Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Drowning and waving...





Body grafting to computer.

Mind trying to escape.

Save yourselves!

(If you haven't read it already, go peruse something worth reading.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Poor Mr Padge...

hot_padge, originally uploaded by Ampersand Duck.

... attacked by weird alien books! Where's Dr Who when you need him?

(The bad thing about this photo is that it means my camera is dying again, and I fear I can't send it back to the makers again. Worked the first couple of times, but it's been over a year since the last attack. Poo.)


Friday, January 27, 2006

Idiom on a hot summer's arvo

I enjoy working on the endmatter of scholarly editions. It's sometimes great reading, albeit a tad dry. This excerpt made me LOL -- it's about the pitfalls of late 19th-century Canadian typesetters translating an Australian book:

So sensitive were the typesetters to the possibility of unfortunate double meaning that the innocent phrase 'Keep up your pecker, old man' required that 'courage' be substituted for 'pecker'; and the description of hard-ridden horses as 'knocked up' was clearly seen as potentially ambiguous in an objectionable way and had to be reduced to 'used up'. The account of a mare as being 'like some women when they get their monkey up' perhaps had the Montreal typesetters scratching their heads as to the meaning of this inoffensive colloquialism (it means, to become angry). They deleted it, preferring to err on the safe side. The idiom 'That cock wouldn't fight' survived in the weekly but was translated by the experienced compositors of the daily as 'That wouldn't go': it meant much the same thing, but it was minus the cock.

Heh. I can see the editor's wry grin as he wrote that last line.

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Hooray for them!

Bouquets to Laura at Sorrow of Sill's Bend and Larvatus Prodeo for winning awards in the 2006 Australian Blogging Awards! Hooray! Another bouquet (slightly smaller but still smelling sweet) to Zoe the crazybrave for almost pipping the young gun for Best ACT blog. Pretty good for not having run an intensive campaign :)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Creative Genius #2

For some strange reason Libra has decided that tampons and pads have to be entertaining. This is an interesting development in the history of attitudes towards menstruation. We're progressing along the line (so nicely and simply explained in a web essay about menstruation by Nicki Sullings [Postscript: I was asked to remove the link because spammers were hitting her site, but if you search with those terms, you'll find it]) from a complete taboo on the subject to being able to say 'Yars, I decided to hang the Libra decorations this year' when showing your family and friends the white/red/blue/glittery Christmas tree.

I noticed today in the toilet (no, not pregnant yet!) that we're being encouraged to walk out of the loo and say, 'hey guys, did you know...!'

Yes, Libra have started printing bits of trivia on the strip of waxy paper that you peel off the pads to stick them onto your undies. They've creatively called these little snippets 'Odd Spots', presumably to help you laugh about the current state of your knickers. Apparently you're supposed to come out of the loo waving the bits of paper like a Fantail wrapper and amusing your friends with such interesting things as:

If you sneeze too hard, you can fracture a rib. If you try to supress [sic] a sneeze, you can rupture a blood vessel in your head or neck and die.
[JESUS! I'm bleeding between my legs and you're trying to amuse me with blood trivia??!!]

On average, 13 people die every year from vending machines falling on them.
[I shit you not.]

The largest number of children born to one woman is 69 in Russia.
[Ok. I'm menstruating. I'm either glad I'm not pregnant or sad I'm not pregnant. Thanks for tapping into those emotions.]

The bloodhound is the only animal whose evidence is admssible in an American court. [Blood again!]

An elephant can throw a baseball faster than a human. [Yes, I do feel like throwing something. This bit of paper into the bin. A rock at someone wanting me to leave the house for a nice bushwalk.]

Now, it's those last two that convinces me that Libra are not competing with Fantails for friends. They're competing with beer bottle tops and labels. Swap a bit o'trivia in the pub with your mates. Or are we supposed to yell them out to each other between toilet cubicles, maybe to make friends with the women in the next cubicle before you ask her for some toilet paper?

One human brain generates more electrical impulses in a day than all of the world's telephones put together.

Well, that's obviously a brain with more power than the mob who thought of this idea.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

M. i. c. k. e. y..... M. o. u. s. e!

My cats just can't stop catching mice at the moment. They've caught two today! I found a gorgeous little mouse skull in the front garden this evening, which means they killed while we were on holiday.

They have a system. Mr Pooter is the Mouse Catcher. Mr Padge is the Mouse Keeper. Pooter can catch them very easily, but when he plays with them, he loses them. Mr Padge finds them again and keeps hold of them no matter what -- then eats them.

The first mouse today was caught and then accidentally let loose in the house. I couldn't work out what was making Pooter so frantic. He was rushing around the house, miaowing and squeaking. Then BB got home from work and nearly trod on the mouse in our room. He carried it outside and let it go, but Padge tracked it down. Then Pooter stole it back. Then I got the camera out.

Pooter + the mouse
making the most of the paint equipment left around the yard, Pooter discovers the fun in letting the mouse runs through and around the ladder...

losing the mouse
...but then loses it by taking it into the bushes nearby. You could almost hear Padge's exasperated sigh...

chasing the mouse
Padge then sppots the mouse and decides that he has spent enough time letting his brother faff around. His turn!

finding the mouse
Much better, thinks Padge. My mousie. Nice mousie, wee mousie. Time to move away from the equipment and into a bit of clear space...

hello mouse!
Nice mousie, wee mousie, timorous little beastie...

passing the mouse
You make a nice football, wee mousie...

