Monday, June 28, 2010


Best Beloved said something interesting last night.

Don't get me wrong, he quite often says interesting things, many of them very droll, but this was especially interesting in a feminist sense.

What is the National Portrait Gallery going to do now? he said. They always ask the Prime Minister's wife to be their patron.

Well. Indeed. Now that there isn't a PM's wife, at least until the election (and hopefully onwards) what is going to happen to all these deeply entrenched ideas about using an assumed time-rich and idle female spouse of an important 'man' to support your institution or charity?

Therese Rein and Cherie Blair put sizeable dents in these expectations -- as did Denis Thatcher -- but how will Tim Mathieson cope with it? Will he even be asked? And how offended should Australian women be if he isn't asked?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another week that was

So. This week I taught a winter school of typography and general inkiness, 9.30 to 4.30 every day, with a lovely group of keen women who worked their butts off and produced nice things. That, combined with a couple of social events and a very surprising overnight adrenalin rush when our national leader changed gender, has resulted in my general puddleness this weekend. I am lying in bed writing this, after eating a nice Eggs Florentine made by a happy-to-be-home BB.

type school

My type school ladies, setting type whilst listening to Kevin blub.

On Friday, after meeting my pupils at my studio for a quick tour and then wishing them safe trips home (one of them VERY kindly gave Bumblebee a lift to meet his father for the weekend, saving me a wet and tiring drive), I managed to scrape together enough energy to stumble through Woollies and buy a large amount of comfort food and (luckily) cat food (otherwise I think they would have eaten me up in the night) then get home and collapse on the couch, only rising to open another packet of something.

Best Beloved has been in Fremantle all week. I think I've mentioned before that he's studying to be a Superdooper Public Servant; he's been stuck in classes inside a windowless seminar room inside a hotel all week, and missed most of the political excitement, which seems very weird. If I were teaching a course like his, I'd have stopped class for the morning and made them analyse the situation as a group. Or at least celebrate or something... anyhoo, this has meant that Bumblebee and I have been batching it, living without routine or plan.

Bumblebee, because of my course, has had to be a latch-key kid all week, and had asked me what reward I would give him for getting mostly As this term. (He did get one B, but that was for the class where he made fresh profiteroles, so we now believe him when he says his French teacher dislikes him.) After giving him a talk about how proud I was but that doesn't translate into monetary value, I hit upon a fun thing that would slake his thirst for reward and solve the afternoon problem: we went to the local video shop and rented a week's worth of really cheesy movies. He was so happy.

We also shared the cooking, and ate fantastically. He's learned to make stirfry and burgers and we made minestrone together and I whipped up a lovely red beetroot risotto to celebrate a ginger PM.

So Friday night I forgave myself for eating two-minute spicy Thai noodles with a bag of marshmallows and a bottle of cider.


Did I mention... [whips back to the blog to check] no! Gosh, it's been a busy week. Last Saturday I took Bumblebee to the Craft ACT Bingo Night. He's never played bingo before, and I'd been introduced to it by Nana Annie when I was about his age: sitting in a hall with masses of people much older than me, the smell of handcream and excitement in the air, the sound of lightly thumping bingo markers and the tension-filled tight sucking of air through false teeth as the cards fill... it gets in your blood, it does.

This was a bit different... much younger crowd, for one thing. I regretted not bringing my bingo stamper, which is like a flat-ended texta perfectly designed to mark a dot on the card in one motion so that you can play multiple cards swiftly. I didn't regret bringing the boy, because he;s a lucky type, wins lots of things, and while I may be a cheery soul, I am not a commercially lucky person. I don't win things. When I am away on trips, Best Beloved and Bumblebee have a history of winning things (they've won a breadmaker and an icecream maker!) so I thought I'd test the theory that it's due to the lad. And it is. Sitting next to him, I won some fab jewellery and he won a handbag! Mine was a line bingo and his was a door prize. yay!

Snaps to Nana Bingo, played by the wonderful Barb McConchey, for making the evening amusing and urging us all on to greatness.

nana bingo

Then on Wednesday night we had a small but lovely launch for Those Who Travel, the book I helped produce over summer with Patsy Payne and Sarah Rice. Helen Maxwell, who closed her gallery earlier this year, has developed a lovely working relationship with her ex-next door neighbours, a funky furniture store, and they allowed her to have the launch in the store, which was fantastic. Lots of lovely things to sit on, precarious moments with red wine, and a launch speech by artist and writer Kim Mahood, who said lots of beautiful things about the book. We have adjusted the price a tad, and sold 4 books on the night, one to the National Gallery (w00t!). Bumblebee came along, wearing his new (vintage) brown leather bomber jacket, looking very cool, and spent the night pretending not to stare at the gorgeous daughter of a friend of mine, and she spent the night pretending not to stare at him, even though they quite happily Facebook regularly... ahh, I wouldn't be a teenager again if you paid me.

