Monday, November 25, 2013

A Lightning Raid On Melbourne


I owe a lot of people in Melbourne an apology. I was, in fact, in your city for part of the weekend. I probably didn't catch up to you. I'm sorry.

Here's how it was: about three weeks back, my publisher and friend Tehani noticed that none other than Cory Doctorow was running a masterclass for young writers at the state library in Melbourne. Cue an opportunity for Jake.

I mentioned it to Natalie. Didn't think there was much chance, though... it's a bloody difficult time of year. To my surprise, Natalie encouraged the idea. Nice!

Of course, someone had to travel with the lad. And it couldn't be Natalie, because SHE had to fly over to Melbourne on the Monday afternoon to stay until early Thursday, while Jake's gig took place on the Monday morning. So it was agreed I'd take the boy, and Natalie and I would do a complex exchange of prisoners on Monday evening when the boy and I got back to the airport in Launceston.

Then my buddy Rob Heather -- who works at the library -- noticed that Cory was also doing a masterclass on digital fiction for adult-types, and that the Sunday class had openings. Hmmm. Digital fiction? From Cory Doctorow? That sounds like something that an author with a new, digitally-distributed novel should get to, doesn't it?

So in the end, Jake and I flew into Melbourne, arriving at about ten. Rob picked us up at the airport, along with his wholly delightful daughter whom I had not previously met. (She's small, cute, clever, and very confident: a marvellous two-year-old.)

By midday, we were eating lunch in a very busy, very upmarket Italian cafe-thing somewhere mid-city. Apparently Geoffrey Rush was there as well, somewhere amidst the throng. I didn't have a sightline, so I can't say one way or the other. I can say the pizza was good.

After lunch, we had just a little time to check out Readings Book Store. I bought books. Too many books. Then Rob had to take off with his miniature daughter -- whereupon Master Barnes (who met us at the cafe with his son, who is a close friend of Jake's) took over. We dropped our bags at The Windsor (courtesy of and then they threw me out at the library, where I spent two hours paying attention to someone much better paid than I for doing this writing stuff.

Cory had some useful stuff to say, and at the urging of Tehani, I offloaded a copy of Path Of Night on him. He was very gracious about it. I can only hope he remembers to take it with him, and possibly even read it at some point... that would be handy, I expect.

Are you keeping track of time? I am. The masterclass finished a little after four pm. We dashed back to Chez Barnes, and watched the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary show -- which I found rather disappointing, I'm sorry to admit. And then we dashed back into the city for dinner at a Szechuan restaurant favoured by Barnes and myself... a dinner which was much, much less disappointing than the Doctor Who special.

I'm pretty sure that was the chili beef skewers -- that bowl full of dried chillies up there in the middle. Yes, it's as hot as it looks. But it tastes even better

Center of picture would be the spicy cumin pork ribs. With szechuan pepper. And chili. And cumin. Did I mention cumin?

And that would be the Chonqing Chicken, if I got the spelling. Again: it's every bit as hot as it looks. If you examine the picture closely, you will actually see bits of chicken amidst all the dried chillies and the sliced green onions... 

Jake ordered tea-smoked duck which was magnificent, and Barnes the Younger ordered chili prawns, which likewise did not disappoint. I grabbed a large bottle of Tsingtao, and we dove in: weeping, sweating, roaring, noses running... oh, yes. Damn.

Tasmania: it's a great place, but there's really not enough chili down here.

Jake and I made it back to the Windsor and flaked out.

Next morning, we did the breakfast thing at the hotel. Then we got a ride with a Somali cab-driver (who was amiable, and happy to talk about his experiences) to the library, and by 10.00 am Jake was busy listening to Cory Doctorow. Meanwhile, I wandered off with a lovely woman named Heike who had a couple of kids in the same masterclass. We spent half an hour in conversation until Embiggen Books opened... and at that point, our acquaintance kind of slid, because we were both  more interested in the books. (Although to be fair, Heike turned out to be a fine and interesting human being, and if I lived in Melbourne I would totally send Jake over to play with her kid and Barnes' kid, because it turned out that Heike's boy and Barnes' boy went to the same science club... and Melbourne was smaller than I expected.)

