Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Well, So Much For "Protecting The Kids"

Not sure how many of you know, but various Australian ISPs have been 'voluntarily' imposing censorship for a while now. At the behest of the government. To 'protect the kiddies', naturally.

And of course, it was never, ever about politics, nor suppressing dissent. Nope.

I'm on a Telstra account. When I saw this link:

on a news site, I was curious. There was a note that said the US government had sought to trial a nerve agent on Australian soldiers, and requested the Aus government's co-operation and silence. I'm skeptical, so I thought I'd read it.

I clicked the link. (Have you done so yet?) And I got a Google broken-link message. (I use Chrome as my browser. On Firefox, it 'times out'.)

Did I mention I'm skeptical? I'm also cynical. I promptly went to a very quick-and-simple proxy site called Workdodger, in the UK, and input that self-same link. And got this:

C O N F I D E N T I A L CANBERRA 000685      SIPDIS    STATE FOR EAP AND PM  SECDEF FOR OSD J.POWERS  PACOM ALSO FOR POLAD    E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2018  TAGS: MOPS PINS PREL AS SUBJECT: GUIDANCE REQUEST: ALLEGATION USG SOUGHT TO TEST  NERVE GAS ON AUSTRALIANS    Classified By: Charge D'Affaires Daniel A. Clune.  Reasons: 1.4(b),(d)    1. (U)  This is an action request - please see paragraph 4  below.    2. (SBU) Australian newspapers, quoting recently declassified  Australian government documents, carried stories over the  July 4 weekend alleging the U.S. Government had asked the  Australian government in 1963 to permit aerial testing of VX  and GB sarin nerve agent on Australian troops in Queensland.  According to the stories, the U.S. proposal included a  request that the GOA conceal the nature of the testing,  including from the troops on whom they would be conducted.  The Australian government at the time did not respond to the  U.S. request, according to the press stories.    3. (C) At the Embassy's request, staff of Defence Minister  Joel Fitzgibbon, currently in Hawaii and en route to  Washington, provided a background paper used to brief the  Defence Minister that includes further details (see full text  at para 5 below.)    4. (C) ACTION REQUESTED:  Embassy requests guidance for  possible use in responding to media inquiries.  Defence  Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has indicated he will raise this  issue during his forthcoming visit to the United States,  possibly including during his July 8 call on PACOM Commander  Keating and during his call next week on Secretary Gates.  In  addition, although no press had contacted the U.S. Embassy as  of COB July 7, we anticipate the need for guidance to respond  to press inquiries over the coming days, particularly for a  previously-arranged radio interview of the Charge in Adelaide  July 9 on a range of topics.    5. (C) Following is the text of the background paper provided  by Defence Minister Fitzgibbon's staff:    Begin text:    Nerve Gas test plans    Regarding widespread reporting - The Australian, SMH, Sunday  Program, Advertiser 07/07/08 - that recently declassified  National Archive documents reveal an American plan to test  Nerve Gas on Australian Defence Force members during the Cold  War.    Background    Recently declassified documents held by the National Archives  contain information that the US wanted to test Nerve Gas on  Australian soldiers at the height of the cold war.    The Australian reports that under the plan, 200 Australian  combat troops, presumably wearing 1960s-era chemical  protection suits, were to be subjected to aerial bombardment  in the Iron Range rainforest near Lockhart River in far north  Queensland.  The Australian also reports that the plan is not  believed to have been acted upon.    The nerve agents were to include VX and GB, better known as  sarin nerve gas.  The aim of the tests was to gauge the  effectiveness of nerve agents in jungle warfare at a time  when US military involvement in Vietnam was intensifying.    The US proposal is alleged to have made by US defence  secretary Robert McNamara in July 1963, according to Defence  Department and Prime Minister's Office documents.    The documents stated that of the 200 troops to be used in the  tests, "only four to six would need to know the full details  of the operation".    The US proposal is reported to have recommended that the  Australian government keep the nerve agent tests secret,  describing them as either "equipment testing" trials or "land  Qdescribing them as either "equipment testing" trials or "land  reclamation" experiments.    The Australian reports that the Australian government is  believed to have not responded to the initial US proposal in  1963, but in 1966 Washington approached the new prime  minister, Harold Holt, with a request to drop tear gas on  Australian troops.  Reports say that again, Canberra quietly  ignored the request.    A former Holt staffer told the Sunday Program that the then  Government was concerned that its Cold War alliance with the  US would be damaged if it refused to allow the tests.    Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who was Minister for  Army from 196668, denied knowledge of the US requests.    COMMENTS BY MINISTER FITZGIBBON - 06/07/08    "(It is) difficult to believe any such request came forward,  but if it did, surely it would have been rejected by the  conservative government of the day out of hand".    "I have asked Defence for an urgent and full briefing on this  matter. I can certainly rule out any such testing in the  future."    New lines for the Minister:    --I am aware of reports that the United States sought to test  nerve gas in Australia during the 1960s.    --I am advised that the United States did seek Australian  agreement to conduct experiments using chemical agents in Far  North Queensland, as they had no suitable sites available in  areas under their control.    --I am advised that in 1964, the Cabinet agreed it was not  appropriate to allow such trials to be carried out in  Australia and agreed to advise the United States of this  decision.    --I am advised this information is available on the public  record. Relevant cabinet papers were released in the  mid-1990s under the provisions of Archives Act, 1983.    --I am advised the United States was made aware of the  pending release of this information in 1994.    --I have asked the Department of Defence for an urgent and  full briefing on this matter.    End text.    

Don't take my word for it. Try it for yourself.

So. Is there anybody out there who still thinks the government's censorship of the 'Net is about 'protecting the kiddies'? Because if so, I've got a lot of money in Nigeria you can have if you just send me a few thousand dollars to cover administrative costs...


