Monday, June 20, 2011

For Want Of A Nail...

So, this morning the cat woke me up. I was pretty pissed off about that for a number of reasons. The first was that it was still wintry pitch-black. There's the thing about a winter solstice in the temperate zones: it counts for something. 0630 (and cold, and rainy as hell) is darker than a birthday card from Cormac McCarthy.

Another reason I was pissed off: the cat awoke me with that awful noise they make. You know the one - where they're chewing five kinds of hell out of their arse, making little grunty, snorky-slobbery noises all at the same time. The sound of a cat frenziedly masticating its own nether regions is a long way from my list of top-five wake-up calls.

Still another reason: the cat in question was sitting on top of my snuggly, fleecy bathrobe, which I had left on the floor. I'm not allergic, but the robe is black, y'know? And the cat... he's cat-coloured. Which means my fleecy black bathrobe is now covered in the cat equivalent of shed pubes. Plus, of course, whatever utterly disgusting substances he managed to dislodge while vehemently introducing his dentistry to his proctological parts. Yuck.

Of course, once I realised all that, I was even more irritated, because normally I don't leave my robe on the floor. Generally, I hang it on the bedpost so I can grab it if I need it. But last night, at something like 0300, it turns out I needed the fuckin' thing. And the reason I needed it was even more frickin' irritating.

Y'see, we're having a winter here in Tas. A serious one. And last night took itself very seriously indeed. For example: at 1800, I tried to drive over the range to get to sword training. I laughed at the narrow, winding road and the pounding rain. Ha ha! See me laugh!

Of course, when I got a bit higher, the screaming winds cut in. And I was driving Natalie's little blue car, which is a bit light on the road. But never mind: see me chuckle grimly, and drive on through the horizontal rain (and sleet), and the violently gusting winds over the narrow, winding roads.

When I hit the impenetrably dense fog, I stopped chuckling and began to snarl. Tasmania is the only place I've ever been where you can get thick fog, rain, sleet, and wild winds all at once... and that's what I was trying to drive through. But never mind! I am Flinthart! I am made of sterner stuff!

I dodged the first spot where the water was almost all the way over the road, but at that point I started thinking about the fact that in three hours, I'd have to make the drive back again... except I'd be kind of tired after a couple hours of swordslinging. That didn't encourage me, but I kept driving.

The second patch of water stretching across the road was a real eye-opener, but despite the fog, I dodged it too. That was probably because by that time, I was doing about 30kph. Any faster would have been seriously stupid.

The final straw wasn't a straw at all. It was, in fact, a decent-sized tree that had fallen across the road. Unlike a lot of chaps hereabouts, I don't travel with a chainsaw in the boot of the car. All I had was my katana, and frankly, I didn't think my tameshigiri skills were up to clearing away a tree with a 50-80cm trunk.

So, that was that. I turned around and came home. But you understand now the kind of night we were having.

Therefore, when I heard a stentorian electronic monotone blaring out from somewhere downstairs at 0300, I groaned and pulled the pillow over my head. But Natalie got up and investigated, and didn't come back, and that kind of meant I had to do something manly and tough, so I got up and grabbed my robe.

Downstairs, I found Natalie standing underneath the smoke alarm, looking up with a resigned expression on her face. Oh. Shit. She can't reach the smoke alarm, even with a chair. But I can.

So I went and fetched a chair.

Oddly, the sound of the smoke alarm was considerably lower in pitch than I was used to. It was loud as all hell, but it didn't have that brain-skewering quality I associate with a good, healthy smoke alarm. Never mind. I reached up, and disconnected it.

And the noise continued. Fuck.

I looked around. Natalie looked around. At much the same instant, we spotted the intercom by the door. It's an old model, and it's linked by a light electric line to the shed, so we can communicate with kids who might be up there. Evidently the wind had torn down the line and the rain had shorted out the contacts, because the speaker was producing the most ungodly howl... which stopped when I switched it off. Yay.

