Friday, July 24, 2009


Assistance is sought from the gentle reader (and all the others, whoever you may be) on a project I dreamed up twenty minutes ago that has already become a full-length book in my head.

I would love it if people would leave in the comments box an account of their earliest memory of reading. Not of being read to, but of reading themselves: of seeing the letters on the page (or whatever; in my case it was a shoebox) and recognising sounds or words. Do you remember the moment that you realised you could read?

Post anonymously, or not, or whatever you prefer. If you'd like to be identified and given attribution (see how confident I am, in the first flush of inspiration, that this will become a book in the fullness of time?), you can email me, including your own email address for verification, at pavlovdotcatatgmaildotcom.

My own earliest memory of reading is of standing in my parents' bedroom with my back braced against their high bed, in my raspberry-coloured velvet dress with the ecru lace collar, so we must have been going out somewhere very flash indeed, possibly the Minlaton Show, while my mother did up my shoes. The wardrobe door was open and the shoeboxes were stacked up high in there on a shelf. 'MIMI', one of them said on the side.

'Mmmeeemmmeee', I said.

'What?' said my mum. 'What did you say? What is it?' But I couldn't explain it. MIMI. It wasn't a word. It was the same thing twice. It had nothing to do with shoes. It was a mystifying, symmetrical, seductive set of signs that meant sounds. My mum often read to us -- but out of books, not off the sides of shoeboxes in wardrobes. I had no idea that "reading" was the name of what I was doing.

What's yours?

Unfortunately, Alexander McCall Smith is already married

From Corduroy Mansions:

7. Proustian-Jungian Soup

Caroline thought: It's odd, sitting here, letting one's mind wander, and who should come into it but Tim Something, of all people. Strange.

She had not seen him for two years; her photograph had appeared in Rural Living during her last year at Oxford Brookes and then there had been a gap year in New Zealand looking after the children of a family who lived in Auckland (whose fifteen-year-old son had made a pass at her; fifteen!) Now here she was doing her Master's in Fine Art, sitting in a lecture on seventeenth-century Dutch painting, and a photographer whom she barely knew -- and rather disliked -- suddenly came into her mind. It was odd, but that was how the human mind was: a Proustian-Jungian soup of memories and associations.

Proustian-Jungian; she rather liked the term, and might use it in one of her essays.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Still alive ...

... but only just. For all of this week and half of next week, I attend all-day meetings by day, do the reading and note-taking for said meetings in the early evening, and attend to my real job and one of my side income projects (now badly overdue) after dinner, which is currently a can of soup and a piece of toast.

Today, a day 'off', I'm sitting at home in my dressing gown catching up on some of this stuff before I go on an urgent supermarket run. Once this mad fortnight (which culminates in a trip to Sydney for the various functions associated with this book) is finished, the weekend after next, I will report back on the vice-regal do and then write a post I've been planning ever since veteran gold-class blog commenter Nabs linked to a stunning Youtube in the comments a few posts ago and Helen of the Cast Iron Balcony picked it up and posted it -- you can watch it here -- about pianos.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday: To Do

  • Get up after less than 5 hours' sleep, knowing you will not go back to sleep and wondering why you have suddenly become insomniac: tick
  • Finish current work novel (including over breakfast): tick
  • Travel right across town to spend two minutes getting my fringe cut so I don't have to peer at the Governor-General through it in two weeks' time (nearly every weekday between now and then being taken up with 9-5 meetings) at the Admiralty House launch of this book, of which I am a contributing editor: tick
  • Buy sheer anklets for trying on girlie shoes: tick
  • Buy girlie shoes (see Admiralty House): FAIL
  • Visit Papa Cat and be shouted at about the River Murray and the Rann Government for an hour and a half (Papa Cat is back in finer form than ever after his recent health whoopsie): tick
  • Plan bulb planting (oops, typed 'blub planting'. That too): tick
  • Plant bulbs: tick
  • Sear lamb shanks, add onion, garlic, tomato and red wine, put in oven: tick
  • Wash jumpers: tick
  • Solve mystery of Amex card activation: tick
  • Activate Amex card: tick


