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!