I went back up the stairs, conscious of Natalie's glare, because I left the chair in position under the (now reconnected) smoke alarm. Bugger it. I could move the chair in the morning.

Ahhh, but I recked without that weird instinct women have -- the one that can ignore any number of dishes, or violins, or clothing scattered around the house, but goes Spider-sense berserk the moment a chair is moved to the wrong spot at 0300. So Natalie picked up the chair and put it back in the sunroom.

Okay. Time for sleep.

The bed was warm. The bed was cosy. The rain was loud on the roof, and the wind wailed like a Canadian hockey fan outside... and then the 'chirp' happened.

You know that sound? Of course you do. The sound of a smoke alarm whose battery has just raised the middle finger. CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP!

"It's chirping," said Natalie. As if I hadn't noticed.

"Fuck," I said. And I got my robe. And I went downstairs. And I fetched the chair. And I found a spare nine-volt battery. And I pulled down the fucking smoke alarm, and I put the new battery into it, and I put it back in place. Then I put the old battery in the bin, and I put the battery packaging in the bin, and I put the goddam fucking chair back in the sunroom, and I tidied half the fucking kitchen while I was down there and then I fucking well went back to fucking bed and left my goddam robe lying on the fucking floor...

...which is why the cat woke me up when it started snarfling its own butt at 0630 this morning.

Happy Solstice, everybody!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stuff You Learn As A Parent That You Wish You Hadn't

And what a lot of stuff like that there is.

Today, I learned that eucalyptus oil dissolves refrigerator-grade plastic. And how did I learn that, you ask? Oh, it's quite simple, really.

The refrigerator was beginning to stink. It was developing a nasty, sick-sweet rotting odour that subtly perfused the entire kitchen every time I opened the fridge door. I didn't know what it was, but I knew that a stink like that couldn't be left to ripen. Not even in a chilly Tasmanian winter.

Therefore, once I finished making dinner (chicken and sweet corn soup... and since I served it early on the grounds that Natalie missed her lunch at work, I also set up a steamed chocolate pudding with orange/rum sauce and whipped cream. It's winter, after all.) I opened the fridge and started at the bottom.


The crisper. Who came up with that name, anyway? It's not a fucking 'vegetable crisper'. It's a death sentence. It's a fucking oubliette in which innocent fruits and vegetables are condemned to languish in lightless horror until they deliquesce into the most disgusting possible components of the ancestral primeval ooze. A 'crisper' would be a place where things remained snappy, crisp, sharp and delicious. That thing in the bottom of your fridge is nothing like that. It is a place for turning food into terror.

This time around, some genius -- and I have no real names to offer, because we've had a horde of kids traipsing through the house over the last few days -- appeared to have spilled maybe a half-litre of milk into the vegefucker, where it promptly formed a vile pool on the bottom, joined forces with an undead wombok, overpowered a few innocent carrots, and converted a lush pair of tomatoes into the sort of purulent, oozing scarlet nastiness you'd expect in the middle of the face of a zombie clown.

In short, the bottom of my crisper was full of rotted vegetable milk soup-cheese. That hated me. Personally.

This, I felt, was not a desirable state of affairs. And with Natalie being ill (she's got the cold I had last week), and Elder Son being likewise incapacitated, it fell to me to devise a plan of attack. That plan involved two heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, one inside the other, and a gardening trowel. Armed with these tools, I shovelled the worst of the milk-shoggoth out of the so-called 'crisper', sealed it away from light and life and air, and promptly bundled it out of my house into the depths of the skip-bin up by the shed. (And if the damned stuff wants to eat its way out of all that bagging and join forces with the rest of hideous, Lovecraftian remnants therein... good luck to it. There's a five-tonne truck coming on Thursday to sort it out for good.)

Now, while I was wrestling that bag of evil through the stygian darkness and abysmal cold of a Tasmanian winter night, my beloved wife decided she would offer me some help. And I am truly grateful, I admit. Unfortunately, she decided to put the 'crisper' (now largely empty of all but... residuum) into the laundry sink to decontaminate it.

