Tuesday, January 30, 2007

things mentioned in passing

I spent the weekend hibernating, doing very little but sleeping and pickling my guts with lots of wine. It was great.

A couple of things have brought me out of hibernation. One is a touch of Folk housekeeping:

If anyone from Western Australia is into the idea of attending the National Folk Festival this Easter, they are featuring WA as their special state (it rotates each year) and Westralians are offered free season and camping tickets if you register before February 2. They recognise that flying over is enough of a monetary commitment! If you know anyone who would be interested in this offer, spread the word. For anyone else interested in going, Feb 2 is also the cutoff date for the most discounted tickets. After that is goes up by ten dollar increments every month or so.

The other thing is finding out via For Battle that Aveline had died of a massive stroke a few days ago. For me this news is not the grief of a passing friend or acquaintance, but the kind of sadness and shock you feel at the death of a celebrity or the end of an era. Aveline was living in Canberra for a fair while; my experience of her was as a life model. In the words of a friend who hired her a lot for her drawing classes, Aveline was the most a-live model we had. At that time Aveline was very large, with myriad piercings and tatts, and always amazing hair. Students just didn't know where to start drawing, and it says a lot about our attitude to 'difference' that they would see (and be intimidated by) the outside embellishments rather than the shape of the woman herself (which was a fantastic shape to draw). Of course, once you worked up the courage to talk to Aveline, she was lovely.

I'm very sorry to hear about her death. Again, as listed at For Battle, you can see the post-nuclear effect of Aveline's passing here.

I'll be posting more regularly soon. I'm feeling a bit like fluffy, except that the log-jam of ideas is also being dammed by the pile of work sitting on my desk. I'm slowly working through it, but it's frustratingly slow. I'm just making a little list of wish-posts as I go...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


This post is actually the introduction to the one underneath (I had to think hard about scroll dynamics for a moment) because I'd like to explain my current frustration, but I think the other post might be more valuable as a document in its own right. So here we go:

I have a bad habit of taking on design jobs that stress me out: catalogues about beautiful art projects by poor artists at the frayed ends of their arts grants who have overspent their budgets and realise that they have just enough money to get the books printed but not enough to meet my fee. So I end up bartering my time for their artwork.

It's not a bad deal; I have a pretty impressive art collection, most of which is framed because I have no place to store it except crammed together on the walls, and I've probably spent more on the framing than the amount the art was worth, so I'm usually out of pocket but visually stimulated. If I'm ever in straitened circumstances I'd have to sell off a piece or two, but it would be like selling one of my cats. [Actually, it wouldn't be THAT bad, but it would hurt.] I'm pretty attached to my hard-earned art.

I'm doing it again; I've spent the last four days glued to my computer, resizing images, playing with fonts, picking and discussing colours and crops, with only minimal sleep. For two very sweet and talented gals who are going to do marvellous things in about a week and a half and need a catalogue to sell at the opening. Unfortunately, they only got organised on this front at the last minute.

The file went to the printer early this morning. I got all the essays and the rest of the photos on Saturday, having had the first delivery of images on Friday. This broke the Rush Record, and I would like to avoid doing it again, if I can.

So that's why I've written this.


So OK, aspiring artists and performers. You want a catalogue or programme printed? While I'm in a post-deadline headspace, I will give you a quick lesson on the nice and gentle way to do it, for all concerned.

Remember-- if you're applying for funding to print something, do all this BEFORE you apply for the money. And ask for the printers to give you generous quotes; i.e., ask for all the expensive things like varnish and perfect binding. Don't make the grant request unfundable, but make sure there's space in the quote to allow for the amount of time between grant application and the actual printing, during which time a lot of inflation can happen, and you'll probably change your mind half a dozen times about what you wanted to print anyway. That gives you room to pare back and take the inexpensive options if your publication suddenly gets larger or more complex and you've got a strict funding budget. And do allow money for the designer. Please.



Sally's Fragments: top, fanned out

1. Work out the date that you need your publication delivered and work backwards from there. This is crucial. Name the day, and then count backwards TEN WORKING DAYS. This is what the printer needs, especially if you're getting your publication bound. This allows time for checking and signing off proofs, for mistakes to be dealt with, for everyone to come out of the experience without high blood pressure.

2. OK. Now you have a start date and end date for the printer. Count backwards again for the designer. You could, for convenience, use the printer's in-house designer. Make sure, if you're going to do this, that you like the sort of stuff that comes out of that printery. Some printers give lovely cheap quotes, but specialise in business cards or pamphlets, and don't handle the artistic temperament too well. If you're getting a postcard invitation done, by all means use a printer like that. But if you want something slick and you want a lot of colour control or image control, make sure the printer can handle those requests.

Give the designer lots of space. In fact, get them involved really early on in your planning, especially if they are freelance like me. They tend to juggle lots of jobs, so give them time to fit you all in. Don't give them two weeks. That isn't enough time.

If you do the layout yourself, remember that less is more. Keep it simple. But that's a whole other post/book/lifetime.

