Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Martial Arts As A Transformative Process

So I've been involved with martial arts since I was seventeen. Not constantly, mind you. What with moving around from here to there, and studying and working and everything there were gaps. From time to time.

Mostly I've practised ju-jitsu. I started with judo, in my first year at university, and I loved it. But it happened on a Monday night, and the next year my timetable changed, so I couldn't go on with judo. However, I'd heard that ju-jitsu was similar, so I found the class taught by sensei (now shihan) Mark Haseman at Milton.

In short order, I was a convert. Ju-jitsu didn't involve as much sheer, bloody-minded physical hard work as judo - but it was infinitely sneakier, nastier, and more efficient. As taught by sensei Haseman, it was a flexible, adaptable and astonishingly deadly practice of self-defense.

In the years that followed, I did most of my training under sensei Haseman, and he remains one of the most remarkable individuals I've met through the martial arts. Yet it wasn't just the teacher. What I enjoyed about ju-jitsu then, as now, is the constant challenge it presents. Sensei Haseman's approach was holistic, aimed at incorporating functional techniques and placing them in a framework of practical principles designed to maximise your chances of being able to avoid, deflect, or simply survive the possibility of physical violence.

The list of techniques is way too long to even start. But to give you some idea, back then just to do a full brown belt you had to have solid command over all the forty basic judo throws, plus the strangles, the hold-downs and the groundfighting technique. You also had to have essentially the same range of striking, blocking and kicking techniques that a black belt in something like Shotokan Karate might have. You also had to have the footwork and evasive body movements (tai-sabaki) of an Aikido practitioner, plus a range of armlocks, wristlocks, shoulderlocks and other joint-locking techniques, both standing and on the ground. You had to be able to name and locate all the major bones, muscles, organs and joints of the body. You had to be able to show attacks designed to work against something like twenty different nerve and pressure points, and explain the effect of each attack. Oh - and you needed a St John's Ambulance Certificate in First Aid, too.

That's brown belt, in case you didn't notice. I didn't mention all the free-sparring. And the judo-style randori. And the ground-fighting. And I didn't list all the self-defense stuff: the defenses against knives, sticks, chains, chairs, axes, pistols, broken bottles, multiple attackers, surprise attacks, attacks on the ground... seriously. You did a full brown belt in three separate stages. Good damned thing.

Black belt? Well. All of that, but more, and with more intensity. And all in one grading, not three. You want to be nice and polite to anybody who's done a black belt under Mark Haseman.

Anyway, you see the point. Big curriculum, very challenging. The idea is to keep throwing technique at you until it blurs, and eventually, you start understanding the principles. Moving your body at the right time, in the right way. Practice long enough, and technique grows out of the basic principles, to meet the situation as required. It's endless, and it's challenging, and to this day I find it deeply interesting and rewarding.

I've tackled a few other arts along the way, of course. At various times I've held lower to middle-level gradings in aikido, a version of kung fu, a version of silat, and a version of karate. Currently I'm also practising Iaido. And why not? Ju-jitsu is adaptable. I've stolen the quick, flowing hand techiques that I met in kung fu, and I've kept some of the aikido body movement. And even though breaking boards isn't part of ju-jitsu as such, I saw how the students responded to it in karate, and brought it along for the kids that I teach... and they love it. And I use padded boffer-style swords to encourage the younger kids to duel with sword technique lifted straight out of aikido, and I stole some of the silat approach to changing the height of your attacks rapidly, and so forth. Always something good to learn.

When I got into martial arts, it was because I was a skinny, smart, mouthy kid from the sticks, used to being hassled by mouthbreathers and inbreds for no better reason than the fact that I could use words of more than two syllables. I was tired of being a target, and I wanted a way to discourage potential trouble.

I got a lot more.

