Friday, December 31, 2010


1: Two of the nicest people I ever met live in a place called Gargunnock in Scotland. I'd lost touch with them, and a few weeks ago was idly googling Gargunnock plus their names as the quickest way of finding them. The first thing that came up was a notice to a walking-tour group that for one of their walks through the area, my friends had offered their house as a place to stop for a loo break and a cup of tea. That offer was what made me absolutely sure it was them.  Then, a few weeks later, up turned a beautiful little Christmas card from them. I remember them telling me that in Scotland, New Year -- Hogmanay -- tends to be a bigger deal than Christmas so one of my New Year's resolutions is to write them a New Year's letter.

2: Five minutes' drive away from my house there is a lovely beach. I resolve to go and swim there in the early morning at least three times a week, as a way of waking up and getting everything moving, before I sit down at the keyboard to

3: finish writing this book about Adelaide. Which I am enjoying very much, but which -- as a New Zealander recently said about living in Adelaide itself -- is like trying to swim through treacle. And speaking of sweet things,

4: I am going to christen, at last, possibly today, the ice-cream maker, and make Fresh Cherry and Toasted Almond Ice Cream to go with the experimental (for me, I mean) Burnt Brown Sugar Ice Cream I also plan to make, from a recipe I like the look of very much but have never actually made, though perhaps bypassing the praline as it is much too hot to be faffing around with toffee, before I then

5: go on a diet of fresh fruit, raw vegetables, mineral water and peppermint tea for the rest of my life. Or at least until January 25, 2012 (this January being out of the question, because of #3), by which date I plan to have

6: finally got my act together and organised a Burns Supper, with compulsory singing and poetry recitation from all parties. Haggis optional; the haggis cowards can fill up on neeps and tatties and Tipsy Laird.

Happy New Year to all, and everyone stay safe tonight.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Two apologies:

(a) Comment moderation has been turned on, I hope temporarily.

(b) A couple of regular readers here will have noticed that comments left some time back have never appeared. This is because Blogger developed a Spaminator that they never told their users about. I have liberated a couple of perfectly good comments from same.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have a good one

9.40 pm and the presents are wrapped and the cards written on. The prawns have been cleaned and so has the toilet. The tablecloth has been ironed and so has tomorrow's outfit. The trifle has been made and so have the mayonnaise and the seafood sauce, the gazpacho and the salsa.

But why, oh why, did I not do the wretched vacuuming about eight hours ago, before my feet started to hurt?

Never mind. A little Christmas blogging before the last big housework push.

Cats and music, what's not to like? Many, many merries to all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shame all round, boys

Now I know that with the Great Big Non-Story of Nick Riewoldt's Willy (and of course that's what this is really all about: is it that he thinks it isn't big enough, or is he embarrassed about being caught in a pose that might shout 'wanker'?) we are back in the land of what my Facebook Friend Lord Sedgwick calls the Single Digit IQ Nuff Nuff, original ref to Brendan Fevola and Lara Bingle.

But does that time-honoured 'quality' newspaper The Age, which I'm old enough to remember as a once mighty power in the land, really need to get in on the act as well? Note to Paul Millar and Jared Lynch: It's 'stream of consciousness', boys. Not 'stream-of-conscience'.

(NB: also, Elizabeth Jolley has already made this joke. But she was doing it on purpose.)

Actually, I don't see any sign of any conscience anywhere in this whole story. Not even a trickle. Just infantile narcissism and total abnegation of responsibility for one's own behaviour as far as the eye can see. That and the tip of the iceberg that is the pig-dog ugly subculture of the AFL-and-women.