3. Now that you know your deadline, work out your print-run, the size of your publication, your budget, and then ring around printers for quotes. You can get your designer to do this for you, but if you haven't got one, you'll need to ring around with the same information and questions. Its a bit chicken-and-eggish.

Decisions to be made include: digital printing or offset printing?

DIGITAL: good for small print runs, because you pay a flat rate per copy. Easy to print a small amount, then go back and get another batch done. Very comparable quality these days to offset, although purists would argue against that statement. you can do some kooky flexible things with digital printing much cheaper than with offset. You are usually charged a set-up fee, even if you provide your own artwork. Quite often have a faster turn-around time, but still give yourself the ten days as a rule, because something will blow out.

OFFSET: Best for runs of over 500 and even better if you're printing upwards of 1000. The price gets cheaper the more you print, because once the job is set up, they can just run 'em off till the cows come home or they run out of paper. Getting reprints is expensive, and more so if you have changes, which means new plates, essentially starting all over again. With offset printing you can wink at the printer and ask if you can have the run-ons, which are the extras they print at the beginning to check that the inks etc are working ok. Run-ons are essentially loose pages, but can sometimes be extra bindings.

4. Here is a typical quote request, with alternatives in square brackets:

How much would it cost to print a 32 [any multiple of 8 or 16]-page A5 [insert size here] landscape publication, saddle-stitched [perfect bound/casebound], on silk [gloss] 130 gsm stock, full colour with [without] bleeds, with a 2-colour [full-colour] cover on card stock? How much do you charge for scanning? Do I get full colour proofs? Does the cover come varnished, or is that extra? The print-run will be 500 copies. Could you also quote me for 1000? Yes, all artwork will be supplied [no, could I use your in-house designer?].

Let me decode that for you:

32 pages = the publication is printed in sections, ie four, eight, or sixteen pages up on huge sheets of paper which are then cut down and folded. You need to plan your artwork to fit into multiples of 8 or 16. If you don't, you end up with a stack of blanks at the end of your book. It's also a waste of money.

A5 = there are standard paper sizes, and the size and shape of your publication can affect the quote you're given. If you're asking for an odd shape, they have to waste a lot of paper to get the pages to that size. If you want an unusual size, it's best to talk to the printer about the paper sheet size and the most cost-effective way to divide it up. Some printeries have an in-house size that they specialise in, and using that size will be good for your budget. Otherwise there's the usual A4, A3, A5 (which is half A4).

Landscape = the orientation of your book. Landscape means a horizontal book, with the spine on the short side. Portrait is a vertical book, with the spine on the long side. Again, because of paper grain, the orientation will affect how many pages can be laid out on a sheet of paper, and thus how cost-effective the layout is.

Saddle-stitched = this means stapled. I wish they would just say 'stapled', it would save a lot of time with clients who think it means that nice rough thread machine stitching you see on fancy greeting cards these days. Perfect binding is the glued binding, when paperbacks are glued straight into a cover, and case-bound is the traditional method of stitching (by machine) and putting into a hard cover. A fine binding is hand-sewn.

Silk 130 gsm stock = stock means paper. Silk is the new matt. It's dull without being completely flat, just a bit sheeny. Gloss is still shiny. 130gsm is the weight of the paper. There are lots of different weights. If you have very thin paper (photocopy paper is 80 or at the most 90 gsm), your text and images will 'show through' to the other side and interfere with each other, which is nice if you want that look, but annoying otherwise. The best thing is to go in to a printery and look at their paper samples. It's lots of fun.

Full colour = full colour means exactly what it says. CMYK printing, which means they use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and K means Black (go figure, I'd rather say CYMB). It's more expensive than plain black & white, but much cheaper than it used to be. These days it's just as easy to have your whole book colour than to have just a few pages in colour and the rest black & white. But again, prices vary from printer to printer.

Bleeds = this means your colour will go off the edge of your page. To do this the printer has to print oversize by about 5mm on each side and then crop back to your page size. Bleeds = extra cost, but it's not exhorbitant. And it means you have to lay out your artwork with an extra 5mm of colour/photo off the edge of the page, so take that into account if inserting images.

2-colour = to save money, or just for effect, you can print two colour. This works really well on coloured stock (paper, remember?). Bear in mind: black is counted as a colour. A book printed in black & white is different from 2-colour printing. it's way cheaper. And can be very effective, again especially if you use coloured stock underneath.

card stock = this is just the same as paper stock, but it would start at a 250 grammage and go upwards until you get to thick board. Don't go overboard; most covers are thinner than you'd think. Go and have a look at a few books and you'll see what I mean.

