Friday, October 30, 2009

Objection by an object

Guest post by a square

Sir Leicester P.Q. Square is a platonic object, no matter how you choose to define 'platonic'. He recently gained second place in Life magazine's reader poll 'The Two-Dimensional Rectangular Object I Admire and Would Most Like To Be Like.'

JeffS said...
I recall one senior executive who made a really bizarre statement.

We were in the midst of a "reorganization" (it mostly smoke and mirrors), when a friend of mine noticed that every single organization chart being presented at a meeting had circles and ovals, instead of the typical rectangles.

When asked about this minor change, the senior executive answered, "Circles are friendlier than squares."

Speaking as a square of longstanding squaritude, I must object to this completely unfair characterisation! You will hardly find a more kindly and outgoing polygon than the common square.

We squares are preceded by our reputation:
- You could not imagine anywhere more friendly or communal than a town square, could you?
- You eat four square meals a day.
- We are fair and square.
- Everything is square between us.
- And, most importantly, it's hip to be a square.

In contrast, circles have a far more disreputable character:

- They are always wheeling and dealing.
- Life is a wheel of fortune.
- Vultures circle on their prey - they most certainly do not square on their prey
- And lest all this does not convince you, I should not neglect to mention the vicious circle.

I therefore trust that this will serve to rectify the blot on the character of amiable squares of all shapes (so long as those shapes are square) and sizes.

Ruefully, but as ever, amicably,
Sir Leicester P. Q. Square.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good old-fashioned misery

... But while not having enough nutritious food is a big health risk for
those in poorer countries, obesity and being overweight pose yet bigger risks in
richer nations -- leading to a situation in which obesity and being overweight
causes more deaths worldwide than being underweight..."As health improves, gains
can multiply," it said. "Reducing the burden of disease in the poor may raise
income levels, which in turn will further help to reduce health inequalities."

The report warned that although some major health risk factors, such as
smoking, obesity and being overweight, were usually associated with high-income
countries, more than three-quarters of the total global burden of diseases they
cause now occurs in poor and developing countries...

Sex, alcohol, fat among world's big killers
It's just terrible how people all over the world are dying from pleasurable things like food, drink, sex, and cigarettes! We need to return to the good old horrible old days, when people died from awful miserable stuff like war, famine, pestilence, and plague.


I am desperate to avoid death from sex, alcohol, cigarettes, food, or pleasure. This is my preferred form of death.
Being decapitated by Ninjas
Being garotted by pirates
Being run off a very high cliff by zombies
Being eaten by gigantic killer flies from outer space
Contracting a rare form of Bubonic Plague that results in my head exploding at an inopportune moment
Having the Westminster Cathedral collapse on me after having saved Britain from attack by Cathars
Falling into a giant abysm that has opened in the earth and being burnt to death by the molten lava as it wells up from the earth's core
Having my eyes zapped out by a Hebrew spirit while opening up the Ark of the Covenant
Being turned into a pillar of salt
Being possessed by an evil demon from an ancient epoch and being consumed with flame when I attempt to enter a church
Free polls from

Five votes so far. It's almost like you people have a death wish, or something...

Three of you want to die by being turned into a pillar of salt. Good for you! Stand in saline solidarity with Mrs Lot!

Nobody wants to die by being eaten by gigantic killer flies. Just what have you lot got against gigantic killer flies and their urge to eat you? You'll take your gigantic killer fly and you'll like it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I think therefore I ambiguous

We just shifted all our stuff at work from one end of the office to the other, for some intensely obscure reason related to either ergonomics, quantum physics, trigonometry, or feng shui. It was essentially a simple idea that happened in a complicated manner (or possibly a complicated idea that unfolded in a simple way), involving official looking cabinets containing official looking documents being wheeled about like Daleks; books, papers, rosters, and paperclips being taken down and put back up; and a whole lot of things taken out of the backs of a whole lot of stuff and unplugged from a tangle of whatsits. I don't particular know what the things are, what the stuff they were in was, and which whatsits they were plugged into, but in the end we got everything together again and in working order, sort of.