This is the point at which, each growling happily, the two cats started batting the mouse between them. And so this is the point at which I left them to it, feeling sorry for the mouse, but glad it wasn't scuttling around my wardrobe anymore. They ate that one, and caught another (which they also brought inside, only to be ignobly dumped outside again) and as I type they are still outside playing with it.

So welcome to Mishca, newest member of the North Canberra Mouseketeers! You have a lot of catching up to do!

DIY be damned

I've been meaning to paint the outside of my house for years. About six years ago when I was single my father said he'd help me, so we prepped and sanded, and I trialled a few colour patches... and that is as far as it went. There was always some reason or another why we never finished the job. One reason was my dad confessing to me after a few Christmas drinks a couple of years ago that he hated house painting! So poor little Private Jetty* has been sitting in all the elements with no protection, and now it looks really really shabby, in the way that only ex-govie houses in Canberra can look. When the grass is long I feel that it just needs a couple of broken down cars on the verge to complete the picture.

Best Beloved is not a home handyman. He is a jam-maker. I am the home handy-woman, but I'm not very diligent because I happen to be fairly lazy and prefer to read than be up a ladder. I do like a power drill, and I do have my favorite screwdriver set. I've come to terms with the fact that I will never paint the house on my own, so my New Year's resolution this year was to bloody well just pay someone to do it. And so I have.

I looked in the local community paper and picked out two nice-looking ads. One turned out to be an older Scottish man who has been painting for years, and gave me a whole book of references, most of which were written in old-lady handwriting proclaiming how much of a godsend he was and how nice he was to their disabled husbands. He gave me lots of free advice, warned me against young guns with cheaper quotes, then gave me a horrendously expensive quote and said he couldn't start for 8 weeks.

The other was a young gun with a brand-new van, his name on the personalised number-plate, and a buff physique. A new Australian (Turkish), he was very keen and puppy-like. We liked each other immediately, and even though BB was wary, I thought he deserved a chance. And he gave a reasonable quote and could start the next week. BB wanted me to get a third quote, but something about R just appealed to me (and it wasn't the thought of muscles on a ladder!).

Two days into the job, I know my instinct was right. The older guy would have been very irritating, with constant 'Dearie's and free advice. R is very friendly, much more savvy than I originally thought, and we have fun chats about his wife and two small girls. He's been in Australia for 5 years, had his own business for 3 years, and is very grateful to Australia for the opportunities it has offered him. although he finds Canberra a bit boring (heh)! He then said that Canberra was a good place to save money. I don't think so. I spend all mine on movies and house repairs! Mind you, I haven't seen a movie made for adults for ages, thanks to the school holidays.

Ooh, have run out of time, and must dash. Sorry, wanted to wind this up in some funny, interesting way, but never mind. I'll try harder next time.

*Most people refer to my house by the street it lives on, but I hung on the front verandah an old sign I found on a beach saying 'Private Jetty', so thats how I think of it. A lot of people walk past and ask where the boats are. Be patient, my creatures. I plan to find or make a few quirky garden feature boats to snuggle into my projected sea of blue-flowered plants! Once Bumblebee has grown out of the swing set.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Ten Top Trivia Tips about Duckie!

  1. A sixteenth century mathematician lost his nose in a duel over his love for Duckie, and wore a silver replacement for the rest of his life!
  2. Duckie has little need for water and is capable of going for months without drinking at all.
  3. Duckie kept at the window will keep vampires at bay.
  4. Duckie was invented in China in the eleventh century, but was only used for fireworks, never for weapons.
  5. If the annual Australian Duckie crop was laid end to end, it would stretch around the world seven times.
  6. A lump of Duckie the size of a matchbox can be flattened into a sheet the size of a tennis court.
  7. Duckie is only six percent water.
  8. You would have to dig through four thousand kilometres of Duckie to reach the earth's core!
  9. Duckie can only be destroyed by intense heat, and is impermeable even to acid.
  10. It's bad luck for a flag to touch Duckie!
I am interested in - do tell me about

A tip o' the hat to Ladycracker!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

On a lighter note...

It's been a hoot of a weekend!

First, Zoe and I went to a fitball class at the Australian Institute of Sport. I've always been told that Fitball is a gentle way to reintroduce my BFFA* to exercise. Gentle my arse! Wobbling around falling off a huge inflated ball is a completely undignified way to reintroduce my body to exercise, and it is NOT gentle. Ok, ok, gentler than walking down the frigging Giant Stairway, but only because it spreads the pain around my body evenly! The class was hilarious, and I think it deserves a joint photo-essay in the next few weeks. Zoe and I will work on it between gasps.

Secondly, Padge discover a cache of poisoned rats in the next-door neighbour's garage and painstakingly carried them over to our backyard for a play. Thank goodness we discovered him before he ate them. We thought he'd caught one, and then saw two others scattered nearby. He was very disappointed when we took them away. I'm sure the neighbour was very pleased that we cleaned them up for him!

Two happy cats, about to divvy up the spoils

Three dead rats, three dead rats, see how they, um, flop...

Then we went appliance shopping! What fun. I love making cash deals with pimply young things in major appliance franchises. We bought a huge food processor (for BB to make his preserves), a new toaster (finally, no more turning the homemade bread slices around to brown both ends) and a NEW TV! Actually, I'm not that excited by the idea of a new tv. Our old 34cm screen was quite serviceable, but it was very old, with no remote, and the routine for turning it on and watching a dvd or video rivalled something out of a Douglas Adams book. The new 51cm tv is still only cathode ray, but has all the relevant AV ports and we can now just turn on the tv and watch whatever we want. My father will collapse in relief next time he visits.