Scanning = again, I could write a whole post about this, but I won't, because it's not my strongest skill anyway. You can scan your own images and graphics, or you can give the printer hard copy to do for you. What you're after on the most basic level -- PAY ATTENTION NOW -- is for your images to be 300dpi (dots per inch) at the size you want to print them. So if you want an image to cover a whole page, it has to be 300 dpi at that size. Then it will be crisp. You can't take a photo from a website and expect it to be print-perfect. Web graphics are VERY low-res and print completely pixelated if you try to resize them. If in doubt, phone a friend, or talk to the printer.

colour proofs = this should be a part of the deal, one complete set of colour proofs to check before committing your work to print. Be warned: if you are printing offset, your proofs will most likely be Black Magic digital proofs, and any colours will shift slightly. So don't expect it to be exactly the same as the final product colour-wise. A good printer will tell you this. The beauty of digital printing, of course, is that what you see in the proof is EXACTLY what you'll get in the final product. Check your proofs carefully. If you find a mistake, you'll have to pay extra for each change, unless the mistake is obviously the printer's fault. The solution to this is to submit perfect artwork, but what would be the fun in that?

varnished cover = one of the printers I deal with regularly have a policy of varninshing every cover they print, with no extra cost. They believe the quality and endurance of the finished product is worth their reputation. I thought it was a normal service, but have discovered that other printeries don't do this, and in fact charge extra for varnishing. Varnishing is not giving it a coat of lacquer to a high gloss; it is just adding a protective sheen to the printed card stock -- unless you request a high gloss, that is. The down side of varnish is the way it shows up fingerprints. The up side is less scuffing and marking.

print-run = the number of copies you want printed. If you're choosing offset printing, do get quoted for a larger number as well as the minimum quantity you think you can afford. The price difference will surprise you.

All artwork to be supplied =
this used to mean camera-ready copy, which was high-quality laser print-outs and photos ready for scanning, but now means print-ready files on CD or DVD, with all images scanned and cropped and converted from RGB to CMYK (very important!). This is easier to do with all the fab typesetting programmes out there like Indesign and Publisher and so forth. If you use a designer, they'll do all that for you, and you'll make their life easier if you have all your material ready at once. It really isn't easier to have the essays first and the photos later, or vice versa. Having it all together allows the designer to work with a total concept rather than having to faff back & forth.

I hope that made sense of a few things. get at least three quotes, and don't go for the cheapest one. Make sure you can communicate with the people, see if their products are in tune with your vision, and if your choice happens to be the cheapest quote, BONZA! Otherwise, that old adage is quite correct: you get what you pay for.

5. One last note for those most important of people: CONTRIBUTORS. When writing introductions, prefaces, essays, afterwords, or articles, spare a thought for the designer when you ask for extensions. Sending an unfinished copy that is close to the right length is very helpful so that they can work out placement for the final thing, even if it feels like letting them rummage through your dirty clothes basket. And going over an agreed word limit by more than 200 words? You deserve a good spanking, albeit a mischievous one if you've sucked up to the designer first.

I've probably left a lot out, like the late nights, the tanties, the exasperated look on the sales rep's face when you want to feel the paper swatches AGAIN, but this should smooth the way a tad. I'm always happy to answer questions about this sort of stuff (if they're within reason) by email, but there are lots of good books out there, and even more friendly people in printeries who are more than happy to answer lots of dumb questions if it will save them a lot of hassle down the line a bit. Believe me, I know.

*Bearing in mind that I am NOT a formally trained graphic designer. I have gleaned this knowledge from years of making mistakes and talking to printers, and am cheerfully aware that there are probably huge errors in anything I write here, or at least better/more technically correct ways of doing things. However, if this post helps, I'm happy to share.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Learning as the sun shines

I've been learning a lot of things in the last few days.

ONE: Jethro is an excellent baby

Jethro's foot

He makes me laugh and cry at the same time. The skin! The feets! The fingers! The grumpy looks! The farts! o mi gawd, the farts. He is one stinky little guy.

Zoe has done very well. Owen has too. In fact, while we were sitting and talking the other day, he came in triumphant from fixing the car door. Look at you, I said. Fixed a door and made a baby. Yeah, he beamed from ear to ear, how good am I! Zoe and I gave each other a girl look. He's done splendidly. It's a bittersweet pleasure, having a baby just around the corner, more sweet than bitter, thankfully. And I get cuddles whenever I want, as long as I check beforehand that the household isn't sleeping. I had one today. Little baby. He has a heart-shaped head, and normally looks very peaceful and sweet. Stoopid camera.

TWO: Girls have more to give

On that subject, my doctor got my miscarriage tests back and reported that the problem was a chromosomal issue. He advised that even if we don't try again, we should get some basic tests done to see if we're unlucky or completely incompatible. So Best Beloved and I trotted along to our local pathology lab with a form each. Mine had a box full of incomprehensible doctor scrawl, and his had one word: chromosomes. Which translated as: one vial for him, TWELVE for me! Blimey. Now we wait a month.

THREE: to get the nice things, you have to give a little

BB has been cooking up a storm. In midsummer heat. I can't work out if he's obsessive or just stubborn. He's certainly not sensible. We reached a crisis on Saturday night when he'd spent all the time that the house usually takes to cool down, stirring plum chutney and plum jelly makings. Then he lay on the bed and whinged about the heat. I nearly donged him over the head with a cooking pot, especially when he said let's get an air conditioner. GRRRR. I replied sweetly that I'd rather get batts, and a sail out the front to deflect the heat, and I'd rather he let the house cool down.

