Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rain dance

What my dear and long-departed paternal grandfather used to call the Weather Baroo has been forecasting rain in these parts for several days now, but thus far the sky has declined to put its money where its mouth is.

So this morning saw me outside with the garden hose, since it's Wednesday and it's before 9 am and I live in an odd-numbered house and I neglected to water the garden the last time I was allowed to (last Sunday) because I was busy and the Weather Baroo had told me I wouldn't need to.

The poor parched plants needed a serious soaking, especially the lemon tree which is one thirsty dude, so there was considerable expenditure of both time and money, the former in particular being in crucially short supply around here at the moment. As for the money, the water people seem to be behaving the same way as Telstra; as the use of water and of landlines gets less and less, they hike up the infrastructure charges more and more, so although you're being incredibly and increasingly frugal in your use of necessary services, your bills stay roughly the same. It's a version of the law of diminishing returns.

So anyway, after seriously soaking the garden, packing up the hose and coming inside, I went out again five minutes later for something else and there it was, if not actually bucketing down then certainly having a good substantial spit. I can't always make it rain by hanging out the washing or washing the car, but watering the garden is a lay-down misère.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thoughts on Christmas morning

It would probably have been a better idea to force myself to stay up for another hour last night and wrap the presents. But that still wouldn't have solved the cat hair in the sticky tape problem, would it.

A safe and happy Christmas to you all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In praise of the nanna nap

Late cards posted: TICK

Master list (of lists to be made) drawn up: TICK

Tree trimmed: TICK (Why does 'trimmed' mean putting things on in some cases and taking things off in others? Must investigate)

Gift shopping finished: TICK

Wardrobe refurbished and lost items found (hippieish and kindly tentlike Indian dress has served me well for ten years so deserves to have its busted seams fixed; could not have borne to lose the classic white linen shirt; blue top is almost brand new, with only a light coating of felted-on cat hair): TICK

Deadline met and copy filed: TICK

Maps found: TICK

Food and drink shopping finished: TICK

*Passes out*

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This is Your Life

As almost everyone who comes here knows for themselves already, a life spent reading fiction produces a swag of paragraphs that are not exactly committed to memory, more that the memory of the act of reading them stays with you, because they are as useful as proverbs in the help they give you. I remember Hilary McPhee on a panel at some Writers' Week or other in the mid-1980s, saying with passion that one of the reasons we read fiction is to get ideas about how to live our lives.

Now that is not one of my conscious reasons for reading fiction but every now and again I am reminded of how very helpful it can be. I've headed more than one disaster off at the pass by heeding the voice in my ear of E.M. Forster, as channeled by the fey Mrs. Wilcox (not Margaret Schlegel as was, but the older and, as it were, original Mrs Wilcox, Vanessa Redgrave not Emma Thompson) -- 'Separate those people who will hurt each other the most.' Which was also very helpful during the terrible week of my mother's death.

But I appear to have reached a stage of life where some books remind me of other books that have provided these lifelong aids to sanity and quiet reflection. It's bad luck, on the eve of Christmas Eve when I am way behind with everything, that one of this week's work novels is so rivetingly engaging and charming that I feel compelled not only to read it very slowly in order to honour its virtues but to blog about it as well, all of which might mean pulling an all-nighter which I haven't done for several years and may now be too old to survive intact.

Anyway, I'd only got as far as page 17 of Julia Glass's I See You Everywhere when I found this:
Whatever Lucy knew, she kept to herself. When I asked Dad why he didn't get her to tell the whole story, he said "Louisa, we live in an age when keeping secrets is out of fashion, and that's a shame. If she wanted to tell us, well, she would."

Which immediately brought to mind the bit in The Once and Future King that has been my rule for the keeping of secrets since I was twelve:
The morning when they were to set out for Bliant arrived, and the newly-made knight, Sir Castor, stopped Lancelot in the Hall. He was only seventeen.

"I know you are calling yourself the Ill-Made Knight," said Sir Castor, "but I think you are Sir Lancelot. Are you?"

Lancelot took the boy by the arm.

"Sir Castor," he said, "do you think that is a knightly question? Suppose I were Sir Lancelot, and was only calling myself the Chevalier Mal Fet -- don't you think I might have some reasons for doing that, reasons which a gentleman of lineage ought to respect?"