You hear a lot about the 'confidence' that comes from martial training. And it is important, in terms of defense. When you're comfortable with the possibility of violence, and you're not intimidated by the prospect of aggression, you gain a relaxed quality that somehow tells the mouthbreathers that you're not really a target any more. (This isn't surmise. A study was done many years ago, on muggers. They showed a bunch of 'professional muggers' a series of photos, and asked them to choose victims. The level of agreement in their choices was extremely high. The muggers couldn't explain what it was about the 'victims' that made them likely targets - but they all saw something. So... simply learning not to be a victim turns away a lot of trouble immediately.)

But there's more to it than simple physical confidence. I think ju-jitsu was the first thing in my life that I really stuck with. And when you do it long enough, eventually all those crazy things you see the martial artists doing stop being crazy, and start being... well, just something you can do, if you want.

I can break a brick with my fist. I've done it. Yeah, it hurt. But it didn't break my hand, or even really leave a bruise.

I can throw a full-strength punch at a target - like a brick wall - and stop the punch absolutely dead cold within 5 mm of the surface. I can do the same thing with a kick. I can wrestleand throw while blindfolded far better than most people can with all their senses at once. I can fall, dive, or roll on concrete or tarmac and get up unscathed. I've had my jaw cracked by a wild punch, and all it did was piss me off; within limits, pain is just something you deal with, not something that controls or disables you.

There's a lot more, but you get the idea. But the real heart of it is learning that a lot of your own limits are illusory. If you can break one brick... maybe you can break two? Or three? Who knows? If you can kick as high as your head... maybe if you just add a jump and get the timing right, you can kick even higher. If you can break boards with your hand... maybe you can do it while holding an egg? (I've gotta try that. I saw footage of Jackie Chan doing it, and I have totally got to give it a try.)

What I'm saying is: like no other practice I know, a good martial art is transformative. You learn with every part of your body. You work on strength, speed, accuracy, balance, and confidence. You learn to practice alertness and observation. You learn to 'read' other people - their balance, their expressions, their clothes and language and actions and affect. You take on board an ocean of technique which can never be perfected... you just keep refining it and refining it until the errors are smaller and smaller.

And with all this learning and refining and all this 'taking control', your attitude to the world changes. It has to.

I've seen fat, unhappy kids learn to fall, roll, and wrestle like demons, and make friends in the process. I've seen small, skinny kids put their fist through a pine plank, and turn into wide-eyed little warriors, astonished and proud of their own accomplishments. I've watched a kid with physical disabilities learn to do a good, clean forward roll -- and then terrify his mother by happily showing off his new achievement at every opportunity.

There's a woman at the class right now. She's got kids, and she's moving towards middle age. She was tentative and nervous about starting, but tonight she did her second grading, and did it well. She's had to battle herself, almost, every step of the way - mostly her own reluctance to believe that she can do this crazy shit. But she's discovered that she can fall, and roll, and move, and get up again. She's discovered that she can dodge a kick, deflect a fist, and throw a man nigh twice her size over her hip. She's discovered that snapping a pine plank isn't difficult - and that she can do it without breaking her hand. She's had to adapt to the fact that she's training with kids less than half her age, some of whom can learn this stuff much more quickly than she does...

But since coming along, she's also taken up the guitar, and gone back to studying, and a host of other minor things. And that's what I'm getting at. I claim absolutely no credit for any of these other things. She's done them entirely for herself. But... once you've discovered that what looks impossible is just something you do by practice, training, concentration and determination, why - suddenly, all those hundreds of other things you thought you could never do start to look a lot closer than before. A good martial art teaches you the habit of overcoming your own doubts, and marshalling your resources so that you can reach farther than you ever thought.

And maybe the best thing about it is that when you get to be good enough at it, you can teach it to other people and watch them change and grow, too. Because - well, while breaking a pine plank is no big deal, and doesn't make you a martial arts genius... seeing the amazement on the face of a student who does that for the very first time is a really humbling, wonderful experience. You can see it, right there in their eyes: I did it! That was me! And -- if I can do that, what else can I do?