More and more, I get the feeling that the entirety of life is like this. A whole lot of things taken out of the backs of a whole lot of stuff and unplugged from a tangle of whatsits, I mean. The metaphor is utterly ambiguous, but so is life. Life is full of things and stuff and whatsits with names and purposes that I have either forgotten, not understood, not been able to pronounce, or never been told. People crowd onto public transport twiddling with widgets and fiddling with gadgets that send smidgens of bits to other widgets and gadgets. What are they? What do they do? Should I feel threatened by them?

Consider this: many Germanic people regularly attended political meetings that were called 'Thing'. Thing! Doesn't this name express perfectly the utterly vague point of political gatherings, where deliberations are deliberated and decisions are decided upon in a way which may or may not make a complete lack of difference whatsoever to anybody and everybody involved? Why did the Anglo-Saxons ever stop speaking this way? Political meetings nowadays are more likely to involve elaborate metaphors about climbing the highways of opportunity in order to reach the participating communal enterprises of stakeholding equalities. Perhaps when you get down to it we all just have a widget plugged into the wrong whatsit, and if we untangle the network of thingumyjigs, we can get this political thing working again. I'll let Kevin Rudd know.

Despite - or perhaps because - of the fact that I have no idea what all this technology stuff does anymore, complex linguistic questions are involved. Why, aside from the obvious reason, does the name 'blog' seem to so perfectly express what I am doing now - and is it coincidental that it rhymes with an extremely familiar bodily function? When one uses Twitter, is one a 'twitterer', or a 'twat'? Can you be said to 'twitter' on Twitter, or do you twaddle on it instead? How on earth could you describe Facebook to the person who was you, three years ago? And can you facebook on twitter and twitter on facebook? For that matter, is it even possible to describe your job these days? I recently had occasion to ask the question 'what is an educational designer' of someone, and was told 'a person who designs education.' And my job title and description is pretty much the same. If you can't even describe what work you do properly, is it real work?

Things, whatsits, stuff, widgets, gadgets, twaddle. That pretty much sums up the universe, really. I suppose I should get back to work - that is, supposing there is actual work to get back to.

Jolly good, then!

The reason for the absence of my reason

I've been doing a spot of off-blog writing actually. The way it works is this: I write stuff in my notebook, don't post it on this blog, and then wait for everyone to comment on the non-blog post that I haven't posted. For instance, just this morning, I wrote a poem addressed to my stubble, which was splendid (not the stubble, I mean, but the poem), and I'm just waiting for all of you to comment on it. I can't see how this plan will fail.

I've been preparing a bit for some upcoming events: one is my competing at the state finals for the Australian Poetry Slam, which I've been lucky enough to get into. The other is my set at the Dan O'Connell on Saturday, 7 November, in two weeks time, which should be fun (the Dan readings are always fun anyway, because a lot of poets go along and read out stuff). There's details here on Facebook, which you're all invited to. Not Facebook, I mean, but the Dan. There's less beer on facebook.

And that, folks, is the reason for the absence of my reason.

Aphorism, free to go to a good home

He was the strand of hair in the mock turtle soup of life.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brown town

The other day I started reading The Da Vinci Code - a book that virtually no-one else I know has read, and all of them disliked, several years after they first didn't read, and disliked it. And I'm enjoying it, too. How down-to-date am I? I'm so behind the times that I can't even keep up with the prevailing opinion of several years ago. Maybe I should give Harold Robbins a try, next. I'll probably enjoy that, too.

I was going to write a whole bunch more words about the book, but I can't remember what they are at the moment. My one major gripe with TDVC so far is that it is six hundred pages, but then again, it's a short 600 pages.

What can I say? I haven't been as excited since reading Alvin Q. Purple and the Mysterious Cipher of Albuquerque as a kid.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dumplings make for plumplings

Last night the Baron and I had dinner at the Shanghai Dumpling house. I may not have ever mentioned the Shanghai Dumpling house before, but I will now.

Firstly, it's in Chinatown, just off Little Bourke Street. It's the 'just off' that usually throws people right off. You turn off Swanston Street, and then you toddle up Little Bourke Street, and you look for an even littler laneway leading off Little Bourke Street. It's so easy to miss that you probably will miss it. (That's how you know you've found it, when you've missed it and gone too far. (I won't say what name the laneway the Dumpling house is on, because I have no idea myself.))

