Sunday, 29 July 2007

Caveat lector

Chromoblastomycosis. Do not look it up.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Footie in mouth

Them's that know me in the flesh (regular perusers of the King James Version should read that clause with caution) will be aware that gross motor skills are not my pianoforte. Indeed - and I think I may have mentioned this round these parts before - when I were a wee tacker they sent home a letter to my 'rents advising remedial physical education on Thursday afternoons. I'm good for a swift uphill walk; I'll even break into a canter on occasion; can swim round islands and lift whole cantaloupes with a single hand; but throw anything in my direction any smaller than a bar fridge (as people insist on doing), and I drop automatically to the ground. This endearing trait I appear to have inherited from my father, and along with it, I've inherited a total indifference to ball sports. (That's "indifference", in its less used "fear and loathing" sense).

So when I received a phone call today from a young chap who wanted to know if I'd been contacted yet by his manager - the one who manages elite athletes attempting to dribble* their way through university - I stifled a yawn and brought up my tutorial schedule spreadsheet. No, I didn't yawn. I am totally uncynical in my interactions with people on telephones. But let's just say that when I hear "elite athlete", I think "Horseman of the Apocalypse", not "Where are my pompoms?"

He plays AFL, says the young chap. For this team, which he names. And his name is, and he says his name. An hour later I mention to a friend that a student wants to take my course without attending lectures because they conflict with his football practice. Who is it, asks my pal. I get out a first name, because that's all I can remember. My friend promptly supplies his surname, his team, his height, anecdotal detail of his enormous 15-year-old female fan base, and is on the verge of suggesting we just give him his degree, when I am suddenly overcome by an urge to drop to the ground.

* I believe I'm deploying a metaphor from basketball, yes?

Thursday, 26 July 2007

"But enough about me, what do you think of my memoir" - Nancy Miller

I received an email this week, a journo from The Australian wanting to hear my expert academic opinion on contemporary travel memoir. Word must have got out about my PDF-making talents. "Dear Professor Harlot", he began. That'll be Dame Her Holiness the Vice-Chancellor Harlot to you, sir. If you're going to do titles, you should do 'em in style.

The last travel memoir I managed to read (not counting my cousin's, or my cousin's partner's [not that my cousin's partner would know me from a bar of soap, or chalk, or cheese]) was Charlie Darwin's, and a ripping good yarn it was too. But contemporary? Non. Do I let that stand in the way of a 1500 word waffle on the subject? Non. I may not be well read in contemporary travel memoir, but I got 'pinions, sir, and I'm not afraid to use them. I'm looking forward to the headlines: "Academic expert: Darwin invented travel memoir".

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Potable Diabolo Foment

As if my late-onset discovery of Portable Document Format weren't edgy enough in its own right,* I have recently learnt that PDF is all it takes to magically turn word document to whizz-bang powerpoint slide. Steady on, Harlot. Get any cooler and you'll be able to make your own ice cubes.

In other evidence of my all-round cosmopolitan dynamism, I had my first Melburnean choir rehearsal yestere'en, and what a night on the tiles that was. First, we sang some scales. Then we sang some rounds. Then we sang some songs with four-part harmonies. Then I came home, checked my emails, made a couple of PDF files, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.

* A very pleasing revelation - PDF is easy as pie - a lesson which I owe largely to the techknow-how and communication skills of this person.

Sunday, 22 July 2007


Take a herd of galloping otters, a flagon of molten chocolate, a prime-ministerial Maxine McKew, combine 'em, and still you ain't got a cocktail as downright pleasing as this one.

It's mon cheri, le Wilbur, caught in a rare moment of not-sleeping-on-the-couch-ness, coupled with my all time favourite form o' precipitation.

The only thing better than a dog in snow is snow in a dog in snow. If anyone's the dog for the snow-eating job, Wilb's that dog.

"You gonna throw that snowball? Are you? Because I'll be ready. Just watch me."

