Thursday, September 19, 2013

Quick Question

Adore alliteration.  Anyway.

Have finally finished Progress and the Invisible Hand, which was published in 1998.  Interesting discussions around what human progress entails and how changing theories of economics tie into it.  And why we might just be going to hell in a hand basket because of it.

Having not noted the page or particular sentence (paragraph?), one of the many points is how difficult the role of governing a country has become, in what is, essentially, a global economy.  Which leads me to the entirely unoriginal wondering (given that science fiction writers have used the device for decades) if it is time, in these days of global travel, of a global economy, global communication, global environmental stresses - is it time for a global government?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Conceit: something conceived within the mind

One of my favourite conceits is that writing is about the human condition.  Any and all writing.

If it's a mathematical text for university students, it tells what is current accepted knowledge and theory in that particular sphere of study.

If it is tabloid media, what are perceived to be the opiates of the masses (male/female/trans/bi/a - all have their own particular brand)?  And this is the Roman circus for each age and culture.

If it is romance - what are the social mores of the time and place, what makes this an escape from reality?  Is it written as pulp or as literature (cover will generally tell you this!).  What is considered desirable....

If it is fantasy/science fiction (they can be distinct, they can be interwoven), just how far have we come, how much is envisioned, what are the hope and fears for the future from the point of time in which the story was conceived and written?

But it's not just the direct content.  What is written and how is also a reflection of the writer, their times, their influences, their social context.  Sometimes, that can be more interesting than the writing itself.

How it is presented can say much as well.  Books really took off as mass media with the printing press.  Before then, it was a laborious process of copying to vellum.  Wealth and status came with an elaborately illustrated and bound library of a few hundred books.  There was also the original tablet - a wooden cover with wax in one side, ready for ephemeral notes.  Paper - well there's the old rag paper, made of cloth, which lasts incredibly well.  Also when made from fibres like flax or hemp.  And there's wood based paper, which we take for granted and becomes brittle with age.  But still, how it is printed and bound still tells of the time and circumstances in which it was made.  Paper used before WWI is different to the paper used in austerity prints of and after WWII, and different again is the paper from behind the wall that used to divide Germany, while there was still a USSR.

If the edges are rough and uncut, there's a printer, boasting of how carefully he aligns the paper.  If the pages are folded and need to be carefully cut open, that's another print/bind method (edges to the binding) and that poor book languished unread until it reached your hands....  The fonts used, the point when the long s ceased to be used, gilt edging, marbled end papers, illustrated pages that had tissue paper in front of them, bindings that were cloth, leather, paper, board, limp, stiff, elaborately decorated, dustjacketed - all of these things say something about the human condition.

And now - now that books are comparatively cheap, a library of several hundred books is neither here nor there.  Now that e-readers are available, so much can be held on one device that bookcases could be rendered superfluous. Despite the resources needed to make and run such a device, it can work out better ecologically than mass printings.  They certainly make small print runs of academic texts much more affordable (always a consideration for perenially broke students).  That in itself says something about our world, about our condition at this time.

But that doesn't stop a bibliophile like me from continuing to add to my library.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Time Travellers Strictly Cash

Spider Robinson is a brilliant writer who lives in Canada.  Sci-fi/fantasy.  If you've never read his works, try starting with the Callahan series - a pub on Long Island run by an Irishman who is actually an alien time-traveller.  Um - that doesn't even come close to explaining WHY, just pick a few of the stories and enjoy.  Bushmills not required.  High tolerance/appreciation levels for puns is a pre-requisite.

But I digress (as always).  I recently bought his book The Crazy Years - a compilation of columns written about these times.  And one of those columns was about the changes he's seen.  Which reminded me about the story of the time-traveller (a cleric locked away in a South American gaol for far too long and his reaction to the world so different from what he'd last known).  Which struck me as a very interesting topic.

