Friday, July 31, 2009

Languid lucubrations of a layabout lollard

Swine flu! Figures are getting so high here in Victoria that official estimates figure* that up to 150% of the population is currently infected. And if it gets any higher than that, then things could get very serious indeed. 

I'll give you serious! Swine flu could kill you. Worse, it could offset workplace productivity. And who wants that**? What can we do? Given that the situation could hardly get any worse, we have to do something now, before it gets any better! This is what I propose we do: we all be given a small, government-prescribed dose of swine flu before work goes back on Monday. Call it a pre-emptive seasonal flu, if you like. It would guarantee that we'd all have flu in as orderly and regulated a manner as possible. Also, we could all write letters like this in to work: 

Dear So-and-So from Such-and-Such, 

I am afraid that I am unable to come in to work on the following week as I am due to receive my official dose of seasonal flu upon those days. 


Then again, if we all take sick leave at once, there would be no-one off sick leave to read our letters about sick leave, and we'd all get in trouble, which would be a problem. (Maybe some people would have to take well leave from sick leave?)

It's the best I can come up with at this hour of night. All right, all right, I'm going to bed. 

*Or should that be official figures estimate? I'll get back to you on that one. 
** Put your hand down, please, that was a rhetorical question.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An open letter to the Universe

Dear Universe,

I have just discovered that I have worn my shirt inside-out to work today.

I humbly request that the entire universe turn itself inside out as well in order to match my shirt, as this would save me the trouble of nipping into the toilet and changing.

Also, I find it a little inconvenient placing town names to their states/countries of origin. If you could arrange as soon as possible for an easy-to-follow schemata (say, starting at the south pole and working your way up) by which town names are arranged throughout the entire world in alphabetic order, then that would be just dandy.

I appreciate your assistance in this matter.
Yours sincerely,
Timothy H. Train.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The case of the ten-year-old poem

It doesn't take three years to bake a cake. So why do people sometimes take years to write short poems? I was at the Dan O'Connell a few weeks ago and the person reading mentioned that it took them three years to write a villanelle, which befuddled me. Did she have that much trouble in finding the rhymes?

I was thinking about this again yesterday when listening to an interview with the New Zealand poet laureate. Apparently some of her pieces were written over the course of several years. What took her so long, I wondered - did she get distracted by the television? For several years?

Still, poets love setting themselves challenges, like elaborate narratives, or odd verse structures, or words that rhyme with 'plinth', and it occurred to me that it might actually be quite interesting to devote one's whole life to writing a single poem. Indeed, there's something grand and inspiring about the whole concept. A limerick should do it: the average limerick would have about twenty to thirty words in it, and, if you devote sufficient time, you should be able to space it out nicely. Each word and item of punctuation could be composed over the course of a year, so the whole thing should take some forty years.

You would start fairly early, at the age of 25, or 30 or so, leisurely marking down the first word on the page. As you rise to the task over the following years, you would place down several more words, a comma, and a hyphen, taking you into your late 30s. You would hesitate for two or three years over the colon that terminates the first line and begins the second, for you would probably have reached your mid-life crisis - and you possibly might be unable to think because of your children running around.

But soon, in another year, you would really throw yourself into the task, and write another word. Fired with ambition and inspiration, two more words would quickly follow, in the course of a mere six months, followed by a hesitation for a small year or so while you pondered whether to put in a comma after or before some quotation marks.

And so, in a leisurely manner, over the course of decades, your limerick would be written. As you reach your sixties, and age of retirement, you would proudly place the last words on the page, and your limerick would be finished. You would take another five years or so in checking the poem to see if there are any spelling mistakes, but by the time you had reached your seventies you would really be in your prime - you would have sent your poem off to the publisher, and had it published in a medium-sized book, half-a-page in size, with a title like 'The Collected Works' - or perhaps 'The Only Work'.

Should you happen to be healthy, you might indeed have time to start another poem, a haiku, say, or a couplet, but I wouldn't count on it. It would hardly do to be too prolific. Your readers might start wanting less.

