Friday, September 30, 2005

my model life

Would you have your photograph taken in exchange for a free meal?

That was the proposal put to us by Helene, a friend of Julie's – a photographer who was working on a photo spread advertising a new outlet of the chain King Buffet.

We turned up at 5 p.m., when the restaurant was almost empty. There were about eight of us but in the photographs that will probably be enough to make the place look packed with diners.

They let us fill our plates with food, but eating wasn't encouraged. We were only allowed to actually put food into our mouths while Helene was changing the settings on her camera. The rest of the time we sat there looking as though we were either just about to eat or had just eaten.

Finally Helene took Guy downstairs to film some shots of him sitting in a wheelchair in the elevator (he doesn't use a wheelchair, but they wanted to show how user-friendly the establishment is). The rest of us were then able to circle the dessert table and eat our sweet course in peace and quiet.

It was an interesting experience but I don't know I'd care for the life of an extra.

Speaking of food, we went into town at the start of the week to attend Dorothy's funeral. As usual, the ladies of the church provided refreshments and I wandered around talking to people in between sandwiches, cakes, scones and other titbits.

"It will be interesting to see your Blood Glucose Level tomorrow," muttered my sister and I winced slightly.

But as it turned out, I needn't have worried. My BGL reading was about 6.2, the best it's been in weeks.

So the solution is obvious - what's missing from my diet is cakes, scones and canapes.

I wonder if I can get a prescription for that?


Yesterday I read Algernon Blackwood's "The Insanity of Jones" which appeared in his collection The Listener and Other Stories in 1907.

They say that a good story is timeless, and Blackwood's short story certainly resonates with the modern reader - though for uncomfortable reasons.

Jones, the protagonist, is an unremarkable clerk whose only unusual feature is his belief that his soul wanders in and out of otherworldly realms. A belief in reincarnation is usually a harmless enough eccentricity; but Jones comes to believe that his employer is the man who wronged him cruelly in a previous life, leading to bloody revenge.

The story is well written, and Blackwood carefully does nothing to suggest whether Jones' belief is true or not. Jones is a man who isn't bothered that his subjective and objective worlds conflict; he follows his heart rather than his brain.

In today's world we see many such men. They are assassins, suicide bombers and such. Blackwood might recognize them as familiar types.

Some things never change.

A recent issue of Book & Magazine Collector looked at the famous names of science fiction in Britain. The latest issue features a long letter from SF expert John Clute objecting to the use of the term "sci fi" in the article.

I remember similar complaints being made thirty or forty years ago. In fact, when I was interviewed by Gideon Haigh for one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers The Australian some years ago I made the observation that people who used the expression "sci fi" usually knew little about the genre.

That didn't make me really popular at my local science fiction bookshop, where a younger generation of fans didn't share my prejudices.

And a note on the death of Don Addams, forever known as the bumbling Agent 86 in the famous comedy Get Smart.

You couldn't even look at a picture of Maxwell Smart without wanting to smile. What better epitath can anyone have?

I love the ABC television show Spicks and Specks and their final scene for this week was one of their most memorable.

Jade McRae was a guest on the programme and over the end credits she sang the novelty song "Funky Gibbon" which her father had written for the old comedy show The Goodies. A memorable moment indeed.

A quiet evening listening to the radio gave the audience a shock on Wednesday night.

Tony Delroy was broadcasting from Perth in Western Australia, and he said we'll be back after the midnight news with our quiz segment The Challenge.

Unfortunately somebody somewhere threw the wrong switch, and after the news we were suddenly and unexpectedly plunged into the late show on the so-called Youth Network Triple-J. They were playing the loudest heavy metal music I've ever heard in my life, with the vocalist's microphone turned up as high as possible to maximise the distortion.

I'm surprised there wasn't an earth tremor as people all over the country jumped out of their chairs, reaching for the volume knob. I suspect the overlap between Tony Delroy's audience and the Triple-J listeners is vanishingly small.

Ten minutes later we returned to normal programming, but it was a ten minute period that few listeners would ever forget.

Come home, Tony -- things like that rarely happen at home base in Sydney.


Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pullet out

Friday morning we dragged in the cage that Julie bought the day before. It's actually designed for rabbits, but it's roomy enough to take the five pullets that are in one of the plastic crates in my front hall.

Hey, anything that reduces the amount of poultry she's keeping inside the house is a good thing, right? The chickens looked a little startled at finding themselves in a nice new cage outside the back door, but we're hoping they will settle in.

It will be interesting to see if they are noisier or less noisy in their new habitat. The one rooster of these five has only just begun to find his voice; up till a few days ago his tentative crowing sounded more like a gurgle than cock-a-doodle-doo.

Friday night there was another one of those musical smorgasbords at the Polish Club in North Hobart. Hot guitar picking, gypsy jazz and vocal antics were promised. About 60 people turned up to sit and quietly sip their drinks while listening attentively.

The trio Czardas have been round for a few years and have a polished blend of violin, guitar and vocal — though maybe the offbeat ballads in the middle of the bracket of fast-paced string numbers aren't a completely good idea.

I've seen The Fabulous Spondooli Brothers before with their distinctive brand of music and humour. The acoustic guitar duo alternate between high-energy original music and mock-gypsy patter that allows them to indulge in what they call their "mild propensity for nonsense."

I hadn't seen the third group Swing Wizard before; that may have been because it was the first public performance by the quartet. The guitarist from Czardas joined three young musicians for a long bracket of music that ranged from swing to bluegrass.

Someone thanked the audience for being there and providing a forum for the performance of live original music, stuff that doesn't come out of a machine. Amen to that.

"Intuition is reason in a hurry"

-- anonymous

I was packing up yet another box of magazines that I haven't worked around to reading. I started musing on the subject of "catching up on your reading".

If I read one short story a day, that would get through 365 a year. Reading two a day would make 730 in a year.

Even if I took Sundays off, I could read 312 in a year.

When I was 16 I could have done it. I used to get through four or five novels a week, no problems. Not as good as Arthur C. Clarke of course – in one of his autobiographical pieces he recalls reading ten books a week in his teenage days.

Still, it wouldn't hurt to give it a try. Knock over a few of the backlog of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Analog, Asimov's, and Fantasy & Science Fiction. Not to mention all those back issues of Argosy in the attic.

And that's not even taking into account the non-fiction periodicals littering the house. Reader's Digest, National Geographic, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Air & Space, The Smithsonian....

[Bruce Gillespie wrote in one of his fanzines that he stopped buying the science fiction magazines when he worked out that he wouldn't live long enough to read all the books he already had in the house. I won't go that far. I'd like to cut back on some of the stuff that I buy but I don't have the heart to pick out the ones to cull.]

So I started reading tonight. The first story was Ray Bradbury's "Getting Through Sunday Somehow" - it's in his old collection Long After Midnight. In typical Bradbury style he tells the story of a walk through Dublin in the peace of an old-fashioned sabbath, and what came to his mind.

There are 96 days left in the year. If I double up on a couple of days I reckon I could break the hundred.

We shall see.

Listened to a couple of 1940s radio shows on CD from the FGRA. "Death is a Twin" is a pleasant enough locked-room mystery from Mystery Is My Hobby [an Ellery Queen clone], while "Those Who Walk in Darkness" is a piece of grand guignol from Creeps By Night, not great but worth it to hear Peter Lorre introducing Boris Karloff.

Looking at the BBC Radio website it's amazing how much radio drama they still do in Britain. Plays, serials, soaps.... I think in this country we only produce 30 minutes a week on ABC Radio National.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Another bus trip organized by my local church took us out into the countryside for some genteel sight-seeing. We went up over Collinsvale and down to New Norfolk before stopping at Glen Clyde House in Hamilton; we checked out the craft shop and gardens of this 19th century coaching inn.

Then on to Bothwell for lunch at the Castle Hotel. One of our group complimented the manager on the apple pie. Yes, he said with a smile, the deep freeze broke down yesterday and we had all this pastry so we started making apple pies at a great rate of knots.

The weather was fine and sunny, which was curious since we could still see traces of snow up on the mountains. If we had more time, the bus driver told us, we'd drive up to Collins Cap and you could see the snow up close. Maybe next time.