1) Different results have been reported to me from different ISPs - well, yes. I'd expect that. Conroy's Great Big Firewall hasn't been implemented, but a number of ISP's have agreed to censor voluntarily. They're supposedly listening to Interpol, but there's nothing that says they're all censoring the same stuff the same way... and there's nothing to say that Telstra, for example, isn't taking quiet instructions from our government.

2) A later check allowed me to reach the Wikileaks site. But the cable was simply not there. On the other hand, it was still accessible via the English proxy. This was about five hours after the first couple of checks, which occurred across a period of about an hour to an hour and a half.

3) According to Twitter sources, Wikileaks.org has been under cyberattack today. Well, maybe. On the other hand, I can't quite see why a cyberattack would block an inquiry from a Telstra ISP, but let an inquiry from an English proxy go straight through.

Something's not straight, folks.

FINAL EDIT: And now, as of 2220, I can get straight through from my Telstra ISP to the cable itself.

So what happened? Did a cyberattack somehow block access from Telstra while leaving open access via an English proxy? And did that cyberattack somehow later refine itself, allowing access to Wikileaks, but blocking the one cable in question? Or is it merely my computer (and two others in this house that can access the 'net, of course... naturally I tried them.) which has somehow slipped a gear?

This isn't the first time I've noticed problems with accessing portions of the Web using Telstra. This is, however, the first time it's really pissed me off. I'm going to keep watching this, with interest.

Unattractive Leisure Pursuits: The Bronchoscopy

I had a distinctly unpleasant day yesterday.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a good dose of bronchitis. The same cough went through every kid in this neighbourhood, but I'm the only one that got raging bronchitis. Personally, I think it's because of my pathetic cough-ability. Somewhere in the last few years, I lost the ability to cough deeply, and bring out all that wet, nasty shite that goes with minor respiratory tract disorders. As a result, my goddam lungs are probably better at incubating vile bacteria then they should be.

The doc who saw me for the bronchitis said he'd set me up with a referral to a respiratory physician. Well and good. And about a week ago, I got a note from the Launceston General Hospital telling me I was on their waiting list. They also said they'd notify me when my name came up.

Well, fine. The waiting list is apparently several months long. I could try going privately - but it's not really urgent. No big deal. I'll wait.

Except that on Monday, while I was at the supermarket, I got a call from a hospital clerk who wanted to discuss my 0800 appointment for Tuesday. For a bronchoscopy.

Fuckin' what?

Apparently a gap opened in their list, and they forgot to tell me. I got slotted in because other than the cough problem, I'm in good order. The lung doc figured I'd probably need a bronchoscopy, and he knew he could safely slide me into the gap because I'm not in my seventies, and on five different kinds of medications.

The clerk was surprised I hadn't been informed. Not as surprised as me, I told her. Fortunately, I'm not stupid: I actually asked about pre-procedural prep ("Don't eat after midnight." "Why? Will I turn into a gremlin?")

I also asked about driving. And there began the problems.

With the total lack of warning, there was no way Natalie could go in with me. And what with the sedation, I wasn't supposed to drive for twelve hours afterwards. Hmmm.

Well, okay. I figured I could just stay in Launceston, shoot on out to Bruce's place in the evening, catch a movie with him as usual, and then drive home roundabout midnight, as I often do of a Tuesday. There. Plan made.

I got out of bed obnoxiously early and drove into Launceston like a chiropteran making a rapid exit from Sheol. That ensured I found a parking place near the hospital - one that would actually let my car sit for near-enough twelve hours. Yay!

They signed me in pretty quickly. And then they gave me the dreaded backless gown. These days, you also get nifty paper underpants and booties. Add to that a nice little lap blankie to keep the breeze away from your 'nads (those paper underpants are about as useful as... paper underpants, really) and you're all set for a forty-minute wait in the TV room of lung-victim hell.

Happily, it was a slow day at the hospital. There were only two people before me, and neither of them seemed particularly tuberculoid. We nodded and smiled and carefully avoided looking at each other's paper underpants, and eventually, I got called into The Room. With The Chair.

The nurse was nice, but she made a hash of sticking a drip in my hand. Natalie told me later that it's probably because of my more-than-usually tough skin. The nurse did ask about that - wanted to know if I did a lot of outdoors work. I do work outdoors, but no more so than any gardening type... it's just my skin. Anyway, she missed the vein in the left hand, switched to the right, and caused a truly remarkable amount of pain by missing the vein there too, whereupon she just gave up.

Fuck it hurts when they miss the vein.

I lay there on the chair, waiting. I had the blood pressure cuff round my left arm, the pulse monitor on the index finger of my right hand. Lacking anything more interesting to do (I did smuggle in a book, but it was kind of hard to read with all that crap hanging off me) I played around with biofeedback. I discovered that simply by concentrating hard, I could move my heartrate down to sixty-five (it generally hung at about seventy-five, which is higher than I like, but I haven't been able to exercise well lately) and up as high as ninety or so. I also discovered that my blood pressure is about 123/77, which is pretty reasonable for a forty-five-year-old man coming out of a bout of bronchitis. It's even better when you recognise that hospital stress tends to raise everybody's blood pressure. (Natalie's jumped twenty points when she had it done in a hospital. Which is weird, since she works in the things.)

So all up, aside from this stupid cough, I'm doing okay.

The nurse finally noticed my fluctuating heart-rate. She stared. Asked me what I was doing. I said "Biofeedback. It's fun."

She stared some more. Then switched the machine off. Well, okay.

The doc arrived. He was good value. They stuck a needle into the crook of my arm, and then put a mask on my face. I had to inhale nebulised lignocaine for a while, to numb the airways. Apparently, jamming a camera up one's nose, then all the way down to the lungs can be traumatic. Who knew?