Sir Castor blushed very much and knelt on one knee.

"I won't tell anybody," he said. Nor did he.

(The power of that quotation, I see for the first time as I type it here, may lie in the scansion of that last sentence: three heavily stressed monosyllables, a sound like the slow but firm closing of a door.)

But Glass was (and is; I'm only up to page 55 as I type and have no doubt there are further revelations in store) not yet finished with me; on the same page, indeed in the next paragraph and regarding the same character -- an ancient aunt whose tale in the family lore is that she gave up her whole life to look after her damaged older sister -- there's this:
I believe she was swept along on a tide, like most of us. There you are, diligently swimming a straight line, minding the form of your strokes, when you look up and see, always a shock, that currents you can't even feel have pulled you off course.

Which for reasons that are about to become apparent reminded me of this, from A.S. Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden, which refers to a character with a severely autistic son:
" ... But I think it's possible Mrs Haydock'd just come to pieces without him. Having made him her life. Funny thing, the variety of lives, you can't know what accident won't set yours in some very simple terrible deep channel for the rest of its run."

(Again what has appealed to memory, I now see, is the rhythm of one phrase, that unstoppable run of adjectives with its string of insistent stress: simple terrible deep channel.) Byatt has been rescuing me from dark places since 1984, when I first read this and put it, with desperate gratitude, to good use:

She did not see why he should preserve his good opinion of himself at her expense. It was refusing these small encounters that exhausted her ... She walked away from him. She did not think he had expected this precisely; but all that was left, as she saw it, to do, was to uncreate him in her mind. If she could have worked through the relationship, unhindered, if she could have cast him off, and held him as an interesting memory when they had nothing more to say to each other, she would not now feel so stunted, so trapped in his view of her ... There was nothing to do but behave as though he had never been.

As I say, I'm only up to page 55 of the Glass book, which is where I found this next bit, which cracked me up with happiness and recognition so much that I decided I had to blog it and make myself even later with everything than I already am and God knows whether there'll be a decent fillet of beef for the buying anywhere by tomorrow but never mind. Louisa, one of the heroines, makes a living by editing obscure, pretentious, grandiose and/or unreadable essays on art into publishable form, negotiating all the while the internal politics of who follows which school and who is whose nephew or protegé or enemy. Here she is on the beach, working as she wonders with one part of her mind why she hasn't heard from her rat-bastard boyfriend Sam:
"Articulata" was a piece on the proliferation of text in photography. Might we see this as a symptom of visual insecurity, or is it the strident, declarative end to our long-running romance with lensmen such as Adams, Weston, and even Walker? Might we venture so far as to interpret this trend -- nay, this turning point -- as an invigorating divorce of sorts? I looked up to see a gull eyeing my knapsack, venturing so far as to interpret its bulk -- nay, its grease-stained belly -- as a food station. "Well," I said loudly to the gull, "might we indeed?" I squawked, and the gull scuttled away. I lay back and put the essay aside, weighting it down with my sneakers. I fell asleep in the sun. I dreamed that the author of the pompous essay turned out to be Sam. "That we is not royal," he told me angrily. "It's entirely actual. Look in your Chicago." It turned out that somehow I had the wrong edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, that my copy was way out of date. I would lose my job. When I woke, the gull was back, standing at the edge of my towel and staring at me. The obvious question on his mind was Is she edible?

Back to work.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Saturday numbers

As at 10.17 pm Sunday night update:

Christmas presents bought: 2
Christmas presents delivered: 3 (not the same ones)
Morning coffee dates kept: 1
Family visits paid: 2
Christmas Day arrangements made: 1
Boxing Day arrangements made: 1
New Year's Eve arrangements made: 0.5 1
Christmas cards written: 0 3
Dishes washed: 0 1 sinkful, still not enough
Reviews written: 0
Christmas trees up but still not decorated: 0 1
Minutes Hours spent on tax preparation (accountant appointment Monday morning): 4.5 and still not finished!
Pages of weekly fiction for review read: 0 263
Pages of 700-page biography for 2000-word review (due 1/1/09) read, in total: 13. Still. Gahh.

Sigh. Sigh.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A meme!