What else? Well, as you can see somewhere on the right there, I managed a bout of Twittering on wed and thursday, because that's where the action was re. the political scene. I had Bernice Balconey staying with me on Wed night, so she was jumping around in excitement and explaining things to me between brow furrows and squeals. The next day my whole class wanted the radio on, so we set type and listened to everything, blow by blow. My goodness, interesting times. Even if Julia ends up to be more more Margaret Thatcher than Helen Clarke, at least we can say we've had a female PM for a while... at the same time as a female GG. W00T again!

Also -- it's Zoe's birthday today. If you haven't already, send her a twit/FB poke/blog comment to send her your salutations. She just got her dream job, working for Stephanie Alexander, so while she hasn't been blogging, she's at least been floating.

Enough for now. I only have a day or so to go at the Book Stud before I have 6 months away from it... and I'm going to spend the next month finishing little jobs, cleaning the studio furiously (my friend Nicci is going to sublet it) and preparing for New Zealand, which looms close!

Postscript: here's a laugh. Here's something serious to think about. Or you can read the original.

Post-postscript: oh! Oh! oh! Big snaps to Penthe, you can now laugh even harder, LOLcatting at the change of leadership...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

OMG, the knives are out

I'm teaching full-time this week, running a letterpress workshop.

I keep meaning to go to bed early each night, but something always stops me... like last night's politics! OMG, isn't it exciting, no matter which side of the many fences you sit? I had Bernice staying the night, and she stayed up very late, watching the pollies machinating and the journos reeling.

Bugger KEVIN 07, someone design me a JULIA TODAY t-shirt, just for the fun of it. I haven't got time, more's the pity. We need one of those NY t-shirt vendor types to jump on the job for a lark.

The poll is happening as I type. SQUUEEEEEEEE!

Postscript: SQUEEEEEE! YAY! Death to Abbott! We has our Brunhild!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


In the Canberra Times this morning, via the Guardian, best start to an obituary I've EVER read:

The Japanese architext and artist Shusaku Arakawa believed that it was immoral for people to have to die. With his wife, Madeline Gins, he designed houses and public spaces that were supposed to help stop us from ageing. His death, at the age of 73, is a flaw in his philosophy of transhumanism, or reversible destiny.
Jonathon Glancey

Friday, June 18, 2010

Poetry, blowing, brightly coloured

It's the Aged Poet's 90th birthday today. I visited her this morning as a warm-up for her afternoon tea party, and she was frail but bright-eyed, like a bird. She confessed today to hating extreme old age ("it's really rough"), and I told her that she's allowed to be grumpy at her age. She agrees, and through the visit told me that she's planning to be grumpy more. She speaks in little loops, but just when you think she's lost, she comes in clear and strong, and the essential poet is still present whether she knows it or not, as she gazes out the window, enjoying the sound of nearby school children and pink & grey galahs.

I have printed her a momento of her birthday, for her to give to visitors at the party. The tragedy of her old age is that her vision is almost completely gone, and her life has always been anchored on the visual. I give her a copy of the printed poems; she can't read them for herself so I read it to her, and she is so pleased that she hods it in her hands afterwards for my entire visit, stroking the beautiful Italian paper. At one point she asked me how many I printed. I answer 50, so that she can send some to friends after the party. 'Wonderful!' she exclaims, holding it in front of her, as though reading it, but it is upside down. When she does put it down, she keeps reaching for it, to check that it does, indeed exist.

Over 70 years of publishing, and she still feels the thrill of seeing her work in print.

When I leave her, feeling pleased with myself, I decide to drop into a nearby bookshop that I've heard of but never visited. I find treasure: Accidental Grace by Judith Beveridge, a poetry volume I've been searching for over the years. It's well out of print (shameful) and very hard to find. It must be poetry karma, and returning so quickly!

