Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Home, where the potatoes are growing

Having learned many things on our Christmas journeying, and having had a substantial amount of fun with friends and relations (losing none in the process, not even Small), we are returned to the domestic regions.

Where, in our absence, the garden has gone wild. I believe it may have rained a drop or two while we visited southern climes. All the plants are twice the size they were a week ago, and many are festooned with large blooms. Especially the hydrangeas which have the most festoony flowers of all. Ranging from mauve to another shade of mauve, we are lucky to have them across the dull, grey wall of our brick home. Huzzah! I shall omit mentioning the agapanthus after guilt brought on my reading Eglantine's Cake.

The Husband not previously known for his vegetable expertise, unearthed the first home-grown potatoes. We will eat them tonight partly because they look very tasty, and partly because the cupboard is pretty much bare of everything except Whizz Fizz and chocolates (although most of the chocolates are already inside the stomachs). Returning home the day before a public holiday is only a good idea if you are sure you will have the energy to go shopping as soon as you get there. Which we didn't. I think seeing the submarine at Holbrook may have been just too exhausting.

I feel rather odd to be home. It's strange spending such intense time with people you love, and then they aren't available any more. I wish we could all manage to live in reasonable proximity for a while. Not the same city, necessarily, but less than a four hour drive, say.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things learned on Christmas journeys

  1. You don't really learn all that much about what it's really like to live in the country by reading the Billabong books. Or by driving down the Hume Highway.
  2. The Noodle has a heretofore undiscovered ability to read in the back seat of the car for many hours without experiencing any nausea.
  3. While hills are more interesting scenery to look at than flat land, if the flat land contains substantial gumtrees and the occasional, unexpectedly large 19th century domestic and/or industrial architecture it can be quite appealing.
  4. Chiltern is a town worth a short visit.
  5. Family is quite tiring when collected in one place.
  6. A family of three can live in two rooms quite happily if they only have enough books to fit in a single shopping bag.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Off we go

This year Christmas is happening in Melbourne. For us, obviously. I believe the rest of you are entitled to celebrations in other urban or rural locations as well. Or in space, if you are a cosmonaut working on the international space station.

Whatever you are up to I hope it is a suitable amount of fun. May the presents you give spread the joy of the season, and the presents you receive not end up in the garden shed (unless they are gardening implements).

Friday, December 19, 2008

On birthdays and the nature of work

So here it is, another year gone. I guess it's lucky to have a birthday at the time of year when everyone else is reflecting upon the year-gone-by so that I can have reflective synchronicity. Perhaps people with birthdays at other times of the year have bigger getting-older-and-what-do-I-have-to-show-for-it crises because they have to do it all in isolation.

Anyway, this year I have to reflect that I am in the same career position as people ten to sixteen years younger than me. They are single and spend all of their disposable income on clothes and drink. Which is what I did at 21, of course, I just had less to dispose of than my youthful co-workers do. I don't know if they are happier, but they certainly have a lot more stuff.

The upside is that this point is still a career peak for me. Having a grown-up job is quite the astonishing thing. For one thing, you get paid better and also the work is more interesting. Which is much more important for me personally (partly because if I start thinking about the whole breadwinner thing my head will explode). There's a big part of me that thinks if I'm worrying about getting paid, then I'm insulting the work. Crazy, I know. I think I am fundamentally missing something about our whole economic system (no news there, though). When I used to work at Safeway as a 15-year old I hated lining up for my pay every week. I thought it was rude to ask to be paid. I felt like this particularly because I hated that job so much it made me want to be sick every week, which you'd think would make me keener to get the pay than not, but not.

I was sick once, but that was because I had a thorn in my ankle. Tragically I did not manage to projectile vomit into anyone's actual shopping. I wish I had a better developed sense of narrative and less honesty. No memoirs from me.

For my birthday I got ace presents including a bike (every child and Mum's dream), some books to read on our trip to Melbourne and some bath things from Perfect Potion from my Dad. If you live in Brisbane you should try their things if you are a bathy person. Or just go and stand in their shop for a few minutes to calm your shopping headache. Mum sent me a Judy Horacek shopping bag which made me laugh. And the lads made me pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. And tonight we will eat laksa at the Dickson Asian Noodle House. I will now stop endorsing things.

Restrain your envy, gentle readers. One day it will be your birthday, and I will be doing the vacuuming.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Genius in the family

Although a person knows how intelligent and creative and capable the family members are, it's always nice to receive confirmation from the experts.

On Friday the Noodle brought home his school report. Genius.

Today the Husband received his marks for his Masters research project. Genius.

I, on the other hand, spent the afternoon in the park watching my co-workers playing 'extreme frisbee'. Last week I too was a high achiever. This week, not so much.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas envy

I am suffering a terrible lack of festive spirit overkill this year. Despite Boney M.

The Husband feels that a Christmas tree is unnecessary, since we will be away for Christmas. And I have been too tired and preoccupied with work to assert my natural Christmas nazi-tude and either demand or obtain one. So we have no tree, and no decos. Which is putting me not in the mood for carols, gift-wrapping and general foolishness. Which is what I like doing at this time of year, because it's an excuse to sing loudly, get overexcited and boss other people around a bit but sound not totally horrendous while doing it. So I'm feeling robbed.

The Husband did design highly amusing (to us anyway) Christmas cards, featuring Julia Gillard as an angel of the Lord, or Parliament House with star above and wise men arriving.
But I am so dissatisfied with this whole climate change announcement that I don't find them quite as charming as I did last week (although I refuse to believe that Julia is responsible).

Yesterday I was dumped out of the novel I was reading with a nasty imaginary bump because I realised I didn't like it no, not one bit. Even though many of the settings were familiar, which usually makes a person forgive quite a bit in a book. And I was on the bus, because I am always on the bus, and all I wanted to do was sing Christmas carols, and I couldn't because I was on the bus, and I've been feeling quite peevish ever since.

And tomorrow is the work Christmas party, and only one person has put decorations up in the office. I haven't put any up either, because I don't care, but I find I only don't care so long as someone else does.

Or otherwise I'm just tired and cranky and half my brain is already on holidays and it's got nothing to do with Christmas at all.

Plus I'm nearly 37, which feels like a lot older than 36.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Exciting Times

Because yesterday, after eating well-marinated meat, I was presented with the Boney M Christmas album!!!!

The perfect end to an already lovely afternoon.

So Feliz Navidad to you all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Too tired to blog

That's all really.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Art, high art?

Last night was the school concert, Broadway Style! Perhaps I blame the Simpsons. But it wasn't really Broadway style, even though very musical.

The Noodle's class provided highlights from the Lion King, complete with lions (Noodle was Mufasa), zebras, leopards and diverse birds. They sang along to excerpts of The Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata. Confusing choreography, but naturally delightful.

Other highlights were grade 3/4 doing bits and pieces from The Pirates of Penzance. They essayed the whole modern major general thing with aplomb, and one of them even managed to enunciate all the words. Audience of doting parents (and less doting parents of children not in grade 3/4) all impressed.

Grade 5/6 did snippets from Grease. One young lassie sang up a storm. Definitely has a future on Australian Idol if she wants it. Or a career in music, whatever. The kids looked like they were having a wild and crazy time. It was like something from the movie Fame except completely acted out by kids with normal singing and dancing abilities. One girl looked authentically 1950s, which is very un-Grease in my opinion. Her mother must have done some serious research into hair styles and so on.

Certainly the concert was much more exciting than the ones I used to do at primary school. I remember a lot of Jingle Bells and the occasional Frere Jacques. And once, maybe, singing along to a cassette of Sailing. But I hope that's just a fever-dream.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Further proof that I am living in the 1970s

And so is my entire suburb.

If you go and look at the Weston Creek Labor Club Christmas Menu you will see what I mean.

They should have that kind of salad with the rice, pineapple chunks and jelly though. That would be awesome.

We are going to Melbourne for Christmas. It should at least have reached the 1990s down there.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nerves of steel

The Husband and I had our nerve conduction studies this afternoon. Nothing at all wrong with our nerves. Which does nothing to explain why we are frequently highly strung. But there you go. Perhaps it is a wandering womb or somesuch.

I suppose this means more testing for the poor old Noodle. And more thinking for the neurologist, but that's OK because she likes doing that.

I had really, really hoped that if one of us adult types had the same problem with our nerves then it would mean a nice simple diagnosis for the Noodle from here on in. You'd think I would have given up travelling down that there primrose path by now, wouldn't you?

Also, the nerve conduction study feels really quite nasty, so if your kid is ever having one and you think they are creating out of proportion, then they probably aren't. I had to look out the window at the nice scenery and breathe very firmly to myself.

Also I had my first ride on my new bike today. I may have nerves of steel, but I definitely have muscles of jelly, or possibly chocolate mousse.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Brisbane Bands

Thanks again to That Striped and Sunlight Sound, you can watch stuff about Brisbane bands in 1988 on You Tube, without having to bother to look for it. It's the Rock Arena special. And Rock Arena was very special indeed.

Because what else would a person ever want to do with their time?