I approve

The National Heart Foundation are these people who go around putting ticks of approval on stuff you buy in the supermarket, which I find a bit cheeky. Who wants to get approved by people who want to approve of you? Not me. I wouldn't mind so much if they didn't go around ticking all the things that I don't like to eat, and ignoring all the things I eat, but there you go. I suppose any old person with the relevant 'expertise' can become a self-appointed 'expert'.

Anyway, I think I've come up with an alternative strategy of my own. I'm going to invent a spurious organisation called The National Fart Foundation, and whack the foundation's tick on anything that I happen to like. Crumpets? Sure thing! Kingston biscuits? Why not!

And this blog, too, wins a National Fart Foundation tick of approval.

Sink the slipper into Flipper

While I was away I went dolphin watching. Dolphins are a singularly dull creature with grey skin, because grey is the most boring colour possible. There are such things as pink dolphins, but they are grey, too. Dolphins are mammals but they live underwater, since they are rather confused about things. They spend their time underwater swimming about labouriously, and eating the occasional fish, not because they like the taste, but because they dislike the fish.

This is what dolphin watching involves: you climb to the top of a very tall hill in order to be as far away from the dolphins as possible. Once you have reached the top, you look down, far below, into the ocean, and peer into the occasional spot of white foam, and call it a dolphin.

The most famous dolphin is Flipper, who was well known some 30 years ago because he had a television show or something. These days, dolphins can be found in images on a number of soap packets that you would buy if you weren't buying other soap packets. The end.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not God, but almost

I was planning some posts I was going to do, but instead of going and doing them, I'm going to go to Newcastle. What a slacker, eh? 

Anyway, how about reading Steve's blog? He's not God, but he's almost as good. And he always has a lot of interesting posts up, including this one, in which I've left material enough for several blog posts in the comments. 

In the meantime, I'll just keep on planning my plans for blog posts. After all, failing to plan for planning is planning to fail to plan! 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hark, hark, the cats do croak

Here's a story where a seagull abducts a cat and terrifies a person, by coming down like a wolf on the fold in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

And here's another one, where a mouse and a frog take to one another like a duck to water, even though - if I can let the cat out of the bag - eating the mouse would be like shooting fish in a barrel full of monkeys.

I'm not sure what it is, but these whacky animal stories seem to be breeding like a white rabbit in a snowstorm, and there are probably plenty more fish raining like cats and dogs where that came from.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's a pity the Athaneum didn't have authentic 19th century wooden computers, though

One of the projects that I keep meaning to get around to after I get around to all the other projects I mean to do is a long essay about Melbourne's architecture. I've already mentioned our wonderful car parks, and I may have commented on our brilliant toilets (including a number of exciting underground ones), and I haven't even begun discussing the weird Edwardian facades that line our suburbs, and the odd effects they all have on your sense of perspective. But in the meantime, I'll just mention that yesterday, I went to this event, where a number of Melbourne's oldest, and most distinguished buildings were flung open to the public. Who knew that the concert venue in the Melbourne Town Hall had sunflower designs on the ceiling? Not me, until today. 

I was a tad disappointed by my first stop, the Melbourne City baths, since although it is one of the most 'distinctive Edwardian Baroque buildings in Melbourne', there was a sad lack of any distinctive Edwardian Baroque bathers to speak of. 

Next thing, I toddled along to the State Library, where the Queen's Hall was left open for the public. It's name was half true: it was a hall, but it lacked a Queen. I admired the carpet, which was old and a little bit ratty, and I admired the closed doors to the modern-looking offices on the other side. "Oh, they're just some offices," said someone to me as I looked in through the windows. That made me even more curious. All in all, my sympathies were with the woman who stood looking into one closed-off end of the hall with a friend, and, as I passed by, remarked to her friend, "Mmm!", in the sort of voice of a person who is not sure what they should be saying, but want to sound interested anyway. 