She then poured eucalyptus oil directly into the 'crisper', and topped it up with hot water.


Ten minutes later, I went in and tipped out the water. The air in the laundry was thick and steamy, and reeked of eucalyptus - which was a huge improvement over the stink of feculent milk. I grabbed an old rag, and began scrubbing away at the last, lingering hints of the horror... and lo! I discovered that a large portion of the hitherto-clear plastic of the 'crisper' had now turned milky-white, and become... gummy.

So, there it is, folks. If your kids (or anyone else's, for that matter) spill milk into your vegetable crisper, by all means disinfect it with eucalyptus oil. But remember: hot water goes in FIRST, eucalyptus oil goes into the water.

Otherwise, like me, you'll be ringing up various electrical goods outlets, trying to locate a replacement crisper.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Problem With America... really simple, when you think about it. They just elected the wrong black guy to the office of President.

See? Much better idea.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Well. What Do You Know? Explains A Lot, Really.

From a 1996 article in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology:

The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.

That really would seem to account for a lot of the bullshit from various Conservative government members around the world. You know the ones: by day they spend their time thundering away in Parliament or Congress or Diet or whatever, excoriating the Evils of Homo Secks You Allity... but by night they put on fishnets, rubber underpants and a gas mask and hang around public toilets with prominent holes in the walls.

It's been more or less accepted folklore for quite some time that "homophobe" is just another word for "closet case". In fact, apparently the idea goes back as far as Freud, who theorized that people get most uptight and condemnatory towards stuff they secretly want, but think they shouldn't have.

In any case, it's nice to know somebody actually investigated this, and the results stood up to peer review. I'm going to make a little note of the title of the article, the date of publication, and the authors, and the next time I'm involved in a discussion with a loud-mouthed closet case, I'll let him know that a) he's not fooling anybody, and b) there are people who can help him come to terms with his own feelings.

Mind you, I wouldn't recommend this course of action to everybody. I personally can probably survive most of the fistfights which may result from this, but then I've been practising.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

School Hols

That is my new shirt. Yes. I got out the inks and paints again. Personally, I think it sums up the situation pretty well. Fair warning, I reckon.

We're at the halfway mark on the current batch of school hols. There's a big push on to change the school year to match the mainlanders next year - four terms of ten weeks each. Not sure I like that. I remember being a kid. School is dire, boring horror and you live for the holidays and weekends. Personally, I think there's too much time allocated to classroom hell already.

The snow stuck around for a surprising length of time. As we drove into Launceston yesterday for Genghis' regular bass lesson, there were still little patches of snow by the roadside along the Sideling Range. I've never seen that before. Mount Barrow was appropriately snowy, and when we came over the hills into Launceston proper, I could see that the Western Tiers were white from one end to the other. Great start to winter.

In other news... anybody got a cure for kids fighting? Genghis gets bored, the first thing he starts doing his irritating and baiting his sister. And then it's on. This has been going long enough that even my patience is worn out. Genghis has been fetching an awful lot of firewood lately, and we've literally reached the zero-tolerance point. He doesn't get the benefit of doubt any more. A single wrong word - even a sideways look, sometimes - and he's off the field. It's really fucking irritating.

We're doing our best to explain it to him, and make him understand that if he dislikes the situation, it's in his power to change it. But there's only so much of that kind of thing that sinks in when you're eight years old. And to be fair, the Mau-Mau is an annoying little gobshite too.

Well. I've had a quiet Sunday morning, but that's about to end. I've set up pizza dough for the evening feast, and I'll have to go down to the supermarket for the Sunday papers, plus a few other bits and pieces. Then I'll get back, and run the pump. Then I'll fire up the chainsaw, cut up a few of the older deadfalls and extend our firewood supply. That'll occupy the afternoon nicely, and then it's into the dinner routine.

