Friday, March 30, 2007

Poisonous Loathesome Toad

I've been fascinated by the pictures of the toad found in Darwin recently. The frequent descriptions of it as the 'size of a small dog' has me imagining it being carried around in Paris Hilton's handbag, complete with a toady tiara.

More than that fetching picture that I've created for myself, however, I am reminded of growing up in far north Queensland where toads were the bane of one's daily existence.

As a child, I could never understand why a major character in The Wind in the Willows was a toad. That fact put me off enjoying the story in any substantial way, because it seemed such a strange thing to like a toad.

To any one who has been plagued by toads, they are not to be regarded as good-natured, though impulsive, anthropomorphised creatures; they are pestilence and terror.

Once, a friend of my mother's gave my sisters and I a box of clothes she was throwing out. We were very excited by the prospect of something new to wear and so, eagerly, began pulling the clothes out in order to press them against ourselves to check their fit. Before we had any opportunity to see if the clothes suited us, at least three toads leapt out of the box and scattered throughout the house.

As if the unpleasant surprise wasn't traumatic enough--our screams had my mother running to see who had died--then there was the awful task of trying to herd the toads out without actually touching one. (How those toadbusters manage to just pick them up, even with latex covered hands, I don't know. *Shudder*.)

At some point, I must have managed to capture a toad, and so touch one, because in my year 9, maybe 10, biology class we were asked to bring one in for a dissection exercise. It was explained to us that with such a ready supply of toads at hand it would be senseless for the school to source specially bred creatures for dissection. The teacher further suggested that we would be doing the environment a small favour by ridding it of the toads. (A suggestion that many of the boys took to with gusto and their cricket bats.)

So, with the native fauna preservation flag waving, I set about dissecting a toad. I saw its heart still apparently beating. We wondered why some toads were grossly overweight with fingers of fat down their sides. The teacher explained that it was on account of their diet. He predicted that if we opened the fat toad's stomach we would find dog or cat food, while the slimmer toads would have consumed fibrous insects.

That explained yet another daily battle with the toads that took place at my house. I had often shooed them away from the area where our dog fed, but assumed they were after his water. It had never occurred to me they were actually eating Buffy's food. Gross!

Since I moved to Brisbane, I have have rarely seen a toad, for which I am extremely grateful. They are of course in this part of the world, but not so much in the inner city suburbs where I have generally resided. Seeing the Darwin toad has made my skin crawl, no end. Still it's nice to be able to read these days that the kookaburras and crows of Australia have adapted to the poisonous invaders:
Their natural diet consists of mainly insects and small invertebrates as well as small snakes, frogs, lizards, rodents, and the occasional small bird. They have also been known to flip cane toads over and eat the toad’s insides out while cleverly avoiding the toad’s poison sacks.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I took this photo of a culture-jammed poster on the side of a bus shelter along Petrie Terrace in Brisbane late last year.

The original ad was part of a series advertising Cougar Dark Rum. The posters employed an image of ironic masculinity: Barry 'The Cougar' Dawson, resplendent in 70s garb and interior decoration, saying terribly ironic things like, 'I enjoy my rum the way I enjoy my women: on the rocks'.

What made me laugh so much about the culture-jammer's modification of the poster was the way s/he so successfully punctured the deceit of so much irony, particularly when used in the service of reasserting good old-fashioned sexism.

I had viewed the original posters and not really found them amusing, but reasoned that I wasn't the target market for Cougar Dark Rum. However, it also occurred to me at the time that the posters had missed the boat of the ironic 90s. Hadn't we already seen this particular advertising strategy ad nauseam? Could such an ad now be read as anything other than actually sexist?

The genius of 'finish me off', to my mind, was that it captured the post-ironic moment, I think we now find ourselves in, quite perfectly. As a statement it required no convoluted tools for interpretation. It responded to the poster with a simple directive 'enough is enough'; perhaps, 'that joke isn't funny anymore'; or 'everyone sees through this disingenuous attempt to use sexism in the service of sales, and get away with it'. That 'finish me off' might also refer to finishing off a drink, elevated the tactic deployed by the culture-jammer into the realm of the sublime.

Anyway, all of this, has been a convoluted way of directing you over to Sarsaparilla to read my most recent post there. You'll see the connection, eventually.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

98 Reasons For Blogging: 14

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks. I’m not even sure how I managed to blog three times the week before last. Not that posting pictures created by other people really counts as a great blogging effort...

Anyway, I guess I’ve made up for that rush of online productivity with the silence of the last seven days.

