Tuesday, September 18, 2007


On Monday I took the Noodle to get his plasters on both feet and lower legs. He chose blue. I took the wheelchair with us because we were catching public transport home and I wasn't sure how the Noodle would balance with plasters on both legs. He was fine; I had forgotten how much weaker he was last time he had a series of plasters on. He managed all day at school without any trouble yesterday.

But there we were in the city, with a kid and a wheelchair and a day off school. Noodle decided he wanted a haircut, and why not get some lunch and make a day of it. The wheelchair certainly makes days out with the Noodle more fun (in that it reduces whining to almost zero).

I felt a bit like I was on Candid Camera. There was a kid with both feet in plaster, being wheeled around, when we come to a set of steps. Out jumps the kid, clambers up the steps with a bit of help, waits while I lift the wheelchair up the steps, and in he hops. It didn't occur to Noodle that this was in any way unusual, but it caused me to snicker a little bit.

The oddest thing, though, was the way people suddenly started trying to touch the Noodle, to grab on to his arms and to pat him. This was a prelude to shouted questions of such startling originality as 'Are you having a nice day?' and 'Aren't you a dear little boy?'. He didn't look particularly dear to my eyes, since he spent most of the day laughing like a drain at pretending to run while I wheeled him as fast as I could, and then trying to grab the wheels of the chair to stop me propelling him into handbag shops. Amusing, yes. Dear, no.

And to the man who chased us down the street in order to continue patronising the Noodle and who creepily continued trying to grab hold of him even after he drew back, you can go to a nasty burning place. We had to cross the road and pretend to go into a shop to get away from him.

But to the other man on the train, thanks for the genuine interest, lovely chat and introduction to your friend. I hope she enjoyed her tea. I hope that my son meets plenty of people like the train man, and also learns to differentiate between weird attention and friendliness from strangers. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Brisbane Writers Festival

Today we went to the Brisbane Writers (no apostrophe) Festival. I think this is the first time we haven't tried to drag the Noodle along since the week before he was born, except for the time I chaired a session at the school's section last year, and that was only because it coincided with a kindy day. He spent today with his Nana instead, and we have carrot cakes to prove it.

The highlight (apart from being unemcumbered by a resentful and hot baby/toddler/pre-schooler) was Damon Galgut. I never read The Good Doctor, but I can tell you I will as soon as possible, which will be when we get to Canberra and unpack all the books. A pleasant side effect is the reduction of the 'I hate all my stuff' feelings I've been having all week as I pack it away into boxes. Wanting something out of one of the boxes reminds me that I will want all of the stuff again at some stage. But Damon Galgut was not only good because he's solved one of my domestic anxieties, oh no. He was serious, considered, thoughtful and reflective, without once being dull. The fellow interviewing him got a bit stuck on the difference between personal and political experience in novels (feminism must have passed him by I guess), and he also kept 'yepping', 'mm-hmming' and interrupting before Galgut was finished. This was irritating, so I ignored him by writing a novel in my head (which was great because I got to imagine killing off my teenage nemesis in a car crash, which is something I haven't done since I was actually a teenager. It was fun, I recommend it).

The launch of the David Unaipon winner for 2006 was also a highlight, because the book, Me, Antman and Fleabag, is so hilarious. The story about Aunty Pearlie, and the one about the mum and dad going on a luxury train trip are some of the funniest things I've ever read. I first heard Gayle Kennedy read them on Radio National earlier in the year, and my husband was laughing so hard that he almost had to pull over and park the car.

Otherwise I listened to my excellent poet friend Carmen Keates read some of her work, which was filled with the most unexpected and perfect metaphors. She is a metaphor queen, no doubt. I can't wait until she gets her work published.

This year I did not embarrass myself in front of any famous authors, and even when introduced to David Malouf I just said 'pleased to meet you' in a quiet and polite kind of voice, and smiled in a non-stalkerish kind of way. Other parents of 5-6 year old children who we have seen dragging their offspring to various festivals in recent years were noticeably absent, but the new mothers were happily breastfeeding their children into quiet submission, and were happily unaware of the years of writers' festival conflict yet to come into their lives.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hospital, head colds and home again, home again

The hospital visits were, mostly, positive. The OT was very pleased with the Noodle's typing, writing and drawing, and the doctor was amazed at how strong and resilient he has become. The physiotherapists were not quite so happy with his feet, though. He hasn't had his AFOs (ankle foot orthotics) for a month, and a lot of the flexibility has gone. So that means plasters again for a week to get the foot into the right position again for heel-down walking before the new AFOs are ready.

The Noodle's first AFOs only took the orthotist a few days to make. I realise now what a dizzying rush he must have been in to get them done so quickly, and how urgent it was that they were ready when his plasters came off. We didn't have a clue, back then, what the Noodle's rehabilitation would take, or how well he would recover. When we arrived back in Australia he couldn't walk more than a step or two, on absolute tip toes. To watch him getting around independently is as wonderful as it is possible to be while still wishing that he didn't have to be conscious of his stability and his fatigue all the time, like other kids at school.

The eye doctors were a little less satisfactory, but nothing unexpected really.

I'm sure there's a joke about seeing an orthoptist and and orthotist on the same day, but I can't think what it might be. Maybe it needs a third concept like op shop, optometrist, optimist or option anxiety. If I think of anything I'll keep you posted.

The Noodle was exhausted by the experience, though, and needed Wednesday off school. Now he has a head cold. Snot makes him more miserable than anything else. He can tough out all kinds of things, but a runny nose just brings him to tears.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

de ja what?