Finally, they got around to loading me up with a mix of Fentanyl and Midazolam.... yippee. Happily, whoever mixed the dose had a light hand. According to the doc, most people come out of it without realising anything has happened. I, on the other hand, recall... well, a little more than I want, really. The bit where the tube wouldn't go up my left nostril, so they tried my right, then went back to the left -- there's a thing I could do without. But on the other hand, the bit where the doc tilted the vidscreen and said: "There's your vocal chords. Say 'hello'..." was very cool. Especially because I did indeed say 'hello', and my vocal chords moved in the most amazing way. Keen!

Anyway, they had a good old probe around down there. I don't recall that they found anything too exotic, and they wound up splashing in a bit of saline so they could get some sputum samples, which provoked a certain amount of coughing. And at this point, I'd like to report that it's fucking difficult and painful to cough with a camera in your goddam lung...

... then they wheeled me to the recovery ward. I got a little oxygen while we waited for the various drugs to clear, and then they shifted me and my bed to a second ward. Shortly thereafter, they brought me my clothes and my bag, and shifted me to yet another ward - this one all about chair. (I abandoned my paper underpants with alacrity, and returned to the comforting cotton of my regular Rios.)

And the waiting began.

Apparently, I shouldn't have told them I planned to (eventually) drive home. I had been quite clear with them that I wasn't driving for twelve hours. But they didn't like the sound of that, and so instead of letting me go by 1330, as they'd intimated, they 'asked' me to stay 'a while longer'.

By 1500, I was over the whole funking experience. Sitting around in a hospital is dull. I'd read a lot. I'd even composed about a thousand words of fresh fiction on the Netbook 'puter I brought. But I was bored, and I was feeling rocky from the afterFX, and I wanted to GTFO.

So I called up a nurse, and very politely explained that she needed to remove the needle still hanging out of my arm, or I was going to do it for myself. We had a short, friendly conversation, and then they brought me some self-discharge forms. And I left.

I can understand that the hospital needs to cover itself, sure. But enough is enough.

I did have a bit of aftermath. For some reason, I started running a low fever at about five o'clock. But by eight o'clock, I was in Bruce's kitchen, cooking asparagus and mushroom crepes with cheese sauce for him and Tiarne, and by eight-thirty, the fever was broken, and gone. We watched a French crime/thriller thing which was, by and large, not too bad, and I hopped in the car and went home almost exactly twelve hours after the bronchoscopy was complete. The drive home was very normal indeed.

Kudos to the doc: he had a good sense of humour, and he really did handle the machinery - the hospital's and mine - well. I have no soreness at all today, and though the cough did flare up, he warned me of that, and it really hasn't been a big deal. The nurses were nice, the hospital was organised... but no matter how you paint it, the whole thing was still a tube up the nose and down the chest, followed by several hours of post-drug hangover and waiting.

Ah well. We shall see what the results show, eh ?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Write A Book In A Day

That's what they call it.

It's a school thing. It's a competition associated with Katherine Susannah Pritchard, and it's exactly what it sounds like. Once your school is registered, on a given day at 0800 the competition people send you a bunch of details that have to go into your story. And by 2000 that night, you have to email them your book.

The local high school has a few avid writers, and they've been asking me to do something with them for a while. They leaned on their teachers, and eventually the gears turned, the wheels ground, and we all agreed to do this WABIAD thing. The high school folks were 'specially nice in that they even agreed to let young Jake join in for the day.

I did two prep sessions. The Friday before last, we did a couple hours on character: how to build character, using and understanding motivation, and how characters act as the main point of entrance to the narrative for the reader. Last Friday, we did a kind of dry run, putting together story outlines based on sets of data of the sort the WABIAD organisers supply.

And today was the Big Day.

Naturally, things had to be difficult. Firstly, Natalie went to Hobart last night. She's away for the weekend. Obviously, that made things a bit challenging since Jake and I had to be at the school by 0800 - but Genghis and the Mau-mau also had to get to their school at the usual time. Likewise, Jake and I were prepared to be busy until 2000... but of course, Genghis and the Mau-mau were on a school bus home by 1500.


Happily, Viking Neighbour Anna was prepared to accept Genghis and the Mau-mau in the evening. It probably helped that one of her progeny was also involved in the WABIAD competition, and I gave him a lift home when we were done... but nevertheless, I'm grateful. There's no conceivable way I could have handled this otherwise.

The WABIAD day was - well, actually, it was extremely bloody cool. They had enough kids signed up to make two teams of ten or so. The first lot had to write with a lifeguard, an artist, and one non-human character - an elf. The had to use a wrecker's yard as a setting, and they had to address the issue "one good turn deserves another".

Not too difficult, really. They jumped right in and got going.

Unfortunately, the second group kinda got screwed. They had to write about a gangster, a sandalwood cutter, and their nonhuman character was a doll. Their setting was a peace rally, and worst of all, their 'issue' was 'drought'.

That's a bit of a bastard combination, really. Not impossible, of course, but not at all pleasant. You really have to twist things to make 'drought' your central issue when your setting is 'a peace rally'. I have to give them credit. They handled it well.

Both groups also got a list of words that had to be used: 'ginormous', 'beef stroganoff', 'plopped', 'amongst', and a couple of others.

It was one blue-arsed hell of a hectic day. Really.

It started with mad brainstorming and character design. Then the writing and illustrating took off. (Yes. The books have to be illustrated, and they have to have a front cover and a back cover too. And for high-school level, they have to be a minimum of 4000 words long.) By lunch, the bulk of the drafting was done, and we were well into the editing and proofing.

But things got out of synch. Chapters got mislaid or missed out. Computers spat the dummy at inopportune times. Collating and proofing was slow, troublesome work. It got quite tense towards the end, doing final proofs, and hunting for typos, etc, while juggling image files and text files...

... and I have to say, I fucking HATE Microsoft Word. What a fucking awful piece of shitbag software! Overcomplicated, slow, resource-hogging crap that desperately tries to impose all kinds of idiotic formats and standards on you. What fucking good is a goddam grammar checker when you're writing large slabs of dialogue? FUCK!

But - yes. We managed to get both files emailed away to the WABIAD folks in the last half hour before the deadline. And there was pizza all around.

