We're getting down to the skinny end of things now. Just a few more school days. Genghis is having his birthday party on Saturday... no real choice about that, since we're running out of time. I've found a really brilliant way to handle the party this year, though, so I'm actually looking forward to that one.

Meanwhile, I've been gardening, printing shirts, doing up Xmas cards, wrapping presents, cooking, baking, reading for the MA, writing for the MA, writing on the MS... and even attempting to bring some order to my study.

I think my big project for the summer will be a clean-out and refurbishing of the top shed. I need a place to store the martial arts gear that doesn't involve crowding out my study - but until I manage to put bird-wire all around the eaves of the dojo-shed, anything stored up there is likely to get swallow-shit all over it, which pisses me off immensely. I also need to replace some of the old fibre-glass light panels in the roof with modern "laser-lite" plastic corrugated panels, but that's a bastard of a job: I have to cling onto a steeply pitched corrugated iron roof, over a drop of something like six metres down to a very unforgiving, flat, rocky clay surface. I don't like that at all.

But it's going to have to happen. I can't keep jamming things in this little study. I need more room. If I could shift all the martial gear up there without fear of birdshit, that would be a great start. And I could also move the shirt-printing stuff, and the glass-art stuff. And the sword training stuff too, which would make sense, because it could be with the rest of the martial gear.

That would leave me with only the computer, printer, router, video/camera/recording gear, the reference books, the martial arts library, the shelves of SF and fantasy, the language texts and exercise books, the musical instruments and musical theory/texts, the laminating and binding equipment, the games, the software, plus my personal collection of movies and music, and the sewing machine with all the cloth and the bits and pieces that go with it. Boy! I'd have so much room in my 3m x 4m study that I'd hardly know what to do with myself!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bolt Writes For Crikey: Wants Marriage Equality

True story!

Okay, sure. It's Andrew Bolt's sister, Stephanie - not the Grand Fuckwit himself. But can you think of a better way to annoy the shit out of him than by recognising, publicising and respecting the excellent and intelligent writing of his married lesbian sister?

I can't. So... what are you waiting for?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Summer Tastes Like...

Actually, right now summer tastes like raspberries. The work I did a few years back in putting in the canes is literally coming to fruition. I've given up on neat rows and carefully tied canes: there's a tall, spiny, shadowy bramble of raspberry canes, just right for kids to sidle into and get lost, and scratched, and sweaty - and absolutely loaded with beautiful, fresh, ripe, delicious raspberries.

It's not completely uncontrolled. There's a quarry in Launceston that will sell random slabs of flat rock from their operations. You can get a trailerload for about $30. I've taken a bunch of those rocks and just thrown them into the bramble, making winding, narrow pathways amongst the berry canes.

That'll do. We're sitting on fifty acres. Why the hell should I bother trying to constrain my raspberry bushes? I've got a fence around 'em for the wallabies, and a daggy old net that I'm going to have to replace in the next year or so which deters enough of the birds. We're currently getting about a kilo a day from the patch, and probably will do so for the next week or two. Shortly after that, I expect the first blackberries to kick in.

The kids are ecstatic. Natalie's happy. I'm happy. Raspberries are good. The canes keep coming up, expanding into new territory. Eventually, they'll break out of the fence - and I'll let them. If they can fend for themselves amongst the ravening wallabies and rabbits, then why shouldn't they?

In the meantime, I have raspberries. At supermarket prices, I have something like $40 or $50 per day of raspberries, and they're not mouldy, or over-ripe, or squished, or flavourless from cold storage. Faced with such a bounty, I have a Policy.

Naturally, we're eating a lot of simple, plain, ripe raspberries. Of course. But as a cook, since I have access to such a luxurious ingredient, I feel a real obligation to do the job right. So I'm playing around, and everybody's enjoying the outcome.

The photo at the top is my 'Raspberry Sandwich'. It's a very simple single-layer lemon cake baked in a broad, shallow dish. The cake gets cut into neat squares, and 'sandwiched' around whipped cream and oodles of lovely raspberries. The mint leaves on top are purely and simply because I can. I have an enormous mint bush in a half wine-barrel next to the main path to the door, and the green, fragrant leaves look groovy on top of all that luscious cake, cream and fruit.

That was Thursday. Friday I went to the cricket, and got back late. Yesterday I made an elegant, creamy raspberry mousse, which I served by heaping it with fresh raspberries, then drizzling melted dark chocolate over the lot. (And mint leaves. That really is a goddam big mint bush. Must figure out more things I can do with mint.) We had Malay Chicken Rice first - the whole show, with the bowl of soup full of vegetables, then the fragrant twice-cooked chicken served with rice cooked in the chicken stock.

Then we followed it up with the raspberry mousse, and at that point, five children were convinced I am a God... and my wife is convinced I'm an incarnation of Satan, promoting furious gluttony upon hapless middle-aged women.

Anyhow: I'm looking for more interesting raspberry recipes. Anybody got a favourite of their own?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Six Hours Driving, Five And A Half Hours Of Cricket

...and was it worth it? Well - yeah.

We're being pretty low-key about Xmas this year. Frankly, Natalie and I are just tired of it, and the boys are old enough to be taking a more relaxed view of the whole show. The Mau-Mau is still young enough to be excited by the entire prospect, of course... but that kind of excitement can be adequately addressed with decorating Xmas trees and making seasonal treats, and pulling crackers, and so forth.

However, more or less as a result, we're kind of loosening the weave, and incorporating a few treats around Xmas. Not related, but timely, and fun. So when I discovered that the second cricket test between EnnZed and Oz was going to kick off in Hobart today - well, how could I resist? The boys love them some cricket, and I rather like the game too. Especially the test form. And Bellerive Oval is a pretty place that still has a proper Hill for the drunkards and the yobbos to sprawl upon indecorously.

So I dove online, and booked a few tickets. And then one more, because a friend of the boys' at school is also a big cricket fan, and has (like my two) never before been to a live match of any quality.

Hell of a drive, though. We took off at about 0730 this morning, and drove. And drove. And drove. And then we parked the car a few blocks from the Oval, and we walked. And finally, they let us in - although they told us we couldn't take our umbrellas with us. Weapons of terror, apparently. Or something.

Anyway, it was a very good day. The boys were thoroughly delighted. The weather was hot and bright for most of the day, and early in the piece there was a lot of action from the pitch - plenty of bounce and seam, and even a good amount of swing for a couple of the Aussie bowlers. As a result, the Kiwi wickets fell at a gratifyingly steady rate, and the boys got to cheer and jeer, and solicit autographs on the sidelines.

They made noises with freely distributed and sanctioned noisemakers. They gathered horrible little Milo Cricket balloons. They drank Powerade and ate sandwiches and fruit that we'd packed, and listened to the commentary on wee little free ear-radios provided by series sponsors Vodaphone. Whenever they got bored or hot, they'd wander off to another section of the ground, and then wander back when they were ready.