Of course, setting up the new tv took most of this morning, and meant that I had to rejig the whole living area. Having a more up-to-date tv meant that I could move the digital set-top box off the top of the stereo and I could reinstate the record player! I pulled out some favorite records and Bumblebee said 'Are you going to play that! How quaint!' I told him it was very hip to have a turntable. When I turned it over to the other side he was gobsmacked. He didn't know that records had two sides. Sigh. I feel old. He was equally delighted when I showed off my baby-pink vinyl of Elvis's greatest hits, and the red-vinyl double Beatles album. he's out there now, listening to 1982: Out of the Blue which I think is an essential education for anyone who wants to know about 80s music. Best Beloved pulled out his extremely funny and I'd say fairly rare copy of JJ's 'Dr Poo'. All Cisterns Go! It's Dr Poo in his Turdis, accompanied by his brainless assistant Dana Sock and Denis the Denim Cat!

We listened to albums and watched odd bits of tv on our alarmingly bigger screen while BB made tomato relish, rhubarb and orange marmalade and spicy plum sauce. Having heated up the house and ourselves to the point of heat exhaustion, I think we're off to the local pool for a while.

It's just not the same.

*Big Fat Flabby Arse

Friday, January 20, 2006

Matters of the Heart (long post alert)

In the last post I nonchalantly mentioned my son's second heart op. I'm quite good at being nonchalant about his ops, because if I don't stay cool I get all emotional. But I was asked about it in the comments of the last post, and I feel like writing something tonight while BB is at a religious PhD party (don't ask), so I'll indulge myself. Apologies to anyone who has heard this story before.

Bumblebee was born in 1997, only a week early, but extremely skinny and yellow. He'd tied true knots in his umbilical cord and was so hungry he’d been using his own fat to stay alive. The hospital let him have a night with me to start him breastfeeding and then whisked him away to the special needs ward for a day or so. Apparently this is very routine and I was lucky to get that first night. We were sent home within a week, and that, as a solo mum, was very scary.

Anyhoo, for the first 6 weeks of his life I was shunted in and out of breastfeeding clinics because I had a baby that wouldn't thrive, and the finger was pointed firmly at me for not feeding properly. Being a first-time mother I had no defences. Babies don't come with manuals, and I didn't have any friends who had had babies (except one blessed friend who would come over and prop his chin up expertly). I felt cowed, and insecure, and a bad mother. My own mother was wonderful, and I think if she hadn't stayed close by for that first period of time, I would have had severe post-natal depression. Bumblebee was long, thin and very sleepy. He just couldn't stay awake to feed, and my breasts were killing me from all the milk building up. The nurses tried everything, from expressing to tubes attached next to my nipple, to bottles. I didn't want bottles, I wanted to feed him myself. They actually made me feel guilty for persisting! Sheesh.

Thankfully, because of his problems at birth, he was given a 6-week check-up by a paediatrician rather than a district nurse. He did a series of tests and discovered that Bumblebee had a heart murmur, and recommended we see a cardiatric paediatrician in Sydney, since there are none resident in Canberra. He got me an appointment as fast as he could, but none of us realised quite how serious the situation was. All I could think was 'yah boo sucks' to the Mothercare ladies – it wasn't me, it was him! A bit petty, really, but there you go.

If there had been the right facilities in Canberra, B would have been diagnosed properly, and airlifted immediately to Westmead in Sydney. As it was, we drove up the next week, and B seemed to me to be having an extra-sleepy day. He didn't make a peep the whole way. Good baby!

But! as soon as the specialist clapped eyes on him, it was all systems go. My tiny baby (about 9 weeks old now) was about to go into cardiac arrest. He was whisked away, and I was given a quick but serious chat by the specialist about Observations and Investigations and Surgery and Transplants. My mind reeled. I had only planned a day-trip, I didn't even have a change of clothes! My baby was dying! Hell!

They kept him in the cardio ward for a week, with wonderful nurses hovering, pretending that they were concerned for me, but in reality trying not to show me that they were waiting to see if B would cark it before his scheduled operation. They were trying to strengthen him a bit before doing all the tests to see what was actually wrong. I slept in a fold-out chair next to his bed, only in snatches.

Lots of nice doctors talking to me in clumps halfway through the week make my head spin. From what they could see from the outside he had multiple congential heart defects, including cor triatiatum, which means three heart chambers. There was a hole big enough to make another chamber, a blockage somewhere else, and I think a vein was upside-down. Turns out all the talk about transplants was just gumph to help me not panic on the first day, and a transplant would be impossible on someone still in 0000 size clothing. So they had to open him up to investigate, not sure what they would do, 2 in 3 chance he would die on the operating table, yada yada yada...

I chose to interpret that as he had a 1 in 3 chance of making it, and focused all my energy on really noticing how beautiful my son was. I borrowed a video camera from a friend, and documented him before they took him away. I remember the morning of his operation, I discovered how to use the fade button. I shot a small film of him smiling at the fishtank in the foyer, faded out, and then thought
'Oh shit. If he dies, I just faded out my last view of him on film. Was that an omen? Will that be the final tear-jerker? oh shit.'

Poor little Bumblebee spent 5 hours under the knife. I was given a pager and told to go out for a while. My parents and I wandered the streets of Parramatta listlessly, and went to the movies to try and distract ourselves. The only thing available was Jim Carrey in Liar Liar. I can't even bear looking at the video cover in shops now. It was such crap! And the pager keep giving out mournful little bleeps because they hadn’t bothered recharging the batteries and it was dying.