And that, there: that's what a human being should be.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Insert Title Here


Genghis is gonna be really pissed at me.

Today, Natalie was in Albury for some medical thingy or another. She left me with a raft of shit that needed doing; a lot of it specifically for this music competition thing into which she has entered our eldest and our youngest. The Mau-mau needed her pink satin birthday dress dry-cleaned, for example... because our washing machine didn't quite get all the poster paint out. The Mau-mau also needed some nice white stockings to go with her new black shoes.

Scottsdale couldn't take care of either of those things before the weekend, and we have to have this stuff by Saturday, apparently. Also, Jake needed some decent trousers, and some clothes of the sort that one might wear while performing on stage solo with a cello. And once again, Scottsdale wasn't up to the task.

You can just about guess my chances of getting lightweight workout gloves for the heavy bag around here, can't you? Or a couple of new blue belts for the boys, since they have a grading coming up very soon.

So, yes. Trip into Launceston. Obviously, I needed to take Jake for sizing purposes. Stockings or tights for the Mau-mau were a no-brainer, so I figured I'd send her off to school, 'cos she loves it. But Genghis... he really didn't want to go. He thought today was the Athletics carnival, you see, and he hates the athletics carnival. He's a very competitive kid. He's very fit, strong, and physical... but he's stocky, and small. He's rapidly becoming a good gymnast, and he learns the martial stuff very quickly and effectively - but he is NOT a runner, and (surprise, surprise!) the school's "athletics carnival" consists mostly of running. (There is some jumping. But you don't get to do that until grade five. Why? I have no farking idea. Apparently, grades 1-4 are incapable of jumping. Or something.)

Therefore, young Genghis pleaded at length with me to miss school and go to Launceston. In the end, I shrugged and agreed. Personally, I can understand his loathing of the athletics carnival. If he really needed to get off his ass and exercise, I'd maybe have another opinion... but I don't see the point in making him run a series of races he utterly hates.

Except, of course, that today wasn't the athletics carnival. As I found out when I signed him and his brother off from school, the athletics carnival is next week. He's gonna really hate that when he finds out.

Anyway. We got the white stockings. We got charcoal pinstripe trousers. We got a black waistcoat and a black bow tie. We got a copy of the cello book with the piano-accompaniment CD. We got wrasslin' gloves. We got blue belts. We got a bunch of heavy pine timber to build a small stairway for the shed. We got the makings of dinner. We got lunch. We found a couple of DVDs. (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Black Swan.) We put a tank of diesel in the car. We dropped the little pink satin dress at a dry-cleaner. We...

... uhh... yeah. I think that was about it for Launceston.

But when I got home, I planted the laburnum tree that Amazing Neighbour Anna gave me. And I did some laundry, and I cut the pine planks to length for the stair. I collected the Mau-mau from the bus stop. I grilled hamburgers and made all the trimmings and fixings, and I carved up a watermelon. I washed things and I stacked things and vacuumed things and cleaned things. I oversaw some music practice.

And now, I can go to work.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another Busy One

Ruminations on Art and writing here... Battersblog Guest Appearance

Meanwhile: I managed to snaffle a quiet sort of day today. Natalie got herself involved in a social bike-ride down to Tomahawk, a little caravan-park of a town on one of the really sweet beaches down the coast. She'd been looking forward to it all week. There was a barbecue afterwards, too.

Unfortunately, it only became clear yesterday that my job was to be largely unsolicited Support Vehicle Driver.

Normally, I'd have sighed and taken it on the chin. A bit of barbecue with the kids down the beach would be a decent exchange for all the aroundgerfucken that goes with kids and bikes and long rides. But this time... well, Natalie's away tonight and tomorrow night, doing some kind of medical educator thing in Albury. Meanwhile, I've got a list of errands about nine metres long that I have to carry out in Launceston tomorrow... but of course, I can't leave until the kids are off to school, and I have to be back in time to collect them. Yep.