BUT. Out of that came this:

Plum jelly

Ooohhhhh... plum jelly. Very lush and sweet and a colour to dive into. Just a little bit on a spoon bursts into flavour in your mouth.

Our plum tree didn't handle the drought very well this year, despite extra water rations, and has produced little rugged fruit, tough but full of flavour. BB decided jelly would be more effective than jam because you don't have to be as careful with the cutting and stoning. Good call, apart from the frigging heat.

FOUR: you don't need the fancy stuff to get the good stuff.

low tech cooking equipment

I was very impressed last year when BB decided he could make jelly without fancy equipment. He nicked my typesetting stool from the shed and a goodly length of muslin and rigged up the Jam Stool. It works a treat.

low tech cooking equipment from above

A view from above. You have to leave it like this for at least overnight, if not a day or two. All the plummy / appley / quincey / [insert fruit here] goodness seeps downwards to make a lovely juice which is then transformed into jelly. Too faffy for me, but I have my own particular faffinesses, so who am I to point fingers? And it all tastes so good... a friend walked in today and exclaimed at the setup. Apparently her grandmother used to do the same thing, and made divine jellies. So there you go. Our household is devoted to reclaiming old technologies.

I was going to write something here about the work I've been doing over the last week, but I think it would make a better post by itself, so I'll stop here and start writing it up. I need to get it out of my system...

Sunday, January 21, 2007


For anyone who hasn't been over to Crazybrave, the Eagle has landed.

(I'm later than most, serves me right for [gasp] turning my computer off and having an early night/sleep in.)

Off for visual proof now.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Rage against the Australia Day machine

Australia Day LIBERTIES

A friend recently pointed out this ad which had been printed discreetly towards the back of our local community paper. He raged against the offensiveness of the subtext, especially the trite use of the word LIBERTIES, enlarged and footnoted. I agree with him.

If you can't see the image, it is photo looking down upon a circle of thong-wearing feet. The main line reads:

As an Australian citizen,
I affirm my loyalty to Australia and its people,
Whose Democratic beliefs I share,
Whose rights and LIBERTIES* I respect,
And whose laws I uphold and obey.

The footnote reads:

*That a pair of thongs can be worn wherever you are,
whatever you’re wearing on at least one day of the year.

Does this mean that David Hicks can wear thongs where he is? Can the guards encircling our detainment centres stroll about in thongs to mock those poor people inside who don't have the freedom to wear them?

In the lead-up to another embarrasssingly jingoistic Australia Day, I urge you to respond to this ad in the comments: do you like it, or hate it? why? Or share some other examples of recent cringe-worthy Government advertising.

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Is this better, dudes?

[NB!! This is a rewrite of an old blogpost from December. If you want to know why, click on the first link below.]

Some of you may be wondering why the author hasn't been writing more about progress on her letterpress project and her arts grant. That's because there has been no progress. Why?

Ok. Get comfortable. This has taken Duckie a few days to write, and she's going to break it down a bit.


The day that our protagonist got the envelope containing her good news about the grant, she also peed on a pregnancy test and got two blue lines. Don't you agree, it was right for her to cry. And oddly enough, not with joy.


It's not known whether the readers have read back over this blog's archives; &Duck has a bit of a history of reproductive problems. She gave a quick linkfest a couple of posts ago, on her wedding anniversary. This pregnancy is around the same timing as the last one, give or take a few weeks. This is the 9th week, whereas this time two years ago it was the 7th week.

Ampersand Duck is ambivalent about having another child. On the one hand, there's her lovely man, who would make such a fantastic father, and who is already a fantastic stepfather and uncle. On the other hand, she's 39, and she's just managed to get to a point in her life when the next 12 months will allow her to achieve something to be proud of professionally, rather than helping other people achieve their goals.

But hey? When nature calls, even at an inopportune time, it's probably best to accept what is happening and make the most of it. Especially when everyone around you gets so excited and happy for you.


For the first few weeks your hostess really had to fight off depression. She felt cranky that the only way her family could grow involved her body, her time and her energy. She kept wishing that Best Beloved could be the pregnant one (nice thought, but she would joke, in a classic female way, that if men ever worked out how to have babies she'd be first in line to protest about it). All she could think about was the lousy timing, and how she was poised to start printing, but then it all had to stop.

And everything HAD to stop; Duckie is really bad at pregnancy, and luckily had her name down with a specialist who started giving her blood tests every few days and hormone supplements. He told her not to travel more than 2 hours, which put the kybosh on going to Woodford, and advised against riding her bike and walking too much. Printing, with its physical demands and reliance on solvents for cleanup, is definitely OUT. Our heroine spent the last few weeks driving (oh, the petrol prices!) and sitting in front of the computer, sulking. Your blogs have kept her sane, truly.