I don't actually remember a lot of the trip home through Campania and Risdon. Between the big lunch and the warmth of the Spring sun, I kept nodding off every few minutes. A sign of things to come as we enter the Australian summer.

One of the unchanging things about this world is the way sadness strikes us unexpectedly.

One of the old ladies who finds it hard to get to church lives near me and once or twice a month it's my turn to give her a ride in to the Sunday morning service. Dorothy is a frail little thing, but her mind is very sharp and alert.

Sunday evening I received a phone call which gave me a shock. Dorothy had apparently suffered a stroke at home, fallen and hit her head. She was in hospital unconscious. The prognosis.... well, you can probably guess the rest.

It rocked me. Just that morning we had driven in to church together and had been discussing her favourite Agatha Christie novels. She had seemed perfectly fine. Who would have expected it?

I had already been a little sorrowful because this week will mark the anniversary of my mother's death. Now I was confronted with an all-too-fresh reminder of how transient and impermanent a thing our lives are.

No man knoweth the hour.

(Dorothy died in hospital two days later; we shall miss her.)

Lovers of old radio shows should be aware that the website OTRCAT is offering free downloads of old programmes from their site. Worth a look.

An interfaith group released a new textbook Thursday aimed at teaching public high school students about the Bible while avoiding legal and religious disputes, reports Richard Ostling of Associated Press.

The nonprofit Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va., spent five years and $2 million developing "The Bible and Its Influence." The textbook, introduced at a Washington news conference, won initial endorsements from experts in literature, religion and church-state law.

American Jewish Congress attorney Marc Stern, an adviser on the effort, said despite concern over growing tensions among U.S. religious groups, "this book is proof that the despair is premature, that it is possible to acknowledge and respect deep religious differences and yet still find common ground."

The colorful $50 book and forthcoming teacher's guide, covering both Old and New Testaments, are planned for semester-long or full-year courses starting next year. 41 contributors included prominent evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and secular experts.

Religious lobbies and federal courts have long struggled over Bible course content. To avoid problems, Bible Literacy's editors accommodated Jewish sensitivities about the New Testament, attributed reports about miracles to the source rather than simply calling them historical facts and generally downplayed scholarly theories — about authorship and dates, for example — that offend conservatives.

Educators know biblical knowledge is valuable — 60 percent of allusions in one English Advanced Placement prep course came from the Bible — and that polls show teens don't know much about Scripture. Yet few public schools offer such coursework, partly due to demands for other elective classes, partly over legal worries. (The U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 decision barring schoolroom Bible recitations dud say that "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities" if "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.")

The textbook follows detailed principles in a 1999 accord, "The Bible and Public Schools," brokered by Bible Literacy and the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan program of the Freedom Forum devoted to constitutional liberties. That accord is endorsed by seven major educational organizations and Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups. Haynes says the only previous textbook, decades old, was inadequate because it treated the Bible only as literature, slighting its religious significance.

Friday, September 16, 2005

fowl weather

Every few weeks my sister Julie discovers more sick or injured poultry. And they usually wind up in my front hall where she's set up a sort of Intensive Care Ward for Fowl. This week she came across a tiny chick which had been pecked on the back and/or stepped on, leaving it in difficulties. She carried it around for the rest of the afternoon; this caused much comment in the shops and the supermarket, but necessitated re-arranging the plastic crates in the front hall to make room for just-one-more.

A drastic shift in the weather at the beginning of this week saw an unprecedented blast of wet weather lash the state. Sunday night we sat there for an hour or so waiting to see if it was going to ease off before we went to feed Julie's livestock. It didn't.

The guttering over my front door is in worse condition than I had realised. The water poured down onto the front porch as though some mischievous neighbour had turned the hose onto my roof. The old old story -- when the roof is leaking you can't get up to repair it, and when it's not raining you forget the roof needs fixing.

The deluge resulted in 68mm of rain in a single day. "That sounds like a lot," I thought, and reached for the old tape measure. "Bloody hell, that's two and a half inches of rain!"

Synchronicity? Coincidence?