So I begged off, and took a bit of a mental health day. I wrote maybe a thousand words, did some reading, had a nice lunch, took a walk... of course, I also did the shopping, prepped for dinner, handled a bunch of laundry, etc. And after they got back from their ride I unloaded the trailer and fed a bunch of hungry kids (mine plus two extra) and Chrissie the Medical Student (happily, I had three litres of leftover Chicken Sweet Corn soup which was easy to heat up on demand).

Really, I have to get down to this blog thing more than once or so a week. I hate recapping. On the other hand, I've been busy enough that the only way to contemplate the bloody week has been in recap. Back to martial classes; teaching another basic class at the primary school; working up the proposal for an online high school extension class; reading for the MA; catch-up at Iaido classes...

We went to a wedding yesterday, did Natalie and I. Damon the Mad Piper has married Tanya, and it was a fine ceremony at the Holy Trinity Church in Launceston. Luckily, Chrissie the Medical Student makes a very fine babysitter... I left her with the ready makings of chicken won-ton soup, and a chocolate shortcrust flan thing, and Jake can now make popcorn, so they were well set.

"Mawwiage. That bwessed event. That dweam... within a dweam..." I can't help it. Every time I see a priest dressed up in those nifty robes, I flash on Peter Cook in The Princess Bride, and I start sniggering. It's not a good look.

The other problem for me is the bit where the priest does the blessing. He has to raise his hand in front of him, you see... and invariably, I find myself thinking: These aren't the droids you're looking for. You don't need to see his papers. Move along.

Pop culture. It can really fuck up your ability to take a church wedding seriously.

It didn't help that they were piped into the church by Highland pipers, and that an Irish piper played while the register was signed. Don't get me wrong. The pipes were lovely, even with the pipe organ in the background. But the thing is that Nat and I were sitting among other musicians from the regular session she attends, and... well... they have a sense of humour.

As the piper was playing an phis fliuch (a well known Irish piece) we were giggling about the possibilities. You see, a lot of Irish trad pieces have... odd titles. After a bit of discussion, we decided that there ought to be a "Wedding Set" of tunes to be played at these occasions. We figured it would consist of the following three pieces, in order:

Dick Gossip; then Cock Up Your Beaver; and then Oh, Hag You Have Killed Me.

I should point out that the second tune was named in the era when a 'Beaver' referred to a fashionable hat, which could be 'cocked up' at a jaunty angle. (What else could they possibly be referring to?)

So, there we were, giggling like naughty schoolkids. Then Andrew the Piper came over to us after the ceremony, and we let him in on the joke. Or so we thought.

Turns out that Andrew and Damon had a better joke for us.

An phis fliuch is a lovely piece of music. But I've only ever seen the name in Irish Gaelic. And that's odd, since virtually every trad piece I've seen (and I've seen well over a thousand) has an English name, or an English translation.

Well, it turns out there's a reason it's not usually translated. Apparently it translates directly as "The Wet Vagina". (It's not crude in Irish.) It's more often referred to as "The Wet Kitten", or even "The Wet Pussy". Sometimes it's coyly called "The Choice Wife". But the actual translation is very much as shown...

... well played, sir. Well played.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Where'd That Week Go?

Okay. The LOTR marathon went off beautifully. We finished at about 0200, and didn't wind up with any overnighters, so by and large we got to sleep in a little the next day. Except Natalie... she had a long and busy weekend putting people with bronchitis into the hospital.

Seriously. This f__king plague of bronchitis has been a vicious bastard. It's a week later, and Natalie is still waking up at 0200, thrashing about and coughing several lungs worth of crap. It's horrible. She's feeling much better, but the bloody cough lingers in a truly hideous fashion.

The week was flat-out, though. I caught up with my prof at the university, and we got the whole masters degree thing pushed into a more sensible shape then before. I also did the student ID thing, and checked out the library, etc.