And I enjoyed myself, yes. I do like a bit of cricket, and I got to watch the match, as well as watching three young lads enjoy watching their very first test match, and I felt like a Decent Sort Of Dad, which is always rewarding.

A late rain shower delayed the start of the Australian innings, but they batted just long enough for Warner to hit a decent boundary, for Hughes to lose it to Martin in the slips yet again, and for Usman Khawaja to dodge, duck, weave, and pray his way through to 'not out' by the time the rain set in for real. By that time, we were ready to go anyway, so we packed up, reclaimed our umbrellas from the kindly buffoons in security, and launched ourselves into the traffic.

And may I just say: of all the events I have ever driven away from in cities all over Australia, getting away from Bellerive Oval is by far the most irritating piece of work. Hobart's traffic system was NOT designed for the kind of traffic dump you get at the end of a decent cricket match... and Bellerive is a cramped sort of suburb on a peninsula of sorts. The drive from Bellerive to the edge of the Hobart traffic region took nearly a full hour. I was less than happy.

So, that was the day. Six hours of driving. Lots of music on the radio. A decent day of cricket with a good performance from the Australians, and three very tired, very happy kids.

That's definitely a dose of true Christmas spirit, if you ask me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Did Promise Video

Well, yesterday was The Christmas Parade here in sunny Dorset Parish, and Scottsdale. And of course, that means the yearly ju-jitsu demonstration.

The kids enjoy it. They get to show off in front of a crowd. The parents enjoy it: they get to watch the kids hurling each other about, chasing each other, wrestling, playing martial games, and going through set-piece defenses.

Most of all, the kids love the opportunity to break some pine boards.

Personally, I think board breaking is silly. But having seen how much the kids love it, and having seen how it changes their attitude when they get the chance to do it, I'm for board-breaking as a teaching element.

I don't think it teaches much in the way of technique. You do have to be able to generate a bit of power, sure. And you have to be balanced, and you have to hold your hand (or foot) correctly to prevent being damaged by the blow. But none of it is particularly difficult.

Despite that, it does teach one really important thing. It teaches people -- kids especially, but adults as well -- that they can step past limits that they currently take for granted. Not only that, but it's exciting and rewarding to go past those limits. It helps transform their thinking from 'oh, I don't know if I can do this' into 'ooh! I bet I could do this if I just try hard enough!'

Those of you who've been around this space will be aware that I regard that mental transformation as very possibly the single most important element of martial practice. Not everyone who comes to martial arts wants competition, or fitness, or self-defence. But everyone who learns to shift the mental bars, free themselves from their own doubts, and push their boundaries benefits tremendously. When you stop taking boundaries and limits for granted and start learning to exceed them, you enlarge yourself, you enhance your life, and you greatly improve your opportunities in every area. So: if breaking pine boards helps my young students acquire that mental attitude, then I will buy a whole goddam lumber mill, if the club finances hold.

Happily, we generally only need six or seven metres of good, wide, pine board.

Now. I believe I mentioned that this year I was going to try an interesting trick. I saw some footage of Jackie Chan doing a break, and he did it while holding an egg in his hand. That, I thought, was actually very cool. Breaking stuff is one thing. Breaking things while exerting sufficient control that a raw egg in the breaking-hand remains unharmed shows control, and skill.

I also promised footage. Well -- Natalie used a ratty little camera to shoot the event yesterday. I did, in fact, succeed (and finished up by holding up the egg, then breaking it to show the crowd it wasn't boiled, and swallowing the contents... which freaked them out even more than the actual board-break). So it wasn't very clear on the video.

Therefore, I set up again on the picnic table outside, and got Jake to man a slightly better camera for me. Here's the result.

Can't figure out how to make it show up as an embedded YouTube video. Sorry. If you're curious, you can click the link.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I suppose it was inevitable. And yet - reading the article, I'm struck by an awesome sense of frustration at the unbelievable, indescribable stupidity of what's been done here.

Those of you with memories longer than your average mayfly will recall the Great Avian Flu scare. A strain of influenza associated with birds started killing people in places like Hong Kong, and Vietnam, and there was a looong, nasty, tense wait to see whether it would take off and turn pandemic.

Turned out the virus was a serious killer. Of the folks infected, about 70% just plain died. Systems collapse. To give you some idea, the Great Spanish Flu pandemic which occurred in 1918 and killed more people around the world than all of World War One had a lethality of about 2.5%.

Lucky for us, the H5N1 Avian Flu virus turned out to be fairly difficult to catch. The structure of the virus itself made it pretty non-contagious in humans. It had to be inhaled deep, deep into the system before it could catch hold - which was why almost all the victims were either chicken-herders, or were directly caring for affected victims who were chicken-herders.

Whew. Sigh of relief, eh?

Except now, some unbelievably stupid Dutchman has not only genetically modified the virus to be highly contagious, while leaving it at roughly 5o% lethality... but he's also presented a paper on the topic.

I appreciate the thought that knowing this shit can potentially help us prepare... but to present this kind of stuff in a public forum is the absolute height of lunacy. People are, of course, talking about 'banning the paper'. But it's the 21st century, folks. You can bet that information is well and truly into "the wrong hands" already. Banning it at this point is a waste of time.

Folks... here's how it is. When this one gets out, we're fucked on a scale not even imagined since the 14th century.

Nice knowin' y'all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Martial Musings and a Tangle With Telstra

Yesterday, Natalie came down the stairs with an expression of doom on her face. I was busy listening to our neighbour, Mad Mick the Historian, so I didn't notice at first. It wasn't until she slapped a Telstra bill in my hand that I wondered what was going on. So I looked at it. $1,007.90.

Errr... what?

A cursory reading of the bill showed the problem. Apparently, Telstra believed that on exactly one day during that period (November 4th), Natalie turned on the 'International Roving' function on her Iphone, and sucked up $825 worth of data from some random overseas location.

My wife is a lovely person, but she's not good at confrontation. She was pretty upset. Remembering our various skirmishes with Telstra in the past (six months, unknown numbers of phone calls and consultations - and finally, it was advice from my neighbour which enabled me to set up a functional wireless internet aerial here at home... thanks Telstra.) she was pretty firmly convinced we were going to wind up forking out the eight-hundred plus smackers, and quite reasonably, that made her unhappy.

I, on the other hand, am perfectly willing to plant myself in the road in front of the proverbial bulldozer, and dare it to try coming my way. And most of that six months worth of back-and-forth on the phone was done by yours truly. As well as the three separate visits to Launceston offices of Telstra, etc. So I just asked her if I could handle it. After all - we've made sure on at least a half-dozen occasions now that I have access to the phone accounts.

Well. First, I had to call Nat back down to the phone so she could tell some Indian-accented chap (who was in Sydney, honest, because he could tell me all about the weather. Not Bangalore. Sydney!) that yes, I was her husband, and yes, I had authority to discuss the phone accounts. So, okay: make that seven times we've told Telstra, and been assured every time that they've adjusted the records accordingly.

