Thursday, December 29, 2011

Helpful cats

I thought I'd sort out a few typecases yesterday, since I'm working on a type sampler for myself (and those who like to collect such things). The big triumph was finding a whole drawer of 12pt French accents in Garamond, just as I have a visiting artist who is setting a French poem. Huzzar! We'd been wondering what to do re. accents and now the problem is solved.

Padge came and helped. One minute he was here:

typecat 1

and the next time I turned around to replace a case he was here:

typecat 5

typecat 2

He's a very helpful cat.

Let me show you more ways that he helps in the studio.




Keeping things upright.


Load tester.






Press operator.


Chair warmer.

Pooter's main job is Padge-washer.


He doesn't like being a printer, mainly because of the silly hats they have to wear.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, baby Bejeebus

I'm lying on my bed with Padge, who is trying to sit on top of me so that I can dry the rain off him. We had a lovely sunny morning, and now we're having a lovely rainy afternoon.

I'm lying on my bed to rest off the Xmas Belly that I built up at lunchtime. We had a stray friend (I almost typed 'fiend') come and eat with us, and while we had a humble yet lavish spread of prawns, bbq'd chicken tikka, mushrooms stuffed with feta, potato salad and a couple of leafy green salads, we washed it down with three bottles of bubbly and followd through with Best Beloved's Authentic Christmas Pudding (the secret ingredient is cumquats) with custard and homemade vanilla icecream.


I got a few presents: a single-cup teapot for my new chai addiction (I'm not allowed to use our usual teapot because the flavour lingers, apparently; the latest Frank Moorhouse, Cold Light and Alison Bechdel's graphic novel autobiography, Fun Home, which I inhaled this morning before lunch and thoroughly enjoyed.

So here I lie, feeling bloated and thoroughly spoiled. I've talked to my son on the phone (how I wish he were here!) and my lovely parents (they'll be here in a couple of days, so I'm not so sooky about them).

And so I wish you all a wonderful Christmas. I hope it's fun-o-rama.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Oh oh oh

I hope you've done as little as I've done this week. Or that you get to do very little over the next week. It's very nice, chilling out.

And that you have a lovely Christmas eve.

I'll be back tomorrow with a Christmas post.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Overindulgence achieved (warning: overuse of brackets ahead)

I've had Christmas.

Truly I have, but not in the 'I'm so over this capitalist pig-fest' sense; I've actually had my Christmas Day, done and dusted, and now I can just sit back and watch the rest of the western world go crazy for a week. It's a great feeling.

We went down to Colonel & Lady Duck's prickle farm and had our day on Saturday, since on Wednesday this week Bumblebee heads off for three weeks with his father (we take turns having Christmas access; the one who misses out gets the next Easter).

When we do this, the day is so authentic that the 'real' Christmas Day feels wrong. This year we waited until 3pm to start festivities, since my godmother auntie was driving down from Wollongong to join us. At the dot of 3, the bubbly was popped, the presents were doled out, and the yummies began, starting with a hug pile of prawns and oysters and lemon-cooked tuna (as in not cooked, but marinated in lemon juice all day). Scrabble was played, stomachs were rubbed gently in front of a late night screening of Tim Minchin (better than the Queen's speech) and a good time was had by all. Especially Bumblebee, who not only scored an iPod Touch out of us all collectively, but extra stuff as well because everyone secretly (and stoopidly) felt like their portion of a tiny appliance wasn't enough and bought him various other things. DOH.

My present pile included a ukulele (a Tanglewood tenor, for those who care), chocolates, a pair of shoes and some clothes, a Scrabble mug (heh), lots of books (including Best Poems of 2011) and a book voucher (Colonel Duck and I exchange vouchers for most occasions). I also got a beautiful carved wooden illuminated cap C that I should be able to use on my press. Lovely!

