Wednesday, June 29, 2005

no cold cash

Getting into this week produced some unexpected events. On the plus side my virus finally began to weaken (I went a whole afternoon without sneezing) and I was able to sleep a full night without antihistamines.

Less pleasing was the discovery that the cheque for my convention membership hadn't been deposited when I thought it had, throwing off my budget. (I must get into Net-banking so I can keep a closer eye on my accounts.) This resulted in my watching my pennies like the most frugal of misers, ticking off the days on the calendar till the cheques I'm expecting in July.

Maybe it's a good thing. It will teach me to curb my impulse buying and learn to distinguish between essentials and luxuries. {Sigh}

At least we have about three months supply of coffee already in the pantry.

Fortunately I'd already paid for this month's batch of CDs from First Generation Radio Archives. They arrived this morning in one of those neat little Global Priority Mail envelopes.

There's music from Arthur Godfrey, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mercer and Benny Goodman, a thriller starring Boris Karloff introduced by Peter Lorre, quiz shows from the 1940s and more on this set of 20 discs.

Hours of great listening. I look forward to playing them.

Made a point of watching the half-hour documentary/promotion Waging the War of the Worlds the other night. I've been a life-long admirer of the novel but I've seen nothing about what sort of movie the Spielberg re-make was going to be, so I watched with interest.

From what I can gather, the tone of the new film is going to be closer to the novel than the 1950's movie was. The emphasis will be more on one family's reaction to the invasion rather than following world events.

Even Tom Cruise looks reasonably convincing as a working man caught up in things beyond his wildest imaginings.

I might almost be tempted to go to a cinema to see this one -- something that I seldom do in recent years.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

Huskies Picnic

The Midwinter Festival climaxes with the popular Huskies Picnic day at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

The dogs are friendly and always ready to meet new people (except the ones who ignored the "don't bring your dog" announcement)

There were even Samoyed dogs - a long way from Siberia - who lazed around in the sun.

And it was always nice to meet the people concerned with the Antarctic projects.


Friday, June 24, 2005

colds in the cold

The Last Quarter Moon is on Wednesday June 29. Mercury, Venus and Saturn form a straight line close to the western horizon in the twilight, with Mercury and Venus quite close together. You can cover them all with your hand. During the week Mercury and Venus rose to meet Saturn.

Sunday June 26 Saturn, Mercury and Venus will form into a spectacular tight group
that you could cover with your thumb. On Monday June 27, Venus and Mercury will be so close together it will be hard to tell them apart.

The nights were clear and cold but some of the fine winter afternoons were (briefly) very nice. Walking the dogs at Julie's house around midday is quite pleasant -- but don't leave it too late because at this time of year the winter sun starts to dip below the hills once it gets past 3 o'clock. The encroaching shadows give one a preview of the colder weather that will follow sunset.

I thought I was shaking off that virus, but I find I'm sneezing a lot whenever I go out into a cold wind or walk down the other end of the house into a cold room. It makes one speculate on the relationship between the two words "cold" and "a cold". Temperature forecast for tonight: 2°

As part of Hobart's Midwinter Festival, Hadley's Hotel is running a tour of the hotel's Amundsen Suite. My sister Julie and a friend took the tour and spent the afternoon looking over the historic spot.

In 1911 Roald Amundsen led the first expedition to reach the South Pole. Their first landfall after leaving the Antarctic was Hobart and Amundsen went ashore alone, taking a room at what was then known as the Orient Hotel.

The hotel looked askance at their unkempt guest, still dressed for sailing the icy Southern Ocean, and gave him a "miserable little room" in the least fashionable part of the establishment. Not until telegrams began to arrive from the King of Norway and reporters besieged the hotel did they realise they were entertaining a historic guest.

"With hindsight, the hotel has dedicated its most prestigious suite, The Amundsen Suite, to this remarkable explorer," says the notes distributed to those taking the tour.

Julie reports the tour as being mildly interesting but was not amused when the promised Devonshire Tea consisted of precisely one scone per customer.

I was surprised last weekend at the quick result to one of Julie's projects.

She said that she wanted to repair the shelter over the bird-feeder in the back garden and after a few minutes hammering had completed the job.

The very next morning I looked out the kitchen window and there were two Rosella parrots sitting in the feeder having breakfast.

