Saturday, February 28, 2009

Imaginary parents

Kim Wilkins writes about parents in fiction on her blog, Hexebart.

I agree with her final assessment - if I was fighting evil spirits I definitely would want my Mum along with me. In fact, I suspect I could leave it all to her while I stayed home and maybe put the coffee pot on. (Actually, Mum, isn't that what you are doing at the moment anyway?).

On the other hand, I sometimes fear that for the Noodle I have much too much in common with the Other Mother from Coraline.

The best parents in children's fiction, in my opinion, are the ones in the Swallows and Amazons books. They don't require any outlandish plotting or melancholy accidents, they just let the kids do whatever they please the whole time. And not because they don't care (unlike, say, the parents in many Diana Wynne Jones books); the mother wrestles with her desire to keep tabs on the kids and the kids are muzzily aware of it from time to time. The other device I enjoy for getting rid of adult supervision is from E.Nesbit - any of the magic employed makes the adults around just not care what happens to the children, no matter how long they disappear for or what weird events occur. Not even when the Lamb grows up from a chubby, happy baby into an alarmingly trend-conscious young gentleman.

Frankly I think this last device would come in handy from time to time in real life. Just a little dose of it.

The ones I don't like so much are where the parents are vampires. Enough with the vampires already.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Knowledge inna box

Well, kind of. I've been hanging around down in the National Library and stuffing my head full of interesting bits and pieces.

I'd forgotten how much fun it is.

Also, the cloak room person was extremely kind and put my sandwich in the fridge to keep it fresh. That's thoughtfulness for you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

O come let us adore him

Tonight the Noodle was having a bit of trouble going to sleep. It happens from time to time, and it reminds me of the times my mum would come in when I was six or seven, and she would lie down next to me and stroke my hair and sometimes sing quietly and sometimes she would go to sleep before I did, but when I woke up she would be gone.

It reminds me of when the Noodle was a tiny baby, and patting him gently on the 'nappy area' until he fell asleep and the husband and I used to take it in turns night by night because if one of us had to do it every night we would've gone crazy because just before the Noodle fell totally asleep he'd just wake up and get alert for a moment, and it was nearly enough to make a person cry because we were all just so tired. And then one night when it was my turn I had to rush to the toilet after I'd put the baby down in his cot and when I came back he was asleep. The Noodle never was one of those babies that you could move around much when he was asleep. If he fell asleep in your arms, there he stayed or awake he was. So him falling asleep by himself in his cot was a Big Big Thing. Because we were all so tired.

And then later he needed help to go to sleep in the afternoon for his nap, because if he didn't have a nap things became rather unpleasant for him and everyone else on the planet so it was quite rather very important to get him to snooze. And I would stroke his back if his back was towards me or stroke his hair gently over and over again but only in very slow four four time because otherwise it didn't work. And I would sing. Sometimes it had to be the same song, over and over and over again, Silent Night perhaps, over and over again until it turned into something like si-i-i-i-it o-o-o-o-i-i-i-t and he would finally snork off to snory sleep. And sometimes it was a medley of favourites (not all in four four time even though the stroking had to be) and you had to make sure not to repeat one because he would notice and that would wake him up and you had to make sure not stop too soon because that would wake him up. But by this time once he was actually asleep you could have invited the entire cast of Sesame Street to re-enact the Sesame Street Singalong next to his ear and he would not have stirred. Which was nice.

And then once when he was very sick he just wanted me to sing O come all ye faithful, and I remembered that just after he was born I was thinking that the song was for every child, because when they are born that is what we do. We come from far and wide to adore them, and we are joyful at their birth. And when the Noodle was born I did feel triumphant, and I don't think only God should get the fun of that feeling, I think every parent should have it and every baby should be adored.

But now when I sing that song to him he is not sick and I remember how sick he was and I am so glad that he is not sick now. And how lucky I am to adore him still (even though I've never quite managed to recapture that triumphant feeling again).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Library visit and visiting dignitary

Had the very great pleasure of meeting up with Judith from Misrule on Sunday afternoon. It was terrific to have the chance to have a good yarn about kid's books and the diverse associated creative and literary fields that kid's books generate. And she knows a lot about Canberra as well. Since I am in that stage of affection parallel with first love I adore talking about Canberra with folk. I am so glad she got in touch.

I also had a most satisfactory haul at the library on Sunday. I found a book of short stories by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson, Elementals: Water. Fans of both these writers will know the assured and fascinating writing that these two can turn out, and I think both are in top form. My favourite ... actually I can't pick a favourite. I like them all, but especially the first two: Mermaid's Song by Dickinson and The Sea King's Son by McKinley. They are both writers who can capture confusion and melancholy while still keeping the story galloping along at a cracking pace.