I overindulged so much that on the way home yesterday I had to stop at Nimitabel (the small hamlet at the top of Brown Mountain) to hurl my guts at the nearest clump of grass near the car door (I wanted to make it to the portaloo, but I just couldn't get there), much to the interest of a couple of dogs picnicking nearby. I haven't done that for YEARS, must have been the lunchtime bourbon & cola UDL (left over from the office xmas party: see below). :)

Ah yes, we also had Best Beloved's office Christmas party at our house (he told me three days before). I skulked in my studio for most of the time, until the real fun started: Mean Santa. It's a Kris Kringle type of affair, with everyone buying a random present for around $10, but then all the wrapped presents are put in the centre and all the participants pick a number out of a bowl. Number 1 gets to pick and unwrap a present. First choice! But no... number 2 gets to pick & unwrap, and then decide if they prefer their choice or the other opened present, and they can take it if they want. And so forth, with each person getting the choice of all the presents that have already been opened. So the best number to get is the last one, because you then have the full gamut of presents to choose from.

I enjoyed the deviousness of some of the presents, bought by people who have played before. One was an ARRRRRR bra (that's the noise we all made when we saw it) which made all the ladies laugh but the men were reluctant to even touch it. Another was a bunch of lottery scratchy tickets -- very smart, because it was indeed such a gamble. Did you take that over a $10 Koko Black chocolate voucher? Would you be left with a bunch of useless bits of paper and a longing for lost chocolate or would you be a millionaire who could buy all the chocolate you wanted? MWAH HA HA HA HA HAAAAAA...

They had a big BBQ (once we ran down to the shops to get a new gas bottle. So hard to tell how much gas is left in them!) and one of Best Beloved's authentic puddings. We had one on Saturday too, and there's one left for next Sunday, that we'll eat with the cats and a few human strays, which will be our only Xmas effort. Oh dear, that sentence makes me sound like a cannibal who has cats for entree. But you all know what I mean.

So hopefully the next week is going to be lovely and relaxed with some quality studio time and a lot of lolling, in the traditional, prone sense.

There's been a little bit of rushing around getting things together for another reason. Two years ago we flirted with the idea of sending Bumblebee to the local private high school and when he didn't get in (they had a bumper waiting list that year) he went happily to the local public school and we just got on with life. The private school is closer than the public school, which is really why we thought we'd apply, plus the fact that we'd been REALLY cranky with his half-arsed primary school (which HAD been one of the best primary schools in the area until the last 2 years of his time there).

Anyhoo, a week ago we were called by the school to say that there were vacancies in the year 9 intake, were we still interested, and if we were we had three days to accept. GAH! Emergency family meeting. As much as B enjoyed the social life at his current school, we've been less than happy with the school and its organisational skillz. Plus the fact that it's headlined the local news twice this year, once for a girl-bully knife fight in the middle of the school yard and once for a Hep-A outbreak in the school canteen that resulted in lots of people needing immediate vaccination.

Also, B had fallen in love with the private school's facilities when he did the tour a few years ago. They cater really well for both kinds of students, the academic sort and the vocational sort, with a full commercial kitchen, mechanics workshop, great library, and a school intranet that actually works (the one for his current school SUCKS, despite it being the 'new, improved' version). When we pointed out that he's not moving cities, that his friends will still live a short bike ride away and that he'll still see them on the bike path every day, Bumblebee became quite interested in giving this new school a chance. Plus we gave him a promise that if he gets to the end of the year and he's miserable and hates the school, he can go back to his old school. We mean it. The other option is he just does year 9 and 10 there, and goes to the public college which is even closer again to our house.

So we said yes, and that means big changes next year for all of us, including budgets and belt-tightening. We went in today to have another look at the school, and I was really pleased to see B bouncing out of the place enthusiastically, so I hope he does enjoy it. The uniform is in his favorite Sith colours: black and red, which sweetens the deal. The official list says 'in winter, you can wear a scarf, but it must be black': BUMMER!

So happy Christmas preparations to you, may it all be sweet and simple.
Don't forget to wrap your cat (thanks Elephant's Child!)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

happy heart

On Friday I went to the ANU School of Art Grad Show opening to present my wee annual studio residencies to the people I'd chosen.