Father Christmas or some old human

Last night we ventured into the town centre to observe the lighting of the Christmas tree. Carols were sung by a choir of women who were more impressed by artifice than melody. Which did not excite the audience of toddlers, primary-school aged children and parents looking for a night out of thought-free celebration. But it did sound pretty.

The Noodle also became a little bored by Monica Trapaga after a while, so we sloped off to find sugary sustenance somewhere in Civic. A little cafe just off Garema Place had the most astonishing cookies and cream cake. It was like rubber, but sweet and surprisingly enjoyable.

Upon returning to the Christmas Tree precinct the blond announcing person claimed that Santa was coming immediately. But he didn't. They lit the tree - pretty - and went into an odd period of packing up microphones. So many of the families packed themselves up as well. Oddly, as we repaired to the car park, Santa was actually coming in a red convertible.

The Noodle said, 'that's not Father Christmas. That's an old human dressed up in a red suit and a beard.'

The journey home was filled with questions about who Santa is really. The Noodle conjectured that he could find out by a) staying up all night on Christmas Eve or b) leaving a video camera running all night and watching it the next day.

The husband asked how the Noodle's presents appeared on Christmas morning if Santa didn't bring them. The Noodle replied 'this is starting to sound like pseudo-science'.

I laughed before I could stop myself. Pseudo-silence from the back seat.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Villette

So I'm reading Villette by Charlotte Bronte, and enjoying it with much enjoy.

I am reading it little bits at a time, because I know I am going to be sad when I have to leave Lucy Snowe behind. But I did skip to the end to make sure she was going to be OK. Even though I knew she was going to be OK, because she is Lucy Snowe. Note I didn't say happy. I doubt her capacity for happiness as much as she does.

I adore how she claims she is a cool and even person, when she is passionate and sensitive. I love how she just can't help talking of her unrequited love, even though she obviously considers it to be poor form to do so. I am inspired by her constant efforts to do what she believes is right, even though she is sometimes not convinced that what is conventionally 'right' is actually what she wants or even should do. And she sometimes gives herself quite massive get-out-of-jail-free cards when she feels like it, but still manages to hold onto her integrity.

And I love how she is frequently so wound up that you can quite easily imagine her taking a carving knife and hacking gleefully into Ginevra Fanshawe without a moment's regret. But doesn't.

I don't mind the odd coincidences of meeting the same characters in different places, but I have been a little distracted by the way they change their names so that their identity is hidden for a while. But it does give Lucy Snowe the additional pleasure of keeping things secret, which she likes. Great narrator.

I think Lucy Snow can make the best of things. Not in a milky, weak, resigned sort of a way (although she claims that from time to time). More in a holding the things underwater and shaking them until they promise to be good sort of way.

Charlotte Bronte really did not enjoy teaching, though, did she?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Comfort food

So now I am full as a googins with lasagne and pavlova and also with chocolate coated fruit and nuts. And slightly full, but not skin-full, of Redman Coonawarra Shiraz.

All of which makes me think two things:
1. Don't consult the Noodle when catering birthday dinners for adults
2. I am still living in 1976, except now I am a grown-up instead of a tiny moppet.

The husband known as a better cook than everyone on the planet except Maggie Beer has suggested Beef Bourgoignon (cannot spell it or say it either) plus chocolate mousse for my birthday, so he must be living in the seventies as well.

A person no longer gets an effort-free belly laugh whenever insulting Malcolm Fraser, though.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Nine years is not long enough

Happily really, since it is our ninth wedding anniversary this week.

Getting married was great. The whole standing up in front of people saying vows, celebrating, eating cake process was terrific.

Being married is better though. Although if I accidentally found myself married to someone other than the Husband Who Knows More About the AFL Draft Than Seems Humanly Possible I would clearly form a different, indeed a violently opposed, view.

While I sometimes worry about the future happiness of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, and remain unconvinced about the wisdom of actually marrying Mr Rochester, I have never entertained any doubts about the wisdom of marrying the Husband (despite his high levels of interest in Clint Eastwood). Lucky, because we are only partly fictional.

We never quite seem to celebrate our anniversaries with the kind of wild abandon and hang-the-expense enthusiasm that seems warranted though. I wonder what other people do?

Monday, December 1, 2008

In which I had something interesting to say at lunchtime

But don't have anything interesting to say any more.

It may be the combination of hay fever and caffeine withdrawal. It may be the work. It may be the resulting shocking headache.

Or it may be that I just can't hold on to a thought for more than 53 seconds at the moment, whatever is going on.

Also, I missed my bus.

On the good news front the Noodle had a nice friend come to visit yesterday, and the nice friend has nice parents who deliver ice cream along with their daughter. Extremely well brought up parents. Tasty cookies and cream icecream.

Dimpled thighs, but.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Monica Dux and the Mummy Wars

I just wrote a very intemperate (furious, really) response to Monica Dux's piece on why women should be more prepared for labour and birth.

But it upset me that I was so upset, so I deleted it.

Pregnant women already attract unjustified scrutiny and criticism. No woman should ever be judged for the decisions she makes while in labour, given how indescribable and unexpected that experience really is. But how a woman handles her preparation is another matter entirely, and maybe a lack of preparation deserves scrutiny. To just "wait and see" when the stakes are so high is simply negligent — both for the mother's health and for her baby.
The final paragraph up there kind of sums up why I was so very, very irritated. Pregnant women already attract unjustified scrutiny and criticism, but it's OK for Monica Dux to add to it because, dammit, she's RIGHT AND ALL YOU OTHER WOMEN OUT THERE ARE IGNORANT, LAZY, NAIVE AND ILL-INFORMED. Oh, it turns out I'm still quite angry. Sorry about that.

I'm off for some nice, soothing, lemon tea. Or perhaps a little stomping round the house ranting. One or the other.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Stormy weather

Late this afternoon the sky darkened, the rain plunged down and the fine and noble people of the Best Department Evah celebrated by watching the window cleaners across the road get completely and utterly soaked. Even altruistic and selfless servants of the public have moments of weakness.

When I got to the bus stop this afternoon there was a pool of grubby water slopping over the gutter and on to the footpath. The bus drivers varied in their approach from slowly and carefully pulling in so as to avoid dampening the shoes of soon-to-be passengers, to tidal wave speed and nasty chuckling at the damp trouser cuffs of the patiently waiting workers.

Despite my window-cleaner schadenfreude I managed to stay dry, which frankly does not seem fair. I should have had to sit on the bus for forty minutes with my wet trouser cuffs slapping nastily against my chafed shins. And my shoes should have been sloshing unpleasantly as well.

Also when I got home the husband (praise him, praise him) was preparing delicious home-made oven baked chips (tasty potatoes from Fyshwick Markets), with even more delicious grilled fish with lemon zest, capers and chives.

I think I might take up thinking nasty thoughts about window cleaners as my second job. Clearly the universe rewards it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Characters inside my head

Characters who have quite strong ideas and personalities, but generally speaking don't seem to do very much, which is possibly why I don't feel compelled to write stories about them. No narrative.

But I'd miss them if they left all together. They don't seem to need to be written about, and in fact sometimes it seems like quite the imposition.

I like writing well enough. I feel like doing that all the time. Just not stories about people doing things.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Career path

I am making a very good beginning on my new career choice; nearly (but not quite) meeting famous, influential and important people.

I think I am a natural.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Handy hint

Put the moisturiser on your hands only after you have brushed your teeth. Otherwise there's less traction than a politician talking about climate change in a coal mine.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Art, cheesecake, books

A most satisfactory morning. We briskly took ourselves to Fyshwick Markets to purchase fruit, veg and sundry deli items (including Cheese of the Week - this week we have Norwegian Ridder Cheese). I popped into Officeworks on the way home to buy some note pads and pens because whoever is supposed to be ordering stationery at work doesn't seem to know that it's their job. Perhaps it's me. And I don't want to be a bad Secretariat girl, and turn up to a meeting with no bits of paper for More Important People. As the Queen does not carry money, so do More Important People not carry biros and bits of paper. Apparently.

After slinging the produce in the fridge we dashed out again (with a strangely compliant Noodle - I think his three days stuck at home feeling crook finally made him want to leave the house). We went to the Beaver Galleries in Deakin, because they had a show reviewed last week in the Canberra Times, and it looked nice. Full of nice art, in fact. Many prints that we would quite liked to have bought, except what with the global downturn and the Government deciding it wants some of its money back from us this year it didn't seem such a financially prudent move.

So we went to Curtin and spent too much on second-hand books instead. The prices at the bookshop there have gone up astonishing, and also the coffee is no longer free but is surrounded by chairs and tables and a cabinet full of cakes, even though the coffee is made by the same domestic espresso machine as before. I don't think people should be charged for domestic-level espresso. There should be some kind of international charter against it.

Also Beaver Galleries has a cafe, where the coffee is produced professionally, but still isn't great. But the cheesecake more than made up for it. Canberra may have some lacks (including consistently good coffee) but there's a real commitment to quality lemon cheesecake, it seems.

Noodle is now happily reading his new (expensive), secondhand Asterix comics. I shall return to Grand Days and see how I go.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Growing Summer (or ideology and children's fiction)

The Noodle and I have been enjoying The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild a good deal. He had a moment of absolute terror when Robin fell out of the boat, and the story immediately switched to Penny and Naomi waiting at home for the boys and Aunt Dymphna to return...and it's getting later, and later, and later.

