Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Zealand: Land Of Contrasts, Or Just A Couple Of Islands Full Of 'Tards?

I went to see The Hobbit today. And I was very happy. I would not have broken my no-cinema vow for anything less, and Peter Jackson did not disappoint. I wondered how he was going to handle this set of films, for the book is considerably lighter and fluffier than LOTR.

He did it well. There are interesting character arcs, odd bits of backstory, and the not-really-told (in the books, that is) tale of The Necromancer of Dol Goldur is woven into the film. The scenery is still pretty. The action sequences are fine -- I loved the running battle through the Goblin Deeps under the Misty Mountains - and all your favourites are back. There's Old Bilbo (Ian Holm), a little Frodo, some Saruman (hooray!), some Elrond, some Galadriel, and a cheerfully eccentric Sylvester McCoy doing Radagast the Brown -- a wizard who rates about a line and a half in all of Tolkien's books put together.

I enjoyed myself. That was nice. And of course, I have our Kiwi brethren to thank for that, right?

And yet... and yet...

This is a picture of a Cadbury's Mighty Perky Nana bar.

And here is a photo of a mighty perky model, holding a Mighty Perky Nana Bar. Through the magic of Blogtography, you can even see what our model is thinking! (Hell of a camera, that Canon.)

 Here, our courageous (and perky) model prepares to take a bite of her Mighty Perky Nana Bar.

And what, pray tell, is a Mighty Perky Nana Bar? Well... there are ingredients. Yes. They are as follows: Milk Chocolate, wheat, glucose syrup, sugar, vegetable fat, milk solids (milk solids? Do they mean cheese?) cocoa mass, cocoa butter, dried egg white (oooh.) maltodextrin, cocoa powder (how is that not covered under "cocoa mass"?) food acid, emulsifiers, soya, lecithin, flavours, gelatine, colours... actually, that's not much help, is it? Maybe we can get a better idea by watching our model.

Chewy? Is that the 'milk solids'? Or is it the dried egg white? This is not a promising start. 

...aaaand those "flavours" start to kick in. Mmm! Doesn't our model look happy? Think perky, lass! Perky!

She has a verdict! Yes, faithful readers -- a Mighty Perky Nana Bar tastes yellow!

But perhaps that's not a good thing?

Our model is faced by an age-old dilemma...

I'm pretty sure those are not tears of joy. (I can promise you that our formerly perky model isn't even named Joy, so even that dodge is out.)

And that's where our saga ends. I didn't see any point in trying to photograph the gruesome aftermath. I will add only this:

(Did that work? If not, you can find the URL right here...  )

So, there you have it. On the one hand, Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings, and now The Hobbit. And on the other, Cadbury's Mighty Perky Nana Bar.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Season Of Fetishists?

That is a large chunk of the leg of a pig. I want you to keep that in mind as I continue.

We're having our hamday today. Natalie is on call for Xmas proper, so we're giving gifts and eating piggybits today. I have already been given a Fart Alarm (thanks to the Mau-mau) and a Bamix. I am quite pleased with the Bamix. My old whizzer-on-a-stick was... dangerous. The Bamix looks good.

I have also been given a magnetic knife rack, now duly mounted in the kitchen, and sporting a range of sharp stuff. Good.

The children have received Lego, and cricket stuff, and a small bag of goodies including chocolates, lollies and cheap toys. The Mau-mau got cricket pads and gloves and a Mau-mau sized bat all for herself, and is very pleased. She also got Wedding Barbie and Seriously Fuckin' Gay Ken (when did Ken get actual hair? Blonde, sort of Bieber-cut hair? How could Ken manage to be even gayer than he used to be? Not that being gay is a concern. Just that Ken is so friggin' camp, and yet Barbie doesn't seem to notice. She's all dressed up, ready to marry him. Don't do it, Barbie! He's living a lie!)

Jake has been given Dishonoured, and has spent much of the morning grumbling about being killed a lot. Genghis has a laser pen, and a glass chess set. Natalie has a copy of The Sapphires, and some really fine long-sleeved shirts with the Triforce bleach-printed on them. They look very cool.

Much cricket bowling and batting has been done. The newly-built practice nets are even now getting a sturdy workout. The time and effort invested in making them was well spent. It's heartening to see your kids outside, belting the shit out of a motley bunch of cricket-sized balls on a sunny summer afternoon.

Meanwhile, potatoes are frying fragrantly, and in the oven, that ham (now glazed with a mix of exciting sauces I found at the back of my fridge and wanted to get rid of) is heating up beautifully. There will be fresh salad, ham and potatoes and wine, and home-made ginger beer for the kids (yes, I laid down three bottles a couple days ago. They'll be perfect by now) and afterwards there will be lots of watermelon and raspberries.

All good.

Except for that ham.

I want to know something. I want to know what kind of peculiar mind puts a pig in fishnet stockings.

Because it's very, very disturbing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Summer? Oh. Time to run the tractor again.

Slashed the  paddock by the dojo shed last week. Did another hour and a half of slashing down below the berry patch today. Oh, and I put the heavy blade on the weed-cutter, and spent an hour downing the rank growth at the back of the firepit, and around the kids' play area. Ran the water pump. Put two loads of laundry through, brought a couple in, folded, put them away.

Summer. I've eaten so many cherries I think I'm going to be sick. Seriously. And raspberries. Fresh raspberries. Yeah. I haven't actually stuffed myself to paraplegia yet there, so when I'm done writing this, I reckon I'll head down the berry patch with a bucket and set to.

Summer is about cricket too, right? So on Friday, I took my two boys plus Dylan and Jacob down for the first day of the Sri Lanka Test in Hobart. Niiiice day. Cloudy and cool, but no rain. We packed plenty of food, drink and sunscreen, and enjoyed ourselves. Jacob declared he found watching the cricket a little boring (!) so he and Genghis took off for a walk around the grounds -- apparently ran into Ricky Ponting and got the obligatory handshake.

Genghis also got into a battle of wills with a balloon artiste. He and Jacob both got orange balloon parrots for their shoulders, but later, Genghis went back and asked for a fish. No go. An octopus? Nope. A shark? No! Maybe an oyster? NO!

One does not defeat Genghis so easily. He took his parrot off, and retwisted it into the shape of a fish. Then he took it back and showed it triumphantly to the balloon artistes -- who refused to speak with him from that point on. Game, set and match to Genghis, I think.

And what would summer cricket be without a little backyard action? Unfortunately, our back yard is hilly as all hell. The only really flat spot is between the garage and the shed, and there be glass windows thereabouts. Plus there's a long slope at the back for escaped balls to run away. Solution? Enter The Father -- armed with PVC piping, cable-ties (love those things!) some old bird netting, and a few star pickets. 

The new batting nets are getting a copious after-school workout at the moment. When I get a bit more time, I'll dig up a half-pitch, lay some concrete and a bit of astroturf, because young Genghis is getting serious about his cricket, and he's got a wicked fast-bowling action. In the meantime, it's a shitload of fun. 

So, that's about it for the moment. I'd better go and pick some raspberries, eh?

Monday, December 3, 2012

School What?

Is it just me, or is "school spirit" a crock of more than moderately runny shit?

I freely admit my own schooling was unorthodox. I did my first year or so in a two-room school taught by my mother. She mostly just pointed me at the school's library, and sat me near the grade 4 group, so I could listen in on their lessons while I read. That seemed to work. 

Seeing that it was a small school -- and in rural USA at that -- there wasn't a lot of fuss about school sports and competitions. We did our classwork. There was some music and art. And we got to play outside a lot, even in winter, with the snow more than a metre deep. In fact, that was when it was best!

So then I came to Australia, to rural far north Queensland. My parents punted me up a grade, so I eluded year two altogether. Grade three in Parramatta Primary School, Cairns, was puzzling. They tested my reading, decided I was somewhere above their testing limits (the tests ran to a reading age of 18. I remember stumbling over 'idiosyncrasy' and 'somnambulism' because I hadn't seen them before, but I finished the test. Apparently I wasn't supposed to be able to do that at my age. Who knew?) and then promptly put me into a reading group with a book that had four sentences and one picture per page. 

Happily, my teacher Mrs Trenfield quickly learned to let me sit down the back of the classroom with whichever novel I happened to be reading. (What can I say? It was the '70s. All that affirmative learning stuff had yet to be discovered. Back then, a kid who could read, write, and handle the appropriate level of math mostly got left alone if he knew how to keep quiet.) So all that was good... right up to my first school sports day.

Houses? What the fuck were/are "school houses"? I don't even remember the 'houses' at Parramatta, but I remember being arbitrarily divided into groups, asked to wear shirts of one primary colour or another, and to cheer frantically for the group to which you were more or less randomly assigned. 

I liked physical activities and games. I liked swimming. But I think it was there, at my first ever, School Interhouse Sports Day, that I gained my lifelong disinterest in organised competitive sports. Holy shit, what a moronic way to spend a beautiful day!

And so it went, through the next two schools. Up in Mareeba, they assigned me to "Topaz" house. The sports houses were all named for semiprecious stones of the Atherton tablelands. I remember Garnet, and Amethyst, and for some reason Emerald, which is neither semiprecious nor local to that area... but I guess that didn't bother them. 

Damned if I can remember my school house at the next primary school, back down on the coast. But I placed first in the high jump there, for my year. Yippee. Oh, and I had to wear a red T-shirt.

