Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why I can never get Pay TV

The LifeStyle channel -- Location, Location, Location, A Place in the Sun, Grand Designs, Homes Under the Hammer, Fantasy Homes by the Sea... the list goes on and on. It's like an orgy of home-buying Britishness, and i just can't drag myself away from it.

Also, 16 and Pregnant thanks to MTV and Don't Tell the Bride on LifeStyle You. Yes, I really am that pathetic.

Also, almost constant Jamie Oliver, Nigella and those witty witty Gilmore girls.

Seriously, universe, are you trying to make me the least productive person ever this long weekend??

Monday, April 18, 2011

I dug the clapping as much as I dug Jesus

As mentioned previously, I have just been reading Benjamin Law's hilarious The Family Law.

Benjamin is a rather funny fellow. He muses on life, family, growing up, and being a young gay man of Malaysian/Hong Kongian/Chinese heritage.

I can't say I exactly relate to this final aspect, but there are so many things in this book that had me going "oh my gosh, YES!" and "seriously, Benjamin, have you been researching my entire life/stalking me since birth?" (This last matter is currently under investigation by my lawyers.)

One of the things in the book that literally had me wriggling, singing, laughing and "oh my gosh"-ing on the tram in a most embarrassing fashion was Ben's description of his experiences with Christian music.

Herewith, the excerpt:

Every morning before class, we filed into our daily worship session. Devotions covered a road range of topics: forgiveness; receiving compliments gracefully; documented Satanic possessions. Music came courtesy of the school band, a misfit hodge-podge of whichever musically inclined students were available that week: recorder, baritone clarinet, piccolo, French Horn, bongos. One of my favourite songs was 'The Blind Man', a participation-based hymn made up of verses featuring men suffering various afflictions -- blindness, deafness, paralysis -- searching for Christ to show them the way.

'The blind man sat by the road and he cried!" we sang. 'The blind man sat by the road and he cried!' The final verse simply involved singing 'The Blind Man!' followed by frenzied, rhythmic clapping to fill in the gaps. Years later, singing the same song in high school, it struck me as undignified and mean, implying the blind man was not only visually impaired, but also had some form of palsy that made him clap in a wild, uncontrollable fashion. But as a Christian-hearted seven-year-old, I dug the clapping as much as I dug Jesus.
It's like he READ MY MIND! Seriously. As the child of a protestant minister, I grew up with this music, and none of it struck me as strange until I'd already been singing it for years. The particular version of this song that we always sang also involved an "uhuh uhuh uhuh baby" refrain that was very special indeed.

So now I've had this song stuck in my head for days and my boyfriend and colleagues want to kill me.

And it made me think of another christian-music-anecdote from my childhood that my family LOVES to tell at group events.

See, there's this song called Jehovah Jireh (which means God in um Hebrew or something) which goes "Jehovah Jireh, my provider, His grace is sufficient for me..." etc.

And I used to (when very young) stand up tall and proud and sing out at the top of my lungs:

JEHO-VAGINA, my provider...

Apt, really, in some ways.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I hate good books

Really good books should just be banned.

Only mediocre to pretty good allowed.


I've had a run lately of reading those kinds of books that you really don't want to stop reading. You want that tram trip to be just a bit longer, you lie in bed at night wishing the book would be just a bit boring so you could go to sleep, you sit at work dreaming of going home "sick" so you could start reading again in the elevator as you leave.

And even when you're not reading you're thinking about it.

I wish I could say the books I'm referring to (in my recent history) are Dostoevsky and Balzac or something. But no, sadly. I'm talking about Follett and Corbett.

Yes, that is Ken Follett. *cough cough*. Someone handed me a copy of Pillars of the Earth years ago and I devoured it. I then ummed and ahhed for awhile when World Without End came out, but was recently given a kindle (which I LOVE!) and it seemed the perfect book to get me going. And oh how addictive it is reading about plague-ridden England and the construction of bridges. Oh yes.

And Corbett? Who the heck is Corbett?

Claire Corbett, to be more precise, is the author of When We Have Wings, a novel I was sent for review recently. Another of those books that certainly has its flaws, but just grabs you, sucks you in, leaves you wondering what happened to your good sense and makes you dream about flying.

And I'm now busily consuming Benjamin Law's The Family Law, which has me guffawing in trains, tittering in lunch break sushi joints and smirking at my desk when I peer into my bag and read a passage.

More on Law later methinks.