Just quickly - good changes I never thought we'd see:
- end of the Cold War
- breaking down the Berlin Wall
- end of apartheid in South Africa
- emergence of green politics into the mainstream
- apologies to the Stolen Generations, to the First People in Australia and other countries
- nuclear war/destruction no longer hanging over our heads
- emergency of green energies and increasing affordability
- same sex marriage
- Tarkine forest no longer being logged in Tasmania

There are new and different worries instead.
- global weirding/climate change
- species extinction
- corporate greed that escapes geographic boundaries
- pollution
- overpopulation
- excessive consumption/capitalism
- old growth forests still being logged all over the world
- dumbing down of media/population/politics to the lowest common denominator
- crazy pace of life in the First World (particularly for those in employment)
- Monsanto et al.

and from another of his stories - what sort of life are we living, where people want the emptiness of drugs, on a regular basis?  That their lives are unbearable without it.

Is this the world we created, we made it on our own
Is this the world we devasted, right to the bone
If there's a God in the sky looking down
What can he think of what we've done
To the world that He created.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I was going somewhere with this.....

then my brain got side-tracked and totally forgot.  So you're getting poetry instead.  And a photo.

Dangar Gorge

We stand
halfway down the gorge
it is absolute, and we
mere climbing animals.
All about it circles,
engulfing the stream that falls
far into prehistory.
The rock is red and dark:
uncanny ironstone
exposed to weather, and becoming shapes
as light and shadow in a secret well
deeper, and clearer, and more quiet than time.
The creekbed track that brought us here
trespassed on grave New England farms;
bulls grudged us passage to this place
where trees bind the precipice.  It all
could be a great pitcher at which
not gods now, but piping bellbirds
come to drink, to
dwell inside the mountain.

                                    - Michael Dransfield (Streets of the Long Voyage)

Yep, Dangar Falls, just outside Dorrigo.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pissing competitions

I am forced to conclude that is what most of the people do.  They do not take time "to stop and stare", least of all notice that many roses no longer have a smell, having been bred for colour and form at the expense of fragrance.  There is too much competition, too many things to acquire (corporeal or otherwise), other people who must be outdone, put down.

I try to credit politicians with getting into the game because they want to make a difference, they have an ethical stance.  But ye gods, they make it hard.  What I see on the news, in the papers, online, it's just a case of who can piss the highest, the most.  Just like the majority of managers and far too many staff  in the workplace.  Really, what happened to the idea of doing your job to the best of your ability?

I would so like to think that the small things matter.  That kindness matters.  A couple of songs that spring to mind:

Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody's From Little Things, Big Things Grow (about the start of Aboriginal Land Rights)

John Lennon's Imagine

Monday, May 27, 2013


The short version is that my most beloved wolfhound died earlier this month and I have been devastated.  Literally, laid waste, as per a rough translation of the Latin root.  I'm not writing this for sympathetic comments, more an examination of the process, now that almost a month has passed and there is less rawness.

Grief is a strange thing. There are different levels, intensities.  And it can be so hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving, what would be acceptable.  How well do you know them?  Can you cope with NOT being able to make things magically better?  Naked emotion is not, typically, something that my family does well.  Or ever has, judging by the family stories and backgrounds.

We gave Fearghus a wake, of course.  Almost a third of a bottle of Trapper's Hut made that night bearable (rather a nice Tasmanian whisky, should you get the chance to taste it).  Then there was the packing away of collars, grooming tools, food bowl and mat.  And the very empty spaces where he used to be.  A bull terrier wondering where his big brother was and why were his humans so miserable.

Grief changes for each loss, for each person, for each time.  Sometimes it is almost gentle, expected.  Other times it is a rending beast that takes no prisoners, which exhausts with its intensity.  It doesn't necessarily correlate directly with how much love there was.  Or how much warning you had that the loss was coming, time to get ready, gird your loins....

Loss is inevitable in life.  Change and death take our loves away.  Acknowledge the loss, mourn it and do not ever regret the love.  Love is love.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


I've avoided any news media today.  In Australia, it's ANZAC today.  Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  A day that marks the first landings at Gallipoli Cove in Turkey, back in 1915.

Around the country there are games of two-up, drinking, visits to cenotaphs, marches of veterans and ceremonies of remembrance.  And the theme of Lest We Forget.