I stopped in to see Kay on Saturday afternoon to wish her a happy birthday.

While I knocked on the door, I reached over and picked up her mail.

Inside, I watched in disbelief as she opened a birthday card that had been in the post -- the very same card that I had just handed her.

What are the odds on that happening?

The media in Australia has been in a frenzy over the release of a book by Mark Latham, former leader of the ALP. He appeared on the ABC's interview programme Enough Rope, whose host later described him as one of the most emotionally fragile men he'd ever spoken with.

Barry Jones, former ALP president, said that Mr Latham's problem seemed to be that he took everything personally and in 12 months he would probably regret having rushed into print to express his feelings about his colleagues.

As a disinterested bystander it's hard to see Latham as anything but bitter, petulant and vengeful. Maybe there was a reason that the electorate didn't vote for him, some instinctive summing-up of his personality as somebody they didn't feel was ready to represent them as Prime Minister.

Certainly he wasn't ready for the rough-and-tumble of national politics.

Is there anybody that he hasn't alienated?

Zelda, our resident goose, continues to stick close to the nest. She only leaves occasionally for a quick wash, then it's back to her vain quest to hatch those two infertile eggs.

This has been going on for weeks and I have no idea how much longer it will last. Every day I go out and take her a bowl of water and some food.

Meanwhile Julie has been assigned to pay particular attention to her mastiff's teeth. I wouldn't suggest it to everyone, said the Vet, but since you can do anything you like with him you should brush his teeth twice a day.

So that's what it's come down to. My sister is acting as valet to a dog, and I'm serving breakfast in bed to waterfowl.


Friday, September 09, 2005

goose out

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Over the last few months, I've become used to the sound of the goose waddling around outside the back door. Whenever I went out to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee after dark, she used to make this insistent sort of grumbling noise and I would have to make shushing sounds at her through the window.

However Spring has sprung, and it makes changes in all of us. Following the powerful drives of instinct, she fossicked around for bits of stuff until she was able to make a nest at the end of the walkway past the laundry. There she spends all her time, laying eggs which we know are infertile so cannot possibly hatch.

But instinct can't be challenged by logic. She sits patiently out there nearly all day and night. Now and again I can coax her into coming out to have some food and to wash her face in the bucket of water. Other times she just looks at me and makes a disapproving noise in the back of her throat.

I guess my little girl has grown up.

Driving into town the other day I gave Kay a lift. While we were talking I asked how she was doing with the correspondence courses she was taking.

"I might have some trouble with my next Maths assignment," she mused. "They want me to find out how many dollar coins will fit into a box a meter square..."


"...and I don't know how I'm going to lay my hands on that many coins."

I was silent for a second, then I said carefully "I don't think they want you to get a real box and fill it with real coins. They'll expect you to calculate it mathematically and work out how many coins would be needed."

"Ohhhhh," she said, "yes, that should be a lot easier."

I noticed Officeworks had some of those new scratch-resistant CD-R discs in their sale, so I thought I'd stock up with a few. My sister Julie said she'd come with me; there was something she wanted to look at herself.

So she comes home with a 200GB external hard drive for $199. That's only about a dollar per gigabite of storage. Quite amazing.

The first computer I ever bought had a hard drive of only 4GB. The laptop I'm writing this on has 11GB, which is small by modern standards.

But I think Julie can not only back up her drive completely, she could back up the hard drives of everyone we know!

It will, of course, take her a while to transfer her data over to it. The speed of the link from her computer isn't that fast. She has a lot of photographs and video files on her machine, so this will be a weight off her mind knowing that soon they'll all be safely backed-up.

We took Julie's mastiff Saj in to the Vet for his check-up today. He looked him over carefully, particularly at the muscle wastage around his head. Words like "cranial nerves", "catabolic" and other technical terms were murmured but nothing conclusive.

We were told to come back on Monday for an X-ray. There are plenty of more high-tech tests and scans we could try, but that would be prohibitively expensive for Julie and the probability is that even if they did find something it wouldn't help us to actually improve his condition.

Time will tell.

