Sunday, April 29, 2012

Whoa. Thank Cthulhu It's Monday!

Yeah. At least on Monday, all I really have to do is prep the kids for school and get them to the bus, handle laundry, cooking, and my writing and studying... then dash off about 1400 to grab a couple kids from school, drive into Launceston, teach a martial class at a school there, drive home again, prep dinner, get everyone through the evening, etc. Nothing too hairy there.

Weekends, though...

Okay. So Saturday, the stars aligned, and It Was Decided that the Flinthart family (most of it, anyhow) would make it's last sojourn to the unlamented Village Cinema in Launceston. You know the backstory there already: $20 for a ticket, a long drive either way, shitty popcorn, etc. But I'd promised the boys we's see The Avengers at the cinema. Further, we'd agreed to bring the Baggins sisters along for the ride, 'cos they're superhero/comics fans, and their parents aren't.

Of course, stuff like this doesn't go smoothly. First, Editormum mentioned how she'd love to see said film, but would have troubles doing so since her youngest -- Mister Rabies, we'll call him, age 2... not that he's rabid; I just need a nice covername 'cos he's not my kid and I haven't asked to include him by name in this space; and of course, he's as energetic and fierce as any two-year-old -- isn't really ready to sit through a whole film. Now, since Editormum's other two kids -- we'll call them Jack and Jill, for the hell of it -- are very friendly with the Flinthart offspring, and since Editormum herself is marvellously good company, I had a bit of a think.

I figured Natalie wouldn't want to see the film, and I was right. But I'd forgotten that young Jake was doing some scholarship tests that morning in Launceston. Ooh. Never mind. So the way it worked out was: Nat took Jake in early. Meanwhile, I did some shopping and some preparation. Then I loaded up with the other two kids, and young April Baggins (the other Baggins lass had to cancel, as did the friend who was also planning to come along...) and we headed in to the cinema.

Meanwhile, Editormum met with Natalie at the exam zone, and handed over young Mister Rabies, collecting Jake in exchange. Natalie immediately took off for home, because she had to be available for baby-delivering duty, if it became necessary, which wasn't too likely. So she looked after Mister Rabies while the rest of us went to the cinema.

That makes five kids, two adults, and the inbetween Ms Baggins. The Mau-Mau and Jill peeled off and sat together. Genghis and Jack sat in the row ahead of us, while Jake and April held up one end so they could argue comic stuff without annoying anyone else. And poor Editormum and I just kind of directed traffic. (Of which there was a lot. There was much requirement for bad popcorn. And it turns out young Jill has a TEENY TINY bladder, dammit. She climbed over us about four times during the film.)

Still, it was fun. The Avengers isn't quite classic Whedon, since he's working with other folks' properties and has to abide by the rules - but it was close. A Character (note the use of initial capitals) dies meaningfully. Lots of good lines crop up. The action is plentiful, and well-paced. The plot makes as much sense as it needs to, and all the main players get enough time at centre stage to give them a half-decent arc, which is pretty good going for a superhero flick.

So all up: fine, fun movie. Go and see it if you're a Whedon fan, or a fan of the comic-books, or if you're just looking for a lot of explodey superhero goodness onscreen. If I had a complaint, it would only be that yet again we don't get nearly enough of Scarlett Johanssen in the form-fitting Black Widow costume. Somebody, please: spin a movie off for her character, eh? And what the hell: could she have a secret identity who works as a lingerie model? Or am I asking too much, there?

There was one very nice surprise in the film: somebody finally looked comfortable playing 'The Hulk', and the big green guy actually did good stuff on screen. Mark Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner with quiet restraint and real humour, and Joss Whedon knows exactly how to make the most of the angry green smash machine. The  Hulk, and various interactions involving him, provided the standout funny parts of the movie, and gave Captain America the opportunity to deliver what was, for my money, the best line of the film. ("...and you, Hulk -- smash!")

So we left the cinema on a high, and gathered ourselves for the evening.

My plan was simple. I was going to light up the firepit, bring out the steel pizza oven thing, and cook a lot of yummy woodfired pizzas. I had plenty of home-made dough. I had the sauce all made up, with garlic and herbs and tomato paste and a bit of red wine and pepper, yep. It was all going to go to plan, this time.

Well... it turned cold and windy. And we had another visitor -- a Kirghiz doctor that Natalie had invited. That's okay; I was looking forward to chatting with her, yep. But with the wind, I wasn't sure how well the pizza plan would go, cooking over an open fire, more or less. So I turned on the electric oven as well, just to be sure. And that's when things really went left.

The kids were all outside, climbing around the play area in the dark with a couple of electric torches, having the time of their lives. (Made me all nostalgic, actually. I flashed back on all those times in my own childhood that I spent running around outside in the dark of the evening, playing with friends. Nice.) But right at that moment, the lights started dimming, and the oven made weird noises.