After that, though, things went quite well. I explained to Mister Accent that Telstra had made an obvious and stupid error. I pointed out that not only did the spike in billing occur on one single day of the period, but that at no other point in our long history of Telstra bills had anything similar occurred. And while he was busy trying to tell me that sometimes people changed their habits, I pointed out very loudly that neither of us had been overseas during that time. At all.

No. Nor had the phone. Nor any of our computers. Not even a little bit.

He got kind of glum after that, and told me they'd initiate an inquiry. At that point, I politely requested his name and his employee number. Through pleasantly gritted teeth he supplied them, and then decided that the investigation should take place immediately, and if I would just hold, he'd put me straight through.

Half an hour of banal music later, Mister Accent came back. Oops. Yes. The investigation suggested that the bill should be adjusted downwards by $825. And just to be sure, he would cancel that pesky International Roving service (which Natalie had never actually authorised.)

Job done.

I suspect the 'cancellation' of the IR service was done because they decided not to bother investigating over a mere $800 or so. They probably figured that if we were scamming, we'd be pissed by the cancellation of the service, and they wouldn't be out any more money. Doesn't really matter: Natalie isn't stupid. When she goes overseas, she buys a cheap-ass local phone and sim card, because the fucking ridiculously extortionate IR rates are obscene. (And she raises a good point: don't these halfwitted phone people realise how much money they DON'T make by charging so much for IR? If they kept the rates reasonable, people wouldn't do the obvious thing, and buy that cheap phone. But with rates the way they are, instead of making a bomb, Telstra makes nothing at all from sensible travellers. Corporate brains at work?)

All up, it only took one phone call lasting three quarters of an hour. I'm still debating whether or not I should bill Telstra for the wasted time...

Anyway. In the evening, I had the usual class in ju-jitsu. It's near the end of the year, so mostly I'm working the kids through stuff they can show off for the Christmas parade. They love it: lots of exciting diving and rolling, plenty of sparring and game play, and best of all, they get to break boards. Kids luuurrrve breaking boards. And why not?

That wasn't the interesting bit, though. That came with the older class. I decided that since we were having a relatively quiet evening, we'd do something different, and so I set up a session of very, very hardcore groundfighting.

Not hardcore in the sense of MMA. Hardcore in the sense that biting, gouging, hair grips, ear grips, fish-hooking, head-butting, and finger-locking were all permitted: nay, encouraged.

It went like this. We broke up into pairs. One person became the attacker. Their job was to pin the defender in such a way as to be able to demolish some kind of weak spot: ribs, groin, face, throat. The job of the defender was to prevent that by the most efficient means possible.

Most efficient means possible.

Of course, restraint was required. Nobody actually got busted up, and I'm glad of that. But the goal of the exercise was real, and realised, and it was very valuable.

Y'see, the great paradox of teaching a genuine martial art is that you hope never to use it. And you start off, by necessity, teaching a very rigid, very safety-conscious set of techniques. Beginners are dangerous, but it's not because they're particularly good. It's because they've got no accuracy, and no control. You can't train hard with a beginner because what you want to do is pattern into yourself really sharp, accurate, fast responses, and you can't do that if you have to try to keep them safe while simultaneously trying to watch out for their tendency to stumble and swing wildly. So at the start, you teach people efficiency, and you teach them safety, and you teach them restraint and caution and observation.

And in a real situation of violence, you're unlikely to see many of these things from your opponent. Further: if you apply these principles, you are quite likely to be badly injured by somebody who just doesn't give a shit about rules of safety, etc.

So what do you do?

Many martial arts never actually bother. They emphasise discipline, fitness, perhaps spiritual development, or possibly sporting competition. But the hard core of no-rules, survival-first combat don't get much of a look in.

There are other arts and practitioners who insist that hard, frequent, high-contact sparring will do the job, yep. To those folks, I'd offer this video:

It depicts a handful of some of the UFC's top fighters going up against pairs of US Marines in an open woodland. And to a man, the hard-sparring, super-tough, highly skilled UFC men get completely pwned. Not just beaten: absolutely annihilated. They don't even score points against the Marines. They show no awareness of how to deal with paired opponents, and they're woefully unprepared for the simple hand-to-hand weapons that they are given, and which are deployed against them. The UFC guys spar as hard as anybody in the world, but they have rules, and they live by those rules. Put 'em in an environment where the rules don't apply, and they flounder.

There are some who more or less abandon the term 'martial art', and teach - well, "Surviving violence" might be a good name for it, I think. Try this blog: This guy gets my respect. I believe he knows what he's talking about.

But then, if you orient everything you do towards surviving violence - how do you work with kids? And what about the people who are interested in other aspects of a martial art?

Murky territory.

My background is ju-jitsu, more or less. The traditional kind, involving everything - strikes, locks, throws, kicks, evasion, weapons, groundfighting and anything else you want. Plus a lot of stuff which is less trad: defense from weakened positions, surprise attacks, etc. The instructor I studied under longest was Shihan Mark Haseman, and he quite openly declared he favoured a kind of goshin-jitsu, or self-defense oriented art.

One thing I got from everybody in ju-jitsu - the three different schools I've been with, the three major instructors and visiting masters and the seminars and the rest - was a sense of openness. Ju-jitsu as I know it isn't a closed tradition. It's an open, evolving art. But the heart of it is: efficiency, and survival.

So I compromise. With the young ones, I teach a lot of basic physical skills. They fall and roll, strike and kick and block and throw and dodge. They play games, and they break boards sometimes, and they wrestle, and they get exposed to a range of simple, basic kid-strategies for self defense. They seem to enjoy it all, and they gain a lot of confidence, and learn to move better, and maintain their balance. It's all good.

But with the older students, I try to bring things more to a sharp point. We still go through all the basics of movement and balance, striking and evading and blocking and throwing, etc. But in between the work on the basics -- the effort to make them more than just dangerous, unco-ordinated beginners -- I try to work on the things that are relevant to real self-defense.

The session last night was fascinating, from my viewpoint. I wound up wrestling with almost everyone individually, as we broke up the pairs and shifted them around, and in every case, I had to physically demonstrate what I was talking about. I had to show them how to bite, how they could grab an ear and use it as a handle to drag a face into range of a fist. I had to show them how you could try to pry a finger loose from a stranglehold on your neck, and point out that if that wasn't working - well, you had the attacker's attention on that grip and now you could get a really good handful of delicate groin tissue and tear hell out of it...

Difficult. Very challenging for the women, because they have to overcome not just the manners of the dojo, but the non-aggressive, relatively mild role expected of them by society at large. But even for the males, there was a lot of mental conditioning to overcome. They simply didn't think of biting, for example - not even at times when I deliberately stuck a forearm across someone's mouth.

