Friday, October 31, 2008


funny pictures of cats with captions

LOLcats refresh. And change the subject.

funny pictures of cats with captions

I've always wondered about messages between feline body parts. Sometimes one of my cats will be inside, and the other will come in from outside, and they'll look all interested at each other and touch foreheads briefly and then suddenly not need to be near each other again all evening. I'm sure they've just conveyed a whole bunch of news between them, either telepathically or whisker-pathetically. What do you think?

Soon -- soon, my pretties -- I will put photos up of my actual cats. Although there are a lot of LOLcats who look just like ours.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There's something about Mary

For the last couple of days, conversation has been very circular between Best Beloved and I. I have had my head in a book, and the circle goes like this:

Me: 'Oh no, oh no no no no. Frigging hell'
Him: 'What?'
Me: 'Nothing. NOOOOO! GAH!'
Him: 'Chuck the bloody thing!'
Me: 'I can't! I have to get to the end.'
Him: 'But why? You're hating it.'
Me: 'Yes, I am. Shut up.'
Him: 'I just don't understand.'
Me: 'Me neither.
Oh my gawd...'
Him: 'What?'
Me: 'Nothing. ARGH! Cow!'
etc etc

You see, a woman walked into a secondhand bookshop... sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn't it? But it's no joke.

I did indeed walk into a secondhand bookshop last week, and sitting on the 'new arrivals' shelf was a brand new, hardly touched hardback of Colleen McCulloch's latest tome, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, for $17.

I hadn't planned to touch the book until I find millions of copies dumped at the Lifeline Bookfair a-la Bryce Courtenay next year, but... but... but... I just couldn't resist the chance to buy a relatively cheap copy so close to the release date.

'Oh!' said the man I bought it from, 'this has only been on the shelf 20 minutes.'
I bought it, then told him that it had only been out about three weeks and that it would have been snapped up by the next person to walk in if it hadn't been me. His face instantly fell, and you could see him worrying about his boss's reaction (she certainly wouldn't have marked it that cheap).

Anyway, I took the incredibly purple volume home and placed it on top of my 'crap to read when recovering from anaesthetic' pile. But then it kept calling to me: 'I'm a sequel to P&P! I'm either going to be fun and funky or extremely tragic! Come and find out!'

Come and read me, Duckie!

So I picked it off the pile and read the first page. And then couldn't put it down, in the same way you can't stop looking at a snake if it's looking at you. And the circular dialogue started, and didn't stop until I finished, last night.

Yes, I've read the reviews, especially the bit where McCulloch predicts
"The literati are going to scream blue murder... 'How dare she touch Austen!', they'll say."

Well, all I can say is that she can't, and hasn't touched Austen. Nothing in this book even remotely resembles Austen except the names of the characters. My big question is rather why she bothered?

It's very much a McCulloch novel, a cross between Angel Puss and something Georgette Heyer would write if she were suffering from indigestion. I don't begrudge CM the right to write an historical romance, because she's hell-bent on creating a career that includes at least one of every literary genre known to man (with the noted exception of Literature). This book could quite easily be a novel about a completely different family, and would probably be very successful. But these particular characters have such a weight of affection attached to them that her snarky authorial intention saps the book of any playfulness she attempts.

I think the biggest disappointment for me with the book is Mary's makeover. When I first read that CM was writing this book, I got quite interested in the idea of her exploring Mary's options as an ugly spinster at that time of history. But within the first chapter or so we discover that she has had her acne cured by a simple remedy and it has left no scars, and that once an overlapping tooth was removed, her teeth moved perfectly into place. And so the ugly duckling is rendered beautiful, and Mary's only real problems are those of convincing the world that she is worthy of being taken seriously. Sounds like McCulloch's own problem. Why on earth would you flatten out the best issue of the book like that? Shame on you, Colleen, I thought you were gutsier than that.

But really, I should have known better. McCulloch's books feed off each other in unhealthy ways. She's turned Mary (and Lizzie, since they now look a lot like each other) into Julius Caesar's excellent (according to CM) mother, Aurelia, with her purple eyes, and Lizzy's son into Caesar himself, with his masculine qualities yet looking feminine enough to make other men doubt his sexuality, including, in Charles' case, his father 'Fitz' (Darcy). Purple eyes! That's McCulloch showing her age, holding Elizabeth Taylor up as an icon of ultimate female beauty. At least she gave Aurelia dark hair with the eyes, whereas Mary and Lizzy are gingers, playing complementary opposite colour games with my mental images of these poor women, sending me mental. Lizzy, a ginger? With purple eyes? Nuh uh. That's akin to sci fi in my head.