Haven't done one of these for ages. This one is nicked from the lovely Suse of Pea Soup, who nicked it from Knitters-Knitters.


Things you've already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven't done and don't want to - leave in plain font

[For myself and everyone else over about 45 I am going to add a deeply poignant extra category: Things You Wish You'd Done but You Know in Your Heart That it's Too Late Now. These things will be underlined.]

1. Started your own blog.
Four, in fact, and was in on the birth of a fifth.

2. Slept under the stars.

3. Played in a band.
Keyboards, vocals.

4. Visited Hawaii.

5. Watched a meteor shower.

6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
Once, and for very specific reasons, much more. Weirdly, it did not make me feel good.

7. Been to Disneyland/world.

8. Climbed a mountain.
Well, I called it a mountain. My Austrian hosts said it was a gentle slope.

9. Held a praying mantis.

10. Sang a solo.
I'm assuming this implies 'in public'. I still remember the summer of 1976 when I got paid three times as much to sing in the University Union Bar, which I would have paid them to let me do, as I did to wash the dishes in the Iliad Restaurant, for which nobody could possibly be paid enough. Union rates in both cases.

11. Bungee jumped.

12. Visited Paris.
Ten days in 1983.

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.
If playing the guitar counts.

15. Adopted a child.

16. Had food poisoning.

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.

18. Grown your own vegetables.

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
As Suse said, where else would one see her, pray tell?

20. Slept on an overnight train.
Adelaide-Melbourne, Paris-Florence.

21. Had a pillow fight.

22. Hitch hiked.
In your dreams, oh naive meme writer. Don't the words 'Ivan Milat' or 'Christopher Worrall' mean anything to you?

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.
Depends what you mean by 'ill'.

24. Built a snow fort.
With what, pray?

25. Held a lamb.

26. Gone skinny dipping.

27. Run a marathon.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ... Mind you, I have the endurance for it. Just not the physique. But I would like to do it in another life.

28. Ridden a gondola in Venice.

29. Seen a total eclipse.

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.

31. Hit a home run.

32. Been on a cruise.
See #22, inserting the relevant names.

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
The birthplace of some of my ancestors is my own birthplace, but I also found the graves of Great-Aunt Jessie and her parents, my Scottish great-grandparents, inside/under a ruined church in the middle of the Aberfoyle cemetery near Stirling. Correction, they were found by the intrepid Dan Smith, who climbed over the barbed wire and bashed the bushes to get inside to look.

35. Seen an Amish community.

36. Taught yourself a new language.

I wonder whether high school French and German count. There's also a certain amount of Italian more or less by osmosis.

37.Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
Does the expression 'begging the question' mean anything to you? I have experienced true satisfaction on a number of occasions associated with various activities, but none of them had anything to do with money.

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.

39. Gone rock climbing.

40. Seen Michelangelo's David in person.

41. Sung Karaoke.
Given how much I know I'd enjoy this particular flavour of cheese, I can't quite believe I never have. But we live in hope.

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.

43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.

44. Visited Africa.

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.

46. Been transported in an ambulance.

47. Had your portrait painted.
Well, drawn.

48. Gone deep sea fishing.

49. Seen the Sistene chapel in person.
It's 'Sistine'. No.

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
No, and no desire to, but I could see it from the window of my hotel.

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkelling.

52. Kissed in the rain.

53. Played in the mud.

54. Gone to a drive-in theatre.

55. Been in a movie.
No, but my long-ex-husband has. That probably doesn't count, does it.

56. Visited the Great Wall of China.

57. Started a business.
Sort of.

58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia.

60. Served at a soup kitchen.

61. Sold Girl Scout cookies.

62. Gone whale watching.
I assume we're allowed to count this one even if we didn't actually see any. I have particularly vivid memories of Stephanie on the beach at Middleton, chanting invocations to the whales to show themselves. 'Oh, vast beast ...'

63. Gotten flowers for no reason.
From my female friends. Somehow I just never clicked with the sorts of men who spontaneously give flowers. It's like that American academic who used to give conference papers dressed in a skirt made from the ties of her lovers. If that'd been me, I would have been at the mic in my knickers. Very few of the men in my past have even owned a tie.