Anyway. I also got a phone call from my old friend Heather, who also works at the libary. She had just time to come over and check out Embiggen with me. (I really can't recommend that store enough, by the way. It is one of the coolest bookstores I've yet seen. Not completely balls-to-the-wall pop culture and geekery like Minotaur: just a remarkable selection of entertaining and challenging books in a small space. And a very, very helpful and co-operative owner/operator)

So Jake's gig finished about twenty past twelve. We caught a cab to Southern Cross station, hopped a bus for the airport, grabbed a really shitty lunch at an airport cafe, and made it back to Launceston around four thirty in the afternoon. At that point, Natalie met us at the airport... and there she stayed.  She'll be back on Thursday. Until then, I'm sole parent. And many, many thanks to Tehani who kept Genghis and the Mau-mau after the kiddie cricket last night... that meant I only had to cook for two when I got home.

And that was my big weekend in Melbourne, yeah. Oh, there was more. There always is. Cricket updates, for example. Did you know The Netherlands won by 29 runs? I certainly did. Oh yes. Barnes told me about eight times, I think.

But you get the picture. It wasn't quite planned out to the last minute, but there really wasn't any time loose. And as it is, Jake missed a day of school, and it turns out he missed some sort of booster injection thing, and we're missing bits of school uniforms and school ties, and there's a bass lesson today and then theatre and orchestra, and the white car is still under repair so I'm doing everything with Natalie's little blue piece of Ford, and tomorrow somehow I have to get the kids out of Launceston and back to Scottsdale in time for the ju-jitsu class, and...

... there's more writing to do too.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Discovered A Couple Of Old Letters To Teachers...

Sometimes I have to send letters to school, in order to help teachers deal with my offspring. Here are a couple of examples I found when I was clearing out old correspondence from my files.

Letter The First, Concerning An Unusual Lunch

Dear E---
No, the addition of cold porridge to Jake’s lunch is not an attempt to recreate some kind of Dickensian 19th century cruelty. As a matter of fact, Jake has conceived a violent dislike of sandwiches, and he insists that cold porridge is entirely preferable to the terrors of two slices of bread with Unknown Substances lurking fiendishly within.
Why this is so I cannot say. I mean, Jake eats pickled octopus with every evidence of delight. He enjoys olives, and pickled champignon mushrooms, and quite likes  curries. Yet the prospect of a sandwich — even the most innocuous of cheese-and-tomato sandwiches — appears to fill him with a kind of nameless dread sufficient to drive him into the arms of cold porridge.
Admittedly, I make very good porridge. Today’s sample is made from a muesli, and it’s full of all kinds of fruit, spiced with nutmeg, and sweetened with brown sugar. I ate a bowl myself this morning, and it was excellent. However, it was steaming hot at the time. I don’t mind cold porridge, but I doubt whether I’d choose a bowl of cold porridge over a nice cheesy sandwich. 
Still, there’s no accounting for taste.

Letter The Second, Concerning Dress Code Variations

Dear L---
Regrettably, Genghis' garb may not entirely meet desired standards for the day. The major reason for this is that Genghis chose to wait until this morning to indicate the relatively strict requirements for this event, leaving us less than no time to locate or acquire all the items he’s supposed to have. To a lesser degree, he lacks some of the items he’s asked for because we simply haven’t purchased them.
Sneakers, for instance. Genghis destroys sneakers. We got him some. They lasted an eyeblink. The elastic-sided boots he routinely wears not only look more ‘uniform’, but they last — often as much as six months!
Track-suit trousers are another example. For some reason, Genghis' track-suit trousers seem almost to have kneeholes pre-cut in them. Our best efforts at the stores never seem to change this. We get Genghis track-trousers. We inspect them carefully for holes. We come home. Suddenly they have holes in the knees. Genghis is wearing black corduroy trousers today. They look smart, and unlike every single set of track-trousers he owns, there are no holes in the knees. 
As for the green jumper... That’s probably a parental failing. I guess there must be some parents who can keep track of a kid’s green jumper through music lessons, sports sessions, regular school trips, and a never-ending cyclone of play sessions involving countless other children the same age, ALL of whom have remarkably similar green jumpers... but unfortunately, I can’t seem to do it. I don’t get much help from Genghis, either. He seems actively to loathe certain articles of clothing, taking every possible opportunity to abandon them, exchange them, annihilate them, or just lose them outright. 
Genghis does not seem to like his green jumpers. I think he fed his last one to a bear.
Yours sincerely

It's possible that things like this may go some way to explaining the occasionally troubled relationship between my family and various schools...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Update On The Cat

Well, poor old Toxo's results are back in, and overall, he's doing pretty well. The vet thinks it might be an idea to worm him, and possibly he's had some liver issues, but by and large he's pretty well.