Last week Ampersand Duck started coming to terms with the thought of being pregnant. She realised that she could use the grant money, buy all the materials and get the artists involved working on their images, make the polymer plates (it's a pretty harmless technology), and then have everything in place to print later next year. She felt sure the Arts Board wouldn't mind granting her a slight extension.

Duckie talked to her boss at the art school, who was very supportive about a change of plans for the BookStud next year. And she could always work on her bookbinding skills, which don't involve a lot of standing up.

Best Beloved and the Duck started talking about what to do about their tiny house: extend or move? they made an appointment with a nice real estate agent they'd bumped into to discuss how much their house would be worth, to help them decide. They knew it was early days, but they knew people who had their babies in amongst the builders' dust, or amidst packing boxes; it pays to plan ahead.

Actually, our mistress of the blog started to feel quite jolly. Morning sickness was kicking in, and her boobs felt like bursting, but that's just the fun of sprogging.


And then Ms Duck had an ultrasound last Friday, and encountered a familiar worried look on the face of the technician. Are you sure about your dates? is a question that makes your heart sink, especially when you've been there before. And yes, she was very sure of her dates.

From that moment everything went poo-shaped. It's amazing how fast a woman can go from feeling like you're doing something special with your body to feeling like your body is just a mutant visitor from Planet Defect. It took moments. Suddenly you're not a fertile goddess, you're a failure. There was the black blobby sac floating on the screen, tucked in a nice safe place between three ravenous fibroids, but there was nothing happening inside it. Well, there was, but it wasn't alive. In fact, it had stopped about three weeks before, but Duckie's body was convinced it was still pregnant. It still is. But instead of feeling nauseous in the morning and knowing that it's for a purpose, now she wakes up and feel nauseous and then feel nauseous about feeling nauseous. Just like last time.


Since Friday Duck has been pretty numb, apart from some pretty full-on crying in the car. She finds the car is the best place to be a watery tart, probably for the same reasons that men like to talk sideways about serious issues -- you know, while they're gardening, or washing up. She can sob but stay in control, and that feels valid. Until you stop at the traffic lights and look sideways and realise that the people next to you can see you with snot and tears all over you. And they are always looking, probably because this little black duck has a wildly-painted car. Bugger. Lying on a bed crying just feels like I'm indulging myself too much a lefty whinge. Go figure. It's not like we don't indulge ourselves in other ways.


Things done in the past few days to escape reality and feel better:

Videos: The Razor's Edge (1946 version, of course); the second series of Extras; Catching up on West Wing; Hairspray.
Music: Tim Buckley, new mashups by Arty Fufkin (great timing, thanks), Johnny Cash's American III.
Reading: Jasper Fforde, trash magazines, blogs, Anne Tyler.
Imbibing: wine, cider, chocolate, salami, soft cheese.

Has the writer ever told you how much she likes Anne Tyler's fiction? AT's books have a certain emotional space in them, and are peopled by characters who have been emotionally damaged in different ways; they tend to live quietly within themselves until she finds them a reason to come alive again. Each novel is a gentle lesson in internal survival and renewed hope. &Duck goes through phases of needing to read them. Now is one of those times. If you haven't read one, she recommends starting with either The Clock Winder or Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Or The Accidental Tourist, but read it before you see the movie version.


Ampersand Duck is not telling this tale to get your sympathy, because she's getting weary of casting herself as a person needing pity. She's really starting to understand (although really, universe, she got the lesson at least 20 years ago. RLY.) that there is no quota for painful experiences. She knows, as many people do, that there are many women out there who go through this, and go through it over and over in their quest for children. Our heroine saw many of them at the fertility clinic she was visiting for my blood tests, and she felt so sorry for them, with their looks of quiet, dignified and painful optimism. One day &Duck went in and the place was full to standing-room only, and that air of suspense was palpable. When she asked about the crowd, she was told it was 'embryo implantation day'. Sigh. Poor girls.

We all know that women go through miscarriages all the time. And they keep trying, which is admirable. Or they stop, which should have everyone's utter understanding. Ampersand Duck will not try again.


Actually, Duckie is telling this tale at this point in time because tomorrow morning at 10am she's going under the knife to get Wellsley Giblet (see, they'd nicknamed it already!) scraped out.* And she's scared. She wants lots of blog-reading good vibes to steady that surgeon's hand and keep her safe. Last time a stupid doctor perforated her three times, and she bled for two months. This is a different hospital, a more experienced doctor, but the same soft mutant fibroid-filled womb. It should only be a day-visit, and she should feel better in a day or two. If all goes well.

Wish her luck.

She is the twin cats' mother. She likes writing using the first person. Now you can see why. It's a bit dry, no?


*Actually, there's a tale here as well. This is the perfect situation for a drug like RU-486, when an abortion is needed and there's no live baby to kill. BUT. Because it was not available last time, &Duck was D&C'd, roughly, and thus was perforated. It still isn't available now, but even if it was, she wouldn't be able to use it because the strong crampings might reopen the perforations from last time. GAH! Thanks, Mr Abbott. It's all your fault Duckie is going under the knife again. Put that in your pipe and stick it where the sun don't shine.