64. Donated blood.
On and off for nearly 40 30 years [let's not pretend we're even older than we are, eh, typing fingers?]; who knows how many megalitres of vintage O Pos have flowed into those little plastic packs over the years? In abeyance at the moment though, not so much because of the actual process as the four pages of questionnaire you have to fill in every time you go, and the dim and snarky cows behind the desk.

65. Gone sky diving.

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.
Uh, no thanks; pain and fear stay in the earth where they were generated and then rise like a miasma to engulf and choke you. I almost passed out on the site of the boarded-up well in my home town where a little kid fell to his death in 1937.

Besides, I've been to the Holocaust exhibition that was on at the Jewish Museum in Vienna in May 1999 and that will never leave me. Nor will the sight of the smoke-smeared walls of the synagogue torched in a medieval pogrom, discovered by accident when they were digging up the middle of the Judenplatz for the foundations of Rachel Whiteread's memorial.

67. Bounced a cheque.
No, but only because the bank honoured it and then fined me.

68. Flown in a helicopter.
But I would need enough warning to buy a packet of Kwells and take half of them first.

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
Toy, no. Book, yes.

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.

71. Eaten Caviar.
Oh yes.

72. Pieced a quilt.
I started it in 1980 and still haven't finished it, but yes. All by hand, too.

73. Stood in Times Square.
But New York is below Louisiana, Nashville, Boston, Montreal and the Tex-Mex border on my list of must-visit North American places.

74. Toured the Everglades.
See #73.

75. Been fired from a job.
Don't ask.

76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.
No, but I've spent a number of happy hours in the Liberty shop. There's also lots of other London stuff I have yet to see.

77. Broken a bone.

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
Been on, and come off.

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.

80. Published a book.
Six if you count the anthologies, only two if you don't.

81. Visited the Vatican.

82. Bought a brand new car.
Two. Trust no-one.

83. Walked in Jerusalem.

84. Had your picture in the newspaper.

85. Read the entire Bible.

86. Visited the White House.

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.

88. Had chickenpox.

89. Saved someone’s life.

90. Sat on a jury.

91. Met someone famous.
A number of famous literary types. But no movie stars or anything. I was also very rude to John Cain once about a speech I'd just heard him give, but I'm not sure that counts as 'met'. (Or 'famous'.)

92. Joined a book club.

93. Lost a loved one.

94. Had a baby.

95. Seen the Alamo in person.

96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.

97. Been involved in a law suit.
I may be stretching a point here, calling an uncontested divorce a law suit.

98. Owned a cell phone.

99. Been stung by a bee.

If you're doing this meme it's interesting to read back over it when you're finished and see what you've italicised. I see nearly all of mine relate to travel. A chance would be a fine, fine thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You can put a ring around it

Since moving back to Adelaide (eleven years ago tomorrow) and setting up house and business for myself, I've learned to tell what week it is from looking at the garden. The first baby blackbirds, the first blue-tongue sighting, the first freesia, the first red leaf on the vine.

But I can also tell what week it is from other equally specific and predictable signs. If the tax is fretted about but not done, the cards are bought but not written and sent, the Christmas tree and deccies are checked out but not yet hauled out of the cupboard in the shed and put up, the house is in chaos and all of the deadlines are howling for attention and my sister is on the phone issuing orders about presents and food, it must be the week before the week before Christmas. 'Twas the week before the week before Christmas, and all through the house there were cat-hair tumbleweeds and piles of books and old newspapers and magazines and miscellaneous yet crucial scraps of paper and Pav wanted to down tools and drive into the desert.


Thoughts on this week's reading

Some Creative Writing tips:

1) If you have one excellent plot, the fate of Central European Jews in the late 1930s, don't muddle it up with another plot that sort of is and sort of isn't part of the same plot. A sub-plot, with separate characters and issues, that picks up and echoes the main plot via allegorical, metaphorical and metonymic techniques, is quite a different thing and usually works just fine.

2) Telling a story in the second person ('And then you did this, Cecilia, and then you said that, and then I told you such-and-such and then we went home') almost never works. It has no narrative logic and therefore undermines the reader's suspended disbelief, because logically the person being addressed already knows these things, so why does he/she need to be told them again?

Another and perhaps more important reason to avoid this technique is that it is quite alienating for the reader. One character addressing another forms a closed circle of communication about which the shut-out and excluded reader will become grumpy.