McCulloch may have done her research and be able to reel off all the appropriate suppliers of gentlemen's clothing in the early 19th century, but her writing is purely contemporary, and never at ANY point evokes a skerrick of Austen's charm. This is probably a good thing, because (as May Day Press points out in the comments below) attempts to write in an Austen-like manner invariably fail. The plot is melodramatic, tacky, and at times just wretched. I dare anyone to read the deliberately provocative last line without retching: Worst. Last. Line. Eva.

I'm a pretty forgiving reader if there's some charm and goodwill; I've read nearly everything she's written -- mostly while I'm in the bath, since I don't care if the book gets wrecked -- and this is the first time I've ever put one of her books aside with a sense of resentment. If this novel was really only written to piss off people, she's succeeded. I'm pissed off at the waste of paper,* and the waste of McCulloch's -- I don't know if I can actually say talent -- story-telling abilities.

Approach with caution, and only when it's been remaindered. I think I'm going to walk it straight back to the secondhand bookshop. And thus the circle will turn again.

* this is not just a point about the writing; I'm sick of these slab-like books printed on half a rainforest that could easily be a slim handsome volume if the designer just reduced the obscenely bloated line leading. A bit less space, a lot less paper, instant footprint reduction. Sigh.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

At last! Something about printing!

I've been woefully negligent about sharing my working time with you lately; I guess it's because I'm trying to do so much at the moment that it's hard to sit down and write about it.

Anyway, yesterday, as some Facebook friends might have noticed, I was feeding paper through my letterpress rollers in order to give it a metallic sheen. Why?

My Transmigration volume has a tricky little binding quirk that you can see in the picture below:

See the blue panel on the inside front cover? I wanted the endpapers for the book to be the same paper as the textblock (BFK Rives Grey) but I'd only been able to buy a certain quantity of the paper at the time, as the. whole. of. Australia. had. run. out. of. it. We have a really fragile art supply chain in Australia. If the sole importer goes out of business, we have to just deal with it -- even if the rest of the world is swimming in the stuff -- until someone fills the gap and decides to import it.

So I'd bought up the entire stocks of grey BFK that existed on this whole continent, which [a] dictated the size of the edition (90) and [b] forced me to experiment with the style of the binding and [c] pissed off a lot of printmakers until stocks were replenished. I used offcuts of the paper for the endpapers, and supplemented the binding with panels of the same paper used for the cover, but inked up with the metallic ink that I'd used on the cover, which is the same grey-green as the book paper.

I'd stumbled upon this idea because I have a folder full of odd bits of paper that I fling through the press rollers before I clean the press (to reduce the amount of ink on the rollers). I grab backing sheets, old drawings, offcuts around the studio, and often can't throw them away afterwards because the results are really cool. I end up using the papers for bookarts samples, or endpapers for my diaries, etc.

So yesterday I discovered that I'd run out of these little panels, and I had to produce more. I'd known this day was coming, had all the materials around, just had to do it. So this was what I had to do:

FAQ notes for those who have never done this but would like to try:
-- it works best with a thicker stock of paper
-- you have to catch it fast or it ends up wrapped around the rollers (although in this case the curl in the paper helped prevent that)
-- make sure you know which side is the side you want to use and keep that side facing the rest of the rollers (the side closest to the roller you're using gets a bit patchy)
-- you do get a few fingerprints, which is why I do larger pieces of paper and trim down to the size I want
-- BE CAREFUL! it's a moving machine and you're sticking your fingers in it. Also, do not hold me responsible if you have an accident. Serving suggestion only.
-- and yes, that's the new Glen Campbell album playing in the background. I refrained from singing along as I don't think you would have enjoyed it.

Pile of panels
This is the pile of freshly-printed bookpaper. Each of these sheets makes three panels.

after & before
On the right, you can see the plain navy-blue faux-Buckram-texture paper. On the left, glammed up with a bit of grey-green metallic ink.

So now that I have the bits, all nice and dry today, it's time I used them.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Prayer for now

Humorous Pictures

Oh dear Ceiling Cat,
Grant my readers the strength not to swoon
when they click on this link.
Yours devotedly,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shorn of the dead hairs

Bumblebee came back from the weekend with his dad absolutely buggered. Because the Albatross lives waaaay out of Canberra, they didn't get back to his place until about 1am after his mammoth Wakakirri effort. And, of course, kids don't stop unless they're made to, so he used up every. skerrick. of. energy. over the weekend.

So even though he was raring for a makeover, he just couldn't raise a smile all through the process. Well, at least not in front of the camera.

Before. Tired with hat-hair, after school. I actually quite like this photo, if only for the spots of yellow throughout.