I drove back to my studio, using each red light to drink a poem. I can see why this is a rare drop – you don't want to put it down, or let it go. I was honked once, to move along.

poetry karma

The tea party was a delight of interesting people (I think that's the right collective noun): poets, academics, school friends, artists, all gathered to pay homage to 90 creative years in a quiet and elegant manner. Aged Poet looked regal in the corner, holding court and glowing with satisfaction.

And then I went and spoiled it all by watching Prince of Persia with Bumblebee and his mate. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The weekend that was

It's Wednesday, isn't it? I get a bit lost after long weekends. Mind you, it's been business as usual, with only my Monday class missing. Yesterday I spent all day in the studio printing a special birthday present for the Aged Poet -- she is turning 90 on Friday, and I wanted to make her a letterpress print of some of her haiku to be able to hand to anyone who comes to wish her well. When you're 90 you don't need more stuff, but you do want to give things to people. It's a present strategy I've been using with her since she turned 80!

I've also been finishing Wolf Hall, which I really enjoyed, and would feel bereft about finishing except that it is to be continued and I'll reread it again when the next one comes out. I think bereftness is felt (for me, anyway) when there is no more of that story, ever.

So. The weekend.


Saturday was spent learning how to do woodcuts in a workshop at Megalo taught by Tasmanian printmaker Michael Schlitz, who is generous and charming and funny with his teaching, so it was a fun day.

You might be suffering the same delusion as other people that I knew at Megalo: that I know how to do all kinds of printmaking. Not so! I went through the very marvellous but thoroughly eclectic Graphic Investigations Workshop until my third year of art school, at which point the workshop was dissolved (it was very dependent upon the Head of the Workshop for direction, and when he retired, so did the workshop) and I was rudely thrust into the Printmedia & Drawing Workshop, a completely different animal. In GIW we were taught skills if the project needed them and/or the visiting artist du jour knew them. It was really the luck of the draw unless you had a definite personal agenda. You came out well versed in poetry and odd Czech filmmakers, but with whatever skills had been passed under your nose during your stay. In my case they were etching (which I loathe), drawing, monoprinting and letterpress.

So I've been trying to pick up new printing skills, hence the excursion into wood engraving last year, and the chance to do wood cuts on Saturday. for those who don't know an engraving from a cut: the former is done on the end grain, which is smooth and gives a rich, deep black, and you can cut in any direction with very fine tools; the latter is done using side planks, with coarser tools, and your cutting is strongly influenced by the grain of the wood, plus the grain is usually visible within any solid printing area.

Here is Michael, showing us his spectacular woodcuts, finding it hard to explain their meaning but happy to share how he cut and printed them, and then offering them to us at half price, but unfortunately we were all skint after paying for the course...

Here he is, sitting next to resident Megalo octogenarian Patty, who is never too old to attend a course, showing us the various ways to sharpen the tools. His tools are mouthwateringly beautiful, bought in Japan whilst learning the craft direct from the masters.

Having been busy almost to the moment I walked into the print studio, I hadn't really thought through what I would be printing. I had no s or ideas. So I laid my arm on the block and traced it a few times and then made a lot of different marks with all the tools to give myself a kind of mark sampler. Here I am, using the baren to rub the paper onto the print. The fact that you can see the print clearly through the paper is owed to the paper being Japanese, and that I have been burnishing it under newsprint for a while so that it is almost ready to peel the paper back & look at the print.

Mmm, black ink on white paper. The smell is great, and it glistens. Wet ink is so nice, and then it dries. Sigh.

Biennale Blitz

Sunday morning I got up at dawn's crack, helped by stomping Padge who KNEW I was getting up, he was just helping, and got into the car and drove to Sydney.

I'd booked a feral little room at a cheap hostel in Wooloomooloo, which turned out to be odd in the best ways (contained a shower but no loo, which was down the hall, also had a fridge and a tv, but they shared the only power point, so you had to choose whether you wanted a cold thing or a tv show or to recharge your phone) and brilliant in other ways (for a bit extra, they had parking, and the entrance back to the M5 to Canberra was only a block away and I could walk everywhere I wanted to go).

I had planned to start with Pier 2/3 then catch the free ferry to Cockatoo Island, but someone (can't remember who) in Canberra told me that the ferry ran widdershins to my plans, so I walked around to Circular Quay and joined a loooonnnnnnggg queue for the ferry. Apparently, so a nice photographer lady on the ferry we caught an hour later told me, this was the first bit of nice weather in Sydney for ages, and it was a long weekend, so expect such lines everywhere I went.