Here I narrowly missed obtaining graphic evidence of Wilbur's al fresco micturation prowess. You'll just have to take my word for it. He's got prowess. In spades.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Shivering me timbers

Emmy was visiting last week from subtropical Sydney. For six mornings, she struggled to get from her bed into three layers of trouser before coming down with frostbite. It was a daily race against the elements. Keen to demonstrate my brand new superior Melburnean constitution, I'd invite her to switch on the heater next to her feet, and then I'd breezily open the nearest window, give the place a bit of an airing, and mix myself an iced tea. By saturday night, great torrents of mucous were coursing from my nostrils and some of my favourite extremities had snapped off. I have now capitulated to Winter: soup for breakfast, a hot water bottle for each limb, and woollen frocks.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


What follows might suggest that I have lodged, once and for all, in the internetian digestive system's deepest, dankest, darkest intestinal pocket. It might imply an abuse both of my wireless internet access, my leisure hours, and my right to self-determination. But be not deceived, my learned colleagues: what follows is perhaps the greatest empirical study conducted on behalf of psychoanalysis since Sigmund Freud attempted to determine the effects of cocaine on seasickness by hopping into a dinghy with a little plastic zip-lock bag full of talcum powder and inhaling deeply.

So, the wisdoms of Captain Freud. They go something like this: you've got this "Id", see - it's your inner toe-tappin' dilettante-about-town - and then you've got your Superego - it's your inner form prefect, reminding you not to eat in the library - and then there's your Ego, which in my opinion confuses what would otherwise be a pleasingly symmetrical binary. For decades, psychoanalysts have wantonly worn the nape off many a velveteen chaise longue trying to determine whether the Id or the Superego prevails in any given psychoanalytic subject. They have asked questions, probed deeply, tried to ascertain whether the subject would still choose to murder his octopus and sweep with his mother rather than knuckle down at the office and do the dishes. This is a very difficult thing to ascertain indeed, so that the subject has had to remain with his analyst for the rest of his life - and sometimes the transference isn't marvellous - and the healthcare rebates tend to peter out very quickly in the absence of a firm diagnosis.

I believe what follows is a revolutionary new measure that will simplify and speed-up the analytic process. I call it Psycho-Scrabbalysis. You pit the Superego against the Id, throw 'em some tiles, see who wins, and seek out expressions of repressed libidinal energy in the resultant wordplays.

"Covert", "ragoo", and "hoot", for instance: I'm not sure if I could be any clearer in polite company.

What you see above is the initial stage of my own Psycho-Scrabbalysis. As you will observe, my Superego is thrashing my Id, which will surprise those of you who are aware that I should be writing next week's lectures.

Um. Yes.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Warning: may contain microbial references

I'm in the first throes of a major snot infestation. I've mobilised the handkerchief collection, stocked up on mandarins, and cancelled all engagements (except for a brief walk this afternoon with Antwo from Sydney to inspect the self-composting toilets in East Brunswick [with which I was favourably impressed, but I'm not sure that the body corporate will be amenable to my suggestion that we rip up the carpark and install pit dunnies]). Meanwhile, two fresh pairs of gentlemen's bloomers made their way onto my balcony today, the first such incident in several months.


Saturday, 14 July 2007

Too bad they didn't bring their capsicum spray

There's an old fella living upstairs. Every so often he cranks up his muzak to maximum volume, and under cover of "Que Sera, Sera" emits a maniacal cackle and a volley of passionate expletives. I haven't been game to make a diagnosis, and I haven't been game to pop up and offer my counselling services, but I've accepted that he's none too well, and if 50s pop music, very loud, every couple of weeks, is what it takes to make his life bearable, well, so be it.

Couple of nights ago, round about 8 p.m., he was working his way through the Flower Duet from Lakmé, shouting angrily at his invisible friend, when two members of the Victorian constabulary arrived and demanded that he open his door. Then I heard "If I have to come back here again, I'm going to put my foot in your face and my knee in your groin and I'm going to smash every piece of sound producing equipment you've got." Bloody effective. My neighbour was suddenly so subdued I couldn't hear his reply. But - I'm no mental illness management expert here, though it seems sort of obvious - bloody irresponsible. Nothing like a bit of good old fashioned bullying and intimidation to cure a chap of his psychoses, or his alcoholism, or his Tourette's syndrome, or whatever it is my neighbour's got going on.