The students had themselves a fantastic time. I actually cannot recall another time I've seen twenty school students work twelve solid hours so cheerfully and enthusiastically. By the time we were printing out copies, they were swarming the photocopier, competing to see who could get the first complete version to take home for the oldies.

Not a single cross or cranky word did I hear all day. Lots of hilarity. Ridiculous characters, silly dialogue, crazy ideas -- and a tremendous spirit of co-operation. Everybody jumped in, and tried to help everyone else.

Jake in particular had a great time. He got his writing done well before 1100, and went around helping out others, and writing the blurb for the back cover, and so forth. He even had time to refine his mad pie-seller character: in the end, he was a French expat who cursed the police in French that Jake dug up via Google, and who suffered from myokymia of the eyelid. His Beef Stroganoff pies were apparently notorious for causing constipation - which was handy, since evil gangster Barry Broxburn had slipped laxatives into the ice-cream trucks which attended the peace rally...

So now I'm home. It's 2130, and the kids are in bed. I've managed to neck a couple of decent beers, and... holy shit, I'm exhausted. I've read, edited, and proofed every single word of both books (though I'm not the only one to do that!) I've helped twenty different authors through plot hitches, over character motivation humps, and down the long, winding road to a proper denouement. I've helped invent names for characters. I've cut much-loved passages, and insisted on added detail in sections otherwise too dull or pedestrian, and I've been question-answerer and dogsbody and grammarian and I've done the bakery run for lunch, and yeah, shit, I am really, seriously worn out.

"Elves And Trees -- And Everything In Between" went to 7500 words.

"Paradise Mislaid" made it to 6500.

Both books went out on time.

Two teachers put in the hardest yards I've seen at a school in years... and twenty-odd people had a really, really entertaining day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oh, Wow! This Is Brilliant!

For all my comrades-in-arms out there in the world of parenting, I present this frigging brilliant website:

Child's Own

They're Canadian, but they ship overseas. They're not too expensive, and what they do is bloody fantastic. Essentially, they'll take a drawing made by a child, and turn it into a custom-made soft toy.

So. Your kid ever make a really special picture? Now you know exactly what to do about it.

For the non-parents out there: this site might not seem so interesting to you. But trust me... it's pure genius.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Zombies? Ha. I Survived Mermaid Fairy Princesses.

That... was a big day.

No parent with even a skerrick of experience leaves the timing of a birthday party open. The invites clearly said: 2.00 to 4.00pm. Naturally, there's always a bit of looseness in these things, but a note like that tells parents of invitees more or less what's going to go down. It's after lunch, see, so it's not likely to be a big nosh-up, but of course the usual range of party food will be available. And you'd better have a damned good excuse if you try to leave your kid much later than, say, 4.30.

I had a lot of work in the morning. I scratch-built a chocolate cake with a layer of marshmallow in the middle, and I filled a bunch of ice-cream cones with the remaining home-made marshmallow, then covered the lot with colourful sprinkles. Mermaid Fairy Princesses fuckin' LOVE colourful sprinkles.

Had to do a shopping run in the morning, of course. Drinks, snacks, party favours, balloons, and the inevitable sausages and bread rolls. Oh, and jelly.

An odd moment in the car: the Mau-Mau was in the back seat, already decked out in her frilliest, pinkest, princessiest finery (did I mention her mother brought her a goddam tiara from Ireland?) while Jake was up front with me. Jake dug out the AC/DC soundtrack album from Iron Man II and stuck it in the cd player, which was all right by me. Is there a better hard rock band ever than AC/DC? I think not. They define their own genre, and whatever their music may now lack in novelty, it remains solidly what it is: hard driving guitar rock.

So 'Thunderstruck' came on. And I turned up the volume. As you do.

Jake cringed into a foetal ball with his hands over his ears. Ahh, but in the rear view mirror what do I see? It's the Mau-mau, and she is goddam ROCKING OUT. Her arms are in the air over her head, flailing away. She's bouncing up and down in her kiddy-support seat, and banging her head like a complete freak.

I could not, in all conscience, turn the music back down until 'Thunderstruck' was done. Jake just had to stay curled up. Pfeh.

The Mermaid Fairy Princesses - and one pirate - turned up on time. I believe we had an extra five little girls in the house, plus the young pirate. Of course, by that time Jake had turned out eight batches of jelly while I'd been prepping marshmallow and cake, and setting things in motion.

Three hundred balloons, in the end. I partioned off the sunroom, and just goddam well inflated balloons until the place was knee-deep (for a six-year-old, anyhow.) I think the boys managed to blow up maybe thirty balloons between them, so I probably did something like two-hundred and seventy. Yes: by this point, I am largely over the bronchitis.

Happily, we had a bit of a break in the weather. It was especially good because on top of all our mermaid fairy princesses, the Viking Lads turned up with loaded waterguns. Meanwhile, Jake and Genghis had prepared their Nerfgun arsenal, intent on keeping Mermaid Fairy Princesses out of "their stuff". Thus, when the Viking Watergun Raiders arrived, the battle was on... and fortunately, it was warm enough and dry enough outside that it was an outdoors event.

There were shrieking mermaid fairy princesses running hither and yon. Nerf darts flew. Waterguns creaked and spat their streams of moist vengeance. Parents dodged, and talked, and drank the beer I'd laid on (with considerable experience and foresight.) Whenever things started to slow down, I threw snacks into the fray. When they finally started to look tired, I grilled an abominable mass of sausages, slashed a horrorshow worth of chewy bread-rolls, fried a half-dozen onions into tasty rings, chopped up a block of cheese and a jar of pickles, and limbered up the tomato sauce jar: and many, many children were fed.

The timing was very good. By about half-three, a very light rainshower drove them inside, where they gleefully began swimming about in the balloons. (I have photos of a mass of balloons. You cannot see the children beneath. They wanted it that way.)

