Saturday, January 26, 2008


Here at Chez Galaxy, Friday nights could not be more exciting. On the way home from work, I decided to forgo the still novel pleasure of taking the Great Circle Line bus home--have I told you about the incredible view as you go along Stuartholme Road?--and head for my old Friday night pit stop, the Queen Street Mall.

All day, it had been just me and the microfilm machine for company in the Fryer Library, so I think I was craving a bit of human interaction, the bustle of Friday night shoppers, the conversation of retail workers.

I found myself, as I often do, salivating over various gadgets and appliances in a kitchen ware shop. They're all so pretty and shiny. This time I actually decided to purchase something, a 20cm skillet pan that I've been contemplating for at least a year. I'm not much of an impulse buyer. Now I won't have to lug the big frying pan out for small jobs. I'm especially looking forward to those moments when making Indian and Chinese food where they call for toasting various seeds or creating a flavoured oil to pour over the final dish.

Speaking of cooking, here's a blurry photo of an okra and potato dish I made last week:

After leaving the kitchen shop, I used the magics of a phone with an internet connection to look up the location of the new city branch of my favourite eco shop. They'd sent me a catalogue by email and I quite liked the look of a few things, plus since I lost my Sigg water bottle at a gelati counter on Lygon Street in Melbourne, I've been buying and refilling various plastic water bottles, which I really prefer not to do.

I looked at the water bottles, but my aesthetic snobbery got in the way of me buying a replacement. That, and I really want it to fit in the side pocket of my backpack, so I can try to minimise the chances of losing it. Well, I can live in hope. I've always been a bit prone to losing things. I remember when I heard that song that went 'Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper. Wait a minute, where's me jumper? Where's me jumper? ... And my mother will be so, so angry...' I decided that it was my personal theme song.

Having put off the water bottle until another time, I looked at the magnet picture hangers that seemed to promise hope for renters who like pictures on their walls but aren't allowed to put up hooks or use blu-tack. Unfortunately they still involved double sided tape, but gee, what strong magnets, they could definitely keep the Andy Warhol pictures I drooled over at the GoMA shop in place, without damaging them.

I ended up buying some dish washing liquid, and then, as if to completely mock my earlier proclamation that I'm not an impulse buyer, I decide to get a Bokashi All-Food Compost Kit.

I'd never heard of them before, but just talking to my sister now, she says she's seen them on television.

Anyway, it's this bin you put your food scraps in, between layers of a Bokashi mixture, that's some kind of bacteria. Effectively what happens is that the food scraps get pickled, and after a few weeks of tamping down the bin, getting rid of air pockets, and making sure you put the right ratio Bokashi to food scraps, you can dig a hole in your garden and leave it for about three weeks, upon which time it will have turned into humus, full of nutrients for your garden.

I was a bit excited when I saw it at the eco store because straight away I could see that it was something that a renter could do, and now that I have a small patch of dirt, I also saw that it could help along my fledgling herb garden, which, by the way, was one of my new year's resolutions to establish. Even if I end up with too much pickled garbage, the pamphlet suggests I can give it to my local community garden, and since moving to this new place, I have one that I walk past most days.

I almost made it home for an exciting evening of setting up the Bokashi Kit, but I got waylaid by the bottle shop across from the bus stop and gave in to more traditional Friday night pleasures, treating myself to a Wine Adventure Pack consisting of six small bottles of Margaret River Reds.

See? The adventure never stops here at Chez Galaxy, even the wine attests to the excitementt.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Small News

On some days, you make small connections. They can be between various thoughts and concepts of which you were already aware, but it seems as though that unassuming link has finally bridged an abyss of incoherence and despair.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cheese On Toast

The teenage girl who lives next door cried so hard just before. She wailed from a place inside her that had no voice.

Now everything is silent and I've made myself cheese on toast and a cup of tea for dinner.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Flower Power

I think it was Ben, writing at Sarsaparilla recently, who made a comment about being able to recognise a landscape you were familiar with, even when it was presented to you as being another place. He used the example of films and television programmes made in Australia that were set in European countries, so, for example, a corner of Adelaide University could be represented as a building in London circa 1900. If you'd never seen the Adelaide site, you'd be none the wiser, but if you'd encountered that building everyday of your undergraduate career, then you could identify the film maker's sleight.