Problem is, I don't forget and I fiercely resent being told not to.  The war to end all wars harvested men  and fed the soil with blood.  The ghastly muddy trenches, mustard gas.  I've my grandfather's diaries, from 1915 to 1918.  I've read them.  All the boys in his family went to war.  Amazingly, they all came back, albeit damaged.  Few days go by when there isn't a thought, somewhere, of the service rendered during that war and the second.

The discomfort...  Well, there is the resentment about being told not to forget by people who haven't got a clue about the family background.  Or what I already know.  And the antimony between knowing that he did what he believed to be right, yet refused to talk about it, or join the RSL, or march.  A sense of too much solemnity and worship.  This removed, can it be anything except superficial for the majority?

There is a difficulty.  This happened to people in our past.  To our families.  Given that Australia is very much a country of emigrants, families impacted on all sides of those wars are represented here.

Not sure if this is going anywhere at all.  I am uncomfortable generally with days like these.   I do not see how the people who served are remembered as people.  There's an amorphous fuzzy feeling.  Who remembers the work of the Quarter Master, of the horse trainers, of the sappers who dug and built, of the engineers who worked behind the lines or in them.  Of the stretcher bearers and medics who dealt with front line injuries, often at risk of their own lives, of the nurses, doctors, surgeons and wardsmen who worked in the hospitals behind the lines.

Addendum:  I don't know if there's a basic emotion I'm lacking.  I don't get clucky over infants, I entirely lack any interest on sport, and there is a general detachment from  a lot of things.  But there was a news item that showed a British village that commemorates ANZAC Day every year.   A lot of digger survived the war, only to die there in the Spanish flu epidemic.  Over 130 are buried there.  There is an immediacy, a very real sense of connection, and it felt more real to me than most of the ceremonies in Australia.  I wonder if part of this is because we are geographically remote from the theatres of that war?

Look up and see...

(yes, I know I am far too fond of the three little dots...)

I do like buildings.  Amongst a heap of other things, but this post is about buildings.  Specifically, commercial buildings from above your head.  Okay, that may not have made a great deal of sense.

Most people don't look up.  It's everything at eye level and down to the ground.  This is particularly so when it comes to commercial buildings and is really noticeable in country towns.  Shopfronts are constantly being tarted up, but the awning ceilings are normally forgotten, and everything above street level.  Which can mean a rather startling juxtaposition between the two when you look up.

Over the years, I've taken photos of tin ceilings, of shop fronts that show their history or haven't been altered at all (and those are few and far between), and quite a lot of whole buildings, upper storeys, or particular decorations.

The major department store in Canberra's centre, Civic, is David Jones.  It's housed in the Monaro Mall, which was built in 1963 and has since been extended and altered out of recognition.  But the point of all this - the principal entrance for DJ's is the full height of the building, and the ceiling has a rather delicate and lovely tiled mosaic by Frank Hinder. I wonder how many people know it's there?

Somewhat irrationally, I tend to loathe old shopfronts that have been restored and have lost the patina of their history.  I appreciate they have been stabilised, have a new lease of life, but still.

Monday, February 25, 2013

In which I expound my ethos

One of the luxuries of blogging is that I can be self-indulgent and waffle on.  And the topics are many and varied. I have the luxury and extraordinary privilege of a good education, of a secure job, of being born into a first world country and into a family where reading was encouraged, religious beliefs were not enforced and it was not expected that my role in life was to get married and have children. Of having enough money for all my needs and some of my wants.  Being able to have my dogs, my books and a partner who loves me and is learning to live with my quirks (and vice versa, I will add. Much harder for me because I lived with just my animals for so long).

I have access to the interwebs and I travel them avidly.  Partly for information (for work, health, family issues, dogs), partly for amusement and diversion (drawing a distinction between the two) and to feed my recent enchantment with fashion.  Although I've been interested in decoration for a very long time, it's only recently that I've shed the idea that I don't deserve adornment and learned to have fun with clothing.  Most of my clothing is second hand.  Gotta love eBay, it's the only way I can afford Vivienne Westwood clothes.  Sometimes I worry that I'm just sucking information up and not digesting it.  But then, my recall is rather spotty, so I'll just assume that everything is stewing quietly.