So here we are in the middle of packing up all our stuff again, for the seventh time in ten years. I have come to the unsurprising realisation that I hate all my stuff, and never wish to see it again. My husband keeps telling me not to throw things away. He caught me trying to toss my favourite pasta plates into the rubbish, so things are clearly not going to the usual plan.

I have, in the past, refused to let go of even my Fashion Plates, from when I was a wee kiddie of limited artistic ability but great ambition, so this is quite the turnaround.

The only thing that keeps me going (slowly) at stuffing things in boxes is the fun it might be opening them up in February when we find a place to live in Canberra. Although right now I am convinced that the gods of dramatic life-changes are frowning upon me and will return me to my rut with a kick in the rump for good measure.

I hope not.

Last time I moved interstate I packed up some stuff in some plastic bags, boarded the bus to Brisbane at Spencer Street Station in Melbourne, and found myself the cheapest, dumpiest house still standing to live in. That version left the Fashion Plates in storage for a long, long time, though. This time I'm hoping to be drawing up an 80s inspired fashion storm within months, at least.


Me: China Mieville short stories. They remind me of the husband's writing, although I am fairly sure they have not been holding an unofficial writers group from opposite sides of the planet. The one about the ball room at the thinly disguised IKEA store left me feeling badly spooked. That's what you get for hiding in the toilet to read when you should be packing boxes of crockery. Homewares will have their revenge, it seems.

Noodle: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. He was oddly unmoved by Fudge eating the turtle, although he is usually greatly distressed by this kind of thing (death, rather than ingestion of turtles. I'm not sure that he's experienced the ingestion of turtles before, either in reality or in fiction). I don't think I'm ever going to get to read him a whole book ever again. He sneakily wakes up early in the morning and finishes the whole novel after I've read one or two chapters out loud. It makes for peaceful mornings, but I was looking forward to serial reading for years to come. I borrowed Beezus and Ramona for him from the library. I suspect he's wishing he had a little brother or sister.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Medical days

Tomorrow is a big hospital visit day. First up, at 8am, we have a visit to a new eye doctor. The Noodle has a ptosis (droopy eyelid), Marcus-Gunn jaw wink syndrome (which means that when his jaw moves in certain ways one of his eyes winks in a neatly matching rhythm) and problems with elevation in the affected eye. Eye doctors find him the equivalent of a day out at the Ekka*.

However, they also cannot decide what to do about the various issues. He has his eye patched for two to four hours a day (honest guv'nor, it is two hours, it just seems shorter...). They intend to do surgery at some time, but we can't know when, since his underlying mitochondrial condition might be responsible, and also has implications for anaesthesia. So tomorrow we go to face another doctor to answer the same questions, to watch the Noodle put through the same tricks and to hear the same answers back. We have been most obliging to the various doctors, attending student learning sessions and exams, going along to grand rounds and being gawked at by students, residents and diverse other doctors at normal appointments. I am frankly getting the point of wondering why they bother with all this information sharing, since none of them quite seem sure what to do anyway. Oh yes, I know medicine is not precise, and I very much appreciate a doctor who can say 'I'm not sure' rather than a doctor who pretends to know what they are doing when they don't, but it would be nice to hear something definite(ly good).

The other appointment should be more fun (and yes, these kinds of things do alter your definition of what 'fun' might be). We'll be going to the rehabilitation clinic at the Other children's hospital. The rehabilitation doctors and the crew of physios, OTs and the guy who does the plastering and AFO building are amongt the best collection of health professionals we've come across. They got the Noodle walking again, with the help of the good people at Montrose Access of course. But they also just 'get' him as a human being. Unlike other specialists (and yes, eye doctors and neuroscience types, I am talking about you), these people always see the kids as real people, with desires and frustrations and families and so on. Actually, the best of the neuroscience types are pretty good here too, because tracking down neurology symptoms is a pretty wholistic kind of process. But the worst of them, my goodness. You'd think that they'd spent their entire youth locked away in a series of rooms thinking as hard as they could about abstract concepts without actually discussing anything other than medicine for about fifteen years.

But we haven't had a big hospital day for a few months. The only time I've been inside either of the hospitals recently has been to pick up the Noodle's supplements at the pharmacy. I'm grateful for the break, but I'm also grateful for the level of care and interest that doctors and nurses have given the Noodle over the past years. Mostly. Sometimes I really want to smack a few smartly on the cheek, in a metaphorical and not at all against the hospital-policy-on-violence kind of a way.

*The Ekka is the Brisbane version of an agricultural show with rides and exhibitions and so on. It takes place quite near one of the hospitals.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

life without books

Horrifyingly we are in the process of moving again. Since filling out my records for the new job I realise I have moved six times in the last ten years. We'll be doing it twice in the next six months, although only packing and unpacking once and storing the stuff in between times.

But this is the problem. All my books will be in boxes, stored in a shed somewhere where I am not.

How will I be able to maintain my personality when all my lovely books are hidden from view? How will I keep myself whole without walls of words to browse from? Oh yes, there's always the library. But those books, however full of satisfaction between their covers, are not mine. Any old person can invent themselves using those books. And library books run out so quickly; as soon as you get them home they are nearly finished (just like ice-cream, Belgian chocolate and conversation with old friends you haven't seen for a while).

This is starting to become a serious reason for buying a house. If all my books could live somewhere safe and secure (even without built-in-bookshelves) I think I could expend a lot more of my energy on such things as a career, writing, being a good mother and so on. This constant worrying about packing books into boxes, unpacking books out of boxes, and finding a house large enough to fit books, boxes and bookshelves into is absorbing too much of my power for good.