Sure, the good people of Thornbury shouldn't have to listen to scratchy French opera on a Thursday night. Whoever phoned the police was well within their rights. But the threat of physical violence was totally disproportionate - maybe even illegally disproportionate (I don't know) - to my neighbour's offence. Legalities aside, what I heard sounded terrifying; I'm pretty certain my neighbour was terrified, and a bit of real-life terror's the last thing this guy needs.

This is sinister enough in its own right, but it happens just as, on a different scale, federal security powers are doing their bit for the police state. If upstairs is what happens when there are laws to protect people's civil liberties, I'm pessimistic as can be about what's up in the Brisbane Watchhouse.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Bigger than Elvis

Senator Bob Brown! Tonight! Northcote Town Hall! 6:30! Bring a spare bra or two for the throwing!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Bishop's Stotford

I spent from 2 til 4 o' the clock this morning wedged between a hot water bottle and the impending doom of next semester. So strong was my sense of imminent pedagogical catastrophe, as the inner-eye eyed off a catalogue of infinite tasks, that it took several rounds of my unpatented Abecedarian Soothing Technique (wherein your trusty insomniac compiles mental lists - of dog breeds, capital cities, edible fruits, nineteenth-century poets - in alphabetical order, inevitably snagging on XYZ) before I could bore myself back to sleep.

Though I don't have time at the moment, I have concocted a plan to safeguard against future wrestles with sleeplessness. My plan is this: the forthcoming Harlot's Inimitable Compendium of British Railway Station Names, With the Proposed Humber Coast and City Railway Supplement. The almost irresponsibly soporific Spalding, Grimsby, Cleethorpes, Bishop's Stotford, and Sleaford will put narcotics-traders out of business for ever. Law-and-order advocates will demand the use of sniffer beagles at airports to snout out contraband Inimitable Compendia. Civil libertarians will argue that consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes should be able to read what they like, though Harlot's Inimitable Compendium should carry a warning.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Incoming correspondence

Last month I received emails from Kerry Compton, Coleman Tracy, Madeleine Felton, Felecia Taylor, Joy McCullough, Natalia Ratliff, Conrad Underwood, Elbert Richardson, Zelma Wooten, Jesus Lopez, Jodie Chen, Hester Smiley, Chance McDowell, Dirk Lynch, Wilfredo Pelletier, Darwin Platt, Freddy Acosta, Freida McKinney, Noel Austin, Rusty Gaston, and Bradly Wong, all of whom were bored, twenty-five years old, female, and keen to show me some great pictures. Personally, my money's on Hester Smiley.

Monday, 9 July 2007


Not that I'm against navel-gazing - navels being one of the great delights of the mammalian belly - but there seems to be something unhealthily introverted in the fact that my employer (a university, God love it) is now offering a Diploma in University Administration. Sooner or later the Dip.Univ.Admin. will be superseded by a D.Univ.Admin. and scholars across the world will be writing doctoral theses comparing contemporary lecture hall booking facilities with the operative structures of early Byzantine lentil trading consortia

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Rise up, ye scions of the Cambrian Explosion

"Oh it's nice to have a spine!
It really is so great!
It helps me keep in line,"
Said the happy vertebrate.

"A central nervous system
Is the boon of our subphylum.
Oysters clearly missed 'em
Which is why they are not smilum.

"No, you never see an oyster smile,
But those of us with backs
(Like the knobbly crocodile)
Are grinning stacks and stacks.

Perhaps we're rather boist'rous,
We who are so dorsal,
But better thus than oysterous -
Him's a squidgy spineless morsel."