What do they say in the movies? "If you build it, they will come."

This month's free concert at the Moonah Arts Centre was BASS JUMP, Nigel Hope's group that encompasses vibraphone, drums, sitar, percussion and his four different basses. Their music style is described as a blend of "blues, jazz, world music, classical and funk".

I don't know if you call it a quintet when the five musicians never actually all play together at the same time. Nigel Hope started off with the drummer and the vibes, then played a couple of solos before being joined by saxophone and sitar.

"You might get a surprise during the next number" he said. We weren't expecting his wife dressed as a belly-dancer (though I had wondered what the square of carpet in front of them was for).

We fluked seats right in the front row -- the vibraphone was practically in our laps (who knew they had so many moving parts?).

A great sound. We look forward to their next appearance.

While Tony Delroy has been away for a fortnight, his chair on the Late Show has been occupied by Libby Gore, better known in her television days as Elle McFeast. She's done quite well and has been sensible enough to take the midnight quiz The Challenge seriously.

But even the best presenter is at the mercy of the person who compiles the questions. The Wednesday night quiz featured a section on Governors and Governors-General. One fairly straightforward question was "How many State Governors are there?". The first contestant said quite reasonably that since there were six states there should be six governors.

"No, the correct answer is five," said Libby.

The unanimous reaction amongst all the following contestants was to say "I thought there were six."

Embarrassing for the host, but you hardly need to be an expert on the Australian Constitution to count up to six.

Now available is the PDF version of Futures Mystery magazine.


Thursday, June 23, 2005


Once again the familiar cry goes up: "I've finished my book. What am I going to read next?" This is my cue to fossick around in the thousands of books in the house and find something that my sister will enjoy. This month she's read novels by Nevil Shute, Kerry Greenwood, Josephine Bell and Agatha Christie.

She's just finished a long spell of only reading non-fiction -- often really heavy volumes of history and theology. But it's obviously time for a change.

In previous years when this happened all the time, I used to keep a box of books at hand so I could just dip in to it as needed. Maybe I should start doing that again.

Rain all day and night yesterday. I know we needed some wet weather, but there must be a happy medium. Not as bad as Adelaide though -- they had their wettest June day since the Weather Bureau started keeping records.

Last week I came down with some sort of virus and snuffled and sneezed my way through the weekend. My sister suggested I should take an antihistamine Saturday night, but I was reluctant because we had to be up early Sunday for church and I didn't want to oversleep. Needless to say this wasn't a good idea -- it took me a long time to get to sleep and I had to lie on my back so that my mouth and nose drained, leaving the cat to take the prime spot in the middle of the bed.

Sunday night I took 2mg of Polaramine, slept for seven hours and felt a lot better. I probably should have done that Saturday night.

One of the reasons I've been short on cash is that I bought some books at the Thylacon dealers' table. They weren't that expensive for limited-edition collectible volumes but I did buy seven of them.

They're put out by NESFA press and feature all my favourite authors from my teenage years when I first started reading science fiction.

Entities: selected novels of Eric Frank Russell, Major Ingredients: selected short stories of Eric Frank Russell, The Rediscovery Of Man: complete short stories of Cordwainer Smith, First Contact: the essential Murray Leinster plus a three-volume set of The Essential Hal Clement.

So many great stories. I have all of them on my shelves already, but many of them are cheap paperbacks from the 1960s -- probably too fragile to re-read now.

These are big books. Solidly bound hardcovers, most of them over 500 pages each. There's enough good reading in them to keep me busy for months.

The crippled chick I mentioned a few days ago went into a decline and stopped eating. It didn't look well and we weren't surprised when it died overnight.

It was sad but we'd done everything we could for it -- my sister had kept it alive for weeks after it would have died out in the barnyard.

You can't save every sick animal I'm afraid.

Listened to Bette Davis in a radio play "Jezebel" on an MP3 disk of Academy Award Theater. This show aired on CBS radio throughout 1946; movie screenplays were adapted by Frank Wilson and directed by Dee Englebock. The original movie casts were used wherever possible.

One source notes: The series, sponsored by E.R. Squibb and Sons, only aired for one
nine month season. It's half-hour dramas, although decent adaptations
of the movies, were not able to complete with the hour-long ones by
The Lux Radio Theatre or The Screen Guild Players.