It's either that or get rid of the books, I suppose. Of course, if I hadn't spent all that money on books in the first place I'd probably have enough saved up to buy a house, even at current inflated prices. Or perhaps I could build a house out of books, and invite Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs to come and follow the project. I'm sure if I could only find a way of waterproofing the outside a house of books would be very comfortable, well insulated and quiet. The jackets could face inwards to make the process of interior design easy as well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A small good thing

So now you all know I like Raymond Carver.

The good thing is that we bought ourselves electric toothbrushes.

They really are better.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Teaching is bliss

Today I had one of those moments of teaching that you dream about after watching sentimental movies like Goodbye Mr Chips or that one with Robin Williams and the desks.

I'm lucky enough to be teaching undergraduate education students in a unit of Indigenous cultural studies, aimed at helping them embed Indigenous perspectives in their teaching practice. Some of the students have been having a hard time learning to understand that their cultural and historical perspective is not the only one. The responses have been varied. One young fellow ignores everything everyone else says and repeats the same comments every week. One women struggles away silently, but occasionally introduces a novel or insightful way of thinking. And today someone just got it. He changed his mind. He really, really did.

In his own time, he came to me to discuss his A- essay to ask how he could improve his work. He then discussed, with great insight, the topic of that assignment in a way that demonstrated that he'd continued to think about it after handing it in. In fact, if he'd included the analysis he made during our conversation in his submitted work he would certainly have been an A+.

After this moment he went on to talk about his developing views on Indigenous education and cross-cultural education, and how the material in the class was challenging his cultural assumptions. He talked about how one of the teachers from the school he went to said to him 'Indigenous studies, why would you want to do that?' and he had his first inkling of the institutionalised racism that Indigenous kids face, and the willingness of non-Indigenous kids and adults to let Indigenous people be invisible in the education system.

I've taught all kinds of things over the past few years. But this is the first time I feel like I've watched someone learn something that really matters. Something that will continue to matter for a long time after I say goodbye to him. And something, of course, that I could never really teach him. Something that he learned for himself. So I don't really have any reason for feeling as proud as I do, but I do!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

PoMo English title generator

It frightens me that many of these titles sound more plausible than my 'real' ex-thesis title (which was rather dull).

Find a thesis or paper topic for your favourite book.

Here are some samples:

Michelle Luchashenko Problematizing Autobiography: Too Flash and the Technologies of Bodies

  • Excavating the Female Authority in Michelle Luchashenko: Too Flash and Homoerotics

  • Poetics and Permeability in Too Flash: Michelle Luchashenko Norming Homosocial Seduction

  • Visioning, Perverting, Objectifying: Semiotics in Michelle Luchashenko and the Racist Withdrawal of Hybridity in Too Flash

  • The Silence of Self and the Suppressive in Michelle Luchashenko's Too Flash

    And you know what, I really could write a paper on any one of those topics. I really, really could.

    I stole this from Ancrene Wiseass, who could probably convince a much stronger personality than me that a undertaking a PhD is a stupid idea. But still she soldiers on, with dedication and flair.

    PS: My thesis title was Australian Indigenous children's literature: texts and publication. I couldn't think of a pun. Clearly not cut out to be a Dr.


    Over on the child_lit listserv (you have to subscribe to read it) there has been a goodly amount of discussion about trauma arising from books dealing with death, violence and so on. I’ve always been of the opinion that children can pretty much handle anything they read and that they self-censor. I know certainly that there are many aspects of books I read as a child that I just did not notice at all, but that are glaringly obvious to an adult reader. Things like sex, violence and a kind of underlying pessimism or even nastiness that can be present in some stories.

    I think I had this view because my life had pretty much been trauma-free. Oh, I’ve experienced grief and misery, but I’d never had an experience that left the film of the horror running through my mind at unattended moments. I’d never had that sense of carrying around the fear, grief, anxiety and not knowing what to do of the actual horrifying event itself, as if it was still happening every second.

    Knowing how reading something in a book (or a newspaper, or a blog) can bring back those feelings as immediately as if they were still happening is something rather different from experiencing the almost-delicious second-hand sorrow in a book. Having read Bridge to Terabithia as a child helped me to deal with the first loss of a friend at sixteen, but now every story about a sick child is about my child. Very few books manage to convey the helplessness, the rage and the bodily reality of watching your child struggle for life. But now my mind provides the accompanying track, and it’s hard to escape it.

    Going on twelve months after the Incident these episodes are diminishing. The intensity of the emotions is slipping back into something more appropriate to the past, and the feeling of being thrown back into the situation happens less often. But it’s still there, waiting. I can’t know what my son goes through, but I know his nightmares have been intense and frequent, although they are becoming less so now. And I know that even his imaginary nemesis, Numbers Man, has not been very helpful in dealing with his anger and sadness.

    None of this convinces me that censoring books for children is a good idea. No other person can ever understand another’s trauma entirely. But it does make me very wary of benign offers of bibliotherapy for children. Perhaps the child sees this as an attempt to drown them in their experiences. Perhaps it seems like punishment for something done wrong. I know the Noodle feels that he became ill because of something he did wrong, while I know that even the most evil person would not deserve what he went through.


    Me: Before I Die by Jenny Downham. The story is about a teenage girl dying of Leukemia. But before you think ‘sickly sentimental’ or ‘depressing’ let me say that it’s one of the best books about being a teenager, falling in love, dealing with conflicting expectations from family, having a younger brother, dealing with a complicated best friend and basically being alive that I’ve ever read. Plus it made me cry buckets, even more than the manipulative scene in The Last Battle where the bear dies, which makes me weep even as I feel sick.

    The Noodle: Pocket Dogs. Yes, it’s about dogs in pockets. Nice.