Brownout? Weird. I phoned the electrickery mob, and heard there were big outages to the east of us, under emergency repairs. Ooops. That wind: the first big winds of autumn are always tricky down here, what with all the trees growing like bastards over spring and summer.

So: cooking pizza indoors turned out to be no go. The oven just couldn't handle it. We turned off computers and the fridge, but the lights stayed on -- though they were dim -- and oddly, the TV and DVD kept on playing Finding Nemo (three times through!) for Mister Rabies. That was unexpected.

Happily, the plan of cooking on the fire worked out. I kept fetching in yummy pizzas, which Natalie cut up and distributed, and in the end, I think everybody got fed. Probably. It was hard to tell, since I was continually running in and out to the firepit.

Of course, things couldn't keep going that smoothly. Roundabout 2000 or so, the power went out altogether.   Naturally, that provided Genghis with the opportunity to save the day courtesy of his recent forays into candlemaking. It was only a pity that he made most of them scented. Pretty soon, the house was full of the perfume of mint, jasmine, and (apparently) something called Dragons Blood. Yep. Mmm.

At this point, Editormum gathered up her brood and called it a night, and fair enough, too. Somehow, in all the chaos, she gathered up the Mau-Mau as well, and the youngest Flinthart went off to a sleepover with her chum Jill. Not much after that, our Kirghiz friend left ( and I barely had the chance to learn more than one new Russian swear-word from her!). Finally, young Ms Baggins' father showed up to collect her, and we were more or less back to vaguely normal, except without electricity.

But then the power came back -- so Natalie went to bed, and the boys and I stayed up to watch Trollhunter.  Turns out that's a fun little film too: a sort of pseudo-documentary approach to Trolls in Norway. Definitely worth renting at some point.

So, that kind of set the tone for the weekend. And on Sunday, we had to collect the Mau-Mau, meaning another trek to Launceston, but that was cool. We hung out at Birchall's; bought some graphic novels. Genghis picked up a remote control helicopter for which he'd been yearning. Then we completely failed to find wrist-straps for the Wii, and came home so I could barbecue the hell out of a couple of chickens. Yay.

Today? Well, today the kids are off at school, for the moment. But it's cold and grey out there. I'm desperately trying to catch up on stuff, but I'm way behind, and it's troublesome. Much work to be done, yep. But there's the class to teach this afternoon, and then I shall cook nasi goreng.

And in other news? Well. Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the Rodney King riots in L.A - meaning that it was twenty years ago that I spent some very weird nights at a hostel in Venice Beach with a couple of my dearest friends. Strange times; strange too, that so much time has passed.

But that's not all. Nope. Today, as it happens, I have been married for eighteen years.

Frankly, I find that much more difficult to wrap my head around than the riots!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reasons I Hate Mobile Phones


I'm at the office of the primary school, filling in the roster of students leaving early. It's 1330, and the Mau-Mau is to come home for Swedish study. In my pocket, my mobile phone has just told me I have a message. Oh goody.

I dig it out. It's Natalie.

- When r u home?

I pause in the act of writing, and work my way through the bullshit menu system until I can text back:

- Two at latest

Note that I wrote 'two', not '2'. There is an algorithm for getting numbers into texts with my little Nokia piece-of-crap, but it's beyond obscure, and I can't recall it. Whatever it is, it's actually faster for my to type single digits in full.

Message sent, I finish filling out the sheet, and I go in pursuit of the Mau-Mau. Five minutes later, she and I are in the car-park, getting ready for the ten minute drive home... and then my pocket cuts loose with Dick Dale and the Delltones "Miserlou". Because that is my ringtone. For phone calls.

Why? Because I like that song. And I hate goddam phone calls. So it's nice to at least enjoy some small part of the process.

Anyway, I kill the car engine so I can hear better, and I say:


"It's me. (Natalie). Where are you?"

"I'm in the car park at school. Preparing to leave. With the Mau-mau. Is that okay?"

"Did you get my text?"

Now at this point I think but do not say: yes, I got your text. Hence my reply. Was that not obvious? Instead I say:

"Sure. And I replied. You didn't get my reply?"

"Not that text. The other text. The one that said I have to be at work by two."

"No. I didn't get that text. But I'm in the car park right now, with the Mau-mau, ready to come home."

(And I am carefully not saying: you do realise the only reason I'm not several kilometres up the road already is this phone call, right? Because I am not allowed to drive and talk on a mobile at the same time.)

"But I've got to be at work by two."

"Well, I'll leave right now if that's okay."

(And again, I am careful not to say: How is this conversation helping the situation in any way? The only thing keeping me here is this phone call. Did you miss the repetition of 'ready to leave'?)

"Well... no. Um. I've got to be there by two."