Quite quickly.

Which is a bad effect to have on a reader, especially when the reader is a reviewer. I could have done the dishes, tidied the living room, vacuumed all the carpets and gone shopping in the time it took me to read this book.

3) If the key events are that Mimi died and Cecilia gave away her baby (not spoilers; we are told these things in the opening pages), then the reader needs to know fairly early on how and why these things happened, in order to care enough about them to keep reading. Particularly if the reader is being asked to plough through hundreds of pages of mournful, portentous, abstract wittering on, interspersed with detailed yet limp descriptions of landscape and weather.

4) It is absolutely unforgivable to force the reader to plough through hundreds of pages of mournful etc, and then still not explain in the end.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Son Daughter of JFK

And as if US politics were not already exciting enough, have a look at what the New York Times has just landed in my email In box.

Caroline Kennedy, eh?


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Life keeps on happening

Overworked. Sleep-deprived. Depressed.*

Normal services will be resumed shortly, I hope.

* Nothing personal, just the daily news

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Obama controversy

And in breaking news just in from my friend R ...

Obama's Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy
Stunning Break with Last Eight Years

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tic, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it "alienating" to have a President who speaks English as if it were his first language.

"Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement," says Mr. Logsdon. "If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an elitist."

Words seen and heard

To my surprise I made my way through a whopping great list of errands in the city before lunch and am now a whole afternoon ahead of myself, much of which I plan to fritter away blogging. Here are the verbal high points of the morning:

-- Overheard in Adelaide Arcade, as two men deep in conversation passed me: ' ... so my other major problem is only a minor one.'

-- Seen before I had the chance to avert my gaze from the windowful of big fresh heaped rainbow-arrayed snowdrifts of fresh gelati, a sign under one variety of a delicate pale creamy-brown, indicating its flavour: 'Ferrero Rocher'. I drooled all the way back to the car.

-- Heard in the car on Radio National as I crossed the river, on a program about the endangered status of the mallee fowl: 'To all the foxes and feral cats around the place, these guys are just little Mars Bars on legs.'

Monday, December 8, 2008


If you've spent the morning struggling through a competent but depressing and claustrophobic novel by President Nicolas Sarkozy's cultural advisor about the fatal Munich summit of 1938 as fictionalised from Daladier's point of view, it's a nice joyful restoration of perspective to come across this chez Duck.

Gratitude. We has it.

(Although I can't help thinking that the German for Wingdings must surely be die Wingen-Dingen.)

Surprised much?

Michelle Grattan reports in this morning's online Age that the Prime Minister yesterday addressed a community meeting in Geelong.

People were grateful their voices were being heard; several speakers thanked Mr Rudd for the meeting.

But not all were satisfied. One woman noted later that of a dozen questioners that Mr Rudd picked out of the raised hands, only two were women.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

1,000th post: LOTR and the Macbeth Retort

Tonight the third and last Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, was on the teeve. I didn't mean to watch it but I just happened to switch on the telly as I was passing and there was David Wenham as the noble Lord Faramir, skewering Orcs left and right, and I was gone for all money. (I recently saw Australia and am now planning a David Wenham Tribute Post.)

If you count this blog as a continuation of Pavlov's Cat, which is all it is really, then this is my 1,000th post: 871 at Pavlov's Cat and 129 here at Still Life With Cat. And I dedicate it to Shakespeare, Tolkien and Peter Jackson.

Because my favourite moment in this movie is the one where the warrior maiden Eowyn, in full battle gear and therefore not recognisable as a woman, faces down the Lord of the Nazgul on the plain before the gates of Minas Tirith. After she's cut off the head of his disgusting pterosaur airborne battle steed thingy and they're face to face on the field of battle, with her in full armour but still lithely dodging his nasty giant mace, he warns her: 'No man can kill me.'

Whereupon Eowyn lifts her visor to reveal the angelic face of Miranda Otto, shakes her blonde locks free, replies fiercely and triumphantly 'I am no man!' and stabs him straight through the face, upon which he crumples up, collapses like a piece of mouldy fruit, and dissolves into air. It's not quite what happens in the book, but the man/woman exchange is pretty much the same.