I'm ... well, I'm not sure pleased is the word, but at least I'm satisfied I don't have any such inhibitions. Twenty-odd years under some very fierce instructors, plus a lot of time on the mat, plus long and careful consideration of the purpose of the training have left me with a very simple, matter-of-fact outlook on this stuff. Put me in a position where I truly have to fight for my life, and I will do - actually, I can't think of what I wouldn't be prepared to do to an attacker, if it was necessary. And I don't have to think about it. Try putting your arm across my face: I'll bite bloody chunks out of you. Get your face too close to mine and I'll use my forehead to spread your nose like Vegemite. Lose track of my hand: you'll find my thumb in your eye-socket. Because those are the rules when you're on the bottom, trying not to get killed, you know?

But it's not an easy thing to teach: morally, spiritually, or even technically. It's hard to balance.

We'll definitely be doing that exercise again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why I Don't Own A Kindle, or The Value Of Actually Owning The Works

Everybody loves their Kindle. But not me.

Ever since I first heard about Amazon/Kindle remotely removing copies of Orwell's 1984 from several hundred accounts for some reason, I've been unwilling to get a Kindle. I don't care how wonderfully convenient they are. If the people at Amazon can control my access to works which I have legitimately purchased, then I don't really own those works at all.

Of course, it's not always a deliberate action. Sometimes things just... go wrong.

You'll note from the references at the bottom of the article that this isn't the first time the problem has been brought up. This is, in fact, a recurring issue.

Bottom line? I'm sure owning a Kindle is just marvy. And I'm sure it's wonderful to have cloud access to all those texts. At least... I'm sure it's wonderful right up until the point when Amazon decides you shouldn't have that access. Or until the government convinces them that the books you're reading are dangerous and naughty. Or until...


You know what? There are e-readers on the market that let you store your own e-books. I'm not yet interested enough to get such a reader, but when I do, that's where I'll be going. And a Kindle account?

Nah. Not until Amazon accepts that when I buy a book, it belongs to me, not them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vale, Anne McCaffrey.

I don't have a lot of time right now. I'm due to go and grab some kids and then teach an evening of martial arts very shortly. But I just spotted this article on the 'Net, and honestly, I couldn't simply stay silent.

I believe I first encountered Anne McCaffrey's works at the Cairns Library when I was perhaps ten years old. At that age, her Dragonrider books were a revelation, and I loved them.

It's hard for me to revisit them as an adult, I admit. But say what you will about her books, there's no gainsaying the wonderful influence she's had. Her work has made a very large number of people very happy... including one boy, some thirty-odd years ago, and I can never be anything other than grateful.

So long, Anne.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Fundamental Flaw In Libertarian Thinking

Of course, the first question is why am I bothering to address this? Isn't the whole 'Libertarian' thing a flaky outcrop of the loony Right of the US?

Possibly. But I found out yesterday that it's also taking root in Australia, which is disturbing. And while I'm at it - when I was a kid, reading Robert Heinlein (who might as well be one of Science Fiction's patron saints of Libertarianism) the philosophy seemed to have some good points to it. And is it not axiomatic that "...that government is best which governs least"?

Except that the so-called Libertarian philosophy is built around a fundamentally unsound basis.

The basic ideal of Libertarianism is: you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone, and we'll all be better off. Libertarians oppose government assistance schemes, government interventions of just about any sort, and "impositions" on personal rights, such as seatbelt laws. It's a basic ideal of the movement that one should be permitted to choose actions which may lead to self harm if one is aware that the harm is possible, and one desires to do so. Whose life is it anyway?

Unfortunately, that only really works if the whole world is composed of Libertarians, each fully self-sufficient and in no way beholden to any other. To show exactly how it falls down, consider the question of immunisation.

There are plenty of people who oppose immunisation of children. Despite the claims of harm being long since debunked; despite the removal of mercury-based preservatives (thiomersal) from childhood vaccines - despite all evidence to the contrary, there are people who insist that vaccines are potentially dangerous, and they shouldn't be required to subject their children to them.

There are enough such idiots (and I use the term deliberately, because anyone whose behaviour flies in the face of a century or so of scientific research and successful, effective medical practice, and endangers their own children in so doing is manifestly an irresponsible idiot) that recently we've seen a minor epidemic of whooping cough in Victoria, and if I recall correctly, there's now a measles epidemic going on in New Zealand... despite the fact that both these diseases are eminently preventable.

Lets take the Libertarian line, shall we?

* * *

"The government has no right to impose this on me, or my family. I can protect my own family."

Oh? How will you do that?

"If there's an outbreak, I'll isolate myself and my family. We'll wait until it passes. We'll be fine. We've made preparations."

Aha. So somehow, you're going to get your entire family into complete isolation before the first symptoms of the outbreak occur in your local community. Because, of course, many -- if not most -- diseases are communicable before they're symptomatic.

"I'll read about it in the newspaper. On the Internet."

Interesting. Given that an outbreak can last several months or longer, you're prepared to wait that long in complete medical isolation?

"... That's a worst-case scenario, right?"

No. It's pretty common. So - what will you do if your children catch this disease? Will you refuse medical treatment and let them die?

"Of course not. Libertarianism embraces the exchange of valuable skills. I can pay for medical treatment. We're not unreasonable. Nobody can have all the necessary skills and resources on their own."

Really? Doesn't that make Libertarianism kind of... untenable?

"No. No. We accept and understand a society in which all participants are involved on a voluntary basis, where everyone knows and take responsibility for the consequences of their actions."

All right. What will you do if your child requires hospitalisation? Let's say - for something like Whooping Cough? You know - because the outbreak arrived before you got word, or because you didn't stay in isolation long enough. Will you permit your child to enter a public hospital, if necessary?

"We're not monsters or idiots. We've got nothing against hospitals as such. They're necessary. If a child needs to be hospitalised and we have the money or the means to make that possible, then of course we will do what is needed to save the child. Who wouldn't?"

I see. So... how are you going to explain that to the other people whose children may have to visit that hospital? Babies, for example - too young as yet to be immunised against Whooping Cough. When you send your righteously non-immunised (but now desperately sick) child to the hospital, you're exposing an entire community to the disease. And yes: you're exposing children too young to make the choice about vaccination - even too young for the option. In fact, by insisting on your right not to immunise, you are now endangering the youngest, most vulnerable members of your community.


Tell me: what's the Libertarian philosophy on people who deliberately endanger, harm, or kill small children? I'm just curious, you understand...

* * *

Our fable ends there, but the principle which it illustrates remains. I know perfectly well that not all (in fact, probably not most) people who call themselves 'Libertarian' are stupid enough to refuse vaccination. But under the Libertarian "philosophy", it's their right to refuse vaccination for themselves and their children. Because the Government has no right to intervene, and impose these things on people.

The truth? "Libertarianism" is little other than a nice six (or is it seven? How many syllables in "-ism"?) syllable word that is pretty much absolutely equivalent to another six-syllable construction: "Fuck you, Jack. I'm all right."

I'm happy to concede that there's a need for greater personal responsibility in the society we've built. I'm appalled by a lot of the crap we've imposed on people who are really not endangering anyone else, nor even themselves. But 'Fuck you Jack, I'm all right' is no basis for a civilisation.