During. At this point of the haircut, my (wonderful) hairdresser turned the chair around and said 'OMG, you have to see this!'. The music in the salon was 80s New Romantic hits. My heart thumped. But both he and I weren't quite ready for this. He's only 11 and a half. I can see the floppy fringe happening in about three years from now, when he stops thinking either of his parents are interesting and needs something to hide behind as he sulks.

After. The seriousness of this look is totally deceptive. From the moment he was shown his hair in the rear-view mirror, up to and including now, it's like he was given a guarana injection. He's been running, leaping, bursting into rooms and out of bed, grinning form ear to ear. He walks around the house, shaking his head wildly, enjoying the sensation of... nothing. I envy him. I was like that a few years ago, and it doesn't last long.

Woot! This is more like it, on his way out to pretend he's Dr Who. He went to the hairdresser armed with photos like this:

I think she did a grand job. He's got the duds: pin-striped trousers, suit jacket, makeshift sonic screwdriver. He's on the lookout for some glasses next time we hit an op shop. Sigh.

I have to admit, seeing him with the short hair made him seem so much older than he seemed before. As I confessed to Thirdcat this morning, when he and the hairdresser were looking the other way, I picked up some of the soft long locks of hair on the floor. They're in a plastic bag in my bag. Don't know what I'll do with them, but I'm sure they'll be useful for something, if only a weep!

PS: response to Harry's comment within:

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Remember this? Specifically this:
Well, check out E.L.K's response:
 Just in time to commemorate the end of this chapter of Steve Pratt's political career! And as usual, Pratt's playing the blame game. Goodbye, Steve. Enjoy the serenity. That's one bright spot in a disappointing election.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Happy but sad

It was a subdued family who left the Canberra Theatre last night. Bumblebee's school didn't win the ACT Wakakirri title, but I'm cranky about the people who did. I've been trying to think, this morning, of ways to describe my grumpiness about the results without sounding like a bad loser. I honestly don't mind the losing bit, but I do mind losing to something that doesn't feel right.

Of the seven acts (plus extras) we sat through, there were really only three contenders. I'm not going to name names of schools here, that wouldn't be fair.

There was us, with our ripper little 'From little things big things grow' number about Sorry day. The kids were marvellous, but then so were the others.

'The others', in my mind, were a school who did a fab number on frog metamorphosis, complete with a great music mix, a good tight narrative, and the most gorgeous tadpole, frog and fish costumes you have *ever* seen. If their costume designer isn't already in showbiz, they are doing something wrong. A whole fleet of tadpoles on skateboards, and then wonderfully jolly tapdancing frogs (before the rubbish and the predators skulked onto the stage) made for a completely delighted audience.

Then there was the 'Tribute to Anne Frank' done by one of the Catholic schools. I adore the diary of Anne Frank, especially the uncensored version. This 'tribute' to her was the most facile and sentimental rendition of anything to do with her I have ever seen.

For one thing, they started off with a pastoral scene of happy, laughing, picnicking Jews dancing to German folk music ('no mention of the fact that she was Dutch', said the Dutch Albatross, for once in total agreement with me) who were marched upon by 'Nazi'-like soldiers (no swastikas, probably because they wanted to recycle the armbands somehow later) and for the most part whisked off the stage, leaving a small group who were then led into a hidden space. Mostly good and well.

Then we see Anne at her desk, and a voice over saying 'I'm Anne Frank, and this is my diary'. A little bit of time was spent watching the family moon around crying and waltzing, Anne held hands briefly with a boy, and then the Nazis found them. Then they were put in cattle trains (to the sick-making sound of Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World', a song that should be banned from Wakakirri forever for its complete over-use. In fact, let's make that a blanket ban for movies and advertising. I used to love that song so much!) and whisked off to a place where angels found her.

For the last THIRD of the segment, Anne lay in a heap in the middle of the stage whilst blue-bedecked floaty ballerina angels danced around her, and to one side her father sat and looked through her diary, crying.

At no time did they share any words of her diary, which for me would have been the point. They reduced Anne to a maypole, with everyone dancing around her, rather than a lively, heady, interesting individual.

The school representatives afterwards talked of their act being a story of 'joy and triumph'. Whose? The angels?

The judges swooned. Ballerinas! Angels! Jews being oppressed! The rest of us grimaced. At interval I had a number of conversations with people about the layers of problems around performing that theme. One fellow I'd never met before said that he had big problems with the way Catholic education co-opts other people's narratives for their own means. I don't think that's a particularly Catholic thing, but I do object to Anne being sentimentalised any more than she already has been.

And they won, to our utter disappointment. I was, if we had to come second, rooting for the frogs. They at least got the story right, and had a great message to share. As did we. We came equal second.