Well, as you walk up to the Dumpling House, you may or may not take some time to admire the sights in the laneway, including the strategically-placed hipsters or the fashionably-dressed dumpsters or the graffiti with the cigarettes in its mouth (I always get the three mixed up.) Pretty soon you'll arrive at the door, go in, and immediately be greeted by a skinny Chinese guy who cast an appraising eye over you - don't worry, he's just figuring out how many dumplings he'll be able to get you to buy. He will officiously beckon you into the restaurant, and usher you into a seat that is three sizes too small, crammed in between an old couple looking for a fancy Chinese meal, and two lads and two lasses who look like they've just come from the pub and are taking a break before going to another one.

You may not have noticed the sound, but you will now: loud Chinese pop from the 1990s and '80s is an essential ingredient in the spicy mix that makes up the Shanghai Dumpling house. At rare intervals you will notice a hit from the '70s being played, and even more rarely, all the music will suddenly stop and the blare of electric guitars and loudly shouting voices - 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY!' - will announce that somewhere, some ill-fated person in the building is having a birthday. Somewhere, I suppose, there is a wizened Chinese grandfather with his crabbed hand paused over a tape deck, which provides the appropriate atmosphere for the whole proceedings.

Meanwhile, the old couple sitting right next to you is shouting at one another in a civil manner, and the lads and lasses on the other side are hollering courteously amongst themselves before they munch on more dumplings. (Somehow the music, the crowds, the mix of people, the food, the staff, and the quick service really do make for courteous hollering. I'm not quite sure why, but they do.)

Next up, the surly staff, who will magically materialise at your table, and bark, 'what?' at you. And by this point, you should probably have chosen what you want from the wrinkled pink (prinkled?) menu that has been placed on your table - a menu, mind you, that is refreshingly free from up-to-date formatting or typographical affectations that you might find in the posher city restaurants. (The Shanghai Dumpling house is, thankfully, much more down-to-date than other restaurants.) Whilst the baleful glare of the surly waitress is upon you, you finally manage to stutter out, in quavering and uncertain tones, the name of the meal that you want, and just as rapidly, the waitress will grab the menus, and fade into the swirling crowds.

And that, pretty much, is that. You sit, shift around a bit, and occasionally try to scream politely to your partner. You might fetch a tea from the front (don't worry, the tea is so hygienic that it tastes like soap.) But don't be too slow about it, because in a few moments the first meal will be whizzed onto your table and you can commence gourmandising. If you're lucky like me, you might even get a bonus noodle with your dumplings. (I've no idea what it was doing there, but how could you turn up your nose at a bonus noodle.)

You may notice, as you go out, that the front desk and cash register - which is commandeered by a three person team of women of various ages (from octogenarian to mid-20s) - will have a complicated series of notes and cards arrayed in a large grid, one of which cards will presumably have your details upon it. Pay no attention to this grid, as it will just confuse you. Just pay your bill as you go out, and leave (don't worry - it's cheap). The Baron assures me that we actually did pay the right bill last night, but I still can't believe you'd pay $15.00 for the amount that we ate. Maybe I'll have to make it up to them by eating there again....

To summarise: Shanghai! Melbourne! Dumplings! Bonus noodles! Surly staff! Courteous shouting! Eat there! That is all.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fantastic refrigerators!

Last week, I looked up the appropriate definition for the phrase 'gets your goolies', which turned out to be inappropriate; wondered what the division of testicles would do to certain parts of the English language; researched various children's songs on this ABC website; used the phrase 'cool bananas', looked that up on the same website, and didn't find anything; pondered, if 'cool bananas' was a recognisable phrase now, what phrases people would use in the future; and subtracted several 'goolies' from another children's song and substituted the names of various common sexually-transmissible diseases. How many people can say they have done as much? 