Thanks to the redoubtable Tehani, I've been pushing Jake into various writing competitions. The school can't really help him with his narrative and creative writing skills to any great degree... he's kind of past that. Happily, his teacher is very helpful, and she understands the situation, so we're throwing different entry forms at him, and seeing what falls out. I've got his entry for the Bauhinia Literary Awards all enveloped, ready to go, and he wrote a cracker of a piece of poetry last night for the Dorothea Mackellar competition.

By way of encouraging him and keeping him company, I've written a piece for the Bauhinia awards too. Haven't done something at the 2000 word length for a while. It was kind of refreshing. I figure if he knows his old man is entering the same competition (they have different age categories, of course) he'll be more interested in the various outcomes. The only negative I can see is if I manage to score a gong and he doesn't... but I don't even think that will peeve him. He's enjoying the writing, and he's excited about being involved in a 'real competition'. If I score something and he doesn't, I'm quite sure he'll put it down to the professional experience, and roll with the punches.

Personally, I'm hoping he scores something more significant than me. That would really give him a boost. We'll see.

Damned if I'm entering the bloody Dorothea Mackellar disasterzone, though. I'm not even certain there is an adult entry... but I don't care. The 'sunburnt country' is my pink butt, and Dorothea Mackellar can kiss it.

On a final note: I saw a rather enjoyable movie the other night - a loaner, from Q-Dog of the Shite Team. It's called "The Warrior's Way", and it's a hybrid Korean/Hollywood piece with CGI courtesy of Weta. It's a heady mixture of samurai/ninja and Western B-movie, and it's very cool. It never takes itself too seriously, but still manages to hit all the right notes. Homages to the greats of both Eastern and Western cinema, decent performances all round (and what is Geoffrey Rush doing here? My! I guess he wanted to add 'ageing drunken Western outlaw with a heart of gold' to his 'Ruthless Pirate Captain' B-movie chops) and strong story arcs for all the more important players.

Very definitely worth an evening in. Find it on DVD and enjoy hell out of it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It Got Cold Today

Seriously cold. As in maybe record-breaking.

At about 1000 this morning, there were big, fat flakes of snow swirling around the yard. Admittedly, they were mixed with rain and sleet, but the only other time I've seen snow here was a brief flurry of very little flakes at 0800 one morning, about eight years back.

The kids and I layered up like Matroshka dolls. We were planning to set out for Mt Barrow, where the snow usually falls. However, we only made it a hundred metres or so from our driveway before the snow was noticeably piling up on the road. A few hundred metres later, we saw it all over the big tree ferns. And then there were small trees, bent under the unaccustomed weight, leaning onto the road and disrupting the traffic. Fortunately, since the snow was maybe five cm deep on the road by then, there really wasn't much traffic to disrupt.

We made it as far as the lookout, which has perhaps two hundred, maybe three hundred metres of elevation on this house. This is what things looked like up there.

A few minutes later, the police turned up from the direction of Launceston. They were driving very slowly. They weren't impressed by the plan to drive to Mt Barrow.

Later, by the time I went shopping to Scottsdale, they had closed the highway. I didn't find out about it until I came down, round the sweeping corner, and discovered 'road closed' signs facing the other direction across the road. Being the scofflaw I am, I drove around them. Then I went to the bank, the post office, the butcher, and the supermarket. On the way home, I drove back around the road closed signs. Mmmm. I am a rebel. And illegally obtained roast pork and vegetables taste much nicer, anyway.

At first, the Mau-Mau was having a good time. But then she took off her pink gloves so they "wouldn't get wet." Then she complained about her cold, wet, hands. Then she fell on her face, and howled quite a lot. No snow expedition is complete without a good Mau-Mau faceplant.

Young Genghis, on the other hand, just couldn't be stopped. I suspect he has veins full of superheated antifreeze, not blood at all.