Which is a terribly long-winded way of wanting to justify, in these zeros and ones of the ether, how I try to live my life.  This is no vaunting, it is as much a clarification for myself.  There's a pyschologist's tool where you have a number of different value words, such as admired, loyal, solitude, health, knowledge, creativity. Pile them quickly into "matter a lot", "don't matter at all" and "in the middle".  Then consider them.  And from the ones that really matter, try and pick a top 10.  Look at those.  Which ones are you actually managing to live?

My top 10 were: health, spirituality, self-knowledge, inner peace, solitude, ecology, comfort, honesty, tolerance and faithfulness.  I don't meet these all the time, but I try and I'm also getting better at letting go when I don't meet my own far too high standards.  But I'm meant to be expounding.  These values are all intertwined.  They come down to what I consider to be the basic premise of all true religions:  "live with respect".

Those top ten are in a lot of the way I try to live my life.  I try to be tolerant.  Stupidity annoys me, but I don't give a damn about gender, belief system, sexuality or genetic background. There are also people that I just outright dislike, but that's personality.  Dogs don't like all dogs, people don't like all people.  Health - meh, could be better, but I've been eating respectfully for decades. And by respectfully - respect for my body, which really does an amazing job despite all I've asked of it, respect for the planet, respect for the food itself and respect for the people who grow it.  We don't throw out much in the way of food - bones mostly.  Everything else gets eaten by us, the dogs or the chickens or put in the compost to feed the soil.

Spirituality.  I could dance about this, but as my mother has regretted, her daughter is not particularly good at subtle.  I'm a kitchen witch, a solitary.  I need to feel the soil in my hands, the moonlight on my skin, to be connected to this good earth. I am terrified of what humanity has done to Gaia, of how little time we have left, of how she is changing.  Despite having no great hopes, I will do what I can to live with respect, to leave this bit of soil in better heart, to try and tread more lightly.  It's bound with health, but using orange oil, vinegar, soap and bi-carb for cleaning.  Cooking is magic. Gardening is magic.  Growing some of our own food is magical.  To be able to travel into someone else's mind and time via a book, that's magic.  Music is magic, oh it can swing my moods and I can lose myself in it. Being able to co-exist with our furries, feathered and finned ones is magic.  I do draw the line at mosquitoes.  So the ecology is also bound in with spirituality.

We've put our money where our mouths are, there are solar panels on the roof for the hot water and to feed back into the electricity grid.  The house is insulated.  Even the lights in Nan's chandelier are compact fluroescents.  Grey water goes onto the garden.  We've four cars between the two of us (oh, the shame), but two of them are babied street machines (one of which runs on gas, the other is in a state of slow rebuild and hasn't fired a cylinder in anger for some years).  The other two are well maintained and rarely driven just for the heck of it.  Most of the household furnishings are inherited or acquired second hand.  And I've also tried to work with the concept of objects being both useful and beautiful.  Sometimes the use is aesthetic or tactile pleasure.   And certainly my espresso machine brings me much pleasure.

I'm also trying to live with nothing "for best".  All the contents of this home, all the clothes, all the books, all the china and crystal - they were made to be used, to be appreciated.  I think this also helps me focus on what I have, how much joy and beauty it brings, how lucky I am.  And to be able to give some of it away, to be able to make life that little bit easier or pleasurable for someone else.

It's a kind of magic.

Please skip if you aren't interested in dogs. The usual erratic programming will resume.

Exciting dog times, and husband whinging about being ignored again.

Winston actually passed the 3 year mark on Friday - amazingly he still has all his teeth and hasn't been put on doggy Prozac.  Instead, I found a homeopathic remedy to try and alleviate his jealousy and wind him down a couple of notches.  Lachesis 6c (made with the venom of the bushmaster snake from Africa) has made a noticeable difference - Wibbie seems calmer, more affectionate and I'm hoping like Hades that this is the end of visits to the vet for the other two.  He and Bruce are repeating the classes for Silver obedience, which presents its own challenges.  I think the new trick is going to be playing peek-a-boo.