But I hope that young woman is enjoying her ten minutes of fame, because the AFL is going to swing all of its power and money into action and crush her like a bug. And more vain and misguided young women will swan in to fill the tiny gap she leaves in the AFL's neverending supply of stupid girls, and nothing will change. A plague on both your houses.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Music and memory

Fans of Jimmy Webb might remember his 1970 album Words and Music (so vividly recalled by the magnificent Ten Easy Pieces 26 years later) on which as well as his own songs, including the wonderful 'P.F. Sloan' which he later disowned after a spat with Sloan himself, he included a track on which he'd overlaid three different songs of the era in such a way -- because they had identical time signatures, similar tempi and similar chord progressions -- as to make it sound like one song with a great deal of interesting counterpoint in it. Let it Be Me, an adaptation of the French 'J'appartiens' from 1955 and best known in the Everly Brothers version, the Addrisi brothers' Never My Love, recorded by The Association in 1967, and Boyce & Hart's I Wanna Be Free, which they wrote for the Monkees (a group for which a very young Stephen Stills auditioned and was rejected for not being good-looking enough, PFFFT)

were all blended by Webb's arrangement into one fairly extraordinary track called 'Three Songs' which is not, I'm glad to say in this instance, sung by Webb himself, whose voice is an acquired taste. I'd post a video or sound file if I could find a postable or linkable one, but I can't; you'll just have to imagine it.

Jimmy Webb being the clever clogs that he is not just with music but also with words, even at the age of 24 when this album was released, the counterpoint extends if only metaphorically to the lyrics, which weave ironically around each other in their varying preoccupations with love ties and freedom.

So anyway, there I was a week or two ago, mucking around with iTunes as you do, and came up with this lovely Christmas song from the Indigo Girls. (Ignore the visuals.)

One of the reasons I liked this song so much was that it sounded very familiar. This familiarity nagged at me. And then last night as I was bringing in the washing before dark, wooden clothespeg in one hand and knickers in the other, it hit me with the proverbial blinding flash:

I think you could get an astonishing effect if you gave these two songs the Jimmy Webb treatment and glued them together. Not least because of the way the refrains both open up into an affirmation of possibility: of surviving some terrible loss.

Oh, that does it

When a friend asked me last week how I felt about the whole Julian Assange thing, the best I could come up with was 'conflicted'. Wikileaks good, treating women like sh*t bad. Worse, everything I'd seen or read suggested to me that a reckless disregard for consequences seemed to be one of the things that his political activism and his sexual behaviour had in common.

I spent an hour yesterday in the Rare Books room of the Adelaide University library (stay with me, this is germane) reading the journals of one of South Australia's unsung heroes, Robert Gouger. Gouger died at 44, after suffering what his contemporaries call 'a mental malady' for some years, with steady deterioration of his faculties. If, as they argue, it was a total mental breakdown brought on by the stresses of his life, then goodness knows the stresses of his life were more than enough to do it.

But as anyone who's read The Fortunes of Richard Mahony knows, when men in the 19th century went mad and then died, there was always a chance that the reason was undiagnosed, untreated tertiary syphilis, contracted years earlier. And when it comes to tertiary syphilis, going mad is one of the less unpleasant symptoms.

So if a man has unprotected sex with (at least) two different people inside a week, it seems to me reasonable to be concerned that he might be spreading something icky. When he dismisses that concern as just a couple of silly women 'getting into a tizzy' and then being stupid enough to be 'bamboozled' by police, it severely undermines whatever confidence I might previously have had in his judgment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A meme with a difference

Even if it were a meme without a difference, I haven't seen or done one of these for ages and right at this very moment am grateful for the displacement activity. So:

'Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't'

1. Sat next to Hilary Mantel and opposite Dorothy Dunnett at dinner.

2. Rolled and wrecked a brand-new car and came within micro-metres of breaking my neck.

3. Lost my wallet at Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence and then didn't realise at first that someone had picked it up and handed it in because the announcement on the PA was of course in Italian and the pronunciation rendered my name unrecognisable, though much improved.

4. Collected eggs laid by semi-feral chooks in and under stacks of hay bales, leaky sheds full of shed stuff, old farm machinery and new farm machinery in 40+ degree heat.

5. Negotiated the tram-infested Royal Parade / Flemington Road / Elizabeth Street roundabout at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon in the middle of a thunderstorm, including lightning and downpour, with Elizabeth Jolley in the passenger seat.