The actual selection was really hard - there are lots of very talented people that graduate every year, and this year is no exception. I had a wide range of choices, especially from Printmedia itself, which is having a very strong year. However, I have a real interest in working with people who are not printmakers by choice, mainly to see how they explore the notion of printing textually, so I always have a look around outside of the printmaking workshop for one of my choices.

It took me a while, but I came up with Louise Upshall, who is a painting graduate whose final work consisted of zines and collage, and who has a confronting (in a really good feminist way) called Cervixosaurus. Click that link if you want to be reassured that there are young women who still believe in feminism.

The second choice was Merryn Sommerville, from Printmedia & Drawing. In the words of Gillian Welsh, 'some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind', and Merryn is one of them. Her work pretends to be pretty, but then grabs you by the throat. We've owned a print by her for a while now, from (I think) her first year of art school, and her final year work is devastating: eerie and creepy pastel drawings of children on dark paper, accompanied by ceiling-strung disembodied vintage childrens' clothes.

Here's Merryn, accompanied by a bevy of equally talented young things:

From left to right: Louisa, Edie, Rachel, Merryn. Merryn is wearing a vintage 1920s flapper dress, complete with sequinned fascinator.

Another reason to go to the opening was to listen to the guest speaker, Robyn Archer, who didn't disappoint. She kicked ass, talking about ambition; the ability, nay the necessity to fail; the fact that art doesn't have to please anyone but yourself, thanks very much; and she started the buzz for the Centenary year (2013) celebrations that she's organising by saying how much she wants the art school to participate because it's full of energy, talent and knows how to put on a good party. And yes, Kerryn, she said good things about Adelaide, mainly the fact that by the time she got to the world stage, she'd learned everything she'd needed to know from her small home city. She rawked.

So I gave out my prizes, and am looking forward to some fabulous conversations over lunch with those two young women...

...and then dashed off to my dinner appointment, around the corner of my neighbourhood, to the home of some friends who are amazing, um, homemakers is the wrong word, but I don't know what else to say. Their garden is magnificent, all interesting and useful and edible plants, with nice nooks to sit in and a big pizza oven setup. I went to eat pizza, and eat pizza I did.

Somehow over dinner we got talking about music, and about ukuleles. I know a lot of people who have taken up ukulele playing, not the least Helen Garner, whose short piece 'The Ukulele Club' was published in The Feel of Steel in 2001. Back then, she could write about a man from Sydney wanting to join the Melbourne Ukulele club:
They stared at me.
'Is there such a thing as a ukulele nerd?' said Sally.

Well, Sally, yes there is, and apparently now, ten years later, there are a lot of them around. Both of my pizza friends, F and M, play ukulele, but M is definitely a ukulele nerd. When I expressed interest in trying one, she brought out a few from her collection, one of which she had made herself.

We sat around the fire in the chilly summer night (!) and played something simple. I am a casual uneducated guitar picker from way back, unable to read music but able to followed chord tabs and with an ear for a tune, so I followed pretty well.

And fell hard.

M let me borrow one of her ukes. I took it home and downloaded too many songs from the internet and played all weekend. Of course I'm crap, and I can't sing, but I'd forgotten the simple pleasure of making one chord move into another in a way that makes your heart sing along.

I went to my first Uke Group on Monday night, and while it was tricky to keep up and sing at the same time, it was fun because it was completely inclusive, and non-competitive. And there were those chord changes, ringing into the heart.

My fingertips hurt. But now I know what I'm getting for Christmas... we're going to the music shop on Saturday.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


I'm sitting in my clean, re-instated lounge room: furniture back into place, floor vacuumed, surfaces uncluttered.

[Quick! Somebody scrape Colonel Duck from the floor & give him a stiff drink...]