Still, I've always said to Bumblebee that it's the doing that counts, not the winning, and I stand by that. I haven't seen him yet (I let his dad pick him up) and won't until tomorrow night, but I hope he's not too sad. They won a number of other awards, including a $1500 environmental award which is in no way to be sneezed at (more money than the Wakakirri winnings!). So that may have cheered them up.

We did get one good giggle, watching the Jews and Nazis get the teamship award.

We went to the school fete this morning (held around the ACT Election polling booth) and splashed some money around on food and books. It was smaller than the last fete, and I realised that it was because the year 5 and 6 kids always contribute a lot of colour and energy to the stalls. But this year they weren't involved, having put so much work into last night's performance. They are the lifeblood of the school, and this year it showed. Nice try, guys.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Thanks to the recently resurrected Comicstriphero (YAY), I now know that my Sarah Palin name would be Strike Chipper Palin, if I'd been born into her family. Dunno about the 'Strike', but I think 'Chipper' is pretty good. Ha.

For all my lyrical waxing on about Spring, I forgot the crappy bit: The Fluff. Damn whomever planted those frigging cotton trees or whatever they are, because there are places around the city where you just can't open your mouth or your car window for fear of having fifty-fifteen lumps of fluffy stuff fly into it (say THAT fast a few times!). At the ANU they have always said to new students that if you haven't started studying by the time the fluff falls, you're fucked. 'They', you might surmise, are older, wiser students. It's been passed on for generations, and it actually works. Well, I was printing in the Bookstud on Sunday when it started, and I noticed because it started to come through the windows and stick on my nice wet ink. GAH. At least I don't get hayfever from it, like many of the poor sods around the city.

I want everyone to go over to Bernice and give her a big friendly pat on the back for not smoking for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. She needs encouragement. She thinks I didn't notice the other night when she came over for tea, but I did. How? Well, she didn't stink, and she wasn't constantly dashing outside muttering weird apologies. Dead giveaway. I'm very proud of her.

Tonight is the grand final of Bumblebee's Wakakirri performance. I'm really looking forward to it. We're going, Colonel & Lady Duck are, and even the Albatross. It's a big occasion. Then on Monday I'm taking him to the hairdresser for a makeover. He's decided he's had enough of the dashing shoulder-length hair. He's going for a David Tennant makeover. I'll try to do before and after shots.

Gawd, I think of lots of things to write when I'm on my bicycle. But now I'm actually here I go blank. Oh well, I'll come back and add if anything hits me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Words and Music

Well, I can only apologise for the photography that follows, but I did promise a virtual exhibition, so here goes:

With these fracking 10-week/3-week terms we're given now, I devised a cunning plan for my students. I proposed that we spend 6 weeks playing loosely with letterpress, just printing stuff that took our fancy (mostly woodtype, because there's no real time to set chunks of small type with four-hour classes), and then 4 weeks playing with the results. After the hols (i.e. now), they were to come up with the goods, which would be publicly displayed until assessment time, and the leftover few weeks would be spent just skillin' up on a few bookbinding techniques in class, so that they could spend their out-of-class time finishing those essays and major projects that the other people in their learning lives were demanding (I remember this time of year well from my student days).

And they did it. I lost a couple of people along the way, some for good and some who just wandered back in when they were ready, and who came with their work ready to mount. The theme of the project was MUSIC. Remember that these are students from all over the school, who are doing the class as an elective, so they range from Ceramics major, to Textiles, to Photomedia, etc. Here's what came out of it:

Music exhibition
This is the overview shot. The case is in the school library, which is a great spot to be in this time of year for obvious reasons. I'll walk you through from left to right.

Window 1
Window 1: Jenny (top), Angela (bottom left), Trillian (bottom right -- I really love saying that girl's name. She's just happy she wasn't born a boy. She handles the reaction from HGG fans like me really well).

woodtype scarf
Jenny discovered that letterpress works on fabric (although a warning -- the fabric has to be absolutely flat, and sometimes the grain of the fabric can mark the woodtype), and ran this chiffon scarf over her set type. It looks fabulous. You can see in the overview shot above that she printed a singlet, too.

Jenny CDs
She also made these CD 'chapters' that combine her printing with fantastic industrial fabric swatches that we were given. She also bound a hardback book with a lot more of her printing inside. She's fallen in love with traditional bookbinding.

Musical chairs
Angela loves origami, and the way she can make books that move. She's a ceramicist; I don't think ceramics get to move very much, although I think the bookmaking has made her think about that issue. These are her 'musical chairs'. The chair on the left is a 'title' chair; the middle chairs are attached to each other in a chain, and the two on the right are separate individuals.