It's a shared world. The resources of the earth are finite. We are interdependent, both upon the people around us, and the world and environment which supports them. The 'philosophy' of Libertarianism is a stupid, shallow, meaningless mouth-noise used to provide a shiny disguise for the worst kind of venal, greedy, self-centred, mean-spirited xenophobia...

...and I say let the Americans keep it, if they really want it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Great Stupid Smartphone Debacle

So, not too long ago my trusty Nokia flip-phone became untrustworthy. Its little LED screen expired in a blaze of blue, and I could no longer access any information except by guess. And that really wasn't much good.

I knew the SIM was okay. I could still receive calls, and make calls. So that was all right. I figured I'd just replace the thing, you know? No drama.

Bit of backstory: I grew up in Far North Queensland, mostly. Did not have a landline in the family name until I was eighteen, and living in a flat of my own in Brisneyland. Horrible bloody place it was, too... and as it happened, the phone number was literally one digit different from one of Queensland's non-existent illegal brothels, so we occasionally received some very peculiar calls.

The point I'm making is that I'm pretty ambivalent about phones. I don't like conversing over the phone. I don't like the lack of feedback. If I can't see you, read your posture and your gestures and your expressions, it's not a conversation at all. It's just a limited exchange of information. I expect I have all the phone manner of Jack the Ripper, to be honest. But I absolutely do not give a shit.

The mobile phone revolution has left me quite unimpressed. I'm a big user of computers, and I love the Internet, but mobile phones? Meh. Who really cares? Who actually needs to be on-call to the world 24/7, eh? Not this little black duck.

Nevertheless, I have three school-age kids. I live on a rural property. My wife is a GP, often on-call, who delivers the occasional baby. It follows that sometimes I need to stay in contact. The choice is: get a mobile phone, or don't go out.

I got a mobile. And you know - it's been really cool to have it for the SF conventions, and the occasional visit to friends and different cities and stuff. Very convenient. Yep. But not so's I couldn't live without it. Completely pre-paid; that's me. And I generally spend maybe twenty bucks a month that way.

So I trundled on down to the post office, and went through their shiny toys looking for another cheap-arse mobile. Turned out they were carrying a funny little thing, branded by Telstra. It was called a 'Touch', and it was Android-based Smartphone, and it cost under a hundred bucks.

Well, I didn't expect much at that price, but what with everybody in the world positively fuckin' swooning over their you-beaut World Interface Devices, I figured I'd put a toe in the water. See what it was like.

And in fact, if I were to extend the toe-in-the-water metaphor, I'd have to say it was a lot like discovering the water was full of toxic waste and mutated piranha-squid with a vengeful hunger for toes.

First of all, the Telstra Touch is as fugly a piece of coprophagic illegitimacy as ever I'd hope to avoid seeing again. Even with the provided stylus, its touch-keyboards are buggy and untrustworthy.

On top of that, it comes preloaded with a mile-high pile of shite. Instalinks to Facebook, Fox News, SportShite, and a hundred other pieces of dung. Good luck figuring out how to remove 'em: half of 'em appear to be permanent. Unless you wanna crack open Android, of course.

If I'd been more interested, I might have bothered. But I wasn't. Instead, I went and turned all sorts of shit off. I did enable the 'contacts' application. Which was stupid of me. I should have twigged when it demanded my gmail address - but how was I to know it was going to download all my gmail contacts? That was especially pointless, actually, since I don't keep phone numbers on gmail. Just email addresses. I have another database for addresses and numbers. I don't trust "the cloud" with vital information, and I don't trust it with the personal details of my friends.

So, having pared the new phone down to a minimum, I figured I'd try using it.

...what an utter waste of time and money.

What do people use these bits of crap for? Oh, Bluetooth? I never use it. Music? Hey, I have an MP3 player, and it doesn't chew through batteries like the Telstra Touch. GPS? Oh for fuck's sake: I'm an ex-cabbie. I use maps. I don't get lost. And if I did, I'd use my goddam phone and I'd ask for directions. It's not difficult. Appointments and calendar shit? Hey -- that's what a memory is for, right? I've still got one. How about you? Games? I don't have the time, or the interest. I play a bit of Dwarf Fortress because it's crazy-making complicated, and I'm considering this new "Skyrim" because it's supposed to be an open world, and I like that. Otherwise? Sheeit.

I can't write and type on a Smartphone. And data access is brutally expensive. Besides, as most people who know me will confirm, I'm used to keeping a small Wikipedia in my head. If I really need a piece of information I don't have, generally I can wait. Oh - and I don't mind actually carrying a Netbook computer if I think I'm going to be doing that sort of thing.

So. The Telstra Touch. Battery life: maybe 24 hours, even with everything I could find switched down. And as a prepaid customer, the fuckin' thing cost me around $100 a month because it kept quietly accessing the 'Net at ruinous prepaid rates. On top of that, it barely worked as a phone.

I have now purchased a little, minimalist Samsung flip-phone. Of course, I can't transfer my number, because I had to get a Telstra specialist to transfer my number to the Touch - and the Touch used a mini-SIM which (upon investigation) appears to be irretrievably lodged in the phone, now.

Therefore: if you think you have my mobile number, you're wrong. And if you think I have your mobile number, you're probably wrong, because I didn't manage to transfer most of 'em from the old Nokia to the Telstra Touch.

If you really want contact details, you can email me, or even leave a note here. And of course, there are a number of you from whom I would very much like contact details. You know who you are... and even if you just suspect, well, hell: take a punt, and send me a note.

In the meantime, it'll be a cold, cold, farkin' day in hell before I waste time and money on a so-called Smartphone again. For me, the 'Smart' side of the phone is near-enough useless. And y'know... I have a sneaking suspicion that all you people who are using them to augment your own memory are busily making yourself more stupid and forgetful. Your brain is like most other organs and systems in your body: stop using it, and it atrophies. Smart phone -- not so smart brain.

Use it or lose it, they say.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Little Bit Of Fun

There's those of you floating around here who aren't always in the loop on my stories, and so forth. That being so, I thought it would be useful to put a link right here:

That would be a straight-up SF story (yes, Mr Birmingham, I do 'em with or without elves and dragons) of about four thousand words or so.

Um. It's not a very nice story, you understand. There's some naughty words in it, and some very bleak thinking. But I like the central premise, and the choice that the protagonist has to make by the end, and the implications/questions it leaves. So... check it out, find out for yourself, see what you think.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tip Of The Top Hat To Young Jake

Jake and I are still playing with the Suave Guy webcomic. And currently, the storyline that we are reconstructing is pretty fracking stoopid. The original, I mean. Ours is actually a little less so. Which is scary.

Anyway, yesterday I threw him a loop by giving That Suave Guy a dance routine. So today, his new post has That Suave Guy following the dance routine with a song. Really.

Bearing in mind that he mostly had to use commas instead of line breaks 'cos of the software we're using to make new speech bubbles, I think he did a surprisingly good job in rather short time, so I'm giving him a shout out. Check the latest Suave Guy adventure here!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

R.I.P David Bowie

Which stands for "Rest In Pieces", by the way.