Molly just continues to be gorgeous.  I have no idea how she manages this, because the Bullmastiff is hardly up there as contender for prettiest breed.  But she has the most loving temperament, gives delightful kisses (yeah, I know, even in 40 degree heat) and has a big boof head that I just want to hold onto and wobble (the way people are meant to like pinching babies cheeks).
What I only noticed (in this photo) is how glossy her coat is.  She no longer looks like Bat-Dog (her eyelids were turning in - entroption - so there were fetching diamonds shaved over her eyes for the surgery).
And my beloved Fearghus is being terribly greedy about the new season apples (Galas are first ones in - small, sweet, perfect for throwing around like a tennis ball, playing soccer with or just tossing into that gaping maw). Apart from just getting greyer all round (which brindle wolfhounds tend to do), he really doesn't show any sign of being a veteran.  He's seven this year, officially became an old man last year. Still carries on like a mad galoot, with happiness gleaming in his eyes and all of Ireland in them.  He's healthy, loving and I couldn't ask for more than that.
Canberra has just had it's annual Royal Agricultural Show, which is also a Crufts qualifier.  Didn't make it last year as I was ill, so did the bare minimum of chores to ensure I had the energy to go on Saturday (Bullmastiffs and Bull Terriers) and Sunday (Irish Wolfhounds, also one of my best friends shows Pugs, and that was their day also).  Totally ignored sideshow alley, didn't make it into the produce and craft pavilions or the cattle (which I would normally visit).  Nope.  Hung around the dog rings, getting rained on, watching dogs, talking dogs, photographing dogs and scooping up after the odd dog.  Weirdly, handlers seem to get embarrassed by this.  I figure it's infinitely easier to manage than having your dog lift their leg on you.  Yes, it's exciting when a wolfhound finally figures out that they can lift their leg and don't have to squat like a bitch (almost as exciting as when the brain fairy visits them).  But I would point out that their bladder capacity is something 'stonishing.  And your leg is wet for quite some time afterwards.  But there was a lovely Irishman handling a young Boxer bitch and he just laughed, because he's got a Dogue de Bordeaux and really, there's a substantial difference in output!
I grew up with Boxers, and apart from the fact that they seem to be more lightly built these days, there is also a LOT more white allowed on the body.  Lovely to see the gay tails on the move, most odd that they tended to just hang when the dogs are stacked. Sorry about the slight blur on this one.
 And one of the sweetest things is watching baby puppies frolic around the ring, having an absolute ball.  Like this great galumpher.
Properly solid and not making too much of a fuss about showing his teeth.  Do like a good strong rear.
The drive comes from the rear - this boy could do with a bit more and he's a bit fine for my liking, but he's not badly balanced. 
These two lovelies are litter sisters.  One of them does the Time Warp.
This young bitch owned the ring.  Beautiful profile, stands proudly and plays hard with the Parson Jack Russell terriers at home.
And Pugs.  They're another ancient breed, and this one expects to be treated like royalty.  And is.

Friday, January 18, 2013

10 years ago today...

Australia's capital city burned. Fires encircled Canberra, generated their own weather, created cyclones of fire, massive balls of flame and destroyed 500 houses.  People died, people were burned.  Animals died - stock, pets, wildlife.  The furnace was so intense that it ripped through the pine forests, the trees left bent in the direction that the flames burned. The fires extended from here down into Victoria.

The weather today is as it was 10 years ago.  It is hot, the winds are dry, strong and gusty.  I find myself checking the sky, half listening for the water bombing helicopters, for the sirens that call emergency.  It's a total fireban day,and likely to stay that way for a while.

We weren't burned.  I've done this before, while living on a farm.  I know the routine, the preparations.  It was night-dark at 2pm with the smoke.  I was on-call for work, but the mobile phone network was overloaded and besides, power went in so many suburbs.