We dashed back to the hospital, just in time to greet the surgeon. He rushed up to me, a huge exhausted grin all over his face. Success! He was jubilant. Apparently they had no frigging idea what they were going to do once they'd opened him up, so they made it up as they went along, and they customised his heart. Closed one bit up, used a bit of his own flesh to patch another bit, carved a little bit of this. The surgeon's face was all shiny and proud. I was so grateful I kissed him, and he turned beetroot red! I was so happy, he was so happy, my parents were nearly fainting in relief. I still write him letters.

Small children are amazing. Because they are growing all the time, their cells are constantly multiplying, and they heal very fast. (Adults heal a lot slower, because we fear pain, and hold ourselves back from movement. Middle-age men take months to achieve what a baby manages in a week.) Bumblebee was in intensive care for about 4 days, then in the cardio ward for about 3 days, and then they sent him home with me. He was a completely different baby. He was hungry for the first time in his life. He stayed hungry. He's still hungry. And he's still thin! He had so much energy. And he needed lots of attention.

While I was away my father and friends had moved me into a new house, the house I'm sitting in writing this. All my things were arranged beautifully ( it took me over 6 months to find everything). I had stayed strong and positive throughout the whole experience, but the first night alone in a new, familiar yet unfamiliar house with my new, familiar yet unfamiliar changeling was just too much. I sat on the lounge-room floor and cried. I cried for hours. I kept weeping sporadically for weeks, then I pulled myself together again. Bumblebee just got stronger and stronger. They said he would be a slow developer, but he was running by 11 months and no-one's discovered an off-switch yet.

When he was 3 and a half, his biannual heart check-up discovered another glitch. This one, surprisingly, was nothing to do with the first. There was a growth in one of his valves, a ring which would thicken over time like orange peel. Most kids are discovered with it when the membrane thickens so much that it impedes blood flow and they look sick; Bumblebee was lucky that he had a specialist check him regularly and carefully. So another operation was scheduled for just after his 4th birthday.

This time I was prepared. but this time B was a lot older, and more cognizant. I had to read him books, talk about it, prepare special toys, and also prepare his Dad, who missed the first operation because we were at war. This time he wanted, and fair enough too, to be involved.

My auntie (a Chinese medicine doctor) offered us a gift of a Qigong treatment with a special practitioner in Sydney. This was to strengthen B's physical resources and give him enough energised Chi to help him through the operation. whilst not quite sure what to think of it, I said yes with an open mind, and we visited the fellow on the day we were due to go to the hospital.

Qigong (pronounced Chi-Goong) is all about spiritual energy, and the Qigong master (Z) reassured me that it was a quick, simple procedure, which consisted of B lying still and he would do a laying on of hands. A bit like raiki, I supposed. A few minutes into it, B was saying 'ow', 'ow', OW OW! HE'S ZAPPING ME! Apparently Z's touch was full of electricity! B got up and started wandering around the house and garden. Z quite calmly followed him around, placing his hands on B's head periodically. B was yell 'OW!' and take a swipe at him. It was quite hilarious. After about an hour we all said goodbye and B and I drove to the hospital. I don't know how much the Qigong worked, but he was full of beans in the cardio ward, dashing up and down the corridor and being very hard to settle. So much energy! Eventually I got him to lie in the bed while I read him Dahl's The BFG. We were both so nervous about the next day that we read the whole book from start to finish, and by the end I think all the kids and parents in the ward were quietly listening too.

Even though the odds were better this time, and I was familiar with the environment, it was still really hard to say goodbye. This time I let his dad carry him in the to anaesthetist, and I let his dad sit up all night with him in intensive care, because even though I was aching to be with B, I knew his dad wanted to make up for not being there the last time, and it was only fair to let him play his part.

(That sounds like all was happy, but in reality, his dad had said he would be there the whole week, and so I told my parents to go after the first few days. Straight after they left he decided the crisis was over and he could go home too, and so I was left at the hospital by myself for a few days, with no-one to tag team when I wanted a loo break and B was being clingy. Bloody Albatross. Deep breath.)

Again, being a cool kid, and maybe with the help of the Qigong, B physically recovered really fast. Here's proof:
And by day 7 he was sent home.

Unfortunately, when kids are old enough to be conscious of pain and retain fear, the mental healing takes a bit longer. To stop him from pulling out his drips and other cords, the nurses had tied his arms down to the bed. With just cause, because as soon as they released him he ripped his drip out. But he felt so angry and fearful of it happening again that when he got home he would wake in the night screaming, for the next 6 months at least, and each time was totally different. I could hug him to sleep one time, and the next he would hate to be touched. It was tough. But we got through it, with a lot of talking, and some lightsabre therapy. You see, while he was healing I introduced him to Star Wars. It was a life line to power and strength and dignity that he is yet to let go of. And I have no intention of dissuading him. He is still a very scared boy. He has a lot of rage in him. He would make a good Sith. Lightsabre battles are very cathartic!

There is no guarantee that he will never need further heart surgery. But he's been given the all-clear for 5 years now, and he's as healthy and normal as the next kid, probably more so because he carries no spare fat. He's checked twice a year, and that keeps my mind at ease. I have taught him to be proud of his dramatic scar, because he wouldn't be here without it. I encourage him to make up dashing stories about it.

The thing I learned from the experience of nearly losing my child a couple of times is to love him hard, but to be prepared to let him go at any time. I'm a conscious mix of fun mum and tough mum, because it would be so easy to smother him in a blanket of fear and concern. If I lost him tomorrow, I'd be in pieces, but I'd also be halfway to acceptance. Every day is a gift. And I appreciate it.

Taking five

I know I whinged about memes last year, but they turn out to be a really fun way to take time out from tweaking the layout of the scholarly edition of Rolf Boldrewood's Rubbery Underarms, a story I adore, no matter how many times I dip into it. However, sometimes you need to change concentration tack, just for a break.