One or two explanations might be in order. Firstly, the phrase 'gets your goolies', which a pair of radio presenters seemed to be using to mean 'makes you angry': although Macquarie Dictionary or the Australian Word Map don't list the entire phrase, they do offer the spelling 'goolies', or 'goolie', singular (and not 'gooly', as I would might have expected): 

// (say 'goohlee)
noun Colloquial 1. (usually plural) a testicle: hit in the goolies.
2. a gob of phlegm. Also, gooly. [origin uncertain, compare Hindi gullÄ« small round object, golÄ« ball]

The definition on Australian Word Map was similar. Unfortunately, to my annoyance, the Word Map didn't recognise the phrase cool bananas, although it is at least in Macquarie: 'cool bananas, an exclamation of understanding and agreement'. I had used that in the cafe that day, while ordering lunch, and wondered for several minutes, if such odd phrases as 'cool bananas' were in use nowadays, where they had come from, and, more importantly, where they were going to. I put myself in the position of an imaginary cafe customer, fifty or 100 years into the future, idly using bizarre, nonsensical, wild, and random exclamations such as 'fantastic refrigerators!' and 'it really galumphs my gazelle' and 'that tastes as sweet as a hatstand in a thunderstorm', or, even, 'pestiferous prallibutts!' Because, really, you could never tell what people will come up with. 

As for the subtraction of goolies, well, I would say it's more innocent than it sounds, but it's also less so. You see, I was writing another turn-off poem (poem intended to inspire raging feelings of sexual ambivalence and disinterest, etc - see my previous post), and I decided to do a different version of the old Boy Scout song 'Ging Gang Goolie'. And here's what I came up with: 

Thrush warts anal anal anal anal cancer
Syphilis! Syphilis!
Thrush warts anal anal anal anal cancer
Syphilis! Syphilis!

Scabies oh vaginosis oh Hepatitis A, B, C!
Scabies oh vaginosis oh Hepatitis A, B, C!

Gonorrhea gonorrhea gonorrhea gonorrhea 
Herpes herpes herpes herpes
Gonorrhea gonorrhea gonorrhea gonorrhea 
Herpes herpes herpes herpes

Thrush warts anal anal anal anal cancer
Syphilis! Syphilis!
Thrush warts anal anal anal anal cancer
Syphilis! Syphilis!

And that is pretty much what happened last week. Perhaps you can tell me what it means: does it spiflicate your spigot, or is it about as interesting as a polyphonic cardboard box? Comment, everyone!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Attention, evil masterminds

Evil masterminds,
When you take over the world,
Do it in haiku!

“Attention, humans!
My Death Ray destroys all!
Bow down before me!”

“Meet my demands, or
the world will be sucked into
This howling vortex.”

"Space dragon Fluffy
Has just devoured New York. Please
Make him feel welcome."

It will lessen the
Pain of servitude by
Just a little bit.

There's quite a fun haiku thread at Tim Blair's. This is a slightly expanded version of one of my comments over there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Words you won't hear around a nudist colony

(Stomping around the house, lifting various objects up and banging them down again unceremoniously) 

Where are my underpants?

Where are my underpants?

Where are my underpants?

Where are my underpants?

Where are my UNDERPANTS?

Where are my underpants?

Where are my underpants?


Turn-off poetry

Turn-off poetry. Poetry intended to inspire raging feelings of sexual placidity, disinterest, and ambivalence. Also known as sclerotic verse.

The drugs no longer work, dear,
Viagra's lost its touch.
There always is Cialis, but
That costs a bit too much.

That Goat Weed tastes disgusting,
And I hate that Chinese stuff -
I think the time has come, dear,
To say enough's enough.

But do not be depressed, dear,
For now on, you will find,
If I can't love you bodily,
I'll love you with my mind,

Though I might get distracted
From you for a short time,
Please rest assured my love
For you will be sublime.

Although we do not hug now,
And hardly ever kiss,
Please know I always think of you
In an ecstatic bliss.

Although we sleep apart now,
And hardly ever touch,
We'll make love all the time
(Though never speaking much.)

The drugs no longer work, dear,
Viagra's lost its touch.
There always is Cialis, but
That costs a bit too much.

That Goat Weed tastes disgusting,
And I hate that Chinese stuff -
I think the time has come, dear,
To say enough's enough.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Coming distractions


"Quick! One high-level diplomat in the cardiac ward about to undergo serious open heart surgery has been brutally murdered by someone from the accident ward, and if we don't investigate now, then the high level diplomatic negotiations in the upper echelons of the UN over the rights of the refugees could stall for weeks!" 