Filling up the spaces in my head

I went to the dentist today. I had two fillings. Need I say more?

Actually, she's a very gentle dentist. I have a friend who has a phobia about dentists, and with good reason, since one put a drill through her cheek and another had to sit on her chest to wrench out a wisdom tooth while she was still conscious. I've tried to get her to see my nice gentle lady dentist, but I don't think she has mustered the courage yet.

I did quake a bit when I saw the needle in my dentist's hand; it was rather large. But to my surprise it turned out she hadn't been packing my jaw with cotton wool beforehand -- she'd been numbing my gums with cotton wool and some magical solution. So, bless her, I didn't even feel the needle as it went into first my top left gum, and then my lower left gum.

So there I was, lying back in the chair, mouth gaping, with Lady D chatting away about how she likes Melbourne more than Sydney (and understanding my grunted responses), and I started drifting away, thinking about how all her movements felt so big in my mouth, and in reality how small they would be from her perspective. It's like when you can feel a spot coming up on your chin, and it feels enormous to your fingertip, and you're sure that everyone else can see it clearly, and then you look in the mirror and can hardly find it with your eyes.

Do we all feel like giants in our skins? Or maybe it's not a sense of scale, but a sense of hyper-reality? Things on the surface of ourselves feel bigger, more sensitive, more tangible. For a brief dreamy moment I had one of those epiphanies that can come when you ingest magic mushrooms: everything makes sense, but only for that brief dreamy moment. Suddenly I could see why the personal was political; why people found it easier to engage with their immediate comfort than with the troubles of other people; how the perception of other people's pain and suffering really does depend upon how much you can both shift out of your own skin and how much you can use your own experience to relate to theirs. We know what a headache feels like, but only our headache. We have to use the knowledge of our own pain (or use our imagination, if we have one) to have compassion for someone else's headache. We have to take small concepts and relate them to the larger. Or we can take large problems and miniaturise them to allow people to feel comfortable with them. Hmmm...


I get tangled up in knotty dreamy thoughts, and then I can't make sense of anything real for ages. Sometimes it happens to me in ordinary conversation with people. When I came out of this tangle (and the above was just a taste of it), the dentist was asking me to rinse and I found that I had absolutely no control over my mouthful of liquid, which slipped out of the left side of my mouth and down my front. Oops. The Lady D laughed and said that the anaesthetic should wear off in an hour, and I should be fine to have my planned lunch with my mother.


An hour and a half later I was sitting in a quite smart cafe in north Canberra trying to suck a Ginger-ale-with-lime up a straw and eat nachos only in the right side of my mouth. I had a napkin discreetly up in front of my face, my mother was giggling into hers, and my lovely old nanna was trying to tell me a story about her cute but wayward dog while I made revolting slurpy drooling noises. I couldn't move my bottom lip, and I also couldn't move my jaw sideways easily. It was very unsexy, and my darling mother thought it was hilarious. I have a LOT of sympathy for stroke victims.

Luckily I'm working from home today, so I could go home and change out of my spit and crumb-flecked top and sit in front of the computer until it all wore off, which took THREE AND A HALF hours, not ONE, thank you very much.

I've got a hell of a lot of work to do at the moment, mostly for other people, and I'm trying desperately to get it all done before the art school starts up again in mid-Feb, so that I can really get working on my books. Tonight I'm going to bind a new diary for myself, and make my entry for issue 5 of bookmagazinebook before I pass it on like a hot potato.

And no, no news from Zoe. Well, I mean, I talk to her most days, but there's no baby movement. The little tucker is hunkered in, waiting for the shift into Aquarius. Do visit the otter post, though (linked to her name). The comments will have you snorting into your cold beverage.

I'll leave you with a bedtime story. You might need to turn your sound up a tad. This is Best Beloved reading some Tolkien to Bumblebee (who seemed to need to rub his hair obsessively; he doesn't usually do this) and Padge, who fell in love with Bumblebee's new bunkbed and became its doorbitch for the evening, scratching anyone who moved up the ladder. I wish my camera could do justice to BB's reading voice; it's lovely to fall asleep to. Unfortunately, when I can't sleep, he's usually already asleep, so he's pretty useless in that respect!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The proof's in the puddin'...

...and the fact that she came to eat it up.

No movement at the station. In fact, Zoe and her station of a stomach (plus Owey and Sage) came over for a slap-up dinner of chicken and Christmas pudding, enjoying the chance to chill with only one tired little tucker:

Zoe and Sage at my dinner table

And o mi gawd, what a pudding.


My sister-outlaw, Naomi, made it and saved it for us. We picked it up on the way back from holiday as we swept through the Blue Mountains, and decided that it had to be eaten in the company of People Who Know Their Food. Which meant the collective company of Zowen, and I was ever so pleased that Zoe was still able to come and enjoy such a rare delicacy.

The photo above was actually taken after Owen had drowned the pudding in warm brandy and set it alight, like this:

flaming pudding

We lit it three times, it was so much fun. Sage was very impressed.