And then I got to the front of the queue and it turned out that the people who were already on the ferry each time it arrived (thus making the CQ line slower) had actually got on at Pier 2/3! GAH! I should have stuck to my original plan, I would have seen the art and then probably caught the same ferry I'd queued for all that time. I did get to see Rachel Ward walk past me (I mentioned this to Lia at the art school reception this morning and she trumped me with Ewan McGregor) and join the line, nice lady that she is, not like all the dudes who got bored and flung money at water taxis.


I've found an app for my iphone that makes my photos look like Polaroids. I loves it, I do. it made my trip lots of fun and already looking like it happened 30 years ago.

It was a beautiful day. The ferry was full of people who were all heading to one place to see art, which made for impromptu conversations that might not have happened on normal public transport. I met someone who helps organise Sculpture by the Sea, and another person, aforementioned, who is a photographer.

Cockatoo Island is, in it's own way, also beautiful. I spent as much time looking at old signs and peeling paint as I did looking at the art.

Cockatoo Island

Joh for PM

I'm going to mention the art a bit later, because I think there's a lot of dross to wade through in this Biennale, and I'd like to compile a shortlist of favs.

I walked around for most of the afternoon; I didn't bother lining up with the masses for another hour to get the free ferry back. I paid $5 and caught the rivercat and had time to wander around the Quay and through the Botanic Gardens to see the Fiona Hall and Janet Lawrence pieces before it got dark.

The Quay wasn't looking its best:


Every bin for miles looked like this, which looked very colourful next to the buskers and dancers and other tourist sites.

And the bats were ready to wake up towards the end of my walk:


That night I wandered down to the Rocks to catch a bit of Vivid:


Great stuff, except for the horrendous crowds. I fled to Chinatown, wandered around for a while, and decided that I didn't want Asian, I wanted Indian food, so I tramped up to Oxford St and fell upon a Chinese masseur who pummelled me for an hour before I ate yummy and cheap North Indian. And so to bed.

On Monday I checked out and meandered down through Wollomooloo, past a long row of homeless men basking against a sunny wall across the road from the Police station, and down a charming plaza area (probably used to be a road that was closed off) with terrace housing on either side, full of little park bits and shy cats.

I slapped my forehead with a silent DOH when I realised that Artspace wouldn't be open because it was a Monday, even though it was a holiday Monday. So I didn't get to see anything at Artspace. I did sit by the water and ate a pie with mushy peas from Harry's Cafe de Wheels for brunch. I listened to the chat around me and noticed that many people would eat and then leave their wrappers on the ground or the pylons used as seats, even though there was a fresh seaside breeze and a bin right next to them.

harry's cafe de wheels

Consequently, the beautiful clear water next to where they sit is full of plastic forks and paper plates and eerily suspended paper napkins. Sigh.

Ok. Next I walked up to the NSW Gallery, where I never fail to see masses of artfully arranged children who betray the preoccupations of the artlessly arranged parents.

At one point I was looking at a group of people standing around a Biennale painting (there are only about 8 Biennale works at that venue) with one woman standing at the side reading the label out loud. I thought they were a tour group listening to a guide until about halfway through when the woman suddenly snapped, mid-sentence, 'YOU'RE NOT LISTENING', and all eyes whipped down to a small boy I hadn't noticed, standing next to her. Poor mite, he was trying hard to understand what Shaw's beautiful treatment of trans/mog/ri/fic/a/tion in erotic desire meant, but the painting was just so lovely, all sparkly and colourful.

And then over to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I spent the rest of the day, and then caught a bus back to my car and drove back to Canberra.

The Art Shortlists

Don't trust my taste in art if you're heading to the Biennale, but if you want to, here's my thoughts. Bear in mind that I didn't see Artspace and Pier 2/3, and I didn't see absolutely everything at Cockatoo Island (but I gave everything a red hot go).

The buzz that is going around says that Cockatoo Island isn't as good as last time, and that the MCA is fantastic. I think the buzz is spot on.

Cockatoo Island shortlist:

AES&F, The Feast of Trimalco, building 67. Stunningly beautiful and ascerbic in its message, which is we've all gone soft.

Cao Fei, People's Limbo, building 4. Second Life with political humour. Hilarious in parts.

Amal Kenawy: My Lord is Eating his Tail, building 4. Fantastic use of contemporary dance in a fantasy about a wheelchair-bound person 'borrowing' the body of someone else. At one point the sight of a stunningly healthy physical body moving sinuously next to an empty wheelchair made my heart thump wildly.