Running on ABC television this month is Real Life Water Rats, an interesting look at the Tasmanian maritime police unit. The first episode was gripping, depicting the rescue of the crew of a yacht in the Sydney-to-Hobart race. Conditions in Bass Strait were horrific, but all the crew were brought aboard safely.

The sea was so rough that as soon as the police boat reached port the film crew were taken to hospital to recover from acute sea-sickness.

Monday night was quiz night at the New Sydney Hotel again. We managed to make up a team with me, Julie, Caroline, Jan and her little boy Jamie.

We started off well, though inevitably some of the questions took us by surprise. Alas, the last couple of categories "Sports" and "Current Affairs" brought us undone. We ended up way down the list at the conclusion.

A lot of the questions had us muttering, "Yes, that was in the papers. It was -- what was his name?" It set me thinking about the way we consume news.

When I was in my late teens, I used to read three daily newspapers as well as Time and Newsweek. I couldn't do that today. A lot of our news comes to us electronically and we mentally filter out things that don't interest us. Television, radio, internet... we skim over what doesn't concern us.

Information is endless, Aldous Huxley once wrote, and abbreviation is a necessary evil.

Received a thick envelope of CDs from those industrious people at the Radio Archives. The first disc we listened to was a quirky programme from 1947 The Man on the Farm

Sponsored by the Quaker Oats Company on behalf of its Ful-O-Pep line of animal feeds, it began as a syndicated weekly feature in about 1942 and ran for well over a decade -- eventually making its way to the full Mutual Network in the early 1950s.

Recorded at the Quaker Oats Experimental Farm near Libertyville, Illinois and hosted by a genial Oklahoman named Chuck Akery, the program offered a lighthearted Saturday afternoon combination of audience participation show. A small studio audience, consisting mostly of indomitable farm wives, were regularly asked to answer questions sent in by listeners as Akery moved through the crowd with a portable microphone -- perhaps winning a pound of feed or two for their trouble.

Reggie Cross on the harmonica and legendary Hammond Organist Porter Heaps would perform musical duets, while Ful-O-Pep advised listeners on new ways to increase egg production and issued a weekly blue ribbon award to an outstanding farm or dairy.

In this episode, show #288, audience discussions range from how cucumbers blossom to whether watermelons only turn red inside when they're exposed to fresh air. The program concludes with a contest in which seven women compete to see who can give the best imitation of a howling tom cat.

If you grew up in a small town, were raised on a farm, or ever belonged to a rural organization, you'll find "The Man on the Farm" a familiar and entertaining time capsule of rural life in the early postwar years.

It's also a reminder that radio, in its hey-day, was far more diverse than just the big-time network shows we remember today would lead us to believe. Is it corny? Maybe -- but it's lively, down-to-earth and a lot of fun.


Saturday, September 03, 2005


Set your watches! Australia's clocks officially go atomic from today.

New national laws, which come into effect from 1 September 2005, have moved Australia to a new time standard based on the super-accurate atomic clock.

The move to UTC brings Australia in line with New Zealand, Singapore, some US states and most of the European Union.

Australia's time zones mean the leap second will actually be added to 1 January 2006, giving Australians an extra second to either enjoy celebrations or recover from their festivities.

Spring cleaning is on everyone's minds this month, and I made a token start by clearing out that cluttered corner in the kitchen. As I dug down into the stuff piled up there, I kept coming across plastic bags full of things I'd gathered up to put in the rubbish in previous weeks. They had then been covered up before I got round to tossing them out.

Housework in my place tends to resemble an archaeological dig – the further down you go the more ancient relics you discover. My sister once picked up a magazine at my place and had read through half of it before she exclaimed "This magazine is eight years old!"

Your point being?

Watching the Saturday night television news was a grim experience. The reports from the flooded city of New Orleans were uniformly disturbing even if the newsmen did dig up a couple of happy endings.

It was all unpleasantly reminiscent of the science fiction novels that Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard were writing in the 1960s. The worlds of The Final Programme and The Drowned World no longer seem so distant from our own.

Sadly the more refined catastrophes envisaged by John Wyndham are not in evidence so far in the real-life 21st century.

I've been waiting on a cheque to clear this week and you can guess what happened as soon as it did – yes, I went out and spent some money.