Took us three days to get past those chapters, with much clinging and many looks of anxiety and insistences that nothing terrible happens to anybody in The Growing Summer (unless you think having to eat Penny's cooking is cruel and unusual punishment). Aunt Dymphna is very anti-whining. She may be mad and addicted to poetry, but she's a handy identifier of edible mushrooms and she is not interested in keeping things clean. Not perhaps an A grade aunt, but certainly not the worst either - worst aunts are probably Spiker and Sponge in James and the Giant Peach I reckon.

I have been reading Apple Bough also by Streatfeild on the bus. I bought it at the Fiesta last week (harrumph cookies). Or at least the lads bought it for me after I had to rush off to look after the tipping over cans of formula stall for a while. I wonder how much money we made?

Anyway. Apple Bough is, if anything, an even weirder book than The Growing Summer. Streatfeild is so insistent that Myra is ordinary and untalented, so much so that we never even find out what Myra enjoys doing (except for hanging about with her dog and pining for her old house). It doesn't sound interesting. She never gets any embarrassing m'audition moments because she does not dance. She never outshines anyone at skating, because she does not skate. She is always patient and kind and also tidies up after everyone. She is not boisterous or opinionated in any way shape or form. I don't think she belongs in a Noel Streatfeild novel at all. I believe she escaped from a more than usually dull Sunday School prize book and migrated into Sebastian, Wolfgang and Ettie's family in search of excitement only to be enslaved bythose theatrical over-achievers. Thursday Next should turn up and send her home (with the dog of course).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The future of work

Not really, just still writing expressions of interest for jobs next year. Is hard.

Noodle sick in the tum.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fiesta and the biscuits of rejection

School fete - lemonade spider, sausage inna bun, chucking tennis balls at formula cans, kicking soccer ball into plastic goals, chocolate cake, chupa chup, guess the number of lollies inna jar and tombola.

Thank you school. As well as providing a fine education for my child you have now taught me what tombola is.

All those years of reading E. Nesbit and Enid Blyton couldn't do it.

Disappointingly tombola does not involve chucking anything or toppling lumps of stuff. And you don't have to sing 'Yes, we have no bananas' or 'I've got a luvverly bunch of coconuts'.

Also, no one bought our plate of double chocolate chip cookies at the cake stall, despite the fact that we followed the marketing advice of The People Watchers and labelled them super deluxe chocolate cookies with extra chocolate. Well, whoever took them home for free at the tragic end of the day got lucky. They are the best home made biscuits ever and are irresistible to anyone with even a vague fondness for chocolate. The recipe is in Bill Granger's Simply Bill cookbook. Go and make them - you cannot fail and you will scarf a lot more than you expect. Also you can easily freeze half the dough and cook it later if you don't want to scarf too many biscuits all at once.

But still, they will always be the biscuits of rejection to us. The Noodle says we are to make chocolate cupcakes with brightly coloured sprinkles next year. Or caramel slice.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Life without fury

I was just reading back over some of my earliest posts, and realising how angry and upset I was back then. I don't think I was quite aware at the time. Lucky, possibly. I felt bad enough though.

Anyway, it's made me realise what a good thing the move to Canberra has been for all of us. I'm supposed to be writing mini-job applications today for my permanent placement next year, and I've been feeling a bit cheesed off about it, because it's a lovely blue day outside, and there's biscuits to be cooked, and it's Saturday for heaven's sake.

But when I look back at all the problems we had in Queensland - the constant worries about education, about health care, about transport - and think about the almost complete lack of worry I have about those things here, I'm so so so glad that the Government gave me a job where Canberra was the only option. Because otherwise I probably would never have hauled myself out of Brisbane.

I do miss some things a great deal. I heartily miss the wonderful people at the Rehabilitation Unit at the Royal Children's Hospital. A more fun, kind, supportive and blooming useful group of people could not possibly exist on the planet. And I miss my Dad. Lots. I miss the Noodle's other grandparents lots too. And my dear beloved friends in Inala. I miss them so much I could just kidnap them and keep them in our garage.

And Canberra is not problem-free. The need to travel to Sydney for anything other than basic healthcare is expensive, for example, although we are getting to know Randwick quite well.

But the feeling that things are better than they could be is intoxicating.

Baby on bike

This morning I saw a man riding his bike. He was carrying his baby, about 12 months maybe, in one arm as he was riding around. I've seen him before, I think, riding his bike with his baby on his back in a baby-carrying back pack. No helmets.

This morning, though, he was holding the handle bars with one hand, other arm around the baby, slowly swooping across the car park and across the road before riding along one of the many bike paths in the area.

All I could think was how her soft skull could so easily crash onto the bitumen or concrete if he lost his concentration for just one second. I've been anxious about it all day. Clearly, the man was not anxious in the slightest. Either it never occurred to him to worry about the consequences of dropping her or of stopping suddenly, or he thought it was so unlikely that it just wasn't worth bothering about.

I've worried almost every second that the Noodle has been alive. Usually about entirely the wrong things, I have to say. The scary, dangerous moments were almost always the ones I hadn't thought about in advance.

I'm not quite sure if I'm just deeply horrified and appalled at the man on the bike's attitude or whether I am also just the slightest bit envious. I really don't want to see him again, in case I shriek out at him in my anxiety, and become the very agent that causes him to drop the child - blump - right on her head.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New baby in the world

Over at Ramping it Up there's a new baby boy.

I nearly, almost, quite a lot actually, feel like a baby is a very good idea.

Not likely, though. I don't think my stomach muscles are capable of pushing any more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Surprise

In what seems like an astonishing and unprecedented event we actually finished something at work today.

I feel like cracking open the bubbles. Or going to sleep for a month, one or the other.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best years of your life

Now, my general feeling is that if I had to travel back in time and live my teenage years over again I'd probably prefer to be lost in time-travel limbo forever in agonising pain (like Meg tessering with her father) than endure the horrors of life between 13-19.

James Roy, in Town, seems to me to have captured the ghastly horror of teenage existence most accurately. Which makes me suspect that if I were a teenager now (through either time travel or just having been born 20-odd years later than I was) I would avoid this book like the plague. I spent most of my teenage years with the feeling that I was doing the wrong thing. Actually, I think it was two feelings - one that I was doing something bad and that there might be Consequences, or the other one that I was doing whatever I should be doing not very well actually. I never felt the need to turn to literature to confirm that other people felt like this as well. I usually wanted to read books about children or young people saving the world, or otherwise adults having quite other feelings, such as jadedness, awe, pride or prejudice.

Roy's characters have a bijou little story-ette each - a chapter really I suppose. The collection together constructs a version of a country town seen through the unforgiving, but oddly uncritical, eyes of its young. Awful. Each chapter belongs to a month, as well, so its possible to trace the stories of some characters throughout the book, although others clearly have very little impact on the lives of their schoolmates.

In 'October - The Rule of Threes - Warwick' the narrator, Warwick, tells what it's like when three kids at school die. One is the little brother of a class mate, one is a friend of a girl Warwick thinks is 'hot' and one is someone he was friends with in primary school but hasn't talked to in a long while. Warwick notices other peoples grief, he feels the disaster of young people dying, he imagines how his mother would feel if it was him or one of his brothers. It's a moment of emotional sensitivity to other people, but not much awareness of how it changes Warwick himself or how he even feels about what's happened. Roy captures these feelings perfectly. Adults sometimes seem to think these traumas should mature young people, but I think it just messes them up.

The next story, 'November - Rotational Forces - Hattie' jumps to the sister of the girl who died. Earlier we found out that Hattie is smart, outspoken and funny. She seems happy and confident, and her home life comes as a shock. She calls her mother The Mayor and her father The Chemist and they just can't leave each other or their kids alone. One of the naughty boys of the school is half in love with Hattie's poise and intelligence, although he can hardly even admit it to himself.

UQP have published the book, and it's ace. It won a prize in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. I hope lots of school libraries have bought a copy, because I'm not sure who else would. I suspect it might be a book that adults buy for teenagers rather than one that teenagers buy for themselves. In my experience teenagers were buying Terry Pratchett, stuff about vampires or Penguin Classics and poetry. Very young teenagers certainly bought plenty of YA fiction, but usually romance or fantasy (or both) or adventure novels. Maybe the bookshops I had much to do with didn't attract the right sort of teenagers.

But I hope many people read Town, because it's worth reading. Even if it does give me that creeping, ripply, you're-doing-the-wrong-thing sort of feeling that I thought I'd almost grown out of.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Prize winning effort

Yesterday the Noodle won his class's annual prize for effort at combined assembly. The husband attended, and said that the Noodle's teacher stood up and explained why he won the award, and then he was called up to the front to receive his prize. Which was a book - Pirateology.

His teacher said he always tries his best, even if P.E., and that he will try absolutely anything going. He's such a mixture of nervous and astonishingly brave.

Proud? I am!