    Sunday, August 26, 2007

    'a life without taste'

    Germaine Greer has taken against fluffy toys. I suppose we should be grateful that the British were willing to trade a bunch of disaffected, violent criminals and revolutionaries in return for Germaine Greer and Clive James. Thank you Mother Britain.

    I have no 'taste', but I think blaming it on Bunny would be unkind. What would Bourdieu say?

    The Lost Dog

    A few weeks ago, in the grips of a terrible reading-malaise, I moaned that if only there were a new Michelle de Kretser novel I could love books again.

    Obligingly enough a reading copy appeared (thank you to the bookseller-husband) of de Kretser's brand new book, The Lost Dog. I'm hoping it's coming out in hardcover soon so I can put it on my 'favourite books' shelf.

    I wish I could write the review that the book deserves, but I fear I cannot. I love Michelle de Kretser's work, and embarrassed myself horribly at the Brisbane Writers Festival a few years ago by telling her precisely how much I adored The Hamilton Case, and how I thought it should win the Boooker Prize. I think I was telling her in some detail a theory about the use of blankets as a recurring symbol in her book as well. And she was gracious, kind and took time to consider what I was saying, although in retrospect it was clear that what she really wanted to do was have a cool drink and relax for a while.

    So I started the book with a feeling of anxiety - what if I didn't like it? What if I was expecting so much that I couldn't love it? No need for the worry though, by the time I'd finished I was resenting the fact that there is not a backlist of twenty more titles for me to go out and read immediately.

    The book is, naturally, about a lost dog. No one, however, can fit as much into a novel as de Kretser does. She never, ever, ever makes it feel overstuffed, though. If her books were furniture they would be hand made leather sofas that offer terrific back support, demand stroking and give the thrill of knowing that everyone else of your acquaintance is wildly envious.

    You can see the book record at Amazon. It's coming out next year apparently. No doubt someone capable of incisive, critical thought and writing filled with wild joy will then write a suitable review. I shall spend my time happily wallowing in the pleasure that such a book can bring, and perhaps go and read some Henry James short stories.

    Other Reading:
    Me - The Man Who Knew Too Much - a bio of Alan Turing which is a bit too breathless. Bios like this can only be tolerated if the reader is absolutely obsessed with the subject matter. I'm not sure I'll be able to stick with it all the way, despite my reasonable interest in Turing. The Noodle wishes to know how it is possible to know 'too much', since his mission is to find out everything possible in the world.

    Noodle - Groosham Grange again. He is still not over his Harry Potter inspired nightmares, so I am not sure if this is a great idea. However, the parents in this book are so divinely horrible that they make me look great by comparison, since I have never yet threatened to hang the Noodle by his heels in the refrigerator. I suspect that soon we will be owning the whole Naughtiest Girl series, and probably the Secret Seven as well.

    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    networking for community.

    Stephanie Trigg has posted about how postgrads and early career researchers can become 'part of the conversation' in her blog Humanities Researcher. As a person who is quite timid about approaching other students, let alone senior-ish academics, her advice seems good to me. I enjoy the community building and conversational aspects of 'networking' very much (especially if scones are also involved) but I've never felt comfortable with the notion of grooming contacts for future benefit. That does not seem to me to be greatly in the spirit of learning, nor of civil discourse generally.

    Stephanie also wonders about whether leading lights in their fields welcome questions from novices. My experiences have been a bit of a mixed bag, but I'll say that some of that has been due to my own ignorance or lack of preparation. For every disgusting fake-flavoured banana their have been plenty of juicy jelly babies and choc buds. Many academics have made time to talk about their research, or my research, at conferences, on the telephone, at seminars or over coffee. Many also participate in online discussion groups so that they can share information with students and early career researchers, which is surely time they could be spending doing other things. I suspect that my areas of interest (children's literature and publishing) are especially supportive of newcomers. I think that most of us carry around the vestigial love and passion for our research fields that makes us want to share as much as we can. Perhaps I am being overly rosy about this, but I don't think so.

    There is one professor out there who has a steely glance that might intimidate Leigh Matthews, but she's still extremely helpful to her own and other postgraduate students. Helpful in time consuming, considered and demanding ways, too, rather than pats on the back and a quick exit.

    Thinking about this all rather makes me think that I'll be back into the studying one of these days after all.

    Bye bye PhD.

    Today is the day that I finally stopped telling people that I 'might' not finish my PhD, and started telling them that I am withdrawing from my PhD candidature.

    No tears.

    I suppose it's a victory for life over books in one sense, since the Noodle's health problems have been the main reason that the PhD is not progressing in an orderly fashion. But on the other hand I've been able to read a lot of books that were firmly off the list while I was a research fiend. However much I love Pierre Bourdieu (and it's a lot) I really do love Diana Wynne Jones that bit more. If only it had occurred to me to write about her, but novice postgraduate students are a bunch of silly sausages when it comes to life changing decisions like thesis topics I've found.

    Starting in February my new life is as a public servant in Canberra. I am joining the graduate program at the Attorney-General's department, and am very much looking forward to doing some useful work with some real, live human beings for company.

    My university has been very supportive of my taking time off, studying part time and providing crumbs of tutoring work. The reality of the situation, however, is that I need money that comes in regularly, year round, rather than sporadically. I am so going to miss having time to spend with the Noodle, but it is certainly time for the husband/father unit to have a turn.

    I have been mourning the passing of Dr Penthe, but she never really existed anyway.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2007


    You're Ireland!

    Mystical and rain-soaked, you remain mysterious to many people, and this
    makes you intriguing. You also like a good night at the pub, though many are just as
    worried that you will blow up the pub as drink your beverage of choice. You're good
    with words, remarkably lucky, and know and enjoy at least fifteen ways of eating a potato.
    You really don't like snakes.