I played my ace in the hole, and threw Natalie to the lions with a pass-the-parcel game. The big prize at the end was a bubble-gun, and after all the balloons and notes and lollies and teary outbursts, the Mau-mau wound up with the coveted weapon and promptly added vast quantities of soap-bubbles to the chaos...

The party did run overtime, yes. Various parents were having a good time too, so the kids stayed until the oldies were done. Last to go was our pirate, whose parents had the very good manners to turn up with a really interesting bottle of bubbly, which we promptly demolished. By that stage, I was already prepping dinner - a great big pot of spaghetti with a strong tomato/anchovy/basil sauce, and plenty of fine-sliced bacon. Thus, when we were down to just the usual three kids (plus two Mermaid Fairy Princess sleepover types) I fed the hell out of everyone yet again, and Natalie and I gradually defragged the place while the kids went through their shower routine, and watched 'Chicken Run'.


I admit, once all the offspring and their ilk were in bed, that I cracked open another beer or two. But not until I'd managed to quell even the three Mermaid Fairy Princesses, who were lying all three together on one vast inflatable mattress on the floor of the Mau-mau's room. By pointing out that if I heard little voices any longer, I'd put one of 'em up on the Mau-mau's bunk to sleep on her lonesome, I managed to send even those three off to the land of nod.

And so, I think that last beer or two was very well earned.

In the morning, we despatched children with pointy bamboo skewers to kill all the remaining balloons in a frenzy of colourful rubbery violent death. The sun came out, and I managed at last to pour the concrete footer for the stone wall around my firepit. Laundry was done. Tasks were carried out... and lo: in the end, I even managed to convince the Three Mermaid Fairy Princesses to clean up the Mau-mau's room.

Eventually, Anna the Viking Neighbour came and claimed her daughter, leaving only one excess Mermaid Fairy Princess. I fired up the barbecue, and prepared a mass of tandoori chicken and lamb, plus a bunch of roasted sweet potato. I also set up a green salad, and a bowl of turmeric rice, and a dessert salad of melon, ginger and coconut... because when Madame Double-Trouble arrived to collect her daughter, it was dinnertime, and she had two boys with her as well. Thus, my weekend finished with a barbecue dinner for eight. (Woulda been nine, but Natalie went into town to play music.)

Am I tired?

Fuck, yes. Where's that fucking beer?

Friday, August 19, 2011


Today is the day of the Mau-mau's official sixth birthday party. She actually turned six some days ago, and received a plethora of presents from all over the place, as I mentioned. But for a six-year-old girl, the birthday thing isn't complete unless there's been a party. A particularly girly party.

And therefore, we are having a Mermaid Fairy Princess party this afternoon.

Oddly, a number of boys have been invited to this party, and at least one has accepted. His mum sounded relieved when I pointed out that according to Natalie, it would be all right if the lad dressed as a pirate. Personally, I think he should be a Mermaid Fairy Princess too, but I'm not sure six-year-old boys have enough of a sense of irony to appreciate the humour.

I'm sitting down right now in the post-breakfast zone, clearing my mind, thinking things through. It's been rainy as hell down here - some flooding across the north and east. (Not affecting us, mind you.) Today it's dim and grey and foggy. My hopes of throwing all the small ones outside for a sunny afternoon play on the stupidly oversized playground structure are looking slender. Ergo, I have to come up with a way to keep about eight very small, sugar-driven, birthday-frenzied kids from annihilating the interior of my house for about two hours this afternoon.

I'm thinking balloons. Fuckloads of balloons. Kids like balloons, and if I inflate a couple hundred, they'll be happy to run around shrieking and kicking clouds of balloons into the air, right? The cats will never forgive me, but who cares?

Meanwhile, I've also got to prepare a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and a cherry on top. Maybe a layer of whipped cream in the middle. Apparently, jelly is also desirable. And marshmallow cones.

There's also party favours and lollies and decor to think of. Yes. All that stuff.

Then there's my sanity. Have you seen it? I'm not sure where I put it down. I think I had it just a few days ago, briefly, but then the phone rang. And then the University told me my enrolment was up in the air 'cos they didn't have proof of my citizenship. Citizenship? Fuck! I've been a permanent resident of Oz since 1973, and a full citizen since 1991. I don't even know exactly where my stupid Citizenship Certificate is anymore. Luckily, I keep my passport in a handy location. Wish I could do the same with my sanity.

Fortunately, there's a carton of Boag's St George in the kitchen. I will undertake the Quest for Sanity through Booze after the Mermaid Fairy Princesses are all in bed. (Did I mention that at least two of them are sleeping over? I didn't, did I?)

Okay. Gotta go. Genghis is now coughing up a lung, and quite seriously, he's amplifying his already horrifying cough by putting a very long cardboard tube up to his mouth. So I can hear this weird, echoing, rattling, tearing, gurgling bark of a cough richocheting around the house. Natalie doesn't seem to like it either, by the way she's snarling at Genghis. I can understand that, though... the cardboard-tube Death Cough is probably the ugliest thing I've heard since I last mashed up Justin Bieber and Yakity Sax.

Sanity? Hellloooo?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Alarums And Excursions

Natalie and Jake returned from Ireland on Sunday morning, as planned. I was well enough to drive in a collect them from the airport, which was damned handy. (The antibiotics appear to be doing some good. Not fixing everything, but at least I can breathe again.)

Of course, they fell asleep in the afternoon, and lay like logs. Still, they brought presents, which was good. I have a fine bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey which my antibiotics and I are observing wistfully, from time to time.

Everybody took Monday off school, sensibly enough. And by a useful coincidence, it was also the Mau-mau's birthday. Her sixth. I've had a daughter for six years, apparently. Fuck, eh? Who knew?