I popped into the Manchester Unity building after getting some nuts to eat and found a huge queue of people waiting, a bunch of sheepish looking guides telling me that they couldn't do any more tours today, some marvellous tiled floors, lifts with what looked like copper doors, and a laneway out the back. It was an exceedingly interesting laneway, but then, I get exceedingly interested in every laneway that I don't think I've seen before. I continued eating my nuts and told the guides that it really was quite a nice little ground floor, and went on my way to the Atheneum library, at which there wasn't much that I hadn't seen before except a nice little wooden-tiled lift. Possibly operated by a man called Thursday. There was actually a queue of people to walk into the lift, to stand inside the lift and, well, walk out of the lift again. Not caring much for this idea, I toddled out again and went down to the Melbourne Town Hall. 

As for the Town Hall, well, what can I say? There was fabulous red carpet. There were kids banging the gavels in the chamber. Well, it seemed appropriate - I felt like having a makeshift board meeting myself. There was a brilliant dining room with all the dinner places set, and a chaise longue(!) in the corner. And then there were the old chambers, which were lined with large pictures of previous Lord Mayors of Melbourne. As we filed in to the room, an old chap wearing a guide uniform announced to us that "for a long time, it was a practice for the Mayors of Melbourne to have large beards." Well, no, he actually said that "it was a practice for the Mayors of Melbourne to have large portraits done," but I couldn't resist editing his words in my head as I listened to him speak. 

I could probably have done another building or two before everything closed down for the evening, but four was quite enough. I decided to do a little bit of amateur poking around town on my own, however, and for the rest of the day, I climbed the stairways in Melbourne's more interesting buildings just because I could, I walked to lesser visited corners of Flinders Street station, and I stood around in funny little corridors and laneways and, well, just kind of existed. 

So it's probably a good thing they're only going to have an Open Melbourne day once every year. It's not necessarily a good idea to encourage people to go wandering with starry gazes through important stone buildings while fat men with beards hold decisive meetings about the future. Why, imagine if Flinders Street Station flung their second-floor ballroom open to the public next year. It might actually be a station that people want to go to, rather than a place that they want to get away from! That way lies chaos. 

Saturday night isn't here

Saturday Night's going out for the night.
Saturday Night isn't here.
It's taking a break and it's feeling alright.
Saturday Night's going out for the night.
It's laughing and dancing 'til first Sunday light.
It's off with its friends drinking beer.
Saturday Night's going out for the night.
Saturday Night isn't here.


Was at a poetry reading last week at the Dan O'Connell and noticed folks in the audience repeatedly asking readers to 'do the poem about the THING.' When they got asked, 'what thing?', they just got told, 'THE thing.'

This is what I read this week, just for them.

The Tale of the Thing from Something Thingo
A very definite poem

There was movement at the Whatsit, for the “huh?” had passed around
That the Which from Whatsername had got away.
It had joined the whosiwatsit – it was kind of, whatsthatsound?
So all the sort-of-somewhats joined the fray.
All the definitely maybes from the whatsits near and far
Had something something something overnight:
For the whosits love hard maybes where the wild whynots are,
And the blank blank sniffs the blank blank with delight.

There was Possibly, who dunnowhat, when something somewhere went,
And Wouldhave, in all probability;
And kind of sort of you know like he maybe hadn’t meant –
Quite certain in his ambiguity.
And Chancy of the Whetherthis who was certain either/or,
And was just the same or different than the rest;
He had or hadn’t ridden over all the neither/nor,
In north, or maybe east or south-south west.

A Thing from Something Thingo was also sort of there,
Astride a smallish biggish normal which,
He was like a Rorschach Ink-blot – was a darkly-sort-of-fair –
A bigly-smalling-largish-kind of titch.
And all around the somewhats from someone-or-where-or-other
Said maybe that he really couldn’t be;
But Chancy of the Whetherthis held this view or another,
And sort of sort of sort of… etc.

But the thing of things on things with things and things to do with things
Had something on the things with things in things;
And things of things on top of things with other things on things
Had certain things on certain things with things;
And the thingo on the thing with things was quite a thing to thing
And all the things with things of things would thing:
So the thing, the thing, the thing, the thing, the thing, the thing, the thing
All thinged the thingly thing with things of things.