The boys and I hung with Bruce and the Cool Shiters on Tuesday night. Watched... umm... some movie or another. Heather was back from Queensland, though, which was nice. She finished her film degree, and is now apparently ready for unemployment - although I'm given to understand she's quite gainfully employed in the industry, which is odd. But not surprising: Heather is smart, and determined, and I suspect anybody employing her will get more than their money's worth.

And in other news, Chrissie the Medical Student is back down this end of the country. This time she's doing a month at Launceston, on surgery. She came out for the weekend, and so of course, yet another weekend dissolved into a mess of cooking and entertainment, 'cos Linda turned up, and brought with her Em the Mad Scientist, and I cooked much more food than I really needed to: grilled cardamom chicken, slow-grilled spice-rubbed pork belly, salads, baked potatoes... finally, I poached some beurre bosc pear halves in port and spices. Then I wrapped the pear halves in puff pastry and baked them, while reducing the spiced port down to a piquant sauce, and served the lot with lashings of sweetened whipped cream.

The school holidays have ended at last, and we're down to the sharp, pointy end of the year. They're already making noises about the ju-jitsu club appearing for the Christmas Parade festivities again, and I have to get on with the gradings over the next week or two, then devise some kind of a Christmas show, I guess. I saw a lovely clip of Jackie Chan breaking some concrete slabs while holding an egg, unbroken in his hand. Concrete slabs are hard to come by... but surely I can take out a stack of boards while keeping an egg whole, right? Better practice first, I reckon. This could be tricky.

Desperately putting finishing touches to a story for one small press anthology, and carving a second story into proper shape for someone else. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to put together a proposal to start an online teaching group for the local high school - drawing on the work I did for years with Dr Virginia Little, in the USA. The online forum would allow advanced English students a place to practise skills in writing, criticism and critical thinking for extra credit. There's a fair bit of enthusiasm from the students with whom I did the 'Write A Book In A Day' project, so hopefully the school will be prepared to listen.

Meantime, the primary school wants me to do another series of martial arts 'taster' classes for their October Options. I mentioned that it's still September, but apparently the 'October' part is just for the alliteration this year. Who knew? I've also got to catch up with the principal, to discuss the restrictions placed on Jake's computer. I can understand the need for security for most of the students - but the computer Jake uses is issued to him alone, and it was issued because he's in the "gifted and talented" category. The very existence of that computer is proof that the system has been altered for him... so why is he restricted to the idiotic fucking "Bing" search engine like all the other students?

That's not the only restriction, of course, but the point is clear. 'Bing' is noticeably inferior to Google as a search engine. I don't know what obscure goddam deal the school or the education department has with Microsoft such that the students are actively locked out of Google on the school computers... but I'm not impressed. I'm guessing it's related to some kind of net-nannyware designed to keep potentially naughty students from seeing naughty stuff, but it doesn't matter. The point is that Jake's already an exception to the rule, and they need to think about that when they do this kind of thing. So - meeting on Thursday. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

What day is it? Still Monday for another forty minutes or so. Right.

I read an odd thing the other day. It was a newspaper article which said that despite the proliferation of TV chefs and cooking shows, most Australian families still eat around a basic menu of about five recurring dishes.

Five? How the fuck does anyone survive the boredom?

Since the longterm purpose of this blog is to keep a sort of diary for my kids, I'll put down the list of dinner menus that my kids rattled off when I read the article at them this evening. In no particular order, these are the most frequent, regular dishes:

San choy bau (either pork, or prawn and chicken)
Chinese dumplings (pork, chicken, beef, prawn, scallop: all steamed, or pan-fried, or both) with steamed vegetables
Thai beef salad
Nasi goreng
Mee goreng
Char kway teow
Chilli chicken and tamarind
Spaghetti bolognese
Grilled khofta (lamb or beef or even chickpea) with flatbread and salad
won-ton soup
chicken and sweet corn soup
rich tomato soup with spiced meatballs
Thai fish stew
curried pumpkin and coconut soup
creamy mushroom soup
Winter pea-and-ham soup
summertime Gazpacho soup
baked stuffed mushrooms
polenta-crusted baked salmon over sushi-dressed noodles and salad
grilled cardamom chicken
smoked vegetables with balsamic vinegar
poached salmon with cheese sauce and pasta
shashliks/kebabs (lamb, beef)
satay (chicken, lamb, beef) with spicy peanut sauce
stir-fry (just about anything, really)
poached scallops on croutons
grilled haloumi salad
curried lamb, fish, chicken, beef, or vegetables
Vietnamese-style spring rolls (with the soft rice wrappers and the spicy pork balls)
Charcoal roasted lamb or chicken,
Char-grilled fish or steak

There's probably more. I forget stuff from time to time, and dishes fall off the menu to be rediscovered after a few months.

There's also a bunch of stuff I do less often, for occasions. Things like the poached pears, or chilled prawn and avocado soup, for example. Mix it all up with a range of pasta or Asian noodles, steamed vegetables, roast vegetables, and salads; allow for variations on dishes (how many different ways can you curry lamb? I don't know 'em all. I tend to vary it as the whim takes me); incorporate seasonal produce (scallops are winter and spring; berries and cherries and plums are summer; apples are autumn... garden vegetables vary with the weather and the temperature and how much energy I've put into planting and weeding); throw in snacks and dips and side-dishes; allow the occasional wallaby to appear on the table... desserts, random bits of baking (pretzels, sourdough, doughnuts, biscuits, cakes) - you get the picture.

People don't really still work around five dishes, do they? I can remember the staple diet my sister and I grew up on: stew, green salad, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti bolognese, breaded chicken or veal, pork chops, the occasional steak... umm... yeah. Actually, that was it. My mother didn't like cooking.

Ah, shit. The cat's brought a rabbit in. I'd better go deal with it or there'll be half a bunny and a lot of blood and guts on the floor in the morning.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Saturday Sanity Check

It's school holidays. It's a Saturday. Therefore I must be doing something tremendously stupid, right?

Oh, well done. Now, read on.

Today is the day of the long-awaited Lord Of The Rings Marathon. The older half the ju-jitsu class (plus or minus a few), my kids, the Viking Neighbour kids, me, various parents... and all three LOTR movies.

The first one is the extra-length extended Director's "Fuck You" cut. The next two are open to discussion, depending on how we're going.

We kick off in about an hour. There's popcorn. Drinks. Beer. Snacks. Blankets. Mattresses. Inflatable mattresses. Cloaks. Swords. Staffs. Beards. A fire for the fire-pit. A full bottle for the gas barbecue. Plenty of charcoal for the Weber. Sausages. Chicken. Bread rolls. Pork khofta. Bacon. Salads. Ice. Potatoes. Sweet potatoes. Mushrooms. Pumpkin. Also, there are plenty of eggs, and milk, and cream, and self-raising flour and sugar and syrup for a big Fluffy Pancake Sunday Breakfast.

Personally, I'm stoked. I used to do this kind of shit with my housemates and boon companions back in the college years, and I'm delighted to have an excuse to revisit the exercise. I'm sure Mr Barnes will recall the jollity of it all... Of course, since a large percentage of the participants are below legal boozing age, it will be a relatively sober event, but really, who gives a toss? This is going to be fun.

We rather expect it to finish at about 0100 or later, so there will be some overnighters. Therefore, as an added bonus, I propose to show the 1977 Ralph Bakshi animated version of "The Hobbit" as a waker-upper in the morning, for any survivors. Because more than too much is never quite enough.