For those who may not remember the end of Macbeth the Scottish play, the Weird Sisters have shown Macbeth an apparition saying '... none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth.' By the end, desperate and drunk and silly on hubris because of the witches' prophecies, Macbeth faces Macduff, who's mad with grief and rage over the slaughter of his wife and children and hell-bent on revenge, and says 'I bear a charméd life, which must not yield / To one of woman born.' Whereupon Macduff replies, in one of the most chilling lines in all of Shakespeare and that is saying a great deal, 'Despair thy charm: / And let the angel whom thou still hast served [he means Lucifer, I think] / Tell thee Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd.' And swordfights him off the stage, returning shortly with his severed head.

The scene in the movie (and, I'm sure, the book), warning the would-be invincible to beware of language and not to take prophecies literally, is a nice bit of homage. And I was very happy to see it again.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Zoos R Us

Not sure what made me notice this, but for a small house this one has an awful lot of animals in it. Never mind the pictures, we'd be here for weeks, and I've found the occasional gecko, the odd bee and (ew) the intermittent rodent; but here is the total of animal toys, dolls and figurines made of stone, china, terracotta, metal, plastic, cloth or wood:

bears (2)
cats (6, or 8 if you count the real ones)
ducks (2)
snakes (3)

Sharp-eyed readers might have picked out the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac there: that's a set of little 'opium weights' in the shape of each critter, made of bronze, that I bought in Bangkok. One of those is a snake; the other two snakes are a tiny coiled rose quartz one, and a metre-long articulated one made of wooden discs, a bit like a slinky, brightly painted, that lives on the top shelf of the cookbook bookcase, sneaking up on the two smallest wooden cats. The gecko, made of birdseed-filled cloth and therefore very sinuous, is charmingly sewn in witty detail, a bright poison-acid green with a red mouth and sequins. The little seal is carved out of malachite, four of the birds are terracotta figurines from San Gimignano, and the leopard is a fancy-dress mask.


We has it.

Found via Hoyden About Town.

This is just wrong in too many ways to count, but here are four to be going on with:

1) False advertising. A woman the size and shape of the one in the photo doesn't 'need' to wear this or any other torture garment. I am of an age to have spent the first year of my adolescence being forced to wear 'foundation garments' (then suddenly they invented pantyhose -- stockings had hitherto been kept up by girdles, and if you were over fourteen and left your legs bare you were a slut -- and the world changed overnight) so I know whereof I speak.

2) Allegedly to minimise 'figure faults' and maximise 'assets', this garment has a (porno)graphic subtext, not particularly sub, that fetishises the arse in a way that makes crotchless 'panties' look innocent, normal and sweet. I have my own ideas about where this growing arse/anal fetish is going. Between it and the various charming customs around the place -- mass abortion of female foetuses in countries where of course everybody wants a boy; large-scale rape of babies and toddlers in the belief that it will cure AIDS -- the global overpopulation problem is already well on the way to being sorted.

3) This 'body shaper' underwear craze is bringing back the quaint locutions of the 1950s, isn't that sweet? Do a quick prac crit / close reading / fisk of these corset manufacturers' advertising some time. 'Body shapers' = 'Your own uncorseted body has no shape, ew, men won't like it [*makes child-frightening bogeyman noises*], so put that self-esteem in the garbage right now and spend money instead.'

4) OK Girls, Break Through the Surface of the Primeval Slime or Die Trying department: this garment is a patriarchal instrument of torture. Do. Not. Wear. It. Or anything like it. Ever.

Those who don't understand (or don't want to understand) that 'patriarchal' can apply in a situation like this where women appear to be willingly doing these things to themselves are being literal-minded essentialists who don't understand what a patriarchal society is or how it works, and no correspondence will be entered into on this subject because I spent 17 years explaining it to fresh crops of newbie students every year and that is enough for a lifetime. In a nutshell: when you say 'Yes but women want to do this to themselves' I will reply 'Yes indeed, many of them do. Why is that, do you think?'

I know there are men out there who deliberately Google 'patriarchy' so they can turn up at strange blogs for the first time and argue the toss, and any such (instantly recognisable) comment will be binned. Go here if you genuinely want to understand this concept better than you do.

And today I expect to hear of a marriage

Last night the final email check before bed turned up two messages from friends, sent less than an hour apart.