Now, I have to say that by and large, my few friends held the same views I did. None of this "school spirit" and "cheering for your house" shit seemed to matter. Even the competitions with other schools were really just an excuse to slide to the back of the crowd and talk amongst ourselves. It always seemed incredible that there were people taking the school cheers seriously, and getting wound up about which team scored more runs in cricket. (And I actually liked cricket. Still do. I even played it competitively at primary school. For a while.)

High school? Well, I went to a tiny little high school, now gone. It was small enough that there was no chance of intra-school sports competitions. But on Friday afternoons, we did the usual things: sailing, volleyball, table tennis, orienteering, swimming, etc. No coloured shirts. No "school houses". No "school spirit."

The first inkling I had that there were people for whom these ideas were important came at Uni of Queensland. At first, I thought the college lads I knew were joking when they talked up the inter-college rivalries. St Johns hated Cromwell. Cromwell hated United. Blah blah blah. But then, one day at a protest against a bunch of neofascist idiots who'd railroaded the student union, a big crowd of rugger-buggers in college sport uniforms turned up to support the babynazis.

I wasn't surprised, mind you. They were a lot of imbecilic mouthbreathers, those boys. The size of a house, with an IQ roughly matching their shoe sizes. They came from privileged backgrounds, with plenty of money and fine clothing, and lovely shiny cars their parents had bought for them. They were the kind of cretins who really believed that the union was better off without a radio station, an environment office, a women's office, or a women's rights library... and they turned up looking for trouble.

Unfortunately for them, those of us protesting outnumbered them about thirty to one. And so the college boys began to chant. However, we weren't stupid. For ever simple-minded chant they started, we'd add a few words on the end to alter the meaning, and quickly it began to sound as though everyone there was screaming for the union council to be chucked out. The college boys hated that, so they had a little get-together, and then with a look of excitement and determination, they all burst into a synchronised war-chant of considerable complexity. 

It went on for a while.

When it was done, we all laughed and applauded, and shamefaced, the college boys filtered away. 

To this day, I have no fucking idea what they thought they were doing. Did they imagine that their Mighty College Spirit would somehow intimidate all of us? Were they really so cretinous as to believe that their ability to chant in unison would somehow change the dynamic of the situation?

I don't know. But they chanted, and we laughed, and I got the impression their feelings were hurt.

So, here it is, many years later. My wife has firmly decided that Jake is going to Good School. (Read "expensive private school a forty-five minute drive from home".) I have laid my arguments out, and they have been rebuffed, so yep: Jake gets the almighty benefits of a Private School Education. Not only that, but the Mau-mau and Genghis are going too.

Not so much of a problem for the littler ones. Yet. But for Jake? Well, he already thinks the "school houses" system he encountered at Scottsdale was an utter farce. Now he's been assigned to a new 'school house' in his new school, and he's been given an official history of the new house, and he's been told it has a long and honourable tradition...

... and I'm playing all this with the straightest bat that I can. I have no desire to get in further trouble from Natalie. But what do I tell him? Honestly? 

I cannot bring myself to even try to convince him there is any form of useful, serious merit to these arbitrary divisions. I cannot even bring myself to argue with him when he tells me that it "just seems like a way the school is trying to divide the kids up against each other to control them." And I cannot explain to him why he is supposed to be proud of his uniform, and proud of his tie, and proud of his particular school. 

I can't do this, because I don't get it. I've never got it. Not at a school level. Not at a state level. Not at a national level, nor even a racial level. The divisions are arbitrary and random. Hello? The emperor's naked, folks!

I can see that this next year is going to present some intriguing challenges.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Price Ya Pay

...for carelessness. Yeah, I was stupid. I'm currently sitting here, typing this with one eye taped up and swollen, all cut about on the eyebrow and the eyelied.

It's my own damned fault. I wore a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes, and off my face, because it was an exquisite early summer's day here in Tasmania, and we were in City Park, Launceston to have a picnic with Tehani and Tansy and sundry others and all our many spawn. Crystal, beautiful skies. Maybe 23 degrees. Gorgeous weather. Families everywhere, people with kids, folks laughing and playing -- the whole bloody scene, like something out of the first ten minutes of a Yankee horror film.

We prepped for the picnic. Tansy brought many fine cakes. Tehani brought bread and chickens and food and blankets. I brought cheeses and pate and dips and biscuits and some very fine wines, and drinks for the kids and stuff, and we were well set. Also, the boys and I swung past K-Mart first, and picked up some basic cricketing gear. The boys needed a new bat and a couple balls, and we got a cheapo set with a smaller bat and some really basic wooden wickets for the Mau-mau.

And thus it was that there was Much Cricket In The Park. And I met Jo (again! Hi Jo!) and John, and Susan, and... dammit, I've forgotten his name, and many kids, and I exchanged greetings with Aurelia and Jemima, Finchy and Tansy, and played amiable cricket alongside David.

But. There I was wicket-keeping. Yep. And the ball got away from me. (Did I mention that Genghis, at nine-almost-ten has developed a truly wicked bowling action? Seriously. He's fast, and accurate, and it would be funny if he wasn't so damned serious about it all.) So I chased the ball.

Remember the hat? This is where it comes into play. The little oak tree had a low-hanging branch. I was chasing the ball. My peripheral vision did not warn me. Next thing I know, I could literally feel the skin of my eyebrow and eyelid tearing against the rough bark.

Owwww. Fuck.

Happily, there were nurses amongst the group, and a most excellent medical kit. And David has some experience with eyebrow wounds, so it got cleaned, and steri-stripped, while I sat there and bled. Grrr.

But let's add insult to injury, shall we? I drove back to Scottsdale, and stopped at the hospital just to have the field dressing checked up. Confirmed with the on-duty nurse that it probably wasn't worth a stitch, and the first aid was good. Had a bit more cleaning, and some iodine, and yippee skippy, time to go home.

Unpacked. Settled onto the couch with an icepack. The boys put something on the video player...

... and the shiny new Yamaha amplifier made a popping sound, and died in the arse. So now we're back to the fucking awful sound system on the TV, until I can get into town with the amplifier (which is still well in warranty) and kick the supplier into repairing or replacing the item.

I hate that shit. Goes neatly with my new headache.

Mind you, I had a good Friday evening. A visit from Toni Fish, which was overdue, and very well received. There was much of drinking and revelry, and I created a nifty new dessert in her honour. It's more or less a kind of parfait... but the adult version adds a range of shotglasses. And the first layer was a lime/ginger-syrup granita, for which the shotglass contained gold rum. The second layer was a frozen pineapple puree, which got blue curacao. The third layer was mango jelly, which got limoncello. The final layer was chocolate mousse, and that was accompanied by creme de menthe.

It's officially "Toni's Rainbow", and it's damned good eating. And when you're done, there's all the extra stuff in the shotglasses to start mixing up cocktails!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Insidiously Dull

On Friday, I did an un-Dad thing. I skipped the orchestra concert in which Nat and the kiddies were performing, in Launceston. I did so in favour of a few glasses of rum and lime, a bowl of popcorn, and a horror DVD.

To put it into perspective, though... last weekend with Natalie bedridden, me as carer/carrier, a barbecue/cinema/sleepover event, and a bunch of other stuff was a nightmare. And the week itself that followed wasn't easy. Natalie is on the mend, but her back still hurts, and she's sleeping poorly as a result. (Yes, we have a spiffy new mattress. Big bastard it is, too. And yes, one of my jobs for the week was to take the old, Queen-sized box spring mattress up into the Cinema Zone for its retirement usages. Access to the CZ is not easy. For those of you who've been there: yes, stuffing a gigantic fucking mattress up through that entrance was a bitch of a job. Genghis helped, though.)

Anyway. This weekend (the one that just happened) Natalie was on call. And so, of course, all parental missions fell to me. That included the Saturday morning trip to Grammar, in Launceston, so Jake could sit through his standardising tests so they know what to do with him next year. (I have a small bet with myself that says I will still have to go in for extensive talks with teachers and principals, just to get the same basic set of acknowledgements of the boy's abilities that we've got at the primary school. The bell-shaped curve sucks.)

Naturally, as Natalie was on call, the other two kids had to come with me as well. And that wasn't so good, because the standardising tests last three hours.

Thus we visited Chez Tehani in the interim. Genghis gets along quite well with Tehani's eldest, and the Mau-Mau plays very well with Tehani's daughter, so these visits are always a positive thing. Nice to have a bit of a chat, too, and see the new baby outside of the hospital setting. He seems a quiet, determined chap, much bent on getting a good feed, and filling his nappy.

So anyhow. Visitations, etc. And then the rest of the weekend as Chief Kid Wrangler. On those grounds, I decided that I could be permitted to skip one orchestra performance, and take a little quiet time on my own.

Tragically, the horror movie was a dud, in my opinion. Oh, sure: Insidious has all the requisite visuals, the spooky images, the sound-track, etc. But jeez... when are the Yanks going to get tired of making horror movies about the Happy Family Who Encounter Supernatural EEEvuls? It would appear to be their one and only take on horror -- at least, if you disregard the annoying subgenre of slash/gore porn horror.

Honestly? I no longer give a shit about these interchangeable, modular, wholly replaceable Happy American Families. From the Exorcist (at least the family was a bit dysfunctional) through Poltergeist down through Amityville, to the latest incarnation, they are all the fucking same, and the story is always the same, and I am bored with it. Bored bored bored bored bored.