The Penguin Book of First World War Stories

One of the purchases from The Book Grocer last week was The Penguin Book of First World War Stories, edited by Barbara Korte and Ann-Marie Einhaus. I think I've been seduced into World War I fiction by Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy. One of the nicest things about historical fiction written about another part of history, but written more-or-less in your own part of history is the ease with which one can understand the points of view and prejudices of the characters. The very best historical fiction does a damned lot of explaining for the reader (without those didactic asides or weird anachronisms. Not that I'm against weird asides or didactic anachronisms. I quite liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell).

The written-at-the-time historical stories, though, hit a person quite differently. It's the unexamined patriotism that's the hardest to accept. Not all the stories fall into the 'war is hell' genre, and not all of them fall into the 'join up to be a hero' genre either, although both are strongly represented. The first story, 'The Bowmen' by Arthur Machen, tells of mystic longbowmen from Agincourt striking down 10,000 German soldiers. Frankly, it's very odd indeed. Others include a weird garden and a big dog, a ghost soldier who can't make friends with the new owners of his house, a women who builds her whole life about mourning her brother and another women who resents having no one to mourn.

The oddest, though, is 'His Last Bow' in which Sherlock Holmes defeats a rotten German spy by sending a cleaning lady to look after the scoundrel. I'm not sure that a super spy, even in the very early 20th century, would a)confide in his cleaning lady, or b)keep all his secret letters hidden behind a curtain in pigeon holes labelled with the names of each secret. Obviously a person who respects tidiness more than victory. It may be comforting to think that your enemies are a bunch of wallies, at least until you prove unable to beat them. I guess that makes you look a bit silly as well.

All the stories are from the allied point of view, indeed, mostly British. There's nothing German or Turkish or Australian here at all. I didn't notice that until just then. There's one story about French people, written by an American woman, and one by Katherine Mansfield. Some of the stores are by Scottish or Irish people, though.

Incidentally, one of my favourite World War I stories is The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning (Australian, but doing a fine impersonation of the English class system). The other name of it is the rather unfortunate Her Privates We.

The Noodle, on the other hand, is reading considerably funnier books. He's just finished the entire series of The Floods by Colin Thompson. And he's giving The Muppet Show Annual a thorough going over as well. He has two series of the Muppet Show on DVD, which is bringing joy to my heart. All the classics are there, including Pachalafaka, Dr Bob, Pigs in Space and many, many monsters eating people. The Noodle is particuarly delighted by things fallen down on Wayne and Wanda and Crazy Harry's diverse explosions.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hiphopapotamus vs Rhymnocerous (or Noodle vs Mum)



We showed the Noodle this extract (with parental talking loudly over certain moments as a Highly Sophisticated Censorship Technique - pass it on the Stephen Smith), because we thought it would make him laugh when the Hiphopapotumus said "I'm the Hiphopapotamus and my lyrics are bottomless" and then he couldn't think of anything else to say. O yea, it made the Noodle verily laugh like a drain. Hilarious.

Short term outcome has been a very amusing afternoon of the Noodle vs the Mum. Being a charming and non-competitive young fellow though he decided that we should not be in competition but should take over from each other when someone couldn't think of another rhyme in the spirit of cooperation. My lefty, pinko, greeny heart was warmed. Except I was laughing too hard to be sentimental.

His best rhyme was fooooood with illooooooo-(next line)sion. My worst rhyme was tasty with wasty (ie you shouldn't throw away food that is not tasty, because that would be very wasty. Eminen can look out - we'll take him on any day. (Or if Eminem is too, too utterly five minutes ago, we'll take on whoever the contemporary version is, provided that they don't have guns or hang around with Lil Kim, cos she's scary).

Plus I learned how to embed a You Tube video. It wasn't hard. A person needs more ambition.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So, Obama wins the presidency

I was especially busy with a particularly pointless bit of labour while at work today, so I didn't get to hear the speech or anything. But I did manage to find a few moments to visit the Washington Post and find out the news. I was quite astonished that McCain had conceded so soon. But then looking at the figures I guess he had no choice.

The cynical part of me thinks that nothing much will change in the world, but the optimistic part of me thinks that something pretty amazing has already changed. I'm so heartened that so many Americans rejected the cynical battle metaphors of the Republicans, and rejected the assumption that it's perfectly OK to take money from the poor to redistribute to the rich, but it's somehow dirty to take money from the rich to redistribute to the poor.

On the teev Kerry O'Brien is giving Wayne Swan a hard time. Frankly, it's an uneven contest. Swan sounds like he might cry.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Hon Joe Hockey

Facebook wanted to know if Joe Hockey was a friend of mine.

It seems I have a more politically diverse group of online (and real life) acquaintances than I thought. I wish this didn't make me feel as smug as it does. I don't really care to analyse my feelings either (because self-congratulatory tolerance is usually prejudice masquerading as something nicer, and it's usually a pretty thin veneer at that, and I quite like the person who I believe is responsible for this in the it's a pleasure to see them unexpectedly kind of way and I still like them even post-chat).

I must say, though, that some people inhabiting positions that seem extremely, ludicrously, climate-change denyingly right wing to me describe themselves as moderate. I can only imagine how remote from moderate they think I am. Actually, I don't have to imagine it. I am sure they think that I am extremely, ludicrously, climate-change radically left wing.

However, I think that the Hon Joe Hockey can exist without online expressions of good will from me today.

I'd be utterly charmed to friend Bob Brown, though. Or the local rocket scientist.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Melbourne Cup Day

We went down to the ACTTAB to place our bets. The husband dropped a massive eight dollars total - two dollars each way on Mad Rush and another horse who didn't win whose name I forget already. I dropped a massive four dollars - one dollar each way on Nom de Jeu and Alessandra Volta. I had my money's worth out of Alessandra Volta's temporary lead.

The Noodle spent one dollar each way on C'est le Guerre. He won $7.80, of which the husband returned $5.80 to the son, since the son prudently refused to gamble his own money this morning. The Noodle spent $3.00 on a vanilla cornetto and his put the rest in his money tin.

He also suggested that if he had a race horse he'd call it 'Horse'.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Incredibly talented people I went to school with episode 1

Actually, not sure how many episodes there are, since I lost touch with nearly everyone from school pretty much a day and a half after it finished. But recently, thanks to the magic of Facebook, I came across Darrin Archer. I knew he was a wildly talented jazz musician because his brother told me (he also comes from the kind of family who are likely to say nice things about each other). But the good thing is it inspired me to google him, and now I can bring you a link to a sample of jazzly goodness.

I shall be forking over my $$$. Not today, though, because I spent too much money at the Book Grocer on Juvenal and Nick Hornby's music reviews.

Stress

Our house has been a bit stressy lately. Actually, that's not true - there has been no earthquakes or subsidence or mudslides to stress the house. It's the people inside the house that have been anxious and irritable.

The husband has submitted his thesis. He's in that twilight world of waiting for the results and wondering what to do next.

The son has been doing assessment at school. I don't remember being stressed about assessment when I was in Grade 1. Actually I'm not sure if I even noticed there was such a thing. More proof that my child is smarter than me. But he claims he's worrying about that, so I suppose I must believe him.

I have been worrying about work. It's been like the experience of doing group work at uni, where one group member never turns up until the day before assessment, and then insists on forcing the rest of the group to change everything. Except, unlike uni, you don't get to complain to the tutor about what a prat this other group member was. You just have to accept that you all look like prats and get on with the next thing.

Also the adults have been drinking too much coffee.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sister Buckle

Seriously, this blog is the first thing that has made me feel homesick for Brisbane since I left.

And as Mary Rose McColl once told me, Finish Your Thesis!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Satellite of Love

Sometimes I love David Bowie so much that I think it's worth being alive just to be able to put energy into loving David Bowie.

It's the last little bit of the song that pulls it all together, but the combined cheesiness of the snare drum and the bom-bom-boms is hard to resist.

I do love Transformer generally. I think it's because it's poised at that first moment of post-youth insanity when you start to think 'hold on, is this really what I want to be doing with my life?' but you haven't actually decided whether the answer is going to be 'yes' or 'no'. Plus the insane but glorious mix of Lou Reed-ness and David Bowie-ness (and Mick Ronson, no doubt).

Of course, you have to be in exactly the right mood or the whole thing is just blooming annoying.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Acquaintances

There are some people who you are really pleased to see coming towards you and then you talk to them for a while, and you remember that you maybe didn't like them quite as much as you thought you did. These people are good in the imagination.

There are some people who you never look forward to seeing, but then whenever you actually do see them you have a really good time, and you wish you remembered how much you like them. These people are good in reality.

Real friends are the people you look forward to seeing, enjoy them while they're there, and heartily regret it when they go away. I guess they're the ones where imagination and reality meet. Of course, there are plenty of people that are just as nasty as you think they are as well, but a person can avoid thinking of them by reading Jane Austen novels.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Going out is bad, staying home is worse - the ouevre of Sheri S.Tepper

Recently I've read quite a few Sheri S. Tepper books. Until then I'd only read Beauty, which is a favourite, and another one about humans taking over the universe and destroying all the plants and animals that exist anywhere. That particular one had some very unsavoury creatures who, after disappearing through the navel of one planet, turned into all the extinct creatures from Earth. There was also something about giant air-borne jellyfish. It's been some time since I read it, so I'm a bit hazy on details.