(Several more verses of the same)

And the which’s and whatevers bounded down the whattheheck,
Or bounded round, or rounded down the hill,
Or roundly bounded boldly in a flaming something fleck,
Or boldly downed the roundish whatthehell.
But the Thing from Something Thingo flew like fire through the air,
And Who-what-where-why-when-how joined the fact.
And wherever or whenever or whatever happened there
Is all conjecture, as a point of fact.

And down by why-and-wherefore where some kind of thingos raise
Some sort of noun-adjective thing on high
Where the air is clear (and so forth) and the something somethings blaze
At some time in a something something sky
And where around whatever where the ums and ahs are heard
And the (please fill out the blanks within this line)
The THING FROM SOMETHING THINGO is today a something word
While ever you know somehow - which is fine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Give us this day our daily toast

Freud maintained that the way people behave is often the result of traumas they have suffered in the past. Well this morning, I didn't have any crumpets with my coffee. Who knows what ramifications this undoubtedly traumatic event could have on my life in the future?

Anyway, maybe it won't matter in the long run, because this morning, I had something that was every bit as good as crumpets if done well, and that was toast. How good is toast? You can make it with honey or jam, or vegemite or marmalade, and it tastes wonderful. Note that you 'make' toast: you don't just 'cook' it, or 'fry' it, or 'boil' it or 'bake' it, like you would to an egg or a steak or something like that. And you don't just 'have' it, like you would 'have' a bowl of cornflakes, or muesli: no, toast is far too complex for that. In order to produce a completed plate of toast, you have to go through a complicated ritual, involving several steps, just like you would when making an omelette, or a pudding, or a cake.


But having typed that, of course, I have to admit there is no 'perfect' slice of toast, only delicious variations on a theme which appeal to different toast-eaters. That being said, there are so many traps the toast-maker can fall into, and which are so easily avoidable.

Firstly, what sort of bread will you be toasting? It is no good making toast out of any old slice of home brand supermarket white bread. That stuff is so insubstantial that it turns to tasteless dry flour the moment it's put into a toaster.

When it comes to sliced and packaged breads, I prefer the Burgen brand, as it is full and juicy and you can still taste it when it comes out of the toaster. (Not, mind you, its imitator, Burgomeister). Yes, it is just an imitation Germanic label, but it makes good toast.

Otherwise, a good roll of rye bread or sourdough from a baker will perform quite well in the toaster, and I find the thick slices preferable. Besides, the eccentric shapes you can make with the bread knife on your own are more aesthetically pleasing than the regular rectangles sold in the supermarket. Ciabattas and rye breads are particularly good with honey or syrup.

An ancient tradition from the mists of time (ie, my mum) informs us that toast is to be made by bread that is starting to go stale. A good rule to follow, although in some cases the bread may go mouldy before it goes stale, and it may go mouldy a day after you buy it. In these cases, of course, common sense ought to be the guide.

Secondly we come to the toasting part. You will have got the bread by now, and you will obviously need a toaster (if you don't have a toaster, go out and get one right now). How long should one toast the toast for? I am a 'give it two turns in the toaster' man myself, as I like toast to have colour and character. A fringe of black around the corners of a slice of toast may or may not increase the risk of cancer; but it is certainly delicious. In fact, to get best results, I recommend putting the toast in for one-and-a-half turns; to do this properly, you of course have to stand by the toaster just as you stand by the stove when you are cooking something on it. You should pay attention to your toast!

Thirdly, the condiments. Toast is made to go with butter: on this point I am quite firm. It is no good objecting that margarine is healthier (pah!) or melts better: butter tastes better, and renders the consistency of the toast more pleasing, if applied correctly.

There are some steps you can take to make the butter melt over and into the toast in a pleasing fashion. You could leave the butter out whilst making the toast, allowing it time to grow soft and pliable. You can also make the knife with which you are spreading the butter hot by pouring a little boiling water into a glass, and dipping the knife in that. (I do this every morning at breakfast after making the coffee: toast should frequently be had with coffee). Once you have spread it, give the butter a little time to melt: it's like Pantene - it won't happen over a second, but it will happen. And then, once the butter has been spread, you can proceed with the condiments.