I haven't seen Jezebel for many years, but it was obviously an uphill battle for the writer to fit the movie into a 30 minute slot. If you just present the high points of a story without any of the quieter moments, it runs the risk of sounding like a parody of itself.

(Remember the classic MAD Magazine spoof of Readers Digest Condensed Books summarising Gone with the Wind in one page -- "They've fired on Fort Sumpter!" BANG! "Thank goodness that awful war is over.")

Abbreviation may be a necessary evil, as Aldous Huxley noted, but sometimes you can boil things down too far.


Monday, June 20, 2005


Jupiter is high in the night sky. Down here on earth we saw the gathering of a group of people with cosmic minds. A gathering called THYLACON.

This was the 44th Australian national science fiction convention. When I used to go to conventions in the 1960s and early 1970s I don't think they were even into double digits.

Science fiction fans from around the country gathered at Wrest Point hotel in Hobart for the usual round of speeches, panels, masquerades and award presentations.

I haven't been to many conventions in the last twenty years and didn't feel immediately at ease when I wandered into the venue. Everything had a familiar feel and a few people even recognised me -- I went over to say hello to Melbourne bookseller Justin Ackroyd and he looked more shocked than surprised ("Mike?!") when he saw me.

International Guest Of Honour was fantasy novelist Anne Bishop; not only was this her first trip outside America, it was the first time she'd been on a plane for more than two hours. Australian GoH was novelist Marianne de Pierres.

Fan GoH was Mervyn Binns, whose involvement with Australian science fiction goes back to the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I first met him at the 1968 Melbourne Convention, up that long staircase to the old Melbourne SF Clubrooms over a warehouse in Somerset Place.

After the official opening, there was a skit based on the television show The Glass House which even included as one of the guests Hobart's Lord Mayor Rob Valentine. Brooklyn-born Tasmanian Steve Lazaroff hosted the skit.

Kay, a local fan, had never seen the show they were sending up and was sitting in the front row. When they asked during one routine were there any questions, she spoke out in a loud voice "Yes -- what does any of this have to do with science fiction?"

You may criticise Kay's sense of humour but you can't fault her dedication. Partly disabled and lacking any form of transport, she was willing to shuffle 10km there and 10km home every day. Fortunately she was able to get a lift with someone a couple of times.

It didn't help my sense of alienation that other obligations kept me away on the second day of the proceedings. Returning on day 3, I stayed for a while and suddenly felt very uncomfortable and out of place. I got in my car and drove straight home, leaving a few people wondering why I'd vanished so abruptly.

That wasn't the first time I'd had that feeling, though I hadn't thought about it for many years. Going back, oh 35 years it's be now, I sometimes felt uncomfortable during conventions and I'd shut myself in my hotel room, lie down and stare at the ceiling for half an hour.

I never told anyone about it because it seemed so strange. You would have expected me to be in an elevated rather than depressed state, surrounded by friends and all my favourite interests.

But people aren't always logical.

I didn't really feel comfortable until the fourth and final day. I wandered about chatting with people, looked at a couple of displays and listened to a panel discussion about recent developments in Australian publishing [I didn't recognise the names of the authors mentioned but the problems didn't seem to have changed since my day].

As the convention wound down, I was aware that I should have made more of an effort to overcome my lack of emotional involvement. Being out of the circuit for so many years I simply felt detached from everything that was going on and it took me a long time to warm to the event.

Maybe next time I'll be better.

A friend e-mails me to point out that I haven't yet mentioned the new series of Doctor Who which has been on for a month now.

It's certainly a lot of fun. I remember seeing the first episode of the show 40 years ago and have been watching ever since, so I'm probably in a better position than most to judge how the new series works. And for my money, it works well.

Christopher Eccleston makes a good Doctor, full of vitality and yet capable of expressing the sorrow of being the last of the Time Lords. Billie Piper is great as his companion Rose, a girl from modern London who does well at expressing the initial incomprehension common to all new travellers in the Tardis.

The first three episodes neatly take us to past, present and future. "Rose" introduces us to the new protagonist and shows us some old enemies The Autons at large in present-day London.