The books I've read recently vary on the descriptions of the unsavoury creatures, and sometimes the place where things get regenerated is not described as the navel of the planet, but as a pool or door or some other thing. One of them involved frightening sentient chairs, that embodied famine, war and epidemic. I hate it when my chairs kill me and everyone I know through violence, starvation and disease. It's not what I expect from IKEA.

I am making fun of Tepper's work. It does start to get a bit funny waiting for the alien creature who represents the soul of the world to turn up, and to see exactly how that transforming world-navel is going to be described. And I'm not convinced that spreading Earth species across other planets eco-systems is really very environmentally friendly when I consider rabbits, foxes, cane toads and other nasties that people thought might benefit the Australian environment.

But despite the drinking-game regularity with which these things occur, Tepper is having a red-hot go at making people actually care about how they treat the world, and how they treat other people as well. Plus her characters are nearly all feisty women who don't have a clue (glug glug) what to do with their lives, until some kind of non-Earth based cataclysm overcomes them, and suddenly It All Just Becomes Clear. While I'm happy to do without the cataclysm I'd quite like a seasoning of direction in my life.

I am also reading The Growing Summer by Noel Streafeild to the Noodle. I don't much like the lost, stolen or strayed movie-star subplot, but the bit where the children go prawning is hilarious. I was addicted to this and Ballet Shoes as a young feller. I'm wondering if I can manage to read Ballet Shoes to the Noodle before he realises it's a girl's book. I think I might give White Boots a miss, though. It was always a guilty pleasure for me, and I don't think I can share.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Birthday Fun

Here is the Noodle at Questacon, being eaten by a predator.

Here are some of the Noodle's presents. Books, thank goodness!!!!

Here's the Birthday Boy at the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery. We stopped off at their cafe for a little something after our the exhausting fun of Questacon. The Noodle, as is his wont, is practising his bowling action.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Birthday Magic and the Tooth Fairy

The Noodle is turning seven. I am quite a lot older than I ever thought I'd be. I didn't mind turning thirty because a large part of my brain thought I was settling there permanently. But apparently that's not how it works.

On the topic of inhabiting a self-delusional fantasy world the Noodle asked me tonight who really gives him the money from the tooth fairy. He wasn't 100% sure it wasn't the tooth fairy, because he didn't find it credible that his father or I could go into his bedroom at night without waking him up. Being a wonderful mother I kept an absolutely straight face, and didn't mention anything about how I wander in there and put his clothes away at night and kiss him on the head and so on. On weighing up the evidence he decided that it was somewhat more likely that his parents could do that, than that a two-inch high immaterial being carried two dollar coins around the place. I offered no opinion.

He doesn't seem upset about his revelation, but I wonder what he'll be thinking about the Easter Bunny and Father Christmas. He's done well to keep the story going this long - he has a will of adamant.

He got his first two-wheeler (plus training wheels) bike for his birthday. He got it a little bit early, because he had to go to the shop to make sure it fit him. It was actually a great strategy for him, because now he has another whole birthday's worth of presents to open so he doesn't miss out on having presents to open. So what, he's an only child. He should be shamelessly spoilt by his indulgent and loving parents.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

'Business time' with Miranda Devine?

The oddest thing about Miranda Devine's article about granny Madonna is not so much her commentary on aging and plastic surgery, but that Miranda Devine appears to be a fan of The Flight of the Conchords.

Well, it's good to know she has a sense of humour.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Elections and food - the Australian system of compulsory eating.

I was just going to reply to Arevanye's comment down there in the comments, but I thought the issue she raised was so horrifying and so serious that it deserved its own entry.

Does anyone remember that ad from back in the 1980s with the catch phrase 'in some countries they don't have advertising'? The ad backfired horribly, because it pretty much made everyone in Australia want to move to those lucky countries, instead of making us realise that advertising meant we could choose nice sofas. At least I think that was what the ad was trying to say anyway.

But Revie's message about sausage sizzle free elections really slugged me with that horrified feeling of 'O no! How the underprivileged Other is suffering. O I do thank my lucky stars that I am Australian and able to scoff a snag on the way home from the voting booth!'.

But then, of course, this morning I caught the bus to work. Action Buses should really get their timetables sorted, because otherwise my brain is going to frizzle (like a sausage at a sizzle). So I started thinking about compulsory voting. Now, I am aware that the people from democracies other than Australia consider compulsory voting to be a little bit, well, undemocratic. They think that citizens should have the political power to choose whether or not they vote as well as who they vote for. Of course, if we got to choose who to vote for really I probably would've voted for Queen Latifah after watching Chicago at the movies, which brings me to the the real nature of Australian compulsory voting. It's really compulsory turning up to the voting booth, having your name crossed off the list, accepting a piece of paper with writing on it and then disposing of the piece of paper thoughtfully in the appropriate cardboard box. They can't make a person actually vote for someone standing in the election. I know for a fact that one of my grandmas had a habit of writing rude comments against all candidates rather than numbering the appropriate boxes. It's called a donkey or informal vote. If 45% of people decide to do this the country explodes and the remaining 55% of people get the day off work (or something like that).

To an Australian the idea of not being compelled to turn up seems odd. How can you be sure that the vote genuinely reflects the desires of the community if a whole bunch of the community members can fulfil their dream of Video Hits instead of fronting up to fill in the appropriate form?

So back to the sausages. I am in two minds. 1. It's only worth holding community fundraising events on election day because absolutely everybody in the area absolutely has to turn up, which creates a decent sized market for your snags, lammos or second-hand books. OR 2. Maybe a sausage sizzle and lamington drive would actually be a top-hole, non-political incentive to get people away from Video Hits on a Saturday morning and into the polling booth? And help the kiddies at the local school at the same time.

I think it's important in either model that no political candidate or party ever benefits directly from the fundraising at the polling booth. No one wants to eat political sausages.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Election fever

I voted in the ACT election today. My first territory vote ever. A whole new system!

The ABC is running election coverage with Antony Green. Even if you don't like democracy, it's worth it just to see Mr Green engaging with his laptop and electoral counts. In fact, I reckon it's a shame we don't get to vote more often because then he could have a regular show. It's one argument against fixed terms on my opinion.

In other good news the local primary school was running a sausage sizzle to celebrate election day. I was heartily disappointed at the dreadful lack of election fund-raising efforts at Ipswich polling booths. Today was a minimal, but honest, effort. My huzzahs for best ever electoral fundraising go to 1. the Anglican church at Bulimba - sausage sizzles, scones, bric-a-brac, cake stall and oodles of good will and 2. Ithaca Creek Primary - sausage sizzles, lamingtons, second-hand books and advice on enrollment for small children. What is an election without a sausage in white bread with tomato sauce, I ask you? Another argument against fixed terms.

I'm barracking for our rocket scientist candidate. Not because of his party, but because he is a realio, trulio rocket scientist. He should be on the ticket with a brain surgeon to make us the smartest electorate in the world.





Actually I'm in favour of fixed terms.







And I just thought - Antony Green's not getting any younger. What happens when he retires? *aghast*

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chapter books and law breaking

If you go to visit Eglantine's Cake you will find some excellent chapter book ideas for the younger reader.

My son never liked Tashi much, but many of the others are on our hits and memories list.

At the moment the Noodle is reading a million words a millisecond so we have become great friends with the Woden Library, and with Canty's second hand bookshop. They don't have a website, but it is undoubtedly the best second hand bookshop I've ever strolled into. It even has Diana Wynne Jones books. It's in Fyshwick, along with the furniture, toilet and car repair shops.

Oh, and in another news my Mum was arrested yesterday afternoon for protesting the demolition of the yacht club in Cairns. She's got a three month good behaviour bond and no conviction recorded. I never got arrested when I was an activist. *sulks*

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Goulburn


We stopped in Goulburn on the way to Sydney. It's only about an hour from Canberra, so stopping wasn't strictly necessary. But the sign said the town was historical, so who could resist.

And it was indeed old. We parked outside the courthouse, a suitably large and imposing Victorian structure adorned with many busloads of tourists. Across the road was a park, with very green lawns and flowers aplenty.

Next door was the Rose Cafe, which was frankly worth an hours drive for the variety of pies in the fridge and the variety of pinks on the wall. Plus the people working there were astonishingly friendly and pleasant.

The drive from Canberra to Sydney is actually more than tolerable all the way until you hit Campbelltown. It may be the most interesting stretch of highway in existence - the southern highlands crop up just when you think things might get dull.

We didn't stop at the Big Merino this time. It didn't seem to need us.


The image comes from the Goulburn Mulwaree council.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Home again, home again.

Back from our brief sojourn in Sydney. I've decided I like Randwick better than Glebe.

The tests were very useful today. It looks like the Noodle has a neuropathy rather than a myopathy. That's nerves instead of muscles. The process of finding out more will continue indefinitely, but this knocks certain possibilities out completely, for the very first time. Which is great, really. It still might be a mitochondrial thing, or it might not.