6. Fell off a cantering horse onto some rocks. It hurt.

7. Sang in opera.

8. Got a divorce and an Honours degree in the same week.

9. Found the long-lost grave of my great-grandparents and great-aunt Jessie inside a ruined church in Aberfoyle, Scotland, though strictly speaking it was the intrepid Dan Smith who found it, not me.

10. Gave a talk about Australia to a classroom full of terrifyingly sophisticated multilingual Austrian 15-year-olds.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

He just keeps on living his life

Eighteen years ago, when my parents were mere spring chickens of 65, the most recent in a long line of family moggies padded off to the big litter tray in the sky, and they swore off cats, they said, for good. 'No, no,' my father said when it was suggested they might get another. 'We're too old to start another cat.'

Shortly thereafter my sisters trundled back to my folks' place from the RSPCA with a large and rather scared grey tabby who'd been brought in by a man whose father had died and left his cat, then age 2, to be dealt with. 'Ah,' said my friend D when informed of this new development. 'An adult cat. With habits. And eccentricities.'

Tiger saw my mother through her last six years, and my dad through three bedridden months after he fell off the roof, then widowerhood, then remarriage and finally divorce before he and one of my sisters finally took her off on that last sad trip to the vet a couple of months ago.

I went to visit him today. 'Come and see the Christmas present I bought myself,' he said, and opened the door to his bedroom. A small, lithe kitty, cafe au lait, chocolate and white with bright blue eyes, leapt up off the bed and came to meet us, twining and purring.

Cecil is a rescue cat, who'd been brought in as a stray and had had a hard time before that, brought back to health and condition by the dedicated people at the Animal Welfare League. He's a snowshoe cat. Cecil is seven. My dad will be 84 in February.

Christmas Island

Cast your mind back six years to Boxing Day 2004, when a tsunami caused 230,000 deaths in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and ten other countries. The then Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, was on holidays, and the tsunami was the turning point in his leadership: first he made no response, and then made a belated, surly, graceless, defensive response when asked by journalists whether he had anything to say. Latham's leadership was already on the nose, and he was ill, but his attitude and behaviour in the wake of the tsunami was the last nail in the coffin of his leadership. He resigned just over three weeks later.

All of which makes me hope that the Prime Minister, then a good friend of Latham's, remembers that too, and saw the warning in it and remembers that as well, and that therefore as we speak she is on a plane, hot-footing it back from her own holidays to front up and do and say whatever she can about today's tragic loss of life off Christmas Island. It's a tragedy on a far smaller scale, but the right-wingers are already wielding the fuzzy logic for which they are notorious, clearly unable to get their heads round the fact that the reason asylum seekers are crossing dangerous seas in dangerous boats is because staying at home is even more dangerous, and unless Gillard hits the ground running on this one, she will be actively helping out the likes of Blair and Bolt in their efforts to make her look very, very bad.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Which just goes to prove that a year is a very, very long time in politics

As is my wont round this time of year, I've been looking back at the bloggy ghosts of Christmases Past, thinking back to what was happening last year and the year before that and so on. Imagine my surprise when I checked the entry for a year ago today, when Kevin Rudd was still doing well as Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull (Who? I hear you cry) wasn't doing very well at all as Leader of the Opposition, and found this.

Sometimes I think I don't give my fortune-telling skillz enough free rein.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bright lights, bad kitty

In the first of what will no doubt be several Yule-themed posts, we bring you the latest, and seasonal, tale of Simon's Cat, here.

The genius of animator and cartoonist Simon Tofield lies mainly in the way he captures with one or two lines the essences of cat behaviour. The pre-pounce flat-eared crouch. The delicacy of the batting paw. The quick recovery from clumsy or ungainly manoeuvres, involving a combination of body language and facial expression that says 'I totally meant to do that deliberately intentionally on purpose.' The flipping-up of the erect tail when happy and communicative, often to expose what one American cat-behaviour guide calls the butt hello, and what my friend L calls the furry little date in the face.

If you are stuck for a Christmas gift, Australian publishing superstars Text are the people who publish the Simon's Cat books in Australia.*

* This free plug for Text Publishing is given for no other reason than that they are awesome. I have books coming out the wazoo and am in no need of more; au contraire. Besides, I think I would lose interest in the blog the minute it became any kind of transaction. Pity.