Coonabarabran and the Warrumbungles have a massive fire - it's gone through Siding Springs and the astronomers don't yet know how bad the damage is.  There's a nasty bushfire down Cooma way, another bad one in Victoria's Gippsland. Business as usual in an Australian summer.

The weather patterns and climate scientists suggest that this is how it will continue.  Hotter days and more of them, more fires, a cycle of destruction and drying out that it is probably too late to stop.  Maybe we can ameliorate it.  I doubt there is the political will.  We are frogs in water, coming to the boil.  Maybe we can adapt.  But the future is frightening.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Extraordinary how potent cheap music is"

Amanda in Noel Coward's Private Lives.

The Master didn't quite get it right - take the word cheap out.  It is extraordinary how potent music is.

 "I don't want to change the world with our music. There are no hidden messages in our songs..."  (Freddie Mercury, Queen).

Music can be a whole different universe. It can sweep you into melancholy (Debussy's Clair de Lune), into rage (Kate Bush, Get Out of My House), into exuberance (Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain, Queen's Don't Stop Me Now or Jim Steinman's Bad for Good), into joy that's peaceful, that's magnificent, that's laugh out loud and dance.

I could give you a list of songs and symphonies, folk tunes and fantasies, reels and the rhythmic beat of shamanic drums or Gregorian chants.

There is a resonance and magic in it.  Listen to an old, scratchy recording of Saint-Saen's Danse Macabre.  To Greig's In the Hall of the Mountain King (Peer Gynt) - with vocals, if you can find it.  To The Sawdoctor's Still the Only One (the album version is slower and tinglier than that on youtube).  To Christy Moore's Well Below the Valley or Biko Drum.  The sweet memory in Ivor Novello's We'll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again.

Words as important as melody, but not always needed.  The voice can just be another instrument.

We can all sing, some of us sound more like crows than nightingales.  But listen to the cadence of a crow's cry.  I regularly get an earful from the magpies who come to us for mince.  It's a lovely warble, but deafening at close quarters.

Listen to the rain when (if) it falls.  To the soughing of wind in the branches of trees or tumbling leaves in autumn.  To the small sounds of insects.  To the almost infintesimal sound of soil crumbling in and through your hand.

Stop.  Listen.  Just listen....

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Warning - health update

I'm really, really hope that 2013 is better health-wise than 2012 was.  I'm so over the being tired and having a fogged up brain that goes with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  But last lot of test results were interesting.  My GP and I have started to go off the beaten track slightly, and looking at nutritional medicine.  This is very much a developing field and it would be daft to think that all the answers are there for the picking.  Just as it is impossible to describe an elephant by feeling only one part of its body.  Too much we don't know.  Interactions we aren't aware of.

Anyways, turns out I have extremely high levels of cortisol whizzing around all 24 hours of the day and starting to get insulin resistant.  Translation - my body is in constant flight/fight mode.  Um, hello, not really sustainable.  So I'm doing additional supplements (chromium, GABA, 5-HTP, L-tryosine, massive amounts of Vit C, mega dose of B group vitamins and magnesium).  And the upshot is a diet low in sugars and carbohydrates.  No more muesli, no bread (which I'd just started experimenting with), no baked goods, no Cascade Ultra-C, no fruit juice, no icecream (in the middle of an Australian summer, for heaven's sake!), no tropical fruits (no ginger with my last cup of the day!), no grains (polenta, couscous, rice, pasta, burghul), no potatoes...  On the plus side, bacon and eggs for breakfast each morning, lots of pr0tein (eggs, meat, dairy), awesome smoothies with full fat yoghurt, proper milk and as many berries as I can fit into the jar.  The dogs thoroughly approve of any change in food patterns which involves them getting bacon rind each day.

I'm also about to step into a mental health plan.  Not too sure what that entails, will find out more at the GP's on Thursday. Think it's aimed at the poor management of stress.  But my reaction to this step is intriguing (in a poking a wound sort of way).  Small melt down for a few days afterwards.  But it's as if, despite the depression, despite the suicide attempts, despite the permanent medication and open acknowledgement of my slightly odd brain/psyche, it feels as if this is a no-going-back-label of "nutcase".