The next thing to be done is some tests on the Manly Sensitive Funny Clever Husband and on me. Those can be done here in Canberra (because they treat grownups here apparently). I think the Noodle is tickled that someone else will finally be tortured. I've tried to explain to him about how many blood tests I had when I was pregnant, but it never wins me any brownie points.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Husband

The husband has announced that he would like to be known as The Manly Husband, Husband Known as Clint (Eastwood, that is), Husband Known as Wife or Housewife Husband from now on.

Or Husband with the Rippling Chest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wealth of nations

Superannuation statements arrived belatedly. Am less rich than last year apparently. Oh well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Work life balance II - the Thinkening!

I've noticed recently that I've kind of fallen into a hole of non-critical thinking. I'm not sure if it's because I've been super tired by the time I get home, or whether it's because I use it all up at work (honest, I do things properly at work). Or maybe it's because I've been such an enthusiast recently that I've lost the ability to evaluate because I keep thinking things are just so Fab In Every Way. But today I kind of started thinking about what I wrote yesterday, and all the work life balance stuff that I've been discovering, including Rachel Funari's comment on modern feminism in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which she writes:
the type of girl-child inclined to be feminist finds it difficult to get excited about work/life balance, or equitable housekeeping
Not that I've ever called anyone a girl-child.

But I was thinking, there's this assumption that work-life balance = taking time off work to look after your children. Which I've pretty much swallowed, if you read my post from yesterday. But then I thought of a whole bunch of things that annoyed me about this assumption (but which does not make me less uncomfortable about the rest of Funari's article, since I am a hairy-legged and hairy-armpitted feminist, although also married, a mother, a full-time worker and consumer of Jane Austen novels. I do pluck my moustache, though. A girl must have standards, harrumph. I thought avoiding stereotyping was a thing feminists (of all kinds) kind of thought might be a nice idea. Like having a clean hanky.

So here's my list of things that work-life balance might be for me.

  1. Time off to care for the Noodle. Yes, this matters, but the unspoken assumptions about it irk me. Accepting the assumption means that the only decent aspiration other than working is child care. This is clearly rubbish of the non-recyclable kind. And frankly, probably is vaguely irritating for those without kiddies, although taking time to care for elderly and beloved relatives seems OK too.
  2. Work is, actually, part of my life. I don't know about you, but I spend an astonishing chunk of my day at work or travelling to and fro (Canberra buses being what they are). So having work that captures my imagination, satisfies my need to feel useful, uses my creativity and so on is very important to me. The decisions that the husband and I have made were at least partly in pursuit of rewarding work as time to look after the Noodle. Or having less time devoted to unrewarding work, so that there was time for other rewarding things outside of paid work that resemble 'work' in the senses of time commitment, effort and so on. Oh, that'll be balance then.
  3. Stuff that has nothing to do with family is important. Well, obviously, you say. And I say, do you know how long it's been since I went to the movies? But quite a lot of my internal dialogue has nothing to do with family or work, which tells me that quite a lot of other things are actually important to me, even if it's only theoretically right now. I think Best Department recognises this, but I think the functioning of the department may also depend on most of its employees not recognising it for themselves. The department has approved leave for all kinds of personal passions, and the humans that make up the department really seem to care about each other's achievements. So I'm not complaining, but I think it goes back to the unspoken assumption that work-life balance = child care obligations.
  4. And I reckon that work-life balance is about recognising that it's not all about where you are right now, or about planning out a future career, but seeing a person as moving through their lives with all kinds of valuable things learned, and all kinds of things to offer that might not seem immediately obvious. And now I sound like some kind of floaty, dreamy, let's-all-hold-hands kind of person, which is so far from the truth that it might be one of the other micro-planets hanging around near Pluto.
So, that's what I was thinking. And I have to say, that point three often includes such items as apartments in Paris, wishing I'd been better at physics so I could've been an astronaut, going to see Ross Noble, buying new shoes for no other reason than I want to and dancing. Not in that order.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Work life balance in Canberra

Well, it's all the rage to have work life balance. The people at work talk about it a lot, and it means different things to every single one of them.

When my son was born we decided that trying to have a family balance of people going out to work, people staying home and people occasionally getting to the movies would be a good plan. It kind of worked, except that my husband worked forty hours a week, and I worked three hours a week (outside work that is). He managed to spread his forty hours across four days, but that was hardly perfect, since the baby and I were frequently teary (or shrieky) by 6.15 when he got home. And woe, woe, woe if he got home at 6.17. We were lucky that we lived about 10 minutes away from his work, in the Brisbane suburb of Bulimba.

The plan always was that I'd go back to fuller-time work after a year or two, and the husband would have his turn to look after the baby, but that didn't work out particularly either, because I won myself a scholarship to do my PhD, and that seemed like a reasonable option. And then doctors stuck their noses in, and brought with them physiotherapists, occupational therapists and so on and so forth, and we suddenly had a much higher level of care with the offspring than we'd ever anticipated. The husband worked a bit less, but the PhD still brought in less money than the husband's job did, and seemed to be more flexible, so that's where a lot of the give came from. Not to say that the husband didn't take a very flexible approach to his working hours as well, thanks to a very generous boss (Suzy, that's you).

So we kind of teetered into part-ish time work for both of us, to accommodate hospital appointments, visits from our team of experts from Montrose Access, hydrotherapy and all the other stuff that we had always wanted to spend our child-rearing time on, like playing, reading Good Books and hanging out with our mates.

And then after the Noodle was very ill in Spain* we realised that we needed more money than a part-timish working life was going to deliver. But we also realised that we needed more time than both working full-timish would deliver. So the public service was the only option.

And they have so delivered. The husband is very busy, what with child duties, finishing off his masters, working part time, doing a spot of freelance writing and freelance design and watching the Sopranos. But he's flexible. And I work for the blessed and enlightened Commonwealth Government, with generous leave provisions, flexi-time and an underlying attitude of 'your family comes first - no questions'. (They do ask questions, but only out of the same rampant curiousity that informs their approach to policy development).

The first few weeks I was out of the house at 7.45am and had to leave the Noodle behind were devastating, and I really did sit in the toilets crying a few times. Although that might also have been because I just was not used to turning up to work at the same time every day. But now it's working. We're off to Sydney again next week for more tests (poor Noodle), and I get to take the days off. The husband keeps track of all the appointments, letters, results and stuff, as well as getting to take the Noodle out for afternoon tea. And I like the work much, much more than I liked the PhD. Thank goodness. When things work out this well I start looking for the disaster on the horizon, but maybe it's not quite due yet.

*About Spain - it might seem weird that we managed to go on holiday to Spain with our general part-timish work penury. Short story, I bought an embroidery kit on sale and won a competition. Yay craft! And I might write about what happened to the Noodle there some day, but I feel very uncomfortable about doing that, because the response of some of my colleagues at university was 'that would make a great book', which made me want to smack them in the face, made me realise that I would never be a 'real' writer because I didn't think it was such the great idea (although part of me did, which made me want to smack myself in the face as well).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sping post-nasal drip

Spring may well be a beautiful and splendid time. The eyeballs are certainly impressed with the astonishing acid green of new leaves (the colour of the serpent/Queen in The Silver Chair), the underside-of-your-little-toe-after-wearing-slightly-too-tight-shoes pink of blossoms and the blue of the sky (which is actually the same colour as the sky in winter, autumn and summer as far as I can tell - it does rain in Canberra, but not blooming much).

The air feels soft on the skin and the breezes imitate Bach by just not quite being predictable. The little birdies have returned, and are eating the whole-grain seeds I accidentally spilt in the cupboard, and had to dispense with out doors.

But the snot, oh lord, the snot. And the wheezing, coughing, puffing and panting. And the ears so full of goo that the only conversational gambit is 'eh?'

Bring back winter, I say.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Downunder Feminist Carnival

Hell on Hairy Legs is hosting the Downunder Feminist Carnival. Just the place to go for a bit of vehement agreement.

Lauredhel from Hoyden About Town has contributed an entry on fictional hoyden Little My from Tove Jansson's Moomin books. Finding Little My kicking around the intertubes has made my day. I'm going to imagine what Little My would do and what Elizabeth Bennet would do any time I'm faced with a difficult situation. I'm sure between the two I'll figure something out. Or explode and create a world-sucking black hole in the style of CERN.

After first hearing the ginormous hadron collider news I had a dream that the world was sucked into a black hole. It was boring. I prefer the dream where David Bowie lives in West Melbourne and shops at the Victoria Markets.

So tired I forgot I was tired

As some of you may know, I am the world's second-oldest graduate. I started in a graduate program in February this year in the Best Department in the Commonwealth, which delivers the Most Important Functions to the Government. Rah Rah Rah. No sarcasm, all those other sub-standard departments can eat our dust. We rule. Or we could if we wanted to (insert evil, but obedient to the Public Service Code of Conduct, laughter here).

Anyway this week I started working in a different area of the Best Department. We have rotations, which does not mean we spin around manically (only on the inside, dear readers), but does mean we spread our time across three areas during our first year.