Book in progress
Trillian is a very capable person generally. She hasn't finished her piece, only because she wanted to make something I hadn't taught her yet (cased bindings), so she's going to make it next week, and in the meantime we chose one of her lovely page spreads to hold the spot. She's working with her letterpress and mixing it with digital text and images, plus making a binding that from the start will be falling apart, like so many hearts in songs. Should be fun.

Window 2
Window 2: Suse (behind), J (in front).

A detail of Suse's 'Rhythm' piece. You can see the whole thing above. She's a musician herself, and takes music very seriously, so this was an exploration of actual rhythms and how they correspond to word length and size.

guitara 1
I took photos of all three of J's 'guitara' pieces, but the middle one didn't come out -- you can see it above.

guitara 3
Each one uses a found box, with a hole cut in the lid and rubberband 'strings', and then he's played with his printed matter, folding and cutting it to interact with the boxes.

Window 3
Window 3: Poppy Malik (top left), Libby (top right), Beatrix Cottonmouth (bottom left), D. Carnac Edwards (bottom left). As you can see, I have a number of students already working on their artistic identities (not that I can talk).

poppy diamonds
Poppy did some lovely letterpress, using sentences that were like little short stories, but she didn't use any of it here. She likes making her 'little pretties' as she calls them. These LPs are paper diamonds of typed drafting film. Each diamond is a typed dream. And glitter. This year the print workshop is full of glitter and the sound of typewriters :)

It hurts my ears
I haven't done this one justice. It's a hard one to reproduce, because there are layers of text in amongst the sheer curtain fabric. Libby calls this 'It hurts my ears'; other lines include 'squawk squawk' and 'it would not stop'. The fabric is held together with a piece of retro gold crochet thread, and the whole lot is suspended from a hook on the side of the cabinet. It makes me think of a hanged parrot created from the remnants of some granny's sitting room.

Something about this one really appeals to me. The text inside this book object, printed on white cotton quilting fabric, says 'Inside a bed of bone' and the inside ball says 'soft red muscle thumps'. Letterpress on cloth with red wool and thread. The things Beatrix makes are often very sweet with that edge of macabre.

Moustache Remnants
And lastly, this one is called 'Moustache Remnants'. I love the way he's made 'rooms' from his book, which is bound with a figure-of-eight stitch so that it can bend in all sorts of configurations. He's added some textile pieces, which seem to act like prayer rugs in the rooms. I don't know if he thought of it this way; I hope he has or will. Each line is a line of a song, and they were originally set and printed as letterpress, but he's then photocopied the words and reprinted them...

Moustache remnants (detail)

So there you go. Lots of interesting thoughts and deeds. Next week we're making a cased-in binding (a hardback book) and the week after, a clamshell box, and then the teaching year is over again. Where does it all go?

Mandy Ord's chicken knows stuff

I put this up for Laura. But also -- wouldn't a chicken like this be a great mascot for Artists Books 3.0?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The funeral was lovely. The new crematorium is sweet and unscary. Bumblebee read well, and the aunties et al told great stories. We drank a lot over the two days, just because there were a lot of good people around to drink with, and we didn't sleep very well, thanks to the cats, who prowled and yowled all night. Dunno what they were complaining about, they had a great time for the most part.

On the way home, along the long empty drive through the Monaro Plains, I got nervous about the amount of things I still have to get done before 'me Op', which has now been confirmed for November 13. So I stuck my head down all weekend and got the cover for my next book* completely printed, and also, in the evenings, got a fair bit done of the teeth-grindingly frustrating design job I'm doing for the art school (it's a history of the institution, written almost wholly from the POV of the bureaucracy, nothing yet of actual art or students). I wanted to take photos of my printing, but BB decided this weekend that he wanted to document his jam-making, so I couldn't take my camera with me. Turns out the jam didn't go that well, so he's pretty much documented what NOT to do. So I can't show you what I've done until tomorrow. It's funny, I've ended up with a cover I love, but it was a very roundabout way of getting to it.

Tomorrow term starts again, a weird little 3-week term which basically just allows students to finish their projects and plan how they're going to set up their work for assessment. And then, of course, there's assessment. I know there's a fair few of you out there marking right now, and my heart goes out to you.

Anyhoo, my book class is supposed to be mounting a little exhibition tomorrow in the school library, so if it happens (they've been a bit cruisy this semester) I'll give you a little virtual exhibition of our own.

And saw Tibet.

*Poems to Hold or Let Go, poems by Rosemary Dobson, wood engravings by Rosalind Atkins. Edition of 200. Yes, 200. I'm a fool. From now on I'm doing no more than 50 or 100 in an edition.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Moving further along


We are heading to the gorgeous Bega valley tomorrow to check out the brand newish crematorium, built just down the road from where my Nana and Papa used to live, and conveniently close to Colonel and Lady Duck's prickle farm. We are taking the cats. They haven't been to the farm for ages now, and they miss it dreadfully. Pooter misses hanging out with his mate Lucky the Wonderdog and Padge misses swiping at Lucky's tail. Can't wait to watch the fun.