    Take the Country Quiz
    at the Blue Pyramid

    I think this is quite accurate. I am the most mystical person I know. In fact, I'm so obviously mystical that it's almost another whole layer of mist.

    But I quite like snakes. They are mystical.

    The Incident

    Last year, after the Incident, we were simply happy to be home with all of us alive. We didn't really want anything else to happen, and our all desires were small and domestic.

    Since then, as the Noodle slowly progresses back to health, our desires and the space in which to pursue them has expanded, and expanded, and expanded again.

    The first few days that Noodle was sick, when he was in intensive care and ventilated, all we wanted was for him to keep trying to breathe. The orange light on the side of the machine would come on whenever he tried to take a breath for himself. Watching it was mesmerizing. We wanted his heart to slow down, and to try to beat regularly.

    A few days later, when he was breathing only with a mask we hoped he would soon be able to eat and drink through his mouth.

    Two days later we hoped he would be able to leave intensive care and go on the ward. We hoped he would be able to lose some of the many tubes poking into his body, although we had no idea how deeply some of them were inserted or how much it would hurt to pull them out.

    After he went to the ward we slowly and carefully dusted off the hope that we would be able to come home together one day in the future, and even this only lasted a few weeks, because eventually we could take him to the hotel while we waited for our insurance company to organise flights home for us.

    On his first day in intensive care we thought we'd be able to bring him out of hospital the next day - we had never experienced a serious illness before, so we had no idea what being a hospital parent actually meant. By the second day we just hoped we would be able to bring him home one day, and that he would wake up so that he could see us wanting him well.

    We've had him home with us now for ten months. And now we want all kinds of things. But that does not mean for even a second that I'm not as glad, relieved and grateful to have him here with me as that moment when he opened his eyes in intensive care on the wrong side of the planet and asked why a person couldn't have a piece of toast with jam. Let jam = happiness forever.

    Thursday, August 16, 2007

    Accentuate the postive

    Perhaps I should start a list of positives and negatives that I experience or hear about Canberra.

    Ampersand Duck has linked to The Art Life's review of the National Museum. It has rather reduced my optimism for moving the the national capital.

    That, and Noodle's comment that there are 'millions of politicians' there.

    "This school hates children with impairments"

    We are currently undergoing the process of choosing a new school for the Noodle down in Canberra. The process of finding a school for him in the greater Brisbane region last year was characterised by anger, rudeness, the flouting of Education department policies and a general sense that if our son could possibly disappear then he would be doing everyone a rather kind favour.

    The low point came when a school principal (may she know neither rest nor peace) told us that our son would not be able to participate in music, library sessions, art or playground time because no one could be bothered to help him up stairs or make a little extra time for him to walk the longer distances. The teacher aides shouted at our son, presumably because they equated his physical clumsiness with an intellectual impairment. Which indicates the kindness and understanding of these women, since they felt that shouting was the appropriate response to someone who could not understand them. In front of us, this was, so goodness knows what exactly they do to children when their parents are not around. The Noodle has a dear friend who attends this school, and old Noodle has often expressed anxiety about his friend's safety and well-being. He was very badly frightened.

    Other highlights from the Queensland education system came from the person officially employed to assess the Noodle's disability and find a school for him. She told us we should probably send him to a Catholic school, because they are much kinder. Education Queensland policy quite clearly states that state schools must take children in their area, but we were quite firmly told that our son was not welcome by several schools, by the expedient mentioned above, in which the principal tells us all the things that he would not be involved with at their particular school. Eventually they told us we would have to send him to a school forty minutes away, and that we could have taxi vouchers, despite one of his main health problems being fatigue. We moved to a different district and found a school ourselves.

    I have spoken to five schools in the ACT. Each one has said that of course they will accept our son, they will take care of his physical needs, they will ensure he does not become fatigued and that they would be happy to have him. A small, cynical part of me wonders if this is because he has been identified as a gifted academic achiever, but I don't believe this is the case. I just believe that these schools will happily accept a child regardless of physical impairment. It makes me feel even happier about moving to Canberra.

    I sometimes muse that I'd like to call the one particular school that were so very aggressive about excluding my son, and asking if they would be able to include him, but mention the giftedness first and the impairment only after being invited for an interview. I wonder if they would be able to manage to help him up the stairs then. In the meantime I quietly fantasise about such things as large banners with 'discriminatory' or 'this school hates children with impairments' written on them hanging on the fence during open day. Perhaps some kind of unpleasant, but not greatly damaging, natural disaster could befall the principal during the school holidays. Something like a rock pinning her arm to the ground so that she must chew her arm off with her teeth in order to save her life. Or perhaps a need to get around in a wheelchair or on crutches for a month or two to see if it magically turns her into a person who doesn't like music, reading, art or playing.

    We are going to meet up with some principals next month when we undertake our Canberra reconaissance mission. I hope the feeling is as positive then.

    Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    Sovereign Hill reality

    Here we are back from our holiday in Victoria, returned from our experience of the fakey Victorian period town of Sovereign Hill into our all-too-real Victorian era house (thankfully with modernish plumbing).

    The Noodle commented that Sovereign Hill was like the past, only not so stinky, and with less death. We brought home with us many lollies, including the highly coloured raspberry drops, which leave the Noodle looking like a fluoresced vampire . We loved Sovereign Hill so much that we totally blew our cool with our inner-urban friends, who are used to a bit more world weary cynicism. I think living in the regions has made us grateful for any kind of entertainment, education or tasty treats. So grateful that we completely touristed out in Melbourne and ate cake in Acland Street, ate breakfast in Brunswick Street, ate a pub dinner in Napier Street, drank coffee in Lygon Street and wandered the laneways of Melbourne ooo-ing and aaah-ing.