Here's one I picked up around the tracks, and whilst similar to the 'Four' meme I did the other day, there's some fun variants.

Ten years ago:
Starting second year of art school. Playing with papermaking and etching, while plotting how to spend more time with the letterpress equipment. Unhappily married. About to break away from marriage and start living my own way, but unfortunately* fall pregnant to my rebound fling. Shaft him whilst pregnant and begin to live life my own way, with a small stowaway. Much happier.

Five years ago:
Living as a single mum and still trying to get through art school. No sex for five years. Not missing it. Son just had second bout of open-heart surgery and all looks good. Working on letter press dual-translation artist book of Anna Akhmatova poetry. Working as freelance graphic designer. Very happy.

One year ago:
Finished art school but still working there. Paid as technical assistant to do letterpress printing but asked to do much more that others would be highly paid for. Working on lots of interesting work but none of it mine. Still doing freelance work. Newly married to Best Beloved, recent miscarriage, but very happy.

Five yummy things [that weren't listed in the last meme I did!]:
- Seville orange marmalade bread & butter pudding
- Beetroot Risotto
- Lamb roast
- White shiraz
- Lemon meringue pie

Five songs I know by heart:
- Giant Squid (Baterz)
- Dog Food (Iggy Pop)
- Kooks (David Bowie)
- This Masquerade (the Carpenters)
- A hell of a lot of jazz standards

Five things I would do with a lot of money:
- Set up my own fine press
- Wear something that doesn't come from Target or Vinnies
- Live in Tasmania in a house with enough wall space for both books and art
- buy my friends nice bottles of wine
- go travelling

Five things I would never wear:
- high heels
- yellow
- skirts above the knee
- leopard-skin leggings
- a Liberal party slogan

Five Favourite TV shows:
hmmm… I had trouble with this last time.
- Teachers
- Speaking in Tongues
- Little Britain
- South Park
- The News

Five things I enjoy doing [besides reading]:
- teasing the cats
- walking around looking up
- riding my bike on a mild day
- thinking about what books I want to make
- reading and writing blogs

Five people I want to inflict this on:
The next five people who want to.

*Only unfortunate in choice of rebound fling, not in results of pregnancy.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Nanny Mc... Colin!

Just took Bumblebee to see Nanny McPhee, since we've exhausted all other decent holiday movie choices (I refuse to see Chicken Little).

Emma Thompson is a smart cookie. She understands how to pull holiday mothers into a cinema. She gets Colin Firth back into longish hair, sideburns and a loose white cotton shirt. She also can pick talented children who look interesting and act well. Unfortunately she went a bit overboard on the tacky custard pie fights and silly donkeys for my taste. I'm a bit disappointed in Derek Jacobi too. He was my fantasy voice for many years (listen to I Claudius in the dark sometime and you'll understand, a bit like Fran with the shipping news) and I kept mistaking him for Benny Hill in this movie (internal voice: 'Benny Hill's dead, isn't he? I thought he was, maybe he's not? Nah, surely he's dead? Oh frick, it's Derek Jacobi').

Oh -- and I really disliked the way that characters would repeat really obvious things, as if they were in a pantomime. If another person happened to mention that Nanny McPhee had lost her first wart, I would have said 'Gah!' very audibly.

Thumbs up to the set and costume designers. There are lots of exquisite things to look at while you're trying not to think about the story and hammy acting. And the end credits are pretty spiffy too.

Like all book adaptations it just made me want to go and read the original books, in this case the Nurse Matilda books, written by Christianna Brand and illustrated by the delightful Edward Ardizzone.

But the bottom line is that Emma asked Colin to be a Mr Darcy whose Lizzy has died, leaving him with 7 gorgeous but naughty children. He did it, too. From start to finish, he was lovely. I could sit through the whole thing again just to watch him looking mock-amorously at Mrs Quickly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Illustrated Woodford 4: Making Books


I was so excited when I was accepted to teach visual art workshops at the Woodford Folk Festival. I worked out some fun ideas for some book-based classes, I'd given them a clear outline of what I wanted to do, and a pretty straightforward materials list, full of things that I figured they'd have left over from past years, but with a few special requirements, like the need for each participant to have a few good sheets of paper each (not just bond paper). I mean, if you're paying $30 each to make books, they might as well be nice books, non?

Anyway, I emailed a few times to add a few things, and check that all was ok, and the replies were always friendly, short, and positive. Excellent, full steam ahead! Imagine my surprise and dismay, then, when I arrived and tried to set up, to find that they had very little of what I needed, and a vague comment that 'things had been ordered, but they seem not to have arrived'! Eek! Of course, being the first day, everyone was rushed off their heads and I wasn't the only workshop to set up, but I didn't get any help. I was shown the materials storeroom, and told to find what I needed. I did, but it wasn't quite what I expected.

Don't get me wrong. It all worked out because the whole point of my classes is making do with what you can find around the house. But in the five months between knowing that I needed certain materials and the start of the festival, you think someone would have at least had a glance through the stores to see if there was stuff I could use? For instance, I asked for water-soluble relief inks in order to do some monoprinting on the tables. There was a box marked printing inks, but it contained three pots of water-soluble inks: a red, and two whites. Totally unusable, unless you like pink. There was, however, a reasonable selection of oil-based inks, probably because no-one in the last 5 years has wanted to subject their class to solvents. I didn't either, but what to do? As far as paper went, there was about ten sheets of Mi Tientes coloured paper, and a pile of cartridge paper. I was told at first not to use up all the coloured because it was expensive, but seeing as I had requested at least 3 times that much, I went ahead and used it up. I was supposed to teach around 40 people how to make books with ten sheets of paper! I had to borrow some good thread from the nice bush-basket weaving woman, and I managed to scrape up enough large needles for half the class to stitch at a time.