Here are some of my favourite spreads:

- Orange Marmalade
- Cherry jam
- Honey
- Creamed honey
- Vegemite
- Or, if you are making toast with sourdough or ciabatta, and have taken care to let the butter soak into the surface of the toast, making it soft and pliable, a drizzle of golden syrup.

Various received traditions have urged upon me, from time to time, the virtues of toast-with-liverwurst, or even peanut butter. I do not agree: I think toast is to be had primarily with sweet-or-sour spreads, and that the bitter contrast is to be found in the morning coffee.


This toast was brought to you by two slices of post made in my lovely silver toaster, with butter fresh from the butter tray.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Misspelling of the day


That's from a New Yorker article about Edith Wharton. That's the most sufficient insufficiency I've ever seen. You might say that the insufficiency is so sufficient that it even extends to the spelling. It's an excess of insufficiency, although whether it's also an insufficiency of excess is another question altogether.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bulstrode Whitelocke

Bulstrode Whitelocke was a chap around during the English Civil Wars. And doesn't he have a splendid name! Oddly, he seems to have been a moderating influence at the time, but I just think his name is excellent - it combines both verb and noun together into one, handy package. And it makes for great quotes! I've been thinking some up this morning:

Into the mouth of hell Bulstrode!

Boldly Bulstrode and well!

Bulstrode his horse, Bulstrode it into town!

There's a Bulstrode in the china shop!

What a load of Bulstrode dust!

As you can see, my mind has been moving on weighty matters lately.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A post that makes less sense than I do

I was going to write a review of all the books that I've been reading, but I'm too busy reading the books I'm reading to write anything much about their writing. 

I will say, though, that the books I have finished have excellent beginnings, the ones I've only begun have exciting endings, and the ones that I'm in the middle of are even better. 

(Come to think of it, though, one of these days I might write a personal review of the book that I am writing, the book that I am writing consisting of reviews of other books that I have written, just so I can read about my writing habits instead of writing about my reading habits, for once. That may not make sense. Neither do I.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bawhacky Ogaffama!

WASHINGTON, THURSDAY - Controversy erupted over a misplaced apostrophe in a presidential speech by the head of the known world yesterday, when President Barack Obama greeted Peterkin Punctilio, head of the 'Mid-Western Americans for Appropriate Apostrophisation Society'.

"Hi," said the President, shaking Mr Punctilio's hand. "Hows' it doing?"

Mr Punctilio heard the misplaced apostrophe but didn't immediately correct the President on it. "I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing!" he said. "I mean, clearly, this misplaced apostrophe casts doubt on the President's alleged skill at making speeches, foreign policy, health care, his ability to handle the economy, jobs, defence, and everything else."

The debate over the misplaced Presidential apostrophe has rapidly spread to all four corners of the media world, with Fox News, the New York Post, and bloggers left right and centre debating the president's fitness to lead. Whilst some have maintained that Mr Punctilio had misheard the apostrophe, others argue that the misplaced apostrophe calls into question the President's fitness to lead.

However, mainstream media agrees, Obama is a far more skilled speaker than former President, George W Bush, who once infamously misplaced two apostrophes in the course of two sentences, while speaking in a rare form of ancient Swahili sign language to leaders at an African summit, causing the entire world to rise in outrage at his outrageous mistake (which very few of them could understand.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Horrible, ugly, and with poor lighting

Life isn't all beer and skittles and canned prunes and boxed chocolate products. Thankfully, there are people in this world who remain committed to inspiring fear, paranoia, suspicion, mutual mistrust, and loathing in us. These people are largely in government, or are friends with people in government ('we are working closely with the government to ensure that...' is usually how they put it.) And if private companies can use advertising to sell their products and cheer us all up in the process, then governments and their friends can use advertising just as effectively to darken our day, and remind us that there is a grey cloud behind every silver lining.