    We did not resemble the romantic television advertisements for Melbourne in any way, since our winter clothes consist of the Queenslander's option of just adding more t-shirts and shirts until you resemble a bag lady rather than an urban sophisticate. But hey, why elevate one urban dwelling archetype over another anyway?

    Since we are moving to Canberra next year we shall have to invest in genuine winter clothes. Concepts such as 'wool' and 'polar fleece' may become a reality for us cotton-wearing humidity jockeys. Apparently they have this thing called 'heating' down there. We've survived a winter of minimums below zero here in Lower Trainswich, so I think we'll probably survive Canberra winters.


    Me - The Gift by Diana Wynne Jones, in which a girl discovers her relatives are much more exciting that she had been led to believe.

    Noodle - The Naughtiest Girl in School by Enid Blyton, in an attempt to distract himself from the conviction that Voldemort is coming after him. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has been put aside for a while.

    Monday, August 6, 2007

    student days

    My husband brought home Alice Garner's the student chronicles (The Miegunyah Press). I was a student at Melbourne University at about the same time, although I was there so briefly as to be like a mayfly rather than a perpetual student.

    I was hoping that Garner would evoke for me the feeling of the plane tree leaves littering the brick pathways, the odd smell peculiar to the Baillieu Library, the apricot smoothies from the refectory that were so medicinal on hung-over mornings and the terrible divide between the students who felt entitled to be there, and the students who didn't .

    But that was my experience of Melbourne University, not Alice Garner's. Hers was more about feeling guilty because her life was easier than other students. Her parents paid her way, and she earned good money as an actor. She also was strong academically, and progressed in a fairly orderly fashion to an honours degree and PhD.

    But that wasn't what bothered me about the book. What bothered me was that it made university life seem so utterly boring that I couldn't manage to finish reading the tasteful little thing. I'm not sure how a person can write a book about their late teens and early twenties that seems almost entirely lacking in emotion, but there it is.

    (You can read an extract from the book, where she does talk about the diverse attractions of the library, though, so you can see that I am being rather burdened by my own bitter mythology, rather than fairly and honestly evaluating Garner's. I may be emotional, unfair and biased, but I hope I am honest about it).

    Saturday, August 4, 2007

    curly wurlies

    My mother-in-law brought back two bags full of curly wurlies from New Zealand. They are a kind of chocolate bar made of caramel swirled into a plaity sort of pattern, covered in Cadbury dairy milk chocolate. My husband is a big, big fan of caramel in all its many forms.

    We have eaten all of them.

    I don't even like caramel.

    Thursday, August 2, 2007

    New AFOs (not UFOs)

    Next Tuesday we’re going into the hospital to have the Noodle’s legs cast for his new AFOs. After The Incident last year he couldn’t walk at all for a while, and when he got stronger he could only walk on his toes. The physiotherapists put his legs into a series of three sets of casts to put his feet in the right position. He’s outgrown his first set of AFOs already, though, in less than six months. His feet are going to be the size of a small country town by the time he’s fully grown.

    The Noodle liked to call them UFOs, even though he didn't know what UFOs are, exactly.

    The physiotherapists have been terrific. Not just the ones from the hospital, but also the ones from trusty and beloved Montrose access. Noodle gets along very well with nearly all his team of medical assistants – neurologists, metabolic specialists, ophthalmologists and other eye specialists, occupational therapists and so on – but the physios have always been his favourite group. They always seem to be really positive, to have a great sense of humour and to happily discuss treatment and whatever else with the Noodle. I’ve never had much to do with physiotherapists before, except for the very sporty young man who came around to visit after I gave birth to the Noodle. He wasn’t entirely comfortable with huge and wallowing women, but he was very helpful and kind.

    We’ve been pretty lucky this month, though. I think we’ve only got one medical visit. It’s almost worth having a party.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2007

    stranger than fiction

    The Guardian today has two pieces about reality impinging into books. The first is a blog about the publication of a book as a marketing exercise by BMW. I suppose it was only a matter of time until corporations would cut out the wasteful middle stage of actually engaging academics or authors to do legitimate research flavoured in a certain direction, to just hiring a ghost writer to do it directly.

    The other piece reports that author Laura Albert has been ordered to pay legal costs to a production company for pretending that her fictional book was a memoir based on her life as a male, cross-dressing truck stop prostitute. Albert feels that she should not have to pay the money, since the character really lives inside her, despite the fact that at signings the character was frequently performed by author friends and relatives.

    I have had several university students who do not understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Some of them aspire to be English teachers, and some of them aspire to be writers. Perhaps Albert could run some nifty workshops for the crew, and they could come up with a new genre - spoofiction, perhaps, or non-fiction lite.

    Teachers have also been coming under fire in The Australian over the past week or so. Apparently an academic report has shown that primary school teachers are not competent at advanced maths, and that the profession cannot attract people with high maths skills. The letters pages and discussion lists have been quick to respond with anecdotal tales of stupid teachers, of teachers that are lazy, that don't do enough to earn their money and have more holidays than other people. We got away from maths pretty quickly in the discussion. To my shame I felt a bit caught up in the teacher bashing and let my anxieties about the skills of some of my students colour my response to the information. I hate it when I do that!

    Anyway, it seems that there is a real loathing of teachers out there, which kind of surprises me in a way. I guess we all carry around so much misery and hatred from our own school years that we are quite happy to load it onto the backs of the complete strangers to whom we entrust our kids.

    So I am retreating into fiction myself. I never mistake any part of my life for fiction, and I don't think I've ever mistaking any of my writing for reality. But I do like to live inside a nice story as much as possible.