Not David Bowie the glam-rock icon, of course. What kind of eejit expects breaking news about one of the biggest names in modern music history to crop up in the obscure online diary of a Tasmanian writer? No: David Bowie the chicken. The Silky Bantam, to be precise.

Longtime readers will recall that some time ago, my wife decided that our three kids should have the divine joy of raising a baby chick each, to go with our regular, amiable Australorp eggmachines. She acquired some Silky Bantam eggs from a so-called 'friend' (friends don't let friends raise bantam chickens) and after a few unpleasantries, three chicks were duly hatched.

And they got names. I think. The Mau-Mau named hers 'Cutie Chick'. 'Cutie Chick' expired pretty early, a victim of Too Much Love, I suspect.

Jake... I can't remember the name of Jake's bird. But unfortunately, it was a cockerel. And if you know anything about bantam roosters, you know that you don't even try to keep them around kids. Not if you want your kids to keep their eyesight. Jake's bird eventually fell victim to high-velocity lead poisoning, and it is very telling to note that Jake was not in the least upset.

The final bird was 'David Bowie', so named by the ever-enigmatic Genghis. Apparently it had to do with the chicken's hairstyle - reminiscent of the wig worn by the real Bowie in his turn as the Goblin King, in the film Labyrinth. And to be honest, there really was a resemblance.

David Bowie did well. She never really managed to get along with the Three Fat Sisters, but she found a comfortable niche of her own in the chookyard, and took to turning out very credible bantam eggs on a daily basis. Genghis was delighted, and didn't seem at all concerned that "David Bowie" turned out to be female.

Tragically, David Bowie is no more. Sometime last week, Natalie went down to the pen and found a puff of silky bantam feathers, and no more. We didn't know the cause, but since then, the Three Fat Sisters have also been killed, one at a time.

We have a quoll in the area, it would seem.

Quolls are right bastards around chickens. The Dept of Primary Industries website says: " The best protection against these persistent predators is a 1.5 m high, well-footed, paling, corrugated iron or mesh pen; the latter with a roof, "floppy-top" or electric wire."

There's no way I'm going electric, so it looks like it's time to go nuts and rebuild the chookyard. One and a half metres all the way around, floppy-top fencing... great.

It's not like I didn't have enough to do already. But chooks are important. They do such a fantastic job of clearing up table scraps and cooking fallout... and those free-range eggs are fantastic.

I suppose I'll have to start tomorrow. Today it's grey and wet and rainy, and besides, I have to teach classes this afternoon/evening. But tomorrow's a new day.

Ave, David Bowie. The New Chookyard will rise upon the site of the old, and it shall Be Fiendishly Secure. The new inhabitants shall know your name, and speak of you with honour for your sacrifice!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Spring Rush

Last weekend I was in Melbourne. Briefly, but I was there.

It was a good thing to do. I met with the truly remarkable Prof Boylan, and with Bangar, and Melbo and Catty and Trish, and we had an excellent lunch at The Mitre, which is a fine Melbourne oddity. It's a colonial-era pub that's been left standing in the heart of the hightower district, which is as strange as strange can be. To find it, you have to venture down alleyways between gleaming glass monoliths that hold the sky far from your head... and then, suddenly, there it is. Little. Almost ramshackle. But solid, and old.

The food was good. The booze was better. Bangar and the Prof and I hit the Fat Yak, and then I noticed that their wine list included the Kreglinger, and the Prof decided we needed a bottle. He was right, of course. (He usually is, I have discovered.) But this time he was righter than he knew... the Kreglinger bubbly that comes off the old Pipers Brook estates here in Tas is an exceptional drop. They had the 2004 there at the Mitre, and I felt like an utter wanker when I explained that actually, the '04 wasn't a really good year because the weather that year was kind of shitty for the grapes... but what else could I say? I live here. The weather that year really was kind of shitty for grapes.

Despite that, the '04 Kreglinger was still a very fine drop. Even a poor year hereabouts yields a remarkable wine.

It was a long afternoon, but very enjoyable. Bangar and I retired with the Prof to the Adelphi, where we talked his ear off until it was time for dinner. By then, poor Prof Boylan was feeling the effects of travel and constant yammer, so Bangar and I took off with Mr Barnes, and left the Prof to catch up with his snoozing.

Dinner took us to the House of Sichuan. This is a glorious little establishment to which Mr Barnes introduced me on my last Melbourne foray. It's located at the end of a tight little alley in Chinatown, and if you don't know where it is, you won't find it. But it's worth it. It is soooo worth it.

Barnes ordered the Chili Cumin Pork Ribs. He always does. It's a good stratagem, because the platters are huge, and so he winds up sharing the stuff that other people order. But he orders the Chili Cumin Pork Ribs because they are so farkin' good.

I ordered the Baked Chili Chicken. That's a bit of a misnomer. They take wee bits of chicken, coat it was spices and (probably) rice flour, and fry it crispy. But then they take all those tasty bits of chicken and they put 'em in a flogging great oven dish, and they pour dried chilis all around and through and over and they mix it all up, and they bake it until the oil starts to come out of those dried chilis and coat the chicken pieces.

Yes. It's a touch spicy. But again: once you get started, it's very hard to stop.

Bangar ordered the salt-and-pepper quail. Unlike most places, you actually get a stack of the little things. And they're tasty as hell.

Young Mr B ordered... food. I distinctly remember it was food. And then we ate. And ate. And ate. And sweated, and growled, and ate.

Tragically, Bangar had a small cultural lesson to learn. Tsingtao beer is sold in 750ml bottles. He had two. And the last half of the second bottle went down rather quickly, as we were leaving. Taken as it was atop a vast pile of lavishly spiced food, there were... side effects. But he bore up well, and he is stronger for the learning experience, because it did not kill him. Mr Barnes and I definitely observed that he was not dead.

And unfortunately, that was pretty much the end of my Melbourne sojourn. Because I had booked with Shitstar, you see, and that was the weekend when that cocktastic turdgurgler Joyce pulled the plug on Qantas.

I was supposed to be on a comfortable midday flight home on Sunday. But Saturday afternoon, Shitstar rang me to say my flight was cancelled, and I had the choice of flying home at Oh Fuck Too Early in the morning, or Oh Shit Way Too Fucking Late at night.

Now you need to understand that the Shitstar people were lying to me. My flight wasn't cancelled, as I confirmed the next day. Shitstar went into and out of Launceston exactly as normal all day. No - what they were doing was simple. I hadn't yet nailed down my seat on the flight, you see. I had a ticket, yes, but no seat allocation. So essentially, they fucked me. They threw me off my booked flight in favour of some poor Qantas bastard who got even more screwed than I did.

So. Knowing that my family were expecting me, and had made plans, I took the What The Fuck Am I Doing Awake At This Stupid Hour option. And Mr Barnes kindly saw me off to the airport, for which I am very grateful...