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cranky old man who lives in my head

I have a cranky old man who lives in my head, in case you hadn't guessed. He's waiting until I actually get old, when he will actually become me, and he will have an even crankier, even older man living inside his head shouting swear words at him. I can't wait for that to happen. Anyway, here's what he had to say while roaming the aisles of Target this afternoon: 

(Observing the men's watches) "Ridiculous. Stupid. Useless. Redundant. I don't want to wear any of these. And they call these men's watches! "

(Seeing a slim woman's belt) "What on earth are all these little square button things for? I don't like it."   

(Spotting a green plate shaped like a leaf) "Ha! That one will be in the antique stores in a month or two. Straight to the Sallies for you." 

(Reading a label) "Contemporary bedding? What the hell is this contemporary bedding? Who needs to sleep on a contemporary bed? I mean, this is just such rubbish. When bedding myself, my needs are very simple: a blanket, a mattress, and a pillow. What sort of sleeping person worries if the bed enabling their sleeping is contemporary?" 

And so the cranky old man who lives in my head and myself trundled along home to look for a crossword to fill out. (He knows all about cross words, too, you see.)

Poetry and the sound of violence

Some wit once declared, 'Wagner's music is better than it sounds.' Well, if you've listened to any of Radio National's arts programs, you'd conclude that contemporary poetry was mostly about saying cliches in a dreamy voice over the sound of running rivers, contemporary music was mostly about people talking about 'the arts' (capital letters omitted by the speakers because they symbolise the patriarchy, or something), and all the other contemporary art stuff that couldn't be directly performed over the airwaves was about boring interviews on radios. Seriously, just on Friday I was forced to listen to half an interview on By Design where they were talking about an upcoming architecture exhibition in Queensland. I counted the cliches: 

- Slightly daffy curator talking in high, breathy voice about bricks and cement and planks. (Well, she didn't use the words 'bricks', 'cement' and 'planks', but that's what architecture boils down to.)

- Bored presenter talking in bored voice about a subject which clearly bored him. (The presenter was Alan Saunders, and - seriously - that dude was old when I wasn't. He's still doing their arts programs!) 

- A climax of boredom when Saunders, with no idea how to say something that sounds both intelligent, engaged, and interested in the subject, cops out by giving a lengthy Presentorial 'Hmmm', presumably accompanied by an authoritative nodding of the head. Radio National's arts programs can be measured by the amount of 'hmmms' each interview elicits from the presenter. 

That's art for you: important enough to be broadcast on national radio, and important enough to elicit knowing 'hmmms' from a presenter who is important (or at least old) enough to know better. 

It all seems a world away from the poetry slam I was at on Wednesday night, where people got drunk, laughed at penis jokes, and contestants got kicked by a Ninja. 

Don't tell that to Alan Saunders or the Radio National team, though, they might think that poetry is worse than it sounds. 

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dongles dingling

I bumbled about the house last weekend writing sonnets about robots in love. As you do.

My dongles all dingled, my diodes did too
The day I met you, Zapf 10-24.
My head was aswirl with sub-function 9Q
My circuits aswell with programs galore.

All my old neural pathways were activated,
My protocol presettings popped into place;
Yes, even my 192's were 48-d,
And a rainbow of indicators lit up my face.

But did all your routines click the same way for me?
Did you wish I were yours as I wished you were mine?
For I'm Trash Robot KX from Level ZB
And you're DRED AUTOMATON 999.

How I wanted and wished while my circuits were reeling
That I knew what the protocols were you were feeling.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Watching the television: a review

Recently, I did something unusual and watched the television. And I mean, really watched the television - without the distraction of sounds and lights and colours coming out of it. How many people can say they have done the same thing lately? 

Oh, it used to be so common, watching the television, didn't it? In previous centuries, whole families would gather at home to admire the sleek Bakelite curves of the new television. (Back then, everything new, such as televisions, radios, clothes, babies etc was made in Bakelite to avoid confusion). It used to be a source of wonder and entertainment for everyone, before people started getting distracted by television shows. Perhaps, occasionally, grandmother would get up and run her quivering hand up and down the right leg of the television, or dear little baby would cry out in wonder and be helped up by mama and papa  to press her dear little hands on the television screen. 

I suppose it's a bit of a mystery, when you wonder a bit about it: what were all those televisions doing around before television shows? I suppose they must have been first invented by ancient civilisations as some sort of cultic worship object, or something like that. There's probably a chapter in James Frazer describing the discovery of the first televisions in archaeological digs - I don't know. 