Rule one of storytelling is to engage the audience with your characters. But how am I supposed to engage with these lego-brick whitebread Ken and Barbie clones? They're dull. They're absolutely beyond redemption. They exist on screen purely as symbolic representations of some kind of idealised suburban Elysium, to be pulled down and destroyed by the Creeping Doom of (Insert Wicked Vile Creature of Occult Origins Here.)  They are without any form of individuality or interest, and while the Shiny Happy People symbolism of it all may resonate with a thin slice of the vanishing American middle class, they nauseate me even as symbols. 

Is it any wonder I find myself cheering for the monster? Waiting (vainly) for horrible, bloodstained fates to befall these pathetic glove-puppets of a morally bankrupt society?

Here are some horror films I have more or less enjoyed in the last decade or so: I liked Sauna, a remarkably creepy Finnish period piece set at the end of a war between Russia and Sweden somewhere in the Renaissance. It was very well done. There was an interesting story going on, with interesting characters, and as elements of horror crept in and derailed everything, I found myself drawn into the development, and genuinely creeped out by what was happening to the characters.

I liked Ringu, out of Japan, and The Ring (the English-language remake) as well. I liked the way the story focused on the investigation of the horror, and I liked the suspense created by the seven-day deadline, and I liked the way the investigators were constantly struggling to free themselves from the curse, even as they tried to understand it. Most of all, I liked their absolutely immoral decisions at the end -- the course of action they took in order to try and free themselves. And of course, the excellent visuals were perfectly creepy.

I even liked Tarantino's Dusk Til Dawn. Not because I think it's a good film, but because Tarantino was at least trying something different. The complete switcheroo between suspenseful crime/hostage flick and balls-to-the-wall vampire action/horror was unexpected, and provoked a lot of laughter. And I went on to enjoy the over-the-top denouement, with all the lashings of silliness Tarantino applied.

I didn't much like the Blair Witch Project, though. It wasn't Happy Family Crumbling Under the Supernatural, but it was Happy Circle of Friends Crumbling Under The Supernatural. And I never bought the whole shaky-cam POV, and frankly, watching Americans blame each other and fight each other when placed under pressure just gives me the shits. I'm way too Australian for that to resonate with me -- and remember, Australia's the nation where they stopped making "Survivor", because the co-operation between the players made for dull TV. (It may be dull TV, but it's damned good sense in real life. Troubles? Rely on the people around you, and work together. It's your best chance of getting through. Owning lots of guns, dogs, and a carefully stocked bunker is a way distant second, I'm afraid.)

So. Now I've seen Insidious. And I'm guessing it will be another decade or so before I bother to revisit the genre. But between the rum and lime and the popcorn, it was a nice evening -- and I survived the weekend pretty well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yippee Skippy, The Weekend's Over.

Weekends aren't great from the POV of a stay-at-home writer dad. During the week, I'm cook and chauffeur, not to mention cleaner, launderer, handyman, tutor and martial arts teacher, but come the weekend, I'm expected to put up with all sorts of family shenanigans too.

Sometimes it's cool. Sometimes it doesn't work out so well.

The weekend that just past is a classic case in point. It was supposed to work like this: Friday afternoon, Natalie picks up the three kids plus one Double-Banger kid, and goes into Launceston for orchestra practice. Roundabout four thirty, I hop in the other car, go in after them, and bring all the kids back. Then I make dinner, maybe we watch a movie or play a game, and the kids go off to bed.

Saturday was supposed to be Scottsdale Show Day. And on top of that, Genghis had his official birthday party. (Yeah, a month early. The Mad Viking Neighbours are off to Darwin, and won't be here for his real birthday, so we set it up early.) Genghis opted for a firepit barbecue, and then a cinema night with lashings of popcorn and all three Indiana Jones flicks. (Great kid. I love him to pieces.)

Sunday was supposed to be quiet, with the Mau-mau being kidnapped down to her best friend's birthday party. And it was all going to end on a gentle, easy note.

Except that on Friday, Natalie's back stopped working. Herniated disc, most likely. How bad? Well, I've seen her weep with pain four times. Three of them, she was having a baby. She was laid out, immobile, unable even to turn herself over without enormous pain and effort.

Naturally, that put me into the driver's seat for the orchestra event. Luckily I'd prepared most of the evening meal beforehand, so I could just put the finishing touches in place on the nasi ayam when I got back.

But it also meant that the next morning, when Natalie was supposed to take Genghis and Jake and the Mau-mau down to the show... she couldn't. Leaving me to figure out how to manage all that, as well as prep the place for the epic evening to follow.

The boys pitched in when I asked, and cleaned up the cinema zone. I found someone else to take the Mau-mau down, and I agreed to do an extra pickup run to Scottsdale, equipped the boys with a mobile phone, and let them wander the Scottsdale Show on their own while I cooked, cleaned, and prepped.

I also contacted Genghis' two sleepover guests, and pointed out that I wasn't comfortable acting as sole adult to a bunch of kids while also being responsible for Natalie. It was bad enough we felt there was a chance she might have to go to the hospital, so what was I going to do if I had a couple extra small boys in tow? Happily, the boys were good about it, and their parents were even better. I was very grateful.

The barbecue went well enough, though I had to keep running food up to Natalie, etc. (Poor thing. I think she managed to watch two full seasons of "Buffy" over the course of Friday and Saturday.) There were presents, and singing, and cake, and water balloons, and marshmallows, and lots of cheerful kids. Then I cranked out the popcorn, and we settled in for the Jonesfest. That, too, was very cool.

Things got a little more challenging as stragglers turned up, but it worked itself out. The Baggins sisters were willing to give a lift to the only really problematic one, while in the end, we found enough bedding for the three Viking boys plus the Double-Banger lad to crash in the cinema-zone once the movies were done. (So yes, I wound up with four overnighter extras anyhow. But on the other hand, the Mau-mau stayed down at the Viking house, and the Viking lads are old enough to look after themselves. Plus, if worst came to worst, they could have simply walked home.)

Of course, that meant the nice, quiet Sunday didn't really eventuate. It rained, so there were three Viking lads, one Double-Banger boy, and my two all wandering about the house, while Natalie lay upstairs and watched still more "Buffy". I made a very large number of pancakes, and organised them into work teams to take care of the worst of the fallout from the previous evening.

Meanwhile, I stepped out into the light rain and put the finishing touches on the new quail enclosure. Oh? Did I not mention the whole quail thing? Somehow, Genghis got interested in quail, and convinced his mother that we should get some... and so, of course, I have been building a little enclosure. It's aviary wire up to roughly hip height, with fencing wire at the top of the aviary wire. The uprights are star pickets, except for the treated pine posts which allowed me to hang a wire-and-pine door.

But quail fly, don't they? And so I have also used poly-pipe to create curved, arching ribs over the top of the enclosure, and I have slung bird netting over all of that, clipping it to the aviary wire with plenty of overhang. Meanwhile, around the bottom of the aviary wire fence, I used still more bird mesh to create a "skirt" of wire that extends about 30cm from the fence itself, pinned down to the ground by wire loops. That keeps rabbits and wallabies from pushing/burrowing under the wire fencing, you see.

Later in the afternoon, Anna the Viking showed up with three young Coturnix quail. Genghis was suitably surprised and impressed. They are all duly named, and they seem comfortable enough in their spacious, grassy enclosure. They are studiously ignoring the zinc/steel aviary shed we put in there for shelter, preferring to hunker down in the long grass, making noises like disturbed crickets.

Quail. Hmm. Ooookay. The three chicks are unsexed, as yet. I hope to hell at least one is a female. Apparently I'm not allowed to slaughter these three, so if none of them starts laying eggs I'm going to be seriously pissed off.

So. That was my weekend. By the very end of it, Natalie had recovered to the point where she could get up and walk for brief intervals, with the help of a large stick. Meanwhile, the Viking hordes had returned home, and the Double-Banger had also disappeared, but we had the Mau-mau back, just to even things up.

No. I didn't get very much done over the weekend. Thank fuck they were back at school today...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poor Old Uncle Ben

So, the most recent Spiderman flick came out on DVD a while ago. And yes, we're still keeping our policy of saying "Screw you," to the Launceston cinemas, and watching the movies we want to see a bit later on. It's working well for us at this end. Who knows? Maybe the people behind the cinema business in Launceston will get the message, and find a way to make their venue interesting again, some day.

But probably not with movies like the Amazing (Astounding? Astonishing? Unlikely? Silly? Who the hell can remember which adjective they chose, anyway? Not me.) Spiderman.

I'm happy to admit it's a better film than the Raimi version. It's shinier. The FX are better. The main actor (whoever he was; they're all a bit interchangeable these days, aren't they?) was much more interesting than Dopey Maguire. And the lead female role was played by someone (whoever she was; they're all a bit interchangeable these days, aren't they?) with much more life, spark and personality than Kirsten Dunst.

(Dunst. Dunst. Dunst. Dunst. Damn. That's starting to remind me of a comic-book sound-effect, maybe. The sort of thing you might see in a panel where a surgeon throws a bit of unwanted organ-meat over his shoulder into a trash bin. Dunst!)

I liked the villain more too. Willem Dafoe's turn as Psycho Norman Osborne Green Goblin Bad Daddy was a bit too hard on the scenery for me. Yeah, I know. He was playing a comic-book villain. But he was in a movie, right? They're not the same thing, no matter what the fanboyz say. Peter Jackson knows what I'm talking about.

Whatever. The point is that even for my young boys, the movie was largely unfuckingnecessary. We lounged about, giggling over whatever silly elements of the story took our attention. We lampooned Dopey Maguire, and we dissed Dunst, and we did it over the top of the dialogue of the Unbelievable Spiderman and we didn't give a damn.

