Saturday, December 20, 2003


Sorry for the long absence - it's been a strange and busy month. In particular I keep getting the feeling I'm mentally too busy - like there's just too much going around in my head, and something important will get lost. Better than too little, I guess.

The family piano resides in my house now (has for ages actually). To negotiate its smooth passage into the spare room, I made a promise that I would take some lessons again. I haven't got around to that...yet.

But I've always wanted to play a harpsichord. I use to particularly love playing Bach, and would have loved to try out some of those pieces on the instrument they were intended for.

A while ago I learned that there is such a thing as a Roxichord, an electronic keyboard that emulates a harpsichord. For some silly reason this filled me with joy. Inexplicably, the idea of a synthesiser version seemed really cool.

In other news, Posh spice doesn't like pips in her grapes. Come to think of it, I much prefer the seedless ones too, but somehow I consider myself above mentioning it too loudly. I still somehow think of seedless grapes as a kind of luxury you shouldn't automatically expect, even though they're pretty much the only kind I've eaten for at least a decade.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Music: on high rotation

Currently going into the CD player very regularly:

The Darkness
Permission to Land

Hilarious British rock band with many obvious influences including Queen. Lead singer has an amazing falsetto, the music is great and they don't take themselves too seriously.

The Beautiful South
Painting it red

One of my favourite bands. They have a knack for sounding sweet while singing weird bitter things. Very clever lyrics but a couple of hooky songs on every album too. The very first time I heard them was on tv, they were playing one of those annual huge British festivals. I was struck by the combination of male and female lead voices on a lot of their songs, which is something you don't hear too often. They have a new female singer, Alison Wheeler, on the latest album, Gaze, but she sounds a lot like the previous one (Jaqueline Abbot).

Robbie Williams
The ego has landed
Sing when you're winning

Um, I don't know if I can explain this.

The New Pornographers
Electric Version

Vancouver 'super group' made up of people from indie bands and country singer Neko Case.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

BOOKS: Possession and Harry Potter

I finished Possession by A.S. Byatt yesterday morning, after dozing off a few times trying to finish it on Friday night. It was a wonderful book, I really enjoyed it and can see what all the fuss was about. Now I'll rent the movie and try not to expect too much. It did get good reviews, if I recall correctly. However, Gwyneth was recently quoted saying she only really likes two of the movies in her back catalogue and it wasn't one of them.

This morning I polished off Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, having started it yesterday. So many people have been telling me I should read those books, and my reply was always that I was just waiting for someone to lend me the first one. No-one seemed to have it handy. My theory is that less adults own the first one or two, they would have borrowed them, then gotten more into the series and by time the last one was released, just about everyone lined up to buy the hardcover the second it came out.

Anyway, I joined the library to borrow it. It actually gives me great pleasure to once again have a library card. I haven't been a member of the public library for ages; it's even been years since I had access to the uni library. I just got into the habit of buying second hand and remaindered books, in far greater quantities than I've ever had time to read. I've been slowing down the buying pace for ages now but I still have probably hundreds of books that I haven't read. (Shaun has read some of them though!). Not to mention Kam's collection as well. A lot of these I still look forward to eagerly; some don't interest me quite as much as they did when I bought them. I used to think I could eventually find time to read every single book that looked interesting and was available cheap. I've started being much more selective now. I have to remember that time wasted reading one thing is time when I could have been reading something else.

Not having used the library for years, it's a real thrill to be back. Since I'm also trying cut down my spending a bit, I'm planning to see how many of the books on my to-read list might be available there.

To get to the point, I enjoyed Harry Potter 1, but it was a bit thin. A lot of things happen without much detail or background. I felt that Rowling simplified a lot of things that could have been more interesting and held the attention longer. Even making allowance for the fact that it's a kids book - I've read and loved kid's books that were more original and better developed. I guess though, that this may be a factor in Pottermania - it's been a book that got children to read, including those who don't like reading (not to mention countless adults in the same boat). It's easy to relate to and quick to digest. Obviously Rowling touched a nerve and reached a lot of people, and I'm not going to complain about that.