"The End of the World" has echoes of Douglas Adams' creation The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe and shows how well the update of the show works -- the same plot in the 1970s would have involved some dodgy-looking sets and a gaggle of aliens in rubber suits. This is unmistakably a modern big-budget production.

And "The Unquiet Dead" takes us back to the 19th century where a skeptical Charles Dickens becomes involved when zombies turn up in Cardiff of all places. This one was criticised for its violence and horror elements when it was aired in Britain and I suspect it may have been lightly edited for its early-evening slot here in Australia.

Episode 4 "Aliens of London" was delightful. Returning to the present day, the Doctor is obviously pleased to be on the spot when an alien spacecraft crashes into the Thames in full view of the media. The key line: "This is all a diversion... no, not a diversion, a trap!" I also enjoyed the second half of this story, which takes place almost completely inside 10 Downing Street.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Polar pleasures

Why go to the city when a stroll into Moonah gives you fine dining, art and literature?

OK that's overstating it a wee bit. But we did get a quiche at Cafe 73, pick up the latest issues of The New Yorker at the newsagency and look at an exhibition of Suzanne Crowley's work at the Moonah Arts Centre.

Suzanne Crowley is Irish but has lived in Tasmania since 1991. This show (her first for a decade) is the first combined exhibition of her paintings, linocuts and photographs. The most interesting of the oil paintings was the large "Banna Strand" and personally I preferred the linocuts like "Sacred Place" and "Sailing on the harbour".

Some her photographs were quite striking. There were some nice pictures of the Jewish Quarter in Girona (a place that my gazetteer fails to mention) and a lovely colour photo of County Wicklow in Ireland.

The scrapes on my scalp from that fall last week are healing up all right. I've been a bit wary about using shampoo on my hair this week but everything seems OK.

I'm still very tired at night but that's probably because I just don't get enough rest. Living with my sister one has to put up with late nights as a regular part of life.

Disregarding the large goose in the backyard, we have five poultry in residence at my house this week. The two silkies are only here until Julie finishes fitting out a hen house specially for them (she'd like them to breed) and there are two chicks that were brought over to be nursed back to health and seem to be doing fine.

The fifth one is a bit of a worry. A chick that was brought over with an injured leg. She is almost half grown now, but the leg sticks out at a very strange angle and can't be used at all. Nursing and feeding by Julie has kept it alive but I really don't know what good this has done in the long run.

It will never lead a normal life unless we shell out for expensive veterinary treatment, which Julie can't afford. So at the moment we're just keeping it alive as a helpless cripple. It's not even like the half-blind hen that Julie had for a couple of years -- at least it got about quite happily in its cage. This one's prospects have me wondering.

After some foggy weather last week, the days have been fine and clear, but as soon as the sun sets things begin to cool down quickly. We have nearly reached midwinter, and that's the cue for the Antarctic Midwinter Festival, co-ordinated by Antarctic Tasmania on behalf of the Tasmanian Antarctic Community.

Many organisations in Tasmania are involved in the Antarctic. The Tasmanian Polar Network currently has more than 60 members. 65% of Australia's scientists studying Antarctica and the Southern Ocean live in Hobart.

There will be a plethora of exhibitions, lectures, seminars, art contests, concerts, film shows, tours, ice sculptures, and a grand Solstice Party.

Julie of course would like to see the Huskies Picnic at the
Royal Botanical Gardens on the Queen's Domain. The huskies have now been withdrawn from the polar bases, but in the public mind they are still an integral part of the exploration of the Antarctic continent.

She's also trying to lure me down to the Solstice Party ("enjoy music with Mr Coconut then put on your dancing shoes to tap your way into Salamanca Square to enjoy the midwinter fire show") but I'm undecided.

Some weeks the bills come in faster than the cheques do. It certainly cuts down impulse buying in the supermarket when you know exactly how much you have left on your Ezy Bank card. I got out of there today with enough to buy the groceries and still have $1.41 left in the account. That's what I call cutting it close.


Saturday, June 11, 2005


Saturday afternoon saw the first appearance of the Australian Federation Tattoo in Hobart. This is the seventh year of the Tattoo but their first performance in Tasmania I think.

Most of the audience were well into the older age group and probably saw nothing strange about being told to stand for the national anthem.