    Reading: Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings. By which it can be seen that I am far, far away from reality of any kind right now.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    What can I do exactly?

    Recently I've been through the rather complicated and laborious process of applying for jobs. Those selection criteria are astonishing. One job I looked at (but did not apply for) had seventeen selection criteria, for a job which basically consisted of answering the telephone and filing. I spent some considerable minutes wondering who would apply for that job, and which poor human resources minion would go through the applications and decide who wrote reasonable answers.

    But quite apart from trying to think of ways of convincing myself and others that I have communication skills, problem solving abilities, the ability to work in and/or lead a team and drive, the process has made me wonder what I can actually do. What have I learned in my time at university and in the workforce? Is it any use to me? Is it any use to anyone? So I have been having a crisis of meaning.

    My undergraduate degree is a BA, with a major in creative writing and a minor in media studies. Even I, with my heartfelt commitment to a humanities education, feel slightly embarrassed mentioning this to chance acquaintances, let alone potential employees. My postgraduate research is in the field of children's literature and publishing, only narrowed down even more than that. When having a friendly chat with the managing director of a local publishing house about future work he commented, bleakly, 'that's very specific, isn't it?'. I tried to explain the generic skills and industry knowledge I was accruing, but he had already turned his mind to other things (which in this case was praising mutual friends, which made me like him quite a lot at the time).

    So I learned one thing, don't mention too much about my research topic to people who might be interested in employing me. This has stood me in good stead at my recent round of interviews, although after getting a bit carried away one astute interviewer did ask me why I wanted to work in his organisation if I was so passionate about my research field. I had to do a Fonzie like double-take and turn the cool back on. Given the amount of other postgraduate students I met at these interviews I have to say I'm not the only one who has realised that the public service is a better bet vocationally than trying to pursue an academic career in the humanities.

    I'm pretty confident I have learned quite a lot of other things, though. No one is much interested in my opinion of 1990s media policy, no one has asked about my ideas on Australian satirical poetry or my well-evaluated attitude to digital communications technology. They are mostly interested in whether I can understand what I read, whether I understand statistical information (the answer is no, actually), whether I can listen and whether or not I'm really interested in working at their organisation. I think I learned some of those skills at university, but I suspect what I really learned was how to figure out what people want. All those different tutors, lecturers and workshop leaders taught me that. Thank you to all of you.

    And yes, I did really want to work at the organisations. I've also learned, from my undergraduate students, to be absolutely honest about what I want.

    Sunday, July 29, 2007

    Sonya Hartnett's biscuits

    A couple of years ago I used to tutor in a subject at university that taught Sonya Hartnett's book Sleeping Dogs. The tutorials were always good value, because the classes were inevitably split between love and hate. Some students, usually from the education faculty, tended to view it as inappropriate for young adults because of the subject matter of incest and violence. They couldn't understand why a book like that would be given to young people to read. This was particularly common in the younger group of students, those who were only eighteen or nineteen themselves. I suspect that part of this was an effort to separate themselves from their school days, an attempt to define themselves as adults who could take seriously the responsiblities of protecting children, or marking out boundaries between childhood and adulthood, and who were trying to keep their own childhood selves safe from the pollution of adult concerns. Perhaps if I had asked them their opinion when they were fifteen or sixteen their replies might have been different.

    On the other hand there were frequently students who loved Hartnett's book, and who looked at it as a doorway into many different kinds of literature. These students loved the bookishness of it, although many of them had not read any of the books that Hartnett alludes to in the text, and sometimes were unaware even of whole genres she was playing with. For them Sleeping Dogs was the start of a reading odyssey and a new way of experiencing the world and literature. As a teacher, these are the moments that you live for.

    I guess Hartnett is probably less aware of the effect her book has had. Authors seem to exist quite a long way away from the bit of the world where readers bump up against the realities inside the text, although some authors are more aware of the process than others. I've often observed an expression of shock or dismay on authors' faces during interviews or at writers' festivals when the reader asks a question or makes a comment on a book that is unexpected, or does not quite gel with the author's own expectations of the work.

    Hartnett's new book The Ghost's Child is now out, in a touchable hardcover that reminds me of lollies and bedspreads and flowers. The first chapter raised my hopes immensely. I thought that here was a book that would return to me that feeling of being a child-reader, of existing entirely in the world of the book and of being surprised and seduced into believing that the world inside the book was possible in the real world. The rest of the book almost, but not quite, lives up to that promise.

    The sentence that gave me the most intense pleasure, and pulled a burble of surprise out of me, was the one in which Matilda tells the unexpected visitor that she has no nice biscuits to offer him because she ate them herself. Her phrasing suggests, gently but firmly, that she is entitled to eat the nice biscuits because she likes them too; just because she is old, she means, she does not have to give up her right to something over the rights of the young. After watching so many years of denial from great grandparents, grandparents and great aunts this had the ring of revolution about it, but not in a grasping or selfish way like those ads for remortgaging the house so that baby boomers can spend their children's so-called inheritance. This was a claim to person-hood, to existence, to pleasure and to an ackowledgement of the self. I loved it.

    For me the book is mostly about autonomy, but I haven't finished yet, so I'll wait and see if it continues on in the same direction, or if it gently or stridently takes my observing self somewhere completely different.

    And I'll have to go and buy some nice biscuits as well, of course.

    Saturday, July 28, 2007


    This week Noodle has had many days off school, because of a rather persistent cold. As he is so good at sharing I have managed to share the experience of runny nose, vague headache, ennui and slight peevishness. The resulting self-indulgent bed rest has meant that I am now finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which ends satisfactorily enough with mysteries solved, absences maintained and the worthy and honest rewarded. I quite enjoyed that some of the less worthy characters managed to get exactly what they wanted as well. Dumas, unlike God, has a wonderful sense of poetic justice.