Shen Shaomin: Summit, building 6, plus his amazing display of bonsai plants at the MCA. Waxworks of dead political idealists, with a 'dying' Fidel Castro, barely breathing, but just breathing enough to spook. The bonsai have had nothing artistic done to them, they are merely shown in the torturous contraptions that force them into desired shapes. Gobsmackingly eloquent on numerous levels.

Jemima Wyman, Combat Drag, building 3. Mandala-like collages using photos of people dressed as guerrillas, but their uniforms/costumes are devised from flannelette shirts and other Australian cultural identifiers.

FWIW, yawn:
Enough of the video-of-someone-singing-alternative-or-even-mainstream-texts-opera-style genre. There are at least four of these scattered around the Biennale. It's an interesting idea once... in a lifetime.

MCA shortlist:

I was charmed by the woman who turned up to the MCA in a full-length wedding gown, combined with short hair and multiple piercings. She enjoyed the confusion over whether she was an exhibit or not. Judging by the notebook in her hand, and the attention she paid to lots of the videos, I'd say she's an art student.


Here she is, watching John Bock's curious piece (here goes, apologies if I type it incorrectly) Fischgratenmelkstand kippt ins Hohlengleichnis Refugium (I'm not going to even attempt the accent marks).

Every single art student in the world should watch Christian Jankowski's video Live from the Inside as a theoretical text. It's a wonderful study of how artists can (or should) use the media to disseminate their ideas and how contemporary art works. He even has Kylie Kwong doing a cameo to discuss similarities between combining flavours and video editing!

Enrique Chagoya was fantastic, not so much for his paintings, but for the couple of artist's books on display.

Louise Bourgeois has a number of works in the show, the best of which, for me, were the bronze jumper sculptures.

Angela Ellworth's pioneer women's bonnets, with their beautiful but painful sheen of corsage pins are well worth seeing, as are Annie Pootoogook's sledgehammer-in-the-forehead deceptively naive drawings of contemporary Inuit life, complete with domestic violence and drinking problems.

Don't miss Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's amazing video where she plopped three nineteenth-century high art French paintings by Manet, van Gogh and Millet in front of groups of Thai farmers and then documented their conversations about the paintings. They are so interesting and funny, and grounding.

The first work I saw as I walked into the MCA sticks in my mind: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, with their photographic series that completely covers the walls of that first space. The artists invited 100 Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong to take a toy grenade and photograph it in their favorite spot at their place of work, and then took a photo of each worker (from behind) and placed it next to the grenade photo. The result is awesome. I'm not sure if they really are their favorite places, or the places they'd actually like to see blown up...

There are more that I liked, and many I just thought 'meh' about; I'd love to hear if you have any of your own stand-outs.

I bought a few books on sale (one lovely one about Jan Tschishold's Penguin years), and a Biennale bag, because I love the typography design of the artwork by Jonathon Barnbrook, and some nice Haigh's chocolate from The Strand arcade for the boys.

The cats were pleased when I got home.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

it's, it's the Biennale blitz

So. This weekend, I am going to attend a workshop on woodcut prints on Saturday, and then go to a pyjama party, and then Sunday I am going to get up early and drive to Sydney to do a Biennale blitz.

My plan is to park in the Domain, walk or skip to the Quay, catch the ferry to Cockatoo Island and spend much of the day meandering the things there. Then hopefully come back early enough to pop into Pier 2/3 on the ride back.

I have booked a cheep little room in Wolloomooloo for the night, and on Monday will peruse Artspace, AGNSW and the MCA.

And then I will drive back via my son's fortnightly parental home and pick him up on the way back to the 'Berra.

Anyone want to do a blogmeet on Sunday night somewhere near where I'm staying? or want to come & have a picnic on Cockatoo Island or something?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Anger is an energy

I could be wrong, I could be right
I haven't bought my copy of The Quarterly Essay yet, but it won't be long. I'm intrigued as to why people seem to think that having a solid core of anger fuelling one's career is a bad thing.

Don't get me wrong, what I am about to say is not a defence of KRudd and his various failures and behaviours.

I could be wrong, I could be right
I could be black, I could be white
I could be right, I could be wrong
I could be white, I could be black
However, as every novel reader knows, ambition needs fuel. You can't be happy with the world and then set out to change the world. As I suspect we're about to find out, happy, (overly) stimulated, never-bored and always praised children rarely have the fury and force to become the next brilliant genius that their parents expect them to become.