The Massed Pipes and Drums were amazing. Even if you're not Scottish there's something deeply thrilling about the skirl of the bagpipes.

We were sitting in really good seats - only three rows back in the centre - and could count the medals on the chests of the Australian Army Band as they marched by us.

It wasn't all bagpipe music. The Royal New Zealand Navy Band were real showmen, and the Copenhagen Police Band presented a tribute to Hans Christian Andersen on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

1960s pop icon Judy Stone took part in an "Entertaining The Troops" set-piece which even included a couple of go-go girls in fringed outfits -- I assume they must have shown them a video of what this involved since neither of them were old enough to remember!

There was even a comedy group The Windy Kilts who cheerfully plunged in and out of the audience during their routine.

I didn't do so badly today considering that I'd taken a header when I was unloading duck food over at Julie's house that morning.

It was so wet and slippery that I'd just reached the driveway gate with the trolley when my foot went out from under me and I wound up on my back in the mud.

I didn't seem to have hurt myself; what absorbed my attention was a twig from the blackberry plant that had insinuated itself between my right eye and my glasses.

For a moment I lay there, thinking "OK, how can I get out of this position and not put an eye out?"

At this stage Julie came rushing around from the chicken run, having heard me go down with a thump. She helped me up and I didn't seem to have suffered any ill-effects aside from a numbness in the fingertips of my left hand and an almost imperceptible scratch next to my right eye (whew!).

However when I went home I had to change everything except my socks. Everything I had on was either wet or muddy, through to the skin.

One of the CDs played by Alan Rider on his show on 92 FM was by Chris Powell who had performed at Linmor Hall on Wednesday night.

I was in the audience and thoroughly enjoyed his lively performance on the fully restored Wurlitzer that belongs to the Collegiate School. Mostly show tunes, with a few light classical pieces and a couple of modern pieces.

Listening to these, I was reminded again how thin a lot of modern music sounds when you put it in this setting. Playing Elton John's "Can you feel the love tonight?" just before a My Fair Lady medley just emphasises this.

An innovation since I was at one of these concerts is the projection of slides onto the rear wall of the stage, showing sets of organ pipes. (The pipes of the Wurlitzer are completely hidden from the audience; only the console is actually sitting out in the middle of the hall.)

During intermission, after refreshments and the drawing of the door prize, I wandered across to the console of the Wurlitzer and was amazed (as I always am) by the complexity and choices available to the organist.

Congratulations to the Theatre Organ Society for another entertaining evening.


Friday, June 03, 2005

winter woes

The temperature went down to 3° last night but the morning was fine and clear -- it was such a nice sunny day that Julie put the chickens out on the back lawn to get some fresh air. I took some pictures with mixed results.

I haven't updated very often this week because I've been unwell. Maybe I had some sort of virus circling me early in the week. I felt tired and lethargic early on, but I didn't pay much attention to it until Wednesday.

Ironically it was the day that I had my six-monthly appointment with my endocrinologist. He was satisfied with my blood and urine tests and said to come back in December. I felt fine then, but I got steadily worse during the afternoon till I crawled into bed wondering how I was going to go to work the next day.

Fortunately I felt a lot better when I woke up, able to face the vagaries of an afternoon battling with recalcitrant office equipment. When we finished for the day it was dark outside and I walked round the corner to post some letters. The night air was cool and crisp and I could see the Southern Cross low in the sky, lying on its side.

Things seemed a lot better.

I'm quite enjoying the new series Stargate Atlantis but I'm not sure why our local television station is galloping through the show at the rate of three episodes per week.

What's their hurry? We're not up to the next Olympics already are we?

One of the dangerous things about the Internet is how easy it makes buying stuff. You tick a couple of boxes, put in your Paypal ID and ten days later a parcel lobs into your mailbox.

That's how I came to buy yet another four MP3 discs of old radio shows. A neat little package arrived from Adam in Toronto containing four shiny little objects containing hundreds of hours of Dimension X, X Minus One, David Harding Counterspy and I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again.

Finding time to listen to them all is another matter of course.

Our local paper The Mercury is the latest to introduce the new puzzle Sudoku, which they claim is sweeping the world.

I had a look at it after all the hullaballoo and wasn't that intrigued. All those numbers and squares. Too much like mathematics homework for my taste.