My first rotation was challenging, rewarding and busy. I enjoyed it, and was ever-so-rarely stressed enough to sit in the toilet cubicle wondering if I would ever quite manage to understand just what I was supposed to be achieving and how I could describe in writing what I didn't understand. I accrued one day's flex leave in the rotation, plus the odd hour here and there.

The second rotation involved much slower spinning, since there really was not quite enough work to do for all of us. My general knowledge of Best Department tells me that this is incredibly rare, before anyone rushes off to bash-a-lazy-public-servant land. The people were knowledgeable, funny, kind and I hope to meet them many times for morning tea, since they put on a morning tea that would be the envy of the Queen and all her corgis. I accrued one and a half hours flex leave in that rotation.

On Monday I moved to my next rotation. After four days I already had a whole day's flex time. Actually, a whole day plus an hour and a half. So does this mean that I did as much in four days as I did in nine months? Or that I've just become really, really slow?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pern + Hornblower + Aubrey = Temeraire

I'm a bit slow. I just read Temeraire by Naomi Novik. She's up to the fifth book in the series. I'm not sure I'd be willing to put in the time to read five books with these characters or set in Novik's world, but I'd be happy to read another one or two.

The set up is that the world has dragons in it, and countries use them as an airforce. Napoleon is kicking around threatening Britain, and the navy very important in defendng the island, but not as important as the dragons are.

On the one hand the dragons irritated the hokey hey out of me, being rather like Anne McCaffrey's lot. Not so much as to be plagiarised precisely; more like Tolkien's Elves and Dwarves have migrated through the fantasy world because they seem so obvious and natural. It's a testament to McCaffrey's creation, I suppose. Imitation, flattery and so on.

Having recently become quite attached to the Aubrey/Maturin novels, and being reasonably fond of the Hornblower books (although not as fond as the television Hornblower, of course) the Napoleon-fighting navy stuff was also quite familiar. The main human character, Captain Laurence, has all the good qualities of Hornblower and Aubrey, plus the wit and intelligence of Maturin, with no bad qualities whatsoever. Temeraire is his dragon, and a more noble, perceptive and talented creature you could not hope to meet. Laurence has a mild inner struggle when he has to surrender his ship so he can care for his new dragon, but that's about it. His character development is close to zero, although he does learn that personal charm only belongs to French traitors and evil dragon-neglectors. Horrors.

But I suppose the book transcends mere pastiche and wildly idealised characters because it is quite good at capturing the voice and attitude of Laurence as a very proper gentleman of the time. England-with-dragons is not really explored except at the level closest to the action and the main characters.

Mostly it works, though, because it's cool to think of dragons fighting.

Oh, and an Admiral is called Admiral Croft, but he's obese, grasping and not particularly kind. Most certainly not the Admiral Croft who is such a good friend to Anne Elliot. I found this much more off-putting than I should have.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sydney

You know, it's not Sydney's fault that it's full of quality. Great beaches, great weather, great bridge, great museums. They've got everything except affordable housing and decent conversation. Even their public transport isn't as bad as they think it is. They have trains, the lucky beggars. Trains that go places.

But the thing the city has to offer us at the moment is quality medical care. So ta for that.

We'll soon be off for another round of medical tests for the Noodle. The news from the last round came back, and was neither good nor bad. More news needed.

Songs I wish I'd written

Today I wish I'd written Dive for your memory by Robert Forster. It's been a long time since I was unlucky in love, but that one makes me remember what it felt like.

If the cliffs were any closer
If the water wasn't so bad
I'd dive for your memory
Through the rocks and the sand

But, of course, it's too much trouble, to do even that, which is why things went rotten in the first place.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Post Grand Final Post

I think I spoke too soon. The Noodle proved to be very *ahem* sensitive to the tension of the Grand Final. He was expecting Geelong to win. It shouldn't have come of a surprise to me, since he was in tears watching the finale of Scrap Heap Challenge last week.

Afterwards we went to the Canberra Nara festival, and wondered whether Nara holds a Canberra festival and what on earth they would do there. This festival had koto music, calligraphy and kite flying. But the best bit was the candles. The Nara Park has a dry watercourse, which was filled with tea lights so that the whole thing was a flickering stream of light. Actually, it was a bit like the bit in The Spellcoats where Tanaqui enters the river and the souls are streaming through the shimmering light. It was actually quite hard to tell if the candles were sitting in water or not in the dim, moving light.

People keep telling us that Canberra folk don't turn up to stuff, but tens of thousands of them seem to go to all the same places we do. With little kiddies.

I had to miss a picnic in the park earlier in the day, though, because of other obligations. However, Happy Birthday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Grand Final

Alas for the Brisbane Lions. Have defaulted to barracking for Geelong, although I have no good reason for this. I did once have a quite tasty pie in Geelong, but I've had much more fun in Hawthorn over the years, so it can't be that simple.

The Noodle's first Grand Final was the 2002 tension-o-rama between the Lions and Collingwood. He was not quite one, and despite his bold flag waving, was horrified by the intense barracking of his Dad. His Dad was overwhelmed by the tension himself, and had to keep going for little strolls around the front garden. The 2003 Grand Final was less exciting, but there were no tears, and no one had a stomach ache.

I have nothing to say about 2004. Nothing at all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sweet Valley Spy

Walker Books haven't quite stopped sending me review copies of YA and children's books yet. They are so good at publicising their books that they just can't let go. Great for me, though, because they have sent me two books that gallop along at such a pace that they even gave the illusion of speed to my loathesome bus journey.

The first one may be the silliest book I've ever read, and I can tell you there's plenty of competition. Cross my heart and hope to spy by Ally Carter tells the story of Cammie Morgan, a teenage genius who attends the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. But oh! she's not a normal teenage girl, indeed no. She's a spy in training, and so are all the other Gallagher Girls. The book lacks the kick-arse action of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, or the completely crazed Cherub series by Robert Muchamore. I suppose the prom scene and the flirting have to make up for it. While I can't imagine how I missed the first one in the series (sarcasm is Not Nice, but there you go), here is the US cover to give you a very accurate sense of where the books are coming from. Sweet Valley High meets James Bond, and calls him a hottie.
The other one Walker sent me was Bloodline by Katy Moran.

Bookbag has a review:
Katy Moran's story, though, comes to us fully-formed, credible, and utterly absorbing. It's without the tiniest trace of anachronism and has great attention to detail, right down to the diction.
They also thank the good people at Walker for sending it. Thanks indeed. This one is a corker. I wish Moran had written it when I was twelve or so, so I could have re-read it a few dozen times while I was especially impressionable. (And I secretly put in on the list of 'books I wish I'd written' as well').

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chicken

The Noodle just refuses to eat chicken. A person has considered fibbing about it, and pretending that the mysterious white meat in the dish is pork, turkey, duck or gluten-based fake chicken.

A person feels that would be inappropriate.

Sometimes, though, he forgets to ask until after he's already eaten it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Anne Shirley's womanly bosom

So, recently I've been thinking quite a lot about breastfeeding. And also quite a lot about Anne of Green Gables, although the two didn't really come together for me until this morning on the bus. The Linda McIver article plus Ramping it Up talking about the righteousness faced by mothers really made me think. And it's years since I breastfed anyone on the bus!

Anne, of course, had quite the parcel of children herself. Not in the first book, although she had spent her pre-Avonlea years caring for toddlers and whatnot. She probably had a reasonably good grasp of the issues of breastfeeding. Now, I don't know how the late 19th and early 20th century regarded women's breasts and the suckling of babies thereon, and I haven't decided yet whether I'm interested enough to find out. If there's a good book written in amusing and easily digested prose then I'd be keen.

But anyway, Anne must have known all about it, and so must Marilla. I'm not sure I'd trust Gilbert's opinion, though. I think he had a tendency to be blinded by science (although things worked out OK in Anne's House of Dreams for Lesley).

The various articles about breastfeeding, and the general sense that many women perceive disapproval of passers-by when feeding their babies in public areas, (plus one very odd article about Britney Spears's sister telling us that having an exposed breast while feeding you baby = a 'porn storm') made me think that attitudes to women and children are Very Odd Indeed. As if I didn't know this already, but sometimes it just hits the side of your head - whoomp - likely a particularly stupid pigeon in King George Square.

But what would Anne think?

Disclosure: while I fed my baby from my own womanly bosoms until he was fifteen months old I was myself a formula baby. I've decided to blame all my shortcomings on this, and sheet the guilt home to my mother. It's the modern way!

Plus I don't remember anyone disapproving of me feeding my son anywhere. Either I hang out in enlightened and sensitive places, or I am myself completely insensible to criticism. I'm betting on B.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great Australian Albums - Human Frailty

I have watched all of the SBS Series of Great Australian Albums. Apart from the Murder Ballads epidosde I would say that they have all been rather bitsy. While it's certainly enjoyable hearing the music and listening to band members chat about their histories and ideas the Australian series lacks any clear focus. Unlike the British series there's not much information about how songs were created or recorded, which is a damn shame. There's something about process documentaries that is just too fascinating. I can't resist (which is no doubt why I'm also addicted to Grand Designs).