Down in the studio, Jon is working on the press for his Broadside residency. He's been on a steep learning curve, having never printed with type before, and as a painter, he's been resisting the hard edges of the task (like working in blocks and straight lines), but today he's decided to commit to one matrix, and is locking wood type up in a chase so that he can concentrate on playing with the inks in a painterly way. He comes on Thursdays, and Helani comes on Wednesdays, and they both bring lunch to share with me, which is lovely and a ritual I enjoy very much, especially for the conversations we have.

I'm sitting here enjoying the clean space, because the last week has been slightly chaotic - in a good way.

First, of course, we had Thanksgiving: the real deal, because of Julia, my American neighbour and her fun-loving landlord/flattie Lisa. As real as we could get it, anyway. I moved my outdoor table into the big loungeroom and moved the couch out to the other room, and we made one big dining area, with masses of spray roses from the back yard and candles.


Lisa prepared an ENORMOUS turkey that was cooked in my oven through the afternoon:

Turkey queen

Julia made pumpkin pies, pecan pies, sweet potato with marshmallow topping (meant to be a savoury!) and an amazing gluten-free stuffing involving cranberries & nuts and yummy things.

Mummy Crit, who was invited because her partner is a very homesick American (and also the fact that she's good company), made a mushroom-bean casserole and brussel sprouts cooked with bacon, plus many tins of root beer (yum!).

Bumblebee peeled 4kgs of potatoes, which I then diced and cooked and mashed, but Crit took over the mashing because I slightly undercooked them and they needed her touch to be perfect. He also made a kick-ass salad (he's getting very good at salad!).

Other people, who were mostly friends of Julia's and hence were either ANU linguists or anthropologists, brought fruit, cheeses and such stuffs.


By the end of the evening the turkey was the only thing that wasn't stuffed anymore. Julia was very happy.

Julia carving

More photos here.

The next day I cleaned up, but decided to leave the tables where they were until Best Beloved got home from the US (while we were celebrating Thanksgiving, he was losing that particular day from his life!). He got home at lunchtime, without his bag, which was lost in transit! Noooooooooo! No presents!

Well, almost no presents. He still had the duty-free bag. Two big bottles of Bombay Sapphire gin (at $25 each!) and a heap of maple syrup flavoured things like biscuits and chocolate. And a wee little Day-of-the-Dead present for me of a little guitar-playing skeleton lady in a matchbox that fitted into his checked luggage.

Poor bugger, he had to travel to NZ on Tuesday, and all his work stuff was in the bag. He hassled and hassled and talked to his airport contacts (that's his public servant special subject) but for ages we weren't sure if he'd see the bag again, or if it would be lost in the great mosh of lost luggage that haunts the world.

So we decided that we had a window of opportunity with the giant dining room and his travelling, and we called up a bunch of people he hadn't seen for a while and we had a bring-a-plate curry meal on Sunday night. We didn't get maximum numbers, but we had enough people to have a very fun night. And all the leftovers and cleaning up afterwards. Mind you, I wasn't sick of the chicken biriyani BB cooked after eating it for three days.

On Monday I had a visiting day: I went {shiver} across the lake! And all the way down to Condor! I visited my dear friend Narelle, who manages the ANCA studios. We've had many catch-ups around my turf, I figured it was time to visit her in hers. It was great fun, with lots of yummy food and talking. On the way back (I hate making an 80km round trip without batching a few things) I visited Elephant's Child, and we had a cuppa and swapped good reading books. Then I dropped in on the Aged Poet for a while and read her some of her own poetry (best thing about a failing memory, you like to hear about your own good work), then headed home, completely talked out.

And then on Tuesday the heavens opened, and lo, thunder and lighting was all around. Tuesday night was a bout of incredible weather, and if you were in it too, I hope you were safe and warm. BB went to Wellington, NZ, but while he was sitting at Sydney airport waiting for his flight out, his luggage was sitting there to, waiting for a flight to Canberra. The poor courier delivered it in the middle of a downpour, with lightning flashing overhead. The bag is now sitting patiently in the corner, full of presents and dirty washing, waiting for its master to come back to it on Saturday.