Well I sat down to watch the television last night, and I can tell you now it felt wonderful. Like slipping into a pair of comfortable old socks. The television just sat there, looking all lovely and gleaming and wonderful, and I sat where I was, looking at it. It was really quite impressive. 

Now, you might feel moved to ask, Tim! If you didn't watch shows on the television, what did you watch on the television? 

Oh, the composition of the televisual form, I might reply. The sleek, shining curves. The way it had of glinting, just so, in the last light of the sun. And besides all that, there really was something on the television as I watched it, and that something was much better than a show. It was a blanket. I'd put the blanket on top of the television for precisely that reason - to enjoy the blanket on top of the television, and to enjoy the television sitting under the blanket. What else do you do these things before? 

But alas, such simple pleasures are not often enjoyed by Australian families anymore. They'd much rather be distracted by movies and serial shows and the like. It seems that modern life has passed the television by, just like it has passed other once popular forms of art and entertainment by. Remember that time, before the introduction of actors, when people used to really go to the theatre, and just sit there, in the theatre, for two hours in lovely quietness? And how must have books been before the discovery of words? I fancy they must have looked so much more wondrous to the cavemen, with all those blank pages, so lovingly bound. 

Ah well. That, as they say, is life. I'm off to contemplate the simpler times by making a pizza with no cheese, topping, or crust, before sitting down to a lovely hour or two of listening to my unplugged radio. Anyone else want a slice of pizza a la oxygen

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

WTFF Patriotic Edition


- Behemoth outer space monster descends upon New York City engorging the entire metropolis in a gigantic ball of flame, millions die, Australian slips and grazes his finger!

- President Obama expected to make statement shortly about the finger of the Australian, millions dead.

- Prime Minister Rudd calls upon the President to deliver assurances that other Australian's fingers won't get grazed.


- SCIENCE: Wife of mother of daughter of uncle of aunt of partner of person who once belonged to a dog owners' club with pen pal of person who corresponded with a naturalised Australian wins Nobel Prize.

- OPINION: Why the rest of the world should do something about global warming, before an event of minor irritation happens to Australians.

- OPINION: Is the rest of the world the arse end of Australia? Clearly, yes.

- SPORTS: Devastating catastrophe, world mourns, as Australia loses to England in the cricket. Royal Commission into the unfolding tragedy due to begin shortly, the entire population of Australia offered trauma counselling.

PLUS: Crosswords, Sudoku, etc, INSIDE!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Eight o'clock again

I think I've mentioned it before, but daylight savings! I hate it! Why do we have to make things so complicated for ourselves? Every day I have to keep on making mental adjustments, telling myself that the time is an hour later than the time used to be, so that I end up having no idea what the time is and even less idea what the time was.

Really, I wonder, wouldn't it be simpler if we passed a little law in parliament making it eight o'clock all the time? Then we'd never have to remember anything else, or make adjustments, because it would simply be eight o'clock. We'd never wake up late, or wake up early, we'd just wake up at eight. Public transport would never be late, or early, it would always be on time; and we'd never, ever, ever get into work late, or leave early, no matter how short a time you spent there. Except, I suppose, if your boss insisted that you arrive in to work at seven o'clock and work until nine o'clock. Which would be just sadistic.

All things considered, though, why don't we embrace this new and progressive approach to daylight savings, by doing away with time altogether, and making every time eight o'clock?

UPDATE! - Oh bugger. Is that the time again? I might be late!

UPDATE UPDATE! - Words that rhyme with late mentioned in this post: hate, eight, update. Wake is also admissible in some states. 

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A poetry slam

PREMIER Mike Rann has vowed to remain accessible to voters, a day after being attacked and repeatedly struck about the head with a tightly rolled magazine by a man at a Labor Party fundraiser in Adelaide...

With obvious bruises on his face from the attack, Mr Rann yesterday said he had never met his alleged assailant and promised he would not be changing his habits because of the incident, adding it was not the first physical attack he had experienced.

"It's happened to me a couple of times before -- once at a poetry reading in 1994 and then again at a football club a few years ago," he said.