One was a sad message from A. in Austria to say that his (very elderly) mother had died. The other was from P. at home in Adders to say that his first grandchild had been safely delivered into the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

L'esprit de l'escalier

So the phone conversation had been impassioned and lively like it usually was, ranging widely across the far fields of subject matter exotic and domestic alike -- work, travel, family, work, literary gossip, his wife, work, her bloke, work, literary gossip, work -- and then he said, straight out of left field and in a slightly wounded tone she could not account for, 'I do think about you quite often, you know.'

After she had recovered the power of speech, which took a moment, she said, perhaps more tartly than she intended, 'Where did that come from?'

This made him slightly snarky, which for all of the [insert number of decades here] she'd known him had been a fatally easy thing to do. Actually, accidentally provoking a murderous rage had always been a fatally easy thing to do. She said soothing and diversionary things and the moment passed.

But as she stood at the kitchen sink next morning, washing dishes while the coffee made itself, it came to her that what she should have said then, in the interests of truth, was 'Listen, sweetheart: considering that my first impulse was to jump in the car, drive the [insert number of kilometres here] to your place, smash the door down and rip the living heart right out of your chest with my non-existent fingernails, you are actually getting off quite lightly.'

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Everybody needs good neighbours, especially me

For the last week or so, the bloke across the road has been using some kind of power saw on what looks from the pile on the nature strip like the entire original floorboards of a small suburb.

Over the weekend the bloke on one side of me, into whose horticultural adventures I have never inquired too closely, had clearly had delivered the second large load in three weeks of whatever fertiliser it is that he seasonally has large loads of delivered. The farmer's daughter in me could swear that it is pig manure, than which there are few more disgusting smells on the planet. Also, there's been a breeze down our way lately.

And yesterday what I thought must be an earthquake -- something that made the sofa suddenly acquire a built-in massage capacity, caused the ceiling to shift alarmingly and repeatedly, and set up a deafening rattle and hum in all the windows and all the plates and dishes on the shelves -- turned out to be the boys down over the back fence on the huge block -- about six or eight normal suburban blocks' worth -- that is currently being levelled and earth-rammed to provide foundations for a pile of medium-to-high-density housing to be built to the glory of the bank account of a notorious Adelaide developer, bashing the dirt down with their big yellow toys.

This house is 100 years old and, in the way of such houses, quaintly home-made from the original two rooms backwards. Like every house in Adelaide since the drought began, it has a number of cracks, and it contains evidence here and there of ancient termite damage. I expect it to collapse around my ears at any moment, and hope to survive to collect the insurance and build something with solar panels, rainwater tanks, a large state-of-the-art en suite bathroom, double glazing and a cat run.

An early LOLcat

This is for Laura.

It's dated 1905 and as is pointed out over at I Can Has Cheezburger? (see link list in sidebar) where I found it, 'What's delaying my dinner?' is just 1905speak for 'I can has cheezburger?'

Monday, December 1, 2008

You never know where you'll stumble across some homespun

Call me unimaginative but I would not have predicted that a 'novel' by 'Belle de Jour', author of The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl and The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl, would prove to be so densely stuffed with pithy and useful observations about Life.

This one, for example: 'Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.' Now what you have right there is a recipe for a happier life. As mantras go, combine it with 'This is not about me' and you'll never find yourself reaching for medicinal brandy or indeed any other spirit or combination thereof (another beauty from Belle*: 'I'm so bored of** cocktails. Made for people who don't like the taste of alcohol: in a word, children') for therapeutic purposes again.

I particularly liked this one because I myself have been intermittently stomping round the house shouting 'S/he's got to be either malicious or stupid, it has to be the one or the other, there's no other explanation' for several decades now. Despite the facts that (a) I am old enough to be her mother and (b) she enthuses about a number of sexual practices that I find icky or, worse, pointless (why would you want to ... Oh never mind), I think Belle and I would get on.

* See what I did there?

** Can anyone pinpoint the year people started saying 'bored of' instead of 'bored with' or 'bored by'? Was it around 2000? Some kind of millennial prepositional transformational thingy? Unusually it appears not to be nation-specific but rather to have sprung up spontaneously and simultaneously right across the English-speaking world.