There was no point making a fuss on the spot, because that wouldn't have magically brought materials to my feet and it would have generated a lot of bad feelings. I will be sending a letter with feedback, because I do think it was a bit rough. My general impression is that maybe the person in charge hasn't got enough back-up help until the volunteers roll in, which is unfortunate. And she is organising LOTS of workshops. All hail to the volunteers, though. They were great. I'm hoping I get the chance to come back to the next festival, because once the classes got going it was a hoot, and my students and I had a terrific time. I think next time (if there is one) I will organise the materials myself. It will save a lot of hassle, and lift a bit of the burden, and a lot more will be achieved. As it was, I was trying to teach and rustle up materials at the same time, and it was a bit distracting.


I taught four workshops through the week, of three hours each. The first two were earlier in the week, and most people aren't thinking about art at that point. They want to immerse themselves in music. So the first two classes had about 6 people in them, which was terrific. You can really spend quality time with a small group. Later in the week I had the full complement of people, which is meant to be 10 per class. I got a few more, so we all moved up a bit and managed, even though the tents are stuffy, the weather is scorching, and you have to try to keep your paper clean whilst dropping huge blobs of sweat everywhere!

There were two different classes – the first was simple printmaking (making monoprints using different techniques) and then constructing a concertina-bound 'star' book from the prints (you sew three differently-sized concertinas together and when you sit them the right way they make a star). Unfortunately the oil-based inks didn't dry as fast as the water-based would have, but in the Qld heat they dried just enough to make some great books, albeit a bit sticky! By the way, we discovered that oil-based printing ink comes off skin easily with those wet wipes designed for removing makeup – imagine what solvent is in the wipes!
we rolled the inks out onto pieces of acetate, then laid the paper down and drew and stamped with various materials to make different effects. If the drawings were good, they worked out a way to feature both sides of the paper, but sometimes you just want to feature the print...
Trying desperately to get the prints dry before making them into a star book...

The second workshop was just simple bookbinding techniques. Because I only had a few large needles, one half of the class would make a concertina-bound book (or two, or three, as some creative types did), and the other half would learn Coptic binding, and then they'd swap. Each class went slightly overtime, because Coptic binding does take a while to learn. Next year I’ll just do one class per book method. Then they can really go hog-wild with the embellishments.
we managed to get a lot done with simple materials, plus some of the tools I'd brought along with me (and I thought I'd overpacked! heh.)

All the participants did so well! I had one fellow who had never done anything crafty before, and he fel behind the rest of the class trying to get his head around the multiple needles and thread, but when he'd finished (with a bit of extra TLC) and produced his own coptic-bound book, I was so proud of him. There were a couple of children in my first printing class, and they had a great time. One girl (no more than 9 y-o) made a terrific book about cows, called Mr Cow's Chaotic Book. She had a thing about drawing cows, and she was good at it. She also wrote a story about someone called Professor Angry Pants. I told her I knew a few of those…
Mr Cow's (Chaotic) Book, a concertina book with removable hard covers

A lot of attendees said that they come to Woodford and just spend the week doing workshops. Some were married to or children of performers (I guess it would get boring being dragged from performance to performance), and one woman said it was the only chance she had to catch up with her family, so she’d make stuff and they'd go to concerts. Others just wanted something concrete to take home with them. Everyone kindly said that they had a great time, and I asked them to tell the organisers so that I could come back! Nothing like a bit of feedback, bad or good.

So check out our little gallery of book making by my students (this is not all the books, apologies to anyone who is missing -- but some of you disappeared before I remembered my camera!):

A good example of how you can feature the drawings on the back of the prints. The front of the books have windows cut into them so that you can peep into all the layers.

Here's the front. It's hard to see the layers here, but she's cut it very creatively. The red bits you can see are actually the back layer, and the brown and blue are the middle layer.

Another 'star' book, using the theme of Woodford itself, with all the circus tents and crowds. This one has little detachable covers on each side so that when the book is folded up, it has a hard cover.

The back view of the circus book. She's used a stamp I'd carved from an old cork and the printing inks.

This woman had done another workshop which produced rusted paper. I was hoping someone would come along to my workshop straight after, because the rusting effect looks so nice. She's made a 'star' book with it, and later you'll see the coptic book she made with rusted covers.

A star! ta daaa...

most people in my book class came away with two books, a concertina-bound book with detachable hard covers, and a coptic-bound notebook. Here's an example of both side by side.

The rusted-paper cover coptic book. She's attached a piece of the thread to wrap around the book as a fastening.

This woman had brought along some nice Japanese papers and used them to great effect, don't you think? This is her coptic stitching...

...And here is her concertina book. when I say concertina, I mean that the concertina fold is the spine of the book, and you sew the page sections to either the mountain or the valley of the fold.

'Upside-down Miss Jane!' A very cute green coptic book. Unfortunately the book and its shadow looks weird when I flip the image around, so I'll keep it upside down.

Isn't it great that a room full of people are given the same instructions and come away with totally individual results? This is a lovely little slip-fastening for this woman's concertina book.

So there you have it. My account of Woodford and what I did with it. I like the thought that there is a whole bunch of people out there who had fun with me and took home a souvenir of our time together. Hooray!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Illustrated Woodford 3: Off to the Circus!