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Vee Pees

The jury's still out on whether or not the Democratic People's Republic of Amerikay does good coffee, but there's no denying they do good vice-presidential nomenclature. Comrades, I give you Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr, after whom I would be proud to name - perhaps not my firstborn - but certainly any furred quadrupeds I or my descendents may in time husband. Take that, Deputy Prime Minister Mark "My Parents Couldn't Even Be Bothered Picking Something that Alliterates With My Surname" Vaile. Noone's going to name their guinea pig after you.

Lest you imagine that Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr., is a mere flash in the pan of appealingly named Americanian vice presidents, cast your ears over Hannibel Hamlin, Spiro T. Agnew, and Millard Fillmore. Even J. Danforth Quayle (expropriate the expropriators, I say) has a certain Republickerin' ring to it.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007


Because I am a clean-living pillar of society who likes to keep the temple holy, and because my entire capacity for substance-abuse is exercised in the regular consumption of chocolate (more recently, Green & Black's organic hot chocolate formula), I've never really gotten round to coffee. I realise that in saying this I lose all credibility as a Melburnean. I realise that those of you who have observed my sophisticated ways with relative pronouns and assumed that I'm some kind of sauve, macchiato-toting grammarian will be bitterly disappointed. But them's the facts. Coffee, and I, we just weren't meant to be.

Yet here I am, in a city whose inhabitants do espresso like I do air. Is it quaint and charming when I offer friends a choice of lemon grass and ginger or Siberian ginseng detox? Au contraire. It is, apparently, anti-social. As is, so I hear, telling them that my household consumes an average of 0.825 toilet paper rolls per week, and we'd like to keep it that way, thank you.

So I intend to reform. Not to take up the demon drink myself, but to stock appropriate apparatus, so that I can say breezily, "Oh, I won't have one myself - knocked back a few before breakfast and feeling a tad squiffy - but, behold, a deluxe percolator! Go ye into the kitchen and brew." Or something.

My question is this: do coffee drinkers (you know who you are) prefer coffee made with those glass jobs with the thing you press down or do they like those silver stove-top thingies?

Monday, 2 July 2007

I rest my objective case.

I don't want to get all grammatically prescriptivist on your neighbours' asses, but "whom" is not posh for "who". On weekends I dress up in a moustache and trilby and wander the countryside militating for the Keep Whom Alive Society; nonetheless, even I - yes, I - would rather see "whom" fossilised forever in the peat bog of dead English than watch it writhing in the throes of unschooled abuse.

Remember: "To whom should I bequeath my trilby? Should I bequeath it to her or him?", but "Who is that stealing my trilby? By Jove, I think it might be the milkman!"

P.S. I know, what with the conversational tone and the direct commands and all, that it looks like I'm talking to you, comrades, but actually these paragraphs are for the benefit of the young scholars, who, here's hoping for all our sakes, never find their way hither. God bless 'em. Come to think of it - whom am I kidding? - they're for my benefit, aren't they? This is one of those moments, self, where we realise it's just me, and me, and those good old objective relative pronouns.

Sunday, 1 July 2007


The littler of my big sistren is in town this week; so's her offsprung, who is a small person with a limb at each corner and a prodigiously expressive range of vocalisations, including "er bleugh" ("Would you be so kind as to pass the cheese, please?"), "tsa tsa" ("Why, hello, fine quadruped; yes, you with the long ears"), "errr" ("Fancy that! A bookshelf! Ripe for the unstacking!") "omblong" (untranslatable), and "eee" ("Take note: my ontological angst will attain unplumbable nadirs if you fail to acknowledge my presence forthwith"). She also waves, this offsprung, and smiles, and sits on indoor plants, liberates fridges of their fridge magnets, warms the cockles of complete strangers on trams, and laughs uproariously at cow impersonations.

To celebrate the presence of two of my favourite people, I've been doing really fun things with them. Like today I took them to the Thornbury vegetable emporium, and showed them the enormous eggplant. And then I let my sister make alphabet soup on my stovetop. And then we watched the train going by - on the Epping line, no less. Ah, the simple pleasures. Melbourne: city of fun.