"Fine. Yes. I'll see you soon. Or not. Don't worry about me. I'll be home ten minutes after I get done with this call. If you have to leave sooner than that, I'm sure the boys will be safe for a few minutes."

(Which is as close as I have yet come to saying: Hey! Get off the phone so I can drive!)

Nat was about five km out of home when the Mau-Mau and I passed her. I was home ten to two... about ten minutes later, all told, than I would have been if I hadn't had the motherhumping mobile phone in my pocket.

The Internet I dig. Mobile phones are a vicious goddam imposition on the human species. And if you're cybernetically wedded to yours: sorry to hear that, and here's hoping for a swift recovery.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Going To Be An Interesting Day

It's time once again for the yearly Targa Tasmania road race. It's a big noise down here. Millions of dollars worth of cars, lots of drivers, occasional celebrities, and a week of inconvenient road stoppages, plus wall-to-wall news coverage. Bogan much, Tasmania?

Heh. That's a joke, by the way. Actually, I like the Targa. It's cool to watch the cars scream past our place up here on the hill, and we always give the kids the day off school because of the road blockage.

This year, though, they've changed things. Normally the race runs downhill past us, and the road is blocked from about 0730 through to 1300 or so. This time, they've switched directions. They're now going uphill, and the road is blocked from roughly 1200 to 1630 or so.

So: they've switched directions. That will make the course less familiar to frequent participants, which is probably what the race organisers are after. However, I wonder if they have taken into account local conditions.

For some reason, the roads people hereabouts have been resurfacing the highway in the last few days. There's gravel everywhere. It's not as bad as it was three days ago, when driving at more than 60kph was a guaranteed invite to skidding and drifting - but there's still a fair bit of gravel and loose stuff.

On top of that, the centrelines haven't been repainted yet. That should be interesting, no?

Let's add to all that the fact that the weather predictions are for 'drizzle, increasing'. So all up: gravelly, resurfaced road, no linemarking in stretches, light rain to slick everything, and they've reversed the direction of the race for the first time in its twenty year history.

Yep. I figure this one should be interesting.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Movies Again!

And why not?

The Mau-Mau has been taking an increasing interest in Blues music lately. I think the reason is the nifty bass-lines that Genghis is acquiring on his double bass. He loves him some walkin' blues, and the Mau-Mau is even more musical than he -- so she wanted to know if people ever sang blues.

Oh, my. What a fine, leading question.

Well, I poked through the collection. Unearthed some Robert Johnson, a bit of John Lee Hooker, some Howlin' Wolf, and some T-Bone Walker. For shits and giggles, I played her some George Thoroughgood too. And then I found the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers movie, and we put that on, and yeah, that was okay.

The day turned into one of those astonishingly warm and perfect autumn days, with the long golden light, like the longest, laziest afternoon you could imagine. Gorgeous. We decided we'd light up the firepit and scorch some sausages, and then finish up with a movie in the Loft. And of course, it made sense to dig out that old copy of The Blues Brothers.

The boys saw it with me when they were much younger, but it's been a while for all of us, and for the Mau-Mau, it was a first. She was entranced and delighted. And you know... that really is a hell of a good film. Watching it again with a critical eye, while appreciating the music -- sheeeit. That is a hot piece of work.

I suppose the underlying dynamic of the two well-practiced characters played by Aykroyd and Belushi probably made the film a bit of a no-brainer when it came to writing and performing. But still, there's a lot to love in that movie. The music is amazing, of course. And all those performers -- all those absolute legends, brought back to the screen for one more fling! Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown... the Mau-Mau got a very fast education there.

The humour is pretty special, too. That random storyline with Carrie Fisher trying to annihilate Jake and Elwood with guns, rocket launchers, flame-throwers... beautiful stuff, and of course Aykroyd and Belushi just dead-pan their way through the whole thing. The encounter with the Illinois Nazis... the Good Ole Boys band... the infamous Chez Paul restaurant sequence... the movie is stuffed with gems.

Great, memorable, quotable lines all over the place:

"How much for the weemin? Your weeemin! Sell them to me!"

"We're on a mission from God."

"Oh, we got both kinds. Country and Western!"

Then there's that lunatic car chase. All of them, actually. The one in the shopping mall near the beginning - that's a beauty. And the grand finale... hell, how many cars did they wipe out in that shot?

The whole thing is done with such gleeful overkill, such fine appreciation of the music and the characters; and all of it so beautifully carried off, from the first to the last. Absolutely a classic.

The kids loved it, yep. Genghis is now working on the bass-line to the Peter Gunn theme, and the Mau-Mau keeps singing "She Caught The Katy".

Gotta love that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

From Forgotten Gems To Polished Turds

And no: it doesn't matter how carefully you polish a turd. It's still a turd.