Bumblebee has assembled a pin-striped suit from various op-shop cruises, and intends to wear it with a tie at the funeral as he reads a selection from The Little Prince. I don't know what I'm wearing yet, have been too busy printing over the last few days and setting up the funeral service thingy tonight to think about it (of course, I'm also the Family Designer). Papa actually hated ties, as I've mentioned, so BB is wearing a very fetching Indian shirt wot he bought in India.

Last week I arranged to meet Pen for lunch today, since meeting her at the PM's litbricks. I warned her to ring me during the morning so that [a] we could work out where to meet, and [b] to remind me that it was happening. I was half-joking when I emailed that, but sure enough, today I was head-down at the press, trying to crack the frustratingly frustrating design of my latest book's cover, when my phone rang and it was Pen. OMG! It's Tuesday! I had forgotten all about it. Gawd I'm a vague bint.

So we met halfwayish -- actually, she got the brunt of the walking between her office and mine. We found a salad bar that should keep us going for a few more meetings to get through all the yummies, and we talked about stuff like this, which is pretty much a precis with my questions taken out. It was a nice lunch, Pen. We shall have to do it again. As long as you remind me.

I also got a nice surprise the other day when a friend of my brother's got in contact via this very blog (hello!). Hoorah, the second line of this post works. She put me on to a Facebook site showing his class 20-yr reunion last year. OMG what a shock! I keep forgetting that his friends are not 17 anymore, they're older than BB (just), and the spreading midlines and balding heads made me a bit wurty. I'm hoping for further contact with her and maybe some others. Very happy.

So, be nice. I'm looking forward to the funeral, if only for the quality family time. And animal time at the farm! Huzzar.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

moving right along

4 out of 5 kittehs  expect bottom captions

Pure speculation, is all

Listen up peoples, I'd like to share a story with you.

A number of years ago, one of my art school friends had a big adventure. She (let's call her Z) was much younger, and our friendship was a lot like elder and younger siblings, or maybe even aunt and niece. She would bounce in every day and relate stories about her adventures with housemates/friends/loves, and I would laugh along with her, and when she felt troubled, we would talk it through.

Z felt troubled a lot, because she knew that she liked women more than just as friends, but she came from a very strict family who were New Australians originating from a small southern European country. If her family were to find out she was a lesbian, she said, they would disown her. Perhaps go even further than that. So at that point she had never acted upon her feelings, because they led along a road of danger.

One day she bounced in even harder than usual. She'd met The One. Bugger the family. She just wouldn't tell them. Fair enough, I said, just be very careful.

They moved in together, along with another friend. She told her family that she was just sharing a house with two friends. All was good.

The girlfriend, who was very young and very indulged, having come from a very rich and accepting family, told Z that it would be ok if she came out to her family, and promised that she would 'be there' for Z whatever happened. My friend was still hesitant, but over time felt confident enough to tell her sister.

Of course, the next time Z and her sister had a fight, the news leaked to the family. Suddenly all hell broke loose. The family made violent threats, the girlfriend instantly dumped Z and scarpered. They came down to Canberra with baseball bats to force her back into the family home in order to 'make her see sense'. When they arrived at the house she wasn't there.

Over the next few months the family made not-very-subtle investigations into where their daughter might be. This involved finding out who her friends were, knocking at their doors and making alternate threats and pleas for information, depending on whether the doorknocker (and door-answerer) were male or female. It was a stressful time for all of Z's friends.

She was at my house for about half of that time, and I had a small child who couldn't be expected to tell lies or even keep quiet about his beloved Z. At one point Bumblebee almost blew it, and it scared the hell out of both of us. But I believed strongly in Z's right to love who she wanted to. And I was cranky as hell with her stupid ex-girlfriend, who had thought it was all a game.

Eventually I persuaded Z that it was worth taking the whole situation to the police, something she'd been averse to all along, because she thought her sexuality might not give her many rights. Luckily the police came through for her with some protection, advice, mediation and even some rights, and the family went through a long period of court orders, property negotiations and eventual subjugation.

It was a long and dangerous journey, but eventually Z and her family were reconciled. But it snuffed out a large part of her innocence and joy for life. She's still bouncy, but there's a bit less trust in the goodness of things like friends and family. I'd like to say she's in a good relationship, but I'm not able to do that right now. But she's alive, and well, and has lots of friends (including me), and that's a wonderful blessing.