If I thought that anyone was hanging on my every word, and wanted me to post more often, of course I’d be thrilled. That would be tremendous for my ego, which I’m afraid does need more shoring up from others than is seemly. I would like to be more seemly.

I think there are advantages for everyone from a general reduction in my blog posting. I know sometimes I get overwhelmed by the number of posts from any one blog, so if I don’t add to the number of unread posts in your bloglines or google reader accounts, then that can only be a good thing.

A reduction in posting—not that this is a concerted plan or anything—will also be good for practising how to work without constant reward. Yes, it’s back to my fragile ego, I’m sorry.

I once watched a documentary about the kind of people who are recruited into the SAS. I was interested because my father served in the British SAS before he married my mother. I’m not sure that I gained much insight into the paternal mind, but I was struck by some comments made in the documentary about high achieving soldiers from the general forces who were ultimately found not to be suitable recruits for the SAS. The problem, apparently, was that while the soldiers were recommended by their superior officers as being especially talented when it came to doing the kinds of operations that the SAS does, they were reliant on the constant praise from their superiors in order to work effectively. And, it seems that an SAS operative just needs to get on with the job and not require constant pats on the back.

I do recall, when I first started my master’s, attending a research session where the convenor said something very similar about the postgraduate experience. He warned of the dangers of getting distracted from the long stretches of isolation required for research and writing the thesis by the more frequent rewards of other activities—conference papers and journal articles, I supposed.

I didn’t heed the advice at all and basked in the rewards of being involved in the production of a journal. I don’t regret making that contribution, I’m proud of it, but my thesis did suffer. Badly. And then illness struck. And for a while, everything went completely pear-shaped.

Now I wonder if all this talk about not constantly seeking the reassurance that blogging can provide (although it doesn’t always deliver), is because I’ve taken on teaching and its associated and frequent rewards this semester? I fear it is.

I really enjoyed not teaching last year. Instead, I worked on my doctorate and earned some extra money doing a series of research assistant contracts. It was when I accepted that first offer of RA work that I came up with a kind vague vision of a career trajectory that I have come to refer to as THE FUTURE. Up to that point, I’d had minimal RA experience, and I’ve since kept saying yes to contracts as a way of securing THE FUTURE.

In the second semester of last year, I was serendipitously offered some marking in a subject that was part of a degree devoted to television. I jumped at the chance. Here, television would not be an afterthought to film, as in 10 weeks on film and, oh yeah, here’s a couple of hours to look at television. Again, I thought of THE FUTURE. It’s unlikely I’d get a job at the university where I’m doing my degree, but if I acquitted myself elsewhere and built good networks and amenable working relationships, then perhaps I’d be in good stead should any employment opportunities arise. That plan seems to have worked because now I’m tutoring in another subject that’s part of the aforementioned degree.

Now it turns out that the RA work has led to another opportunity to work on THE FUTURE. I find myself having been recommended to take a class of honours and new postgraduate students in the vagaries of research methods. As soon as I was offered the class, as well as a couple of lectures, I couldn’t help but think of all those ridiculous advertisements for Level B academic positions that ask newly minted doctors to have experience teaching honours and masters students. I was, of course, scared to death about my ability to impart anything of any use to anyone about qualitative research, but then THE FUTURE loomed: I could put this on my CV; it’s a rare opportunity, I will be able to apply for those advertised positions etc.

I took my first tutorial last night, and it turns out I do know stuff, which is a good thing because everyone was looking at me, and stopping me for further advice after class, as if I do. It was rewarding, I was completely abuzz afterwards.

What does this mean for my own thesis? Will it prove to be one of those lovely but lethal distractions I was warned about so long ago now? In my most affirmative frame of mind I tell myself that being an academic will be about juggling my own research with teaching and other responsibilities, so I need to acclimatise myself; if I can’t manage this then how will I manage an academic career anyway? In my worst moments I wonder if I’m not just enjoying the flattery, the stoking of my annoyingly fragile self at the expense of the most important task at hand?

Right, it’s time to get back to my thesis. Pretend I’m in the SAS. Get to it, soldier.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hey Sistah!

Happy International Women's Day.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


When I was in primary school and still young enough to think that parents knew everything, I was convinced that prunes were not plums before they became prunes. I thought this because my father had told me that, ‘Prunes are prunes’. At the time this seemed like some great existential revelation (although of course I did not know of existentialism then), a sort of Being and Nothingness of the fruit universe. He used to travel for his work and he told me that he had seen how prunes grew. In my head, I imagined that prunes grew in the way that grapes did, in trestled vineyards, and pickers would come along, hands clad in canvas gloves, and pluck the shrivelled but still moist fruits from their stems.