Six year old girls and birthdays are... challenging. They expect rainbows, unicorns, and random falls of sugary pink candy from the sky. The Mau-mau did okay. Her mum brought her a pink satin dress complete with puffy skirt and bows and ribbons and underskirt layers. There was also a LEGO dollhouse that took half the day to build. (Kept mother and daughter nicely occupied.) There was a fine tiara of some kind of robust but graceful metal, replete with diamantes and pearl-ish things: high grade costume jewelry which she immediately adopted and adored. There was a necklace of silver. There was an embroidered purse and some bead necklaces from an aunty.

From yours truly, she got the first fifteen issues of the Marvel Godzilla comic, bound in a single edition. (She loves her some Godzilla.) She got a simple digital camera meant for kids, with which she is now photographing the crap out of the entire world. And she got (with help from Ginny in the USA) a very clever paintbrush. You use it with watercolours. It has batteries, and a metal strip down the side. You paint with it, and then with a finger of your off-hand, you touch the wet paint and become part of an electrical circuit that makes the brush 'sing'. Essentially, you form a variable resistor, and by moving your finger to different places on the painted line (with the brush touching, of course) you can change the tone the brush makes. It's very cool.

Nevertheless, the Mau-mau wanted more. More! What's Aunty Becca going to send me? Ooh!

It's not so much the having. It's the opening, and the getting. I'm quite sure that if we were to wrap a bunch of rocks and get her to open them with sufficient fanfare, she'd be almost as delighted.

She wanted tacos for dinner; I complied, as one does. And I made a fine chocolate cake with whipped cream and strawberries. (Yes. That explains the photos.) And she got to sleep on the floor of her bedroom, in her little fold-out kiddy indoor playtent. What more could you ask for?

But Dark Forces were aswirl. For starters, Natalie appears to have brought back an exciting gastro-enteritis from her Irish sojourn. Jake, as usual, is completely unmoved. The kid gets unwell so rarely that when he does, he's a fucking pain, because he has no experience with things like sore throats, or vomiting, and he gets really cranky about it.

Genghis, on the other hand, Catches Stuff. And last night at a quarter to midnight, I heard an awful, stertorous bark from downstairs. Now, as it happens, I'd only just gone to bed because I'd been watching the Mau-mau (still sleeping on the floor in her tent. Why? You'd have to ask her). She's caught the chest infection that settled on me. By day she's fine, but by night, she coughs like a ninety-year-old three-pack-a-day smoker, and her nose blocks up too. So I was kind of expecting trouble, yeah?

Except that when I got downstairs, I had to put the brakes on fast. It wasn't the Mau-mau. It was Genghis, and he'd just dumped at least a kilo of polenta-crusted salmon, green salad, hash browns and leftover birthday cake all over his pillow.

Not good at all. The bedding got changed, and everything got cleaned up, and Genghis got a bowl - but that mess was horrible, and showed absolutely no sign of being digested, five and a half hours after the meal had been eaten. This is not a good sign.

And sure enough, at 0630 this morning, another thunderous bark yanked us out of bed. The boy is not well. He's currently on the couch watching "Life of Brian", his faithful barf-bowl close at hand... unlike his brother, he's used to this sort of thing so he just takes it in his stride.

The Mau-mau? Oh, she was fine. I checked on her at the first Vomit Volcano event, and she was sleeping peacefully in her little tent.

So, here we are. My family is all home again. Lucky me!

Friday, August 12, 2011

God, I Love Science!!!

Sheep Drugged and Shocked to Prove Taser Safety

Seriously. Go read it for yourself.

Now, while I admit that I have no particular desire to teach sheep to freebase and then go all Tasermatic on their sheepy asses, there's a certain wild-eyed enthusiasm to this whole project that I find fundamentally admirable. Who came up with this idea? More importantly, who did they find to implement it? It goes to show: we may live in a modern world, but there's still a job for Igor whenver he needs it. Because who else could you possibly call upon to make sheep snort meth, then apply the lightning rod to their woolly butts if not that most tried and tested of all B-movie stereotypes: the Mad Scientist's Equally Mad Assistant.

Look, I know this whole thing is awfully hard on the sheep, but as a longtime fan of B-movies, I can't help but approve. In my youth, I often envisioned myself as a Victor Frankenstein for a new age. I liked Science. I liked weird stuff. I liked mixing chemicals until they changed colour and smelled funny (and made the cat fall over). I liked explosions and lightning. At no point have I ever been concerned with the idea that there are Some Things Man Wasn't Meant To Know. I have wild hair. I can cackle maniacally.
There really ought to be a useful place for me in the world of science. And now, thanks to this... clearly VERY scientific project, it is apparent that somewhere, somehow, Mad Science is still happening. Could it be that at last, at long last, my project to crossbreed magpies and tiger sharks has a future?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Could Have Been Worse, Apparently

Not pneumonia. That's good.

Bronchitis. That's... not so good.

The good is that I'll probably not have to be hospitalised. The not so good is two weeks worth of doxycycline... and the lingering question of why the f__k I can't cough up all this crap the way normal people do.

Referral to a respiratory physician coming up.

There May Be A Hiatus


So - this cough isn't going anywhere. Except downhill. Bad night last night. Not a good morning so far. I'll be taking this one to the doctors today, and I gotta say I won't be surprised if they want to keep me for a while.

I'll be back when I can.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


First, mine: this whole lung thing is starting to worry me. There's a strain of pneumonia doing the rounds hereabouts. I'm feeling like utter shit. I'm still afebrile, but I'm given to understand there's been a case or two similar to that recently. There's only two things keeping me from heading down to the surgery. First, I'm still goddam sole parent until Sunday. And second: I can still walk up and down the hills here without falling over.

That suggests the pain and coughing are all about inflamed bronchial pathways, not fluid in the lungs and other pneumonia-type problems. So I'll drop another handful of paracetamol and ibuprofen tonight, have a hot shower, and grab a few hours of broken sleep with my head propped up on two or three pillows in the hopes of breathing just a little better.

Fuck this shit.

