Archive for December, 2010

this is going in her permanent file

Andrew very kindly did a special screening of the 2008 Royal Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” for a certain small ballet-obsessed human of my acquaintance. The nice thing about having the entire cinema to yourself is that you can recline on floor cushions while said small human can join in the ballet. I watched her leaps in sillhouette against the screen.

Remember when Julia was a baby? That was, like, five minutes ago, right?

wild new year’s eve party, in bed by nine

When we arrived at Currawinya everyone was already out on Mum and Dad’s new screened-in back deck. The horses next door were walking through their paddock. Drawn to them as if by a magnet, I purloined an apple and went down. The horses had no interest in the apple, had clearly never been given apples as treats before, but were happy to stand with me and breathe their warm breath into my hair. Thoroughbreds in beautiful condition, their muscles hard, their skin like silk, their trimmed hooves hitting the ground at precisely 45 degrees. Curious and friendly and respectful of personal space. Handled by people who understand horses and like them.

Ross and Julia came down to meet us and the horses and I walked over to the fence. “Their heads are big,” said Ross, as the horses inspected him and Jules. “Yup,” I said. “Make them go away,” he said. “They’re freaking me out.” I pushed their shoulders and they ambled off, then I piggybacked Julia up to the house where my Mum gave me a glass of champagne. The sun set, gloriously.

Dad made pappadums, bhajis, rice, dal, beef curry, tandoori chicken and his own potato curry. Everything was perfect, and there’s enough left for dinner tonight. Port wine trifle for pudding. As we got ready to leave I realized Mum and Dad don’t have a dishwasher, so I filled the sink and my brother Alain picked up a teatowel and we washed up together like two halves of a whole, as if we had done it a thousand times before, as if we had done it, in fact, with these exact plates and pans, all our lives.

implausible 5

Metres swum: 1000. Or possibly 933; I may have lost count.

Riding as it is taught at McIntosh must be way more of a workout than I give it credit for, because I have never swum a kilometre before, and this was really Not Too Bad. I kept checking in with my body to see if we were good to go. Every time I did, we were. It was way less aerobically exhausting than running a comparable distance. Even my muscles feel warm and pleasant rather than actually sore.

Or maybe it’s the taiji?

implausible 4

Metres swum: 266
Words: 500
Bailey’s: still 0. What the what?

implausible, day 3, with amendments per my sister

Metres swum: 200
Kilometres bushwalked: 1.5
Words written: 500
Glasses of Bailey’s drunk: 0 (a severe oversight)
Steak pies: 1
Sausage rolls: 0.5
Iced coffees: 1
Slices of pavlova with vanilla whipped cream, mango, passionfruit and kiwifruit: 2

in which my sister and i discuss a penis

The trouble with this country is that some of the people who live in it are ex-boyfriends of mine. Conversations such as the following may ensue.

“You should call her brother.”

“I’m not going to call her brother.”

“Why not?”

“What if he answers the phone?”

“What if he does? You could talk to him.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t talk to him.”

“Why not?”

“Because I touched his penis.”

“That does make it awkward.”

“That does make it impossible.”

“It was a long time ago!”

“Not long enough!”

“Fine, but how else are you going to get hold of her?”

“Can we avoid using the phrase ‘get hold of’?”

“You’re the one who brought up penises.”

“Can we not talk about bringing up penises?”

“I can see this is hard for you.”

“We should also avoid the word ‘hard.'”

“This is bringing up some issues. There’s a lot of stuff coming out.”

“Yes, that’s right, it’s coming from deep inside.”

“You never know when it’s going to sort of, spurt forth.”

“This is my point!”

By this time we are both laughing so hard that, at least in my case, my back ribs are aching and it is difficult to breathe.

“You are corrupting innocent children here,” my sister accuses me.

“I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson,” I say. “Never touch anyone’s penis.”

the adventures of star boy and lava girl

Again with the perfect day. Up early for breakfast, Jeremy wearing his starry owl tshirt, then we left the girls with Mum at Currawinya. “Remember your pleases and thank yous! Be respectful of other peoples’ things!” Then Dad drove us to Narrabri. On the way we saw an Eastern grey kangaroo up very close – she hopped away into the bush – and lots and lots of washed-out creek crossings from the recent floods.