Ambition, and you need ambition to become something as loathsome as a politician, might be a burning desire to control because you felt like the underdog, or to be bigger than everyone else because you were passed from house to house and never had new clothes, and so forth.

Am I teaching you all to suck eggs? If so, please do explain... apart from a propensity to have hissy fits and be quite bossy, what is the problem with someone being an inner angry man? Especially if that anger is channelled into the dog-eat-cat world of politics and not into something like hitting women or shooting inncoent bystanders? Which is the kind of angry man I'd like to avoid, thank you very much.

Your time has come, your second skin
The cost so high the gain so low
Walk through the valley

The written work is a lie
May the road rise with you

Maybe this is a slight defence for KRudd. Because really, I'd rather have a vaguely religious hotly angry man in power than a cold, creepy highly religious angry man in power. The cold religious ones are the ones to watch out for. KR wants to prove something to us. TA wants to control us.

They put a hot wire to my head
Cos of the things i did and said
They made these feelings go away
Model citizen in every way
May the road rise with you
Anger is an energy
Anger is an energy
Anger is an energy
Anger is an energy

But then again, maybe we should all vote for someone else. Contenders, step up now.

[Lyrics: Public Image Ltd. Cartoon: Courier Mail]

Sunday, June 06, 2010

we can be happy underground

Very exciting to get the latest issue of Artlink in my mailbox, complete with an article I wrote at the invitation of Big Fag Press man Lucas.

It's a very handsome issue, with all the articles & their images rendered just in black, white & red for that Bauhaus, print culture, newspaper, in fact incunable feel (did you know that red was once used in the same way that italics are now used?).

Apart from a couple of weird removing-too-many-footnote glitches in my text, I'm very happy with the way it turned out, and they chose the two funniest images from the plethora that I provided.

It's also an extremely funky issue, complete with lots of quirky articles, excellent excerpts from comics and zines, and a complete re-issue of one famous zine, Valet of the Dolls, which is most hilarious.

Highly recommended. Pooter and Padge give it five stars. Padge just stepped on my stomach while I was reading it to confirm his vote.

PS. Thanks to all who came to my workshop in Tuggeranong yesterday! I enjoyed myself, hope you did too.

Friday, June 04, 2010

gymini cricket!

I've stopped wearing my ipod shuffle to the gym. The wiring annoys me, and it struck me one day that having a (semi)random shuffle of daggy music available to me is fine, because that's what I try to set up for myself anyway. People say hello more if you're not wired up, and I can still vague off and think about something else if something really awful comes on.

Today something awful came on.

This, I realised today, is not only an awful earworm, but most of the reason I loath it is visual: Tony Basil herself, and her gruesomely open-eyed mutton-dressed-up-as-hoggett face is what floats in front of me whenever I hear the song, which makes my stomach churn without fail.

I was pleasantly amused again by MC Hammer:

If you have a good look, this is the way poo-catcher pants and women's bicycle shorts are meant to be worn: not under large baggy t-shirts, but with nipped-in waists and wide shoulders to provide a crisp hourglass figure, male or female. And good, chunky thighs and bulging muscles, male or female.

I keep being surprised at how smartly dressed singers were in the late eighties. I'm not talking about the outrageous fashions (even they're pretty tame by today's standards), but when I see clips of 1980s middle-of-the-road black singers, they're not dressed in g-strings and gyrating around poles, or exposing their freshly-waxed midriffs (male or female)... they're dressed in flash suits, with hats and other accessories. The women are covered up, with maybe a touch of cleavage, but the overall impression is funky, flash and dignified.

Where has all the dignity gone?

Also, someone (probably not Robbie) has been reading their A.D. Hope*:

I love this video, if only for the utter disdain shown by the women at his constant posturing. And the implication that modern fans don't seem to ever be satisfied...

*The Return from the Freudian Isles

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Chance and Choice

Being part of the over-educated, over-thinking the small things, under-thinking the big things, will-vote-for-Rudd-to-keep-Julia-in-power, no-junk-mail, anti-capitalism-but-buy-my-wares demographic, I find buying new things very frustrating.

Walking into a store full of multiples of bright shiny units, I don't feel excitement, and I don't get the 'poor thing, let me take you home and love you urge' as other seem to, especially when they are faced with large shiny appliances. I don't like trophies.