The real problem is the big lump in his right upper jaw, which is distorting his head and putting pressure on his eye. The vet thought it was likly to be an SCC (squamous cell carcinoma), but it turns out that it's actually an ossifying fibroma. That's not so bad, as they don't spread throughout the body, and they're slow growing. But the downside is that the only fix is surgery, and frankly, it would take too much of his upper jaw and bone.

So: to combat his vomiting habit, we're going to give him what the vet calls a 'bland diet': boiled white fish, boiled chicken. And we'll worm him again, and generally make sure he's well looked after. But the fibroma will probably continue to grow, and it may cause his teeth to fall out, or even break his jaw. If either of those two things happen, his quality of life will plummet, and we'll have to see him off as kindly as possible.

Now, you can call me whatever you like -- but I absolutely can't stand the idea of putting the poor old bugger into the car (which he hates) and taking him down to the vet to be euthanased. Toxo has earned the right to die at home, at peace, among the family he's looked after for the last eleven years. Luckily, the vet understood what I was saying, and assured me they can do house calls for such a thing.

How long has the old fellow got? I don't know. We don't actually know how old he is. He was dumped up here sometime before Genghis was born, and rather forcibly adopted us. He had reached his full growth by that time, but his coat was still the soft and glossy fur of a young cat in its early prime. I'm guessing he was about four years old, judging from the look and condition of the other feral cat who adopted us later, who is definitely about four years old now.

That makes him about fifteen years old, which is respectable for a cat. Without the fibroma, he'd probably be good for another three or four years, but there's no telling what will happen now.

I'm just glad he won't have to suffer a trip to the vet when it's time to say good night.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Bitter End Of The Year

So, Sydney and the Blue Mountains and large chunks of NSW are in deep trouble from bushfire, earlier than ever before. Brisbane is breathless, hot and dry except when the hailstorms sweep down out of the west. Summer has come early to most of Australia, it would seem.

Not so much down here. It's been cool and rainy since... actually, I can't remember. March? April? We had a week or so of sunshine about ten days back, but mostly it's just been chilly, and damp.

I'm not complaining. The place is green. Stuff is growing everywhere. I don't have to water the strawberries we put in, nor the new figs, nor the new miniature peaches and nectarines. We had the usual blaze of flowers for spring - more every year, as the bulbs divide underground. So many flag irises!

But it's a tough time. Natalie's working double-time at the moment, putting together a bunch of complicated training modules for online use as well as doing doctor duty. And of course, the schools demand more of the kids at the end of the year. Why? I don't know. But it seems every week there's another performance, another show, another exam, another meeting. Back and forth, back and forth.

Genghis isn't helping. He's long wanted to play cricket seriously, and we finally found a cricket club where he could join. It's in Launceston, of course. I understand that there is one out here... but I'm damned if we've been able to make contact with them. So Genghis plays with South Launceston. They train Sundays, they play Monday afternoons from four-thirty to eight pm. Tuesday nights, Genghis rehearses with the Launceston Youth Theatre Ensemble for their upcoming Robin Hood. Also, Jake has orchestra at his school.

Wednesday evenings is ju-jitsu. Thursdays is for emergencies... like the book launch next week. When else were we going to fit it in? Friday nights are for orchestra. And all of these, except ju-jitsu, are in Launceston.

Back and forth, back and forth.

I took our beloved old cat Toxo to the vet this morning. Things aren't looking good. He doesn't keep much of his food down any more, and his arthritis is increasingly troublesome. The vet says that the lump alongside his jaw is very likely to be a cancer. He's being biopsied and blood-tested today. It was difficult enough to get him down there, so we'd better get it done as thoroughly as possible. Natalie will pick him up this afternoon after she drops the kids to ju-jitsu.... of course, I'll be staying down there to teach.

When I got back from dropping the cat off at the vet and chasing up handbills to advertise the book launch, I discovered there were about twenty cows in the paddock below the house. That wouldn't have bothered me, except they wanted to snack on my trees: apples, apricots, almonds... even figs. I chased the bastards down the hill a ways, then rang around to discover who was missing several tonnes of bovine. Then I darted back out and chased the fuckers away from my trees again. At last, the owners arrived and I chased the damned cows down the hill, and helped them cross the highway back to their home territory. I don't think I even lost any of my trees.