Reading Ben's post, I recognised my own ability to identify the places and landscapes that have been prominent in my life. This sense of recognition, combined with a slight pang in the gut, is how I could pinpoint the location on display in a slide show at a friend's place recently. On the occasion of her son's first birthday, her husband had set up a computer in the background, showing the first year of E's life. In a sequence from a visit to his maternal grandparents, I could see E before the familiar hills of a distant Great Dividing Range with low dark clouds, hovering over the haze of the blue grey hills, suffocating with their insistent humidity. The surrounding vegetation was densely green, but in the foreground evidence of farm life, partially rusted, corrugated iron sheds and stalks of sugar cane, confirmed that I was looking at somewhere in Far North Queensland, not too far from Cairns. It turned out to be Babinda, a small town about 70kms south of Cairns.

Click on photo for credit

In October last year, I saw something else that reminded me of the vegetation of my childhood. I was visiting another friend. She was house-sitting at a property at Maleny, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, just north of Brisbane. It wasn't the surrounding landscape that evoked the visceral reaction that catapulted me back about 25 years, but the plants throughout the house of the somewhat luxurious cottage.

They were orchids, those exquisitely crafted flowers found principally in rain forests, which is where I encountered them, on our annual holidays to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree.

I remember the first time I saw one in its natural environment. It was growing from the side of a large tree. I identified it as a Cooktown orchid, which is Queensland's floral emblem.

I was excited to recognise it from my school books and all at once, I felt ridiculously proud that the state floral emblem came from the part of Queensland in which I lived, yet strangely puzzled by the lack of gravitas surrounding the encounter. Stumbling over such an important flower by chance seemed to be missing in the appropriate ceremony.

When I visited C I had to learn the story of the orchids. It turned out they belonged to the gardener and he cultivated them in a greenhouse at the back of the house and when they bloomed, he placed them throughout the house so they could be enjoyed by its owners.

I was awestruck by a weird combination of admiration at such skill (the rest of the garden was pretty spectacular too) and nostalgia for wonderful holidays in such a unique environment.

I remembered walking through rain forests and being lassoed by wait-a-whiles, dropping their spurred ropes to trap unsuspecting passers-by; trying to catch yabbies in rain forest creeks, but never being quite quick enough; daring to eat an unfamiliar berry because it looked so much like a tiny strawberry (luckily, it turned out to be a wild variety); being serenaded, as we made sand castles on the beach, by a tall man known locally as 'cane knife'; walking what seemed like miles to a shop we weren't sure was open, guided only by the marker of a very tall palm tree; and wading through mangroves up to our knees in their muddy stench, ever fearful of encountering a saltwater crocodile.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting Cooler with Polar Bears

For a brief moment I thought of renaming this blog Misery Guts because it's been a bit like that lately hasn't it? But then I figured if the Dostoevsky quote didn't alert the punters to the general tone then there was little else I could do to warn them. Perhaps I could change the quote to the first line of Notes from Underground: 'I am a sick man. I am an angry man. There is something wrong with my liver'. Has there ever been a better start to a book? Dostoevsky would almost certainly have been a blogger if only the technology had been available to him. Then he could have had his writing career cut short by debilitating insecurity arising from the contempt of journalists. Something of which illiterate, bullying journalists everywhere could be really feckin proud.

Anyway, much of this general malaise I've been expressing has, of course, been my own fault. There is something wrong with my liver, so to speak, because I haven't been achieving things to my own satisfaction. It's a strange vortex to find yourself in: unmotivated because you're not motivated to do anything. It's quicksand, which I've only ever seen on television in adventure series I watched as a child, but I think this vortex might also be a lot like that island in The Life of Pi that, at night time, starts to consume everything that remains on its surface.

The only way to avoid complete destruction is to try and climb a tree, one branch at a time.

I started yesterday, beginning with doing small bits of work for the Research Assistant positions I have. I would tell you more about it but one of the jobs involves ethics applications and I think there's been enough disingenuous discussion around that topic propagated by mischievous, nay, malicious, national daily newspapers targeting vulnerable subjects this past year.

(Sorry, I'll take the needle off the record).

I've rattled on a bit too much already before getting to the main purpose of this post, which is to climb another small branch. This one is a pleasure, but, yes, a neglected pleasure. Last year I was tagged by Mark to do an Animeme. I was very excited to be tagged--Mark judged my interests well--so I felt a bit 'uncool' not to have followed through.