Poor Natalie. Not only is she on-call this weekend, but she's caught the killer lung-death lurgi bronchitis from hell which has been scouring Scottsdale. I'm going to do my best to keep the action outside, and up in the moviezone, but oooh. I really wouldn't want to be in her shoes right about now...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Let's Go Fly A Kite

...and we did. Yesterday. It was a beautiful, sunny, clear spring day, and the kids have spent enough time inside already due to rain, illness, more rain, mother's illness, and rain.

I packed the three of 'em up, and we drove to the beach. The following photos are posted especially for Cat Sparks, who knows how to say the right thing when it's needed.

We spent a couple of hours watching the kite, and beachcombing. Then we took in a toasty-sandwich lunch at a local cafe and headed back.

Unfortunately, on the way back I began to develop my version of a migraine headache. I get a sharp pain about five centimetres back in the skull, behind one of my eyes. (It was the right, yesterday.)

It's a strange thing. The pain doesn't really seem that bad to me, but for some reason, I can't ignore it, and if I don't do something about it, it kind of takes over my entire perception of the world, and I get knocked flat.

I took a couple paracetamol and a couple ibuprofen. That's usually enough, if I get to it in time. Unfortunately, after an hour or so, things were worse. I had to put the kids on autopilot ("Godzilla movie, anybody?") and lay down in a darkened room.

Things didn't improve. The kids were great, but I was drifting in and out of a horrid, fitful sleep, and the pain behind my eye was like a clenched fist. Luckily, Natalie came home a bit early. I ran a bath and climbed in (I don't know why it helps, but it does) and she gave me some aspirin as well. I lay there in the bath for about an hour, and the tide of pain receded until I could more or less function again, but I was washed out - empty, exhausted.

Migraines are weird. I know that most people who get them are far worse off than me, though. Both my parents used to get them, and could be bedridden for forty-eight hours or more.

Anyway: Natalie made dinner. Luckily, I had made soup stock the previous day, and laid in a supply of vegetables, and we still had leftover chicken pieces. Took a lot of pressure off when I needed it.

The aftereffects of the migraine passed by about seven o'clock, which was handy. I went on to bake a chocolate cake (somebody's birthday today; not kids, but a friend) and to make a big batch of peppermint pillow candy (the birthday friend really, really likes peppermint.)

Today is also fine and sunny. It's still spring, still school holidays. I think the little barstewards need to go outside for a while...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Rites Of Spring


That was a large sort of weekend.

Spring has arrived, right? First of September, all that shit. Also, an anniversary for Natalie and I. Not wedding, but just getting together: nineteen years. Fuck, eh? Who knew?

By chance, the weekend was clear. And we had a three-year-old pile of deadfall timber, tree branches, old furniture, leftover timber from renovations, etc. Huuuuge forkin' pile of flammable stuff.

Not at all by chance, I had completed the basic work on the new fire-pit, near the playground. It's nice. Low, curved brick wall backed with earth, for sitting on. Gravelled surround. Nice, deep, gravel-lined pit, walled with fieldstone, lined with concrete pavers to protect the stone.

As you can see, the Ducks Were Lined Up.

Therefore, I brought out the Shotgun of Merriment, and shot the bastards down.

It wasn't really an organised thing. Just one of those neighbourly events, with added kids. (Total kid-count: eleven.) We started a nice little fire in the new pit, and toasted marshmallows and wieners. When the fire burned down appropriately, I slid a makeshift grill over the top, and cooked a mass of mushrooms and chicken and fish and chops and pork and sausages. Meanwhile, I took advantage of those concrete bricks (now thoroughly hot) and wrapped a very large number of vegetables in foil. Potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, and sweet corn. The vegetables roasted nicely between the coals and the hot bricks, while up above, the grill-specific comestibles toasted nicely, with plenty of smoky flavour. Yum!

In the background, there were kids. Kids with waterguns. Kids with nerfguns. Kids climbing shit. Kids with balloons. Kids chasing each other. Kids wrestling. There was also plenty of beer (a carton of Boag's St George) and cider, and wine brought by various neighbourly sorts.