Check it out! That is very nearly a real snowman. It's a bit leafy, and there's some wallaby shit embedded in it, but it's much bigger than any of our previous efforts, and it actually held together.

By the time Mr Snowman was a reality, the Mau-Mau had hunkered down in the car, never to emerge again. Everybody else was cold and soaked, because at this altitude there was still some rain among all that snow. We decided not to go for Mount Barrow. Pity.

An interesting thing: across the road from the lookout is a commercial plantation of Douglas Firs. They're pretty sizeable, and they've been there as long as I've lived here, so I guess they're probably fifteen years old or more. Anyway, despite being evergreens from a snowy ecosystem, they've been growing here without yearly snow. Because of that, the unexpected weight of the falling snow was too much for them. As we mucked around in the snow on the lookout, we kept hearing big branches snap and fall. It sounded like a giant, stomping about in the forest.

And finally: this is Jake's Youtube footage of the winter adventure.

May not mean much to those of you from real snow country... but for us, it was pretty mindblowing.

Friday, June 3, 2011

So Stupid It Gives Stupid A Bad Name

By now, you'll be aware that I think Australia's policies towards asylum-seekers and refugees are disgraceful in the extreme. Now, however, Gillard's government has shown me that no matter how obnoxious and stupid a government is, there's always a way to fall even lower.

We're letting Australian soldiers die in Afghanistan on the pretext of 'nationbuilding'. We're supposedly helping the Afghan people create necessary infrastructure and civil order, and in so doing, theoretically building a relationship between our two peoples. You know: so as to undermine the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric of the Wahabi idiots behind Al-Qaeda and other largely Islamic agitators.

We talk about engaging with moderate Muslims. We talk about tolerance. We talk about finding ways to cross the cultural divide, to promote understanding.

And then we send unaccompanied children off to Malaysia.

There's stupid. Then there's Pauline Hanson moronic. And then there's subhuman, brain-dead cretinism the like of which I don't think I've seen from a government in this nation before.

We've got couples all over the country who are absolutely desperate to adopt children. (Go ahead. Check out the waiting times.) We've got a precarious relationship with Islam and with various countries in this part of the world. And we've got a pool of innocent children without families -- children who ask for and need nothing more than any other child -- who come from some of these troubled countries. Some of them are certainly of the Islamic faith. All of them, without exception, are frightened and wretchedly alone.

It would take an absolute imbecile not to see the opportunity this presents. All we have to do is treat these children kindly. All we have to do is place them with decent people who want to have families of their own, in the Australian way. All we have to do is act like the fair-go nation we so loudly proclaim ourselves to be.

Children. They're just children. Are you really trying to tell me that they're some kind of security threat? Do you really expect me to believe these are heinous Al-Qaeda sleeper agents, just waiting to grow up so they can be fiendish domestic terrorists?

Why in the name of all that's sane and rational are we doing this? Why are we sending these vulnerable, innocent kids to camps in Malaysia, of all places? Malaysia, where caning is part of the official regime of legal punishment? Malaysia, whose record on human rights is spotty, to say the very least?

D'you think those kids are going to grow up as comfortable, decent people who remember Australia with kindness? Or do you suppose they might just possibly develop some kind of life-long loathing of the place and the culture which treated them so foully, and then rejected them so completely?

Are we goddam TRYING to raise a new generation of Al-Qaeda recruits?

How can anyone be this howlingly stupid? You know -- if the Opposition were to throw Abbott into the oubliette where he belongs and perhaps even put Turnbull in his place, I could even vote Liberal over this simple issue. Yep. That's right: green, anarchist me. I'd vote with the Liberals on this (if Abbott wasn't such a rabid dog) because -- and follow me carefully here -- ANY GOVERNMENT WHICH IS STUPID ENOUGH TO DO THIS IS TOO FUCKING STUPID TO LIVE.

Words fail me. I really thought I'd seen the depths of imbecility in governance. Gillard has just proved me wrong in the worst possible way.