But in the meantime I'm going to seek out average books. Find myself something that's enjoyable but forgettable. Something that will send me to sleep.

Actually, Dostoevsky probably just about fits the bill...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The man three cubicles over strikes again

"Sorry I haven't gotten back to you until now Phillip, I've had my head down all afternoon."

"Yes, Phillip, she did give me a heads up about that."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Office

The tea room encourages us to believe in Peace and Harmony. And teaches us how to respond to a bomb threat.

There's a man three cubicles over who I have never met. He speaks very loudly on the phone and calls everyone by their first name repeatedly. He says things like, "It's a robust policy, Paul. But Paul, I think we need to think about synergy and work together to achieve strategic implementation, Paul".

In the stationery room, on a top shelf, there are six of those beige plastic boxes with see-through brown lids and little square plastic dividers inside, to store floppy disks.

The air conditioning makes us very cold and people sit in their cubicles wearing scarves and beanies.

When the boss closes her office door, someone always "goes to get something" from the cupboard on the other side of her dividing wall -- you can hear every word she says.

People hoard "the good pens" in their desk drawers.

Overheard at Flinders Street Station

Girl with flannelette shirt and army surplus bag to girl with half-shaved head and black framed glasses:

"Don't ya think it's funny how people wanna be all, like, ironic?"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Muddle-Headed Wombat Playing Beatie Bow in the South

Shortly after hearing of the death of Ruth Park in December last year I was browsing the bookshelves in a very small second hand store. Tucked in willy nilly on the non-fiction shelf was a battered and well-loved copy of The Harp in the South. Apt, I thought.

Playing Beatie Bow was a real favourite of mine growing up, and though I've never heard the radio serial of The Muddle-Headed Wombat, I do adore the books. But somehow I had never before read The Harp.

Noticing that this particular copy was highlighted, underlined and scribbled all over just made me want it more. And for all of one dollar I purchased my little piece of Ms Park's legacy.

Ms Park is one of several great New Zealanders whom Australia has claimed for our own, but once you've read The Harp you just can't imagine her as anything but Aussie, through and through.

The book tells the touching and occasionally uncomfortable story of the Darcy family, living in Sydney's Surry Hills slum in roughly the same year in which the book was written, 1948. Mumma, Hughie, their daughters Roie and Dolour and a cast of colourful secondary characters (including my personal favourite, Grandma) live among the grog shops, brothels, factories and run-down lodging houses of Surry Hills, facing the challenge of poverty and hardship. Hughie is an alcoholic, Roie is a sensitive soul, Dolour is a dreamer and Mumma is an out and out broad, but you grow to love them all.

Having lived for a time in Sydney's Redfern, I knew the streets and locations in the book fairly well (the ones that aren't either made up or long gone, that is). Except that they are now full of million dollar properties owned by WASPs and yuppies, which just goes to show how much things can change in 50 years. What shows that things really don't change is that some aspects of life in the book are still evident in Sydney today - they have just moved a bit further out of the city centre. Sometimes, in my mind, the book was really set in parts of Redfern today, and life for many seems fairly similar.

I love the description of the house at number Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street, where the Darcys live:
It was the oldest in Plymouth Street, a cranky brown house, with a blistered green door, and a step worn into dimples and hollows that collected the rain in little pools in which Roie and Dolour, when little, had always expected to find frogs.
There were many houses like Twelve-and-a-Half, smelling of leaking gas, and rats, and mouldering wallpaper which has soaked up the odours of a thousand meals. The stairs were very dark and steep, and built on a slant as though the architect were drunk, so that from the top landing you couldn't see the bottom.
On the top landing hung a globe, very high up, so that the tenants could not steal it. It was as small as a star and as yellow as a lemon.
It makes me long to live once again in a cranky brown house.

Though the book is most definitely an ensemble piece, it seems like one of those stories that would inspire everyone who reads it to have a favourite, a character whose story they follow most closely. The scribbler in my copy is clearly a Roie fan, and he or she annotates every step of the changes in Roie's character. But equally, I think the story of Mumma constantly searching for her lost son, Thady, is one of the most touching, and Hughie's ups and downs are incredibly moving. I really want to now read Missus, the prequel that tells the story of these Darcy parents. However, I think my personal favourite in the Darcy family is Dolour, with the saddest sweetest name I think I've ever heard. Also known (to herself) as St Anne of the Seven Dolours, I feel like Dolour gets a short shrift at the end of the book (spoiler alert!) when she falls in love for the first time and is suddenly snapped out of her dream world. Although, that said, her dream world does live on in a different way, as hers is a love that is 'pure and fairylike and as useless as the love of knights and ladies in antique ballads', so all is not lost!