Because, of course, we knew exactly where the movie was going. At every point. Aside from the usual elements of signposting (oh noes! Peter's dad has been working on a Sekrit Formula!) it was just the same old, same old Indefatigable Spiderman story.

And we got bored.

Thus, when we saw Petey's parents onscreen, the boys and I shouted warnings: "Look out, Pete! Your parents are gonna disappear! You're gonna be an orphan, and you're gonna have to live with your Aunt May and your Uncle Ben! Look out!"

Of course, Petey paid us no heed, and his parents duly shuffled off, as directed.

Then there was Martin Sheen doing his Uncle Ben impression. And let's be fair: it was a good Uncle Ben impression. (They really pulled out the stops casting Aunt May and Uncle Ben, didn't they? I didn't even know the Flying Nun was still making movies!) But there he was, puffing and blowing and pontificating his way through his stand-in parent role, and instead of engendering sympathy, it just made the boys and I shout again: "Great responsibility!" we howled. "Tell him the bit about great power and great responsibility, Uncle Ben!"

Oddly, he ignored us. So we shouted the line for Peter to hear. But Pete ignored us too.

Worse still, when Uncle Ben wandered out into the night to get (what was it? Extra tampax for the Flying Nun? I can't remember) something from the shops, he ignored us again. "Look out, Uncle Ben," we shouted. "You're gonna get killed! Don't go down to the shops! There's a bad man with a gun!"

Peter, too. We called out to him as well: "Look out, Pete! Uncle Ben's gonna get killed by that bad man with a gun! You better stop him, Pete, or you're gonna be orphanised even more, and then you'll be all angsty and have to go around beating up criminals for the rest of your unnaturally prolonged teenagerhood!"

But did he listen? Nope. Not a word. Not a hint.

I am tremendously glad that we didn't bother seeing that one at the cinemas. I'm sure we would have annoyed the shit out of everyone else in the place... but unfortunately, taking the piss out of the tired, sad, predictable developments unfolding inevitably, mechanistically, fatalistically on the screen in front of us was the only way to have fun with the film.

If I was five years old, seeing the Unredeemable Spiderman for the first time, I'd want it to be that version of the movie, yep. But I'm not five. I saw all three of the previous Dopey Maguire versions, and so did the boys. So what if the suits at Sony wanted to hang onto the rights? I don't give a shit. It wasn't worth the effort.

Fuck all this "reboot" shit the studios are doing. There are a million fantastic amateur projects out there on the web. Hollywood is a frustrated dinosaur, screaming and stalking around the landscape trying to masturbate with hands too short to reach its wiener.

That's not what it's about any more.

Guess I won't be back to the cinemas any time soon.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Well, Yes. I've Been Busy.

So. Early in September, we took off on a "holiday". Let me give you just a touch more information there.

The first week of the 'holiday' saw us up in Cairns, in a couple rooms at a very shiny hotel. That's not my kind of holiday, but there was a reason: Natalie was facilitating a sizable medical conference... which left yours truly to be Parent In Charge for most of that week.

It could have been worse, sure. I caught up with old friends. Rented a car, cruised up and down the coast. We took a family day, rode the Kuranda Train to the top of the range, and came back down via the cable-car through the rainforest, all of which was pretty cool. But let's be honest here: I spent a lot of time shepherding three very temperate kids through the tropics, and they weren't too happy about that.

Once the medical conference finished, we spent a few days staying with my dad, up the back of the Atherton Tablelands, near Mareeba. That was pretty good too. I made father do the grampa thing, and take Genghis fishing in the little creek near his house. Father was sceptical, but I know enough about freshwater fishing up in that part of the world to have an edge. And so, armed with a small spool of line, an oversized suicide hook and a big lead sinker, they added a bit of raw chicken, and trundled down to sit on a log overlooking the creek. And sure enough: one very nice perch, which flabbergasted my father, and delighted Genghis beyond all measure. He had it for breakfast the next morning.

It was nice to catch up with the old chap, and my defacto stepmum, but of course, we were guests in their house. And that's not my kind of holiday either. Not complaining, though. It went well. We visited a friend of theirs who keeps reptiles as a hobby; the kids got to handle pythons and shingleback lizards, which was cool. We also took in a bird sanctuary at Kuranda, where excessively friendly parrots settled on us, and perplexed the tourists who couldn't figure out why me, my father, and the two boys were constantly surrounded by birds when other folks couldn't entice them down with bags of bird-treats. (Hint: if you want the birds to come to you, sit still, you idiots. If you scream and jump and flinch every time a bird settles on your shoulder, they rapidly conclude you're a bloody lunatic, and they avoid you afterwards.)

After that, we took the Sunlander train down to Brizneyland. That's about a thirty-six hour trip, covering something like 1800km. We took two sleeping cabins, figuring the kids had never done long-distance train stuff before. It was expensive, and interesting enough to do once. But never again. Small children in a small cabin pretty rapidly become problematic.

In Briz, I had plans to catch up with people... but it all went sideways. We stayed with Roz and Steve, which was pretty cool, but the Briz vista was broken up with a weekend trip across the border (another rented car!) to northern NSW for Natalie's sister's wedding, complete with two nights in some kind of rural retreat thingee.

The wedding was very cool. Nat's sister is a sweetie, and her new husband is a sharp individual. Their wedding vows were hilarious... he promised to get shit down off high shelves and open jars; she promised not to complain if he didn't pick up all his clothing; he promised to stop regarding the outdoors as his enemy; she promised to treat a weekend watching The West Wing with the same appreciation as hiking up a mountainside, etc.

Somehow I got dragooned into helping decorate the big barn where the reception was held. Being me, I promptly went to the local reject shop and spent a hundred bucks on weird shit: little garden gnomes, slightly naked fairies, a rubber chicken, lots of glow-bracelets, supersour lollies, and other peculiarities. I figured if I was going to be pressed into service, then I was going to have some fun while I was at it...

... but it backfired. The glow-bracelets were met with the greatest of delight. The rubber chicken was a centrepiece, eventually having its head bitten off by a drunken reveller and sacrificed on the midnight bonfire. The bride herself took home the plaster meerkat, and nobody noticed that some of the candy was terrifyingly sour. So, all up: an excellent jape for all concerned. Made me happy, and cheered up a bunch of others as well. Best of all, my wife and her stepmum both knew about it in advance, and were more than a little alarmed.

Then we went back to Briz. Stayed with Roz and Steve again, and then made the trip to my sister's place. And frankly, there just wasn't time to chase people down, and I regret that, but as you can see, with us staying on people's couches and attending weddings and stuff, it wasn't really a farking holiday at all.

I should also add the following: since early September, I have written ninety-eight thousand words of fiction. I have written a couple thousand words of very hardcore Byronesque poetry. I have written five thousand words of academic stuff. I have presented a paper on the progress of my MA. I have built a quail enclosure. I have graded twenty-odd ju-jitsu students over a two week period. I have also taken part in the judging of the Conflux writing competition, alongside two other fine writer-types.

This is, of course, on top of the usual routine for this part of the  year.  So yes. You're right. I've not been posting around here.

Did you miss the bit about ninety-eight thousand words of fiction in a little over two months? Go away! Stop hassling me!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, Remember

...better luck next time, mate.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Admittedly, I Don't Really Give A Shit

Have you ever considered the phrases "taking a shit", or "taking a dump"? How did we get around to thinking of faeces as something we 'take'? I mean, seriously... when I go into a toilet, I am definitely not planning on taking shit anywhere. In fact, I intend the opposite. I go to toilets to deliver shit, not take it.

The image is really disturbing. And we know it's disturbing, because we use the term "taking shit" when we speak of being abused by someone. In fact, we hope not to take any shit from anyone.

Nevertheless, we still go to the toilet to take a shit.

I think I'm going to start a campaign to undermine this bizarre bit of English. From now on, whenever anybody tells me they're about to "take a shit" or any variation thereof, I'm going to ask them what they're going to do with it, and where they plan to keep it once they've taken it. I may also ask them to make sure they don't take any of mine...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Love The Irish. Really.

Enjoy this musical video clip.

Or not. But it sure as hell made me laugh.

Monday, September 24, 2012

USAnian Politics

In theory, there are two men running for the Presidency of the USA this coming November. One is the incumbent, Barack Obama. Say what you will of the man; I don't live there, so I'll offer no opinion.

The other is a man called Mitt Romney. Again, I won't vouchsafe an opinion. But I will put this statement forward:

Mitt Romney has just publicly stated that he thinks passenger airliner windows should be able to roll down, in case of fire.

Don't take my word for it:  Source 1... Second Source.

I put to my two boys, aged 9 and 12, the question of whether or not passenger airliner windows should roll down in case of fire. Unsurprisingly, both boys looked absolutely horrified, and explained immediately that opening the windows of an airliner at operating height would result in horrific decompression. (They actually said "everyone and everything inside would be sucked out the window and there would be no air".)

All right. I know there's no lower limit on the IQ of persons running for public office. But... for the love of sanity, America, don't you think that perhaps there should be?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Games And Social Observations

Well, I've switched gaming styles with the boys. We were playing a sandbox-style adventure, with a broadly constructed world and plotlines generated internally, from the actions of the players. It's my preferred method of running a game: organic, and challenging, because you have to riff off what the players are doing to keep the whole story running neatly.