Assange and the sexual assault charges: essential reading. Hat-tip to my Facebook (and real-life) friend Ken Gelder.

Here's the money shot:

... Assange's status as embattled warrior for free speech is taken as giving permission – by those on the left as well as right – to indulge in the basest slut-shaming and misogyny. It's terrifying to witness how swiftly rape orthodoxies reassert themselves: that impugning a man's sexual propriety is a political act, that sexual assault complainants are prone to a level of mendacity others are not (and, in this case, deserving of the same crowd-sourced scrutiny afforded leaked diplomatic cables), that not all forms of non-consensual sex count as "rape-rape".

... It also underlies the assumption that a man's good behaviour in public life somehow neutralises bad behaviour in private ... By this measure, rape allegations against a maverick internet provocateur are diminished in the context of his crusade for truth instead of, albeit unpalatably, being capable of existing alongside it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Assange Case and the Great Feminist Schism of 2010

Guy Rundle sums up my own highly conflicted views on all this today on Crikey:

These moves are evidence of the situation your correspondent suggested in Crikey yesterday -- that the Assange case is proving to be the final process by which the second-wave feminist coalition formed in the late 1960s splits substantially, with feminists with differing attitude to Western state power finding themselves on different sides of the debate.

Indeed, it puts one in the unusual position of saying that commentators such as [Naomi] Wolf are being too anti-complainant in their construction of the charges as nothing other than a couple of bad dates. It's a strange world, and getting stranger.

In my own case it's not so much about 'differing attitudes to Western state power', and I'm not sure that's the main issue with other feminists either. Most feminists know that state power, Western or not, habitually militates against women and are therefore resistant to it on principle.

For me it's more that simple logic prevents one from doing the usual thing and taking warlike tribal sides for the mud-wrestling when there are so many different aspects to this case, so much nuance and so many different things at stake. But what does seem clear, as Rundle implies, is that this case is going to do untold damage to the rights of women with regard to sexual assault, if only by weakening and watering-down the views of those most likely, in other circumstances, to support those rights. Naomi Wolf, for example, in the article to which Rundle is referring, starts out funny and ends up, to me, downright offensive.

But whether or not the all-powerful state is opportunistically using the sexual assault charges against Assange is a completely different question from whether or not Assange's Wikileaks activities are a good thing. Which is again, in its turn, a completely different question from that of what the Australian government should be doing about his situation.

If there's anything good at all about this affair, it's that the thoughtful can use it as a way of sorting out what their own views really are on a number of questions: internet ethics, international diplomacy, sexual assault and state power.

UPDATE: It's occurred to me more than once since this all hit the fan how interesting it is to contemplate the whole Swedish aspect in the light of the Stieg Larssen books. Larssen himself was sufficiently an enemy of the state for there to have been real questions about the manner of his death; his novels reveal a startling view of corruption in high Swedish places; and the original Swedish title of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women. Which is clearly what he, at least, thought the book was about.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pav's Almanac

Ahhh, the signs and portents of a new calendar month. The first swooping magpie of September. The first bluetongue and redback of November. The first red leaf of April, the first woolly-bear caterpillar of June, the first gigantic barfed-up furball of October from a winter-coat-shedding cat.

And today, in the mailbox, the first Christmas card of December.

'Beyond your most terrified, worst imaginings'

If you missed the Magda Szubanski episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (as did I until just then, not currently having a telly), then now is the time to watch it.

But it's not safe for work unless you don't mind blubbering in front of your colleagues.

How many of my generation of Australians owe their existence to grandfathers who somehow managed to survive the Somme, and Ypres, and particularly Passchendaele? Magda and me and my sisters, for a start. Was this some kind of hideous Darwinian bubble in the history of the 20th century? God knows there were plenty of others. Magda seems to be a survivor of several different ones. The WW2 one is worse.

Really, it is a miracle that any of us are still here. And a total disgrace than any Australian should be xenophobic or racist in any way. And considering the price that was paid for them, almost all of us should be making better use of our lives.