Then we got down to the serious matter of eating it, with some deluxe (bought) custard (come on, it's midsummer, who wants to be stirring custard?). The way we ate that pudding belied the fact that we'd just stormed through an enormous roast chook (stuffed with lemon halves and herbs, with crushed pinenuts, coriander and garlic slipped under the skin and basted in olive oil and lemon), lemony Greek roast potatoes and a green salad.

plate of pudding

It was cut and come again, in the immortal words of Norman Lindsay, each of us scoffing at least two platefuls, if not three in some cases. Cor, we let loose.

pudding all et

And when it was all over, Zoe wasn't the only person waddling around the house. Solidarity, sister.

And THANK YOU to Naomi for providing such a luxurious experience, all the better for being three weeks after the day we were supposed to eat it. But who cares?

"Hurrah, we'll stick together,
And always bear in mind
To eat our puddin' gallantly,
Whenever we're inclined."

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Well I never had a place that I could call my very own,
But that's all right, my love, 'cause you're my home...

What an absolute load of twaddle those lyrics are. I've been travelling with my beloved man and son for at least three weeks and while it's been gloriously fun (apart from suffering from dratted hayfever for the last few days), nothing compares to driving around that last curve of the highway opening up to a panorama of the hazy blue/purple Brindabella range and the knowledge that in less than ten minutes I'll be covered in black cat hair in my little shoebox of a house that I grumble about constantly but secretly love.

And so here I am, after a hot and sweaty sleep, back in the dark and cluttered Batcave that is my home office, sipping Russian Caravan tea with milk and honey (made in a pot from proper tea-leaves), black cat-hairs sticking to the clamminess of my hot skin, trying to decide which item on my very long list has the highest priority (blogging won, of course, but it is exempt from most lists, especially urgent ones), and feeling very happy to be home even if Canberra is the most gawd-awful place to be in Summer.

Some dot points, because the list is rather long and some of the items are things that will not be set aside without incurring wrath from even the most patient of Beloveds:

-- talked to Zoe last night on the phone after our arrival, to make sure that she is still intact (she is) and cracked up when she suddenly held the phone away from her mouth and yelled into the background let's talk about whether daddy is tougher than mummy after mummy has given birth naturally to our new baby, shall we? Thank you! then without missing a beat resumed our conversation. Ahh, I'm home.

-- Apparently Summernats came and went very noisily, according to our champion housesitter, D. Sometimes the authorities block off our street, as it is very long and straight and perfect for mini-street races, but decided not to this year. We will be writing a letter urging them to resume this practice, as poor D had the wheel of her car stolen while it was in our driveway on the second last night of festivities. Whoever stole it was nice enough to prop their old tatty wheel in the space left by the newer one, but didn't attach it. Luckily it was her day off, not one of the days when she was working as an Accident & Emergency nurse.

-- The cats are very very happy to see us, and have spent the last 12 hours following us around and sleeping as close to us as possible. The last thing I really needed on a hot night was a furry sleep companion, but hey, I missed them too.

-- I could really do without the hayfever that seems to have hit me square between the eyes, but it's better than the headcold I had at Movie World. I will blog more about Woodford and Movie World, but after I've helped unpack our clothes and sundry accumulated souvenirs (including a terrific book on bookbinding I found in Katoomba) and build Bumblebee's bunkbed (bought 18 months ago, but installed too early, and it was hard to get him to the loo at night. Now he's ready for it).

-- We had constructed the end of our holiday around dropping Bumblebee at his father's house on the way home (he lives a few hours from Canberra) but a phone call a few days ago changed everything. The up-side is that we get a few more qwality daze with the boy, but the down-side is another frigging hot drive out to the country on Sunday afternoon, o joy.

-- Just finished reading Kate Atkinson's latest, One Good Turn and loved it, although I do recommend reading the previous book, Case Histories first, although it's not mandatory. My mother-in-law bought me this for Christmas, but kept it for herself when I asked her to buy me The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald. Now that I've read them both, I regret the decision. I liked the latter, but I'd probably re-read the former. I think Kate Grenville's The Secret River should have won the Miles Franklin over McDonald, but I can see why the decision was made. It's a 'safer' choice.

OK, I'll be back. Hopefully breaking the hawt news about Zoe and her sprog. Apparently she was talking to the midwife the other day, and asked her in all seriousness, now, tell me again, what is the advantage in having a natural birth? I don't think the answer was as persuasive as she wanted, judging by the muttering coming from around the corner. And so we wait. And she waits. There's a slow handclap going on at her blog, if you want to join in...

*Yeah, it's Billy Joel. So sue me.

Friday, January 05, 2007

QLD: perfect the next, my arse (a love letter, actually)

OK. I'd like the rain to stop and the cool weather to remain. Is that so hard?

We're having a lovely holiday, apart from me getting a mini version of the bad cold BB had before we left (except I don't whinge about it) and the fact that every time we turn around we get wet.