The problem is that it calls for regular sessions, so character development -- which is really important to the whole sandboxing thing -- can happen smoothly. And it's hard to account for players who have to miss the odd session. You're pretty much obliged to keep them in as NPCs for the session, which is less than satisfying.

But given that I'm short of time, and it's hard to get the group together regularly, I switched over to a new campaign setting yesterday, using a slightly varied form of the Savage Worlds rules.

I tested the waters a few months back by running a Paranoia one-off. The players enjoyed themselves tremendously, and so did I, so I figured we could get away with a more sessional sort of game play: like individual, module-style adventures placed against a developing, complex background. Savage Worlds lends itself to that kind of thing, I find. Combat works pretty quickly, and allows for plenty of improv and cinematic silliness, which kept everyone happy, and if you do a little groundwork beforehand, there's lots of role-playing opportunity.

I'm pretty happy with the new setting. I'm calling it "Imperium", and the players are operating in an alternate history year 1600, out of England. There are two crucial split-points from our world. One lies in the Spanish invasion of Peru and Mexico: the Spaniards got there, and discovered that the Aztecs had a direct link to their terrible, bloodthirsty gods... and around the world, strange and ancient things began to stir.

In Europe a young priest named Martin Luther decided that the moribund and corrupt Catholic Church couldn't deal with the threat of the hideous gods of the New World, and created his own version of the Faith, aimed at keeping to God's word properly. Meanwhile, the Spanish got their arses kicked in Mexico, but are making some headway with Peru -- a mixture of diplomacy and conquest, and even a certain amount of conversion to the renewed Christian faith.

In England, word of the Spanish discoveries caused a degree of fear and disbelief. But the other split-point from our world occurred back in the seventh century, at the Synod of Whitby. In the real world, the Celtic church fell into line with the Roman church, and the centre of Christian religion remained Roman. In the world of Imperium, the Celtic church told the Romans to go and fuck themselves, because they'd been given a secret Gospel which shed a different light on Jesus and the crucifixion. In fact, they believed Jesus had been sent as a peacemaker, to reconcile the Old Gods with new ways, and to preserve the natural order of the world... and so in the England of Imperium, the Christian church (such as it is) worships the King In Green, and they wear a little model of the crown of thorns, rather than the cross which was treacherously used to slaughter the peacemaker.

So, yes -- when word came to England of the Old Gods in South America, Henry VIII decided to revitalise the Church of the King in Green. He gave permission to the elders to pull down the stone monasteries around the country, and grow new tree-churches in their place. (Of course, some of the old stone buildings were kept for the sake of their beauty. But there are trees around them now.)  And when it became clear that the Spaniards were cautiously negotiating with the less fearsome forces in the New World, Henry and the elders of the Green Church went to the ancient sidhe mounds in Ireland and Scotland, and contacted allies of their own...

... so it's 1600. The Spaniards are at war with much of the world. The Roman church is fractured. There are rumours of strange happenings in India, in China, and in dark Africa. There's even talk of giants in the cold Northern lands. The Green Church is helping defend England under Good Queen Bess (did you know there were actually two more Spanish Armadas after the one famously trashed by Drake? Both of them were defeated by "bad weather". True historical fact there.)  but the situation is perilous...

...and so,  Sir Robert Cecil decides to revive an old idea that got shelved when the Queen's infamous spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, died back in 1590. With guidance from Sir Francis Bacon (the prototype of the modern scientist) and Magister John Dee (court astrologer to Elizabeth I, and a famous figure in the history of magic, etc) he sets out to establish a group to deal with... unnatural threats to the Crown. Think of it as an alt-universe "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", or even a kind of "Forsooth! Avengers!" thing, and you've got it.

It went very well. We had six players. One is Bacon's protege, a Weird Science guy. He's got a little piece of "electrum" from the Sidhe, and has used it to build a "lightning gun". He's all about gadgets and nifty stuff. Another is Dee's protege. She's also in the Weird Science category, but her particular schtick is potions. She's got a belt of grenades, another belt of smoke bombs... and a final bandolier of Alkahest bombs. (Alkahest was the alchemical name for the much sought-after "universal solvent". She has it in grenade form. Gotta love that.)

We also got a dour Germanic fighter-knight, a wild-man gamekeeper raised by wolves, a highly skilled Irish thief-girl, and a delusional linguistic genius notorious for being able to talk his way into, or out of, almost anything. It was a great mix, and it played out very well. I gave them a nice set-up: a peace envoy, coming from Spain's Phillip III to talk about ending the war, and a mysterious master assassin known as "The Eagle", come to London to murder the envoy and destroy the hopes of peace. Throw in a malevolently murderous red herring, and some suitably confounding clues, and it all went very well -- culminating in a desperate fight inside Whitehall Palace itself to save Queen Bess from a ravening vampire-assassin.

Both the Lightning Gun and the Alkahest Grenades came into play... but the assassin got close enough that Queen Bess had to take a hand in the matter herself, setting off the twin blunderbusses rigged underneath her gigantic ballgown in order to distract the vampire long enough for the Irregulars (known as Section H) to do their job in appropriately cinematic fashion.

Actually, the Section H thing triggered my own favourite improv line of the session. I just pulled "Section H" out of the blue, and of course, one of the players asked the inevitable: "What does that stand for?"

I was doing Sir Robert Cecil at that moment, so I gave the players my best British Nobleman sneer, and said: "My dear, it stands only for the fact that Sections A through G have already failed, and died."

I think a game master should be allowed to pat himself on the back for moments like that. The look on the players' faces was just lovely...

... meanwhile, there are other things cheering me up as well. Spring weather is dodgy, but warm, which makes Natalie happier. And best of all? Well, it turns out that Hip-Hop and Rap are in deep, deep trouble. I've never liked either of them. I'm not sure if they're separate entities, or just manifestations of the same deeply unmusical hazardous waste, but it doesn't matter: I'll be glad when they're consigned to the trash dumps of history, next to Disco and a host of other equally irritating crap.

So... why do I think Rap/Hop is in trouble? Oh, that's simple. When portly, middle-aged Korean pop-stars can turn out a worldwide pop phenomenon with Korean Rap -- well, it's hard to imagine self-respecting American gangstas staying with a trend that produced Gangnam Style.

And not before time!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Springy Stuff

Ahh, spring.

You spend all winter shuttered away. There's maybe nine hours of light in the day. It's dark. It's cold. It's wet. You don't go outside much. Illnesses travel around the community. Then suddenly, spring.

My children have gone from being near-catatonic (relatively speaking) to unstoppable balls of irritating activity. Leave them alone for ten minutes and they start wrestling, or playing soccer, or hurling javelins... and this is bad, because after the winter, they have the habit of being in the goddam house, which is really no place for javelin tournaments. (The cats hate it.)

Unfortunately, spring is also about the dodgiest of dodgy weather. Sunshine to rain to hail to sunshine again in the space of an hour. Or it can go the whole day, overcast and threatening, but the only rain you get is one or two brief showers which somehow unnaturally coincide with your every effort to send the children outside.

I do have a secret weapon, of course. When I need rain, I put the clean laundry on the line outside. When I need to send the kids outside, the laundry goes into the electrical-bill-inflating clothes-dryer. It's not a perfect system, but you'd only be surprised at how well it works if you were some kind of a believer in the dark magic of statistics, rather than a person like myself, who understands the innate, and personally-directed malice of the universe.

Today is one of those threateningly grey days. The weather radar map is inconclusive. The real question for the day is this: how much more Wii bowling with my kids can I withstand? 

It's been fun, I admit. For some reason, they've rediscovered Wii Sports, and we've been rebuilding our stock of little Mii avatars, since our old lot expired with the original Wii machine. We've built "The Question", the no-face, low-power superhero from DC comics. We've built a cyclops. A dinosaur-headed guy. A guy with a face that looks surprisingly like a dog's. We've build Jesus, Adolf Hitler, and Osama Bin Laden. We've also built a Samuel L Jackson avatar, and named him "Nick Furry". (He has two eyes, unfortunately. What was wrong with the designers of the Wii? Why can't you get a decent range of hats, eye-patches, fangs, whiskers, bizarre ears and excitingly gonzo hair for your little Mii avatars? This is unacceptable!)

Nevertheless, we're chafing a little.

Yesterday we took off; all of us. We drove across to Latrobe, and the Reliquaire -- that store of wonders. It was... damaging, as always. The Mau-mau now possesses a particularly foofy new dress in which to go to the ballet with her mother tonight. Genghis has a big brass padlock and key of antique style, and a freestanding cardboard cut-out Dalek nearly two metres tall. (I put it next to his bed last night while he slept. It was the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes this morning. I felt good about that.) And Jake has a lovely nib pen set, complete with inkwell, ink, multiple nibs, and a fine leatherbound journal in which to write.

We tried out a new restaurant on our way home through Launceston, on the recommendation of my friend the second-hand bookstore owner. Free plug for My Bookshop right here: this place is everything a second-hand bookstore should be. It's got good turnover, interesting stock, and pleasantly crowded premises. Best of all, the proprietor loves books and everything to do with them, and she's a big reader in speculative fiction. She's also articulate, funny, and loves nothing more than a chat about whatever it is either of us happens to be reading at the time. I try to get in there a couple times a month, and every now and again, I drop by with an embarrasingly large drop-box of books that have become surplus to requirements. She never complains.