    I've moved on to reading a book about Ursula Le Guin that I found in my library bag. I'd completely forgotten that I borrowed it. I won't mention who wrote it, because he says at one stage that Philip Pullman won the Booker prize for The Amber Spyglass, and I feel so peevish about it that I can't think positively about the book at all. I suspect my tolerance for literary criticism has reached an all time low anyway, even worse than during my first attempt at an English degree at Melbourne University way back in 1990 when I understood nothing that they were trying to teach me at all.

    I've just started to read the new Sonya Hartnett, The Ghost's Child. In the first few pages the old woman, Matilda, announces to her unexpected guest that the good biscuits are gone because she likes to eat them too. I don't think a single line in fiction has made me this happy in years. I immediately thought of the grandmother in Joan Aiken's story Moonshine in the Mustard Pot, from the colletion The Faithless Lollybird. The grandmother in this story shows her granddaughter the world as both intimate and mysterious, and allows Deborah to change her world and her self rather than conforming to expectations.

    Hartnett's earlier books hardly carry any of this joyful freedom (what with the incest, murder and wild children), and I'm sure that there'll be plenty of sorrow and harrow in her latest as well. But Matilda can assert herself and her needs; it's ridiculous that older woman characters in books are usually limited to selflessness, grumpiness or boredom. Matilda here might be bored, but she certainly doesn't sound dull. It's a wonderful thing to read the first pages of a book and immediately feel the secret and electric urge to want more, instead of just plug, plug, plugging away until the end.

    The book I really want to read, though, is something new from Michelle de Kretser. I hope she produces something sooner or later. I would have given The Hamilton Case the Booker prize if I was boss of the universe.

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Head colds

    Today Noodle, the number one son, has a head cold. He is more distressed about snot than any other possible discomfort, pain or trauma. So none of us has had much sleep.

    Since his episode of rhabdomyolisys last year he has been much more anxious about illness generally. He is starting to realise, eight months later, that not every sniffly nose or queasy tummy is going to land him in intensive care. And so am I.

    Neonatal Doc wrote once about children who are seen as 'ill' after being admitted to hospital, and are treated differently than before. He was specifically talking about children who do not need particular care, and the burden of needless anxiety that the parents and the child carry around as they worry whether or not their child will become ill again. We fall somewhat into that category, but we do need to be continually vigilant. One of my son's doctors suggested that we have a two vomits, straight into hospital rule, and we are always anxious about high temperatures, aches and pains and tiredness. This last one provides the kick, because we are always stressing about whether old Noodle is doing too much. Is walking around town after his French lesson too much? Is going swimming too much? Is staying out for dinner after a day at the footy too much? We're afraid (all three of us) that we won't know until later.

    Noodle used a wheelchair for a while after his acute rhabdo. He couldn't walk at all for a month or two, and then he could walk, but became exhausted very easily. The wheelchair meant that he could do a lot more. He is starting to get to heavy to carry around when he gets tired. We are all contemplating how to use the wheelchair to help him enjoy himself. I know he gets fed up with needing to stop and rest, with needing to come home early, with having aching legs. I guess we'll just figure it out as we go.

    Today we are reading:
    Me - The Count of Monte Christo - in which a pot boils, and ingredients are added in a random fashion until the flavour is spicy and hot

    Noodle - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - see above, plus jokes

    Harry Potter all over again.

    Now it's three days after the final Harry Potter day. Everyone who really wants to read the book has read it. There's been a flurry of reviews, blogs, comments and breathless articles on the events of the Big Day. It's over. It will never, ever happen again.

    I wrote a column about it too, and I read the book as quickly as possible on Saturday so that I wouldn't find out what happened in the end through message boards or blogs or newspaper reviews. My life has not been changed by reading the book one bit. I liked the fans theories and solutions much more than I enjoyed J.K. Rowling's version. But that's fine, I liked junior Harry much more than the teenage version. I do wonder, however, how his relationship with Ginny holds up after she takes the time to demonstrate her jealousy over Cho during the final confrontation with Voldemort. A relationship based on this kind of adolescent angst and superficiality would not be my choice for a life-long partnership. But hey, witches and wizards clearly marry young in England.

    My editor described the ending as 'mawkish' which is no doubt accurate, but irrelevant seems a better word to me. Not that I wrote that in my column, actually, since I was also carried away with the hype. Hype is over now. I'm glad I had fun with it.

    The Guardian writes about books we should be reading post Harry. Most of the esteemed authors seem to think going back to older fantasy fiction is the thing, and I feel a strong nostalgic urge to recommend Ursula le Guin, Madeleine L'Engle and suchlike authors as well. But surely there are newer books to catch the fancy of the juniors out there as well. Not so much the terrible, formulaic junk that publishers have foisted on bookshops over the past few years, but some other stuff entirely. There are plenty of series and stand alone titles that surely aren't any worse than the later Harry Potter books (such as the Magyk series), but heavens, who would want to recommend any of those?

    I reckon everyone should now go out and read the old titles mentioned above, pastiche the lot of them and then publish their own series. There are still an awful lot of bits and pieces that J. K. Rowling didn't use in her book. There's not much King Arthur, for example, and while she was quite fascinated with death, there wasn't much of a spiritual angle. Or much history.

    But actually, I hope that every single man, woman and child on earth now goes out and buys Diana Wynne Jones's backlist. There's a person who really should be a billionaire, if dollar value were based entirely on talent.