We couldn't sleep for the lightning, so I let Bumblebee come out of bed and we put a couple of comfy chairs facing the window and we watched the show through our wonderful front window. It was awesome, in the true sense of the word: horizontal lightning, vertical lightning, great growls of thunder.

We reminisced about the story I used to tell him when he was little and scared during storms. I made it up after a visit to Vinnies when I found a weird stuffed toy that was a lion in a safari outfit and no tail; it looked like Steve Irwin as a lion. I used to have a little bag of fresh toys in the laundry cupboard as a distraction if we were having a hard day. On this particular evening, it was thundering wildly and we were sitting on the kitchen floor eating popcorn (making and eating popcorn is another great fear distracter) and I told him that the thunder is actually a giant lion that lives in the sky, and every now and again lightning would hit his tail and he would roar. The poor grumpy lion! we exclaimed together as the thunder grumbled again. And you know, I said, there's only so many times a lion can get hit on the tail before his tail falls off and he doesn't want to live in the sky anymore, no matter how beautiful it is. Poor grumpy lion! And I pulled out the lion toy and said that this lion had come down from the storm and wanted a nice place to live where no one would make fun of his having no tail. Poor grumpy lion! I'll be his friend! B exclaimed. He called him 'Funky' and he still has him... out of sight, but not very far from his bed.

We laughed about the story and did that wonderful thing you can do with teenage boys, which is talking sideways while they think they're doing something else. I learned a lot, and then we staggered off to bed, aware that there was school etc in the morning.

The 'etc' turned out to be my annual chance to go to the art school to have a preview of the graduating show and pick out a couple of recipients for next year's Broadside Residency. I'm looking forward to meeting the two that I picked (I can't reveal them until Friday, when I give them their 'award' at the exhibition opening (I'm also going because Robyn Archer is opening the show!). Exciting! It's a good exhibition this year, I recommend a visit. It's a wonderful thing when the whole school becomes an enormous gallery.

And then last night we had my fortnightly Scrabble-dumpling soiree; fortnightly because it coincides with byrd's child-free weeks, and he and his lovely lady are the staple ingredient of the S-D nights, which have been happening in many shapes and forms since he was camping in our back yard when he had a homeless stint. We used to just drink beers in front of Spicks & Specks, but over the last few months it's transformed into something that is so much fun I haven't even missed S&S. Food used to be a bit of potluck until we hit upon the plan of everyone bringing a packet of frozen dumplings to steam with my big double bamboo steamer and we gobble them with chopsticks and various dipping sauces. Much easier.

We started the evening with an impromptu visit from neighbour Lisa's a capella group who gave us a taste of their repertoire before they do their first public gig later in the week: Java Jive, Boogie-woogie Bugle Boy and Love is in the Air. It was fantastic!

Then a few of us played Exquisite Corpse, the Surrealist parlour game where you fold a paper into four strips, and one person draws a head (leaving neck lines into the next section), folds it over, and the next drawing is of the torso to the waist (leaving lines again), then the next is the pelvis to the knees, and then the lower legs and feet. Sometimes we got a bit confused about direction, so things ended up having feety things at both ends! And we also had to add a little bit of text to make it fun.

Here are a few examples - the scans do no justice to the colours! Hoon (byrd's lady, and an old friend/housemate of mine) did some colouring-in of the drawings through the rest of the evening, when she wasn't dancing to Jeff Buckley, something I've never seen anyone do, but then she's someone who is always gorgeously different.

Exquisite corpse 1

Exquisite corpse 3

Exquisite corpse 4

If you look closely, you'll see an upside-down portrait of me done by byrd, and Bumblebee's 'love lightning'. It was a lovely evening. I fell off the wagon (only one day early), and we all drank wine and played Scrabble until far too late.

Hence the reason why I'm sitting quietly, having finally put the big table outside, finally done a big vacuum and put the couch back, and put the umpteenth load of dishes in the dishwasher that has been working very very hard this week.

And this is why I'm not entertaining again for a little while. At least until next fortnight, when the Scrabble board starts to rattle in the cupboard in excitement around lunchtime.