Work! It's a dangerous minefield of amputations and acid baths and near-death accidents. That is the clear message that I take away from one campaign they're currently running on the trams and in the movie theatres. Not content with merely saying 'be careful', the people who designed this particular ad campaign picked the most dour-faced actors, put them in the grimmest scenes, and shrouded them in the gloomiest atmosphere. Gritty realism aint the half of it: these ads are lurid, Gothic, and virtually swimming with foetid vapours and noxious gases. Quite possibly, someone should turn on the lights. The actors, meanwhile, have the most horrid things happen to them. One young man presents us with his handless arm (where'd that go?). Another girl gets her fingers chopped off (ouch!). Another woman presents her acid-drenched face to us (eeeeh!) The collective message we get from these ads is: something horrible happened to these people, and now their life is horrible! You wouldn't want to have a horrible life like an armless person, would you? TOO BAD!

Cigarettes! They cause you to have really quite ugly internal organs! Cigarette packets now come swathed in bizarre pictures of the exposed insides of the sick, sick nicotine addicts who still keep up with the habit. They don't show you what a non-smokers lung looks like - every bit as bloody, palpitating, slimy, with polyps waving to and fro in the alien internal gases that our body produces every day. Message: smoking is ugly and makes people who smoke it ugly too! Stay away from these ugly people! Ugh!

These are the most prominent examples at the moment, but there's more. However, I cannot quite buy the message of any of these ad campaigns. They'd have you believe that we are surrounded every day by horrible dangers, that life is just one big Soviet Gulag. Why, I could be typing away at work, and all of a sudden, my arm could be amputated, a huge vat of acid could fall on my head, and a nearby smoker could look at me, causing my internal organs to gush out of my body. 'Why, if only I'd been more careful and avoided evil people who smoke!' I will cry as I fall to the ground and die.

I'm still waiting for it to happen. It sounds kinda fun, actually.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Perhaps having raptures about prunes is excessive

In one of the fantasies I sometimes have about worldwide fame and glory, I picture myself as editor and writer for an intercontinental newspaper specialising in reviews of marmalade jam, and opinion columns about tea bags. It would be so much better than the newspapers we currently have, and who wouldn't want to read a newspaper consisting mainly of items about canned and preserved foods you find on the shop shelf?

I love canned foods most of all, I adore boxed foods even more, and food in a jar sends me completely over the moon.

The other day, for instance, I was in Coles and went into raptures about some prunes. Perhaps having raptures about prunes is excessive, but these particular prunes were in a can; and this particular can had a picture of prunes on the side; and those prunes had stars on them. Prunes! With stars! In one fell swoop, some artistic genius had managed to combine the hygienic goodness of a Mr Sheen product with the essential deliciousness of a prune.

If you can imagine and sympathise with my excitement in that case, then you will doubtless share my ardour over this particular item, which they sell at my local Psarakos Markets - and nowhere else that I know of.

Chocolate mousse, I like at any time. Chocolate mousse in a box, with the instruction 'just add milk', I like even better. But Chocolate mousse in a box, with the title 'Super Mousse'? That, I contend, is a veritable symphony of delights, each delight mounting on the other and mingling in such sweet harmony as has never been heard before. I like Super Mousse so much, that I have taken to evangelising it to other people. I sent a copy in the mail to Mum in Newcastle, and I gave another two boxes to A. at work.

And why is it, by the way, that one always finds the most interesting and exciting brands with the strangest names at European markets? Shouldn't Coles and Woolworths be buying up this stuff like crazy? Just the other day, I happened to find at the Preston markets a box of ground coffee marked with the irresistible name of INTENSO COFFEE! It didn't taste bad either. But really, what a name! When one is preparing a cup of Intenso, I find it is best to stomp around the house, uttering the two words 'Intenso Coffee' in a furious tone. (Imagine you are sentencing someone to death - that's how serious it should sound.*) It should be made in a plunger, naturally: Intenso is too magical to be frothed up in an espresso machine, or diluted with milk: it must be appreciated in its full, grainy, dirty essence.

Anyway, that's some of the stuff that I like. What are your favourite boxed/canned/jarred foods?