Impressed with this new information I stored it in my mind, only to discover that I had occasion to retrieve it far sooner than I might have expected. As part of a worksheet exercise in class one day, there was a question that asked ‘What is a prune?’ Before learning from my father about the Zen of prunes, I too would have answered, ‘a dried plum’. Equipped with this new counter-intuitive knowledge, however, I insisted that, ‘Prunes are prunes’, and nothing would dissuade me from my conviction.

The teacher tried very hard to convince me, even going so far as to show me a concise dictionary entry which stated that a prune was indeed ‘a dried plum’. At that point I conceded—outwardly, at least. On the way home from school, I continued the discussion with my friend. I said that I wasn’t entirely persuaded by the teacher’s proof because it was clear for anyone to see that prune pits were quite a different shape to those of plums: prune pits were more oval and had sharp pointed ends, while plum pits were round.

Much to my chagrin, my friend didn't agree with me. I forget the exact details of her argument but she was more adamant than I was about the genealogy of the prune. I recall eventually admitting that perhaps prunes were dried plums, but wondered if she would concede that they weren’t the same variety of plum that we were familiar with in the fresh form? She never really did acknowledge my observation, and stubbornly insisted that I admit that prunes were dried plums without any mitigating details.

Since then, I hadn’t really thought of The Prune Incident, but I was reminded of it recently when I began buying trays of sugar plums from my favourite green grocer. I’d never tried this variety of plum before, but at $3.99 for 750g, they seemed worth trying.

After I ate the first one and saw the oblong shaped pit with pointy ends, I wondered if at last I had encountered the variety of plum that was the precursor of the prune as I knew it. I haven’t checked any sources, but I’m convinced the sugar plum is the prune plum.

Not only is the pit the right shape, but the shape and size of this plum are more similar to the dried prune than the large round variety of plum that was a treat every summer when I was growing up.

Just looking up ‘prune’ in another dictionary now, I see one of the definitions is:

prune³ proon, n a plum (obs); a dried plum; a plum suitable for drying (US)

Is it worth mentioning that prune can also mean ‘a dud teacher pilot (airmen’s slang); [and] a despised or silly “friend” person (colloq)’?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Possum Tales

I found this graphic on a site called Brisbane Stories. It was on a page that asked 'What is Brisbane like?'

What an excellent question; I'm glad you're interested. All I can say is it's no mistake that the possum features so prominently on this Council sponsored webpage. In view of recent events I have come up with my own promotional slogan, one that I encourage everyone to use when speaking of the Smart Sunshine State's capital city:

'Welcome to Brisbane! A place where marsupials roam the streets and pop in for a visit at 4am!'

Catchy isn't it? And far more true than 'Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next' (Oh, will we ever live that one down? At least it doesn't rain anymore, an event that used to ruin many a tourist's bizarre assumption that 'beautiful' and 'perfect' equal 'sunny').

Anyway, here's what happened. I was woken by a noise at 4am. I lay in bed for a minute or two before I thought I should probably just check what the source of the noise was, so I could go back to sleep with a clear mind. I got out of bed without turning on a light, when a dark shape caught my eye up in the right hand corner of the skylight in my ceiling.

At first I wasn't sure if my bleary eyes were playing tricks on me. Then I had the wherewithal to turn on my bedside lamp and the shadow was revealed as one of these:

I think. It could have been one of these:
I didn't get a great look at its tail, but its face was very dark and its ears were stubby and round rather than long and pointy like the second picture.

We just looked at one another for a few minutes. I realised that the noise had been the possum's claws on the glass louvre. I consoled myself that s/he probably wouldn't come any further into the room, since the only way down would have involved dropping a fair distance onto a pile of defunct appliances. Just in case the possum was contemplating making the leap, I said to it, 'Don't you bring your children in here'. S/he continued to look at me before walking along the length of the skylight and exiting noiselessly through the louvres at the other end.

My friend, Dr. H, has befriended the possums who visit her. They get all sorts of treats, including macadamia nuts from a tree in her back yard. This possum will have to work out how to use the front door if s/he wants any treats from me.

Another friend once told me that her grandmother believed that it was good luck when animals came into your home. This is the biggest critter I've ever had visit me in this flat, and there have been quite a few visitors over the years. I think I'll believe S's grandmother; things must be about to get a whole lot better. Yay!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pineapple Gothic

Here's a photo my brother took while he was visiting over Christmas. He went up to the Sunshine Coast for the day especially to take some shots.

If you want to see more, especially of places around Melbourne, then click through to his flickr page. I could be biased, but some of his photos are just awesome (and that's not a word I use lightly, unlike some former Australian Idol contestants I can think of.)