...pardon me. I just got called away to put sunscreen on five kids. It's a public holiday today in Tas -- something to do with Obscure Historical Figure Day, I think -- and we have two extras in residence. Fortunately, it's a beautiful green, glorious, sunny day. The boys are renovating the cubby house, industriously laying down old carpet and tacking it into place, and working with two-part epoxy to put an improvised door handle on the cut-down cupboard door that guards the interior. Meanwhile, the girls are zinging around on the trampoline, gathering flowers, playing. The morning has already seen a full-on expedition into the hillside forests, complete with pith helmets, compasses, walking sticks, mapping tools, and screaming younger sisters.

I doubt I'm going to get a lot of work done today.

Er. Where was I? Oh yes. I flew home and left Melbourne. And I'm kind of shitty with Jetstar, who have now fucked up my last four flights with them. And I'm really shitty with the CEO of Qantas, who accepted a $2 million payrise in the middle of a shitfight with his pilots and engineers, in which he claimed the airline is running on empty and he couldn't possibly afford a single cent more for the workers...

Prof Boylan thinks I'm temperamental with regard to my position on Qantas. But right now, I think the government should be stepping in. Mr Joyce should be brought to the table and asked to negotiate in good faith. He should be given exactly one chance to do this. And when he fails, the 2IC of Qantas should be brought in, shown Joyce's bloody head on a pike, and then asked to negotiate. In good faith. With the new next-in-command waiting in the next room.

For those of you who think I'm excessive on this, I suggest you check Senator Xenophon's information on this matter. Particularly with regard to the way Jetstar is being used to strip Qantas' profitability, leaving the national carrier vulnerable, and weakened. There is bastardry at work here, folks - and as usual, you and I are the ultimate victims.

I did manage to get Tuesday night to watch films with the Shite Boys (and ladies; best to you both, Tiarne and Heather!) but that really was it for personal time. In between, I've been writing like hell, assessing manuscripts, teaching martial arts (Thursday was Community Sports Day for the primary school. I organised the setup for the Mau-mau's music lessons when I delivered her to school. Then I opened the dojo, and ran a session sport-style ju-jitsu until about 12. Half an hour later, I ran a second session with a new group of kids until nearly 2. Then I packed up, raced home and grabbed the necessary crap for the gymnastics run. Picked up the kids from the bus stop. Left Jake with Viking Neighbour. Took the others to gymnastics. Did the grocery run while they did their thing. Came home, picked up Jake, produced dinner for all including on-call Natalie... sat down and read and wrote and reviewed manuscripts until one in the morning...) and then finally, the weekend.

Which was about Iaido. The Australian head of school came out from Adelaide and ran seminars on Saturday and Sunday morning. No way I was going to miss those, so I got up early and drove into town, waved swords around a lot, then did the grocery run and came home, cooked for everybody, etc etc etc.

Good weekend, yes. Hard work. But today is Monday, and the extended weekend with the extra kids is not a joy, but a bit of a burden. I should be having a quiet day to myself, in which to work like a bastard. Instead, I'm keeping my ears and eyes open, making sure that five kids are sunscreened, fed, watered, and more or less aimed in a safe direction.

Ah well. Eventually they'll go to bed. And there's always the late night hours, right?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revenge Of The Platypus and A Menu

We had another visitor. This time it was a friend of Natalie's, named Sharon. Apparently they met each other on the folk festival scene in Canberra, and got along. Well, okay.

I agreed to cook something a little nifty to help make Natalie's friend feel welcome. Unfortunately, when I went shopping, I had young Genghis with me and in short order, the menu got out of hand.

When Sharon arrived, I'd just finished hacking my way through a chapter on the novel, and I was doing some research on Regency England that was boring me shitless. I decided it was a good time to run the pump, so I took Sharon down to the pond, in the hopes of introducing her to the platypus.

I should point out here that Natalie has never actually seen the platypus. I think it hides from her. Why that would be is open to debate, but the fact is that within two minutes of Sharon and I quietly sauntering up to the pond's edge... there was the platypus. He/she/it swam around on the surface, dived to the bottom, came up again, blew bubbles, floated gently and regarded us, and in general, behaved like a perfect little tourist icon. Meanwhile, hundreds of bees hummed away, gathering water from the edge of the pond, and the spring sun shone down, and really, I must hang out down there more often. Pretty!

But the menu. Ahhh, yes.

I thought I'd try something interesting with prawns. We've been getting some big Carpentaria King prawns lately, and even though they're frozen for delivery, it's worth using them once in a while. I thought that if I grabbed some of that soft rice papery stuff used in Vietnamese type spring rolls, and then made a decent mix of herbs and spices, I could roll up the prawns with the spice mix and deep-fry them into a delicious, crispy treat. It seemed like an interesting idea, anyhow.

But while I was picking up the prawns, young Genghis noticed that there were fresh oysters in. And Genghis absolutely loves him some Oysters Kilpatrick. Oh, yes. So... I got a dozen oysters as well as the prawns.

Once you're on that kind of a roll, it's hard to stop. Next I spotted fresh Bass Strait scallops, and I remembered that I had some dumpling wrappers, and that we've been getting decent avocadoes at the supermarket for a while. Hmmm. Yep. Better get some scallops, too. And what about some smoked salmon, to round it all up?

The menu eventually went like this:

Smoked salmon roulades: thin slices of smoked salmon, spread with a mixture of cream cheese, pickled capers, fresh dill, black pepper and lemon juice. Roll the slices up, then slice them into little rounds. Serve with freshest, crusty bread - and a nice Brook Eden Pinot gris

Chilled Avocado Soup With Scallops: Blend four or five good, ripe avocadoes with two cups of fine, home-made Chinese-style chicken or fish stock. Add a half-cup of dry white wine. Once the mixture is smooth and thick, chill. Meanwhile, sautee a handful of fresh scallops with minced ginger and chili. Serve the soup in ramekin-sized dishes, with a couple of scallops atop each. Garnish with fresh coriander, spring onion slices, and a dollop of sour cream. We matched this with a Clover Hill bubbly. (Yeah, the same one they stuck in front of the Queen last week. I've been saying for years it's one of the best wines in Australia.)

Oysters Kilpatrick: A dozen fresh Tasmanian oysters, liberally sprinkled with diced bacon. Add a teaspoon of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and just a touch of Tabasco pepper sauce. Grill them quickly under reasonable heat, then serve. The remnants of the Clover Hill went over nicely here, and we also opened a Devil's Corner Sauvignon Blanc.

Steamed Scallop Dumplings: Mince fresh ginger, coriander, and spring onion, and a little salt. Toss your scallops through the mixture. Spoon scallops into simple won-ton wrappers, close, and steam. Serve with a sweet Japanese mayonnaise suitable for sushi, and a touch of Tabasco pepper sauce.

Crispy Prawn Dumplings: Mince chili, spring onion and fresh coriander. Toss your shelled prawns through the mixture. Now soften rice-paper Vietnamese spring-roll wrappers in hot water. Carefully wrap each prawn, ensuring a generous portion of the spices as well. Fry quickly in small batches in very hot vegetable oil, removing when the prawn (visible through the translucent wrapper) turns appropriately pink. Serve with a classic Vietnamese dipping sauce.