Sometime around dark, I went down to the Gigantic Burnable Heap, and applied twenty litres of accelerant. For those who need to know: a fifty-fifty mix of diesel and petrol is recommended by those professionals I know who have to light backburn fires safely. I'm happy to say it worked very well. Your Mileage May Vary. I am Not Responsible for Any Stupidity You May Enact. Bear in mind that I live in Tasmania, and we've had a long, wet winter. There was zero chance of starting any unwanted fires... and despite that, we still had a nice quorum of sober, adult observers.

Natalie wasn't altogether impressed with my twenty-litre effort, mind you. She thought it was overkill. Heh. I did mention a long, wet, winter, didn't I? The fire burned down, and smouldered through the night, though we had a brief thunderstorm at 0500. It burned out sometime the next night, when yet another lot of rain arrived... and it turns out that maybe half the heap has burned. But all around the edges, where I put the accelerant to start it... nope. Still a hell of a lot of fuel there. I'm either going to have to repeat the process, or even hop on the tractor and see if I can scrape it together.

Either way: that was a very fine Spring Bonfire night. Here's hoping the rest of the season is as pleasant.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Silly New Project

Well, more than one, really. I'm sitting down, having a bit of a rest after landscaping around the new fire pit. I should probably take photos, shouldn't I? Nothing much to see, really. There's a hole in the ground with a stone wall lining it. And lining the circular stone wall is a wall of cement bricks, to keep the worst of the heat away from the fieldstone (which might, potentially, crack violently if overheated.)

The hole has about half a metre of gravel in the bottom of it, to keep rain from forming puddles. After the last couple weeks of weather, I'm pleased to say that it works very bloody well indeed for that job.

Near the hole is a nice, sitting-sized log. And today, I found some long-forgotten landscaping blocks and built a nice, curved, wall for sitting on. Then I took all the loose stone and earth, and piled it up behind my curved wall, and finally, I brought half a dozen barrows of mulch down to cover it all, and even it up.

It looks okay, actually. We'll probably have a fire in it tonight. It's a big fire night, actually -- we're going to try and burn off our three-year-old pile of old trees, timber, garden cuttings, etc. It's probably too wet to really go off, though. I'm going to have to go after it with the classic petrol/diesel mix the rangers use when they're setting up a controlled burn. I've got a twenty-litre container I can use for it, but it's a hell of a big pile, and I'll be surprised if it really burns. We'll probably have to do it two or three times.

Nevertheless, it will make for a nice evening, and there will be neighbours and many children, so no doubt it will all be fun. And yes, I'll try out the firepit, and if it works, we'll roast marshmallows and cook sausages and bacon and chops, and maybe throw in some potatoes. Hooray for springtime!

Now, as for the other silly project...

It's continuing to be difficult to find writing competitions or similar which will permit young Jake to enter. At eleven, he seems too young for most of them, which is just rude. I am, therefore, constantly looking out for stuff to entertain and challenge his love of writing.

Thus, when we were at our favourite second-hand bookstore last week and I found two old "Mandrake The Magician" comic collections, the germ of an idea settled. For those of you who don't know the redoubtable Mandrake, he was another creation from Lee Falk, who brought you the Phantom. And while it's purely a personal opinion, I feel that Mandrake (who is constantly 'gesturing hypnotically' and causing bad guys to hallucinate ridiculous crap) and his buddy Lothar (big, black, shaven-headed guy with a propensity for leopard-spot shirts) are possible the crappest ever comic-book action heroes.

They are, in a word, tragic.

Therefore, Jake and I have set upon them. I'm scanning the stories, page by page, and removing all text. Then he and I are reconstructing the stories, page for page. I get one page, he gets the next. The game is simple: whatever the storyline the previous player leaves behind, it is that which you must continue. And the story has to make some kind of sense.

It's not as easy as you might think. But it is fun. Thus, I direct interested parties to

You never know. It might bring a giggle or two.