Mike Rann bruised but unbowed after attack, The Weekend Australian
Don't mess with poets! They're just as bad as football supporters!

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program to bring you a word from our words

Bovril. Not too heavy, not too light. 

An iron man a day helps you work, rest, and play. 

It's the simple things in life that keep you just like a chocolate milkshake, only looking good. 

Aussie Kids are Tarn-Off Kids!

Pal satisfies!

Nine out of ten kids prefer CHUM for breakfast. 

Weet-Bix - Puppy time!

Life's pretty straight without Weeties.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Nostalgic reminiscences inspired by recent discussions about that month between October and November – Octember

O do you remember the first of Octember
That time when the first snows of wintumn had passed?
We longed for the rainlight of sprummer to come
And for the sunclouds to vanish at last.

But we were old then, and the seconds were green
And we thought of the future as it might have been.

Have you thought of that fortmonth in Novembuary?
We stayed up all night, for 25 hours;
In the light afternight we walked through the garden
Admiring the late-blooming perennial flowers.

But we were old then, and the seconds were green
And we sang through the days like a washing machine.

Oft-times do I think of that decade in Jarch
When we stood ‘neath the larch and heard a bird sing;
Midlife savings had started – we were frail and wan,
But we jumped and we laughed like a leap year in spring.

But we were old then, and the seconds were green
And the epochs all sparkled like dancing sunbeams.

On Marryat, Patrick O'Brian, and yellow underpants with purple spots

I was reading and walking, as I'm in the habit of doing. I almost always read and walk. It is true that once a few weeks ago I didn't have a book or magazine to read while I was walking, and the experience was most alarming. I thought I might bump into something, or fall over, or get run over by a tram, or be attacked by a wall. You need a book to help yourself ignore the perils of everyday life.

Well, as I say, I was reading and walking, in no particular order, from the train station to work, and as I read and walked my way up to the door, I was interrupted by a woman - let's call her Z* - who also works there.

"What are you reading?" she asked.

Now I like to think when I'm reading that I'm having a conversation with the author. They've gone to all that trouble to put words down on the page, to get the book published, and to make that writing interesting and engaging, for you. Books ask you questions, and answer questions you may or may not have asked: they are portable conversations. But there are some allowances that a book cannot make for in a conversation - as in, for instance, another person charging in in the middle of the conversation and asking, 'what are you reading'. You will not find the book sitting up, and saying to the person who interrupts you in the reading, 'why hello, I haven't seen you in a while', will you? A book doesn't have the capacity to say to you, 'oh look at that, here comes Podger' mid narrative. Podger has the ability to barge in mid-conversation, but the book has no ability to answer back. Not as far as I'm aware, anyway.

For all I know, I could be sitting about in the house wearing my pair of yellow underpants with purple spots (I do not own a pair of yellow underpants with purple spots, they are purely hypothetical) and the book will unexpectedly make passing reference to 'that embarassing pair of yellow underpants with purple spots you are currently wearing', but I haven't come across that book yet**. So when someone comes along, while you are in the middle of a conversation with an author, and asks you what you're reading, I'm just a little bit inclined to treat it as a simple interruption. I'm grumpy that way.

As to the question, 'what was I reading', well, this particular book was Newton Forster, by Marryat, but my first instinct was to go for a rhetorical strategy taught to me by my father. I stated the obvious:

"A book!"

Well, she let it hang there and I let it hang there, but it started to feel a bit unsporting of me. Instead of repairing again to my little chat with Marryat, I elaborated. "Captain Marryat," I said.
"Oh," she said. And then she dropped her bombshell: "Is he anything like Patrick O'Brian?"

I stiffened. Quite possibly, my hackles raised (what are hackles, anyway?) I may even have glowered (not sure how that's done, either.) You see, for the past few weeks I have been subjected to numerous spurious comparisons between Marryat and Patrick O'Brian. Here's one. And it's reproduced on the back of my book, too. Oh, the sheer indignity of it all! Quite aside from anything else, I haven't read any Patrick O'Brian, so why should I care if Marryat is anything like Patrick O'Brian? The question 'is Patrick O'Brian anything like Patrick O'Brian' would make as much sense to me as what Z asked***.