Mind you, I don't think I'm a hunter, either, like many of you who regularly go on expeditions to all the local op shops, sifting carefully through the racks in search of whatever your holy grail is.

I'm definitely a gatherer, but in a very soft and random way, no order or system or structure.

I prefer meandering past somewhere, popping in if I've got the headspace, looking vaguely over the shelves and rack and having something snag the edge of my vision. Sometimes it's just a lonely object calling for someone, anyone, to buy them a drink and remember the old days. If it's not something I can think of a use for, I'll reposition it on the display in a way that calls more attention to it, and wish it luck.

Other times, I'll be trying to remember what I came in for (do I need trousers that fit me? How's my stash of crap printing tops?) and I will find something that will totally transform my whole wardrobe with a single wave of its magic wand. Or a book that I've been wanting to read for ages, and now is just the right time to buy it. Or not, but it will take its place in the bedside queue, and maybe even jump the queue if it's really alluring. It's all about serendipity.

Or when I'm going shopping for something specific, I prefer the op shops, because they have dedicated racks to jumpers, jeans, dresses, all arranged in sizes, so that I can head to one particular spot and see if the thing I want is there. If not, I'll go without. If I really really need it, I'll reluctantly go to a retail shop and find it. I tend to go to the same (big, cheap) retail shops because little boutiques either don't stock my size or they do my head in with all their tricksy ways of laying out their wares.

Which is a long, roundabout introduction to the fact that last week my lovely auntie Lou gave me a Border's frequent buyer card with five of the boxes stamped, one more to go, and then you get a free book. She doesn't have a Borders where she lives, and she knew that I'd love the chance to buy some new books. Present! yay! We love gift cards and vouchers in my family. But the action of choosing is sometimes crippling.

When I got to Borders (I didn't waste any time, Lou!), I wandered around, thinking, two books. I have to pick two books. The problem is, I could have taken home at least fifty in my first glance. For some reason, in a secondhand book shop, the books whisper at you:
Psst, have you read me?

Hey, you, yeah, you: I bet your copy of me is all bath-bloated and dog-earred. Wouldn't I look good on your shelf instead?

Mmmm... did you know that I'm signed by the author?

The minute you walked in the door, I could see you were a...
But in a new-book store, they are shouting at you:





And the colours are all fresh and bright and there's repetition everywhere, even though the covers are different. The neatness conflicts with the chaos, and the room smells like cleaning fluid, not paper; old books have an aroma that lures me in. A while ago one of my Mackay workshop participants sent me a cartoon from the Australian? the Age?: A booth for iPads with a long line of people waiting to look and touch one, and next to it a small table with a sign saying 'Book Sniffing & Fondling', with one person standing at it, their face in a book, joyously sniffing.

So, there I was, wandering around Borders, two books for the taking, with about twenty minutes to choose before my movie started (The White Ribbon, which was amazing). Thank goodness for the movie, because without a time limit, I would have been lost. I should have walked in with a plan, a shortlist, clipped reviews, or something. Instead, I had vague memories of recommendations, and a profound regret that I hadn't clipped out the list of post-apocalyptic novels listed by Colin Steele in the Canberra Times a few weeks ago, since I always forget sci-fi titles when I'm faced with the crap covers and endless sequels in the Sci-fi & Fantasy section. Why isn't there a Speculative Fiction section? Who decided Science Fiction and Fantasy belong together? They are nothing like each other, apart from the fact that no-one seems get published unless their manuscript can be divided into at least 12 volumes.

Time was ticking. Best Beloved was in JB HiFi, his favorite browsing shop, and the only place we bother to get gift cards for him, and he was due to come back and grasp my elbow to propel me towards Dendy at any moment. I'm a Libran, I can't make choices under pressure. I couldn't come back, I don't get moments like these in shops very often.

I would like to say that I chose offbeat, quirky titles that demonstrate my superior alternate demographic (see line one), but I didn't. I ended up standing in front of the New Release and Bestseller racks (next to each other at the front of the store) and chose Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and So Much for That by Lionel Schriver. Books that everyone has been telling me to read, and that I would normally wait to snap up at the Lifeline Book Fair because they will be there in force after everyone else has read them for their book clubs and disposed of them.

Still, two new books! Not to be sneezed at... because they won't be ready to sniff until they've experienced a bit of life.

(Thanks, Auntie Lou... you're a champion.)