I got an invite to go out for a bit of a birthday thing with Chris Rattray, one of the Cool Shite team, and a boon buddy. Chris is edging his way up the ladder towards middle age, and I felt that moral support from someone a few rungs ahead of him was in order, so I agreed to go.

Tragically, Chris is a genre cinemophile -- and the only genre-type movie playing on the night of his birthday was Wrath Of The Titans. In 3 fucking D.

I'll digress a moment here, and point out that this is pretty much  the last time I'll actually go to the cinema. Prices had already risen to the point where cinema outings had become a very rare treat for the kids... but last night, I actually forked out $20.50 to see a movie. Yeah, sure... I got a pair of shoddy plastic goddam 3D glasses in that price, but honestly, who the fuck cares? That's more than the price of a sixpack of very drinkable, very decent premium Tasmanian beer, and I can tell you that very, very few movies are more entertaining than a sixpack these days. So yes: the price of a cinema ticket has officially climbed so high that I've pulled the plug. The boys and I will see The Avengers, because I promised them we would -- but that will be the last one.

The simple economics are too obvious, but I'll run through them once more for folks who haven't looked in here on the topic. First, I have to drive about fifty km to Launceston. Round-trip is about a hundred km, therefore. Costs about ten bucks in fuel, takes an over an hour to make the two-way trip because of the winding road. Second: for three kids and myself, the ticket price alone is now something like sixty or seventy dollars if the goddam film is in 3 fucking D, and not a whole lot less if it's shot in simple Sanityvision.  Third: the kids want popcorn... and it costs a fortune, and tastes like shit. Fourth: like as not, the cinema will be full of nimrods with mobile phones. Fifth: there will be at least twenty minutes of bullshit advertising. Sixth: parking will cost me about three bucks. Seventh: when you're in town for two hours for a film, plus another hour or so travel time, you have to expect to feed the kids, and a meal out will cost probably fifty bucks again.

And finally, chances are the movie will be shithouse anyway.

So, you know -- I'm a little saddened, but I've hit the point where I can't find any plausible reason to justify supporting the local cinema any farther. Not when we can wait a few months for the DVD version of the film and watch it in our loft with the dropdown screen and the digital projector and the home-made buttery popcorn and a sixpack of beer -- and still save a buttload of money on the deal, and even better, keep a copy of the film to see again if it's actually worth the effort.

It's tragic, in a way. Movies, cinemas, drive-in theatres - they were a big part of my childhood. They were a special treat, and there was a genuine excitement in going. But the social side of cinema has been dying in the arse since the advent of multiplexes, and frankly, I can't even justify the expense for my kids any more.

Cinema in the sense of going out to a movie centre is dead, folks. Maybe it's still on its feet right now, but that won't last. Diminishing returns and the simple cost of running those multiplexes will kill them off. The only ones that survive will be the ones smart enough to change their business model so they can sell an all-around experience, not just a crappy seat for yet another crappy movie.

I know what I really wish, though. I wish I could take my boys to see rough-and-ready Hong Kong action flicks at the old Chinatown Cinema in Fortitude Valley, like I did with my friends back in the early nineties, before the Fitzgerald Inquiry identified the place as a hotbed of drug dealing and shut it down. The movies were shite, of course, but we'd smuggle in a couple bottles of cheap booze plus mixers, buy a bunch of bizarro Chinese snacks, and then sit in the old upstairs balcony. Christ... there were times we laughed so fucking hard I don't know why nobody choked to death.

But that's what I  mean by an all-around experience, you see? We didn't really go for the movies, though they were a big ball of badly-dubbed furious kung-fun for sure, yeah. We went to sit up there in that decaying balcony, sneaking drinks, cheering for the good guys, booing the bad guys and making snarky comments about the fucking awful Engrish subtitles -- and it was worth every goddam cent we spent.

My kids aren't going to get that experience. Nor will I have the chance to do it again. Such is life -- right, Ned? Well, cinema had its run. It'll be interesting to see what comes next. I hope it's not just sitting alone in the house watching movies off the 'Net, though. We're already isolated enough. All the old social experiences have been commercialised or privatised or brutally organised or even flat out illegalised, and there's fuck-all left for people who want to get together and just kick on, have a good time. I really don't know where my kids are going to find the kind of bonding experiences that I found with my friends at college, and that makes me sad. I'm not prone to idealising the past, but the truth is that I just don't see how the fuck the poor bastards are going to have fun.

Oh, that's right. I was going to say something about Wrath Of The Titans, wasn't I? Well, it doesn't really rate much. Sam Worthington has a fluffy new hairdo. Rafe Fiennes and Liam Neeson are still fucking ridiculous, playing Greek gods. The CGI is groovier than ever. To be fair, I was expecting a dog of a movie, and I got one -- but where the last Titans flick was a scabrous, mangy, dysenteric stray mongrel lying in the gutter after being hit by a car... well, Wrath of the Titans is still a dog. But it's a dog with a home and a collar, at least. Even if that home is a half-wrecked caravan up on blocks in front of a burned-out Housing Commission hovel.