An interesting animal I had.

I've never had any kind of exotic animal, which was my first interpretation of this question.

As a kid my siblings and I had a dog named Buffy--years before The Vampire Slayer came into our lives. I still feel a bit sorry for Buffy, he was a Blue Cattle/Kelpie cross, so it was just cruel to keep him on a suburban block. We ended up giving him away to someone who owned a property, so I think he would have had a happy life in the end.

Before Buffy, we had a Siamese cat. She turned up one day on our doorstep at Trinity Beach. She was beautiful. We asked around but no-one claimed her so we kept her. We looked up a book for Thai names and decided to call her Dara, which meant star. She used to bring me gifts and would wake me up with that Siamese yowl at the window. I would let her in and proceed to scream and wake up the rest of the household in response to the mouse or flying fox she delivered so proudly. My father objected to Dara disturbing me, so he said we had to give her away. To this day, I still don't understand that decision. If I was ever in the position to have another animal, I would get a Siamese cat.

An interesting animal I ate.

I'm not at all certain about revealing this one. Let me explain. My father had a job working for the Far North Queensland Electricity Board. He was a maintenance supervisor and part of his job was to ensure the supply to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on the Cape York Peninsula. He was often gifted meat by the local residents, and because they were the traditional owners of the land they were able to fish for meat that non-indigenous people were not. It's on account of this set of circumstances that when I was between 8 and 12 I ate turtle and dugong meats. I can't really remember them in any great detail. I have an impression of white meat in both cases.

An interesting animal in the museum.

Hmmm. In the Queensland Museum they have a parade of animals ranging from largest to smallest. Above the whole menagerie a whale is suspended. It's interesting because at a glance you can compare the beasts of the world. I was surprised by how large wombats are; I've never seen one in real life, so I had imagined them far smaller about the size of an adult cat. Maybe it was because it was so round, but it seemed to resemble an ottoman.

Does Sea World count as a museum? The polar bears there are very interesting.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal.

An interesting thing an animal once did to me was on the occasion, again at Sea World, when a pelican flew overhead and shat on my sister and I. That was about 5 years ago. We had another trip there a few days ago, this time with my niece and my other sister as well. Hannah didn't like the thought of being pooped on by a pelican. I said it was very fishy and not much like poo as we knew it at all.

Once I sat down to have my lunch at work and spent the whole time being entertained by a scrub turkey having a dust bath in a hole it had dug in a garden bed. Fascinating. (This one probably belongs more in the next question).

Perhaps the most interesting encounter, however, was with a cassowary at Lake Eacham or was it Lake Barrine? One of those lakes on the Atherton Tableland somewhere that we seemed to visit on every school trip. We had just moved to Cairns from Gladstone, and coincidentally, my grandmother from the UK was visiting, so she moved with us too. Apparently at a certain time of day the cassowaries would wander out of the rain forest of their own accord, into a clearing. We decided collectively as a family that we'd like to get a photo of my grandmother with a
cassowary. Obviously we didn't know much of their powerful legs and the capacity of that bony protrusion on their heads, otherwise I'm sure we wouldn't have made her stand there while the cassowary practically stood beside her while we tried to get the perfect shot. She was quite nervous and we were blithely reassuring.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat.

When Mark tagged me, he hoped I might say something about the lizards we encounter here in Queensland. It's true. You can be walking along the side of a busy road and, suddenly, before you is a dragon lizard sunning itself, but managing to look a bit threatening while doing so.

This one's on Fulcher Road at Red Hill, just approaching the Broncos League's Club. I often encounter them too while walking past the Normanby Hotel. I've just remembered that me and some friends tried to have a picnic by the Lakes at UQ once and we had to move because a whole army of them came out of the bushes.

Speaking of the UQ Lakes, the most recent spring was a delight as birds of all kinds began shepherding their young across pathways and taking umbrage at any pedestrian who came too close. (I did once see someone deliberately taunting an adult bird, all the while talking on his mobile phone, and he's very lucky that mobile and indeed his person didn't end up in the lake. Moron).