Second disease? Oh, that would be Fred Nile -- the NSW parliamentary equivalent of a big, fat herpes sore. Here's his latest:

The man is an absolute dick. Penny Wong and her partner are having a kid - and he goes on and on about the wrongness of children in a gay relationship. What a set of standards, eh? Can't have a kid in a gay relationship, even if one of the parents is a Federal minister. But it's okay for a world-spanning organisation of paedophiles and their enablers to go on running schools, right?

I think I've come up with a good plan for dealing with Fred. What we need to do is put our pennies together, and raise a large sum of money. This money is to be paid in the form of a bounty. It goes to the first brave, heroic Sydney drag queen who manages to get footage of himself giving our Reverend Fred the blowjob (or other sexual thrill) of his life.

That ought to just about shut him down, no? So - how do we go about starting up a charity, then?

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Genghis' pet chest infection is leaving him. I didn't have to drug him at all last night. He coughed for a while after he lay down, but then he went off to sleep nicely and stayed that way.

Wish I could say the same. It would appear I'm still on the downslope of this particular bit of nastiness. I'm not enjoying the situation at all.

We took a trip to Launceston yesterday to see 'Captain America'. I'd rate it one of the best superhero flicks so far. The look was perfect, the acting was fine, and Hugo Weaving made a most excellent Red Skull. And who can argue with a story about Nazi super-science and lost Asgardian technology threatening to destroy the world?

There really was a lot to like in the film. If you're an old Marvel fan, watching Captain America hook up with the likes of Dum-Dum Dugan and a young Nick Fury (from a very old comic called 'Nick Fury and his Howling Commandoes') was pretty cool. I admit to a warm, fuzzy moment when Dugan took over the zap-ray tank during the escape-from-Hydra sequence, purely because of the cry of "Waaahoooo!!!". I don't think I've seen one of those old comics since I was about seven or eight years old...

They did well with 'Bucky' Barnes, too. A sneaky, fun moment when Captain America features in the scope of a sniper rifle... then the scope climbs, finds another sniper about to shoot our hero; the trigger of our POV scope is pulled and the sniper onscreen dies, then the camera pulls back to reveal 'Bucky' behind the scope of 'our' rifle, and a quick thank-you wave from Captain America. Shades of the Winter Soldier and the 'Death of Captain America' plotline from a few years back.

And a bit of respect for film history: Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, unearthing his Asgardian toy. He says something like "...while the Fuehrer plays in Northern Africa, digging for trinkets, I have found this..." Heh. Anybody remember a movie where Nazis in Northern Africa were trying to dig up an item of Great Magic Power? Nice touch.

Genghis and I did not travel alone to the cinemas, however. We took with us the redoubtable Baggins sisters (Not their actual name. It's an in-joke that they'll understand if they read this. Hi April! Hi Amy!) and the eldest of the Viking Neighbour clan to round out the expedition. A trip to my favourite secondhand book store made things even better. I found a compendium of the first fifteen Marvel 'Godzilla' comics in a single cover, still in its shrinkwrap. That may not seem like much a find to you - but then you don't have a daughter who thinks Godzilla is the greatest thing ever to reach cinema. Said daughter has a birthday coming in about a week - so a mint, unopened Godzilla compendium is a Huge Goddam Score. I'm really rockin' the dad thing here.

We had another Skype attack from Natalie and Jake last night. It went... marginally better than the last one. (The Mau-mau did not stand up, lift up her dress, and scream "Booooooobies" at the camera this time. I count that as progress.) Our farflung family members are apparently in a backpacking hostel in Galway. They affirm that the place is nice, and everybody's friendly, and they're having a good time. The bastards.

Anyway, today the rain is closing in cold and grey, and I have three extra kids in the house. Genghis and one of the Viking Neighbour kids are taking apart the clothesdryer that died. The Mau-mau and the Double-trouble daughter have got out "The Craft Box" (a big cardboard box full of pipecleaners, tassles, string, paddlepop sticks, glue, crayons, paper, cardboard and all kinds of similar epic shit) and are making a fucknormous -- but very creative -- mess on the dining table. The eldest Double-Trouble child is slouching about aimlessly.

Soon I shall have to feed them all. Best I conclude this now.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not The Best Of Days

Genghis has got some kind of vile chest infection thing; a cough which is ramping up his asthma. It isn't really slowing him down or anything. (I'm not sure what would do that.) But it does tend to make him cough horribly at night.

Horribly. As in: parent lies awake upstairs, cringing and anticipating the next bark. To top it off, he's given a version of it to me, so I'm kind of wheezy and unwell too. Not good. So, last night -- no sleep until about 0300. Awake again by 0630 in anticipation of getting kids on track for the day. And I recall waking up and seeing the clock at 0430, so it was pretty shitty sleep. All three and a half hours of it.

The clothesdryer has died, too. Not a simple, repairable death. What we have here is not a mere worn belt, or a broken heating element. Nope: the drum is literally off its rails. Normally, that central drum kind of 'floats', on some sort of shock absorbers, and spins fairly freely. Lately, I've noticed a tendency to get stuck, but I could get it going if I just reached in and gave it a spin.

Today? Nope. Dead. The drum is sitting low, and I can barely get it to turn. I think the mounts or the bearings or whatever have given up. You can hear the motor hum in frustration, and you can feel the heat from the element, but the drum steadfastly does not turn. Most irritating, since we've drifted into that phase of winter in which it's pretty much cloudy and showery every goddam day.

So tomorrow, I shall pull out the old dryer, and put it in the top shed. Genghis can take it apart over the weekend. He'll enjoy that. I shall then hitch up the trailer, head down to Scottsdale, and pay off the new dryer I've already picked out. The last one did its work for something like seven or eight years. Hopefully the new one will manage at least as much, once I bring it back up the hill and wrangle it into place. Yay.