Barraba nestles at the crossing of a couple of lovely valleys with gentle rounded hills. We headed north and then west at Cobbadah, and the land gradually got steeper and more rugged and the forest more dense until we were near Mount Kaputar, an extinct volcano and the high point of the Nandewar ranges. We got out of the car and walked down to Sawn Rocks, a 40m cliff face made from a crystallized basalt lava flow. We surprised an exquisite water dragon along the way. On the creek floor below it there were broken-off pieces of the cliff, looking like the ruined columns of some ancient civilization. The only sounds were insects and birds singing.

The volcanic range ends abruptly in an escarpment, and beyond it is an ocean of land that stays flat until Western Australia. It is Mount Kaputar that makes the rain fall on Barraba, so the sky is clear out beyond it on the western plain. So the CSIRO, which is Australia’s awesomely badass league of mad scientists, built its Compact Array out here. Seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen six 22m antenna dishes mounted on railway tracks running through the bush.

Actually one of them is fixed and it’s 6km away from the moving ones. That means that the Compact Array can work as a virtual 6km dish on its own, or it can join up with its sister dishes in Parkes and Coonabarrabran to make a properly big antenna, or it can work with dishes all over the world and receivers in space to look at objects that are actually quite far away. You didn’t know, did you, because you suck, that radio interferometry was invented by an Australian and first carried out in Sydney on Australia Day in 1946. We may talk funny and eat yeast extract on our toast but we bow to no one in our astronomical fu. It is a long tradition in our country.

also how beautiful was the shark?

Not exactly a spoiler to say there’s a scene in the Doctor Who Christmas special (which I watched, not in the approved behind-the-sofa position, but on the edge of my seat hanging on every word, oblivious to the wet Boxing Day unfolding around me) in which Eleven discovers that there are fish flying around in the fog and says something like:

“Who invented boredom? Ridiculous. How is anyone ever bored?”

Reminds me of “So high, so low, so many things to know!” from Sherkaner, in A Deepness in the Sky. This universe! The attention to detail that went into it! Fantastic. Would choose to live again!

that’s, like, my TRADEMARK

Sarah, who is, in fact, my sister: Did you think of a holiday achievement plan with checklist items like “Play mahjongg,” “Drink Bailey’s” or “Loll around aimlessly”?

Me: …um, no?

Sarah: So basically, you set yourself up to fail.

Me: I’m sorry, but have we MET? Do you even KNOW ME?

a perfect barraba day

5.30am: Woken by jetlag, exuberant offspring. Authorize watching of TV. Turn over, go back to sleep.

8.30am: Scalding shower, followed by leisurely bacon and eggs.

10am: Father arrives to whisk us away to sister’s house.

11am: Elevenses. Lemon sugar crepes with stone fruit salad.

12noon: Three games of mahjongg, in which I prevail mightily.

1pm: Swimming, watersliding, gossiping with mother and sister, getting royally sunburned. Exuberant offspring noticeably more confident in the water this year.

3.30pm: Ice creams and film (“Despicable Me”) at the Playhouse. Resolve to be more evil, execute more cunning schemes.

6pm: Three games of mahjongg, in which I am hopelessly defeated.

7pm: Dinner straight out of Enid Blyton or C S Lewis. Roast chicken, ham, eggs, four kinds of salad. Mince pies, Christmas cake, shortbread, chocolates. Lashings of tea.

8pm: Three games of mahjongg, in which my empires are overthrown and my enemies revel in the lamentations of my women.

9pm: Exuberant offspring bathed and shoehorned into their pyjamas.

Metres swum: 400
Words written: 500

And so to bed.

implausible, &c, day 2

Words: 500. This is hard.

ask an 8yo: should we eat the 5yo?



“You can’t eat Julia.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t you love her?”

“Yes! And I love ducks, too. They’re delicious.”

“Don’t you love her to hug and kiss?”

“…you could hug and kiss a duck.”

“Mama you can NOT EAT JULIA.”

“I thought you said she was really annoying?”

“She is! But that doesn’t mean you can eat her!”

“I think the real question here is, Do you love your baby sister?”


“To eat?”


“To hug and kiss?”


“Even when she is REALLY annoying?”


implausible holiday achievement plan day 1

Kilometres run: 1.5
Metres swum: 150
Words written: 506

merry christmas, says bebe

“I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

apparently i overlooked a key definition

Claire, as we prepare to get off the plane: What does feminist mean?

Me: Oh my god, Claire. Feminism is the belief that women are human.

C: …but women are human.

Me: *expressive shrug*

C, firmly: People who don’t think so are crazy.