Julie and I hadn't seen the new Big W department store that they'd built out at Glenorchy Central, so we took a stroll round the place. I loaded up with some cheap items of clothing and sorted through the range of DVD movies.

Ended up buying the Oscar-winning Bette Davis classic All About Eve [which somehow I've managed to miss all these years], the Cary Grant thriller Notorious, two Ray Harryhausen movies Jason and the Argonauts and 20 Million Miles to Earth and a set of episodes from the 1953 Sherlock Holmes television series (you didn't know there was such a show? You're not alone!).

Coming out of Big W, we took a turn around the building and looked in on a couple of the other shops. Julie coveted some of the clothes in the French lingerie shop, we stopped for coffee at the Time Out cafe and had a stickybeak at Aussie Discount Meats (it's been decades since I've been in a Cool Room and in my lightweight summer shirt I felt as though I'd been snap frozen).

Saj, my sister's Mastiff dog, has been causing her some concern this last fortnight.

He still runs after her when she goes out to feed the livestock twice a day, but he's showing little interest in food and is slower and slower to get up in the mornings.

He's getting old for a big dog and I fear it won't be much longer before one day he simply won't wake up.

This afternoon I was listening to a CD from the FGRA titled The Crosby-Clooney Show. Three episodes of a radio series broadcast daily over CBS during 1960-61 after Garry Moore's show. Bing and Rosemary chat between songs with the Buddy Cole Trio and good-naturedly read some fairly hokey commercials. Announcer Ken Carpenter adds gravitas to the other commercials.

Lots of easy listening in this 15-minute show and it sounds good; these CDs were restored from the original 16ips master tapes.

Unleaded petrol has hit $1.30 a litre in Hobart.
To think that I should live to see the day when I'd be able to put $30 of fuel into my car without overflowing
the tank.

On ABC television tonight a rare orchid was smuggled into Midsomer Malham and released the heady scents of passion, jealousy and death in Midsomer Murders: Orchis Fatalis. DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and his offsider investigate the nasty goings on in the genteel Midsomer Malham Orchid Society in a story that might have been titled "Who is killing the great botanists of Midsomer?".

Later it's Hustle ["Rattling good fun, with slick performances all round, Hustle stylishly parodies the TV crime capers of the past"] with plot twists you'll never guess in a million years, and then Lost Highway [" the outsiders from all over America who rejuvenated Country by going Beyond Nashville - from the Bakersfield Sound of the 1950s, through to the `Outlaw' movement of the 1970s to alternative country today"].


Harp SRO

Last year's performance by the Hobart Harp Ensemble saw the biggest audience I've experienced at the Moonah Arts Centre, so I made sure we arrived early for this week's show.

And a bloody good thing too. We arrived twenty minutes before the official start and the place was almost full then. By starting time, it was standing room only and the front doors had to be closed.

It wasn't just an hour of harp music — there were strings, pipes, flutes, even something called an Irish bouzouki. Celtic traditional songs, ancient Irish harps and lutes, ending with a moving rendition of "Brian Boru's March" The audience applauded madly, forcing three encores.

I don't know that I'll be at the next concert. I've seen Taiko drumming at open-air venues and I'm not sure that I want to be shut in a small building with a troupe of drummers pounding away. Not without industrial ear-protection anyway.


Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn the September issue of Alfred Hitchock's Mystery Magazine, the cover story features a woman who starts off on a vacation and has car trouble in the middle of a thunderstorm in “Journey to Oblivion” by John H. Dirckx.

What amused me about it was that it reworked the plot of Hitchcock's classic Psycho to the point where you could almost hear the screaming string music on the soundtrack. Yes, the ending was different, but I enjoyed all the familiar plot elements in a different setting.

They say that the best in-jokes are the superfluous ones. If you've seen the movie or read Robert Bloch's novel you'd enjoy the story a little more, but if you hadn't (shame on you!) then it was still a perfectly serviceable whodunit short story.

Spring is here. And today was National Flag Day.

However, since this is Australia they held the celebration on Friday rather than Saturday so it wouldn't conflict with the football...