But I watched last night's episode with a particular enthusiasm, having been an outer-suburban fan of the Hunnas as an impressionable, but hard-rocking, fifteen year old. I remember seeing them at Festival Hall, with Paul Kelly and another band that I can't remember. It must have been in early 1988 or 1987, since I was old enough to attend gigs, but was still collected by the parent of one of the other girls rather than making my own way home.

One comment by several of the band members, and by the guy from the Fauves (not sure why his commentary was more relevant than anyone else's, but at least we were spared Ben Lee), was that Hunters and Collectors were caught needing to court the outer-suburban, beer-barn yobs to sell records and hold big shows. But that they were, in fact, gentle and sensitive folk who had Things To Say About Emotions, and really should have not needed to pander to such an audience. The assumption about the yobbish blokes singing along to Say Goodbye was that they only cared about the rocking rhythm section, flannos and blokey aesthetic.

My hackles were raised by this. Now, growing up on the extreme suburban/rural fringes of Melbourne has given me a pretty thorough grounding in outer-suburban yob culture. I would not defend much about it. Like most of the members of Hunters and Collectors I removed myself to the inner suburbs at the first opportunity (which was pretty much the day after schoool finished). And I do remember having a good old chuckle with my best mate at all those sweaty, unattractive blokes shouting 'you don't make me feel like I'm a woman anymore'.

But I thought, why not ask the question, what were those blokes getting out of Hunters and Collectors? Why did the songs mean so damn much to them? Maybe the emotions, learning to be an adult, falling in love, falling out of love, not being able to fall in or out of love, all had something to do with it. But no one asked those questions, because it's just easier to sneer at yobs from the suburbs. Easy, quick and utterly boring.

Nearly all of us come from the suburbs. Might as well face reality.

Otherwise the show was fun, in a kind of not-very informative way. Toby Cresswell comments at the SBS website that he had to ask Nick Cave about the process rather than the feelings and stories of Murder Ballads. I wish he'd applied the same method to his other shows.

Listening to: Born Sandy Devotional, 16 Lover's Lane, Everybody Digs Bill Evans.

Reading: Boofheads by Mo Johnson. Which tends to indicate that advances in telecommunications technology have not altered suburban blokey yob culture. I'm so glad I never, ever have to be a teenager again. This book confirms my strongly held view that I would choose death over a return to teenage years any day.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Handy hint

The day that you decide to visit Floriade is not a good day to forget to take your hay-fever medicine.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Less waiting

Well, one piece of news turned up.

Still waiting for some medical results for the Noodle. During the first half of this year we had an almost doctor-free period. Anyone who has experienced the appointment and intervention roundabout will understand what a pleasure that was. Anyone who has not experienced the roundabout probably doesn't think about it much. Blessings upon them, and hoping that they stay free of doctors forever, or at least until twenty or so years after retirement.

But since July we've had a pretty doctor-intensive period - although nothing like the months after the Incident, or even the period of time after the Noodle's initial (non-)diagnosis.

We've been to Sydney twice, to both of the children's hospitals. Mysteriously, in Sydney they don't seem to think that bringing all their patients to out-patients or specialist clinic at the same time and letting them all wait for hours is a good idea. Perhaps they could send a time and motion expert to Brisbane to advise.

I hope the results come next week. The news will be neither good nor bad. But the more information the better. It'll help us know what we should be concerned about, and we what we don't need to be concerned about.

Reading

Me: 501 low-fat recipes

the Noodle: Samurai Kids: The White Crane.

Me and the Noodle: The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Waiting and waiting and waiting

So you're waiting for some news. It's likely to be bad news, but the slim possibility of it being good news won't quite let itself be ignored. Hitchcock decides to make a movie about the waiting period. Henry James writes a book about it. A life-time of television soaps waxes and wanes, filled with incident but lacking the all important resolution.

The phone rings. The news is not good, exactly, but it could be worse.

Tears.

Monday, September 15, 2008

$50 words

The Noodle has a homework assignment that has, no doubt, a sound pedagogical purpose. Each letter is allocated a dollar value - A = 1 and Z = 26. You can figure out the rest.

The task is to create words worth certain amounts - $20, $50 and $100.

We thought it would be easy. It's not. Give it a try and see how many hours of your life can be sucked away trying to find just one $50 word.

The wheels of the bus

Helen Irving asks where the power for the High Court to make judgements on whether or not things are constitutional comes from. Then, of course, she has to ask the next question - where does the power to make the constitution come from. There are all sorts of sensible historical and legal answers, of course. The British Parliament, precedent, convention and so on.

But another sort of answer is convention and acceptance. The power exists because none of us object to it enough to complain, lobby or revolt. And that, as far as I can tell, sums up why our democracy works. We obey laws that are convenient for us or laws that match our everyday behaviour. We obey laws that give us benefits or don't require anything of us (which is nearly all of them nearly all the time). We theoretically obey some laws because there are unpleasant consequences if we don't, but I don't think it really works like that. I think most of us obey the law because it's slightly more convenient for us to do so than it isn't.

Think of jaywalking, for example. Only the most law-abiding or timid citizen has never jaywalked. Especially in Canberra where the traffic is frequently light or entirely absent. We disobey those particular traffic laws because it's more convenient for us to break the law. And Melbournians, as we all know, are notorious fare evaders. Some people seem to look at the law and decide that the benefits of tax evasion, fraud, bank robbery or whatever are worth more than the mild benefits of obeying the law. So the law has no power over their ideas, and no power to make them respect the decision makers of the land. Those people (and possibly several other millions) don't care a jot if the High Court has power to decide questions of constitutional law, or whether the constitution accurately describes the structures of power within Australian institutions.

I'm not trying to argue that individuals are not subjected to state power. That would be stupid. It's just, you know, lawyers seem to think that legislative power, constitutional power, parliamentary power mean a lot more to day-to-day life than it appears to most people. I dunno. The bus timetable has more power over me some of the time, because it's imposed on me and I have absolutely no choice in the matter. I can do nothing but comply or walk home.

And this is why these long but not especially insightful thoughts on power exist at all. If I hadn't been on a 55 minute bus journey to travel a distance that would be 14 minutes in the car I would never have had the time to even think of these issues. Public transport and power - now there's something to think about.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Struggling with creativity

Last night I watched the SBS program on great Australian albums, and it was on Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It teased out a good deal about how songs were written for the record, and the process of translating them into something that a whole band could play together. The slightly steely looks from Mick Harvey tended to indicate that the process was quite fraught at times, and that if only he could have produced the same thing without having to depend on a lot of other people's creativity he might have found it easier (which is only my interpretation, not his).

I've been watching my husband struggling at home to write a series of short stories for the research component of his Masters in creative writing. It's been painful, because he hasn't had any feedback at all through the process this time. I think he decided to do it that way deliberately, but it's made the whole writing process painful and isolating. Or that may be moving to a new town where we don't really know anybody, and the Brisbane Lions are very far away.

At work I no longer have to sit in a room by myself and try to figure out how ideas should fit together with words, and then present them to someone else for evaulation. I don't own any of my ideas at work, and they always have to fit together with a whole bunch of other people's ideas. They never stand alone. I like it. I've always thought I was a sitting alone in the garret kind of person, but I think I'm actually a group of talkative people, butcher's paper and textas kind of person. I never, ever want to go back to my lonely pursuit of originality.

My son has just been doing his maths homework and singing.

Reading
Me - Five Things to Know About the Australian Constitution by Helen Irving, which has already mentioned more than five things, but has endeared itself to me by comparing learning about the constitution with travelling from Hobbiton to Mordor. I'm not sure if that makes the Governor-General Sauron, but I'll see how it turns out in the end.

Noodle - just started reading Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events. I think he is utterly horrified, but enjoying himself considerably.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Back to blogging

Twelve months might seem like a long break, I suppose. It's been a big year.

Relocated to Canberra, started working for the public service and stopped trying to do the PhD. Bliss. Not being a postgraduate student is about the best feeling ever. In fact, I recommend everyone start a PhD and then drops out of it, on the same principle that you should hit yourself on the head repeatedly with a rock, because it feels so good when you stop. I don't know how long the feelings of relief, lightness and joy will last, but basically it's been like a year of honeymoon.

And being a public servant is surprisingly satisfactory, despite the fact that many of my colleagues do, in fact, wear grey suits. Not all of them though.

And last night I managed to attend the Prime Minister's Literary Awards. The Prime Minister was there, although for considerably less time than any of the other attendees. None of the rest of us had to rush off to continue running the country. There was some elevated company, including the Minister for the Arts (not dancing), Tom Kenneally, Rhys Muldoon (from Playschool!!!!) and diverse booksellers, publishers and delightful people who administer the Public Lending Rights. Bless them. They are clearly good hearted and generous souls, and not only with sharing of government money.

If I had been tempted to get above myself by swanning around Parliament House eating prawns and sipping bubbling wine I was positively deflated by having to wait half an hour for a bus to get home afterwards. Canberra public transport is more of an aspiration than a practice.

It was odd being at a book event with so few Brisbane literary celebs. In fact, I don't believe it's constiutional to hold such a thing without any ex-students from QUT creative writing attending, so it was lucky I was there. Phew.

Oh, and my column got cancelled last week, so I have plenty of time to blog. Lucky me.