Nevertheless, there's no fucking way it's worth $20.50, and I'd urge any of you who really feel the need to see the sequel to the remake of a campish 80s film best known for Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion work to wait until you can rent it on DVD. Or even download it, if you've got the bandwidth.

But if you do -- invite a few friends, grab some booze, and take the piss out of the damned thing, eh? Because I can imagine few sadder, lonelier, more soul-destroyingly masturbatory acts than watching this fucking dog of a movie at home, by yourself.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Forgotten Gems: The Three Musketeers

I watched The Three Musketeers with the boys a couple weeks back.

No, not that stupid, frivolous bit of gear with Orlando Bloom as Buckingham and Mila Jovovich as Milady de Winter. Nor the squeaky-clean Disney-backed Brat Pack version that so many people seem to idolise, with Tim Curry chewing the scenery in red robes as Richelieu, and Oliver Platt/Charlie Sheen/Kiefer Sutherland hogging the limelight as the infamous swordslinging trio. Nor even the energetic but silly Gene Kelly version, with dance numbers between the duels.

No, the version we watched came out in 1973. The screenplay was written by George Macdonald Fraser, who famously wrote the Flashman books, amongst many other titles. And the cast list? You can't get more than two or three names in without stopping to say "Holy fuck, Batman, how did they shove so much awesome into a single movie?"

This is the movie which brought us a wide-eyed Michael York as an often-shirtless D'artagnan full of naive optimism and energy. A still-young, only-slightly-beefy Oliver Reed brings a real sense of menace and danger to the role of Athos. Christopher Lee, only twenty years after serving his country as a true killer -- a Commando -- in world war II is tragically underused as the one-eyed villain Rochefort. Richard Chamberlain remains the prettiest Aramis ever to reach the screen. And if you need a commanding presence for Richelieu, it's hard to figure somebody with more gravitas than Charlton Heston.

Eye candy? Well, I have to admit I wasn't much impressed by Faye Dunaway's version of Milady de Winter. But they needed someone for D'artagnan's paramour, the Queen's dressmaker Constance Bonacieux. Possibly, casting Raquel Welch at the height of her pneumatic pulchritude was overkill... but the producers knew that, and they pitched her as comedy relief, making her accident-prone and clumsy, resulting in occasional slapstick gold, as well as enough cleavage to disguise any number of plot holes or historical liberties.

Of course, if you're talking about comedy relief it's very hard to go past Spike Milligan, isn't it? He turns up as the aged landlord Bonacieux, paranoid and cuckolded husband to the ridiculously beautiful Constance. Milligan makes a meal of the role, endowing Bonacieux with his characteristically energetic and twitchy vein of madness. It's lovely to see  him on-screen, and particularly gorgeous to see Charlton Heston, utterly nonplussed as Richelieu, attempting to make sense of Milligan's slyly madcap goonishness.

The movie is bursting with vigor and energy. The fight sequences are frequent, and wonderfully choreographed. There's no sense of artificiality here, no staged elegance. Fighters grab scenery, throw bottles, and fence with a feeling of jittery energy which is more convincing than any amount of smoothly shot skill, though there's plenty of athleticism on display. More importantly, the fights have that quality of story-telling which makes them satisfying in their own right, adding to the plot as well as advancing it, building character through action. The scene in which the penniless musketeers stage a brawl in a tavern to cover their food-filching is worthy of Jackie Chan's finest moments - if not in sheer physical prowess, then at least for the effortless combination of comedy and action.

Another remarkable aspect of the film is its attention to historic elements. Not so much the broad strokes of history, no, but fine details: the busy laundry in the palace, where the women are hard at work while D'artagnan and the Musketeers create havoc while attempting to protect the Duke of Buckingham from various villains. Take an eye off the action, and you'll see a very serious effort to reconstruct scenes from the era, done so very carefully and yet with so little fanfare that they give the film a far deeper and richer texture than one has any right to expect. The costuming alone far outshines most modern efforts for verisimilitude and interest.

If the film fails at all, it is because too much respect was offered to Fraser's screenwriting. Those who know the Flashman books will be aware that Fraser loves to offer historical asides, and pursue all kinds of interesting side issues while his eponymous hero flounders caddishly about the landscape, from bed to bed, peril to peril. This version of The Musketeers is paced in similarly episodic fashion, without a real sense of the three-act structure, without the inevitable rising tension that we have come to expect as the immutable staple of action cinema. In short: it's not so much a true action film as a cinematic, historical romp. It's shot through with comedy which completely annihilates any suspense or tension that may have been expected. There's no question at any point as to whether the Musketeers are going to thwart the machinations of Richelieu and Milady de Winter. How could they possibly fail? They are, after all, the heroes of the piece, and as long as they are "all for one and one for all", no villain can be too vile, no danger too desperate, no woman too virtuous to defeat the Three Musketeers and the doughty D'artagnan.