Anyhow, it was the proprietor of said bookstore who directed me to Thai Buddha (great name!) in Charles St. I'm always interested in trying a Thai place, and this one is definitely the goods. It's a small place in a charming old building, but it's scrupulously clean, light and airy. The people who run it are lovely -- friendly and helpful without being in your face. Prices are good, but best of all, the food is top-notch.

It's not strict by-the-book Thai. The standout dish -- and it really was a standout -- from last night was a Chef's Special; a Thai-style salad built around Tasmanian smoked salmon, and shredded green apple. I was curious, so I gave it a try, and I was delighted.

The dish had all the right qualities for a Thai salad: the contrasting textures of the crunchy apple, and the creamy, melting smoked salmon. The dressing had the right notes of sweet and sour and salt -- but of course, neither smoked salmon nor green apple is anywhere near the list of canonical Thai ingredients. But who cares? The flavours married superbly. It was one of the most innovative and utterly delicious things I've eaten in a long time, and any chef who is prepared to extend the style of a classic cuisine to embrace signature produce from the particular region where he works has got a future.

If the restaurant has a flaw, it's that they're sparing with the chili. I like Thai cooking. I like fiery, furious chili. When the meal was done, and it was abundantly clear from the empty plates and happy expressions that we'd enjoyed it, I quietly asked the waitress if it might be possible, on a future visit, perhaps to have some thin-sliced raw chili on the side as a condiment.

Well, her face just lit up, and she apologetically explained that they'd learned to rein in the chili for local tastes, but they would be only too happy to cook extra chili into any dishes I requested. She looked so utterly delighted to find someone asking for chili that I almost laughed. I can understand it, though. Local tastes run to the blander end of the English and Scots spectrum, in regard to spices. I'm doing my best to educate people, but it's slow going.

All right. I'd better close up shop here. I've got a busy spring day in front of me. Adios!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spring Means Lemonade

Oddly, this year winter slammed on the brakes precisely at the right time, and on the dot of September first, it was noticeably spring. Much warmer. Sunnier. Breezier. Altogether nicer.

Right now, the kids are out playing some bastardised form of cricket in what passes for a back yard. They've been at it off and on all day, and much of yesterday. In fact, in the last two days they've spent more time outdoors than they have cumulatively in the three months preceding, I suspect.

Meanwhile, the lemon trees are loaded, and ripening frantically. It's good. Last year, some irritating beastie ate the rinds off all the ripe lemons while they were still on the trees, and I got very few lemons at all. I like lemons. If I'd found the beastie in question, I would probably have breached certain rules of wildlife protection...

This year, though, we have lemons. Oh, how we have lemons. I sent the Mau-Mau out to pick thirty ripe ones. She did so. I couldn't see any difference to the trees. Some of the lemons she'd picked had big, thick rinds, which I didn't want, so I sent her out to pick another twenty. I still can't see any difference to the trees.

I have done two things with all that lemony goodness. One is a large jar of preserved lemons. Not quite the "Moroccan Lemon" thing, but just as versatile and tasty. What I do is this: I get a bag of rock salt, a bag of hot red chilis, and a shitload of  lemons.

The lemons get individually halved and juiced. The skins and attached pulp are reserved. When I've got enough, I get a large jar. I start with a layer of rock salt. Then I put in a layer of lemon rinds. A sprinkling of rock salt. A layer of chilis. A sprinkling of rock salt. A layer of lemon rinds... and so forth. Crush the contents down. You want to shove as much as you can in there.

Once the jar is almost full, I pour boiling water over the contents until they are covered, then seal the jar and put it aside. A month or so later, the rinds and the chilis are both salt-pickled, and full of amazing flavour. Lemon rinds and chilis preserved in this fashion will last ages, and they are absolutely brilliant with seafood or chicken dishes, or chopped up and tossed through cous-cous, etc. Yum.

But what about that lemon juice, eh? Well, that becomes Flinthart's Very Special Excellent Lemonade. It works like this:

  • Take your bowl of lemon juice and pulp. Strain it and squeeze it to get the juice out. For this lemonade, you don't want floaty bits. Might seem contrary to expectations, but... trust me.
  • Once you've got all the juice you can extract, add caster sugar to taste. Make it sweeter than you really think is right, though, because you're going to use this like a kind of cordial/flavouring. Once you've sweetened it, stir in maybe a half-teaspoon of pure lemon oil (if you've got it) or good quality lemon essence (not nearly so nice as the lemon oil.)
  • Now: for each glass of lemonade, you'll need about four tablespoons of this strong, sweet, lemony wonderfulness. Add a few ice cubes, and then gently add plain soda water. Give it a quick stir, throw in a sprig of mint to make it look really groovy, and drink.

Seriously: the best lemonade that money cannot buy, right there.

And just between us grownups: adding a splash of good gin turns it into outright black magic.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Anyone Want A Surplus Billionaire?

Dear America

You're our ally, right? We've done lots of little military and trade favours for you, right? Electronic spying stations in the outback... handy air- and sea- bases in the South Pacific... support in Iraq... support in Afghanistan.... you know. Stuff like that.

Not that I'm saying you owe us anything, no. Not me. Actually, I'm just setting up to do you a favour here. Really!

See, I know how much you love billionaires over there. You just love the bastards, don't you? You collect 'em. You show 'em off. You like to gloat about how many you've got, and kind of, you know, hold them up so that everyone can look at 'em.

You even take them from other countries, sometimes. You lifted Rupert Murdoch off us, for example, and we're still truly grateful for that. (Thanks again, by the way. Rupert's a real turdsucker. Try and keep him occupied, will you? Have an election or something. Rupe just loves elections.)

You also took Mel Gibson, even though he's only a multi-multi-millionaire. Sure, you took him before he was widely identified as a crazy, foul-mouthed, wife-beating, drunken, God-freaking bigot, but you know, we're still grateful. For a while there, people thought of Mel as an Australian, and frankly if that was still going on, who knows what people would think of us, eh?

Mel Gibson. In case you'd forgotten what crazy looks like.

Now, here's the favour I want to do you, America. I want to enhance your billionaire collection. And it's not just any old billionaire this time. Not some little media magnate or shipping overlord, no. Actually, I want to give you no less than the world's richest woman.

Yeah. Let that one sink in, eh? The world's richest woman.

Come on, that's gotta be special, right? No way your collection is complete as long as Australia's got the world's richest woman. You want her. You need her. Morally, philosophically, in every way that counts, she's really yours, right? Right?

Okay, it's true. Gina Rinehart is uglier than the wrong end of a naked mole rat. But she's rich. Rich!

A naked mole rat. Not pretty, no. Nor is it rich. But I'd still rather sit next to it on a bus than Gina Rinehart.

And okay, she's a morally bankrupt anal fissure who inherited her wealth and has already gone to unconscionable (and apparently illegal!) lengths to prevent any of her offspring from inheriting their share. But she's rich, and that sort of thing goes over perfectly well in America, if you're rich enough.

Okay, yes, she's also a deranged right-wing nutter who makes the masters of the slave economy in your Old South look like kind, gentle, socialist philanthropists. But since when has that ever been a problem for you, America?

Gina Rinehart: more American than America. Come and get her!


**Edited to add: if anyone thinks I have a particular problem with Rinehart because of her gender... heh. That's nice. You go on thinking whatever you like. But before you start any kind of discussion with me on my sexist approach to fat bastard billionaires, watch this youtube video. Twice.**

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Quiet Word To Anyone Listening

Eleven years ago I moved to Tasmania because my wife wanted us to have kids. I felt then, as I do now, that Tasmania would be a useful place to raise children, and I said quite clearly to those who asked back then that I thought there were some difficult times coming to the mainland.

I didn't foresee the 9/11 shit, no. But I did foresee the decline in oil and energy availability, and I guessed at the economic problems which would result. I also guessed that Queensland was going to cop some real problems from a climate which was already quite obviously beginning to change, and I'd point out that in the last couple years, we've seen record-breaking storms up north, and unprecedented floods in the south. 

I'm not claiming any kind of prescience. I just saying that I read carefully from a wide variety of news sources, and I'm good at pattern recognition, and I've been prepared to make very big life-decisions for myself and my family based on these things. Decisions which have stood up very well for us.

Well. It's that time again, folks.

There's trouble ahead.

Now, I'm well set for this trouble - or as well as I can imagine, short of getting a decent solar installation up and running. But I'm going to talk here, briefly, because those of you who might not yet have discerned the pattern of what's coming might want to maybe think about what steps you want to take for yourselves.

Here's the problem: the world's biggest exporter of food, particularly staples like corn, grain and soybeans, has been in the grip of a once-in-a-century drought for several months now. That would be the USA, of course. There's already been a very significant uptick in basic food commodity prices, and there's more due.

On top of that, it turns out that America's biggest single highway is also badly fucked by this drought. I'm referring to the Mississippi river. Something like 60% of US grain is moved along that river, and God alone knows how much of the soybean crop. Moving the stuff by barge costs a third what it would by rail (if they could find enough rail capacity) and moving it by truck costs maybe six times the cost of barge travel. And again, the sheer volume of river carriage is such that there just aren't enough road-trucks to handle it.

Unfortunately, the river is now so low, and so narrow, that it just can't carry all those big barges. And nobody really knows what to do about it. There's a lot of crops in storage, and in those barges right now. From what I read, they've got maybe two weeks to shift them before they start to go bad.

This, obviously, is not good. But let's add a few things.

Turns out that the grain/corn belt in Europe is also drought-struck at the moment, though not as badly as the US. Badly enough to make things difficult, though.