When I say that I'm a horizontal recruit to the Woodford Folk Festival, I mean it, in the sense that I would never have ever gone if it wasn't for the fact that the man I love has been every year since it started. He's not a folkie, he's a circus and juggling junkie. A lot of our Woodford time is spent hanging around the circus tents and stages, appreciating how many clubs someone can toss, or how slick their act is, or how amusing their patter. I've always loved circuses, but it's a whole new world hanging out with someone who can watch one critically and come away telling me what was wrong with it. Consequently I'm getting quite fussy about live acts.

One big regret about this year is that I was just too buggered to stay up late and so I missed some really good stuff. I missed Terry the Great and Family's latest show, the All Star Fish. I have seen them a few times, so I can live with that. What I do regret is missing an act called 61 Acts in 60 Minutes with Circa. All reports are that it was spectacular. And Rumple wasn't there this year! Bummer.

I saw half of Bulldust and Spangles with Top Chick, an all-women show. Actually, I saw probably a quarter of it then fell asleep thanks to a completely tedious S&M roleplaying acrobatic act and BB woke me a few acts later and we walked out. Nice try, but no banana from me. I did take a nice photo (to add to my circus shadows collection) of the shadows during one overly-long hanging-from-twirly-material act, so at least something nice came from the experience.

There was a fair bit of circusy stuff to see around the streets, including the marvellous Whacko and Blotto, who only come out way after dark, sitting in their caravan and doing whatever the hell they feel like, with all manner of props including a giant chicken head puppet and sundry bottles of alcohol.

The circus highlight for me was Bewland's Bluegrass Circus. The people who put this together did a great job. It had energy, humour, damn good stunts, and enough narrative to maintain a good pace. A good, tight show. The premise was a family of hillbillies, but Aussie ones, not attempting to put on any grating southern accents. Bewland was the main dude, able to play banjo at at least 145 rpm whilst standing on his head. Also an awesome juggler.
Apparently "Bew" means bad, and "land" means land, so Bewland means the bit of land outside the village that nobody wants, aka "Shitland"

Chicken was his wife, a trapeze artist in a chicken suit. She was mute, just doing a bit of eyebrow action, and she could work that swing. Then there was Grandpa, who sat on stage through the whole show behind a drum kit, playing drums, assorted instruments and interjecting occasionally with tasteful ditties such as

Chicken, Chicken,
She's the one!
I like lickin'
Her brown bum…

Most of the children in my family now chant that gleefully whenever they see a chicken.
Bewland balancing, while Turkey & Chicken look on. Grandpa's at the back, banging his drum.

Another member of the family was Turkey, Bewland's brother, an ace fiddler who talked with an outrageous speech impediment when the lights were up and a suave hollywood voice-over voice when the tent was dark. He used the impediment when performing 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia', rendering it almost indecipherable but highly enjoyable. he also played some kick-ass Stravinsky (if my memory serves me correctly) whilst spinning around the room on a cable.
Turkey in action

Then there was Daisy, Bewland's daughter, played by a gorgeous hunk of a man with the sweetest face, dressed in a blue gingham dress and blonde plaited wig. The storyline included her father buying her a husband on the internet, but when the hubby-to-be jumped out of his packaging it turned out to be her cousin from the next town (argh! can't remember his name!). They fell in love and spent most of the show doing terrific acrobatic and strongman feats whilst pretending to chase each other around and have sex. I adore skilful clowning, and there was plenty of it.
Daisy in love...

There were also a couple of juggling fellows who teamed up with Bewland (as a little digression) as Team Bewlando. Excellent juggling with clubs and they all got to whack whomever dropped the clubs and broke the rhythm. Again, great clowning mixed with high levels of skill.

I have the feeling that this was created exclusively for the Woodford Folk Festival, but I think it would be very successful at other venues. The creative energy behind the show is a team called Strut and Fret, who seem to represent a lot of good alternate acts like the sadly now-defunct Happy Sideshow and Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, so I'm feeling optimistic about future fun things from this arena.

Next time: I'll show you what my visual arts workshops got up to at the Festival! Then I'll shut up about it all and get on with the rest of my life. Mind you, not much else has happened so far (except a brief interaction with some For Battlers yesterday – hooray!)

Five weird things about Duckie

Another intermission, cause I can't resist anymore. It's been so much fun reading about other people's perceived weirdnesses.

1. Whenever I mentally recall an embarrassing moment, I start audibly humming muzak. Usually showtunes or bits of jazz. I don't realise I'm doing it at first, and it's one of those 'how loud have I been doing this?' moments when I do catch myself. I suppose I'm trying to change the subject in my head! I've caught myself doing it in the middle of conversations with people and during sex.

2. I have quite strong dislikes to certain food-stuffs, based on smell. I can't remember having been a fussy child, but I must have been, because I made it through to adulthood with a fair few dislikes. Any that were based on sight or texture I've managed to overcome, but if I don't like the smell, I won't eat or drink it. These include: cucumber (can't even use a facepack smelling of it), beer, coffee, and oranges. If someone peels an orange in close proximity, I'm gagging.

3. I do, however, like eating frozen peas while still frozen. Big cups of them. And so does my son.

4. I am married to a very weird man (well, he's about me a lot!). He's quite shy, and thanks to bad acne, didn't fare well in the ways of love, so he spent a lot of his teen years and 20s perfecting a lot of silly faces, noises and juggling tricks, all executed in a droll, dry manner. Most people think he is a very straight, very square man. Until they get to know him. Kids find out a lot quicker -- he's like the Pied Piper in a group of them.