Of course, you can't do something like this without dessert. So I made:

Double-cream French Vanilla ice cream: with King Island cream, eggs from our own chickens and vanilla pod and brown sugar. The ice cream got served with home-made blueberry conserve... and finished everybody off nicely, along with a little of the fine Pinot port that Smileyfish left here the other day.

The meal took a long time, and all the portions were small. That was the only rational way to do it. I'm happy to say that nobody had to lie around clutching their bellies and moaning afterwards, and the conversation moved along nicely throughout.

All right, yes. I know. I'm bragging.

Wouldn't you?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Minor Miscalculation

Weekend again.

I took a punt, a while back. I ordered Mel Brooks Silent Movie online, drawing on the impressions and memories of my much younger self. I hadn't seen the film since it came out, so very long ago, but I recall that when I was about ten or so, I thought it was hilarious. I figured at the very least, my young sons would probably respond likewise, so I put it on for the family on Friday night.

That was a pleasant surprise. Mostly, I'm not too impressed by Brooks' stuff. His work often strikes me as a kind of American "Carry On" series -- full of cheap sight gags, oo-er double entendres, and randomly exposed women. Sometimes he gets it right, though. Blazing Saddles has all those things in it... but it also tackled a bunch of American taboos in a very front-on, no-prisoners fashion, and there was a lot of cleverness to the film as well.

Silent Movie doesn't have the same political or racial charge that Blazing Saddles did, but it's still a very funny movie. It works on two levels: in one, it's simply a slapstick silent film, with all the ridiculous qualities that implies. (Yes. It's actually silent. Oh, except for just one word, spoken by the least likely person in the film. See it for yourself if you want to know.) On that level, it's pretty good. Marty Feldman, for example, is at his absolute best here: all goggle-eyed, sweet-natured innocence wrapped up in a Bruce Lee jumpsuit and a Flying Ace leather helmet. Graves' Disease is a bastard of a thing, and Feldman suffered for it - but he really knew how to work his unusual appearance, and in Silent Movie, he's so funny at times it's actually painful.

At this basic slapstick comedy level, Silent Movie is great. The plotline is simple: alcohol-damaged director Mel Funn (Brooks) approaches his old studios with a plan for a silent movie. The head of the studios (American comedy veteran Sid Caesar) is desperate for a hit to keep vicious corporate bastards Engulf & Devour from taking over his beloved studio, so he greenlights the movie. Funn and his comrades (Eggs and Bell, played by Feldman and Dom DeLuise) decide they have to get an all-star line-up for the cast in order to guarantee a big hit... and so they set out across Hollywood, trying to recruit the big names of the day.

The sequences in which the various stars are wooed are lovely. It's wonderful to watch people like Paul Newman, James Caan, Marcel Marceau (yep. Even he.) and Lisa Minelli take the piss out of themselves - but the standout scenes are the recruitment of Burt Reynolds in a hilarious shower sequence, and a great dance number with Anne Bancroft. Reynolds and Bancroft in particular show no fear at all of parodying their own public images, and the results are lovely.

On another level, though, the movie is an affectionate tribute to the great era of silent comedies. You can feel Brooks' childhood coming through -- Saturday afternoons in darkened cinemas, flickering black-and-white images, and an abiding love for the marvellous clowns of a bygone time. Brooks and his companions don't deliberately recreate classic routines from the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and others - but if you know your cinema history, you can certainly see where various scenes in Silent Movie clearly represent an homage to these, and to others.

It's not highbrow, no. But the boys laughed until they cried, and the Mau-Mau fell about the place laughing, and Natale laughed even though she kept knitting, and yes, I laughed too - more than I have at pretty much any comedy I've seen in the last decade. If you've never seen Silent Movie, I think you've missed what may be Brooks' funniest work. And if, like me, you haven't seen it since you sat in the cinema and watched it on the big screen, you should consider revisiting it. The effort will pay off.

Obviously, that wasn't my minor miscalculation. No - the miscalculation turned up yesterday afternoon, in the form of my friend Smileyfish. I got my dates mixed up... thought she was visiting next weekend, not this one.

Happily, it didn't really matter. The weather had turned to the best of Tasmanian spring - all warm and sunny and green and alive with bumblebees and apple blossoms - and I'd already planned an evening cookout. We had skewers of beef, seasoned with pepper and salt and paprika and cumin, and there was twice-cooked pork, and green salad, and even a few bags of plain marshmallows. All I needed to do was spruce up the guest room briefly, lay in some Royal Swan rum, and pick up a few corn tortillas for the gluten-intolerant Smileyfish, and we were good to go.

That firepit really is working a treat. The boys built the fire, and we fed it for a while, then let it die back so we could cook on it. Meanwhile, Smileyfish discovered that rum and lime is a Very Good Thing on a warm spring afternoon, and the children ran about and climbed and played and shouted.

The marshmallows were a bit disappointing, though. We thought we'd scored, when we found them in 'Chickenfeed' - a Tasmanian overflow store. I mean - they were plain! White! No nasty pink or yellow or swirly shit. What could go wrong?

Ah. Artificial vanillin. That's what could go wrong.

Tastes almost but not quite entirely unlike vanilla, to paraphrase the great Douglas Adams. Marshmallows shouldn't leave a bitter aftertaste, should they? Nor should they burn in quite the fashion these did. They were unnervingly like unto marshmallow, without actually being marshmallow, and even the kids gave up on them in short order.

Happily, we had some decent lengths of PVC tubing about. I took the opportunity to deliver a lesson in the use of the blowgun, using my children as moving targets, and rather nasty half-marshmallows as projectiles. The kids took to the idea with alacrity. They climbed the big swing-fort, and blatted marshmallows back at me. Meanwhile, Smileyfish grabbed a blowgun for herself, and ran around shooting at either side as the opportunity arose.

The whole situation was made more ludicrous by the marshmallows. They didn't quite fit. We had to tear them in half, and sometimes they still didn't fit, and sometimes they got sticky as hell. You never knew if you were going to successfully blast a marshmallow at your opponent, or perhaps blow up your own sinuses with back-pressure, or simply just make a sort of flubby, farting noise while a half-marshmallow vibrated its sticky way down your blowpipe and fell out the end with a pathetic sort of flup.

A good time was, therefore, had by all.

We finished up the evening by watching Hayao Miyazaki's Laputa up in the Cinema Shed. Smileyfish brought that one along for the kids - but I have to say I enjoyed it too. Good clean storytelling, fine animation, engaging characters.... yep. That was fun.

And in the morning, Ms Fish arose, had breakfast, and bid us farewell. The Mau-Mau went to the beach with her best friend. I got into the garden (and the cooking, and the laundry). Natalie was on call. The boys practised their instruments, and their Swedish... and we had a fine, quiet Sunday which ended in a charcoal-grill pork roast.

That was a pretty good weekend.