I'm planning to read the rest of the books, and I just hope that as she wrote the successive installments, Rowling might have tried to gradually provide a more fulfilling and complex reading experience. Without scaring off those reluctant readers.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Word Nerd!

Yesterday morning, Kam had walked the dogs in the short space of time that it wasn't actually raining, and then they were quite wet and confined to the laundry, waiting for me to find a dry-ish towel to reduce them to merely damp, and therefore suitable for entry to the rest of the house. This caused me to comment on the irony of almost all the dog's towels (ie the old ratty ones) being out on the line, in the rain. I couldn't use them because they were soaking wet, and the time we need them the most is when it rains and we need to dry the dogs and cover the couches.

Recently I pointed out that I didn't think Ethan Hawke's pithy definition of irony in Reality Bites quite hit the mark. Reeling from this bombshell, Jo challenged me to:


"When the actual meaning is the exact opposite of what's said."

This sounded really good in the movie. Pithy, sharp, and off-the-cuff. But it's not exactly my understanding of irony.

I think the Reality Bites definition is probably closer to sarcasm, though even for that it would have to depend on the tone and intention. At face value, it could be just a definition of stupidity.

I'm constantly discovering how much of my vocabulary is based only on in-context understandings. I often find myself grabbing the dictionary as I'm reading (or scribbling the word on my bus ticket to look up later) to check words I once would have happily accepted. My understanding of irony seems to be all in-context, and I was hard-pressed to actually define the word.

Oddly, the several dictionaries I consulted consistently put what seems to be a definition of sarcasm as number 1, under irony.

Witness, the Australian Oxford:

1. the expression of one's meaning by using words of the opposite meaning in order to make one's remarks forceful.
2. (of an occurrence) the quality of being so unexpected or ill-timed that it appears to be deliberately perverse.

Number 2 here is getting towards the way I would use the term, but is still really quite unsatisfying. It sounds a bit like just bad luck. My instinct is that genuine irony needs to have something more to it. This guy, in pulling apart Alanis Morrissette's song "Ironic", contends that bad luck isn't enough.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has a similar definition, but adds Socratic irony up first, which is a bit odd. I would have expected it to be tacked on at the end.

Main Entry: iro·ny
Pronunciation: 'I-r&-nE also 'I(-&)r-nE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -nies
Etymology: Latin ironia, from Greek eirOnia, from eirOn dissembler
Date: 1502
1 : a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning -- called also Socratic irony
2 a : the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b : a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c : an ironic expression or utterance
3 a (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity b : incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play -- called also dramatic irony, tragic irony

Merriam Webster's 3a is, I think, getting towards what I was looking for. It covers some of the different scenarios that are commonly considered ironic.

Surfing the net revealed a few gems, like this one: "Watching Shallow Hal long enough to see the part where the bethonged Gwyneth Paltrow bends over, then shutting off the television." I haven't seen the movie but I think I know enough - the movie is about a guy who is forced (bewitched?) to see the inner beauty of women instead of the exterior. He sees the Gwyneth Paltrow character as gorgeous and slender, and it is only later in the movie when he finds out she is actually obese. The message of the movie would be something about the dangers of judging people by their looks alone.

In my previous post I referred to the irony of forgetting, on the 12th of November, that the previous day had been Remembrance Day.

These examples seem to be irony, and they do fit the definition above. But I still don’t think the definition really covers it. I think you come up with an example that fits the definition but isn’t really ironic.

Anyone care to help me out?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Fashion Victim

I did not have the most productive of Wednesdays last week. Wednesday is my work-at-home day. As opposed to work from home. As in unpaid but not supposed to be a holiday. Frankly, I had achieved two loads of washing and had taken the dogs for a walk. I had also finished reading High Fidelity (highly recommended). So I decided to go to the War Memorial. I'd been meaning to go there for ages, ever since I went years ago with my grandparents, and had immediately planned to go back because there was so much more to see.

By Wednesday I had already forgotten that the previous day had been Remembrance Day (and no, the irony is not lost on me), and even if I had thought about it I might not have realised that this would mean the War Memorial would be TEEMING with school groups. I guess they were the ones that missed out on a booking for the 11th.