One of the others was The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner, who wrote I Coriander a few years back. I am not entirely convinced by the way the magic is integrated with the history in either book, but they are very inventive and also entertaining. The devil in it didn't remind me at all of The Master and Margarita, but he would have liked to I think.

Best of all, perhaps, was finding House of Many Ways, sequel to Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Air. I think Jones has developed a tendency to want to explain things quite thoroughly in her later works - perhaps this is a Good Thing, since I am still quite (or indeed entirely) at a loss to know what happened in the end of Fire and Hemlock. And I am still rather worried about Tanaqui and whether or not she ever manages to catch up with the rest of her family. House of Many Ways might not be quite as brilliant and funny and startling as some of Jones's other books, but it's certainly worth a a read. And it was certainly worth the feeling of pleasure when I found it on the shelf at the library. I love the library! It's in Canberra!!!! It does make me uneasy when Jones ties up loose ends, though. It's just not natural.

The husband, noble provider of many books and other bits of cultural material, brought home a bunch of reading copies from his work. One was The adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson. There's romance, trauma, struggle for independence and bio-engineering. Bonza.

And now that I'm nearly finished with that lot I shall gird my loins for a bit more Gaskell, I reckon. Cranford for a bit of fun. Still plenty of death, but maybe not so much murder and squalor for a change.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The writing life

Thirdcat has a terrific post on what it is to drag writing out of yourself, and how you might learn to do it should you have sufficient gumption and tenacity.

I left my own gumption and tenacity in my other trousers, dammit.


The comfort offered by googling trifle recipes is not to be underestimated in times of melancholy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Went to see a movie at nighttime with a grownup! The excitement.

I enjoyed the movie. I thought it was very cleverly put together and balanced sentimentality with narrative drive. But I suspect I'll be forgetting about it pretty soon rather than that having it live in my soul forever. But you never know, I suppose. It's not like I've ever forgotten What Katy Did at School so clearly I can't be too fussy.

I think I'll go and read the book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Downs followed by ups

So on Saturday the Noodle and I got a bit confused and went to the park, and I was the mother who was saying fiercely to the seven-year-old 'I can't carry you and the cricket bat and our lunch, if you won't walk I will throw your cricket bat in the bin, so you'd better start walking'. I suppose the only way I could be a worse mother is if I actually did throw the cricket bat in the bin, but I can assure you that it is resting happily in its accustomed place next to the hall stand. I also made it home with the kid and the remnants of lunch (including some rather tasty Macedonian jaffa cakes). I haven't actually felt like leaving the Noodle behind anywhere for, oh I don't know, years.

Luckily the Noodle is a highly resilient character, since today he was given a merit certificate at school for being able to tell the Three Little Pigs from the Wolf's point of view. It is certainly a unique award. He was also voted to the SRC by his class mates. It is hard to remember the difficulties he has had at different times with making friends and even talking to other children. In fact, he has apparently been in trouble for talking in class. Possibly my pride in this achievement will be shorter lived than in his other milestones, but possibly not. He has always talked 19 to the dozen with us, it's a real pleasure to see him as happy as that with other people.

Tomorrow I have another driving lesson. This certainly counts as a down because I haven't practised my parking one bit no not at all. Not once. My conscious mind is quite keen on driving, but everything else thinks it is a stinking, no-good, dangerous idea than can only result in mayhem of biblical proportions. Actually, that's my conscious mind too. How do you all manage it all the time? I imagine myself driving the car with the Noodle in the back and I just fall to pieces.

So tomorrow, if you see someone hesitating around the car park in Woden or somewhere else, don't wave or do anything distracting and please actually go completely in the other direction and actually could you all please not drive to work tomorrow morning, but maybe just stay off the roads all together and stand in the horse paddocks or something instead. Because that way I'll feel that you are all much, much safer.

Oh how I love cars.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tired and tonsilly

Canberra really does make me sick. Not so much the political situation or the reputed blandness, but the allergens and microbes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What kids know and don't know

During this week of horrendous news, the Noodle has seen and heard plenty of things that are shocking and grievous. Grave news. He has heard discussions of the Ash Wednesday bushfires before, from his Granddad and from other relatives. It's clear, I think, that this upsets his Granddad.

The Noodle has asked in the last few days what we would do if there was a bushfire. We live close to the area that was burned here in Canberra in 2003, so it's a pertinent question. I told him that we'd leave early. He asked, of course this week, what would happen if we couldn't leave. So I told him what the CFA have always said, that we'd protect the house and wait until the fire front passed and try to keep the house safe if we could. And then to go outside if we couldn't. It sounded pretty hollow to me, but he seemed reassured. I suppose sometimes just thinking that the grownups know what they are doing is enough for a seven year old (even one of those question, question, question ones).