Now, one more thing: according to CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, it looks as though the El Nino phenomenon is building up once more in the Indian Ocean. And of course, El Nino means drought in Australia -- particularly in the Victorian and NSW wheat-belt areas, probably in about a year's time. Maybe two. (Or not at all. El Nino is hard to predict. We might get lucky. Maybe.)

All of this is already on the table. Any further crises of any sort will only intensify the problems we're already going to face. It would be nice if we didn't get any unexpected floods, fires, tsunamis, crop blights, giant storms, etc... but that's not how the world works, is it? 

A few years ago the world had a food production/distribution crisis. (I should point out that there is a large body of evidence to support the very interesting argument that it was precisely that food crisis which sparked off a series of riots, uprisings, and outright rebellions throughout the Arab world.)  We got through it, but as a result, the world's ready food stores are low. We haven't got a big safety margin here.

I don't pretend to know what kind of ramifications will result from a really serious, world-wide shortfall in food production. I don't know where the wars and riots will start. I don't know which countries will be thrown into turmoil. I don't know which aspects of our global economy will be damaged or destroyed.

I do know this: over the next two years, it's going to be extremely hard to feed seven billion people. And that is, without question, going to cause some very big problems.

You might want to think about your plans fairly carefully. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Winning At Being Dad

Busy day today. We had one extra with us -- the eldest Double-Banger child -- and we headed into Launceston to run a bunch of errands. Some of those errands took us past the music store: notably a trip to clean and refurbish Genghis' cornet.

Bit of a side story there. Launceston has one pawn shop I know of, and the proprietor is an amiable, interesting fellow. He gets a lot of odd stock through, and Launceston being Launceston, some of it is interesting musical instruments. I mean, right now, hanging in the window, there's a bowl-back lute, a very large zither, and an interesting stringed instrument I don't even recognise. Plus lots of others.

Anyway, a while back I'd dropped in there, and what should they have but quite an old, silver-plated cornet. I was curious, and asked to see it. Turns out it's a Besson, Australian made, and (estimating from the serial number and some Internet research) made somewhere around 1910-1920. But it had been beautifully looked after, and Besson make damned good instruments... so I bought it. It was priced under $200, so it wasn't exactly a gamble, but now, a couple years later, Genghis has taken to the trumpet like a much smaller, much whiter, much more sober Miles Davis, and the investment is paying off. (Yes. He's still playing bass, and enjoying it. But why not two instruments?)

So, we were at the music shop, putting the cornet in for a cleaning and service. And the Mau-Mau... she noticed the ukeleles.

I fuckin' hate ukeleles. I acknowledge their increasing popularity. I acknowledge that the ones coming onto the market now are generally a lot better than the fuck-awful pieces of shit that haunted my youth. I acknowledge that many of the people who play them do so with a sense of irony that adds an extra layer to their enjoyment. But... I fuckin' hate ukeleles.

I was, therefore, less than impressed when Natalie acquiesced, and the Mau-Mau acquired a shiny new music-fucker. However: about five minutes later, in the car, the universe spun dizzily on its axis. The stars aligned... and lo! It was good to be dad.

My seven-year-old daughter was sitting in the back of the car, picking out her first tune on the ukelele. Plucking the tune purely by ear and memory, she did it quite clearly, with decent timing, and a great deal of determination.

Yes. It was Smoke On The Water, by Deep Purple.

That's it, folks. I. Have. Won.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Man Who Never Came Down

Neil Armstrong’s name shouldn’t be a household word. Not any more.

Don’t go Chernobyl on me yet. Pay attention to what I’m saying. Neil Armstrong, the quiet, modest, engineer and astronaut wasn’t quite 39 in June 1969 when he climbed into the Apollo 11 command module. He never made it down. Instead, a few days later, the First Man On The Moon made a triumphant return to Earth, where he remained an icon, a symbol to the very end of his days.

The First Man On The Moon was a hell of a guy; a hero to the world. But poor Neil: we sent him up there, all of us, hoping, dreaming, wishing, watching that shining ball in the sky at night. We sent him up there on a raging tower of hellfire barely controlled by instruments and systems so primitive they wouldn’t even be sufficient for a modern family car. We sent him up on a wing and a prayer, nobody knowing — least of all the man himself and his companions — whether we could even get him to the moon in one piece, let alone bring them back alive.

We sent three men up there. Two men touched down on the moon. One of them made it back. But Neil Armstrong got lost; marooned. Somehow, we replaced him with The First Man On The Moon.

Credit where it’s due: The First Man On The Moon played his part well. He was modest and humble, acting as an inspiration to people everywhere, both in public and in private. But you have to wonder what he gave up, don’t you? The actor Anthony Perkins sometimes spoke bitterly of his role in Psycho — the role that defined him forever in cinema. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy both publicly struggled against their better known incarnations. The First Man On The Moon never complained at all: he just kept being the role model, the hero, the vital symbol of the greatest of all human achievements. He was an amazing human being. It’s a shame that he had to be so amazing for so very long. But that wasn’t his fault. He did the job, and did it perfectly, and he deserves the greatest of respect for that.

But you and I, now...  in a very real sense,  everyone who looked up at the moon and thought of Armstrong and the others, the lonely footprints, the grainy black-and-white camera footage — we never let Neil Armstrong come back down. Thirty-nine years he lived, man and boy. The First Man On The Moon got forty-three.

There’s nothing wrong with recognising heroic actions. There’s nothing wrong with making a role model out of someone who behaves modestly and well, works with a team, and achieves something genuinely historic as a result. But it’s past time — long past! — that we asked what our hero, the First Man On The Moon might have wanted from us.

Who discovered Antarctica?

Give up? It’s a trick question anyhow. Nobody’s sure whether Cook’s expedition spotted it amongst all the ice in 1773. If they didn’t, then it was probably William Smith and Edward Bransfield in 1820, locating the Antarctic Peninsula.. At much the same time, a Russian called Fabian Gottlieb von Bellinghausen apparently became the first to see the Antarctic continent proper.

Now: who was the first to reach the South Pole?

Oh, that’s easy, right? Everybody knows it was Roald Amundsen, just ahead of Robert Scott’s doomed expedition.

Smith, Bransfield, von Bellinghausen; these are not household names, though they may well be the names of heroic men. Amundsen and Scott, though — why, they went to the South Pole!

Neil Armstrong went to the moon knowing it would change his life. But he neither wanted nor expected  to be the First Man On The Moon forever afterwards. Everything ever said or written about the man suggests he thought he was part of the beginning of something great, something wonderful. He made it as plain as possible: for him, the trip to the moon was just a small step for mankind, though it was a great leap for a single man.

Armstrong went to the moon expecting us to keep taking small steps. The First Man On The Moon spent his whole life wondering when we might remember how to walk again, if ever.

We put Neil Armstrong on the moon with the hopes and desires of a whole world, and then we left him there. We spent billions on wars, and movies and cars and mobile phones and more wars, and meanwhile the Saturn V programme went away, replaced by a shuttle fleet that was never even intended to go as far as the moon. When the shuttles got old and tired, we gave up even that much.

The first of our early mechanical probes has finally gone extra-solar. Launched thirty-five years ago, Voyager One has only just left the boundaries of our star system. In those thirty-five years, what have we done? Well, there are robots on Mars. Probes have visited most of the planets, the odd asteroid, and even the Sun.

But human beings?

We made Neil Armstrong into The First Man On The Moon. By this time, he should have been Neil Armstrong again. He should have been one of a list: the first person on Mars, the first to Venus, the first to the moons of Jupiter, and more. It might not yet be a long list, but at least he wouldn’t have been alone any more. He could have stopped being The First Man On The Moon, and he could have come home at last.

It’s too late for Neil Armstrong. He’s never coming home now. We can’t rescue him. We can only eulogise the First Man On The Moon, and admit our own failure in abandoning the man who went up there in the first place.

But that doesn’t have to be the end. It shouldn’t be the end. For the sake of Neil Armstrong, for the sake of our survival as a species, it must not be the end.

Eugene Cernan is seventy-eight years old. Chances are he’d give almost anything to live long enough that he can stop being the Last Man On The Moon.

For the sake Eugene Cernan; for the sake of the whole world; for the sake of every human being yet unborn: let’s go.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aargh. Ow.


Having lately read a couple of very interesting books from a guy called Rory Miller, I've thought long and hard about martial arts, and most importantly, the application and the instruction thereof. I'm not going into any depth or detail here, but I will say this, just once: if you practice any form of martial art for any reason, or if you are concerned in any way about the potential necessity for dealing with violence, you need to read both Facing Violence and Meditations On Violence by this guy. I'm not going to sell him to you. If you're interested, you can look him and his stuff up for yourself.

I will say this, though. As an instructor, these days you can steal nifty technique and methods of practice from the Internet with ease. (Okay, if you're a hardcore traditional style it can be challenging, sure. But for a ju-jitsu instructor trained on the concept that "we will borrow anything that works", YouTube and similar resources are just fucking brilliant.)

Further: once you've earned a real black belt, you should be able to pick up technique and ideas from just about anywhere, assess them, and integrate them with either your own stuff, or the broader range that you teach, if they're worth keeping. Technique is an ocean. You're a bucket. You use what you can carry.

However, the underlying ideas behind combat and conflict and self-defense are extremely important. If you haven't thought long and hard about violence and conflict, then you have no business teaching anything called a "martial art". And no: I don't care if your aikido or your tai chi is the most peaceful exercise on the planet. If you're teaching it as a "martial" art, then you have to accept and understand that it comes from, and is related to, the human tendency to violence.