*And if there is no-one around to hear you saying this, consider phoning up a relative or loved one so they can hear it on your behalf.

Alchemical transmutations you can do at home

The other day, preparing a cup of Twinings* raspberry tea, I flung the tea bag into the bin on the other side of the kitchen. Naturally, either the tea bag, or the bin, or both, conspired to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the result that the tea bag splotched all over the wall, leaving a massive dripping red stain, the sort that you might expect to see in a Hammer movie, or the like. I made a few desultory attempts to clean it up with the sponge, but, you know....

Coming back to the stain half an hour later, with another sponge, and renewed vigour, I discovered... that the entire stain had turned a bizarre shade - of blue.

Twinings: just what do they put in that stuff?

*I know, but the boxes are pretty.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

My novel in progress

I present to you tonight a fragment from my novel in progress. As you will see, it is almost a complete artistic work, with only a few small changes to be made to plot, character, structure, form, style, motivation, description, scenery, technological details, environmental details, social details, miscellaneous details, costume, props, logical consistency, prose, punctuation, the arrangement of chapters (most of them), the inclusion of chapters (all of them), the exclusion of chapters (not enough of them), the meaning, the message, the chosen medium of storytelling, and everything else, before it is ready for publication. I anticipate that it will be a future winner of the Miles Franklin Prize, and will be a work widely acclaimed by critics with such words of praise as 'dull', 'dreary', 'disgusting', 'devastating', 'damning', 'dim-witted', and 'derriere'. I hope you like it as much as they will.


The night was dark and stormy that day, as the two of them saddled their horses, and rode in opposite directions together along Route 66, as the train swayed along the tracks and continued into the night. They were both twins to different mothers, but apart from that they were unrelated; and if it were not for the horrifying spider-web of conspiracy that was about to simmer and embroil them in its bloodcurdling, tentacle-like grasp, then they would not have had anything to do with one another.

As she stood at the carriage-window with a cigarette, which she did not smoke, dangling from poised-yet-limp, nervous-yet-calm fingers, she noticed a tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed stranger, with a squat body, a coal-black head, and dark brown eyes standing still and swaying towards her across the rattling carriage. She kept her eyes, which never left the form of this mysterious stranger, firmly fixed on the landscape outside the train; and when he hissed, "Roger has ze cargo ready," into her right ear, she was careful not to move a single muscle of her body in response, but only to nod, and signify assent with her left hand, her right knee, and her left and right big and middle toes.

She had no idea what he meant. But, she realised, she had no idea what any of it meant; no idea what life meant, or did not mean, to anyone. On these cold, snow-swept mountains, as the sun beat down on the plains of the desert with a merciless heat, a heat that blasted the verdant fields of pasture, with the laughing milkmaids, and the mean, crowded, narrow city streets in which she had lived all her life, she realised she had found no answer. No answer to the perpetual 'Why' that life threw in her face, like an instantaneous thunderbolt of blood, in a few cold, precise knife-slices of the hammer.

She took the ancient parchment that he had slipped into her pocket, as he looked directly into her face, with his eyes casually averted; she took it, unfolded it, and carefully read through the message. It was written in Spanish, by a French hand; and she could only speak German: but nevertheless, with the aid of a passing knowledge in semaphore, she was able to translate the whole thing:


She hastily set fire to the message; then, while the flames mounted higher, shredded it, and swallowed them, until they were nothing but red-hot ashes and embers. Finally, she would have her revenge for the devastating murder of her three brothers, who were now living happily in three Tuscan Villas on the white cliffs of Dover. She went back to her carriage, took her crossbow out of its glittering medieval scabbard, and armed it with the twelve silver bullets that had been given to her by the Voodoo High Priest, and also Catholic Archbishop of the Presbyterian Church, and High King of Romania; then, when she had done that, she pulled the cord ordering the street car driver to stop, and spurred her coal-black Palomino stallion into a gallop, and pulled over at a shabby little desert diner on the corner of 49th and 77th Street, Manhattan.