Yesterday we spent the day in the Brisbane Cultural Precinct, checking out the new Museum of Contemporary Art and also the normal gallery, library and museum. What fun! Lots of funky art, fun Jackie Chan clips and a Paul's icecream factory around the corner to eat lunch at (snaps to Pam for the tip). I just want to say here how awesome Fiona Hall is as an artist. I prostrate my sorry aspirational self at her feet. I am not worthy.

Tomorrow we leave the beautiful House de Sacha and mosey down the M1 in search of MovieWorld. It's lucky we decided to go there instead of the other theme parks, because by golly, it's going to rain, and MW has a lot more indoorsy activities. Mind you, the rain should keep the queues reasonably short, and we're used to soggy entertainment after being hardened (or softened) at Woodford, so BRING IT ON, QLD.

I don't think I've ever mentioned my friend Sacha before, have I? I know her name is spelled the masculine way, but blame her nutty mother for that. Sacha is the closest thing I have to a 'Besty', and I'm not really a 'best friend' sort of person.

We met the year I was pregnant with Bumblebee. I'd ditched my husband, had a fling with a tall thin Dutch streak of meanness, ditched him too, and ended up in an art school sharehouse: happily single, barefoot and pregnant. My eccentric housemates were moving out, and I needed someone to help pay the rent. A mutual friend introduced us, saying that she thought the two of us would be fairly compatible. She was right.

On our first night as housemates, we cooked a meal, sat down in front of the telly and debated what to watch. She'd brought her video collection, nearly all of which turned out to be movies I loved too. We put something on, and sat down to eat. Two minutes later, when I'd finished inhaling my food (I'm a very fast eater, a hangup from boarding school), I looked across, and she was licking her lips in front of an empty bowl as well. That was, oddly enough, a very bonding moment.

We are both Librans, only a few years apart in age, both mothers of boys by men we aren't with anymore, with very similar tastes in music and film. We eat like horses, love our red wine, and laugh our guts out at many things. She's a psychologist; I often need a psychologist, although we tend to co-counsel because we know each other well. The only major difference between us is that she is extremely clean and tidy, and I, as many of you know, am most definitely not. In fact, we only lived together for about seven months, and moved apart just in time to keep the friendship intact before my habits drove her crazy, and vice versa (I know NOT washing up is annoying, but so is CONSTANT washing up. RLY)

Her house in Brisbane is beautiful, but not just because it's a renovated Queenslander with a cute colour scheme near a beach. Because it's full of beautiful things. The furniture is functional but carved and painted; there are jewelled ornaments and glorious colours, and there is original artwork everywhere. She works hard to make it so, and the effect is like living on the back of butterfly wings.

But the most beautiful thing in the house is Sacha herself, and I hope she knows it. She's usually, along with Zoe, one of the first people I turn to when I need a friend. When I leave tomorrow there's a good chance we won't see each other in the flesh for a couple of years, and I'm sure both of us will be a bit sad about it. But she reads this blog, and we ring frequently, and we've never really lost that feeling that we're just sitting on a couch together, flaking out in front of a romantic comedy, sucking back a merlot and debriefing about our day. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Woodford Chronicles 06/07 (4)

We made it out alive this morning, dusty, sunstruck and tired. It's been a big week. There's lots more to tell, but I'll do that over the next few days or weeks, depending on how fast I regain my energy, and how often I can get to a computer. We've still got two weeks of (very different) holiday.

I had a small disaster two days ago when I dropped my camera and thought it irreparably broken (SOB), only to discover this morning that it just needed a day to rest and recuperate and may yet limp home to snap another million pictures (HOORAY!). So I didn't take photos of the fire ceremony, nor of other choice oddities of the dying moments of the festival.

But. Now that I am out of the site, and showered, and fed greasy hot chips with loads of salt, I can finally label my two YouTube videos properly and share them with you. I'd hastily uploaded them but couldn't see what they were in the short time I had in the internerd cafe, and the buggery computer wouldn't give my a thumbnail of the contents, so I'd quickly written anything on their labels and set them free in the ether. Of course, I'd written totally the wrong labels!

Anyhoo, here is Peter Garrett, visiting the Festival Breakfast show. He was talking politics, and the shifts he'd made in his life within the public sphere, and then of course when questions were allowed the first person with their hand up asked him to sing. Every protest he made was answered with a solution -- a young man in the front few rows could play the chorus to Beds are Burning, and thus this video came to be. Apoloogies for the angle of vision -- you have to stack a spot in the venue at least 90 minutes before the start of the show, so Best Beloved would head out of the tent at Dawn's crack and read the papers at the side of the stage, where he could stretch out and get a good view. So I spent the week look ing at Martin's hair. And there's a lot of it.

The next clip is from Me and Mr Brown, and I've included it mainly for Mummy Crit, who is a fellow Baterz fan. It's only a snippet, but enough to make me all gooey.

Ahh... Totally Gourdgeous and Baterz, what a winning combination.

I've got other videos, stories and photos, but I'll put them up later. Time for a recovery G&T!