Even when I've been in the grip of very grim fears at different times in my life I've never worried about bushfires. I've been awfully horrified about being burned, but not of bushfires as such. I think I always believed my Dad (Noodle's Granddad) when he told me what to do. I think that even 37 year olds like to believe that the grownups know what they're talking about.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Books on cricket, the Noodle's happiness

The Noodle has been pretty well obsessed with cricket since he first laid eyes on the Boxing Day Test on the telly in 2007. The obsession has been nurtured collaboratively with several other little boys at school during 2008. Anything to do with cricket is, without any kind of critical engagement from the lad, a Good Thing. So we have Ricky Ponting Cricket Captain computer game, another cricket computer game, 2 cricket sets and a cricket batting practice gadget and 2 cricket card games. But what we mostly have is cricket-related kids books. And there are just not enough of them.

One of his favourites is the Toby Jones series (written 'with' Brett Lee). This involves time travel, Wisden's, cricketing hints and adventures to stop the bad guy (who doesn't seem aware of his bad guy status in a refreshing change) from profiteering from cricket matches past. I can't quite sustain reading these books myself, so I have to rely on the Noodle's detailed retelling of the plot points. He can read them over and over again.

More recently he has also discovered the Glory Gardens series. When he was reading one yesterday he was actually gurgling with laughter. I think the books may be a choking hazard. These are definitely for cricket tragics only, with instructions on how to keep score, diagrams on good batting technique and other stuff that non-cricketing mothers can only muster up an 'uh-huh' sort of noise when confronted with. They also feature someone who is hopeless at cricket but is never dropped from the team because of last minute, hilarious accidents of catches, useful singles and so on. Not so much saving the day as saving oneself from embarrassment. Having made one of these miraculous catches myself as a young feller, I can sympathise.

Now that the weather has cooled down a touch I suppose we'll be able to get out and hit the ball with the bat a little more. So perhaps there'll be less reading (and detailed retelling) of stories, and more action.

I haven't mentioned the non-fiction titles, because otherwise I will have to start reciting career statistics of 1940s Yorkshire bowlers. And as this is information I do not wish to know myself, I think it would be recklessly unkind to share it here.

Thank heavens it's nearly footy season.

Barista on fire in Victoria

Barista has something about fires that is touching, thoughtful and well-considered.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


You can donate to the Red Cross if you would like to help. (thanks to Pavlov's Cat for the link)

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Can't do anything to help, can't look away.

I had this feeling when the Premier and the CFA were warning people on Friday how awful Saturday that being aware would equal being prepared, and that nothing would happen.

I'd say it'll be good when it's over, except that for some people it's not going to be over for such a long time.

Friday, February 6, 2009


You know, I reckon we've all become a little distracted with this whole infrastructure thing. While some ideas are A1 - you can't argue with more public housing, for example - I think we might be forgetting other economy stimulating ideas. If I was spending $42 billion (said in a loud and surprised tone of voice) I would spend some on intellectual infrastructure (I just made this term up for myself).

Also, despite the fact that I am looking forward to my $950 (not that it sounds like much compared to $42 billion), I would vastly prefer it to be spent on providing better government services. Free universal dental care anyone?

Anyway. My intellectual infrastructure would consist of income support while people go to university to train in Useful and Worthy occupations. I include such things as teachers, doctors, nurses and ambulance officers. I also include writers, social researchers (even the ones who do statistics) and artists. Apprentices too, plumbers, electricians, builders and cheese makers. My plan will solve several problems. It'll reduce old friend skills shortage that the PM was yarning about a year or so ago, it'll keep the unemployment figures down (which governments like), it'll stimulate the economy (because there is nothing like young folk for short-term irresponsible spending) and it'll contribute to the general value and niceness of our society and culture. Of course not only young people will take advantage of this offer. It's open to people of all ages for re-training, more training and training about trains (a skill-set clearly lacking in some large urban areas of Australia).

I'm not sure about more training for economists or those people who do 'modelling' but they are welcome to learn some more about nineteenth century French literature or jazz if they wish.

Other things I would spend bucket loads of cash on are restoring that 'universal' bit to the healthcare system so that poor people can actually go to the doctor whenever they need to, restoring and improving public transport, building bike paths off roads and forcefully resuming all properties along the Brisbane river and turning the lot into parks and community centres.

That'll do for now. Any suggestions welcome, just in case I ever find myself as the Dictator of Australia.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

School and work, work and school

Apart from anything else, I clearly have the best deal of anyone in the family since I go to air conditioned work every day. And though I am not in favour of air conditioning as a general principle, once the degrees get above 34 or so my principles melt away.

The Noodle is back at school this week. Same bat class room. Same bat teacher. Different bat grade.

He was rather anxious in the beginning, but seems to have slipped back into the routine without issues once the hurdle of turning up on the first day was gotten over (or knocked down or whatever it is people do with hurdles these days). Of course, the fact that the weather seems determined to boil or bake everyone alive is unhelpful to the learning process. I would report on what it is he does at school but I don't know because he never tells me. I thought that this only happened in the teenage years.