  • Start next work novel
  • Read 100 pages of PhD thesis to be examined, take notes
  • Scan four book covers and attach them to emails
  • Unpack, check, sort, label and put away four postbags of new books (approx 20-30)
  • See if the one designer label (Peri Cutten) garment I own looks all right with the only dress I own that might conform to the vice-regal dress code. (It's an elegant black velvet jacket/coat thingy whose main claim to fame is that I once wore it to a dinner party where the partner of a very distinguished novelist was wearing the exact same garment except about four sizes smaller. We congratulated each other on our good taste, the only possible course of action in this situation.)
  • Find the brooch made of black and pink pearls -- homage to Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson -- and loops of silvery gauze ribbon that will liven up the Peri Cutten a little, and the matching earrings
  • Try yet again to find said dress code online and check if black is acceptable (it might not be; they seem quite strict. For instance, apparently you can't carry a handbag with a shoulder strap; it's a clutch or nothing. The expression 'clutch shudder' took on a whole new meaning this afternoon when I looked at how much some of them cost)
  • Write and send cheque (charity)
  • Write and send invoice (work pay)
  • Write and sent email about aircon servicing (aircon servicing)

And finally, and most importantly, fit all of this around the season finale of Grey's Anatomy. Priorities, people.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Magic Realism

In today's Crikey newsletter, Peter Craven reports on the new Harry Potter movie:

... it’s so episodic that it actually has the material for a huge mini-series where the snogging and quidditch alternate with the armies marching by night, the deatheaters speeding like a vision of hell through Britain’s low sky.
A huge mini-series where snogging and quidditch alternate with the armies marching by night, eh? Fantasy schmantasy, sounds like real life to me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Perspective, restoration of

I spent an hour today with a dear friend drinking sparkling wine and bemoaning the state of our peer group -- almost all of whom including both of us seem to be in some sort of trouble or state of crisis -- and whingeing and moaning about the next few weeks, which one way and another are going to be difficult and demanding. When I got home I decided to tackle a couple of long-neglected tasks before settling down to the current work novel, and started with the very cobwebby outside of the front door hinge side.

Brush jab sweep tug, I went, thinking gee this is a strong web and look at those off-white bobbly things, I know they don't bode well: little arachnid labour wards. As I stood imagining the horror of lots of little spiders bursting out of them, a movement caught my eye: a very large redback, its scarlet stripe blazing, charging up the broom handle towards my right hand.

I would have taken a photo, but let's just say there wasn't time. And a shot of sludgy redback puree on the front verandah really doesn't convey the drama of the moment.

But there will be no more whingeing before lights out, and possibly not for the rest of the week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Clearing the decks

Last time I whinged in this my OWN PERSONAL ONLINE SPACE about feeling crushed by the workload, some drive-by psycho, a species of which I seem to get more than my fair share, unless it's just the same one all the time, in which case s/he will no doubt show up again here for another round of ticking off a total stranger for what she writes in her OWN PERSONAL ONLINE SPACE, and if s/he does, the comment will be binned, and God if there's one thing I do love it's a subordinate clause, turned up in the comments box and snottily pointed out with a disturbing amount of hostility considering that it's a total stranger, or perhaps it isn't, which would be worse, and isn't it interesting that these people are always anonymous, which I think is pathetic, that I'd get more work done if I didn't spend so much time blogging about how much work I have to do.

Now while this is doubtless true, it shows a deep ignorance of the writing process and its many stages, most of which are not visible to the naked eye. I was reminded of this by a wonderful post from ThirdCat, currently in Spain and on her way to Scotland where she will perform in her own one-woman standup show at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is one of the things the post is about. She considers blogging the whole process in a series called the Road to Edinburgh and then remarks
a ‘Road to Edinburgh’ series threatens to be a bit like a term-long school project at the end of which the teacher might write, ‘Tracy might have done better had she spent more time doing her project and less time talking about it.’