However, the memory of that time always reminds me, especially listening to the news lately, that there are sometimes reasons why people disappear. Not pointing fingers, but just saying. And hoping. But not really expecting.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Cheered up a bit, not that I have been any more than wistful and wurty (I'll get worse at the funeral, knowing me), by this




and, on the recommendation of the excellent Robert Forster in this month's Monthly, this, the whole fabulous album downloaded today:

I know it's been done before with Johnny et al, but I love this man's voice, and it's helping. A lot.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Now that's what I call a learning journey

I had a wonderful talk to my Nana today between Canberra and Cooma. I don't think I've ever had such a concentrated amount of time with her, without distractions of some sort. And I learned a hell of a lot, about Papa and about her. And about me.

These are some of the things I learned about Papa:

-- When war broke out, he and his brother tossed a coin to see who would go and who would stay and mind the farm. His brother won, but they both went.

-- Papa was in El Alamein, Tobruk and New Guinea, among other places. He saw a lot of things, and only ever talked about some of them if he'd been well lubricated. He & his brother served together at one point. His youngest brother eventually went to war as well, but he didn't make it back. There is a War Memorial plaque for him on my parents' farm.

-- Papa actually went to the same high school with my mother; she went during the day with the other tenagers, and he went at night with the adults. That high school building is now my art school.

-- When he was in the public service, he travelled a lot for the Department of Agriculture (or something). So I guess he got his fill of travel then. At one point he was surveying the wine industry, and used to bring vats of it home. Good man.

-- I asked my nana what made them move from place to place - did they get bored? Did Papa say he wanted to move, or did she? She honestly couldn't remember. Apparently they would just see something advertised in the paper and would get all excited about it and just up and go. I'm sure he'd have a different answer, but they were/are such dreamers, I can believe it.

They seemed very well suited. She supported him, no matter what he did, but managed to keep a sense of self within the marriage. He was deep, introverted and quiet. She is warm and calm and essentially uncurious, and just let him be, which was perfect. I think if she'd tried to dig deep and understand his problems, he would have imploded. I think they were very lucky to stumble across each other, which is what happened. They met, liked each other, and within a few months/weeks/whatever, she was pregnant. Her new (enforced) mother-in-law gave her hell. But they had a long, happy marriage together, and I think in those early years, if they hadn't had opposition to buck against, maybe they wouldn't have been so bonded.

And now I have Bumblebee back in the house. It's lovely to see him. Even the cats are perkier!


Firstly, thank you again, to all you well-wishers. I'm always touched when I get so much niceness for so little real social effort.

One of the reasons I used yesterday's LOLcat was the bittersweet quality of it; you have the cake, you lose the cake. It's your birthday, it's a magic day, everything is supposed to go right. It's a very privileged Western fantasy.

Yesterday was lovely; I got to sleep in, my son rang me from his grandfather's fishing tinnie on the Tathra River and wished me Happy Birthday; I went to school and some of the students who have passed through the BookStud went out of their way to bring me a fabulously lush birthday cake and have a relaxed and happy morning tea with me:

Shellaine brought the cake.

choc cake
OMG it was like a dark choc pudding in a pastry flan, with strawberries and kirsch cherries and dark choc shavings. We nearly died of choc overload.

Bellinda gave me a gorgeous spray of Clematis vine. Bron made homemade berry friands. Dan and the others brought themselves. Mary gave me more dark chocolate. I'm going to look like a Terry's Choc Orange soon...

We had fun.
cherry ears
This is me, just before I overdosed on alcoholic cherries.

[other presents, BTW, were: chocolate (everybody knows my loves), Kate Atkinson's latest book, a whippersnipper (a hint from Colonel Duck) and a Zelda game for the Nintendo DS (for my recovery period)]

Then, after a few hours of work, I decided to go to the movies and see The Edge of Love, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and then I went to Zoe's house for dinner, a bottle of champagne, a nice bottle of white wine, and a few mouthfuls of red wine. I was offered whiskey, but I try not to mix the grape with the grain.

That was sweet. But the night before, Colonel Duck had rung to warn me that my grandfather was on the brink of death. It might be 12 hours, 24 hours, or 36 hours, but it was imminent.

That was bitter. It was hard to sleep that night, and all through yesterday I was aware that my beloved Papa was lying in a bed, breathing slower and slower, just... giving up. At 91, who could blame him?

I'd finished dinner with Zoe, we were halfway through the white, and I got a phonecall from my father's phone. It was my 11-year-old son, sounding strained but trying to be as grownup as he could as he told me that the nursing home had just rung to say that Papa had drawn his last breath. Bumblebee visited him at the dementia ward the day before, and his simple description of how Papa looked had haunted me all day:

his eyes were closed but really sunken. His mouth was open and his breath was loud. His hands were closed tight and twitching, as if he was fighting something.