I started in my new area at work two weeks ago. I have been learning lots and lots and lots. I'm not convinced I understand some of it yet, even though it is easier to learn in the air conditioning. It's not really a very new area, since I've moved about five metres from my old spot, but it's new enough to be challenging.

Next week we have a new graduate starting in our section. So I'll be the ex-graduate. I hope I can sustain my imitation of a grown up.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I'm wondering which person came up with that number, and how they figured it out.

Did they decide how much they were going to spend all together and divide it by the amount of 'low and middle income earners' in Australia? Or did they think, it's nearly $1000, but a bit less, so we don't sound extravagant.

Or was it this:

HIGGINS. I suppose we must give him a fiver.

PICKERING. He'll make a bad use of it, I'm afraid.

DOOLITTLE. Not me, Governor, so help me I wont. Dont you be afraid that I'll save it and spare it and live idle on it. There wont be a penny of it left by Monday: I'll have to go to work same as if I'd never had it. It wont pauperize me, you bet. Just one good spree for myself and the missus, giving pleasure to ourselves and employment to others, and satisfaction to you to think it's not been throwed away. You couldnt spend it better.

HIGGINS [taking out his pocket book and coming between Doolittle and the piano] This is irresistible. Lets give him ten. [He offers two notes to the dustman].

DOOLITTLE. No, Governor. She wouldnt have the heart to spend ten; and perhaps I shouldnt neither. Ten pounds is a lot of money: it makes a man feel prudent like; and then goodbye to happiness. You give me what I ask you, Governor: not a penny more, and not a penny less.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Howl's Moving Castle

So I arrive home to find that the Noodle has polished off Castle in the Air while I was at work.

Part of me thinks 'haha, my cunning plan is working' and part of me thinks 'aa-aaaw, but I wanted to read that'.

So now I am reading him Howl's Moving Castle. And life is good.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Castle in the Air

Right now I'm reading Diana Wynne Jones's Castle in the Air as the Noodle's bed time book. I really love Diana Wynne Jones, but I had a really hard time choosing one as a read-aloud. Partly because the Noodle's taste in books is so determinedly different to mine, and partly because he is really quite young yet.

The first one I thought of was Charmed Life, but I just couldn't imagine myself reading out Gwendolyn's betrayal of Cat. Likewise The Lives of Christopher Chant and his dreadful, dreadful parents and uncle. Although the cricketing angle would certainly appeal.

The first book of Jones's I ever read was Dogsbody. I think Iwas eight or nine, so I guess it was in about 1980 or so. I loved it, but I was utterly devastated by the tragedies of the story. Not so much by the bleak treatment of the little girl, but by the fear and grief of the puppy. For many years I didn't realise that many of the books I'd really enjoyed from the library were by the same author. I read A Tale of Time City and The Homeward Bounders and both really stuck in my head. Although it never occurred to me that Homeward Bounders was started out in Britain. I assumed it was set in Sydney, which tells you alot about Australian's children's literature in the 1980s.

I don't think it was until I picked up Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet that I started to figure it out, and I was well a teenager by then. I've pretty much spent the rest of my life collecting the books - some new, some secondhand and sometimes more than one edition, just because. I always felt slightly guilty that if I was honest I would surely bring The Spellcoats or Charmed Life to a desert island rather than, say, Jane Eyre.

I suspect I'm being a bit oversensitive about the Noodle. All of Jones's books contain horrendous families, with neglect and oppression being widespread. Even the nicer families in some of her books, like The Merlin Conspiracy, don't notice a lot of what is going on with the children. No doubt as the Noodle gets a bit older he'll manage more of them. If he's interested.

He's enjoying Castle in the Air very much indeed. The only reason I didn't pick Howl's Moving Castle is because I thought he might completely miss Sophie falling in love, which rather dampens a lot of the humour. It's not possible in Castle in the Air. Things are spelled out very clearly indeed, from the dishonest soldier, Abdullah's love for Flower-in-the-Night and the ridiculousness of the soldier's wishing to marry a princess who turns out to be a screaming, tantrum-throwing toddler. The Noodle has been laughing like a drain. I didn't actually read this book until I was an adult, and it's certainly not one of my favourites (what with the broad humour and even broader stereotypes), but a lot of it is damned funny. Especially as Abdullah's day dreams spiral more and more out of control as other people get in on the act.

I sometimes worry that the kid will only ever read humour. And then I remember that he's only seven, and my favourite book at that age was a biography of the Wright Brothers from the Scholastic catalogue. I guess I'll just have to let him decide for himself (sigh) because, as many of you know, the recommendation from the mother is the kiss of boredom and disengagement.