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


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


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


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.