"Get me a coffee," she snarled at the first waiter she came across. "Make it long, and make it black."

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Nerbing a voun

We were emailing at work - instead of working at work, because it was more convenient that way - the other day about the verbing of nouns, the habit people had of turning particular nouns into related verbs. Instead of saying 'I am going (verb) to lunch (noun)', according to Macquarie Dictionary, it is now acceptable simply to say 'I lunch (verb)'. Another example that came up was how, during the Olympics, certain comperes and presenters had begun to say 'And now the winners will podium (verb)', instead of, say 'And now the winners will walk (verb) to the podium (noun).'

Well I didn't accept it then and I don't accept it now. I mean, how far is this verbing of nouns going to go? If we take language in the direction it seems to be going, pretty soon we will not 'walk up the street' to 'eat some lunch' and 'have a drink', we will 'street up the street' to 'lunch some lunch' and 'drink a drink', and when we come back to work we will not 'sit in a chair' and 'type on a keyboard', before going to 'catch the train' home, where we will 'watch the television' and then 'go to bed': we will simply come back to work where we will 'chair in a chair' and 'keyboard on a keyboard', and 'train a train' home, where we will 'television the television' for a while before 'bedding to bed'. And while it is true that we have always used the words 'drink' and 'bed' as both noun and verb, and 'lunch' has for some time operated in both capacities, other words have until now remained entirely distinct. We have perfectly good, and separate verbs for all of those actions described above: 'eating' and 'drinking' and 'walking' and 'typing', and so on.

Having obliterated the distinction between verb and noun, and between the act and what is acted upon, will language halt there? I fear not: for as the great juggernaut of language rolls on, pretty soon, single acts will be implied in one single, all-encompasssing word. So instead of 'walking down the street' to 'eat some lunch' and 'have a drink', or even 'streeting the street' to 'lunch on lunch' and 'drink some drink', people will find themselves simply 'streeting'. Pretty soon, the whole vast world of distinctions and separate existences and poetry and singular essences that is implied and touched upon in the English language will have vanished; and instead, we will have nothing more than a small collection of four or five verbnouns to imply this whole vanished world.

Alternatively, language could go in the opposite direction altogether; and whereas before we verbed nouns with aplomb, now we could start nouning verbs. We would not 'eat lunch', we would 'eat eats'; we would not 'sit in a chair', we would 'sit in a sit'. In a great retroreaction we could obliterate the whole other half of language: and that would be not only a tragedy, but a reverse tragedy of the other one.

All this I said, or tried to say, in my emailing at work. Or, rather, I tried to say in the email that I sent at work. Language, Timothy, please!

The dangers of inanimate objects

When will people do something about the dangers of attack and or/homicide committed upon humans by inanimate objects? Why, just in the past few days, I have:

1) Become subject to a savage and unprovoked attack upon my foot by a wall, while I was walking along and minding my own business (my business being in the opposite direction of the wall);

2) Almost been pulled under the desk by the octopus-like coils of cords and tentacles that are attached to the office computer system, perhaps to be strangled and suffocated by said coils;

3) Been brutally elbowed by the sharp-edge of a column;

4) Been shaken off my balance by a street gutter, which happened to be lurking at a level below the street, waiting for me to fall into its devious trap.

Life is full of perils and dangers at the best of times. Murderers lurk, waiting to leap upon us and throttle the very life from our throats; fearsome beasts stalk us in the dark, planning to make us their prey. These are the grim facts of our existence. But even worse are the perils posed to us by inaminate objects: for they entrap us in being exactly what we expect them to be. What could be more surprising than the base at the bottom of the stairway which we step into, expecting our foot to fall upon another stair? Or the lamp post which so smugly and coyly lurks in just the spot it has always lurked, knowing that we are about to lurch into it at any second? These inanimate objects do not even do anything to attack us: no, the danger inheres in the simple fact of their being.

Who will save us from the horrifying and dreadful attacks of inanimate objects?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Arguing on a blog: Histronics, hypocrisy, and hysteria before bedtime.
Email: timhtrain - at -

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