Again, ducks aren't very exotic, I suppose, but I found they do interesting things. One day I saw some ducks seeking privacy away from the main lake, ushering their offspring into a large puddle, a perfect training pool. Another day as I was walking through a building at work, a family of ducks was walking through too. They were a bit far away from the lake, perhaps lured by the puddles forming all over campus due to the then recent rains? Everyone stood aside for the ducks and one kind soul made sure they didn't get stuck at the glass door, gently prompting them in the right direction outside.


There, that ended a whole lot better than it began, didn't it? I did think about going back and cutting the early vitriol out. The animeme made me feel a whole lot better. Thanks, Mark.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy (Sniffle) New Year

I'm at home today, feeling sick and miserable. I was at home yesterday too, but then I only felt sick with a sore throat. I managed to get some work done yesterday, watching a couple of telemovies on DVD it's true, but I made copious notes afterwards and entered the characters' details into the spread sheet I've created for the purposes of content analysis and comparison.

I'm a bit pleased because I've managed to hire these DVDs for free. I've signed up to have DVDs delivered to my home and the introductory offer gives the first 10 free, which is a good start on the series of telemovies that is Halifax f.p. It's not exactly ground breaking television or anything, but it's 'quality' in that British sense with top notch Australian actors starring throughout. Yesterday I saw an episode, 'Lies of the Mind' that had Jacqueline McKenzie and Richard Roxburgh in it. Angela Punch McGregor was no slouch in it either.

My point of interest in Halifax f.p. is that it started in the mid-90s around the time that Cracker did in the UK. It's psychiatrist as detective, a type of character that emerged as a way to reinvigorate the police/detective genre. It's not so much whodunnit but whydunnit.

Hey, did I tell you that I got accepted into a masterclass being held by Charlotte Brunsdon? She's one of the early Birmingham School people. I've engaged with her work quite a bit over the course of my thesis. She wrote some papers urging academics to engage with the concept of 'quality' in television rather than leaving the term to be hijacked by more conservative forces. She was writing in the context of a debate around new broadcasting policy in the UK. She noted that the term 'quality' was being used in the legislation, but it was rarely defined. She challenged cultural studies academics who had spent about two decades interrogating the ideological bases for value judgements to counter the common sense understanding of the term (generally historical and educational) with definitions of their own, suggesting that 'quality' television could be innovative television that pushed the boundaries of the medium. In the context of cultural studies it was quite a radical suggestion.

In other television related news, I got an email yesterday from someone for whom I'm supposed to be reviewing a book about television criticism. It's true I've had the book a long time, longer than is acceptable, but I'm not so sure about being called 'uncool' because of my lateness. Perhaps I'm reacting badly because I suspect it is really uncool. I took the book on in the context of the public lynching I got over at Sarsaparilla by various middling members of the writing staff at the national daily newspaper for daring to suggest that one of their colleagues was patronising towards the television audience, especially the viewers of confessional talk shows and lifestyle television.

Looking back, I rather suspect that I stumbled into some kind of pre-existing intra-office feud because their response was entirely out of proportion to what I had actually written. Another clue was the suggestion by one of writers that I should have revealed that I was acquainted with the member of the writing staff who was on leave at the time. The suggestion was a bizarre misreading of a follow up comment I had made about that writer contacting me privately in response to my original post.

I probably shouldn't have agreed to review any book in such a context. I hate that I'm still talking about it, but I have to say that the whole experience was a real punch to the guts. If I use the lynch mob metaphor then it's because it felt like I was being pursued by a torch-wielding mob who delivered blow after blow on the basis of some kind of unfounded prejudice. Their response wasn't logical, it was highly emotional and uninformed by anything I had actually written, and one writer in particular clearly sought blood, stalking me to my university email address when she could easily have emailed me through the address I've provided on this blog.

Even though logically I know that their behaviour was appalling and their fabricated accusations bore absolutely no relation to my work, I think I can pinpoint that moment as a turning point in the year, where I began a slow downward slide into paralysing insecurity about my work. I hate admitting it lest it give them some kind of creepy satisfaction. But of course they're not reading this blog, in the same way that I haven't read their paper since.

I still really like my thesis project however. I think it's worthwhile and I've had conversations with various people whose opinions count in the broader world of television studies that confirm this independently. It's the writing. It takes very little for me to be insecure about my writing, even in the face of praise about it. I procrastinate beyond deadlines. It's very frustrating.

And 'uncool'.