Me, risking stinkeye from fellow passengers: We don’t use that word, honey. It’s not fair to people with mental illnesses to liken them to non-feminists.

ask an eight year old

In Sydney. It is, as everyone has already said, way too cold to be Christmas. Best moment so far: Ric saying “Lovely to see you too.”

The beautiful old house has been sold and we are staying in the flat, which is full of pleasingly familiar furniture and paintings, and also offers far less plummeting scope to (for example) five-year-olds with no sense of their own mortality and absent-minded people who just turned eight. (I find this lack of peril restful. Our family has a strict no-pummeting policy.)

Oh, that reminds me, new blog feature.

Q: How should I invest my retirement savings?

The eight year old replies: Why not just retire straight away?

Email your questions to Happy Doctor Who Christmas Special Day to all!

don’t panic

This is one of the nicest things you’ll read on the Internet. Maybe ever. I am the starfucker that zooms through with a bottle of Bailey’s at 8:06pm. Keep reading; it gets even better after that.

We miss you, Douglas Adams.

any resemblance, &c

Once there was a girl. Isn’t there always? When this one was very young and not very clever at all, she thought she wanted to be very truly run after, like Old Man Kangaroo. She was a little bit lazy and a little bit vain. She thought it would be nicer to be loved than to love, because somebody else would be doing all the work. When she was only a little bit older, along came a person who did all the running, just like in the story. He chased and chased and chased.

But despite everything she wasn’t sure she wanted to let him catch her. She had noticed that his jokes were a little bit too angry and his unguarded expression a little bit too sour. She was always trying to cheer him up, and it started to tire her out. Still, flattery counts for a lot. And he chased and chased and chased her, which no one else had ever done. And she was actually quite lazy and quite vain.

When things were going well for her, she tried to be sweet to him. And then for a while things went very badly for her. And he was still running and running and running after her. And when she fell over, he picked her up.

She was very tired indeed by that time, so she didn’t run away.

It took years to clean up the mess.

All those years later, when she finally reached a clear patch in her life, she was walking across a mall between two office buildings one day, and she said to herself, What do I want now? A face came into her mind. Its jokes were not angry at all. Its unguarded expression was one of keen interest.

This time she was quite sure. And that’s when the good part of her life began.

silly little first world problems

Don’t plan an overseas trip with two children right around Christmas; don’t do it. I’ve done this often enough now that my words should carry some weight. I was doing all right until yesterday, when things blew up at work, and now I am numbly swathing toys in three-year-old wrapping paper, drinking tea and contemplating the task of packing for three weeks in another hemisphere. It is 10.15pm.

The ultimate first world problem is probably the anticipation of missing one’s bad-tempered fourteen-year-old cat. The Germans have a word for that, right? There’s nothing wrong with her except her long-standing anger issues and her regular winter gimpiness. Her coat is good, her eyes are bright, her teeth are sharp and she is as curious and opinionated as ever. But she is nearly fifteen, and one day she will die, and I will be inconsolable.

Worse things happen. I know.

in which i try to bleed you dry

This is kind of a weird one for me because I try to drip-feed the donations all year rather than scrambling to find cash at Chrimble. But! If you do get a wodge of checks from rich aunties, here’s where I’d send ’em were I you:

Partners in Health

Oh, God, Haiti: earthquake AND cholera? Please try to stay out of trouble in 2011. Paul Farmer’s organization was the first medical team on the ground. Your money will SO not be wasted here.

Fred Hollows Foundation

Yes, I know, I don’t like what he said about gay men either. But he’s dead, and his organization can restore sight to the blind for $25.


What I adore about Kiva is that the entrepreneurs PAY ME BACK. My original donation to Kiva has increased about fivefold. Suck on that, puny S&P-linked index fund! SUCK.


In hard times, luxury goods are the first to go; even when the goods in question have a brain and a pulse. 2010 was a terrible year for horses. Joe Shelton runs the most admired, humblest, most efficient and effective rescue in Northern California.


When the geek rapture transcends us all and I am finally re-instantiated as software that is able to grok group theory, EFF will take the place of all the above organizations. Until then think of your donations as a sort of digital 401(k).

Also, find your local hospice. One day you or someone you love will need it. (This year my local hospice turned out to be in Florida.)

Also consider getting on the Bone Marrow Donor registry. My darling friend Jen’s badass donor dude is doing the do on the 28th, so keep her (and him!) in your heart.

Also, if you’re a person who can give blood you should give blood, especially if you’re a special snowflake O Negative like meee!