The verdict? It's not a textbook film. The structure and the pacing are ineffective in strict cinematic terms. But who the hell comes to The Three Musketeers for pure cinema? The boys and I loved it. We cheered where we should, laughed frequently, and took great delight in appreciating performers like Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed at their finest.

Do yourself a favour. Grab a copy of this film. Roast a chicken or two, grab some fresh, crusty bread, and break the neck off a couple bottles of good, hearty red wine. Then settle down and enjoy a raucous, knockabout journey through a heroic history that never was... but really should have been.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Some Confusion As To The Nature Of The Holiday

It's Easter morning. We've had the traditional chocolate egg hunt. It went pretty well -- there are at least three of the bastards still out there in the wild somewhere, unfound, waiting to be devoured by vermin or found in several months when they've gone manky and horrid. It's like that every time. Every year I promise myself that I'll keep notes next time. I never remember.

It's a cool, dim, grey autumn morning. The rain comes and goes in sheets. The light is soft, with a gentle, sad quality that makes me feel good about being inside the house with my family. The kids are stuffing themselves on shoddy chocolate, and playing with a set of  UHF walkie-talkies I picked up a few years back. They're happy. Natalie is playing Plants vs Zombies on her iPad. She's happy too.

We also had the less traditional Easter Bastard Bunny visit. That happens when I make up some nice Easter baskets for the kids, with chocolate eggs and bunnies and stuff, and I put them in a cupboard awaiting The Day. But somehow, that swine E. Bunny turns up in the night and steals all the baskets. Fortunately, he generally leaves a series of cunning clues behind. This time he left a series of digital photos embedded as random files on Jake's computer. Each photo depicted some place around the house or property, and when the kids managed to figure out what the picture showed, they found a note giving them the next filename.

Ten photos or so later (and no end of running about) they located their baskets in a box up in the cinema-shed.

Jake in particular enjoyed himself. He played the 'hacker', while the Mau-Mau and Genghis did the legwork. They would charge off to each photo-site, and call in on the walkie-talkie to give Jake the next photo-filename. He would then find the file in his computer, and describe it to them so they could run off to the next location. Of course, sometimes the photos were a bit obscure (damn that swine Bunny anyway!) and they all had to cluster around the computer to figure it out... but by and large, they had a tremendous time.

Out of curiosity, once the dust had settled and chocolate cravings had been dealt with, I asked them as a group why we were celebrating the holiday. The replies came back in order, eldest to  youngest.

Jake: "Eostre. It's about Eostre."

Okay. Full marks to the boy for knowing about the ancient Roman goddess, often symbolised by a rabbit, who gave her name to the Easter holiday. But wait -- what about Genghis?

Genghis: "I thought it was something to do with Mithras."

Aha. Yes. Genghis remembers the discussion we had about the Roman Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of Rome -- and how he had to win the army over to make it work. And the army of Rome was pretty solidly Mithraist in those days, apparently. So the version of Christianity which Constantine accepted... well, it revolved around a solar-hero type, born at the winter solstice, son of a God of light, raising the dead; eating his flesh and drinking his blood was a sacrament that brought life eternal, etc. So -- points to Genghis as well.

The Mau-Mau? Oh, she really understands. "No, it's about Jesus who came back from being dead at Easter with chocolate eggs. And then at Christmas, there's a new Jesus."

Hmmm. Well, never mind.

Happy Eostre!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Things That Are Making Me Cranky Right Now

Flucloxacillin. Let's start there, shall we? It's supposed to be taken on an empty stomach, at six hourly intervals.  Now, while six or seven hours is a good night of sleep for me, let's think about it a little here. Especially, let us take into account the fact that I'm one of a minority of people who gets bloody awful stomach upsets from this noxious drug.

I took my first midnight tablet on Sunday night. At one in the morning, I woke up from a dream of being repeatedly stabbed in the belly to discover that apparently I'd accidentally ingested an Alien (from the movies) and it was trying to claw it's way out of my upper stomach sort of region.

One does not sleep through a personalised recreation of the infamous 'chestburster' sequence, I assure you. In fact, one gets up and goes after some milk and bicarb. Bleah.

I have since discovered that if I stay vertical around the time of swallowing the medication, the fallout is limited to minor pain and nausea, plus burpage. Much burpage.

Now, of course, the question is why I'd be taking this crap. And the answer is perplexing. Saturday night I noticed a knot in  my right calf, low down, on the inside. It felt like someone had kicked me fairly hard, or hit me with a stick, and there was a knot of bruising, waiting to resolve.