Hitching up the trailer will serve a double purpose. I'm currently building a nice fire-pit with a stone retaining wall. To do that, you dig a Flogging Great Hole, and then level the bottom with a good, thick layer of gravel. You lay an inner cylinder of heat-resistant brick to the requisite height, and then for cosmetic purposes, you build a nice outer cylinder of fieldstone and mortar, and finally you level the top with some slates, or the like. (Not a good idea just to build the structure out of fieldstone. Repeated heating and cooling can lead not just to cracking, but with some kinds of stone, random exploding. We don't want that. No. Hence the inner cylinder.)

I dug the hole. I got myself some gravel. I placed it in the hole and levelled it. Then I lay my first ring of heat-resistant brick... and realised there wasn't quite enough room between the brick and the walls of the hole to build my fieldstone cylinder.

No sense fighting it. I pulled out my first layer of brick, and then I widened the entire goddam hole, and dug out all the gravel. So tomorrow I have to take the trailer to some gravel-supply folks, get a decent load aboard, then come back so I can re-gravel and re-level my pit. Then I can at least get through laying the heat-resistant stuff down, I hope.

Genghis. That kid kills me. We came back from ju-jitsu class, picked up the Mau-mau from the Viking Neighbour Clan, and went home. I threw some marinated diced lamb under the grill, made a quick salad, and served up flatbread with a nice yoghurt/mint sauce, plus the salad and the lamb. Healthy, tasty, and quick.

So I'm sitting there, enjoying a bit of well-deserved dinner. The Mau-mau is staring at hers fearfully, as though it's going to attack her. This is her standard approach to dinner. Food seems to frighten and dismay her, unless it's spaghetti, pizza or chocolate. Those she understands.

Anyway, I'm trying to encourage her to eat, when I hear an almighty racket from Genghis. He's stuffing salad into his mouth, but he's shrieking "Nooooo! Noooo!".

I'm not stupid. I didn't ask. I just watched him.

Apparently, he'd decided that he was a fiercenormous gigantic monster, and the salad was a crowd of innocent little creatures he was devouring. The shrieks of "No! NOOOOO! Look out! Don't eat us! Aaaarrghhmmmkmffmfgrmgrmgrrmmchomp!" were... kind of disturbing.

But I figured he was eating, at least. Shovelling it away by the handful, even as it screamed for mercy... if only I could convince the Mau-mau to do something similar.

Wow. I am sooooo tired.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sole Parent Saga Continues

It's kind of hard to get shit done when you're on Sole Parent Duty. The writing is not moving well. Every time I turn around, I'm either playing chauffeur, or cook, or just cleaning and motivating and suchlike. Bah.

Winter weather is doing its thing. Ironically, it got a lot warmer just about the time Natalie left. She's been whining for months about the cold, and to be fair, up until Wednesday last week, we were having an unusually bitter winter. However, the moment she left on holiday, things reverted to the typical mild, damp Tasmanian winter. I've kicked off half the covers, and young Genghis told me this morning that he tried sleeping on the floor last night because he got too hot with the cats in his bed.

Of course, one has to wonder why he didn't throw the cats off. But wondering would do no good at all. Genghis is the kid who created the Rhino of the Twilight, and often wonders what the world would be like if God was a great big chicken. For him, no doubt it's much more rational to climb out of bed and sleep on the floor to escape the excessive warmth of cats.

Certainly his sister would think differently. I had them strip their beds today so I could change the sheets. When I went into the Mau-mau's room with the fresh bedding, I found I was walking over... something. Little hard lumps of something on the carpet.

I knelt, and looked closely. Cat food. Dry cat food.


I called the Mau-mau. "Why is there cat food on the floor?"

"I don't know," she said. Not unexpectedly.

"Why did you put cat food in your bed?" I figured a quick change of tack might shake her.

"I didn't," she said.

At that point, I allowed myself to play Angry Dad. I snapped at her, cutting her off, and told her flatly that she was lying. I did so because I'd worked out what was going on.

"I'm not," she said. And if I didn't know better, it might have been convincing.

"You wanted the cat to climb on your bed," I told her. "So you put cat food up there. But when you took the sheets off, the cat food fell on the floor."

And that was it. She crumbled, and admitted she'd been trying to get the cat to sleep on her bed. I told her off sharply for lying, and made her clean up the cat food. Frankly, I'm just glad we only give the cats kitty-crunchies... I have no doubt at all the Mau-mau would quite happily have put a big, wet bowl of sloppy cat food on the end of her bed if she thought it would attract the cats.

Anyway. I've worked my way through the laundry. I've run the pump, and organised firewood. I spent half the weekend taking Genghis to lessons and running errands in Launceston, and the other half helping look after spare Double-Trouble kids.

Oh -- that ended well, actually. I had a new computer monitor for the Double-Troubles, plus drivers for a USB wifi aerial, so I thought I'd load both the Double-Troubles and my two kids in the car and head out to Bridport to return the non-Flintharts to their lair. When I got there, I was able to help figure out the reason for patches of mould on the ceilings. I theorised that perhaps the insulation in the ceiling was incomplete, leading to cold patches on the interior where breath/vapour could condense, allowing mould to grow. Once the theory was devised, I despatched the eldest Double-Trouble kid into their ceiling crawlspaces - and voila! Problem identified! All they really need to do is organise to fill in the missing patches of insulation, and the Mystery of the Ceiling Blotches should resolve.

Even better: the Double-Trouble matriarch told me that a new restaurant in Scottsdale actually had a woodfire pizza oven... so Genghis and the Mau-mau and I put it to the test on our way home. Hooray! It was quite a decent bit of pizza, and thus I didn't have to cook for the evening. Better stil, there was enough left over for lunches the next day...

And finally: tonight, a quick phone call from Natalie, in Ireland. She's managed to get sunburned, which is kind of impressive. More impressive, though, was the fact that she was calling from the Jameson distillery, and wanted me to tell her what I wanted.

"Something interesting and reasonably expensive," I said.

I wonder what she's going to buy?