Aurora Energy still hasn't got back to us about our solar installation application. Fifteen working days, they said. They lied. No surprise: like every other electrical utility company, they're shit-scared of home solar, and they're heel-dragging to try and discourage people as far as possible. But we need that approval. There will be extensions happening in December/January, and we want the solar done at the same time, thus saving several thousand dollars. I'll phone Aurora tomorrow and explain the situation to them carefully and diplomatically, but I have no doubt we'll have to get down to threatening them with court action, so I've gotta get the ducks lined up in a row for that one.

Is that it? No, of course not. There's a multitude of things that need doing. The grounds need a really good cleanup, but I haven't time. Not right now. And I'm supposed to be at a lung clinic next week, but since I didn't manage to follow up after the lung testing regime (I was supposed to see my local GP, go on some kind of asthma medication... but there was all that vasectomy stuff, and I just didn't make the time) I'd better cancel and reschedule that. And then try to find time for the GP and the asthma programme, etc.

Also, there's the MA. Lots of work to be done there. I'll be seeing my prof in mid-December. Much progress is expected. Some has been made, but not enough. I really have to get moving on that.

Also there's the novel - or rather, the sequel. And a bunch of short pieces. And promotions. And... isn't Christmas looming? Oh, that's right: Genghis' birthday. Must organise that too.

The rye grass is coming in all over the place. I'm back on the anti-snot drugs. It's better than sneezing fits, sure, but I'm not enamoured of random drugs at the best of times. Twice a year: once during wattle-blossoming, once during the rye grass. But the wattles are in bloom for at least a month, and the rye-grass for two, or three. Pfeh.

I need to clear about two weeks on my schedule. Not chase kids. Not run back and forth to Launceston. I need to load up the trailer with piles of useless junk lying around here. I need to fell a bunch of wattle trees that have sprung up in the wrong areas. I need to cut up a lot of deadfalls for next year's firewood. I need to find several solid days for the MA, and for the novel, and for other writing.

I'm not going to get any of that stuff.

It's raining.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Be Racist If You Must. Just Don't Be A Lying Hypocrite

Lately, I'm seeing an argument regarding the so-called 'boat people' who are apparently threatening the Australian idyll with their evil tendency to attempt escaping lands full of war, chaos, death and poverty by showing up down here, uninvited. And it's an argument which, frankly, holds even less water than a refugee boat.

The line I'm talking about is the one where you hear some well-fed, well-clothed shit-for-brains living in a country where practically nobody carries guns say something like: "Oh, we can't let them turn up here in boats. It's just too dangerous. We can't let any of the boats through, because it will only encourage others to endanger themselves."

Hello? Listen, you pretentious dingbat -- just how much encouragement do you think these people need? Or let's put it another way: d'you know how much encouragement I'd need to flee if I lived in a place where sending my daughter to school might get acid thrown in her face, and the rest of her family shot? Do you know what it would take to encourage me to pack up my family and take my chances in a leaky boat to Australia if every day was a game of Russian Roulette with religious nutjobs and suicide bombs?

I'll give you a clue: nothing. That's right, you pointless, pontificating tool -- I'd take the ocean and the people smugglers in a heartbeat given the slightest chance of getting away from somewhere like Afghanistan, or Iraq.

This utter crap -- this vapid, patronising, imbecility -- is notably similar to a line of garbage spewed by a nervous Australian government maybe fifty, sixty years ago. "Oh, dear. We can't possibly let these people look after their children. They're not competent. We mustn't risk the children!"

If you have even the slightest hint of education, you'll know I'm referring to the debacle that led to the infamous Stolen Generation. And didn't that work out well for all concerned?

What really makes me want to power-puke when I hear this line is that inevitably, it's espoused by some beefy prick with a nice job, a nice car, a nice bank account... The kind of person who is smart enough to know that they can't get away with screaming "They'll take our jerrrbs!". The kind of person who is too afraid of the social consequences of admitting their real feelings, because nobody in their social set would ever say such a thing.

Spineless, nauseating, cowardly scum.

Don't hide behind a patronising lie. Don't waffle about the risks these boats represent. Don't try to convince me that you give even the ghost of a fuck for the well-being of these people -- because if you did, you'd realise at once that they're not stupid. These people risk the boats because staying where they are is a greater risk.

You're bad enough already. You're a coward, and a racist. Don't insult my intelligence by lying so very badly. There's no chance I'm ever going to believe you.  It just adds a pathetic, bleating hypocrisy to the list of things that make you a sad, miserable excuse for a human being.