My lifestyle being what it is, I assumed that someone had in fact kicked me, or possibly hit me with a stick, and I simply hadn't noticed. For example: if somebody had thrown a good fore-arm block at me while I was attacking with a right-foot inside-line crescent kick, I could well have acquired such a bruise without noticing it for a couple days. These things happen.

However, by Sunday morning there was a reddened area on the skin of my calf, and the pain was spreading. Hmm. I called my deeply sympathetic wife to look it over. She declared that it might be a 'skin infection', or perhaps a little venous thrombosis.

I didn't like either of those options very much. There wasn't even a break in the skin, and even though I do sit on my butt and write a lot, I'm pretty active. There's a lot of getting up and wandering around, and gardening, and martial arts, and kids... I didn't figure myself for a DVT candidate.

Natalie told me that my dry skin doesn't present the best of infection barriers, though. Huh. Who knew? I've never been prone to this sort of thing. Anyhow - I drew a circle around the red blotch with a felt pen, and left it at that.

A couple hours later, down in Scottsdale with the kids, I looked at my leg and saw the redness had moved well past the margin of the ring I'd drawn. Couple that with the fact that the pain was making walking tricky, and I figured I'd better do something. Natalie sent me down to the hospital where a kind, if slightly vampiric, nurse checked my pulse (fine) blood pressure (fine) and my blood sugar (fine) while I sat in a chair and told the kids not to jump around on the gurney they'd commandeered.

My wife the doc breezed in and looked at the spot. She conferred with another doc. Yes, they decided. Skin infection. Antibiotics were in order.

Hence the appalling goddam flucloxacillin.

In the meantime the skin infection - cellulitis, apparently - is also making me cranky. The drugs are finally winding it back, but it's relinquishing its grip most reluctantly. In the meantime the area is wildly sensitive, and extremely painful to touch. Apparently this is one of the fun features of cellulitis. So much of my day is spent cursing, as I bang my leg, or shift my weight wrong, or even roll over in an unfortunate manner should I be in bed.

Ouch. Dammit.

Well, never mind. At least the drugs appear to be doing the job they're supposed to do. That's something for which to be grateful, in a world where drug-resistant bacteria are on the rise. The way the goddam stuff was spreading, I have a sneaking suspicion that without antibiotics, the answer would have involved anaesthetic and a bone-saw...

Monday, April 2, 2012

"True Bromance"? No. I Don't Think So.

I  had an interesting experience a while back. I cannot recall the details of the context, but a friend of mine used the word 'bromance' to lightly characterise a relationship between a couple of males. I can't remember whether they were fictional or real, or whatever.

I wasn't all that impressed, and I pointed out that I found the term dismissive, belittling, and potentially quite offensive.

My friend was genuinely surprised, and stated that she didn't find the term at all offensive.

I pointed out that as she's female, perhaps it wasn't up to her. That perhaps "mere girl talk" hadn't seemed offensive to men who dismissed women's speech in that fashion - and that there were hundreds of similar examples of language which had been used by men in a dismissive fashion; language which we are not permitted to use in that manner any more.

We left it there. I'm not sure how effectively I communicated what I had to say, but I had no particular desire to force the issue either. I value friendship far above political correctness.

What surprised me, at the time, was that the friend in question is highly literate, strongly feminist, and an excellent communicator -- and she chose to defend her position by saying that she didn't see the term as offensive.

Yes, I know. I caught her off guard with my reaction, and I expect she'd never thought about it before. But then, as a man I certainly don't get to use that excuse, do I? "Oh, I'm sorry. Do you find 'the little woman' a demeaning description of my wife? I don't see it as offensive."

And really... let's look at the word, shall we? It comes from this concept of "bro", which you'll find all over the Internet. It's used in an almost universally derogatory and dismissive fashion. It's used to suggest that the speaker is parodying a class of lowbrow, cliched fratboy in the USA. In NZ, it's exaggerated street-speak, more or less associated with the Kiwi equivalent of bogan-dom. Hell, it's clearly been a means of parodying and dismissing a certain kind of male speech ever since that YouTube video with the beached whale. (I'm beached, bro. Beached as!) It's used as parody in pub culture here in Oz. In fact, even my nine and eleven year old boys use it as dismissive parody to describe the moronic chest-thumpers in the schoolyard: Come at me, bro!

Men being what they are, I've seen it used between friends in an affectionate way. And in that sense, it frequently becomes self-parody. But then,  if I recall correctly, it's acceptable for black Americans to call each other 'nigger'. On the other hand, use the word from another background, and you're in a lot of trouble.

I'd argue that it's difficult for a thinking, careful person to say that "Bro" doesn't come loaded with negative, dismissive, derisory connotations. And I'd argue even harder that a thinking, careful feminist really ought to be aware of what it means to be on the wrong end of a gender-specific term of derision.