Anyway, I decided the hordes wouldn't stop me and I moved into targeted mode - my mission was WW2 - when I found myself following a group of girls. They looked about ten at the most. The one I just couldn't look away from was wearing stretch bootleg jeans and a black, tight, off the shoulder top - and the finishing touch was a pair of fluorescent pink bra straps.

I'm sure this isn't the single most inappropriate pre-teen girl's outfit I've seen. But it really spun me out. I'm actually not prudish about seeing a bit of bra strap, even though I still don't tend to expose mine. I know fashion has moved waaay past that point. I'm also aware, just from walking through Target, that they now make bras for pretty much every age group that can walk. I guess it was just the combination of the age and the visibility. And I'm not even going to go into how I feel about fluroescent colours appearing in clothing again.

Quite apart from being inappropriate, I think the adult clothes for young girls phenomenon could also have more serious implications. If pre-teen girls are wearing adult jeans, for example, the jeans makers create tinier sizes so that the girls can look exactly like mini adults and don't have the indignity of shopping in the kids' section. So these girls think they are wearing adult sizes. What happens then when they start to grow into their true adult body shape? Do they think they're getting fat? Might they then start dieting, which can mess up the metabolism and start them on a weight loss-gain rollercoaster for life. Just a theory.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The Love Bug?

Tonight as I was driving to my soccer game, I was passed by a new VW Beetle, with a fancy customised paint job. It had custom number plates too. I had to look twice to be sure I had it right:


Is there a joke I'm not getting?

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Ooh shiny!

If only I had a spare £225 for a book of Queen photos. Although, sadly, the deluxe edition which is "bound in full leather using both black and white goatskins carefully butted together" (phwoar) is already sold out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Happy Birthday Kam. I love you.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Today, it really is all about Shaun

Happy birthday Bertie!

I'm thrilled to see you posted a couple more SSS's (Surreal Short Stories).

I hope nice things randomly happen to you, today and every day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Backpacker

In June 2001, I went to Poland with my Grandma. For the first couple of weeks I was there, I didn't get to do much travelling or sightseeing at all. I didn't speak Polish and most of the time Grandma was my only English-speaking companion. It was observed that I was not as bubbly and chatty as my sister, who had visited Poland before me. I kind of resented the comparison, even though it's true.

It wasn't until some other Australian relatives arrived that I got a bit more organised in planning some activities, and finally just before we were due to leave Poland, I even plucked up the courage for a short trip alone. I spent about three days visiting various places in Krakow and surrounding areas (including Auschwitz) with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Then they all went back to the farm at Kamien, and I got on a minibus alone to visit the mountain town of Zakopane.

This was my first overseas trip, and I had spent most of it so far in living rooms eating cake and drinking tea, or in the farmyard kicking a ball around with the kids and befriending the dogs. So I was feeling raw, inexperienced, and tongue-tied.

I had borrowed a backpack from my cousin, because I had travelled to Poland with a suitcase. The pack was really too big for me, and even without a lot of gear in it, surprisingly heavy. I wasn't really comfortable carrying it far, and had already had trouble with it, bumping into people on a crowded tram in Krakow.

My general instinct as a tourist - and actually any situation where I'm a stranger - is to be as cool, calm and collected as possible. My (possibly stupid) rules are: 1.Work it out yourself rather than asking dumb questions. 2. Bluff. You might be ignorant but don't show it. 3. Avoid showing surprise or amazement.

So at the same time as feeling a bit uncertain, I was also being Ms Cool & Natural and trying to blend in with the scenery.

I checked into the hostel, which I had picked out of the Lonely Planet Guide, at about 6:30pm, having arrived in Zakopane much later than I had intended. The young woman at the reception desk spoke English haltingly. Because I would be staying in a 12-bed dorm, and I wanted to go out and explore the town, I asked if there was somewhere I could lock my bag. She said 'I'll just ask someone', which I thought was a bit strange. A few minutes later she came back with a big guy, maybe a security guard, who proceeded to carry my bag up to my room for me. Suddenly I realised that that was what she thought I had asked for, some kind of porter to carry my bag! I was completely mortified. I felt like an utter failure as a backpacker, and I was glad when we got to the room that there was only one other person there to witness my terrible shame.