He probably was, having served all six years of WWII, even though he came out the other end completely pacifist. He could have been fighting his commanding officers, his mother, his dementia, anything. Hopefully he's at peace now.

Papa was a very gentle man, a good grandfather. He wasn't always so; my mother and her sisters tell stories of a raging temper, a frustrated father, but he'd made enough life changes by the time I came along (being the eldest grandchild) to share a lot of fun and wisdom with his grandchildren.

Poor Papa had grown up in the Bega Valley with very respectable, strong-willed parents who owned a dairy farm and served on the Town Council. He'd been desperate to escape, not be a farmer, try something else, but the expectation was always that he'd take on the farm. Little wonder then, that he enlisted as soon as war broke out. He served in a number of WWII arenas, doing the same sort of war duties that Spike Milligan did (Papa was a great SM fan), and served for pretty much the whole span of the war. He even called himself by a completely different name for the whole time -- his name is Horace, his army mates only know him as Jim.

When demobbed, he found himself back on the farm. And stuck there, for a long time.

He managed to escape dairy farming when my mother (the eldest of four girls) was in high school. He finished high school in Canberra at the same time as my mum, went to uni, and had enough of a public service career to be able to retire with a pension.

papa's graduation

When I was old enough to be aware of my grandparents, they were living on the land again, buying somewhere, doing it up, selling it on, and moving again. They were/are great dreamers, and he was always very creative. They always had plans to travel, but they never did. I always thought of them as being more adventurous than my Western Australian grandparents, but the truth was that wherever we moved as an army family, my WA grandparents would come and visit, but my Eastern grandparents never did. Papa always wanted to ride a bicycle through China, but he never did. I don't think he ever really knew exactly what he wanted, he just yearned to do things. He was a restless soul in some ways, but outwardly he was calm, considerate and dreamy.

papa on a horse
He did do a lot of things: farming, horse breeding, goat breeding, renovations, reading, art, and he brought up four fantastic daughters who are all remarkable women in their own way.

I'm almost shocked by the depth of my feelings about Papa's death. I've been mentally preparing for it for so long, and I said goodbye to my actual grandfather a long time ago, from the day I went to visit him and realised that he had NO idea who I was. I'd 'disconnected' with Papa somewhat. When I visited him in the dementia ward (so infrequently my gut hurts as I write this) he was a shell of the man I loved, and I had to hold back. But when I heard he'd reached the end, I was/am revisited by memories, and they persist. I'm glad, because I thought I'd lost some of them.

I remember his hands. They were square, and held each other a lot, either behind his back or on his lap. He liked to walk, and clasped them behind his back as he walked.

beach walking

He loved watching other people achieve. When I graduated from uni (the first time), he clapped as hard for everyone as he clapped for me.

He got depressed. A lot. But I can most clearly see his face, laughing. For that I am thankful.

He loved animals. He and Nana always had at least a dog or a cat. But often both. Or multiples. He once bred goats, and I have a photo of myself with a baby goat on my back. He was a vegetarian then, and people would order baby goats from him and when they picked them up Papa would realise that the goats were going to end up on spit-roasts. I think that was the reason he gave up goat-farming.

He was a vegetarian for years until he forgot that he didn't eat meat and by that point he probably really needed to eat it. He also made his own (terrific) bread, and grew and ground and drank his own wheatgrass juice waaaaay before it became trendy to do so. He grew his own vegies. He loved gardening.

Later in life he hated collars and ties. He loved Chinese-style collars and I remember Nana cutting all the collars off a batch of shirts she'd bought.

He loved musicals. Apparently he adored My Fair Lady, and wore out his copy of the record. I like to think it was the journey of self-improvement he admired.

In his retirement he took up art, which I think was always his aspiration. He did mostly painting and pottery. I don't have a painting (they are hotly treasured within the family) but I have pots and bowls he made. I like to think I got some of his creative genes, along with some of my cousins.

I'm missing him now. But, I understood the moment I was told of his death, I've been missing him for a long time. There's half a century between us, and the last ten years have been quite non-existent. But the time we had was valuable.

I'm very grateful to the people who became his family, his carers, who became very attached to him in his special-need dementia ward. He was rarely unhappy, and I think that is important. He was pared to his essential core, but that core was still lovely. I'm glad they experienced that.

I'm spending part of today with my grandmother, driving her from Canberra to Cooma after a medical appointment. After being a weird kind of widow for ages, it's suddenly happened. She's a widow. I have no idea what she's going through, but I'm looking forward to talking with her one-on-one, for the first time in ages. It'll ease the guilty pain, a bit.

So you see? Bittersweet. Shit happens, even on your birthday. I'm ok with that.