Now as you can see, this teacher and my drive-by psycho (who I sometimes think is no more than a projection of my own superego, which is the bit that stands over you like a sergeant-major telling you to be good and obey the rules, as opposed to the id, which is the bit that keeps getting Barry Hall and Sam Newman into trouble) have a great deal in common. But I think they are both wrong and here's for why.

The writing process, as any writer will tell you, and not just creative writing but any writing, is a series of complex manoeuvres, all of which but the final writing-it-down are invisible to the naked eye. You have to do a great deal of mooching and faffing and dreaming and meditating and wandering off down blind alleys. You have to, as it were, draw sketches and rub them out and draw more sketches. I've said before in other places that I think blogging is like dreaming and one of these days (when I don't have so much work to do, and am therefore living on nettle soup) I'm going to actually read up on dreaming and write something substantial about writing and blogging and dreaming.

But for the moment I have cleared my head to get back to work (being here at the computer at 7 am on a Saturday morning because I woke up worrying about the workload and couldn't get back to sleep) by the simple expedient of whining about it first, and somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, two book reviews have been forming themselves into sentences and paragraphs.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A post in homage to the full moon

Monday, July 6, 2009

Southern Gothic

The combined effect of a mention of Bobbie Gentry on the current Lazy Sunday thread at Larvatus Prodeo plus the amazing clip of the equally amazing Barry McGuire singing 'Eve of Destruction' at James Bradley's City of Tongues, with James' comment that 'the great ones never date', produced a kind of chemical reaction that sent me hightailing it to Google to find this:

This was one of the first songs I ever learned to play on my brand-new guitar (which I still have, stained with the blood of my fingers) and sing. I've got a particularly vivid memory of a houseboat holiday when I was sixteen, singing this song as part of the after-dinner family self-entertainment in an exaggerated Southern accent while my parents and sisters threw in a lot of Yee-ha and Lord have mercy in a kind of call-and-response approach, but my dad, half-cut and feeling no pain, and if I was sixteen he must still only have been, what, 42, got a bit more creative and started throwing in responses that acted as a kind of subtext to what is already an extremely veiled and secretive song, its drama residing in its silences. So our version, sung forty years ago in the middle of nowhere on a boat tied up to a willow on the bank a river that now belongs to history and myth, was full of things like this:

That nice young preacher Brother Taylor dropped by today
(Ah hates them preacher men)
Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh and by the way
(Here we go, this ain't good)
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
(Ah tole you never go up there)
And she and Billy Joe was throwin' somethin' off the Tallahatchee Bridge
(You in biiiig trouble)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The test of a LOLcat is whether it cracks you up the second time


Irritants: a series less occasional than I would like

*Clears throat, rings town crier bell, unrolls parchment*

'Disinterested' does not mean 'uninterested'.

'On Ermintrude's behalf' does not mean 'on Ermintrude's part'.

'Cohort' does not mean 'mate'.

Irritating as these and their constant and egregious misuse may be, they pale into insignificance beside the moment when a young person employed by the Channel 7 News referred to 'Michael Jackson and his panache for plastic surgery.' It took me several minutes to work out that the word this 'journalist' should have been groping for was penchant and that's not really right either.

*Rolls up parchment, retires to Ladies' Lounge for a medicinal brandy*

I always did like John Alexander

"We don't need dreary old feminism any more, it's all irrelevant [sic], we're equal now, we're empowered."


UPDATE: Mindy's comment has alerted me to the fact that this is a very ambiguous post. The above quotation is attributed not to John Alexander but rather to assorted young women I've heard expressing that opinion in recent years. The hollow laughter is my response, and the link explains why. John Alexander actually comes out of it looking really good.