In the end I took my valuables with me and left my bag in the room. I actually had a very interesting stay in Zakopane, and I might write about that some time.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I'm dobbing on you!

My two dogs are litter-mates, brother and sister, and people are always surprised that Mia is the dominant one. Well, she is quite a bit bigger and stronger, and more of a smarty-pants. Someone has to be the boss.

She used to be satisfied with tricks like abandoning her chewy toy to steal the one Elvis is working on. She also makes him swap bowls repeatedly as they eat their food, so she can take full advantage of her much faster eating speed. And every now and then she gives him a thorough licking (literally) in a parental sort of way.

Lately she's gotten more grouchy. She'll growl at him randomly - sometimes she's protecting her favourite spot on the couch, even though he's not even trying to get up there - but sometimes it's for no apparent reason. Just to let him know she is the boss. And most especially, Princess Mia is boss of the bed.

These days Elvis doesn't even jump up there at bedtime. Left to his own devices, he'll go to sleep on the blanket on the floor. Fine, more legroom for me. But then, in the wee small hours of the morning, I wake up to a pathetic doggy crying sound. He'll be sitting on the floor at my side, waiting to be picked up and placed on the bed. He's afraid that if he just jumps up, he'll land too close to Mia and get snapped at. He's probably right. I should note that Mia never, ever growls at us. She knows she's only the boss of the dog pack, not the whole household. I've told this story a few times, and always get the reaction 'awww, that's SOOOO cute!' Not at three in the morning it isn't. (Well, actually, I can't back that up. It is pretty cute).

Elvis got his own back today, though. I heard this little yowling sound, as if he wanted the back door opened so he could go out. I knew it was already open though. When I looked in the laundry, there was Mia, chowing down on some dry dog food that she'd stolen from the packet. No way was she sharing with him. So he dobbed on her! I rewarded his snitching with a few pieces of food.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

This template is not really the look I'm going for. But I really wanted a links sidebar, and don't have the skills yet to do it myself. Eventually I will stuff around with the template and customise the nice plain format that I had before. Meanwhile, this will do.

Speaking of the links, could I take a moment to point out - an oldie but a goodie. Great for checking out those mass-forwarded emails, not just urban legends but also the ones that promise money, to you or a charity, the ones that tug on your heartstrings, the ones that ask you to sign petitions or click on links. The world would be a better place if everyone checked with snopes before forwarding anything.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

If U were mine...

Last night I went to the opening of 'If U were mine...' an exhibition of the works of three painters: Noël Skrzypczak, Kirsten Farrell and Madeline Kidd. The wine was good and the art was even better. It's on at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space in Manuka until 19 October, and I definitely recommend checking it out.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

More substantial entries to come, soon. I promise.

Meanwhile, Arnie is now the Governor of California. I can't be the only one who didn't think this could really happen!


Wednesday, October 01, 2003

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean (Arrr!) with my sister and some friends. Before the movie we had coffee and cake at the nearby bakery.

A young girl took our orders at the counter and we sat down outside. While the coffees were being made, she approached us.

The way she said, "Excuse me, are you uni students?" was almost like you might ask someone who you think is a celebrity if they were who you think they are – if you do that sort of thing.

She was in year ten, and she was certain she wanted to go to university. She wanted to study criminal law. She was very determined that she wanted to go to university but seemed less certain that she could. But then she said her teachers encouraged her and she was getting straight As. She seemed to be seeking our approval. Maybe going to uni was not the most obvious choice, either in her family or her group of friends. We all encouraged her, saying she had plenty of time and would be sure to go to uni if she really wanted to.

One of our friends is a teacher, and she recognised her from relief work. After the girl left, she mentioned that sometimes the quiet ones you don't notice in class can really surprise you when you talk to them outside.

She was just so unaffected and honest and keen that she really made an impression on me.

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"If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time."

Marcel Proust

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

My first piece of html.
This could be fun.

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