But, as I said before, you just can't beat Grandma for comedy value. This character is so beautifully realised that I really feel like I know her, and want to know more about her life before this book.

I just have to end with a section from the book that says it all for me, really. When Sisters Theophilus and Beatrix from Dolour's school have come to visit an unwell Roie, they have an interesting encounter...
'Grandma! Oh gosh! Oh jeepers!' wailed Dolour, pelting down the stairs, for she was fully convinced that Grandma in her hearty hospitality, had climbed straight out of bed and gone to welcome the Sisters in her old flanelette nightdress and faded pink cardigan with no elbows in it. But Grandma had made a determined effort to get dressed. Her legs were bare, and she wore old flapping slippers spotted with candle-grease, but she had put on her best dress, and over it 'me tippet'. The fur collar stuck up with ridiculous pomp around Grandma's uncombed head, but the expression on her face was warm and delighted, and there was no doubt that Grandma was really glad to see the Sisters. In face of Mumma's anguished gestures, she drew them into the disordered kitchen, from which the volcanic upheaval of the bedroom could be seen.
They sat down, smiling, on the rickety kitchen stairs.
'You must pardon my mother,' babbled Mumma. 'She's not very well. She...'
'Ah, hold yer tongue, darling,' broke in Grandma determinedly. Sister Theophilus patted her veiny old hand.
'It's lovely to hear a real Irish voice again,' she smiled. 'I haven't heard the real brogue since my father died.'
Grandma was delighted. She flashed a look of aggravating mischief at poor Mumma. 'And what was his name, if I may be so bold as to ask a Sister?' she inquired, with every confidence of being answered. Sister Theophilus blushed and confessed: 'Matthew Nolan. He came from Kerry in, ... I think 1880.'
'God be praised,' exclaimed Grandma, lifting her hands to heaven. 'If that wasn't the year I came out meself. Matthew Nolan! He didn't come out on the Fair Isle did he?'
'No, the Stratford I believe.'
'Ah, I came out on the Fair Isle. Matthew Nolan. I once knew some Nolans on a farm. Outside Tralee, it was.'
'But I had an uncle near Tralee,' exclaimed Sister Theophilus, delightedly. 'The farm was called Knock-na-gree.'
'Glory be!' marvelled Grandma. 'So it was. There was one by the name of Michael, I think.'
'My Uncle Michael!' Sister Theophilus looked at Grandma with shining eyes. 'I often heard my Dad speak of him. What was he like, Mrs - ?'
'Mrs Kilker. Oh, he was a fine man, with black hair that stood up like a wall. A real, elegant Irish face, and blue eyes like glass marbles.'
'My father had eyes like that,' said Sister Theophilus dreamily.
She extended a hand, and Grandma bobbed in what Dolour thought must be a curtsy. Then the nuns went. As soon as they had gone, Mumma fell into a chair and fanned herself with her apron. 'Ah, bless them, they're nice, but me heart's racing fit to burst. Run up and see how Roie is, there's a good girl.'
As Dolour disappeared, she turned to Grandma: 'A fine one you are, Ma, coming out in that terrible rig and talking so forward to the Sisters.'
Grandma pulled up the collar of her tippet like a proud old parrot.
'Yer only jealous, dearie, 'cause I made meself felt.
Mumma gazed at her in admiration. 'You certainly did that. There's no beating the Irish, no mistake. But wasn't it the strangest thing, you knowing her uncle?'
'Uncle me foot!' scoffed Grandma, wetting her finger and rubbing at a spot on her black dress. 'Uncle me foot! I only used the brain God kindly gave me.'
'You mean to say ... you mean to say you didn't know him?' gasped Mumma in horror. 'You unnatural old liar.'
'It was a lucky guess and me own reasoning,' confessed Grandma, her filmy blue eyes dancing. 'But it sure gave the poor locked-up soul pleasure, so there was justification in it.'
'You're a wicked old article,' stormed Mumma, 'but I don't believe it. You described him as if you'd seen him with yer own eyes, and it was right, too.'
'Oh, that,' jeered Grandma. 'All Irishmen look alike. I just described your dadda, that's all. God rest his ashes. And now, help me back to bed, will yer, darlin', because me legs are aching, something cruel, and I need a pipeful.'