The second half of the word -- "romance". Nothing wrong there, right? Except the reason I was upset is that the relationship in question was one of those strong male friendships. The kind we used to call "mateship", except that John Howard chewed on the word until it was a mangled pulp that nobody could stand: you know what I mean.

So, romance: the online dictionaries supply a meaning which is essentially identical to 'fantasy' as we now understand it, in terms of 'imaginative genre'. But that's not how it's used in "bromance'. Nope. It's used in the modern sense of 'romantic love', as characterised by a vast body of modern 'romance' fiction, with overtones of life-bonding as a couple, and strong implications of sexual desire.

Combining those two ideas, you get a couple of lowbrow fratboy types looking longingly into one another's eyes with some kind of half-suppressed homosexual agenda. This is precisely how it is used: to belittle and potentially embarrass men into dragging their behaviour towards a socially acceptable norm. It's similar to "get a room!" It's a derogatory label applied to a friendship which is annoying someone else by intruding onto their life.

I find it fascinating. The whole encounter was eye-opening. It makes me ask questions.

First... while I understand that my friend didn't mean the term offensively and didn't expect it to be offensive, I think that implies she didn't really consider the term very carefully. Certainly, I know she'd likely be offended if I used a term implying that strong female friendships must have a lesbian subtext. After all -- wasn't that half the controversy behind the movie Thelma and Louise?

Is the problem that there's no 'official name' for the kind of friendships that men form, which can last a lifetime, and see them trust one another with their lives? I suppose that could be an issue. I know a lot of men who have those sorts of friendships.  I don't suppose it's a purely masculine characteristic, mind you. There's no official name for the female version of such a relationship either. But that doesn't mean I could carelessly start labelling them 'girlymances'. I can imagine the response if I did.

Then there are the other elements of the encounter. The sheer surprise that I'd actually spoken up, and voiced my feelings; surprise that I might be offended by such a widespread term. Well - the term's widespread, yes. But then, so were blonde jokes. Common usage doesn't matter if it's derogatory and dismissive: the word gay taught us that, didn't it?  Personally, I can't imagine using the term "bromance" - not unless I was deliberately insulting and dismissing the kind of self-important, self-involved, hyper-entitled man-children I see emerging from the most egregious sections of the disaster areas that American society has produced. And even then, I'd probably not be comfortable using the term. Friendship is still a real and valuable thing, even where it occurs between dolts.

And further: yes, I did speak up. But I didn't expect it to bring the conversation to a crashing halt. If I'd been on the other side of that exchange; if it had been I who unwittingly said something which came across offensively (and I have, on many occasions) I'd be inclined to take a step back and offer an apology. And I do recall that an apology was offered. But way, way down on my list of responses would be "Oh, I don't find the term offensive"  - because I've had it drummed into me that it isn't my opinion which counts on that issue.

Let's be clear: I've had that lesson taught to me so thoroughly I doubt I could even form the words in that situation.

If I didn't think the term was offensive, I'd apologise anyway, and start listening. And I might ask, as diplomatically as I could, how the term generated offense. And if the explanation was pure politically-correct bullshit, I'd nod, and make a note never to use the term in that company again. And yes, that has happened.  But equally, sometimes I've had people take five minutes and open my head up for me, show me how the assumptions inherent in my use of the term needed to be reconsidered. I've valued every one of those experiences, and I respect everyone who has ever taken the time to help set me straight.

I have tremendous respect for the friend I mention in this matter. If she's thought about the encounter since then, I expect she's probably mulled a few of these ideas over for herself, because she's very sharp, and very thoughtful. However, it's also possible that she's dismissed it as an awkward moment between two people operating off different definitions. It's not really a very important thing, after all.

But then... where does it stop?

There's a double handful or so, maybe more, of people out there who know that they could call on me at the worst of times, and I would answer without question. The majority of them are male, but there are a healthy number of women on that list. I respect all of them. I'd argue that a genuine definition of 'love' would have to incorporate the kind of feelings I hold for them. But between the women in question and myself, it's not a 'romance', whatever else it may be. And these women would rightly be insulted if they thought my respect and love for them was in some way predicated on romantic expectations. They earned the right to be my true friends, often through very difficult times together.

And I am proud of these friendships, every one: with the men, with the women alike. These are the people in whose company I would stand at the end of times, against all things. I count myself among the most fortunate of people that I have their good will.

It's not 'bromance'. That's the short of it.

The rest of it is too long, and way too complex. It has to do with ideas of power and responsibility. It has to do with questioning the old rules -- and remembering to question the new ones as well. In the meantime, I have to go and cook dinner. Simple stuff tonight: a version of chicken parmigiana and a salad. And if I can find some clean latex gloves, I'm going to wash them out, then fill them up with custard and tie them off, so my kids can take gross, wibbly custard-glove hands to school tomorrow in their lunch...