However, one author I have read a lot of is Marryat. He's great! I didn't like Masterman Ready or Frank Mildmay so much, but Mr Midshipman Easy, Jacob Faithful, Peter Simple, and The Children of the New Forest are all quite wonderful. Modern readers might be a bit off put by the slapstick humour (he gets laughs out of the hero Jack being, er, slapped with a stick in Midshipman Easy), or the wit (he has great fun with his introductions - the start of Newton Forster is a good example, where he imagines himself being confronted in a room, following the publication of one of his books, by "a tall, long-chinned, short-sighted blue, dressed in yellow, peering into my face, as if her eyes were magnifying glasses").

The plots have a wonderful blend of invention, formula, romance, and development. Jacob Faithful opens, quite unexpectedly, with the hero's father expiring due to internal combustion, and it's not for another several hundred pages that the hero earns a large fortune. Newton Forster has a ripping opening, with a ship crashing upon the rocks of the English shore, and a child being rescued from the wrecks with nothing but a box of linen once belonging to her family. In short order, the hero of the title is press ganged into the navy, taken prisoner by the French, marooned on a boat with a deadly enemy, taken prisoner by slaves, and returned home to England penniless and destitute.

All of this - disaster, murder, theft on the high seas, slavery, and so on - is merely incidental for Marryat, who has that novelists' gift of being able to hold his real plot punches until the end. His characters change, become disillusioned, and mature, as the story progresses: they aren't just immobile, expressionless caricatures. Sometimes they will suffer extraordinarily: Peter Simple, from the novel of that name, has his identity stolen from him and ends up in an insane asylum for several months before receiving his liberty. Jack Easy, from Mr Midshipman Easy, comes to disbelieve in his early philosophy (a simplified version of the romantic ideals about the equality and liberty of man); it's true that his philosophy at the end of the novel is suspiciously close to Marryat's own Tory thought, but then, young idealists do have an annoying habit of doing just that. (Also, the novel ends with a pitched gun battle over the tables of Jack's recently-inherited estate, if you're not the sort to get hung up over character development.)

Perhaps what Z meant is that O'Brian and Marryat wrote books that had ships in them. Well I suppose that is so. There are ships in Newton Forster, amongst other things. I'm not sure about O'Brian, but Marryat really was writing about a world he knew about, as the 'Captain' that precedes his other names indicates. And the affairs that he writes about - wars, the abolishment of slavery - were real, and present, and current, just as the Afghanistan war or terrorism is real and present and current to us. (I think Lord Nelson actually plays a small part in the plot Peter Simple.)

The ship on the cover of my book, and the reference to O'Brian on the back, really, is misleading: it lets you think that you are getting a work of historical fiction. (By the way, never judge a cover by its cover: on the back of my book Newton Forster is described as a 'troubled' young man, though he's not particularly troubled in the sense that I think they mean it. He's rather self-assured, actually. I recently read a copy of The Prisoner of Zenda, the cover of which says that the hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, becomes involved 'in a desperate plot': which is utterly wrong - the plot is ridiculous, not desperate.)

All this, I suppose, I should have said to Z, as we stood on the stairs, and Marryat sat in my hand, patiently waiting for the conversation to finish. Though, gormlessly, what I did say was something more along the lines of, "No." Or possibly "maybe."

And we pretty much left it at that, since right at that moment Podger came up and demanded I tell him about the yellow underpants with purple spots that were lying on the photocopier.

So, as they say in the classics, that went well.

*'... let's call her Z': a useful literary device for protecting the identity of people whose names you don't actually know.

** Nor the underpants, though I did once see a white tie with large pink spots on it.

*** You never know. Some authors are so unique that they are like no-one else on the earth, including themselves. For instance, I'd say S J Perelman is so original that he is not even like himself, but he can do a stunningly good impression from time to time.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


(To the tune of Cole Porter's 'You're the Top')

You're the bum!
You're the great Grand Canyon!
You're the bum!
You're Saddam's companion!
You're a malady from a stagnant gulch
You're the gloop in the bin that holds the fruit mulch!
You're the world's arse end,
Not just Antarctic, or Antarcticer, you're the Antarcticest
Baby, at being bums, you're the best!
You're a loser, you're a boozer, you're a slum -
Baby, you're the bum!

(Audience breaks into wild applause and sneers, fade out)
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