5. I have a heart-shaped box. In medical terms this is called a bicornuate uterus. Too much information? Thought so. Means I have a higher risk of miscarriages and premmies. Bummer.

Five weird pictures by Duckie:

hairy tile
Practicing Leunig squiggles with pubic hair

My recently dead grandfather's ear

My still alive grandfather's ear

birdie puddle
Birdie puddle

Mad cat (Pooter)

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Illustrated Woodford Files 2: amusements

I find that the acts offered at Woodford are totally secondary to the people-watching opportunities, and I also found, this year, that it wasn't as fun a line-up as the other years I've been. Maybe that is because I was busy in other ways, but I spent a lot of time wandering around catching little bits of things rather than chasing down particular acts.

The one exception is the 'Snack, Popple and Crap' breakfast show by Martin Pearson and John Thompson which is the best way to begin your Woodford (and National) Folk Festival day. Held at the Troubadour Wine Bar, it is an age-old institution, and the audience-member-in-the-know arrives a long time before the 9am start time, to get the best a seat.
The Troubadour Wine tent, at breakfast time

We have a habit of sending one of us along (usually BB, as he wakes up at dawn's crack anyway) to save seats. up until this year, it's a long tedious wait with a coffee and the papers, but this year John and Martin organised a couple of slots before the show to showcase up and coming singers. It looked (to the cynical eye) like J&M were meeting nice young girlie singer/songwriters around the performers' showerblock and offering to make them a star, because there were very few male up and coming singers featured. nevertheless, it made the waiting time a lot more fun, and it did introduce me to some great voices, one of whom I mentioned earlier, Emma Dean (Hello, Emma, in case your mum googled you again! The cheque is in the mail for a CD!).

Anyhoo, breakfast with Martin and John is a series of jolly japes with good jokes, fun songs and interesting guests (George Negus was there the first day, and Sandy McCutcheon made appearances through the week). Martin sources a lot of stuff from the internet to read out, although I do suffer a bit from the fact that he reads the same jokes at Woodford as he reads at the National Folk Festival (at Easter in Canberra). But that's my fault for going to too many bloody festivals (I'm not a devoted folkie, just married to someone who likes to think he is, but isn't!).

daisy hill
This is the new Troubadour 'annex', affectionately dubbed Daisy Hill, which allows a much bigger crowd to listen to what is happening on stage. No problems with overcrowding this year! Until now, if you turned up late, there was no chance in hell of seeing or hearing anything. Now, you sit on the hill. A much better arrangement.

John, on the left, was a lawyer until a few years ago when he threw it all in for love and music. He is now one half of the gorgeous Cloudstreet. He has a beautiful tenor voice, and a keen appreciation of the absurd.

Breakfast Martin (on the right) is one half of himself, and I mean that in the sense that there is comedian Martin, who splits his face in half with a huge grin and has a razor-sharp wit, and then there is musician Martin, who sings beautiful folk ballads with his eyes closed (always! never opens his eyes when singing 'real' music) and performs spoken word acts like reading the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf to Celtic music (one of the highlights of this year's festival for me). I get the feeling he would like this latter half appreciated more.
Martin reciting Beowulf, to the accompaniment of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan.
His best work so far (I think) is his comic musical interpretation of The Lord of the Rings, The Unfinished Spelling Errors of Bolkien. And I'm cackling away in the audience on the CD! heh.

Liz Frencham performing her cover of a Fozzie Bear song while Martin and John do Muppetty things with arms (unfortunately sitting at the side of the stage, but perhaps capturing the best view!)

The other marvellous regular amusement at WFF is the variety of street theatre. Again, I failed to photograph some of the best things, and I'm extremely sorry to miss the chance to shoot the kangaroos. They were brilliant. Three huge big red roo costumes, constructed a-la Tank Girl style (complete with flying goggles) from fake fur and using spring stilts to bounce around, with one female (carrying a toy joey) and two males. The males had huge bobbling testicles under their tails, which squeaked if anyone squeezed them (there's always someone in a crowd who wants to squeeze testicles). They would bounce around through the crowd, joking and teasing (they didn't have kangaroo faces, just left their own faces exposed under the ears). If one of the minibuses came near, or anyone with a torch, they would shriek out warnings about THE HEADLIGHTS!!! and pretend to be transfixed. They would also find grassy patches and lie around scratching themselves and chatting to passers-by. They were the bomb.

Other entertainers included Huge seagulls, who walked around being naughty, The Woodford Marching Girls, sundry floaty faery-type chicks, Big Rory (an enormous scotsman on stilts), plus
The Woodford Cricketers, who would find odd areas to play, just in case anyone was missing the cricket...

'Squirt', an installation of perspex frogs in jewel-like colours that had variously-toned frog sounds activated by pressure-sensors so that people could squirt them with water and make their own music.

Will-o-the-Wisp Fire Circus...

and lots of huge lantern puppets, including a dragon that you can see in the crowd scene in an earlier post.

Other good things seen:
Eric Bibb. Shite photo, awesome man. Charismatic uplifting blues, if such a thing can exist. I will never miss an opportunity to see him again as long as I live.

Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. A bit strange to travel to Qld to see them when they are quite often close to home, but they never disappoint. They had a scheduled session entitled 'From the Desk of the Black Sea Gents' which was meant to be a panel discussion of their roots and influences, but ended up being an opportunity for them to be naughty and taunt the audience, with Mikel stripping down to his jocks at one point.

Stay tuned for the next time I can find a moment. I hope you're enjoying this. Let me know if you're sick of the whole subject. (Then I could start telling you stories of drinking an awesome marguerita last night while Zoe skinnydipped in her new paddling pool.)