I've thought about it. A great deal. And read about it. And trained, and practised, and watched and observed. But Rory Miller has also done these things, and frankly, he's done them better. The man writes with clinical accuracy and crystal clarity about what violence is, and how it happens, and what we can do about it. The books are very useful. They are also inexpensive, and not particularly long or complicated.

As a result of reading Miller's stuff, I've done two things. First, I've made it mandatory that everyone aiming at a higher-grade belt has to read the damned things. And second, I've added a section of serious, high-intensity drills to every class. Ugly, potentially painful stuff. Tonight: you've been knocked down on your face. Before you can think of getting up, an attacker armed with a long weapon like an axe (or similar; a hoe, a stick, whatever) moves in to beat the snot out of you wholesale.

Fun stuff. We used padded weapons instead of axes or sticks, but we worked up to full speed and power. There are going to be some bruised people out there in the morning. Including me.

Meanwhile: the weekend was full-on. The Mau-Mau had her official birthday party, complete with helium balloons and a Godzilla Pinata, courtesy of yours truly. Also, because we had a spare kid -- young Deadly D of the Double-Banger clan -- he got a birthday party too. That was fun: Genghis and I went down to the local cheap-ass store, and bought a load of ridiculous stuff to wrap up for him. He got a garden gnome, for instance. And a CD compilation of 70s disco hit music. And a Fun Wig, and a Ninja Sword Kit, and a Bob the Builder belt with tools, etc. All good fun.

It was an energetic and busy day, and when I get time, I'll put up a couple photos. Meanwhile, I'll simply note that Tehani and half her brood were along for the day, including young Miss G, who stayed the night before as a guest of the Mau-Mau.

Once the wee ones cleared away, the slightly older crew stuck around. We barbecued some food, and then I made a load of popcorn and we retired to the Cinema Zone, where we watched The Raid (Redemption)

Yeah, I'm back on the martial arts thing again, but really - this is an interesting film. It's made in Indonesia, with an Indonesian cast and crew (though the director is Welsh, oddly) and it's very cool. It's a martial arts/action flick, and the martial art featured is a high-intensity version of Silat, with an emphasis on the striking. The hero character Rama is played by a young guy called Iko Uwais, whom we first saw in "Merantau". He's got the chops, I must say. He's fast as hell, knows his martial arts... and scarily, he can even more or less act. He's a shitload more convincing than Jason Statham, for example.

One word of caution. The fight sequences in this film are fucking brutal. This is not a movie for impressionable youngsters. There is blood, death, and savagery. And the little guy who plays a character called "Mad Dog" is one of the sc

ariest bad-asses to show up on screen for a very, very long time.

He's interesting, actually. You watch actors like Jason Statham, Arnie or the rest onscreen trying to project that sense of badass, and mostly, they just don't. They're actors. They do impressions. The bottom line is: you can tell the difference. Occasionally, though, you get a trained guy put up on screen, told to be bad. Really bad.

Now, someone who thinks of themselves as an actor will still act. Jet Li, for example. He makes a very cool villain, and he can project a degree of menace. But the guy playing Mad Dog? I think he's just a fighter, who got drafted into the film for his physical abilities. And I think this because he can, without moving a muscle, without changing expression, suggest absolute, ice-cold, psychopathic murder. The only other person I've met who could do that was my old instructor, Shihan Mark Haseman. Step on the mat to spar with him, and he'd just kind of... chill. The light in his eyes would sort of go away, and he'd just... watch you. And you knew damned well that the only reason you were still breathing was because he'd decided it would be that way.

Same thing with the little guy in The Raid. Watch it yourself. You'll see. He makes Hugh Jackman's "Wolverine" look like something from The Wiggles.

Aha. A little research gave me a pocket bio from IMDB. Turns out I'm precisely on the money. Yahyan Ruhian (the actor) is a professional Silat instructor who was hired as a consultant to Merantau (the first film by the same crew) and wound up being cast because he could do the shit they needed, and they couldn't find anyone else who could. So, yeah: professonal man of violence asked to be a bad-ass. Beautiful.

I don't know what they're going to do with the main actor, Iko Uwais. I doubt there are a whole lot of roles for Indonesian hero-types in either Asian or USAnian movies, unfortunately. But there are plenty of roles out there for savage bastards, and I will be extremely surprised if you don't see Yahyan Ruhian cropping up in a raft of films from this point forward.

So, there you have it. I'm going to finish up now, have a shower, and go to bed. Big day of writing and stuff tomorrow...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Goodbye, Harry

Harry Harrison's official webpage says that he's gone.

If you don't know the name, I'm sorry for you. You've missed an awful lot of fun.

If you recognise the name - and most of you reading this will - you'll understand why I'm feeling a little downbeat.

I'll say only this: I really don't know what kind of person I'd have been if I hadn't discovered a trove of Stainless Steel Rat books when I was still back in primary school. I can't tell you  how many endless hours of toxic bullshit I wallpapered away with the adventures of Jim diGriz and the many others that Harry Harrison created.

No, I'm not arguing that he wrote immortal literature. But he had a hell of a sense of fun, and his priorities were in the right place, and his books made a thousand worlds of difference to me at a time when I desperately needed that escape.

I'm sorry I never got to say 'thanks' in person.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Musing On The Masters

One of the most interesting thing coming out of my Masters studies in creative writing is that I am learning just how... off-centre my expectations were. I figured okay: I'm a working writer. I want to refine my writing, and understand the process a bit better, and I'd like maybe a qualification that might give me some credibility if I want to do more teaching. (Which I probably will, as Jake goes on becoming a better, more sophisticated writer. The schools show no signs of being ready to handle someone who can read far better than most adults, and write narrative fiction with an advanced-adult level grasp of the technical usage of English. Ergo, he's gonna need a bit of outside guidance, and if I'm going to help him, I might as well see if I can find a way to convince the Education Department - or anyone in a similar position - to pay me to handle that kind of thing.)

The more reading I do, however, the more it becomes apparent that University English departments really aren't set up to handle this kind of thing. Look at it this way: if you want to write, you're doing it for an audience. Simple as that. And for most of us, that means we want to be published, and preferably, paid.

Now, every working writer will tell you immediately that if you're going to be published and paid, you have to know the audience you're writing for, you have to know what the marketplace is doing, and it sure as hell helps to know the publishers and the industry too. In other words, the creation of a novel isn't an isolated, writer-alone-in-the-ivory-tower experience, and if you try to treat it that way, you'll probably never get into print. (There's a word for people who write precisely what they like, and expect the audience to magically appear. It's a technical term. In the industry, we call them "wankers".)

I'm not saying you don't create, as a writer. I'm also not saying that you shouldn't write something that you actually enjoy writing. In fact, you pretty much have to enjoy it if it's going to be worth anything. If you hate writing the piece, believe me: your audience will know. The trick is to find a section of the market with which you can enjoyably engage. And so, my buddy Birmo writes explodey books that hover between SF and techno-thriller, and though I've never bothered to ask him, I'm absolutely certain he gets a kick out of doing it.

But the approach taken by English departments, which have been dominated by Literature studies for about a thousand years (You think I'm kidding. You're wrong. The first universities identified as such were founded around the beginning of the second millennium CE. They taught law, rhetoric -- and the study of the classic Greek and Latin literature.) is almost exactly the reverse. You can sum it up with a famous quote from Jacques Derrida: "There is only the text!"

Derrida, of course, is the famous post-modernist/deconstructionist French ur-masterbateur who has bestrode the literary theory scene like some kind of deranged colossus for the last forty years or so. And he has a point. When you're analysing a text, there's not a lot of value, ultimately, in trying to second-guess where it sits in what may be a very foreign cultural context. You'll never know exactly what the writer was thinking. (Even the writer doesn't. That's post-modernism for you!) You'll never know precisely what the work meant to its audience... and if it's old enough, (cave paintings, anyone?) you may know jack shit about the audience for which it was intended. So you study the text.

But that's pretty crippling, in a lot of ways. It's fine for constructing theories and analyses, but it's not much good for creating new work. And, well... isn't that what "creative writing" implies?

There is a very real problem here. It's like a hole in the middle of all the theory and research. Here I am, looking into the way in which Lit Theory of Genre can be used to enhance the production of genre-based fiction... and I'm told that if I want to look at the effects of the publishing industry -- well, that's not English. That's Publishing Studies. Oh, and that powerful community of committed and engaged people who have turned Steampunk from a bunch of books into a huge fan movement with music, costumes, bands, games, movies, conventions, etc? Ummm... no. We don't know what to say about them. If you tell us that they have an influence over the creation of new fiction in the genre... most likely we're probably going to have to cover our ears and go "la la la la la!" VERY VERY LOUDLY until you go away.

My Prof is one of the good guys. He acknowledges and recognises this gap, and he's encouraging me to find ways around it, and to reflect on its effect in my work. But it's getting challenging as hell. It would be nice if I'd just, say, decided to discuss changes in the symbolic meaning of the Catholic Church across Twentieth Century literature, and used that discourse to generate a piece of fiction of the appropriate length which re-constructed that symbolism in a different fashion. That would have been simple.

Also, it would have been fucking boring. So now I'm reading in genre theory, publishing studies, reception theory, and a whole bunch of other shit, and once again, the project is threatening to get Out Of Hand.

Must restrain myself. Do a PhD some other damned time.